Editor’s Note: Welcome to The Greats, a series on the restaurants that define their cities. Here now, a guide to the Boston Greats.
Boston may be renowned as the lobster and clam chowder capital of the U.S., but there’s a whole new world of delights nestled in the city’s labyrinthine streets and those of its eclectic urban neighbors, Cambridge and Somerville. From hand-pulled Xi’An noodles at a lunch counter and pillowy pasta crafted by a James Beard Award-nominated chef to casual brasserie steak frites and a classic American steakhouse with Boston Brahmin flair, the interpretations here are just as diverse as the city’s global footprint.
There are plenty of ways to stamp your culinary passport here, whether it’s through an epic omakase experience, toothsome tacos, a sizzling plate of paella, or by raising a glass, picked from a prolific Greek wine list. And, with some of the world’s freshest seafood—including one spot dubbed “North America’s Best Landmark Restaurant”—Massachusetts’s capital is indeed your oyster.
Aquitaine (South End)
With a black-and-white tiled floor plus handsome corner booths and tables topped with luxe white linens, Parisian bistro Aquitaine a, feels more St. Germain than South End. Since 1998, executive chef Seth Woods’s French fare has snagged distinctions such as Boston magazine’s best French restaurant—one transcendent bite of the steak frites here will confirm why. There are two spins on the classic: steak frites Aquitaine with hanger steak and a rich shallot sauce and the Parisian, which showcases New York strip steak with garlic parsley butter. Packed brunch service spills out onto the patio, where diners delight in French twists on morning meals, such as the decadent duck hash and eggs. Canard fans will want to plan a leisurely midday repast, as the new Monday through Friday lunch service offers up a duck confit sandwich smothered with Gruyere and sour cherry jam.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, with patio seating, weather-permitting.
Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly, and delivery is offered via third-party apps.
Beehive (South End)
The Beehive buzzes with live music—jazz, blues, rock, folk and everything in between fills the cozy nooks of this subterranean hotspot, along with the hits on chef Ryan Skeen’s locally sourced menu. Nibble on chicken wings served in one of three ways (with sesame chile, hot sauce, or smoked Turkish pepper), and main dishes including savory grilled brisket with shishito peppers and grilled salmon with bok choy and parsley sauce. Brick walls, sumptuous drapes, and hand-painted murals complete the Boho-inspired vibe at this South End landmark, once singled out as a must-visit by The New York Times.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, and when the weather allows, so is patio dining.
Takeout: Call the restaurant directly for takeout; delivery is available from third-party apps.
No. 9 Park (Beacon Hill)
James Beard Award-winner Barbara Lynch’s name is synonymous with top-notch cuisine in Boston and beyond, and this fine-dining flagship of her restaurant empire has been making waves since it opened in 1998. Here, the refined service, which pairs well with the tony surroundings, all dark woods and antique chandeliers, is as much on display as the French-Italian fare. On offer is a six-course prix fixe menu and a tasting menu consisting of bar delights and the signature prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras. No. 9 Park’s accolades stretch as long as its James Beard Award-winning wine list: it boasts an AAA Four Diamond Rating as well as top awards from Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Boston magazine, and others.
Dining at the restaurant: No. 9 Park is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available for pickup by calling the restaurant directly.
Doña Habana (Roxbury)
While owners Nivia and Hector Piña only opened this Cuban restaurant in 2016, their ties to the area’s culinary community run deep. They’ve helmed the Puerto Rican spot Vejigante Restaurant since 2012 and Merengue, which delights with Dominican fare, since 1994. The vibrant interior at Doña Habana marries Old Havana with modern accents, featuring murals and bright walls and booths with sleek lines and handsome dark tones. The menu offers more than just the classic Cuban sandwich (though the mini Cubanitos are notable), with stuffed empanadas, house ceviche that zings with fresh lime juice, and beautiful bounties of paella. Don’t forget to save room for a mojito—there are dozens to choose from.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available via OpenTable, with delivery through third-party apps.
Row 34 (South Boston)
This Seaport District favorite is steered by two-time James Beard Award nominee chef Jeremy Sewall and partner Shore Gregory. When it opened in 2013, the brick-and-wood beauty received rave reviews from the likes of Bon Appetit for its celebration of seafood. Especially the most beautiful bivalve—the oyster—harvested fresh from Duxbury and shucked here by the bucketful. The mussels are magic, too, steamed in lager and served with grilled sourdough, as is the house-made rigatoni with clams and parsley butter. You can spot the seafood displayed on ice in the treasure trove by the entrance, which lends a refined nautical vibe to the hip, industrial space and sprawling patio.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining, with patio seating when weather permits.
Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant directly or by placing an order through the website, with delivery through third-party apps.
Bricco (North End)
In a neighborhood brimming with Italian spots, Bricco’s bright flavors—delivered through the restaurant’s modern spins on rustic, regional Italian dishes—shine bright. The Italian seafood staple, octopus, finds new zip with a ginger and jalapeño crust. The farfalle tartufate dish is a savory land-and-sea symphony with lobster, fava beans, pancetta, and black truffle shavings. The inspired interpretations may encourage you to recreate the experience at home, easy thanks to an adjoining grocery store, basement-level bakery, and nearby pasta and meat shop.
Dining at the restaurant: Bricco offers indoor dining.
Takeout: Call the restaurant directly for takeout.
Casa Romero (Back Bay)
The decor at this casual Back Bay beauty—bold orange and pink walls and hand-painted tile from Puebla, Mexico on the bar and tabletops—matches the cuisine: bright, rich, and surprising. Back when executive chef Leo Romero opened the spot in 1972, traditional Mexican cuisine was unheard of in Boston. But his dishes, such as the camarones a la diabla, which showcases shrimp in spicy chipotle sauce, and the best-selling pastor tacos, filled with pork, pineapple, and cilantro, stand the test of time. When the weather is warm, the lively dining room overflows onto the patio, where diners throw back margaritas and smoky mezcal cocktails well into the evening.
Dining at the restaurant: Casa Romero is open for indoor dining, and weather-dependent outdoor dining on the private walled patio.
Takeout: Call for takeout, or order delivery through third-party apps.
Abe & Louie’s (Back Bay)
Abe & Louie’s is renowned as a steakhouse, but the unsung heroes on the menu are enough to please even the most selective seafood connoisseurs. Like the hearty steaks—some tipping the scales at 40 ounces—the three- and four-pound lobsters here are intended for those with serious appetites. You’ll also find chunks of the Maine delicacy studding favorites such as buttery-crumbed casserole and the mac and cheese (one of the most-ordered sides) or swimming in creamy lobster Savannah. No matter what diners choose, there’s an ample selection of beverage pairings, thanks to Abe & Louie’s robust selection of spirits, cocktails, locally sourced craft beers, and wines by the glass. The vintage list has won Wine Spectator’s Best Award of Excellence several times over since 2016.
Dining at the restaurant: Abe & Louie’s is open for indoor dining with weather-dependent patio dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available online; delivery is available online through the restaurant or third-party apps.
Grand Tour (Back Bay)
It’s not just the cuisine that evokes Paris at this bistro in Boston’s tony Back Bay district—the heated outdoor patio is reminiscent of an afternoon on Champs-Élysées, too. The cozy space took design cues from professional cycling races, as confirmed by the Tour de France-themed artwork on the walls. Real estate isn’t the only thing that’s prime here, either: don’t leave without ordering the signature steak frites, one of the main reasons chef and partner Michael Serpa (of popular Boston seafood spots such as Select Oyster Bar and Atlantico) opened his third restaurant—the chef professes a soft spot for the brasserie classic. The wide-ranging Champagne and wine list, which favors progressive American bottles, makes Grand Tour a destination for both a special occasion and a laid back Sunday brunch.
Dining at the restaurant: Grand Tour is open for indoor dining, with patio dining when the weather permits.
Takeout: Takeout is available through third-party apps.
Grill 23 (Back Bay)
When owner Chris Himmel opened this steakhouse in 1983, Boston was a vastly different city, but the restaurant has upheld its nearly four-decade reputation of excellence. The clubby classic steakhouse is Boston’s only spot to receive the Grand Award from Wine Spectator for its power-packed wine list. It also frequently claims top honor as Boston’s best steakhouse from Boston magazine, with additional nods from Zagat and The Boston Globe. Luckily, the plates served up within the old-school digs (think columns, wood tones, and leather galore) don’t disappoint. Come with high hopes for the filet and the prime ribeye that’s aged for 100 days before its date with the grill and a béarnaise bath, and leave—very—full and satisfied.
Dining at the restaurant: Grill 23 is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Pickup is available by calling the restaurant, with takeout and delivery offered via third-party apps.
Legal Sea Foods Harborside (South Boston Waterfront)
This Boston-born institution has 23 locations speckling the Eastern Seaboard like roe on toast. But the Seaport District flagship location is a destination in itself, with three floors each offering a different experience—and prime water views. Expect a more casual experience on the first floor (read, fried clams and paper placemats), a haute experience on the second floor, and a third-floor roof deck that’s the place to be on summer evenings. Whether you’re looking for a lobster roll, raw bar staples, or signature creamy clam chowder, “Legal’s,” as the locals call it, has every base covered.
Dining at the restaurant: The restaurant is open for indoor dining, with weather-dependent dining on the patio that overlooks Boston Main Channel.
Takeout: Call the restaurant for pickup, with delivery via third-party apps.
Lincoln Tavern (South Boston)
Once a department store, this sprawling brick-walled space was reimagined as a laid back neighborhood pub. Executive chef John Ross whips up tavern favorites such as wood-grilled sausage pizza with sharp pickled cherry peppers, as well as short ribs that are braised for 18 hours and served with truffle mac and cheese. Spice up midweek with rotating Wednesday specials, or start any day off right with a stellar brunch: Get your salty, sweet, and crunchy fix on with banana chocolate chip doughnuts, breakfast pizza, or Fruity Pebbles pancakes.
Dining at the restaurant: Lincoln Tavern is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available via phone or third-party app.
MIDA (South End)
Chef and owner Douglass Williams knows perfect pasta. He spent years honing his skills with top Boston chefs Michael Schlow at Radius and then Jamie Bissonnette on the opening team at Coppa before breaking off on his own with this refined South End neighborhood spot. The house-made pasta has just the right bite and stars in dishes such as a classic carbonara and a hearty lasagna with fontina cheese and short rib. Come hungry for the “Mangia Pasta Mondays” feast (also available for takeout) which includes heaps of five different pastas with salad and bread on the side. Williams’s skills are gaining recognition outside the city, too: In 2020, Food & Wine named him one of its Best New Chefs. That same year, the James Beard Foundation made him a semifinalist in the Best Chef: Northeast category; this year, he’s nominated for Outstanding Chef.
Dining at the restaurant: MIDA is open for indoor dining, with a patio dining option when weather permits.
Takeout: Takeout and delivery are available through third-party apps.
Strega by Nick Varano (North End)
Few foods make as much of an entrance as sizzling fajitas or flaming baked Alaska, but Strega’s signature spicy alla vodka pasta, set ablaze in a parmesan wheel tableside, deserves a spot on that list of showstoppers. Restaurateur Nick Varano’s persona is just as indelible, and you’ll find a prominent wall with pictures of him smiling with the likes of luminaries such as Sofía Vergara and Dwayne Johnson. Potential celeb sightings aside, the cuisine and cocktails are the real stars at Strega. Try the house-made ravioli with ricotta and plum tomato sauce, the earthy lamb chops topped with pistachio pesto, or the classic parmigiana with confit chicken. To round things out, a robust espresso martini is just what it takes to pregame for a night out on the town.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available, with patio dining when the weather permits.
Takeout: Order takeout by calling the restaurant.
TRADE (Financial District)
Whether it’s baked feta in phyllo with roasted grapes, olives, and Greek honey, rosemary lamb chops, or local haddock baked in flaky kataifi pastry, every dish at TRADE is a culinary odyssey. It’s a journey led by James Beard Award-winning chef and Julia Childs protégé Jody Adams, a and restaurateurs Eric Papachristos and Jonathan Mendez. Olive trees, basket lighting, and fresh greenery are only some of the features that transport diners to Greece and its postcard-perfect isles. A new enclosed-glass wine cellar overlooking the dining room also offers a glimpse of a list overflowing with crisp Santorini Assyrtiko, stone-fruity Moschofilero, and the “Blood of Hercules,” Agiorgitiko.
Dining at the restaurant: TRADE is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Takeout orders can be placed by calling the restaurant directly, with delivery from third-party apps.
O Ya (The Leather District)
Wife-and-husband restaurateurs Nancy and Tim Cushman pull out all the stops for their snug Japanese spot, which has earned numerous accolades since its 2007 opening, including a James Beard Award and high praise from The New York Times. Instead of a la carte options, diners savor a splurge-worthy nightly chef’s menu of sushi and cooked dishes that stretch for about 20 courses (though select favorites, such as the foie gras nigiri, can be requested separately). The nigiri, sashimi, and small plates might feature silky fish topped with white truffle or black olive puree, with chunks of king crab swimming in an uni bouillabaisse. It’s the kind of creative fare that reflects Tim Cushman’s road-less-traveled approach to sushi chefdom—he began his career as a musician before traveling the world as a restaurant consultant, which included a memorable stint in Japan.
Dining at the restaurant: O Ya is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Though O Ya does not offer takeout, to-go orders from its sister restaurant, Gogo Ya —crispy nori tacos and bento bowls—are available via the Gogo Ya website.
Union Oyster House (Downtown)
In a city known for its love affair with seafood, this historic spot has been shucking oysters and serving up succulent, butter-drenched lobster since 1826, making it Boston’s oldest restaurant. Stop in for fresh local oysters served with dollops of signature cocktail sauce, alongside hard-shell New England lobster with all the fixings. The interiors are about as old-school as they come—rich wood tones, brick walls with exposed ceiling beams, a handsome bar with millwork—adding to the charm of this institution, named North America’s best landmark restaurant at the inaugural World Culinary Awards in 2020.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available.
Takeout: Takeout orders may be placed through the restaurant directly; delivery is available via third-party apps. Curbside pickup is available Sunday through Thursday.
Uni (Back Bay)
When co-owner Tony Messina left the Uni kitchen after nine years in 2021, his business partner and fellow chef Ken Oringer knew he needed a powerhouse to fill some big shoes at this sleek Japanese-style izakaya. Enter executive chef David “Baz” Bazirgan, who is best known for Mediterranean spins on bistro fare. That means diners can expect some surprises on the omakase and a la carte menus—such as charcoal-grilled shrimp with black garlic tzatziki and a honeycrisp apple salad with labne—in addition to creative spins on sashimi such as scallops with bergamot. Bazirgan, no stranger to the cocktail scene courtesy of previous stints at beloved bars such as Dirty Habit in San Francisco and Bambara in nearby Cambridge, also ensures the libations pair well with the food. For Japanese whisky enthusiasts or sake lovers, Uni is the place to be in Boston.
Dining at the restaurant: Uni is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: Order from a separate takeout menu online, or get delivery via third-party apps.
Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe (Financial District)
Gene’s may be synonymous with its sandwiches, bursting with slow-cooked pork belly between spongy-sweet bread, but the noodles here, which have sparked a cult-like following, also hold their own. Chef-owner Gene Wu hails from Xi’an, where the climate is too dry to grow rice, leading cooks to make wheat noodles instead; Wu was one of the first to bring this dish to Boston. Wu’s chewy, hand-pulled arm-length ribbons are reminiscent of dumpling dough, tinged with just the right amount of garlic. Favorites include the cumin-spiced lamb noodle soup, layered with crunchy bean sprouts and shredded carrots and spicy house noodle soup, studded with pork, cooked vegetables, and cilantro.
Dining at the restaurant: Indoor dining is available at this walk-in-only restaurant.
Takeout: Takeout orders may be placed through the restaurant at the counter or online; delivery is available via third-party apps.
Alden & Harlow (Harvard Square)
James Beard Award semifinalist Michael Scelfo’s new American spot is set in a handsome subterranean space at Cambridge’s historic Brattle Hall—but the food is no basement fare. Here, shareable plates and larger options lean vegetarian, with other New England-inspired favorites including grilled broccoli with squash hummus, housemade chips with three-onion dip, and seared bluefin tuna that finds a surprising sweet-sour kick thanks to pickled apple butter. Instead of multiple spins on the pub grub classic, the single burger here is a thick smoky black angus patty topped with secret sauce and a house-made roll, with only around 40 available per night.
Dining at the restaurant: Alden & Harlow is open for indoor and patio dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available for pickup only.
Catalyst (Kendall Square)
When chef-owner William Kovel opened Catalyst 2011, Kendall Square was far from the bustling thoroughfare it is today. But over the past decade, some of the country’s foremost life sciences and technology giants have sprung up, making this French American spot the perfect setting for a business lunch. It’s also equipped for a romantic dinner, thanks to the sexy fireplaces and dim lighting. In honor of the restaurant’s milestone anniversary, several “greatest hits” feature on the menu this year, including beef tournedos with potato fondant and roasted carrot purée and roasted blue cod on a bed of crushed potato chowder with mussels and bacon. The dessert menu is also on fire—quite literally—with a new spin on a classic Catalyst favorite, baked Alaska flourless chocolate cake.
Dining at the restaurant: Catalyst is open for indoor dining and weather-dependent patio dining.
Takeout: Takeout is available by calling the restaurant, and through third-party apps.
La Brasa (East Somerville)
Before opening La Brasa in 2014, owner and executive chef Daniel Bojorquez cut his teeth with Boston culinary giant Frank McClelland at the iconic L’Espalier and Sel de la Terre. Now, Bojorquez updates steakhouse staples with inspirations from his homeland of Mexico. Cilantro chimichurri sings atop grilled flank steak, and even the humble Caesar salad finds new life thanks to charred-jalapeño dressing, Cotija cheese, and toasted pepitas and tortillas for crunch. The corn tortillas here are made fresh to order, and the smell from the wood-fire grill fills the hip, industrial space.
Dining at the restaurant: La Brasa is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: The restaurant is open for both takeout and delivery via the website and phone.
Dali (Ward Two)
Long before “shared plates” became mainstream, Dali was serving up tapas that were just as avant garde as their artistic namesake in a cozy corner of Somerville. The cuisine here is indeed art: savor scallops in saffron cream, fried saffron-battered shrimp with garlic and parsley sauce, and bacon with Manchego cheese, roasted pear, and a garlic onion relish—the list is as long as Spain’s Tagus River. Those with more robust appetites can dig into several sizzling paellas, available as solo or shared portions. Whether you’re tucking in on a sultry summer night or warming up in the winter, Dali’s the ideal hideaway to pass time sipping sangrias, sampling a sherry flight, even ordering a porró—the Catalonian wine pitcher has its own spout, so no drinking glass is needed.
Dining at the restaurant: Dali is open for indoor dining.
Takeout: The restaurant is open for takeout via the website and telephone.
Tried them all? Check out other options here.