Boston is city of many neighborhoods, each with their own flavor. (No pun intended.) But if you were to choose a single dish that somehow captures the sensibility of each, what might it be? We've done our best to choose a standout plate from each of 11 Boston neighborhoods — from iconic favorites to new hits — that serve as a guide to food-crawling along the city. Have other favorites from within each 'hood? Share your own in the comments.
Mighty Short Rib Melt at Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Readers voted this gooey grilled cheese sandwich slinger the top fast-casual spot in Boston in our very first survey examining the genre. Though the debut brick-and-mortar in Allston also serves up sizzling burgers, it's the grilled cheese sandwiches — first made famous through its food-truck fleet — that are true cult hits. Our favorite: the Mighty Rib Melt, a mouthwatering combo of fontina, barbecue sauce–braised beef and caramelized onions.
Scallop Ceviche at SELECT Oyster Bar
Though it's filled with moneyed residences, the Back Bay is also a tourist-heavy 'hood — which is why its restaurant scene is, surprisingly, somewhat thin on homegrown chef-driven spots. (High-end chain restaurants? Those are aplenty.) But past 30 Under 30 honoree chef Michael Serpa has helped change the game with SELECT, his first venture as chef-owner since moving on from Neptune Oyster. The Mediterranean-inflected menu is also anchored by some relatively straightforward fruits de mer that shine for their freshness, especially the scallop ceviche treated with a fairly traditional citrus marinade with shallot and cilantro.
50 Gloucester St.; 857-239-8064
Prune-Stuffed Gnocchi at No.9 Park
Boston's own Barbara Lynch, last year's James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Restaurateur, kicked off her career with this Beacon Hill flagship that's still going strong. Perhaps its most iconic dish — and still just as delicious as the day we first discovered it — is the prune-stuffed gnocchi with a Vin Santo glaze made by reducing a beurre monté of butter and foie gras. Decadent.
9 Park St.; 617-742-9991
Boston Cream Pie at Parker's Restaurant
Parker's is tucked inside the Omni Parker House Hotel, America's oldest continuously operating hotel, where Malcolm X worked as a busboy and Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. Parker's, with its Brahmin-apropos dark woods and gilded accents, is also where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jacqueline Bouvier (at Table 40), and you can celebrate your own romantic stroll here by splitting the now-ubiquitous Boston cream pie, Massachusetts's state dessert, which was invented at the hotel.
60 School St.; 617-227-8600
Bucket o' Biscuits at Sweet Cheeks Q
Besides a game-day hot dog, barbecue seems the most natural choice for noshing when you're in the Fenway neighborhood. For that, head to three-time Top Chef series alum Tiffani Faison's Fenway-side restaurant, where the "bucket o'" giant biscuits with honey butter have earned their newly accredited status as a legendary side.
1381 Boylston St.; 617-266-1300
Maine Grind Burger at Centre Street Cafe
Jamaica Plain is a neighborhood with vibrant history but a rapidly growing restaurant scene, and that might be best embodied by the new scene at Centre Street Cafe. The longtime local favorite recently came under new ownership by the team behind nearby Tres Gatos, and elevated its culinary game under chef Brian Rae, an alum of Jody Adams' Rialto. He crafts mostly Mediterranean-influenced small plates, but you also need to try the Maine Grind Burger, which puts a slight Italian twist on its toppings with pancetta, provolone and herb aïoli. It's a perfect example of an upscale spin on a seemingly humble foundation.
669A Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 617-524-9217
Potato Gnocchi à la Bolognese at Prezza
You can't toss a cannoli without hitting a red-sauce-slathered Italian joint in this quaint Italian neighborhood filled with cobblestone streets and the smell of simmering gravy. It's nearly impossible to pick any single pasta dish, but we have to hand it to chef Anthony Caturano and his upscale yet accessible, and (unlike the nearby tourist traps) surprisingly under-exposed Prezza, named for the Italian village where his grandmother Elena grew up. His gnocchi à la Bolognese is simply out of this world.
24 Fleet St.; 617-227-1577
Lobster Roll at Yankee Lobster Co.
Yes, just a few doors away is the massive, three-floor Legal Harborside, with its famous clam chowder (served at every presidential inauguration since Reagan) and roof deck with stunning waterfront views. But it's at the modest, counter-service-style Yankee, which over the decades has built a reputation for supplying top-notch restaurants, where you'll find one of the best lobster rolls in Boston, hands down.
300 Northern Ave.; 617-345-9799
Pizza from Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant
Southie is another neighborhood that has seen a rapidly shifting restaurant scene, and Lincoln has been a big part of the transformation by breaking up the saturated Irish pub scene with a more modern alternative that tends to draw young professionals — and those with higher expectations of tavern fare. No. 1 on their list: the Lincoln wood-fired pizzas, from pepperoni to butternut squash, that are among the best in town. (And, mercifully, available late-night too.)
425 W. Broadway, South Boston; 617-765-8636
Grilled Corn at Toro
Not everyone would agree; in fact, some might even suggest that this dish is overhyped. But those who love it, swear by it — so you've got to try the charred corn (tossed in cotija cheese and lime aïoli) at chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette's perennially packed South End tapas spot to see on which side of the line you fall.
1704 Washington St.; 617-536-4300
Lobster Pizza at Scampo
Flame-haired chef Lydia Shire has been serving up some variation of her signature lobster pizza ever since she introduced it at her late, great, 1989-founded restaurant Biba. Topped with about two pounds of lobster, ricotta, caramelized shallots and garlic, it's also available at the bar until midnight.
215 Charles St.; 617-536-2100