Think things to do in Boston, and you may not immediate think, eat like a king. But some of the best restaurants in Boston are changing the perception is a city for students and culture lovers and not a destination for gourmands. From North End to Back Bay and beyond, an impressive roster of local culinary talent is fostering a dining scene to rival that of New York or Chicago—in fact, some local stars, such as Ken Oringer, who opened an NYC location of Toro in 2013, are expanding into other food capitals. The city may be small, but its many neighborhoods offer plenty of diversity. Here are the best restaurants in Boston—time to get eating.
Best restaurants in Boston
Bite for bite, this self-styled Japanese tavern arguably serves the most expensive food in Boston. It’s also, less arguably, some of the most thrilling cuisine—daring yet meticulous, and delicate but rarely precious. Sushi isn’t the half of it: Chef Tim Cushman, a 2012 James Beard Award winner, transforms the humblest fare—such as miso soup and tonkatsu—into luxuries, which sommelier Nancy Cushman pairs with sakés from her select list.
Local culinary luminary Barbara Lynch’s fine-dining establishment takes its name from the Côte d’Azur town near the Italian border. The French-Italian cuisine, served as a four-course prix fixe or customized chef’s tasting menu, features exotic ingredients like sea urchin and black truffle, and such sumptuous dishes as the signature Butter Soup, made with New England shellfish, milk, honey and caviar. Plush details—from French linens to Austrian crystal—and attentive service will make you feel utterly pampered.
Want to silence snooty foodie visitors? Chef Peter Ungár's ticket-only Somerville dining experience is, well, the ticket. Ungár worked in the kitchen of the late, lauded Aujourd'hui as well as in Paris and is unafraid to push the envelope across all nine courses of his tasting menus. Outre dishes like oyster with cucumber-seaweed gel, nashi pear and candied Meyer lemon are prepped in front of the 20-seat counter, thus the “dining as theater” description of the experience. The price ain’t cheap ($165-$180 per person), but it does include drinks and gratuity. Turns out Boston’s best new restaurant might just be in Somerville.
Marriage proposals and six-figure deals are par for the course at chef-owner Frank McClelland's New French New England legend. Make that par for seven courses, rather: the main menu is a prix-fixe degustation, breathtaking in its creativity, scope, execution and, of course, asking price. Served in a posh, intimate brownstone by hyper-attentive waiters, it has no local equal—and the cellar wine director Erik Johnson has built is tremendous too. L'Espalier makes its home in the posh Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Duck into this subterranean hideaway—the former site of Harvard Square institution Casablanca—and discover a bustling multi-room dining and drinking destination that balances a rustic laid-back vibe with an industrial edge. The reclaimed wood and brick walls add warmth to the sprawling space, as do the honey-colored glass lanterns that hang over the bar. There’s a small atrium dining room; high-top tables in the bar area; and the main dining room, where guests can glimpse the open kitchen through metal shelving stacked with cookbooks. The American cuisine of chef-owner Michael Scelfo reflects a similar juxtaposition—chef-driven home-cooking with an edge, such as smoked lamb belly ribs with carrot and cashew tahini and sour orange glaze. Most main courses are under $20, unless you entertain the 16-ounce Creekstone Farms New York strip.
Ken Oringer’s Clio contains a four-star, subterranean secret: a sashimi bar. Chef Tony Messina elevates the form with counterintuitive, cross-cultural combos like yellowtail with banana and candied jalapenos and tuna with burrata and Asian pear; the best seats in the house are at the bar, where you can watch the magic happen. Those who prefer their fish cooked can still savor a splendid meal of octopus dumplings and lobster tempura. And Uni’s weekend late-night menu may well have started the city’s ramen craze, especially with a veggie broth that incorporates Parmesan rinds and 10 different kinds of mushrooms. Don’t skimp on the street-food snacks, either. Or the Sapporo.
James Beard-nominated chef Matt Jennings, formerly of Farmstead in Providence, wants to upend your conceptions of American cuisine. Craving some clam chowder? Townsman ladles a creamy concoction elevated with pork and squid. Hankering for a hanger steak? Better prepare for a side of sweetbreads. Even a simple deviled egg gets the four-star treatment with crispy hen skin. If you want to ease into Jennings’s lauded menu, head to the bar for crudos, cheeses and charcuteries with a dry gin martini served with “all the fixin’s.”
At the end of the day, our tastes are simple: we all love grilled food. Restaurant warhorses Rene Becker and Susan Regis have taken that knowledge and translated it into a cooking philosophy. Their neighborhood spot in the former Chez Henri space just outside Harvard Square celebrates our seasonal bounties with French flair but zero pretension. The menu changes according to season and daily bounty, but the woodfired stove plays a central role in both preparation and presentation (the kitchen is partially open to diners). The half-chicken, plated in pre-cut slabs, is one of those simple marvels that makes you wonder why every restaurant in town isn’t executing the staple dish as well.
The buzz surrounding this upscale culinary hot spot is centred on local “snout-to-tail” pioneer Tony Maws. The chef-proprietor uses the best local and organic ingredients for his Franco-American creations. While there are plenty of à la carte choices, the eight-course tasting menu, which might include such dishes as crispy-fried Florida frogs’ legs, hiramasa sashimi salad or rhubarb-hibiscus mousse, provides an overview of Maws’s seasonal cuisine. But the Chef’s Whim, a six- or four-course tasting menu offered Sunday evenings after 9pm, is an affordable alternative that won’t break the piggybank. The (off-menu) grass-fed beef burger is the stuff of legend.
Anna Sortun’s first new restaurant in a decade began receiving raves almost immediately upon opening. The Turkish meze menu is a vegetarian’s delight, with an entire section devoted to small plates like Brussels sprouts bravas, spaghetti squash carbonara, and potato spanakopita. But meat eaters shouldn’t fret: The lamb kofte sliders and harissa barbecue duck fulfill all protein needs, and the spicy fried chicken brought table to table like a dim sum snack is an addictive must-have. The bar deserves its own mention, with cocktails that contain spices like cardamom and clove. Though there’s no patio, the Mediterranean yellows and blues of the space transport you to the Turquoise Coast.