Just about everyone in America knows the name Fenway. But the majority of people who visit only ever see the part of the neighborhood that stretches from the Kenmore Square T stop to Gate A on Jersey Street. But between the art museums, parks, and people who are actually living here instead of just stopping by for selfies on Lansdowne street, there are a lot of great things to experience in the neighborhood. See for yourself at one of the 15 spots below.
There are a few things Boston does better than other US cities: inventing dubious municipal holidays in order to get St. Patrick’s Day off and double parking come to mind. We’re also pretty good at oyster bars. We’ve got a collection of them that would make any city jealous, and Island Creek in Kenmore Square might be the very best. With a huge menu, brunch on the weekends, a raw bar full of perfect oysters, and a space that’s always fun (especially when the Sox are in town), it’s got just about anything you could ask for in a seafood restaurant.
Those soldiers who were stuck in a South Pacific jungle for 30 years because no one told them World War II had ended probably suffered from history’s worst case of FOMO. Walking past the never-ending party that is Hojoko and not going in might be a close second though. You can always count on blaring music, a random ’80s movie playing on a big screen in the back, and tables next to what must be Boston’s only outdoor pool that’s open year-round (it’s heated). Hojoko isn’t just fun, though. The izakaya menu (from the same people behind O Ya) is outstanding. Start with the crispy nori taco, play wasabi roulette with a roll that includes one really spicy piece of hamachi, and definitely get the tuna burger.
Eastern Standard is a lot of things. It’s the officially designated restaurant of BU parents taking their freshman children out to dinner. It’s the pre-Sox game spot for people who go to Fenway in business attire and watch the game from $600 seats. And it’s the 30th through 50th birthday headquarters of Boston. It’s all of these things, though, because it’s really, really good - a big brasserie with a menu full of meat and fish entrees that almost never miss. It’s a three meal-a-day place, but it’s particularly great for brunch when you can get their take on eggs benedict that comes on challah with really fatty bacon.
Going out for seafood often isn’t easy. It’s pricey, it needs to be fresh to be any good, and some of it requires you to eat it while wearing an article of clothing that’s normally sold at Buy Buy Baby. That’s why Eventide is so essential - it’s white tablecloth-worthy seafood brought to you Chipotle-style in a bright space. The brown butter lobster roll is as good as you’ve heard, but it’s not the only thing you should be eating here. The chowder is made with big fat whole belly clams, the fried oyster bun is great, and you’ll have trouble slowing down on the the french fries once you start.
If you’re looking for a place to drink in the neighborhood that won’t be confused for a wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame, you don’t have a ton of options. But you do have Nathalie, a tiny wine bar with a small menu of tapas plates. They specialize in natural wines, and if you’re not familiar with those, you may initially demand a refund on a glass of Malbec that tastes like someone with athlete’s foot stomped the grapes that went into it. But the staff is extremely helpful and will guide you to something you’ll like. If you’re hungry, get the torched Spanish mackerel or morels with egg yolk and spinach.
At Tiger Mama, you have no choice but to make friends, because the most fun drinks on the menu come in treasure chests and pirate ships that require groups of at least six people to order them. The Asian fusion menu is fun, too, so grab some friends and pretend you’re marooned on an island (but one where you can drink lots of rum and eat turmeric marinated shrimp instead of whatever bugs you find underneath a rock).
There aren’t a lot of barbecue places where the thing you have to order doesn’t involve meat, but that’s the case with the honey butter biscuits at Sweet Cheeks. Having said that, the meat is damn good, too. If you’re looking for a fun, casual spot to take a group that has rolls of paper towels on the tables, head to this place on Boylston that might be the closest thing Boston has to offer to a Carolina roadhouse.
Go to Mei Mei around lunch time on a Saturday and you’ll see tons of college kids nursing hangovers with the Double Awesome, an egg sandwich made with a scallion pancake and pesto. Considering that hangover food is usually just a greasy slice of pizza and a Gatorade, those undergrads don’t know how good they have it. Mei Mei is great regardless of how much your head hurts. The restaurant is fast-casual, but it serves beer and wine alongside its vegetable-heavy small plates and dumplings. Plus, there’s outdoor tables for when it’s nice out.
If you’re an 18th century European princess, you’ll feel at home in Fool’s Errand, because with glimmering gold chandeliers and patterned wallpaper, it probably looks a lot like your bedroom. For the rest of us, it’s still a great place to go, and not just because there’s a picture of Snoop and Martha Stewart holding each other in the prom pose in the bathroom. This tiny little cocktail bar doesn’t have any seats, but it does have good drinks and a menu of finger sandwiches and small bites that would really impress you if they were passed around at a wedding reception. Start with the pumpkin and brown butter aioli croquettes.
The Hawthorne is one of those sleek cocktail bars where you’re almost afraid of sitting down lest you wrinkle the fancy furniture. But the drinks are seriously good and made with the type of attention to detail that results in impossibly clear ice cubes that look like they were chipped off an iceberg. And considering how good the drinks are, the fact that they’re all priced between $12-14 is actually a pleasant little surprise. Grab a couch seat in the much more comfortable living room-type section that’s tucked around the bar, share a plate of the duck liver mousse, and feel fancy for a night.
Lobster rolls are obviously great, but deciding between drawn butter or mayo can be stressful. You don’t have to do that at Bennet’s on Peterborough, because the roll here is made with both. This little counter-service spot should be where you go to stock up for a picnic in the Fens.
Basho sits comfortably in that range of sushi restaurants that’s not quite at the level of places you save for once-a-year special occasions, but well above the spot where you pick up your desk lunch. It’s a big space, so you can usually walk in and get a table, but it’s also a lot of fun with a bar that gets pretty lively at night and sometimes has live music. They do much more than just sushi, too, with a menu of barbecue bites, steamed buns, and heavier fish and chicken entrees.
If you live in the neighborhood, El Pelon is going to be where get take-out multiple times a month, because no matter how many other pizza and Thai menus you look at, you’re always going to want to get more of these tacos. Our favorite is the fish taco made with cornmeal crusted cod, but just about everything at this colorful little counter-service spot is worth trying. It’s got a spacious patio that’s bigger than the restaurant itself when the weather’s nice, too.
Being able to have brunch outside on a bamboo-lined patio on a Sunday in June should be an enumerated Constitutional right. Until that day comes, we at least have Audubon. This small gastropub with an American menu is the type of place that only locals know about, and while the food isn’t going to blow you away, you’ll come to regard a few of your favorite dishes like old friends. Get the acorn squash when it’s in season.