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The 15 best restaurants on the North Shore worth the trip up

Escape the city and head to these primo Northern eateries

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Written by
Olivia Vanni
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Yes, you can keep going to the same best restaurants in Boston, but we think it's time for you to branch out a bit and leave the city limits for the sake of your stomach. We've compiled a list of the best restaurants on the North Shore and, believe us, these spots are well worth the drive or commuter rail ride up the coast. From seafood shacks and barbecue joints, to fine dining establishments and New American eateries, these places are sure to please locals and tourists alike. And while you're up that way, you might as well visit one of the area's best beaches, check out a shipbuilding museum or learn about its rich witch history

RECOMMENDED: A guide to Boston's best new restaurants

Best North Shore Restaurants

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Tucked away in calm Annisquam, this seasonal spot is surrounded by the sheltered waters of Lobster Cove. Every seat in the house has a view—whether you snagged a table in its window-filled dining room, on its covered deck or sunny patio. Its small menu of thoughtful dishes varies each day depending on the local bounty the kitchen is able to procure from nearby farmers and fishermen. You can expect items like fresh seafood, house-made pastas and incredible produce, which are all mindfully prepared so the ingredients can truly shine and show exactly what Cape Ann’s land and sea are capable of. 

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If you’re not from the area, you might walk by this hidden gem without even knowing it. But just look for the colorful sign sporting a calavera skull and you’ll find a bustling bar and family-owned restaurant serving some of the most authentic Mexican street food you’ll find North of the Border. Tacos should be your menu move here. The kitchen stuff incredible house-made tortillas with a variety of traditional fillings—from sauteed cactus to pork that’s been slowly smoked in banana leaves. Live music, karaoke nights and wicked heavy pours in their margaritas push this Day of the Dead-decorated eatery over the top.

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Some folks may claim that a more (ahem) famous roast beef place is the best on the North Shore, but we’re here to ruffle feathers and speak the truth. Zeno’s Roast Beef is kind of a trek because of its Ipswich location, but it’s a worthy destination. This place offers all of your typical roast beef and seafood shop favorites—from pizza rolls and onion rings, to kebab salads and fried haddock. Obviously, the main attraction here are the hot roast beef sandwiches. Whether you’re going for the Jr. Beef or Super Beef, just be sure to make it a proper bite and go with the three-way (that’s code for getting it with mayo, barbecue sauce and cheese).

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Named after the tools that quarrymen would use to cut the abundance of nearby granite, Feather & Wedge pays homage to Rockport’s past while still celebrating its present. This restaurant is all about local ingredients, using them in internationally influenced preparations that range from classical French to Southeast Asian. Its menu changes literally every day depending on the products they’ve secured from local purveyors. Its kitchen is a true culinary standout and, quite honestly, a breath of fresh air amongst the typical tourist traps that pepper Bearskin Neck.

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Yella, which has locations in both Andover and Gloucester, is not your average Mediterranean grill. For starters, this restaurant recognizes the perks of being in New England, sourcing its ingredients from local farms and fisheries to craft elevated versions of Mediterranean favorites. Amongst the sophisticated street food coming out Yella’s kitchen: roasted vegetable shakshuka with quinoa, chickpeas, feta and herbs; freshly caught fish with za’atar, sautéed corn and pepper trio, and Kalamata olives; and citrus strawberry shortcake made with a lemon biscuit and orange blossom whipped cream. Snag a seat at its beautifully tiled bar or on its outdoor patio on Gloucester’s waterfront, grab a pita flatbread and wash it down with a glass of wine.

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Situated in the heart of Salem, this understated yet stylish neighborhood spot works magic when it comes to blending French technique with New England ingredients. Its menu embodies both of these rich traditions with a daily selection of dishes that are simultaneously sophisticated (like the French) yet straightforward (like us puritanically rooted Bay Staters). The restaurant prides itself in having a scratch kitchen, which means that pretty much everything that goes onto your plate is made by them in-house, like its fresh pastas and bread. Pair this effortlessly chic food with a glass of wine from its highly curated and impressively Basque-heavy list.

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Though it may be little, this Newburyport restaurant is also mighty when it comes to flavor. Inspired by Laotian and Cambodian cuisines, this eatery crafts incredibly balanced Southeast Asian favorites, ranging from fresh spring rolls and charred Chinese broccoli, to larb and bánh mì. Our personal suggestions: the shaved chayote salad, which is dressed in a slightly spicy shrimp and tamarind vinaigrette and topped with house-fried chicharrones; the thon kem, a sweet and savory soup made with burnt soy caramel broth, a soft boiled egg with ooey gooey yolk and your choice of tofu or pork belly; and the chicken wings topped with crispy garlic and herbs. And don't forget to grab a colorful cocktail or two. 

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Located right on the Essex River, this place is a real… well, pearl when it comes to the Cape Ann food scene. Its stunning views of the water and marshes are only upstaged by the plates of local food coming out of the kitchen. Because the chefs locally source their ingredients, the menus change to reflect each season—while still maintaining a few year-round dishes like its lauded chowder (it’s made with pork belly and topped with crispy clam strips) and house-smoked barbecue. If you can’t snag a table during the busy season, grab a dozen oysters and daily drink special at the bar, where seating is first come, first served. 

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This family-run bakery and sandwich shop has been a Gloucester treasure since it opened in 1961. From its small Main Street storefront, you can grab freshly baked breads, specialty groceries and slices of pizza (regular or sheet pan style). But the real move here is to order one of its sandwiches favored by the local Sicilian community, like its West Ender or Mudiga Steak Bomb. Go full “Glostah” and get the Saint Joseph sandwich, named after the store’s signature roll. Don’t take it just from us—take it from George Clooney, who was a Virgilio’s regular while filming The Perfect Storm.

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People make pilgrimages all the way up to this Byfield joint because of its absolutely insane barbecue. Obviously, this place does an impeccable job with all of the pit classics—from tender St. Louis ribs to beautifully caramelized burnt ends. But it also takes a little poetic license when it comes to serving slow-cooked meats. Its menu features barbecue-heavy twists on North Shore staples (i.e. a brisket bomb sub and smoked super beef three-way sandwich) as well as crazy carnivore creations like a smoked pork belly melt and a smoked meatloaf sandwich. Check out its Instagram page for daily blackboard specials before you go and make a point to get there on Thursday, when the kitchen piles all of the meats atop platters of nachos.

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This cash-only joint is worth the trip to the ATM… and then up to Winthrop. Blackstrap slowly smokes all of its many meats onsite, serving them with a big old helping of love inside its laid-back, brick-walled space. Beyond its many pit specialties—from crispy jerk chicken to burnt ends—this place also offers hearty accompaniments like “Gram Kath’s rip your lips off chili” and corn and bacon salad, as well as boozy adult milkshakes. Other ways to enjoy its super tender proteins: atop its barbecue fries and nachos, or mixed into its ginger scallion lo mein.

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Ledger has quite the presence in Downtown Salem, thanks to its location within the stunning old Salem Savings Bank building that dates back to the early 1800s. This restaurant’s interior alone—with its stately central bar, bank robber-themed artwork and antique vault door—earns it a spot on this list. But its menu is also bewitching, crammed with elevated American classics that marry old school New England ingredients with modern culinary techniques. What we love most about Ledger is that it isn’t afraid to have fun, serving everything from mystery mimosas and creative donuts during brunch, to upscale fast food favorites as entrees.

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J.T. Farnham’s has some of the best fried clams on Cape Ann, and that’s saying a lot because Essex is famous for these battered babies. Often overshadowed by a certain other seafood spot down the street, Farnham’s is a quaint little shack usually crammed with locals, who grab trays of clam chowder, steamed lobsters and fried clams. This no-frills place has ample picnic table seating right beside the river, so guests can take in those marsh views as they feast upon its bounty.

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The creation of Frank McClelland (formerly of L’Espalier fame), this Beverly concept features a full restaurant, bar and market. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Frank serves straightforward and purposeful fare specifically made to let local ingredients be the stars of the plate. Apart from the eatery’s seated menu, Frank also boasts a grab-and-go area, where you can purchase baked goods, prepared foods including house-made charcuterie (get the duck prosciutto), specialty provisions like artisanal cheeses, as well as a curated selection of beer and wine.

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Brine Oyster Bar may have moved locations this past spring, but much of what we love about this Newburyport spot remains the same. It’s newly remodeled home on State Street, where the former Fowle’s News long stood, still boasts the cozy exposed brick interior and pulsating vibes that we’ve all come to appreciate about this place. However, the new location offers a couple of novel perks in the form of more seating and an extended menu. In addition to the normal raw bar fare and seafood entrees, Brine now also offers a selection of steaks and other carnivorous preparations that will please all of those dedicated meat eaters out there. When in doubt, we suggest posting up on a stool at its marble bar and going to town on a seafood tower, a couple of crudos and a glass (or bottle, no judgement) of crisp, clean prosecco.

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