Visiting Boston for the first time? Cool! Welcome! Please don’t ask us to pronounce words for your amusement.
As you probably guessed, we have some opinions on where you should eat, so we’ve compiled 16 of our favorite places below.This is not meant to be a definitive list of the city’s best bars and restaurants. It’s where we would go if we were in your shoes and had a weekend to get to know Boston through its food.
Let us lead you.
breakfast, brunch, and lunch
We know we can’t stop you from going to Quincy Market, so knock yourself out - take a selfie in front of the Sam Adams statue, buy a Bahstan Is Wicked Pissah shirt, and trip over some cobblestones in front of a crowd of bucket drummers. But instead of going to the Cheers-themed bar to eat, head to the significantly less-touristy Boston Public Market, which houses exclusively local food stalls. For breakfast, grab some brioche donuts from Union Square Donuts or a smoked fish taco from Boston Smoked Fish Co, and then get Boston’s 10th best lobster roll from Red’s Best for lunch
If you want to pretend you actually live here, head to Sofra, a tiny Turkish cafe in a quiet residential part of Cambridge. If you come here for breakfast you can get a phyllo-wrapped soft-boiled egg that’s better than just about anything else you can eat before noon. You’ll scarf it down, grab another coffee, and then probably decide to stick around for lunch after seeing the mezze bar. You won’t be the first person to have multiple meals a day here - the cheese borek and hazelnut baklava are that good.
The North End is first and foremost an aesthetic experience.There’s garlic in the air, twisting alleys make the neighborhood feel European, and - during one summer street festival - a 10-year-old girl in angel wings who is hoisted across the street by an industrial pulley. It’s also has a ton of Italian restaurants and a ton of people trying to get into to them at the same time. And while almost every place in the neighborhood is at least OK, you’ll have a really memorable meal at The Daily Catch, an Italian seafood place on Hanover. This place is so small and casual that the dining room and the kitchen share the same space and there’s a chance that some olive oil splatter jumps from the stove to your wine (which will be served in a plastic cup).
You may slip on the layers of grease that cover the floors and tables at the 90-year-old Regina Pizzeria on Thatcher Street, but just think: Calvin Coolidge may have slipped in the very same spot! If getting a pizza in the same place as a relatively anonymous former President and Massachusetts governor doesn’t excite you, then also know that the pizza here is very good. The sausage is made in house, the sauce is blended with cheese before the pie even gets the cheese, and the crust has that perfect char that can only come from an oven so old it’s children are hiding the car keys from it. It’s important to note that there are lots of spin-off Regina locations around the city, but only the original North End spot is worth going to.
When you tire of dodging Segway tours in the North End, head to the South End - it’s Boston’s most beautiful neighborhood and the place where every person who moves to the city says they’re going to live one day before realizing that black market organ harvesting is maybe not such a good way to save for a down payment. Coppa is a tiny Italian spot on the first floor of a classic South End row house with sidewalk tables that sit on a quiet corner where the people passing by will be walking their dogs instead of wearing powdered wigs. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but the cured meats and bone marrow pizza really stand out.
Loyal Nine in East Cambridge is an all-day spot that claims to focus on the New England culinary tradition - which, contrary to what most people think, is not merely eating a munchkin as you throw your cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee at a car with a New York license plate. You can come here for dinner or sandwiches at lunch, but the primary reason it’s on this list is because it’s one of our favorite weekend brunch spots thanks to an outstanding lobster popover served with eggs and smoked pork hollandaise (because trying to put lobster in absolutely everything definitely is part of the New England culinary tradition).
Boston is a beer city and just about every neighborhood now has at least one brewery of its own. They’re all fun and unique in their own ways and we recommend getting to as many as you can while you’re here. But if you can only fit one in, make it Trillium in the Seaport (which also happens to be much more centrally located than most of the others). If you haven’t had a New England IPA yet, the hazy, juicy pints here will open your eyes to a whole new beer experience. Grab a seat on one of the couches on the roof and have five or six of them, along with some food from a grill-heavy menu that’s way better than you’d expect from a brewery.
Chances are you haven’t been in a library since you were snorting ritalin to get through freshman year logic. But the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square is arguably the most beautiful building in the city, a 19th-century Italianate palace that will make you actually want to read instead of just telling people you like to. In a vaulted-ceiling room just off the main courtyard you’ll find one of the most unique cocktail bars in the city, the Map Room Tea Lounge. The tea-infused cocktails sound gimmicky, but they’re actually really good, and there’s a small menu of tartines and other bites that will hold you over as you struggle through the first 10 pages of The Sound And The Fury before giving up for the fourth time in your life.
Lookout Rooftop and Bar
If the city of Boston used a dating app, it would take its profile photos at the Lookout Bar in the Seaport. (It would also swipe left so much it would get carpal tunnel.) Come up here year-round (it has igloos in the winter), grab a fruity drink, and enjoy a better view of the skyline and harbor than you can get anywhere else in the city.
Whenever male pattern baldness is cured or a dog sh*t-cleaning robot is invented, it’ll probably happen in Kendall Square, the neighborhood of tech and pharma companies surrounding MIT that we like to call “the most innovative square mile on Earth” without actually having any metrics to back it up. If you want a taste of that innovation without having to get a security clearance or go through one of those sterilization conveyor belts you see scientists use in Bond movies, head to the bar at Cafe ArtScience. The food here is just okay, but the cocktails are outstanding combinations of flavors and ingredients that read like the manifest for the space station. Don’t worry about feeling dorky for taking pictures of drinks made with acid phosphate and edible printed pineapples - you won’t be the only one.
You will have to wait to get into Toro, a South End Tapas place that’s one of the most popular restaurants in the city and only takes reservations for the $100 per person tasting menu (which, if you’re throwing bills around, we highly recommend). But we don’t even mind the wait so much, because Toro is a fun spot that feels as much like a bar as a restaurant, and our favorite way to eat here is late at night, when you just keep ordering small plates until the kitchen closes. Don’t leave before you have the white anchovies and the za’atar duck.
If you leave Boston without visiting an oyster bar, then sorry, you never actually came - you weren’t here and that hangover you’re nursing on the train is either a figment of your imagination or the early stages of the flu. Luckily, we have more oyster bars than Irish mob movies, and while several of them are great, Saltie Girl is the most fun. It’s a tiny spot in the Back Bay that feels like a seaside cocktail party, and with things like torched salmon belly and lobster and waffles (because, again, we put lobster in everything), the menu is a lot more interesting than your standard fried clams and boiled scrod spot.
It’s possible that, during your brief time here, someone in your group gets sick of seafood before anyone else does. When that happens, head to Waypoint in Harvard Square, which is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the city, and one that you should be trying to see anyway - especially if you’ve ever wanted to visit six different bookstores in one afternoon. Waypoint is technically a seafood restaurant, but the best thing on the menu may be a giant, tender lamb shoulder that feeds three people. Split that along with the clam pizza, uni bucatini, and a lot of absinthe cocktails and everyone will be happy.
“Boston is a place where dreams come true” isn’t really a thing that people say (though if your dream is drinking in an Irish pub and arguing with a bunch of guys in hoodies about the Sox bullpen, you’ve come to the right place). But we do have one restaurant where dreams come true (kind of). Yume Wo Katare is a tiny spot in Porter Square that serves giant bowls of ramen and encourages you to share your dreams out loud with the 20 or so strangers sitting in the classroom-style dining room. You don’t have to do it, but after you down the incredibly garlicy, tender pork ramen (which is the only thing they serve) you might just find that you’re suddenly willing to open up a little bit.
You shouldn’t leave Boston without visiting Somerville, a place that - until it gets too expensive for anyone but bankers in 10 years - is where Boston goes to get a little creative and a little weird. The restaurant that best embodies this place is Tanam, a tiny 10-seat Filipino restaurant that’s run by just two women in Bow Market, a former warehouse that now houses a brewery, comedy club, and places where you can buy jewelry out of reclaimed wallpaper. On the weekends, Tanam hosts a five-course tasting menu, where about $90 will get you things like frog legs, braised oxtail with yucca gnocchi, and a brussels sprout salad with lychee and crab. If you want to have more fun, go on Wednesday for the $70 Kamayan, a seafood-heavy meal you eat with your hands on a table covered in banana leaves.
If you do make it out to Somerville, then you need to hit Sarma, too. It’s a dinner place run by the same people behind Sofra and it serves intense Mediterranean small plates with enough ingredients to stock a Middle Eastern grocery store. It’s hard to get a table here, but if you go when it opens at five you can get a seat at the bar, where you’ll be able to watch them making your scallop-stuffed grape leaves and moussaka croquettes.