30 Best of Boston According to Graham.
When Whole 30 and a cold's got you down and dreaming of bagels, Cuban sandwiches, and crafty beers what better way to torture yourself than by exalting the decadent excursions of your recent past? I'm sharing my 30 favorite food or otherwise delightful places in Boston so at least someone can eat something delicious very soon. Please go, take juicy photos, and put them in my inbox ASAP. Better yet, send me some recommendations for my next feast.
Sunday Morning Destinations
Ah, the existential crisis of Sunday brunch: savory or sweet. Should I order the Challah French Toast or Big Papi's Potato Skillet? Or, should we just call the whole thing off and order lunch instead!? When faced with reality, Sarah usually ends up with an eggs benedict of some sort while I struggle to find the right combo plate involving runny eggs, potatoes, sausage, and something to cover with syrup. These are a few of my favorite local brunch options:
1. The Friendly Toast
A lively and funky brunch spot in the quickly developing Kendall area of Cambridge, The Friendly Toast is more than just friendly - it's delicious. Pair your visit with an artsy matinee at Kendall Square Cinema and don't forget to reserve a spot in line at The Friendly Toast with their fancy smart phone app before you arrive.
2. Zaftig's Delicatessen
This classic Jewish deli is of course located in the most Jewish of Boston area neighborhoods, Brookline's Coolidge Corner. Established in the year 5757, they have an extensive menu: from matzo brei (scrambled eggs) and potato pancakes to hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches but you can survive on the delicious bagel chips alone (if you must).
3. Martin's Coffee Shop
An often crowded yet comfortable neighborhood breakfast joint. The perfect place for a stack of no frills pancakes and a cup of quality diner coffee in sleepy but eclectic Brookline Village.
South Street Diner (Boston)
Centre Street Cafe (JP)
Redd's in Rozzie (Roslindale)
50s Diner (Dedham)
Renee's Cafe (Somerville)
Coffee Shops / Cafes
There's nothing like a hot latte at 6pm to get your creative juices flowing until 3 in the morning when you're lying in bed wondering why your brain feels like it's being fueled by a hamster on uppers (I'll tell you more about Sarah's actual mouse speed experiments someday). On most days cafes are a little island of relaxation and solitude for me. These are my favorites:
1. Diesel Cafe
Where it all started - if by "it" you mean every young queer love affair in Boston. This laid back hipster-garage cafe in Davis Square has a long history of cute LGBTQ baristas, progressive policies, and delicious and well-named sandwiches (I'm a "Monkey Wrench" guy, myself). Be careful opening up their bagel sandwiches. I'll never forget the look on my mom's face when half of her completely cut in half sandwich plummeted to the sidewalk. TRAGIC.
2. Magnificent Muffin & Bagel Shoppe
"Mag Muff" for short, is the most delicious and indulgent breakfast option out there. Get a large iced coffee (NO, you can't get an iced chai, you bourgeois scum!), a sausage-egg-and-cheese on a spinach bagel and why don't you just throw in a neon green pistachio muffin while you're at it. Be ready to order when you get to the front of the line, bring cash, and trust that even though the staff seems like they hate you they maybe kind of don't.
3. Trident Booksellers & Cafe
Inconveniently located across from Forever 21 on Newbury Street, you can hide away at the diner-esque counter here if anyone ever tries to drag you to this high-rent, yet pleasantly historic, shopping district. The food is average brunch fare but the books are delicious.
Forge Baking Company (Somerville)
Ula Cafe (JP)
Pavement Coffeehouse (Fenway)
1369 Coffee House (Central Square)
Wired Puppy (Boston)
Koo Koo (Brookline Village)
Flour Bakery (Cambridge)
Thinking Cup (Boston)
I've always believed that the phase "three square meals a day" referred to the healing effects of eating three sandwiches in the span of a few hours. I'm also a proponent of meals that are well rounded (burgers, bagels, meat pies), triangular (pizza, scones), conical (tacos, crepes), and whatever the hell shape lobsters are supposed to be. Thank God you have to eat lunch every day. Here are my favorite casual meal purveyors:
Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000 Roast Beef 1000. Roast. Beef. 1000.
The first really kick ass bagel shop in Boston (I'll see you soon, Exodus Bagels!) that started as a pop up out of Cutty's in Brookline. Now firmly established in Cambridge, they've gained in popularity but kept their DIY spirit and adorable dinosaur charm. Grab a sea salt bagel with honey-rosemary cream cheese or the Classic Jumbo egg sandwich with melty cheddar all slathered with mustard butter (especially if you don't want to give mustard-hating-Sarah a bite!).
3. KO at the Shipyard
I found this place by accident seeking out Ingress portals near the shipyard in Eastie. These Aussie's make a mean--and dare I say--creative meat pie. One pie might not be enough but two is potentially too much. For even more fun, pretend it's a hand pie and go for a walk on the harbor, mate!
4. Dave's Fresh Pasta
Speaking of too much, Dave's Fresh Pasta is the classic kinda-too-big sandwich destination in Davis Square. Unless you're bleeding money, ignore the specialty market and run straight to the sandwich counter for a hot pressed Italian, prosciutto, or steak sandwich. On the rare occasion that Sarah eats the two halves of her sandwich in one sitting we all rejoice and then slowly waddle home.
A recently multiplying taco joint in Jamaica Plain (Stony Brook and now Centre Street). They serve up the freshest (they don't even have a freakin' freezer!) and most flavorful Mexican street food this side of the river without the too trendy self awareness of taco locations in Camberville.
City Feed and Supply (JP)
El Oriental De Cuba (JP)
Clover Food Lab (Central Square)
Life Alive Urban Oasis and Organic Cafe (Central Square)
Paris Creperie (Coolidge Corner)
Alive & Kicking Lobsters (Cambridge)
Blunch (South End)
Roxy's Grilled Cheese & Burgers (Central Square)
Mainely Burgers (Central Square)
Tasty Burger (Fenway)
Laid Back Dinner Spots
Once lunch is minimally digested, it's time to move on to phase 3: the main event...you guessed it...dinner! Remember kids, every time a bell rings, it's dinner time. Or an angel gets it's wings. Whatever. Sometimes, you have to abandon all rules of decorum and just shove some food in your face. These are my favorite fork-free dinners:
1. Santarpio's Pizza
Our first night living in East Boston consisted of an almost entirely empty apartment except for a chair, a bed, and a metal shelf topped with a take out order from Santarpio's Pizza: an excellent neighborhood welcoming gift to ourselves. Once you power through the awkwardness of the brisk phone order (guess what, they don't do delivery) you will somehow find the side entrance of the pizza shop where they process pick up orders. If your order isn't ready when you arrive you're essentially trapped inside their kitchen for awhile. It's not unlike a cramped men's room to be honest: with the burly old pizza-slinging guys chatting away while a few people stand uncomfortably close to each other waiting for their turn. Go home or to the nearby park to eat your pizza - and no they didn't forget your toppings, they're hidden under another layer of perfectly melty cheese.
2. Charlie's Kitchen
Charlie's may not be the most romantic trashy rock diner turned beer garden but it holds a special place in my heart as my first date location with Sarah 6 (million) years ago. I wonder if they host weddings...I'll have to run that by her later. We've been back many times for any combination of melt-in-your-mouth cheeseburger specials, late night drinks, and waffle fries. It's a Harvard Square classic and the perfect hangout.
3. Blue Nile Restaurant
This restaurant nearly made it onto the fancy dinners list since it 'aint cheap and there's some ambiance going on in there but YOU EAT WITH YOUR HANDS so according to my mother this is not technically fine dining. The traditional Ethiopian fare takes the shape of expertly spiced piles of cooked vegetables (in every color of the rainbow) atop a large, thin purple-ish bread substance. Playing with your food is par for the course. It's all so amazing you forget it's VEGAN, oh heavens.
4. Lone Star Taco Bar
This is the hip Cambridge taco restaurant that Chilacates could/would never be. Disguised as an homage to Texas that almost falls flat, I'd like to not like this place but the food is just too damn good. Order a smattering of tacos (3 is great), don't pass up the guac and chips, and ask the bartender for a Tecate--or a Pacifico if you're too afraid to sound like a gringo.
Sweet Cheeks (Fenway)
Picco (South End)
Veggie Galaxy (Central Square)
OTTO (Brookline Village)
Highland Kitchen (Somerville)
Redbones Barbecue (Somerville)
Grendel's Den (Harvard Square)
Boston Burger Company (Somerville)
Daddy Jones Bar (Somerville)
Fancy Schmancy Dinner
I had to take a break and eat a pork chop after that food-in-face pounding list but there's always room in life for another nice dinner, especially for a birthday, anniversary, half birthday, first day of school, bris, dog's communion, or other special occasion. Take bae to any of these fancy restaurants:
Heaven is pulling up to Sarma and finding a parking spot right outside--a rare occurrence because you're likely to circle the block a few times trying to reach the remote Somerville location. This Mediterranean and Middle Eastern small plates restaurant is the creation of Cassie Piuma and her mentor Ana Sortun, a Boston culinary legend. Every dish is the best thing you've ever eaten until the next one comes out. Save room for the specials that circulate the dining room and for the frozen yogurt with caramel to put the nail in your proverbial stomach coffin. You dead.
2. The Haven
It's quite enough to be the Scottish headquarters of Boston but The Haven in Jamaica Plain goes above and beyond in all other categories. They've got scotch eggs, scotch whiskey, Scottish wooden sheep with little plaid hats, and a bathroom plastered with Scottish tartan patterns. Let's not forget the mostly Scottish staff and the kilt-wearing owner, Jason Waddleton, who is a charmer to boot. This is some high class pub fare.
3. Alden & Harlow
Swoon. Every time I go to Alden & Harlow I have a great night. The staff are fun and knowledgeable about the creative American menu. The food quality and presentation is unbelievable. The ambiance is on point with rustic-modern decor including a sexy reclaimed barbecue sign. In my most recent experience at Alden & Harlow, friends rented out the whole place for their wedding and let's just say there's definitely room for a dance floor too - what more could you need?
The Beehive (South End)
Park (Harvard Square)
Ten Tables (JP)
Tres Gatos (JP)
Beat Brasserie (Harvard Square)
Little Donkey (Central Square)
Rino's Place (East Boston)
Growing up, Sarah maintained the theory that she had two stomachs: one for healthy food, and one for desserts. You see, you can be totally full after eating a nice healthy dinner and then the moment someone says ice cream--BAM--you're starving. Of things made from sugar and spice and everything nice (besides girls?), these are my faves:
1. Union Square Donuts
This is the start of my fancy donut obsession. Once a (donut)hole in the wall operation, it's now a city-wide staple that put the final kibosh on the cupcake fad of yesterdays. A simple chocolate glazed will do but don't shy away from the maple bacon, the brown butter hazelnut crunch, or the sea salted bourbon caramel. Go ahead, be bad, get two.
Coconut milk ice cream is legit. This small local chain makes all their ice cream and cakes from scratch and the quality and flavors are as unique as they are decadent. Don't tell anyone but it took me a very long time to understand FoMo = faux moo. Avoid the wooden spoons and grab a compostable plastic one instead, otherwise you might as well be eating with cardboard (or better yet bring home a pint for later and use your own gosh darn cuttlery).
J.P. Licks (Jamaica Plain)
Toscanini's Ice Cream (Central Square)
Modern Pastry (North End)
Blackbird Donuts (South End)
Taza Chocolate (Somerville)
Breweries and Pubs
While it's no Portland (MAINE) or Burlington, Boston has it's fair share of cool new breweries and old historic haunts. I alternate though a cycle of hip, classic, and townie vibes to keep my alcohol portfolio nicely diversified. These are a few of my favorite breweries and pubs:
1. Aeronaut Brewing Company
A quirky, smart brewing company slash event space slash market. We found our way to Aeronaut for one of the 2016 Presidential Debates which they live-screened on their wall--it was pretty darn funny at the time but looking back in retrospective kind of dulls the laughs. They've also been running a pop up beer garden across the river in Allston over the summer so I imagine there are more fun things for Aeronaut on the horizon. If you stare at their logo long enough you'll eventually see that it's a beer can pull tab with a hot air balloon inside...neat!
2. Doyle's Cafe
This place is OLD. It's been around since 1882, and they haven't cleaned out the draft lines once....just kidding. The beer is flowing freely here since it's right around the corner from the Sam Adams Brewery and they have a long standing relationship. There are signed photos of local politicians (plus a dedicated Mayor Menino room) mixed with classy Irish pub paraphernalia decorating the walls, high ceilings, and enough carved wood to panel the Boston public library. I finally braved the market price of a lobster roll here recently and got a sandwich the size of my face that did not disappoint.
Samual Adams Brewery (Jamaica Plain)
Galway House (Jamaica Plain)
The Burren (Somerville)
The Field Pub (Central Square)
Harpoon Brewery (Boston)
Napper Tandy's (Roslindale)
Magpie puts it best with their inventory descriptor tagline, "Shiny Things for Your Nest." Whether it's for gifts, every day needs, or just something shiny for my nest, these are my go to locations for shopping local:
1. Brookline Booksmith
There are two categories of things I like: books and weird gifts. Put them together in one store and you've got the Brookline Booksmith. They also carry a large quantity of art supplies, stationary, and my favorite line of Shinola notebooks. And ballerina hamsters, of course.
2. Black Ink
This place feels like the supply store for modern day stylish Hogwarts students with an interest in Japanese culture, aka Harvard students. The store is partially organized by color, includes a line of products aptly named The Museum of Useful Things and is great for gifts or just an inspiring way to spend some time in Harvard Square.
3. Harvard Book Store
While not as big as it's nearby bookstore rival, the COOP, the Harvard Book Store has the charm--and the used book cellar--to more than make up for any misgivings. They have an extensive collection of coursework related literature, novels, and excellent curation.
4. The Garment District
A multi-level vintage clothing mecca, The Garment District also boasts the downstairs Boston Costume store. While I haven't sprung for a chicken suit rental quite yet I do partake in their stock of Western shirts and 90s flannels. They don't always have something perfect in the right size but digging through these treasures, however picked over they may be located in cool-dude-Somerville, is always a good time.
A whole store just for kitchen supplies! You might think you have to be a chef or at least a good cook to step foot through the door but they have such an amazing array of items that anyone can find something useful and beautiful to take home whether it's a ceramic cat bowl, trendy water bottle, vintage inspired kitchen timer, or a fancy peppermill. Buy it allllllll!
Bob Slate Stationer (Harvard Square)
Boomerangs (Jamaica Plain and Central Square)
On Centre (Jamaica Plain)
Boing! JP's Toy Shop (Jamaica Plain)
Porter Square Books (Cambridge)
The COOP (Harvard Square)
Rodney's Bookstore (Central Square)
Henry Bear's Park (Brookline)
Boston General Store (Brookline)
Go Do Something
Now that you're totally broke and full of food, time to get out there and do something else! When I'm not just stuffing my face or browsing through tins of squirrel shaped paper-clips, I don't mind a little entertainment here and there. From a long walk to a long sit in front of a screen I'll take it all but these are my top picks for fun things to do in Boston:
1. Harbor Arts
This somewhat secret destination seems like it's about to be common knowledge now that Downeast Cider has moved into the neighborhood. A working shipyard, it's also an outdoor art gallery with huge scale installations and murals. If you're up for a long but beautiful walk, start at Piers Park, head into to the shipyard, walk to the end of the shipyard pier and back to (the big red Nantucket Lightship), then leave the shipyard going the other direction and you can walk all the way to point by the Hyatt.
2. SoWa Open Market
The SoWa Market has grown from a medium sized art and design market to a major weekend summertime destination. They have a vintage/antique market, a food truck court, a beer garden, and about a half of a football field's worth of artist vendors. You can spend hours here on summer afternoons. I recommend the ice cream cookie sandwiches and the dog watching.
3. Somerville Theatre
My all time favorite movie theater. The art deco ceiling paint job in the main theater has grown on me over the years and I've treated myself to many a self-date at the movies thanks to the reasonable prices, perfect popcorn, plus beer and ice cream for sale! Definitely see the headliner in the main theater unless you're really invested in your movie choice and pop down to the Museum of Bad Art in the basement after the show for a laugh.
Landmark Kendall Square Cinema (Cambridge)
Coolidge Corner Theatre (Brookline)
Flatbread Co & Sacco's Bowlhaven (Somerville)
Fenway Park (Fenway!)
Arnold Arboretum (Jamaica Plain)
Castle Island (Boston Harbor)
Georges Island (Boston Harbor)
Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary (Lincoln)
Middlesex Fells Reservation (Stoneham)
Turtle Pond (Hyde Park)
Boston Public Library (Boston)
New England Aquarium (Boston)
Puppet Showplace Theater (Brookline)
Boston Symphony Hall (Boston)
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston)
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
Institute of Contemporary Arts (Seaport)
Machine Nightclub (Fenway)
Club Cafe (Boston)