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Neighborhood Smackdown: Best Brunches, Barhopping and More

Which 'hoods reign supreme when cravings strike?
November 14, 2016
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by Scott Kearnan

It's not just in sports that Boston is a competitive city. In our many tight-knit communities, residents are quick to sing the praises of their home 'hood. But what are the best areas in the city for different types of dining? We ventured to make a few critical calls. Let's see if your neighborhood made the cut. 

Best brunch scene: South End
One of Boston's most beautiful neighborhoods, the South End merges a sophisticated restaurant scene with picturesque brownstones. And on weekends, it's a hive of mimosa-clutching brunch diners trading fuzzy memories of the night before. You'll find them at winning American brasserie Trophy Room and "pajama brunch" destination Tremont 647 — both especially popular with the neighborhood's thriving LGBT community — and on the neighborhood's many patios: from sleek steakhouse Boston Chops to trattoria Cinquecento, with its outdoor bar fashioned from a repurposed shipping crate, and new coastal Italian restaurant Bar Mezzana, which sits mere steps from the South End Open Market, a popular Sunday artisan fair. 

Best barhopping: South Boston
South Boston is, of course, famed for its beer-soaked pubs that pay tribute to the neighborhood's Irish-American community. From humble watering holes like L Street Tavern (featured in the flick Good Will Hunting) to polished yet historic haunts like Amrheins Restaurant, home to the oldest hand-carved wooden bar in America, we love all the throwback favorites. But the increasingly elevated food scene has introduced new hits that diversify the drinking options. There's the massive tequila selection at Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar, the roving cocktail cart at Capo, domain of beverage manager and former 30 Under 30 honoree Kevin Mabry, high-tech wine bar Fromage and the massive, multilevel singles zone that is Coppersmith, where you'll find an especially elaborate Bloody Mary bar. Southie is the place to sip, and not just on St. Patrick's Day. 

Hottest Camberville 'hood: Harvard Square
Harvard Square hardly looks like the same place it did when many of us first started to explore this charming corner of Cambridge. Some might mourn that its rougher edges have been significantly smoothed — nowadays you'll find fewer mohawks and funky boutiques — but the restaurants are buzzing. Besides long-standing icons like Mr. Bartley's Burgers and Charlie's Kitchen, Harvard is home to hot recent openings. There's En Boca, launched in October, focusing on Mediterranean small plates. September saw the unveiling of The Hourly Oyster House, a seafood-oriented eatery from the Grafton Group, the team of restaurateurs behind Harvard Square stalwarts like Russell House Tavern and Park Restaurant & Bar. And in August, chef Mike Scelfo followed up his nearby hit Alden & Harlow with Waypoint, focused on coastal cuisine. You don't need to be an Ivy Leaguer to recognize all the smart choices for supping here. 

Best for newcomers: Seaport/Fort Point
There's no question that the Seaport/Fort Point neighborhood of Boston is one of the city's most rapidly developing areas — where once there were tumbleweeds, now rise office towers and luxury condos, as well as national chains like Sweetgreen to Shake Shack. But ever since Barbara Lynch helped kick-start the area's dining scene with Sportello, Drink and Menton, plenty of spots with strong personalities are dropping anchor here too. Over the last year alone, the Seaport has welcomed Envoy Hotel's Outlook Kitchen + Bar and Lookout Rooftop Bar, with its stunning city and harbor views; Committee, an on-trend Greek restaurant with cocktails by 30 Under 30 honoree Peter Szigeti; Mario Batali's pie-slinging Babbo Pizzeria; and the just-opened Oak + Rowan, specializing in refined New American. Opening soon: a brick-and-mortar for cult-followed pop-up Better Bagels, and La Casa de Pedro, a massive new Pan-Latin spawned from a smaller Watertown sibling. (Update: La Casa de Pedro opened Monday at 5 PM.) 

Best for sweets: North End
Boston's oldest residential neighborhood is famous for being the center of the city's Italian-American community, and it has all the red sauce–speckled dining rooms to prove it. But this is also where you'll probably find the most bakeries per block, from iconic cannoli supplier Mike's Pastry and 24-hour sweet tooth satisfier Bova's Bakery to assorted other favorites like Maria's Pastry Shop and Modern Pastry Shop. It's not just Italian-inspired either. The North End is home to other joints like Lulu's Sweet Shoppe, where you'll find creative cupcakes, housemade ice cream and a selection of retro candy, and Boston Common Coffee Co., which turns out unique donuts to go with all that java. 

Most diverse dining: Fenway 
This was a tough contest to call. On the one hand, student-heavy Allston has always abounded with inexpensive take-out joints representing all kinds of cuisines, and on the other, East Boston's vital immigrant communities are well-represented in its dining scene. But for the sheer strides it's made in recent years, we're calling it for Fenway. Once upon a time, it was mostly baseball crowd–friendly bars and American restaurants. My, how things have changed. The most recent openings include Tiger MamaTop Chef alum Tiffani Faison's Southeast Asian restaurant, funky Japaneze izakaya Hojoko, Jody Adams' Greek fast-casual entry Saloniki and eclectic, globe-trotting eatery Tapestry. Then there's Fenway's mini "Restaurant Row" of Peterborough Street, where every door reflects a different cuisine, from Fiouna's Restaurant's Persian fusion to El Pelon Taqueria and Rod-Dee Thai Cuisine II

Most underrated dining scene: Jamaica Plain
Some folks act like you need a passport to find your way to JP — but news flash: It's right on the Orange Line, so there's no excuse not to explore this arty 'hood. Newer restaurants cover every taste, from stellar hole-in-the-wall Mexican at Chilacates to Southern Lowcountry cuisine at The Frogmore and Scottish eats at The Haven. Tres Gatos is a homey haunt for top-notch tapas (plus there's a cool used record shop in back), Casa Verde gets creative with tacos and the Grass Fed burger bars offer excellent patties. And one of the city's best-kept secrets is Brassica Kitchen + Cafe, where 30 Under 30 honorees Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta focus on clever farm-to-table fare from breakfast through dinner.

Best late-night options: Chinatown
When hunger hits after 11 PM, it can be hard to find a nosh in Boston, the city that sleeps perhaps a bit more than others. But Chinatown has plenty of dining rooms that keep serving well into the wee hours of the night, from Chau Chow City to Peach Farm to Dumpling Cafe. Most reflect Asian cuisines, but right on the Chinatown border you'll also find Boston's only 24-hour restaurant, the iconic and spectacular greasy spoon South Street Diner

neighborhood guide