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Grading 5 Food Neighborhoods in Boston

Are these restaurant scenes heating up, holding steady or cooling off?
October 19, 2015
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by Scott Kearnan

Boston is a city of unique neighborhoods, each with its own specific character. And at any given time, the food scenes in each are in various states of excitement: sometimes new openings are sprouting up every day, at other points it seems like all your local favorites are shuttering. We turned our eye to five neighborhoods that have been buzzing lately — for one reason or another — to find out their current states as dining destinations. 

Chinatown

Boston's Chinatown, the third-largest neighborhood of its kind in the country, has long been a hub of Asian-American immigrants — and as a result, restaurants that reflect their cuisines. But the neighborhood has also been at the center of conversations about gentrification and, as outlets like the Boston GlobeUniversal Hub and The Bay State Banner have recently noted, revitalizing developments (like luxury hotels and high-rise condos) in Downtown Crossing and along the Greenway have encroached on Chinatown, driving up rents and contributing to the displacement of even longtime residents and businesses. Popular Vietnamese joint Xinh Xinh closed in May after about a decade, the (rather short-lived) Wild Cherry Yogurt Shop called it quits in April and corner icon Maxim Coffee House closed in September after 33 years in business. Notable new openings, meanwhile, have been few. We'd like to see some more inspiring momentum soon, but in the meanwhile here's hoping that an important immigrant neighborhood will retain its character — and its local flavor. 

Status: Cooling Off 

Jamaica Plain

The g-word has also been invoked in discussions of Jamaica Plain lately. But if we focus specifically on recent movements in the dining scene, we see plenty of exciting openings that reflect both cultural diversity and the neighborhood's time-honored hipster vibe. Within the last year, JP has welcomed many new restaurants, like Dominican newcomer Pikalo, Mexican taqueria Chilacates, Vietnamese eatery Noodle Barn and Fairsted Kitchen's spiffy Southern Lowcountry sibling The Frogmore (pictured). The Tres Gatos team has also joined in, with Rialto alum Brian Rae augmenting the menu at Centre Street Cafe. (They also have a Mexican restaurant, Casa Verde, slated to open later this year.) And the cult fave pop-up duo Whisk (aka Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta, past Zagat 30 Under 30 honorees) found a permanent home at Fazenda Cafe. We did mourn the loss of some local legends, like the long-running James's Gate, but overall — it's a tasty scenario. 

Status: Heating Up

Seaport

Over the past several years, developments in the Seaport have remade a somewhat barren, borderline-industrial landscape into a buzzing hive of trendy restaurants where young professionals and out-on-the-town suburbanites alike descend in droves. The area notched a few new noteworthy entries over the past year, including Mario Batali's Babbo Pizzeria, one of Boston's only international star chef–affiliated restaurants; Committee (pictured), a jumping Greek meze and cocktail joint from the team behind Bijou nightclub; and the Envoy Hotel, which houses both a swank panorama-providing lounge, Lookout Rooftop Bar, and a chic New American restaurant, Outlook Kitchen + Bar. The Seaport is cruising along, though it's getting tough to tell when the wave of openings will crest. 

Status: Holding Steady

South Boston

Once upon a time, South Boston probably wouldn't even register on a list of dining neighborhoods. (Drinking neighborhoods? Sure.) But in recent years, plenty of enterprising hospitality types have harnessed the pub- and tavern-friendly sensibility of the area and translated it into truly food-focused venues. Among the most recent additions are Worden Hall, a whiskey-soaked gastropub from the Five Horses Tavern team, and Coppersmith (pictured), a massive and multifaceted operation (housing two food trucks, a cafe and an RV turned raw bar, all in addition to its main dining room) within a sprawling former copper foundry. Earlier in the year, we saw the opening of Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar, where the Baja-influenced eats are accompanied by a huge selection of tequila at the centerpiece bar, and Fromage, a classy lil' wine and cheese bar. And though the name is the most alcohol-specific element of Moonshine 152 — where Asia Mei (formerly of Sam's) brings elevated twists on American and Asian street foods — it spices up the hot Southie 'hood in the process. 

Status: Heating Up

North End 

Boston's oldest, historically Italian-American neighborhood is arguably the single area most associated with its restaurant scene — and it's not hard to see why. Cobblestone streets here are jammed with aromatic red-sauce kitchens, many delightful, many tourist traps. (For some help differentiating, head here.) Over the past few months it has gained some new spots, several of them related to existing institutions: Monica's Mercato Pizza, a subterranean pie joint under its parent grocer; Modern Underground, another sub-street-level bar and restaurant, this one spawned from Modern Pastry; and Rina's Pizzeria and Cafe, a casual eatery next door to sibling Strega. Meanwhile, long-standing restaurateur Frank De Pasquale moved his Italian seafood spot Mare — now Mare Oyster Bar — to a new North End location at 3 Mechanic Street, mixing up the menu and adding a cool new patio. But aside from Crudo, a recent addition focused on Pan-Asian small plates, these new spots have mostly been serving more of the same. Variety, spice of life — where are you? 

Status: Holding Steady

chinatown
north end
jamaica plain
south boston
seaport
food enclaves