As a city that has seen countless graduations, engagements, and birthdays, Boston takes special occasions to another level. On the North End, a neighborhood with a deep-rooted Italian connection, ring in just about anything with decadent lobster agnolotti in a 19th-century row house. For a gathering with friends, head to the Back Bay, where an acclaimed chef serves up bountiful seafood platters, piled high with local oysters. If it’s a more intimate milestone you’re marking, grab a reservation at an elegant omakase spot in Chinatown.
Book a table at one of these top 15 restaurants, equipped for any festivity.
Grana at The Langham, Boston (Financial District)
Scoring a brunch reservation at Grana is about as easy as finding a seat on a Green Line train at rush hour—but it’s worth the wait, so plan ahead. The three-course extravaganza is as aesthetically pleasing as the surroundings. Grana, an Italian classic, is set in the grand hall of the former Federal Reserve Bank. The first round of colorful small bites rivals the vibrant cocktails in the creativity department. Pair the vodka and fizzy green tea, imbued with blueberries, with dishes such as zeppole and a polenta waffle. There’s a choice of sweet and savory mains such as zucchini bread French toast and a braised short rib benedict. Exquisite desserts from pastry chef Kerry Levesque are the ultimate icing on the cake.
The Maharaja (Cambridge)
A lot has changed in Harvard Square over the years. But thankfully, not The Maharaja. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the hustle and bustle of the heart of the neighborhood, and it’s tradition for many families in the area to hit the weekend buffet amid a regal setting to celebrate a special occasion—commencement, anyone? Whether you’re looking to please a vegan or impress a spice-lover, Maharaja’s north India-based menu, filled with tandoori specialities and a power-packed biryani selection, has something to please any king or queen.
Suitable for a wedding proposal, baby announcement, or a new job to celebrate, Harvest has been the place to toast special occasions since 1975. In winter, a roaring fireplace sets the dining room aglow, while the covered patio protects diners from all of Boston’s unpredictable elements. The pedigree of those behind the stove—Lydia Shire, Barbara Lynch, and Frank McClelland among them—reads like a shortlist of Boston’s most talented chefs. Today, executive chef Nick Deutmeyer puts out elegant American fare worthy of a splurge. Try ratatouille with ricotta-stuffed shishitos and scallops caught fresh daily, bourbon-glazed hanger steak, or pasture-raised Berkshire pork loin with plum butter.
Season to Taste (Harvard Square)
If variety is the spice of life, then Season to Taste, chef-owner Robert Harris’s intimate neighborhood spot, is on fire. The festive, French-accented menu changes about once every six weeks depending on what’s freshest from local purveyors. Diners now have more options thanks to a newer concept that’s transitioned from prix fixe to a la carte. Floor-to-ceiling windows and more foot traffic in Season to Taste’s new Harvard Square location—poised to open doors in November 2022—make it an ideal spot to people-watch. For toasting special occasions, there’s wine from up-and-coming vintners in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, natural wines from France, or more recognizable Napa Valley labels.
Rare Steakhouse – Encore (Everett)
Rare isn’t just named for what chefs consider the ideal temperature to savor steak. It also refers to the restaurant’s exclusive cuts, ideal for a steak lover looking to celebrate. As one of Boston’s newer steakhouses, Rare is among the few restaurants in New England to serve authentic Kobe beef and the top Wagyu selections from domestic purveyors. Beyond generously sized main dish portions, executive chef Kyle Bradish’s delicious interpretations include wagyu tartare tossed in a buttermilk and horseradish panna cotta, with quail egg and a pickled mustard seed emulsion. Those looking for something lighter can dig into an extensive seafood menu that features a swordfish steak served with wild mushroom risotto.
Since 2013, chef and co-owner Cassie Piuma, a 2019 James Beard nominee for Best Chef in the Northeast, has artfully executed small plates from an unassuming storefront. Once inside Sarma, there’s an explosion of colors, thanks to vibrant banquettes and a rainbow of ceramic plates on the wall that pay homage to Piuma’s favorite cuisines. Moroccan, Lebanese, Turkish and Iranian flavors are all mingled on an extensive small-plate menu that makes sharing bites—and special moments—memorable. Calamari with carrot baba ganoush and grapefruit, zucchini tempura fries with turmeric tahini, and lamb kofte sliders are among the rotating favorites from Piuma.
Renowned restaurateur Barbara Lynch’s French Italian fine-dining restaurant, Menton, claims a well-deserved spot on this list. As the only Relais & Châteaux association restaurant in Boston, it offers an unparalleled tasting menu of hits such as pheasant with sunchokes; garlic-tinged lamb with brown butter; and foie gras torchon with crème fraîche, cherry, and fennel. Seasonal supplements include an A5 wagyu add-on or truffles shaved onto the spaghetti alla chitarra. Menton goes above and beyond for private dining with a special room for 45 people with a dedicated kitchen and chef; for a direct view of the action, the chef’s table for 12 diners is tucked inside the kitchen.
Committee reimagines the traditional ouzeri, a Greek tavern serving ouzo and mezze. With an elegant lounge, a chef’s counter, communal high-top tables, and an outdoor patio, the restaurant brings Mediterranean coastal flavors to the Boston waterfront. Larger groups can feast on the grilled meat platter with skewers, lamb chops, and sausages, all served with potatoes, spicy cheese dip, yogurt sauce, and pita bread. The manti dumplings, filled with crab meat and cheese, drizzled with yogurt, are a great starter. The atmosphere is relaxed, and conversation flows over shareable plates paired with creative cocktails.
o ya (Chinatown)
o ya’s swoon-worthy, $250-per-person omakase menu serves up 20 courses of nigiri, sashimi, and small plates in an experience worth splurging for. This is not your traditional menu—inventive dishes at o ya surface in the form of Kumamoto oysters with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette; kinmedai (golden eye snapper) with ume, plum vinaigrette, and shiso; and hamachi with banana pepper mousse. The dimly lit space is small but refined, with most diners choosing a seat at the omakase counter to watch the magic happen. For a more casual, but equally special experience, opt for an evening at Hojoko, husband-wife owners Tim and Nancy Cushman’s other Boston restaurant.
Select Oyster Bar (Back Bay)
Accolades—including a best seafood restaurant designation from Boston magazine—have piled high on a platter like one of Boston’s iconic fried catch plates since chef-owner Michael Serpa opened Select Oyster Bar in 2015. But rather than crispy clams or battered scallops, imaginative interpretations here include roasted Gloucester swordfish, briney South Shore oysters, and simmered Maine mussels. And for the landlubber? Prime ribeye from artisanal purveyor Savenor’s Butcher and Grocer is a menu favorite. Those looking to celebrate with friends need not worry: Bountiful platters come in four variations with increasingly larger offerings of oysters, shrimp cocktail, blue crab salad, Maine lobster, crudo, tuna tartare, and caviar. Accompany it with a “salt washed” cocktail with gin, fino sherry, cucumber, and black pepper.
MIDA – South End (South End)
Like the thoughtfully balanced plates that James Beard-nominated chef William Douglass sends from the kitchen, MIDA strikes the right balance of rustic and elegant. The prime South End location nestled among Boston’s iconic brownstones is just as friendly for passersby to pull up a seat at the bar as worthy of a trip into the city to feast on some of the city’s best Italian fare. Try gnocchi cacio e pepe, pesto spaccatelli, or bucatini all’amatriciana. On “Mangia Mondays,” treat yourself to an $80-for-two menu that includes five pastas and a salad—ideal for an intimate, more low-key celebration.
Uni (Back Bay)
Japanese whisky is enjoying a moment these days, but Uni has been ahead of the curve. One of Boston’s most extensive whisky menus features some rare bottles that are perfect for toasting a special milestone; sake lovers can find more than a few selections to suit their palate here, too. All are suited for pairing with izakaya fare from executive chef David “Baz” Bazirgan and James Beard Award-winning chef-owner Ken Oringer. Interpretations vary on a seasonally rotating menu, but standouts include foie gras mousse with raspberries and sesame brittle; sauteed shrimp with anise hyssop, blue corn polenta, and melon rind; and wagyu beef dumplings. For that really special occasion, consider adding on the caviar menu (one of Boston’s few), a downright splurge.
Trifecta (Back Bay)
Top-notch service at the Four Seasons is no surprise. But the creative cocktails at the street-level lobby bar are especially striking. The menu features drinks such as the “elixir” with tequila, kiwi, lime, agave, coconut, and activated charcoal foam and the kazahana, whisky tinged with yuzu, ginger, shiso and matcha foam. Beyond celebratory drinks, Fridays and weekends bring afternoon tea and bubbles with three tiers of bite-sized pastries, finger sandwiches, macarons, and scones. On the food menu, the caviar-topped lobster roll, layered with celery and fennel soubise, is almost too pretty to eat.
Mamma Maria (North End)
In a neighborhood renowned for its Italian restaurants, Mamma Maria stands out for a special occasion, particularly for private dining—five intimate rooms make it a popular setting for small weddings. The historic 19th-century row house is the backdrop for ornate, light-filled nooks during the day and chandelier-lit settings at night. Whether you opt for lunch or dinner, Mamma Maria manages to reimagine the flavors of nonna’s Sunday suppers while staying true to the old country’s culinary soul. In fall and winter, the menu reflects the cuisine of cooler temps from northern Italy, such as veal osso bucco. In summer, lighter flavors from dishes like lobster agnolotti pay homage to southern Italy.
Alcove (West End)
TD Garden regulars will recall when the arena was simply called Boston Garden—and when the only options for nearby dining were the pubs that loomed in the venue’s shadows. Today, there are more hot spots in West End to celebrate a special occasion or even a monumental Bruins or Celtics victory, and Alcove tops the list of destinations to do so. Far from a run-of-the-mill beer and burger joint, Alcove’s extensive wine list sets the stage to sit back and stay awhile while enjoying sweeping waterfront views and a panorama of the iconic Zakim Bridge. Seafood is one of chef Charles Draghi’s specialties, with a raw bar featuring line-caught crudo and New England oysters. The expansive dining room can host socials, business networking events, birthdays, and more.
Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.
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