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The oldest restaurants in Boston

Dig into our city’s past by dining out at Boston’s most historic eateries

Written by
Tanya Edwards
Written by
Linda Laban
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Boston’s dining scene can be ever-evolving and, over the years, we’ve seen plenty of restaurants come and go. The reality is, it takes a lot of hard work and something truly special to keep an eatery up and running for decades—if not more. Fortunately for Bostonians and lucky visitors who’ve flocked to our city, there are a bevy of establishments that are deeply rooted in our local history and that offer a wide variety of cuisine to sample. Make it a priority to celebrate The Hub’s unique past by visiting some of these longstanding mainstays. While you’re at it, don’t miss the oldest bars in Boston and, if history is your thing, walk off the calories with a stroll along the Freedom Trail.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston

Oldest restaurants in Boston

  • Bars
  • Charlestown
  • price 2 of 4

The Warren Tavern has been in its current location on Pleasant Street (near the Bunker Hill Monument) since 1780. It is named for Dr. Joseph Warren, a patriot killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1775. This historic building—with the low ceilings to prove its age—may have hosted the likes of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin and President George Washington, and today, it’s a must-see local favorite. When you visit, you’ll find a relaxing pub vibe with dishes ranging from traditional New England breadcrumb-topped baked haddock to spicy salmon tacos.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Quincy Market
  • price 3 of 4

Originally opened as the Atwood and Bacon Oyster House in 1826, the Union Oyster House near Faneuil Hall has endured the Gilded Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Depression and two World Wars. The building itself dates to 1714, predating both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, yet it wasn’t placed on the Historic Register until 2003. Its claim as one of America’s oldest restaurants and its quaint 18th century design make it a tourist must-do, but the Union Oyster House is equally a place that Bostonians cherish. A fire in 2017 briefly shuttered the old dear, but thankfully it continues serving New England seafood classics along with Boston’s famous baked beans, and, of course, oysters.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • Downtown
  • price 3 of 4

The Omni Parker House’s restaurant is steeped in history and has hosted many famous guests. It’s claimed that John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie in the dining room in the early 1960s, and even the kitchen staff has seen its share of notorious figures from history (Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh both worked there). The Boston Cream Pie was reportedly created here around the turn of the century, along with the restaurant’s famous Parker House Rolls. Founded by Harvey D. Parker in 1855, the Omni is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the United States, but most of what you see when visiting is a 1927 renovation.

  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Downtown
  • price 3 of 4

Set on a quiet courtyard off Downtown Crossing’s busy Winter Street and accessed only through a fake dry bar salon, this speakeasy-style restaurant is located in a building that dates to 1832. Yvonne’s the former home of the legendary Locke-Ober restaurant, which opened in 1875 and closed in 2012. Locke-Ober was the fourth oldest restaurant in Boston prior to its closing and, in its heyday, it had a reputation as a clubby “men only” spot that was rumored to be frequented by “working girls,” like Yvonne, a supposed lady of the night whose portrait hangs in the main dining room. Original fixtures and features are paired with whimsical touches, and the lights are low for a suitably debauched atmosphere.

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  • Restaurants
  • American
  • South Boston

Amrheins is the oldest restaurant in South Boston and claims lineage back to 1890. This once grand, red-brick Victorian building on West Broadway is edged with copper facing and black paintwork. The wood-lined interior, including an antique carved wood bar, is well worn by a devoted local clientele who enjoy comfort food and strong cocktails. They’ve also recently started serving breakfast in the style of another Southie fave that’s sadly shuttered, Mul’s Diner. Also recently sold to a local developer, Amrheins will hopefully survive any impending changes—but that’s still very up in the air, so get there while you can.

  • Restaurants
  • South End

Opened in 1909, this old school haunt has held its ground on East Berkeley Street for over a century. Perfect for pizza and a ballgame on a weekday afternoon, this family-owned classic gets packed on weekend nights. Once the watering hole for the Boston Herald staff back when the newspaper was headquartered in the South End—and the site where Boston’s first police union was formed—Foley’s has witnessed a lot of local history. Take a look around inside at the old political posters that decorate the walls—after enjoying some curry chips and a cup of chowder. There’s another location in Downtown Crossing, but if you get them mixed up, a Bostonian will certainly set you straight.

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  • Bars
  • Hotel bars
  • Back Bay
  • price 2 of 4

Though recent renovations have completely changed the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel’s dining room and bar (and for the better, at that), a restaurant has occupied this space overlooking Copley Square since the hotel opened in 1912. First, it was the Copley Café. In 1934, it became the Merry-Go-Round Bar—complete with a miniature merry-go-round, whose tracks are still visible. By 1978, it was The Plaza Bar and Dining Room, and in 1996, it became The Oak Room. To celebrate the hotel’s centennial, the grand, high-ceilinged room was gutted and reassembled as a gleaming fin de siècle-inspired beauty. Netflix watchers will soon see the restaurant “star” in the upcoming film Don’t Look Up, featuring Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry.

  • Restaurants
  • Inman Sq
  • price 1 of 4

The S&S’s Mid-Century Modern design belies its early 20th century roots. This Inman Square icon actually opened in 1919 and it’s fondly called the S&S Deli by many locals. Its proper title, however, is in fact the S&S Restaurant and the Cambridge favorite just happens to have a delicatessen, in addition to a full kitchen. The name derives from its original matriarch, Mrs. Edelstein, who would encourage all with “Esn, esn,” which is Yiddish for “eat, eat.” Currently, S&S is open for limited hours indoors, with the last seating at 6pm daily.

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • North End
  • price 2 of 4

Regina lays claim as Boston's oldest pizzeria, and their brick-oven, thin-crust pizza is legendary. Opened in 1926 by Luigi D'Auria, this Thacher Street spot has been run by the Polcari family since 1956, and now has several outposts in New England. Its original location in the North End is still in operation, and eating here is a restaurant rite of passage for pizza lovers, who swear that its freshly made dough makes for the best pie north of New Haven.

  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • North End

Opened in 1929, this European spot in the North End is Boston’s oldest Italian café and sits atop a supposedly haunted basement-turned-cigar bar. Ghosts or no ghosts, the ground level of this Rococo-inspired gem offers expertly brewed espressos and cappuccinos, as well as a remarkably good hot chocolate. The pastries include cannoli, limoncello cake and tiramisu equal to any dessert in this Italian neighborhood. The gelato—around 20 flavors—and sorbetto make for a classic afternoon pick-me-up, a tradition straight from the old country.

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  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • East Boston
  • price 2 of 4

The building that houses Santarpio's Pizza in East Boston opened as a bakery in 1903, but owner Frank Santarpio didn’t start making pizza there until the 1930s. In addition to serving as a local landmark, the family-run Santarpio makes a pretty amazing pizza that garners regular praise from locals and tourists alike. Here, the toppings go underneath the sauce, supposedly baking more flavor into the dough. But that’s about as innovative as it gets at this no-frills joint—and that seems to be just fine for its numerous fans and visiting pizza lovers.

  • Restaurants
  • Diners
  • Downtown
  • price 2 of 4

South Street Diner has retro-cool cred. Though it’s only operated under this name for 24 years, the diner goes back several decades and is one of the Worcester Dining Company’s original no-frills dining cars. This one dates back to 1947, first opening as the Blue Diner. It is the last true dining car in Boston proper, making it a local landmark. Food-wise, this place will let you carb up on American comfort food and cool down on milk shakes. Stop by anytime because it’s open 24/7.

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  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • Waterfront
  • price 2 of 4

In 1925, the Hook family started their business by bringing lobster from Maine and other points north to the Boston waterfront. Still open on Atlantic Ave—and still family owned—this spot offers casual dining (think picnic tables) and New England seafood favorites, like lobster rolls, clam chowder and whole cooked lobsters. The atmosphere is laid back, and you can almost picture old fishing boats pulling up to the dock full of fresh catch back in the day.

  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Downtown
  • price 2 of 4

There is often some confusion between the two JJ Foley’s located just a couple of neighborhoods away from each other, but this one is the younger sibling situated on Kingston Street. This Downtown Crossing spot opened in 1959 by a descendant of the same Foley family. Because of its close proximity to the Financial District and loads of office buildings, this place attracts the after-work crowd throughout the week, as well as students from nearby colleges on the weekends. The menu is suitably rudimentary for folks who'd rather concentrate on drinks: burgers, hot dawgs (as they put it) and sandwiches—which is just the way traditionalists and blue-collar bar preservationists would want it.

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • North End

Opened in 1931, Cantina Italiana is the oldest restaurant in the historic North End of Boston. Rich in history, tourists and locals stroll by famous sites, like the 1680 Paul Revere House and the Old North Church, and enjoy the “Little Italy” of Boston, packed with restaurants, coffeehouses, pastry shops and old-school delis. Tuck into this friendly and inviting spot for a classic parmigiana or the signature house-made bombolotti pasta with North Atlantic lobster tail and shrimp in a spicy fra diavolo sauce.

  • Restaurants
  • Ice cream parlors
  • price 1 of 4

This Newton family favorite has been scooping ice cream since 1969. It feels a little older, probably because it's styled like a classic 1950s diner and ice cream parlor. The real emphasis here is on ice cream, which is dressed up and transformed into tasty sundaes and floats. There are around 70 different flavors being scooped, with dozens of toppings to choose from. On the non-frozen food front, Cabot’s also serves breakfast all day, in addition lunch and dinner. Still, the unwritten rule here is to save room for dessert, which has to be ice cream.

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  • Restaurants
  • Contemporary American
  • Harvard Sq
  • price 4 of 4

Opened in 1975, Harvest lays claim to being the training ground for many celebrated chefs, including Eric Brennan, Scott Bryan, Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire and Sara Moulton. Tucked away down an alley off Brattle and Mount Auburn Streets, Harvest remains one of the top dining destinations not only in Cambridge, but also the greater Boston metro area. Its interior courtyard is a favorite for al fresco eating, while its fireplace is perfect for cozying up during the cooler months—making it a New American go-to the entire year round.

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