Boston Tourist-Trap Survival Guide

Don't go there, go here
July 5, 2016
by Scott Kearnan

Welcome to Boston. Now please walk faster, learn to love the Sox (and the Pats, and the...) and whatever you do: Don't call us Beantown. Nobody actually does that, newb. 

But seriously, we're a city that welcomes visitors. Whether they come for our top-notch universities, world-class hospitals, fast-growing tech scene or just to see really, really old places, tourists are an important part of Boston culture. And we don't blame you for wanting to hit up some of the more iconic neighborhoods and landmarks while you're here. But we'd also like to steer you in the right direction when it comes to eating out, so please accept this survival guide to dining well even when you're wandering among tourist traps. Trust us. You'll need it. 

Where to eat along the Freedom Trail
Boston's place in early American history is a huge part of our appeal, and the Freedom Trail — a 2.5-mile red brick-lined walking path through Downtown — is an excellent way to meander the more pivotal spots. When you need a bite (or booze), here are some top options right on the route. 

No.9 ParkAt James Beard award-winning restaurateur Barbara Lynch's first, flagship restaurant, you'll dine in the shadow of the gold-domed State House, watching the well-heeled blue bloods of Beacon Hill traipse by Boston Common. Splurge on the three-course prix fixe dinner of French-Italian cuisine; No.9 Park is by the "start" of the Freedom Trail, so you might as well fuel up. 9 Park St.; 617-742-9991 

The Tap Trailhouse. Taking direct inspiration from the Freedom Trail out front, this trendy tavern puts modernized twists on classic Yankee fare: like "colonial country sausage," pictured, a tender, slightly spicy sausage made from rabbit butchered in-house, served with pickled cranberries atop the sweet cornmeal flatbread of a maple sugar johnnycake. 19 Union St.; 617-367-0033

Saus. In modern times, Faneuil Hall is known as much for its scene of drunk bar crawlers tottering across cobblestones as for its Colonial history. You don't need to be sauced (though it helps) to enjoy the preemptive hangover cure that is Saus's signature poutine: frites topped with cheese curds and gravy, plus add-ons like beer-braised beef, bacon bits, truffled mushrooms and pork belly. 33 Union St.; 617-248-8835

Legal Oysteria. You may be tempted to check out Legal Sea Foods, a famous Boston-based chain. But rather than choose any old outpost, opt for one of the brand's newer one-off concepts: like this specifically Italian-inflected spot, sited near the Freedom Trail's end in Charlestown terminus, serving fab fish and pizzas cooked in the brick oven left behind by the landmark spot's former inhabitant, Todd English's first restaurant Olives. 10 City Sq., Charlestown617-712-1988

What's worth the lines at South End Open Market

When visiting Boston, there's a good chance you'll find yourself dining in the hip and restaurant-heavy South End, where one of the most popular weekend draws (for locals and tourists alike) is the South End Open Market, a seasonal fair series featuring lots of artisan vendors, local grocers — and food trucks. But rather than idle senselessly in line for sub-par street fare, here are four favorites that are definitely worth the pedestrian traffic jams. 

Chicken and Rice Guys. This halal street cart-style purveyor of Middle Eastern eats recently opened its first full sit-down restaurant in the suburb of Medford, which complements a previously existing, takeout-only brick-and-mortar Downtown. You're going to find inexpensive but awesome grilled chicken plates, lamb gyros and rice spiked with spiced sauces.

Frozen Hoagies. The concept is so clever: Choose a flavor of cookie, from fudge brownie to Snickerdoodle, and then pick an ice cream, maybe caramel apple or Guinness-flavored. They turn it into an ice cream sandwich, and suddenly your hands are sticky with deliciousness.

Roxy's Grilled CheeseIf you can make it over to this popular food truck's brick-and-mortar restaurant in Allston, even better; the menu there also includes burgers. But the food truck's signature, super-addictive grilled cheese sandwiches are where it's at, and we're partial to the Mighty Rib Melt, a combo of BBQ braised beef, caramelized onion and Fontina cheese that is absolutely heaven-sent. 

Stoked Wood Fired Pizza CoThis rocking and rolling pizza outfit, the creation of music producer and Letters to Cleo bassist Scott Riebling, recently opened a sit-down restaurant in Brookline. But we first fell in love with the quick-crisped pies via the food truck, where they're turned out from a 6,000-lb. wood-fired oven that traipses all over town. 

Where to find a (good) hot dog and hamburger by Fenway

You want to see a game in America's oldest MLB ballpark. We get it. But while the concessions in Fenway Park have certainly improved over the years — there's even now an outpost of Boston's beloved newish patty chain Tasty Burger inside — you might be better served scoring a game day hot dog or burger at one of these spots outside the Green Monster.

Hojoko. You probably wouldn't expect a Japanese izakaya to have one of Boston's best new burgers. But this funky little sibling to sushi icon O Ya outdid itself with a fantastic chuck and Wagyu short-rib patty (pictured) topped with American cheese, dashi pickles and a spectacular "special sauce." 1271 Boylston St.; 617-670-0507

Lower DepthsMake sure you bring some greenbacks to this subterranean, cash-only hangout in Kenmore Square. Not only will you find one of Boston's biggest beer lists (about 240 varieties between draft, canned and bottled), but there's also an awesome hot dog menu that features creative iterations like the foot-long "Boston Strangler," topped with caramelized onions and mac 'n' cheese and the "White Trash" dog covered in beer cheese dip and potato chips. 476 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-266-6662

Eastern Standard. At Fenway you're just a stone's throw from two burger specialists: the original location of Tasty Burger and Wahlburgers, the famous brothers-founded chain that actually turns out some good patties, if you can get past the celeb shtick. But it's this buzzing American brasserie in Kenmore Square that has what surveyors recently deemed one of Boston's ten best burgers: the "Standard Burger," perfectly seasoned beef with Vermont cheddar on a buttery brioche. 528 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-532-9100

Audubon. Plopped on the Beacon Street side of Landmark Center, Audubon goes largely undiscovered by Fenway tourists, so you'll deal with slightly fewer bedazzled baseball hats. You will, however, find some craft cocktail and craft beer swilling hipsters munching on comfort food that includes a simple but stellar Kobe beef hot dog, best enjoyed on a cloistered rear patio strung with twinkling garden lights. 838 Beacon St.; 617-421-1910

Where to find a better bar near Cheers

Please. If you must take a photo opp at Cheers, the bar that inspired the long-running hit TV show, at least do it at the original Beacon Hill location — not the sitcom-inspired recreation they plopped in the middle of tourist-filled Faneuil Hall. And then, after you've had your obligatory beer to toast Sam, Diane, Norm and the rest of the gang, get yourself to one of the better watering holes nearby. 

Carrie Nation Cocktail Club. Just down the street from Cheers is this speakeasy-style lounge that is named for the hot-headed, hatchet-wielding, barroom-smashing leader of the early 20th-century temperance movement. Booze is certainly celebrated at this classy joint, which has a main bar and a hidden, red curtain-obscured backroom where locals know to hit the quieter second bar and play a game or two of pool. 11 Beacon St.; 617-227-3100

Alibi. Take the 10-minute walk to the backside of Beacon Hill, meandering through quaint streets filled with unique boutiques and adorable cafes, and arrive at this arresting cocktail lounge inside the Liberty Hotel, a glitzy property housed in what was once the Charles Street Jail. Surrounded by original prison bars and celebrity mug shots (hey, Lindsay!), music thumps, digits are exchanged and cocktails clink like the sound of a ball and chain. 215 Charles St.; 857-241-1144

Highball Lounge. There's a creative cocktail program and kitschy, nostalgia-tinged playfulness at this lounge inside the nearby Nine Zero hotel, where menus are glimpsed through View-Master toys, board games are available for indulging your competitive streak, certain cocktails are garnished with rubber duckies and DJs spin groovy tunes. Must-try: The Wallflower (pictured), a surprisingly potent mix of gin, amber vermouth, basil and lemon finished with a spritz of honey-lavender essence "perfume."​ 90 Tremont St.; 617-772-0202

Silvertone Bar & Grill. Also on the other side of Boston Common is this cool subterranean spot with a midcentury vibe, hipster-baiting cocktails and goofy ideas like the "Happy Meals," various combos of liquor shots served with a Miller High Life. Plus there's accessible American eats that will fill your belly without breaking the bank, like a fantastically gooey mac 'n' cheese. 69 Bromfield St.; 617-338-7887

What's worth it in the North End

Boston's oldest neighborhood is now best known as our city's answer to "Little Italy," jam-packed with restaurants that range from quality joints to those coasting on foot traffic. Your out-of-town crew will probably want to dine here (especially if you visit during the summer, filled with a series of weekend street festivals), so allow us to narrow down the overwhelming options to a few favorites worth your time and dollar. 

Neptune OysterNeptune's reputation precedes it, but in this case, the legendary status is well earned. Our surveyors consistently rank it among the top restaurants in Boston, and at the heart of its appeal is absolutely fantastic seafood that includes, whether served hot with butter or cold with mayo, one of the best lobster rolls in the city. 63 Salem St.; 617-742-3474

Parla. Most North End restaurants are outfitted like your nonna's lace- and doily-draped living room. But this North End newcomer appeals to hipper crowds with a strong cordials-based beverage program and modern Italian-American menu that covers ground like crispy duck breast with blackberry-spice purée and ramen noodle "carbonara" with slow roasted pork belly and guanciale dashi.  230 Hanover St.; 617-367-2824

Prezza. When you want traditional yet top-notch, head to Anthony Caturano's North End gem that never disappoints. It's named for the Italian village where his grandmother Elena grew up, and many of the old-world recipes were inspired by her "gravy Sundays" meals: The stellar gnocchi Bolognese alone is worth the visit. (Psst. He also just opened the coastal Italian-focused Tonno in the North Shore fishing town of Gloucester.) 24 Fleet St.; 617-227-1577

Taranta. Chef Jose Duarte's Peruvian-Italian fusion is certainly unique to the neighborhood. And boy, does it ever work well – especially his seafood, which includes regularly changing preparations of the jungle fish Amazone Paiche. 210 Hanover St.; 617-720-0052

Where to find decent lobstah' rolls

The lobster roll is so closely associated with the Hub, we know you'll want to Instagram getting your claws into one. But there are some real duds out there, so here are a few places to find truly fantastic versions of our unofficial city sandwich. (Besides, of course, the aforementioned Neptune Oyster.)

B&G Oysters. On the high-end but worth-it front comes the scrumptious roll at Barbara Lynch's South End seafood stalwart. It's a gourmet go-to, loaded with chunks of Maine shellfish on a toasted roll and served with fries and butter pickles. 550 Tremont St.; 617-423-0550

Island Creek Oyster Bar. Though Island Creek is known for its locally-harvested oysters, chef Jeremy Sewall's cousin is also a Maine lobsterman, so it's no surprise that you're getting the best of the catch with Ethel's Lobster Roll (named for Sewall's grandmother). The lobster meat is stuffed into a rosemary brioche roll and coated in mayo mixed with créme fraîche, celery, red onion and pickle. 500 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-532-5300

James Hook & Co. We recently learned there are proposed plans for this 90-year-old, family-run business to develop its waterfront location into a multistory tower of residences or a hotel — both ideas inclusive of a new and expanded restaurant, of course. Until that happens, sate your hunger with the frills-free joint's simple but standout lobster roll, laden with big chunks of meat and tossed in mayo. 15 Northern Ave.; 617-423-5501

Yankee Lobster Co. This decades-spanning seaport outfit has built a reputation for supplying restaurants, but its simple, counter service retail space is the perfect place for individual consumers to consume a fantastic lobster roll. 300 Northern Ave.; 617-345-9799

tourist traps