Sure, every local Bostonian has a place where everybody knows their name — but the options are about as broad-ranging as you can get in this small city that is now a hub for international dining. Whether you’re looking for a lavish tasting journey or a place to bring Grandma for Sunday steak tips, these classic Boston restaurants are the places you’ll recommend to your friends for the classics, and for classic French flair.
Green Dragon Tavern
While many plans for greatness have been doodled on a bar napkin, the Green Dragon may be one of the few that helped form a new nation. Established in 1654, it was here that Paul Revere and John Hancock used to raise a glass and where plans for the invasion of Lexington and Concord were overheard (thus inspiring the former’s famous midnight ride). Today, the dark-wood-paneled atmosphere and carved bar may be recognizable, but the spirit is a bit different: expect live bands and Irish bar bites, an ode to the immigrants that flooded Boston in the coming centuries. Pair up the By Land or By Sea offerings like Jameson-glazed steak tips with a good selection of whiskeys and local beers. Make a reservation at Green Dragon Tavern.
No. 9 Park
Bursting with Brahmin charm, quaint shops, and the glittering gold dome of the State House, Boston’s Beacon Hill is one of the city’s most beloved neighborhoods. It’s also the place where the well-heeled and those celebrating special occasions go for an unforgettable dinner at No. 9 Park — including chef/owner Barbara Lynch’s signature pillowy prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras, almond, and vin santo, available in a full or half portion. Options are the name of the game here, with a recently expanded a la carte menu, a grand six-course chef’s tasting menu, a bar with all ordering options, and a bar menu. And don’t miss a Sunday menu in which Lynch offers dishes inspired by the Parisian bistro Chez l’Ami Louis in the Third Arrondissement. Toast a great meal with a re-energized cocktail menu, too. Make a reservation at No. 9 Park.
Sourcing from small local producers since its inception four decades ago, Harvest was the Boston area’s first farm-to-table restaurant long before it became a trend. Today this Cambridge mainstay is proud to call legendary toques like Barbara Lynch, Chris Schlesinger, and Lydia Shire alums behind the stove. Today, Tyler Kinnett leads the charge as executive chef, showcasing regional ingredients in a newly renovated space that includes updates to the bar and café area, exterior kitchen, patio, and front-of-house. Don’t let his youthful appearance throw you; the menu, featuring rooibos-marinated duck breast with grilled peaches and black olive sauce, is strictly for grown-ups. Make a reservation at Harvest.
Since its opening in 1978, there are few Boston “must-visit lists” that don’t include L’Espalier, the icon in the heart of the city in Back Bay that serves up French cuisine with a focus on New England ingredients. Executive chef and owner Frank McClelland put his money where his mouth as the former owner of Apple Street Farm in the Boston suburb of Essex, which had been L’Espalier’s primary source of organic harvests, free-range pork and poultry, and egg-laying hens. He now maintains a farm at his home. Enjoy one of New England’s best cheese programs, three-course, four-course seasonal degustation, chef’s table, or chef’s journey tasting feasts, or bar bites in the Salon. Make a reservation at L’Espalier.
OAK Long Bar + Kitchen
Long-time Bostonians have cheered many a special occasion — or just the end of the work week — with an overflowing martini at the Oak Room. Today, the classic space has been reworked as the lighter and brighter OAK Long Bar + Kitchen at Fairmont Copley Plaza with custom seating, curtains, and floors that are an ode to Massachusetts colonial militia uniforms. The drinks are also twists on the classics, with seasonal tipples including a Strawberry Old-Fashioned, the Lemon Blues with blueberry vodka, lemonade, strawberry syrup, and prosecco, and Peculiar Punch, served in a single size or whopping $58 “sharing cocktail” featuring Hendrick’s Gin, Luxardo maraschino, lemon, St. Germain, and pomegranate. Make a reservation at OAK Long Bar + Kitchen.
Parker’s Restaurant-Omni Parker House
Charles Dickens and Ralph Waldo Emerson may have admired the hand-carved woodwork and Waterford crystal chandeliers at Parker’s Restaurant as part of the Saturday Club, but that doesn’t mean diners have to wait until the weekend for delectable classics. Those include the signature Parker House rolls, Boston scrod (a recipe featuring coarse cracker crumbs, white wine, and lemon beurre blanc that’s been a winner since 1906), and Boston cream pie. This Grand Dame of Boston dining, which helped launched the career of chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, was featured in USA Today as one of Zagat’s Top 15 Most Iconic Restaurants in America for 2013 and has been featured on PBS’ “A Taste of History.” Make a reservation at Parker’s Restaurant-Omni Parker House.
Looking for a place to get that clam chowder and authentic baked beans? Look no further than Durgin-Park, an iteration of which has been operating at Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall since the mid-1700s. Serving up “Yankee recipes” like beans slow-roasted and simmered in a traditional clay pot and all sorts of seafood plunked straight from the neighboring Atlantic — plus hamburgers made from beef hand-ground daily — the location is just as much of a treat, smack-dab in the middle of this buzzing mercantile area with some of the city’s best people-watching. Grab a window-side seat on the second floor or raise a toast with a local brew at Durgin-Park’s Hideout beer garden. Make a reservation at Durgin-Park.
“Southie” may be one of Boston’s hottest drinking and dining scenes for its abundance of new offerings (and new residents), but Amrheins has remained a consistent favorite since opening in 1890. Featuring a gorgeous hand-carved bar — the oldest in the United States — and the first draft beer pump in Boston, this is the place you can come for after-work cocktails with your shirttails untucked, and stay long into the night for a dinner featuring classic comfort foods like chicken pot pie, lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, or fresh local catch like baked scrod. Manager Donna Devlin said, “This is one of the great places where you can come to watch football with your buddies, but it’s still got that character with the chandeliers, brick, and wooden bar, that it’s that place you can still take your Grandma for dinner, too.” Amrheins also has a large free parking lot — a true rarity in Boston. Make a reservation at Amrheins.
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Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at email@example.com.
Photo credits: All photos courtesy of highlighted restaurants. Dan Salafia (Harvest).