From hot newcomers to established joints that never see their crowds wane, these restaurants make scoring a seat a competitive sport. Fear not: we've found some helpful hacks on how to get a table at even the busiest Boston eateries. Here's why they're so popular and how to stand out when you want to get inside.
Why It's Hot: We waited a long time for the New Haven–founded regional chain of coal-fired pizza joints to finally come to the Boston area. At long last, Frank Pepe opened in December inside The Mall at Chestnut Hill, part of what may be an ambitious expansion plan, according to the grandson of its eponymous founder. Since then, the 84-seat interior has been flooded with pie-craving fanatics, making it tough to slice a spot of your own.
How to Hack It: Call ahead, because there are two specially designated "takeout only" parking spaces right by the front door for convenient grab-and-go drive-bys.
199 Boylston St., Chestnut Hill; 617-964-7373
Why It's Hot: The younger sibling to Island Creek Oyster Bar is still one of the biggest draws in Fort Point. Alongside the neighboring Seaport, it draws throngs of dining crowds — especially on weekends. They come for the chic setting, chilled oysters, hot seafood and unique craft beers curated by a recent 30 Under 30 honoree.
How to Hack It: If you're planning to eat light, you can order some of the smaller snacks, sides and raw-bar items at the dining rails located around the bar area. The raw-bar crew also runs a separate (and usually shorter) wait list from the main dining room, so you may be able to score a seat there sooner.
383 Congress St.; 617-553-5900
Why It's Hot: Because as the small plate-driven Somerville sibling to Cambridge's Oleana, Sarma combines the pedigree of chef Ana Sortun with the energy of protegée Cassie Piuma, who just landed among the semi-finalists for the James Beard Award's Best Chef Northeast. The result: a packed house every night.
How to Hack It: Go for the bar. It serves the full dinner menu and opens half an hour before the dining room, so you can start by warming a seat with a drink and then be the among the first to order food.
249 Pearl St., Somerville; 617-764-4464
Why It's Hot: Where else in Boston will you find a steakhouse with a DJ booth and video projections? This glittery chop shop feels more akin to Vegas and Miami than the Hub, but fills every evening with hobnobbing crowds — everyone from pro athletes to pretty models who come for the beef but stay for the beats.
How to Hack It: Avoid the nightlife scene and come during the day to nab an under-the radar deal. Every day (including weekends) from 11 AM–4 PM, Strip by Strega offers an "Executive Lunch" three-course prix fixe for just $19.95.
64 Arlington St.; 617-456-5300
Why It's Hot: An indefatigable hot spot in the perennially hip South End, Toro serves tapas that continues to command crowds nightly. It doesn't hurt the buzz that chef co-owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette kicked off an attention-grabbing second location in NYC. (We're sure they'll find similar success with their next Boston co-venture, Little Donkey, opening later this year.)
How to Hack It: You're nearly guaranteed a long wait during dinner service, and reservations aren't accepted. Much quieter (since there's not much of an office scene nearby) is lunch, served from 12–3 on Monday through Friday. You'll usually walk right in.
1704 Washington St.; 617-536-4300
Why It's Hot: It's a super-sexy spot that inhabits a famous address, the site of the revered 1875-founded fine-dining establishment Locke-Ober (which was one of Boston's oldest restaurants when it finally closed in 2012). Two of last year's 30 Under 30 stars are in the kitchen, chef Juan Pedrosa and pastry chef Kate Holowchik. And with the bar serving up insane cocktails — like a communal Moscow mule — it's no wonder it's a hit with groups of thirtysomethings. They come for the eats, stay for the drinks and stay longer for the scene.
How to Hack It: The Library Lounge is comfortable enough for kicking back with cocktails while you wait for a table — but if you can, grab a bar seat and start ordering shared plates for you and your party. Once the bartenders realize you're in for the long haul, they've been known to pull strings and get you situated at more comfortable tables.
2 Winter Pl.; 617-267-0047