Article

The insider’s guide to Boston restaurants

A veteran critic helps ASCRS attendees make the most of their dining experience.

ASCRS/ASOA Preview
Boston: April 24-29

The insider’s guide to Boston restaurants

A veteran critic helps ASCRS attendees make the most of their dining experience.

By MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian

No.9 Park’s prune gnocchi with foie gras.
COURTESY No. 9 PARK

Boston offers visitors a tremendous variety of dining options in a compact urban package. While justly famous for its wealth of local seafood, its restaurant scene encompasses a veritable UN of world cuisines, from the homely charm of the North End’s many Italian trattorias, to the inviting neighborhood bistros of the South End, to the Back Bay’s upscale restaurants, to the battery of new hot spots in the burgeoning Seaport and Fort Point districts. Here are a few worthy dining options that lie a short walk, taxi, or subway ride away.

THE SEAPORT / FORT POINT

Anchored by the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, this once exclusively industrial district has recently blossomed into a dining destination. The Seaport features many well-known chains with views of Boston Harbor; Fort Point is home to some of the city’s most acclaimed independent restaurateurs.

Blue Dragon’s East-meets-West style salmon.
COURTESY BLUE DRAGON

ROW 34, 383 Congress St., (617) 553-5900 row34.com

Brand-new and already booming, this New England seafooder is built around a raw bar emphasizing New England oysters, plus cured and smoked seafood, casual classics like fried clams and lobster rolls, and inspired preparations of locally caught fish. Set in a former steel mill, its industrial-chic package includes a thoughtful selection of small-producer draft and bottled beers, as well as seafood-friendly wines by the glass and bottle.

SAM’S AT LOUIS BOSTON, 60 Northern Ave., (617) 295-0191, samsatlouis.com

Located above one of Boston’s swankest clothing boutiques, this purveyor of New American cuisine has two features that distinguish it from its Harbor-adjacent brethren. One, it’s a rare Seaport restaurant that isn’t part of a national or regional chain, as reflected in a menu that is more imaginative than most. Two, on a stretch where a dozen restaurants offer harbor views, Sam’s has the most stunning 270-degree vista of all.

TAVERN ROAD, 343 Congress St., (617) 790-0808 tavernroad.com

With acclaimed young chef Louis DiBiccari in the back and his brother Michael out front, this sleek, raucous Fort Point indie brings an urban edge to the gastropub concept, with vivid presentations of charcuterie, grilled and roast meats and seafood, as well as pasta and risotto. The hopping bar boasts one of the city’s most serious craft cocktail programs.

BLUE DRAGON, 324 A St., (617) 338-8585 www.ming.com/blue-dragon.htm

Celebrity chef Ming Tsai brings his trademark East-meets-West sensibility into a space that feels like a dimly lit, bustling Hong Kong tavern and serves up deluxe versions of street foods from all over Asia. With fusion-y dim sum offerings like Carolina BBQ potstickers, plates of chili-spiked pork-belly baos, and fragrant bowls of garlic/sake clams with udon noodles, Tsai is clearly having fun. Gather ten friends so you can score a reservation, or expect long waits.

THE NORTH END

This quaint bastion of Boston’s Italian-American community is beloved for its twisting streets and fantastic food shops. But pick your spots carefully among its 100 restaurants to avoid touristy, pedestrian red-sauce fare.

Sam’s at Louis Boston offers a great view of the harbor to accompany its great food.
COURTESY SAM’S AT LOUIS BOSTON

PREZZA, 24 Fleet St., (617) 227-1577 www.prezza.com

This sleek restaurant offers amenities rare in the tourist-heavy North End: a full bar, reservations, dessert and one of the city’s best Italian-focused wine lists. Best of all, chef/owner Anthony’s Caturano’s family roots and training in Abruzzo show in his traditional Northern Italian preparations, notably beautiful handmade pastas like a giant raviolo filled with ricotta and an intact egg yolk. But it’s also a terrific chophouse featuring beef, lamb, fish and game grilled over wood fire.

L’OSTERIA, 104 Salem St., (617) 723-7847 www.losteria.com

In a neighborhood with dozens of homey Italian-American joints, L’Osteria is one of the rare ones good enough for locals to patronize. Family-run and casual, it serves up old-school comfort dishes like linguini with local clams, garlicky shrimp scampi and veal parmigiana in generous portions at nice prices. Skip the lines at the neighborhood’s many tourist traps and get a reservation here.

BEACON HILL

One of Boston’s toniest neighborhoods isn’t restaurant-rich, but has a gem or two.

No. 9 PARK, 9 Park St., (617) 742-9991 no9park.com

With views of the State House and Boston Common, No. 9 Park is the first and still among the best of celebrated chef/owner Barbara Lynch’s local restaurant empire. Amidst understated dining rooms and exceptional service, Ms. Lynch founded her culinary reputation with elegant preparations of Italian and French specialties, such as farro farfalle with rabbit and prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras. No. 9’s intimate bar was Boston’s first to embrace the modern craft cocktail movement, and remains one of its best examples.

LEATHER DISTRICT / CHINATOWN

Adjacent to the Boston’s Financial District and Waterfront are two small neighborhoods with some superb dining options.

O YA, 9 East St. (617) 654-9900 oyarestaurantboston.com

It’s small, tucked away in a former shoe manufacturing district, and has the quiet ambience of a rustic Zen temple. But O Ya serves some of the most extravagant, beautiful and costly Japanese fare in town. Chef/owner Tim Cushman’s take on sushi, sashimi, and cooked dishes demands quiet concentration to appreciate their beauty and inventiveness, like his fried Kumamoto oyster dressed with yuzu aioli and a glittering black crown of squid-ink foam. Carve out some time for a memorable multi-course omakase, and bring your black card.

SHŌJŌ, 9 Tyler St., (617) 423-7888 shojoboston.com

Boston’s excellent Chinatown offers a broad range of regional Chinese cuisines and a smattering of Thai, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese, all quite traditional. Shōjō is something else: hip, creative, pan-Asian and fusion-oriented. Its many fine dim sum dishes include duck confit dumplings with parsnip puree and suckling-pig bao with smoked barbecue sauce and kimchi, and it boasts a fine little craft-cocktail bar, too.

THE SOUTH END

A gorgeous old residential neighborhood of Victorian brownstones, the South End is also home to dozens of Boston’s best bistros.

BOSTON CHOPS, 1375 Washington St. (617) 227-5011, bostonchops.com

If you’re craving hunks of properly-grilled prime beef, you could go to a luxury national chain steak house: Boston has 20, exactly like their counterparts in every other major American city. Or you could go to one with local flavor, like this handsome, leather-bound temple to the glories of steak and oversized cocktails. Chef Chris Coombs ups the ante of the steak house menu with snacks and appetizers like oxtail croquettes and machaca-style beef cheeks served with flour tortillas.

MELA, 578 Tremont St., (617) 859-4805 www.melaboston.com

Indian fine-dining restaurants in Boston won’t make anyone forget London, but at least the regional breadth available here has expanded beyond the dull old days of all Punjabi and Mughal. This colorful storefront serves up a slightly lighter take on typical Northern chaats, fritters, turnovers, curries, and tandoor-roasted meats and seafood. But it adds regional flair with some curries in the style of Goa, Chennai, Keralam, and Bengal, as well as a couple of tableside-cooked hot stone dishes.

ESTRAGON, 700 Harrison Ave., (617) 266-0443 estragontapas.com

Relaxed, airy, and carrying a frisson of Jazz Age Iberian romance, Estragon is the brainchild of Madrid-native chef/owner Julio de Haro, who turns out a parade of Castilian pinchos, tapas and full-sized plates, including paellas. Hearty flavors and a long list of mostly Spanish wines and sherries, plus a bar that turns out cocktails emphasizing infused and flavored spirits complete a comfy, elegant cushion for an evening of languid nibbling and drinking.

BACK BAY / KENMORE SQUARE

Boston’s busiest commercial district and the home of Fenway Park, respectively, feature many excellent hotel restaurants as well as smaller upmarket independents.

INDIA QUALITY, 484 Commonwealth Ave., (617) 267-4499, www.indiaquality.com

One of Boston’s oldest and most reliable Indian restaurants doesn’t stray into the inventiveness found in cities with more evolved subcontinental offerings. But for value, the endearing hospitality of its hosts, and the familiar comfort of well-executed Northern standbys with a sprinkling of other regional specialties, this humble basement space is hard to beat.

EASTERN STANDARD KITCHEN & DRINKS 528 Commonwealth Ave., (617) 532-9100 easternstandardboston.com

Anchoring the Hotel Commonwealth is this lively brasserie serving up an eclectic, crowd-pleasing blend of New England fare (including terrific raw bar), French classics, and Italian. Beloved by Sox fans on game day, business travelers and locals alike (and cocktail snobs for its extraordinary bar program), Eastern Standard is one of the best, most versatile hotel restaurants in town.

Boston Chops brings local flavor to its steak house offerings.
COURTESY BOSTON CHOP

ASTA, 47 Massachusetts Ave., (617) 585-9575 www.astaboston.com

The accolades keep pouring in for first-time chef/owner Alex Crabb and his gorgeously-presented, Nouvelle French-inspired food. His training at L’Espalier (one of Boston’s best French restaurants) shows in the refinement and creativity of his cooking, served up only as a three-, five-, or eight-course tasting menu. Dishes like warm oyster with oxtail and gastrique, and a cream puff with black sesame and smoked maple have made this reservations-essential storefront a magnet for adventurous gastronomes.

SORELLINA, 1 Huntington Ave., (617) 412-4600 www.sorellinaboston.com

Chic and sophisticated are terms that come to mind at the sight of this modern Italian’s minimalist dining room and its smartly turned-out patrons. And there’s substance behind that high style in the form of chef/owner Jamie Mammano’s creative take on region-hopping Italian fare. Grilled octopus in squid-ink couscous and a giant single strand of maccheroni with Wagyu meatballs are typical of Sorellina’s notion of beautiful food for beautiful people. OM