January 2021: There's no denying that Boston's dining scene has changed dramatically over the past few months as restaurants fight to survive. We've watched James Beard Award winners turn to takeout and neighborhood eateries reinvent themselves as takeaway joints. Along the way, we've poured one out for those that didn't make it, like Legal Oysteria, Max Brenner and Cafeteria. Right now, we realize that everyone is moving at a different pace—some folks are excited to enjoy the best heated outdoor dining, while others are sticking to the best restaurants that deliver for the foreseeable future. The EAT List aims to help you navigate Boston's dining landscape no matter your comfort level. Don't forget to wear a mask, respect social distancing rules and tip generously.
When you think of the best things to do in Boston, eating like royalty might not be the first activity that comes to mind. But some of the city’s best restaurants are changing the perception that Boston isn’t a destination for gourmands. From the North End to the Back Bay and beyond, an impressive roster of local culinary talent is fostering a dining scene to rival those of DC or Philly. The city may be small, but its many neighborhoods offer plenty of dining options, and one doesn’t necessarily have to break the bank to eat well.
Time Out’s local experts scour the city for the best eats and insider info. We appreciate fun, flavor, freshness and value at every price point. We update the EAT List regularly, including whenever there’s a truly spectacular new opening. It could be a mega-hyped destination restaurant or a humble neighborhood newcomer: if it’s on the list we think it’s awesome and reckon you will too. (We take curation seriously—look at how Time Out Market Boston came out.) Eaten somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutEatList
We should also note that a number of the best chefs, restaurants and concepts in the city have been welcomed to participate in Time Out Market Boston. Because that is the highest honor we can award, and we now have a tighter relationship with them, establishments related to market vendors have all been included in the EAT List but not ranked alongside other great establishments in the city. You can find those amazing places below.
Here are the best restaurants in Boston—find out more about how we make the list, and start making your reservations.
Chef-partners Ken Oringer and Tony Messina wow Back Bay diners with an assortment of global street food-inspired small plates, as well as innovative makimono, nigiri and sashimi. The best seats in the house are at the sushi bar, where you can watch the magic happen. On weekends, the late-night menu lures foodies looking to check one of the city’s most in-demand ramens off their culinary bucket list.
Clear out your bank account and then clear your weekend, because o ya’s singular dining experience is one to be savored. Owners Tim and Nancy Cushman set a new bar for special-event dining with o ya’s opening in 2007; even today the restaurant regularly wins accolades as one of the best restaurants in all of New England. The sushi and omakase menu is a marvel of both flavor and presentation, with every morsel—from the foie gras nigiri to the bluefin tuna and smoked salmon sashimi—a delectable work of art.
Hidden away near Inman Square, Oleana provides an edible journey via Chef Ana Sortun’s passion for, and mastery of, the hauntingly aromatic cuisines of Turkey and the Middle East. Diners pack the cozy bar, attractive dining rooms, and enormously popular garden patio to sample from Sortun’s lengthy menu. Most of the small plates are memorable, while many of the desserts are downright extraordinary.
Despite some strong competition from its newer siblings, No. 9 Park remains the crown jewel of Barbara Lynch’s culinary empire. Regally perched across from Boston Common in the shadow of the State House, the handsome, sophisticated restaurant offers expert service and an inviting assortment of regionally-inspired Italian and French dishes. The welcoming bar area is a favorite among industry types looking to unwind with a well-made cocktail or selection from one of the city’s most decorated wine lists.
Local “snout-to-tail” pioneer Tony Maws remains at the top of his game at his flagship operation. The chef-proprietor uses the best local and organic ingredients for his culinary creations. Locals and culinary tourists fill the dining room, where only a four course prix-fixe menu is served. The casual, welcoming bar area, known as COMB (Craigie on Main Bar), offers an a la carte menu and monthly-rotating burger specials, along with the classic, grass-fed Craigie on Main Burger. All burgers are sold in limited quantities and are so amazing that they often sell out.
Ken Oringer’s wildly successful take on a tapas bar is one of the South End’s most atmospheric spots. With its exposed brick and wooden beams, central communal table, and chalkboard-listed drink specials, Toro captures the rustic spirit of an upscale, chef-driven taperia. The kitchen churns out an assortment of Barcelona-inspired hot and cold small plates, and the beverage program features well-made classic cocktails and an eclectic, curated wine list.
Expect to sit elbow-to-elbow with your neighbor at this brick-and-wood enoteca, nestled away on an idyllic South End street. The famous wood-fired pizzas, robust pastas and addictive bar snacks make this cozy nook worth the tight squeeze. Trend-setting owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette top everything from pastas to pizzas with a farm-fresh egg. A smattering of eclectic wines and inventive cocktails keep the mood social and festive.
Chef Peter Ungár’s ticketed reservations-only Somerville dining experience is one of the most progressive dining experiences in the area. A veteran of several French kitchens, Ungár is unafraid to push the envelope across his multi-course tasting menus. Creative dishes are prepped in front of the 20-seat counter, providing a multi-sensory, dining-as-theater experience.
Ever since it opened in 2004, Neptune Oyster has been one of the city’s most in-demand options for fresh local seafood. (There’s almost always a line out the door.) Lined with pressed tin, subway tiles and etched glass, the tiny space exudes an unmistakably retro charm. Expert shuckers handle a variety of fresh bivalves with aplomb, and rare is the order that doesn't include one of the city's most lauded lobster rolls.
As the casual sibling of Ana Sortun’s much-lauded Oleana, Sarma is one of the area’s best spots for enjoying the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Chef Cassie Piuma’s menu of colorful meze is a vegetarian’s delight, with an entire section devoted to veggie plates. The bar deserves its own mention, with cocktails that contain spices like cardamom and clove.
Since 1975, this refined Harvard Square stalwart has led the farm-to-table charge, celebrating regional ingredients with an elegant, seasonal menu. The kitchen personifies a sophisticated approach to New England dining; locally-sourced seafood and meats, plus homemade pastas, are all meticulously and imaginatively prepared. The two-or three-course business lunch provides one of the area's best fine dining deals. Come summer, a seat on the garden terrace is one of the most coveted in the Square.
Barbara Lynch’s priciest fine dining establishment takes its name from the Côte d’Azur town near the Italian border. The French- and Italian-inspired cuisine, enjoyed à la carte or via a customized chef’s whim menu, features exotic ingredients like sea urchin and black truffle. Plush details—from French linens to Austrian crystal—and attentive service will make you feel utterly pampered. Also impressive is the chef’s table, a private space with a glass wall providing intimate views into the kitchen.
Situated between Central and Harvard Squares, this hip trattoria has a slightly retro feel thanks to the amber glow of its globe lights. Nosh on handmade pastas and Italian inspired dishes. Sit side-by-side at the vintage communal table, or huddle by the white tile, double-sided fireplace. Sexy desserts are not to be missed.
One of the city’s best seafood-focused eateries, the original ICOB resides in a high-visibility Kenmore Square space. A mix of Sox fans, local seafood lovers, and guests of the (connected) Hotel Commonwealth pack the large, loud dining area to slurp down the namesake bivalves. Chef Jeremy Sewall puts out an inviting, seafood-heavy menu that runs the gamut from creative plates to warm buttered lobster rolls.
Cambridge diners fill an enchanting farmhouse dining room to select from a daily tasting menu packed with seasonal, local ingredients. Chef-owner Jason Bond - a veteran of several New England kitchens - applies his talents to just-picked vegetables and fish caught the same day. Guests sip an aperitif in front of the fire before heading to their table, where old church pews serve as seats.
Cafe Sushi attracts a varied mix of patrons - including lots of chefs and industry veterans - to its nondescript home in a retail complex just outside of Harvard Square. Customers are lured by the opportunity to devour affordable plates of perfectly prepared maki and nigiri. All the standards are here, from salmon skin rolls to hamachi sashimi, at prices rarely seen on the other side of the river.
With its slick postmodern environs, Oishii’s South End outpost provides a more sophisticated option compared to the modest, tiny original location in Chestnut Hill. The lengthy menu features everything from pricey cold appetizers (foie gras torchon, smoked oysters) to wagyu served any number of ways (tartare, taquitos, sliders, cooked on a hot stone). But it’s the specialty maki that most impresses; rolls are filled with luxury ingredients like lobster, truffle, caviar and wagyu.
Courtesy of Jeremy Sewall and the team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar, Row 34 has become Fort Point’s go-to spot for wickedly fresh seafood. On weekdays, business types stop in to close deals over platters of oysters and orders of lobster rolls (offered hot and cold, based on Sewall’s grandmother’s recipe). Those waiting for a table have more time to explore the extensive, seafood-friendly wine and beer lists.
Chef Colin Lynch, a Barbara Lynch protege, whips up straightforward coastal Italian fare. The ever-changing crudo menu offers a lighter counterpoint to the house-made pastas on offer. Other crowd favorites include crostinis (grilled Iggy’s bread topped with everything from smoked whitefish to Spanish octopus), homemade mozzarella, and chicken under a brick. You’d expect a strong wine and cocktail list at a spot like this—and Bar Mezzana delivers—but another surprise is the well-curated beer list, perfect for a quick after-work stopover.
Duck into this subterranean Harvard Square hideaway and discover a bustling, multi-room dining and drinking destination that balances a rustic laid-back vibe with an industrial edge. Chef-owner Michael Scelfo’s creative cuisine reflects a similar juxtaposition—chef-driven home-cooking with an edge. Most dishes are under $20, encouraging patrons to sample an assortment of vivid, offbeat flavor combinations.
Perhaps the city’s most famous steakhouse, Grill 23 has hosted countless business dinners and special occasions. High ceilings, marble columns, white tablecloths, and white-jacket clad waiters all contribute to the big-ticket atmosphere, as do the lawyers and brokers whooping it up over pricey wines and steaks that very nearly cost their weight in gold. The wine program has won national awards, as have the perfectly-prepped steaks.
Boston’s first Venetian-style osteria and wine bar, SRV (“Serene Republic of Venice”) balances its focus between modern interpretations of Venetian cicchetti (small plates) and spectacular pastas. Creative small plates elevate fresh ingredients, with flavors that pop thanks to microgreens and garnishes grown nearby. Luxurious pasta dishes keep regulars coming back. An exclusively Italian wine list complements the menu, and those looking for something stronger can opt for Italian-influenced cocktails.
Chef-owner Michael Pagliarini and his staff pamper their guests with friendly, professional service and killer pastas, which are prepped daily on a custom-made table that accommodates large groups at night. Brick walls and candlelight keep the vibe romantic and rustic. The all-Italian wine list pairs well with the menu, some of which is inspired by the chef’s travels to Italy.
MIDA doesn’t so much cook Italian fare as take its cue from it. Chef/owner Douglass Williams has prioritized three things: ingredients, wine and hospitality. Dishes are made to share, from the lardo and crudo, to appetizers like spicy lamb ribs, to the handmade ricotta gnocchi and grilled sirloin cap. The wine list skews towards Northern Italian and French bottles and features lesser known producers. And, of course, classic Italian cocktails like the Negroni are expertly prepared.
The seasonal menu at this Seaport hotspot—named after the Massachusetts state bird—is Mediterranean-influenced, but features ingredients from local farms, markets, and producers. Starters such as kohlrabi tzatziki combine the best of both worlds. The lunch menu focuses on pitas—check out the fried hake with pickled peppers and zhoug. Dinner offers more to explore; pasta dishes are a highlight, dishes might include littleneck clams with green harissa or gnocchi with smoked chestnut. Innovative cocktails incorporate fresh ingredients, too—snap peas, roasted red peppers, and jasmine, to name a few.
Inspired by her time living and working in Modena, chef Karen Akunowicz is the powerhouse behind Fox & the Knife, where fostering a sense of community is just as important as creating innovative and memorable Italian dishes. Harissa-braised lamb with carrot polenta, campanelle with pistachio pesto and house made ricotta are just a few of the thoughtfully crafted dishes on offer.
Hungry locals and in-the-know foodie tourists form a line for this unique ramen expeerience. Huge bowls of Jiro-style ramen feature thick, house-made noodles, and your only choice is whether you want two pieces of pork or five. If you manage to finish your bowl, you’ll be congratulated with a “We have a perfect!” The restaurant’s name means “talk about your dreams,” so go ahead and chat with strangers and the communal tables, and you may even be asked to share your dreams and goals out loud with everyone...
This hip South End gem - named after owners (and culinary bigwigs) Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers - serves Asian fusion cuisine with aplomb. Menu highlights include tea-smoked spare ribs, Thai pork lettuce wraps, Indonesian fried rice, and hot Szechuan dan dan noodles. The vibrant but intimate spot is a smart choice for a romantic rendezvous—especially on Mondays and Tuesdays when “cheap date night” menus are offered.
This Downtown Crossing restaurant maintans the same 19th-century mahogany bar and clubby ambiance that made the previous inhabitant, Locke-Ober, one of the city’s most revered eating houses. Regarding the cuisine, Chef Juan Pedrosa looks forward, not backward, with an assortment of international small plates and larger “feast” platters such as a whole chicken Cordon Bleu or two-pound Niman Ranch ribeye. Well-made cocktails, including several large-format options, are best enjoyed in the handsome library bar.
Woods Hill Pier 4 brings farm-to-table dining to the Seaport, on the site where the iconic Anthony’s Pier 4 restaurant once sat. Kristin Canty and the team behind The Farm at Woods Hill create modern, seasonal dishes using ingredients that are organic, non-GMO, and come from local area purveyors. All meat comes from The Farm at Woods Hill and other local farms that raise animals ethically and feed from an organic grass-based diet.
The glamorous, chandelier-lit dining room creates a special occasion-feel, but there isn’t a hint of stuffiness thanks to the friendly vibe at this Back Bay eatery, which enjoys a regal perch at the intersection of Mass and Commonwealth Aves. The contemporary French fare is complemented by a voluminous wine list with more than 20 options by the glass. Chef/co-owner Chris Coombs’s talent for hospitality and sumptuous dishes translates to a sophisticated yet relaxed tryst with champagne and caviar, spiced duck breast, and French onion soup that simmers for many hours.
From Tiffani Faison—who already brought Sweet Cheeks, Tiger Mama and Fool’s Errand to Fenway—comes Orfano, an Italian-American joint that combines a glamorous, old-school setting with a fresh, modern approach. Tableside martinis, craft cocktails and an elegant wine list set the vibe, while handmade pastas and indulgent steaks are sure to satisfy. Don’t miss quirky culinary twists like the Pig Parmesan (with tonkatsu serving as the base), or pizza lasagne (featuring a tasty “burnt cheese”).
In Central Square, Pagu is helmed by Tracy Chang, a wunderkind who got her start at O Ya and made a name for herself while manning Guchi's Midnight Ramen, an underground ramen pop-up. The sleek, two-story loft space is patrolled by familial servers. Even the name is a treat: Japanese for “pug” and a homage to Chang’s own canine master, Phoebe. But it’s the food that’s the ultimate revelation here: ikura avocado toast, pork belly bao, sea scallop sashimi and comfort fare like Chang’s childhood fried rice. Order the prix fixe menu or go à la carte. Chang’s famed ramen features house-made alkaline noodles, pork belly, umami oil, nori, and a six-minute egg.
This tiny space in Somerville's Bow Market hosts some of Boston's most interesting meals. The changing Filipino menu is top notch, offering delicacies not often found anywhere else in the city. The dining experience, however, is what puts Tanám over the top. Stop by for cocktails and bar food on Thursday nights, or make a reservation (no walk-ins) for one of the unique dining experiences. Wednesdays and Sundays feature a kamayan-style dinner-dishes are spread on top of banana leaves on the communal table and eaten with the hands. Fridays and Saturdays feature "Coursed Storytelling" in which Chef-owner Ellie Tiglao prepares a tasting menu for the communal table of Filipino dishes complemented by personal stories and histories of the food and culture.
It’s New England meets Mediterranean via one of the citys great chefs. James Beard Award winner Jody Adams oversees a seafood-centric menu that favors simple preparation so as to let her ingredients sing. Hamachi tartare gives way to steamed clams and grilled sardines; entrées include striped bass a la plancha and whole roasted lobster. Meat eaters will be assuaged by the 16-ounce rib-eye and confit duck leg, as well as the lamb burger at lunch (admittedly hard to choose when it’s competing with a lobster roll). On nights when a full sit-down meal seems too much, slip into the bar for some fried oysters and a Greek negroni.
Hidden away in a Union Square back alley, Field & Vine—which started as a pop-up—is an on-trend restaurant specializing in eclectic small plates made with seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. The husband-and-wife team of Andrew Brady and Sara Markey divide their menu into “vegetables” and “not vegetables,” delighting vegetarians and others preferring plant-based options. The casual, nature-themed space—filled with branches and greenery—attracts a suitably eclectic crowd, many of whom dart into neighboring Backbar for an after-dinner drink.
This longstanding North End dining destination regally overlooks old North Square. Ample heated patio seating is available to enjoy home made Italian classics like burrata pasta, veal ossobuco, and swordfish puttanesca.
Dating back to 1903, East Boston's most legendary spot continues to serve one of the best pizzas in town. The old-school, thin crust pies come in only one size, with a basic assortment of toppings (highlighted by homemade sausage). Once a bakery, the low-key environs offer a view into the Eastie of yesteryear. Generations of regulars stop in for cheap domestic beers, and some skip the pizzas in favor of steak tips, which are grilled on skewers right by the entrance. Prices are kept low in part due to the cash-only policy; fortunately, there's an ATM on-site.
What started as a home-based pop-up from JuanMa Calderón and Maria Rondeau has now become the city's top-rated Peruvian spot. Located a short stroll from Union Square, Celeste attracts Somerville and Cambridge residents who grab a seat to watch the open kitchen work its magic. Diners fill the small space to nosh on Peruvian standards—ceviche, causa, lomo saltado—done in style. Don't sleep on the bar program, which focuses on mezcal- and pisco-based cocktails.
Who doesn’t enjoy a pizza pie and a pitcher? The classic North End pizzeria—which could double as a movie set with its well-worn booths and framed celebrity headshots—is the oldest in town, still churning out brick-oven beauties in a convivial atmosphere (don’t plan on deep dinner conversation, unless you’re cool with screaming it). Just be prepared for a legitimate wait thanks to the steady stream of out-of-towners.
On the first floor of Boston’s Liberty Hotel resides Scampo, your not-so-typical Italian restaurant. Local stalwart Lydia Shire defies culinary boundaries and serves dishes that incorporate Italian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Scampo serves brunch, lunch and dinner and each menu is more diverse than the last. Whether it’s tandoori fired sea scallops, suckling pig, or burrata from their mouth-watering mozzarella bar, Scampo has something for everyone. (No order is complete without Lydia's famous lobster pizza.)
Part of North End restaurateur Frank DePasquale’s local empire, Mare’s calling card is its crudo menu, best enjoyed on the sleek patio with fire pits and a retractable roof (making year-round alfresco dining possible). The kitchen preps a variety of Italian-accented seafood dishes. A handful of non-seafood options (chicken, pork, veal, steak) appeals to landlubbers.
A colorful mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes are served throughout the day, catering to South End residents in search of a quick, healthy meal. Warm, thin flatbreads are used to scoop up flavorful dips and spreads made from local, organic ingredients. A customizable menu ensures customers can combine whichever flavors they like. Salads and grain bowls delight the medical professionals who pop in for a healthy meal.
Alta Strada offers an approachable, accessible option that’s popular with area families and couples. Some choose to nibble on small plates at the antipasti-wine bar, others prefer the casual, open dining room. Chef Michael Schlow’s menu includes influences from various Italian regions—Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont, and the Amalfi coast. Antipasti, fresh pastas, crispy thin-crust pizzas, and a well-chosen wine list round out the experience. For Schlow's inspired takes on pasta and pizza, head to Time Out Market to check out Michael Schlow's and Monti, respectively.
Recognized in the past by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s best wine restaurants, BISq boasts a unique, French-focused wine program at its home near Cambridge’s Inman Square. You’ll find small production wines from grower-producers, as well as natural wines, champagnes, and other interesting selections of sherry and madeira by the glass. Chef Alex Sáenz and his culinary team churns out an inviting assortment of small plates, and are behind the BISq eatery—which specializes in creative sandwiches and juicy fried chicken—at Time Out Market.
Cusser’s is Mooncusser Fish House’s tiny takeout operation, a slightly upscale version of a classic North Shore seafood hut. Roast beef sandwiches and lobster rolls emerge from the street-level takeout window. Other treats on offer may include beer-battered fish and chips, burgers, fish tacos and more. To experience their greatest hits in a buzzy culinary-focused environment, stop by the Cusser’s at Time Out Market Boston.
This modern Jewish Delicatessen—from the same team behind Kendall Square neighbors Café du Pays and State Park—has been satisfying locals’ cravings for high-quality deli faves since 2016. You might find office workers sitting at a counter stool for a quick bite, or local families filling booths and enjoying relaxed get-togethers. All are drawn to homemade, hand-sliced pastrami and corned beef, plus matzah ball soup and appetizing plates of kippered salmon and smoked whitefish. Drink options run the gamut from housemade celery soda and hard-to-find beers to a global assortment of fine wines, including several Israeli labels. The robust bar program—which offers the city’s largest selection of slivovitz (plum brandy)—also impresses.
This multi-story, seafood-focused enterprise is focused on the second floor restaurant, where a variety of locally-sourced seafood is served with aplomb. (For the full experience, try the five-course “tasting of local fishes” menu.) Patrons looking for something lighter can visit the Moon Bar, and for those in a hurry, there's Cusser's, a street-level takeaway spot specializing in seafood and roast beef. Or, to experience their greatest hits in a buzzy culinary-focused environment, stop by the Cusser’s at Time Out Market Boston.
Revolution Health Kitchen is one of Boston’s most popular options for healthy types looking to follow a whole food, plant-based diet. Friendly staffers help customers navigate the lengthy menu of nutritious, plant-based foods and beverages. Local moms and office workers pop in for made-to-order juices, smoothies, bowls, and toasts, along with healthful grab-and-go treats. Customers fully committed to following Revolution's diet approach can follow cleanse programs, meal plans, and customized packages.
From the local culinary stalwart Michael Schlow, Tico sits in the heart of the Back Bay, right around the corner from Trinity Church. The festive atmosphere pairs nicely with colorful cocktails and a lengthy tequila list. American at its core, the menu is influenced by Schlow’s travels to and love for Spain, Mexico and South America. In certain circles, Schlow is best known for his Italian fare, so head over to Time Out Market to check out Michael Schlow's and Monti for top-notch pastas and pizzas.
Just follow the crowds and the aroma of fried dough. The uber-popular bakery has made waves from day one, turning out inimitable flavors like maple bacon, berry pistachio and sea salt bourbon caramel. Having grown into a larger space, Union Square Donuts has evolved to serve even more quick-to-sell-out options, including donut holes and vegan versions.