The 6 Toughest Tables in Boston

Plus tips on how to get in
April 14, 2015
by Scott Kearnan

The only thing harder than snagging an apartment in Boston? Snagging a seat at one of the city's hottest restaurants, of course. By virtue of their rep, reservation policy, small digs or neighborhood cult status, we've identified some of the current hot spots where you'll probably have a hard time grabbing dinner without enduring a fairly long wait — and offered a few ideas on how to improve your chances. 

Alden & Harlow

Why it's hot: Over a year after opening, chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square hit remains perpetually hot — which means reservations during prime dinnertime are still tough to snag. Heartbreaking, since the restaurant's not-so Secret Burger, one of the city's top rated and a "new classic" in the local dining scene, is available in only limited quantities each night. 

How to hack it: In March Alden & Harlow launched Saturday brunch in addition to Sunday service, so you now have an entirely new way to score a seat during the sleepier weekend.  

40 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-864-2100


Why it's hot: The Back Bay standout has received plenty of praise since it opened in early 2013 for its prix fixe-only approach to inventive New American cuisine in a hip space. (Meals are three, five and eight courses for $50, $75 and $95, respectively. Add $60 for wine pairing.) It's no longer brand new, but raves keep crowds coming strong — and the menu approach and intimate digs mean it's not a restaurant that churns and burns through tables. 

How to hack it: Use patience, luck and flexibility. You can't book through OpenTable, so call directly to charm whoever's on the other line — or, if you can't manage that, take a time on the earlier or later side of the dinner rush. 

47 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-585-9575


Why it's hot: ​Named for a street in Rome, this rustic Porter Square eatery from Michael Pagliarini focuses on Italy’s coastal flavors and acclaimed homemade pasta — which pairs well with wines suggested by one of our most recent 30 Under 30 honorees. In a neighborhood that needs more dining options, it stays in high demand. 

How to hack it: In this case, a big party might be to your benefit. Assemble a group to reserve the restaurant's white-oak pasta table. By day, it's where the pasta is rolled out. At night, it converts to a communal dining setting, available through special reservation, serving a family-style tasting menu for groups of eight to 12. 

1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-441-2800

Row 34

Why it's hot: The Seaport's younger sibling to Island Creek Oyster Bar (the second-highest-rated restaurant in Boston), it's one of the biggest draws in Fort Point, which alongside the neighboring Seaport has been one of the hottest zones for major restaurant openings recently. Overseen by a recent 30 Under 30 honoree, Row 34 has chilled oysters, hot seafood and unique craft beers in a chic setting (also pictured at top).  

How to hack it: If you're planning to eat light, you can order some of the smaller snacks, sides and raw-bar items to nosh at the dining rails located around the bar area. 

383 Congress St.; 617-553-5900


Why it's hot: Because as the small plate-driven Somerville sibling to Cambridge's Oleana, the third-highest-rated restaurant around, Sarma combines the pedigree of chef Ana Sortun with the energy of protegée Cassie Piuma, who just earned a James Beard Award nomination for Best Chef Northeast. The result: a packed house every night. 

How to hack it: Go for the bar. It serves the full dinner menu but 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: An indefatigable hot spot in the perennially hip South End, Toro serves tapas that continues to commanding crowds nightly. It doesn't hurt that chef Jamie Bissonnette stays busy and buzzy, winning everything from the TV show Chopped to last year's James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast, authoring cookbooks or kicking off an attention-grabbing second location in NYC

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

tough tables