Feature

Eat This Now: Boston's 30 Essential Dishes

By Scott Kearnan  |  January 23, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of Parker's

While we're always hunting for Boston's most exciting new bites, it's also nice to mix those up with the mainstays of the city. From the kitchens of both longtime icons and new cult faves, here are 30 of Boston's must-devour delights.

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  • Credit: Joel Benjamin

    Grass-fed burger at Craigie on Main
    Locally, it both jump-started the high-end burger craze and enhanced the marketable allure of limited-quantity, off-menu items. (Chef-owner Tony Maws talks about its legacy here.) This burger remains, at least according to your votes, the Best Burger in Boston. 

    853 Main St., Cambridge; 617-497-5511

  • Credit: Courtesy of Neptune Oyster

    Lobster roll at Neptune Oyster
    This North End icon runs hot and cold; the lobster roll meat is served either warm with melted butter, or chilled and tossed with mayo. Grabbing a lobster roll at Neptune Oyster is practically a Bostonian rite of passage, and though some may balk at the long waits, there's a reason why they're not getting shorter any time soon.

    63 Salem St.;  617-742-3474

  • Credit: Courtesy of Parker's

    Boston cream pie at Parker's Restaurant
    Massachusetts' official state dessert was born at the historic Omni Parker House, America's oldest continuously operating hotel. You'll still find it at Parker's Restaurant inside the property, and enjoy it in the same Brahmin-era dining room where JFK proposed to Jackie. 

    60 School St.; 617-725-1600

  • Credit: Joel Benjamin

    The Porky at Stoked Wood Fired Pizza Co. 
    Stoked pizzas have quickly emerged as new local favorites. In April, chef-musician Scott Riebling finally opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant spawned from his food truck, and while the menu offers more than just pizzas — think charred Brussels sprouts and great cocktails — the spotlight remains firmly focused on the pies. The barbecue-style Porky, with bacon, sausage and pepperoni, is killer, particularly when you order it with a splash of Mike's Hot Honey, an artisanal variety that's infused with chile pepper.

    1632 Beacon St., Brookline; 617-879-0707

  • Credit: Mei Mei/Facebook

    Double Awesome at Mei Mei
    In recent years, Boston has seen the launch of a fleet of successful food trucks, several yielding restaurants. The mobile-gone-brick-and-mortar bounty is exemplified by this now-signature Mei Mei dish: scallion pancakes with slow-poached eggs, pesto, cheddar and spicy ketchup. 

    506 Park Dr.; 857-250-4959

  • Credit: Courtesy of Union Square Donuts

    Donuts at Union Square Donuts
    The elevated donut craze may have come and gone, but this Somerville-based baker is strong enough to outlast any temporary tides in food trends. High-quality ingredients and an endless array of creative flavors have made Union Square Donuts a hit — and keep it planted in the city's collective sweet spot. 

    20 Bow St., Somerville; 617-209-2257

  • Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Merrill/Little Donkey

    Burger at Little Donkey
    The never-ending battle over bragging rights to the Boston area's best burger has a new competitor. Over at Little Donkey, the Central Square arrival from the Beard award–winning duo of Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, you'll find a glorious sandwich of dry-aged Pat LaFrieda beef, topped with pickles marinated in Buffalo sauce and caramelized onions folded around seared pieces of foie gras. 

    505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-945-1008

  • Credit: Courtesy of Mike Patty's

    The Fancy at Mike & Patty's
    The long lines are part of the draw at this pint-sized Bay Village sandwich shop, where neighbors make weekend small talk while waiting to snap up one of the many awesome eats. Among the favorites is this perennially popular pick, loaded with fried eggs, bacon, cheddar, avocado and red onions with mayo.

    12 Church St.; 617-423-3447

  • Credit: Courtesy of Shojo

    Ramen at Shojo
    In a restaurant scene swimming in noodles, we must tip our hat to chef Mark O'Leary, the man who put the now-legendary pop-up Guchi's Midnight Ramen on the map. At Shojo he continues to churn out hot bowls like the tori miso ramen with chashu, a six-minute egg and shoyu broth. 

    9 Tyler St.; 617-423-7888

  • Credit: Courtesy of Mike Diskin/Sweet Cheeks Q

    Biscuits at Sweet Cheeks Q
    To be honest, we're pretty sweet on everything at Top Chef alum Tiffani Faison's Fenway-side restaurant, a visit to which should temporarily quiet anyone who complains that Boston can't do barbecue. But her "bucket o' giant biscuits" with honey butter have earned their recent rise to become a legendary side. 

    1381 Boylston St.; 617-266-1300

  • Cannoli at Mike's Pastry
    The North End location is a fixture, of course; many are the travelers who have meandered cobblestone streets clutching its string-wrapped white boxes. Few are those who would deny this (admittedly tourist-heavy) pastry shop's delicious appeal, or its way around a filled shell.

    300 Hanover St.; 617-742-3050

  • Credit: Courtesy of Ken Rivard/Saloniki

    Despena at Saloniki
    ​Representing the wave of Hellenic cuisine cresting in Boston is chef Jody Adams' foray into fast-casual — aka the Fenway-side Greek eatery Saloniki — and our favorite pita: The Despena, a sandwich of zucchini-feta fritters, garlic yogurt, onion, herb salad, vine-ripened tomatoes from Maine's Backyard Farms and Greek fries. We suggest sprucing it up with some super-tasty olive tapenade. 

    4 Kilmarnock St.; 617-266-0001

  • Credit: Flour/Facebook

    Sticky bun at Flour Bakery + Cafe
    Chef Joanne Chang's South End–founded chain now has outposts around the city and in Cambridge. But the signature sweet remains the delectable sticky bun, which has courted loyalists with its cinnamon-pecan perfection for years now — and there are no signs of its magnetism abating. 

    1595 Washington St.; 617-267-4300, additional locations

  • Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Che/Alden & Harlow

    Secret burger at Alden & Harlow
    Show up early to chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square hot spot, where his "secret burger" (which is, in fact, listed on the menu) is available in limited quantities nightly. But the flavorful combo of a short rib, brisket and plate steak grind, salted onions, Cabot cheese tuile and no-name sauce still makes a big enough impression to be regarded as a new classic.

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

  • Island Creek Oysters at Island Creek Oyster Bar
    Island Creek Oysters Farm founder Skip Bennett planted his first oysters in Duxbury Bay in 1992, and started off by selling them out of the back of a pickup truck. Fast-forward two decades: Bennett and his team make up one of America's largest oyster companies — and certainly one of the most locally beloved. Island Creeks have become somewhat ubiquitous at finer raw bars, but nothing is better than slurping some down at the crew's Kenmore Square restaurant. 

    500 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-532-5300

  • Credit: Courtesy of Noah Fecks/Toro

    Maíz asado at Toro
    Before they expanded to NYC, Dubai, Bangkok and beyond, chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette made crowds roar at this South End tapas restaurant. The standout has often been the charred corn (tossed in cotija cheese and lime aïoli), which is worth every bit of messy chowing down.

    1704 Washington St.; 617-536-4300

  • Charcuterie at Moody's 
    Chef Josh Smith's outstanding house-smoked, -cured and otherwise lovingly prepared meats pop up on charcuterie boards all over town. But if we're being honest, the Boston area's own artisanal options taste even better when enjoyed at Smith's Waltham deli or its adjacent Backroom, an atmospheric spot that holds its own on restaurant-jammed Moody Street.

    468 Moody St., Waltham; 781-216-8732

  • Credit: Courtesy of Mamaleh's

    Bagels at Mamaleh's Delicatessen
    Finally, the Boston area has a cool, contemporary Jewish deli–inspired eatery with this recent opening from the team behind State Park. It's the perfect place to settle in with a cup of coffee and a bagel stuffed with lox, smoked sturgeon, pickled herring or anything else your carb-craving heart desires. 

    1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge; 617-958-3354

  • Mighty Rib Melt at Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese
    All grilled cheese sandwiches are not created equal. And after gaining traction as an early food truck in Boston's ever-expanding fleet, Roxy's has firmly ensconced itself as the go-to for gooey goodness. Its classic Mighty Rib Melt, which combines barbecue-braised beef and caramelized onions, is still hard to top.

    485 Cambridge St., Allston; 617-202-5864

  • Credit: Courtesy of Area Four

    Clam and bacon pizza at Area Four
    When it comes to modern musts, Area Four's pies can't be underestimated — especially the pizza with Wellfleet cherrystone clams and bacon, also topped with pecorino, hot pepper and parsley. In case you missed it, a sibling location just opened in the South End, too. 

    500 Technology Sq., Cambridge; 617-758-4444

  • Credit: Courtesy of Scampo

    Lobster pizza at Scampo
    Here in Boston, we love our lobster rolls. But for a true crustacean-topped tribute to the city, go for the lobster pizza at Scampo. The invention of chef Lydia Shire, it has followed the flame-haired toque since she created it at her late, great Biba restaurant. 

    215 Charles St.; 617-536-2100

  • Credit: Courtesy of Imagix Studio/Sam LaGrassa's

    Pastrami sandwiches at Sam LaGrassa's
    There are many fabulously overstuffed favorites at this famed Financial District sandwich shop. But there's a reason you'll find long lines of lunch-breaking suits patiently waiting to chomp through the kind of mouthwatering pastrami sandwiches that New Yorkers are lucky enough to find on any street corner. From the famous and simple Rumanian pastrami to the trussed up "pastrami diablo" iteration, topped with hot cherry peppers, chipotle mayo and BBQ sauce, they're all pretty spectacular.  

    44 Province St.; 617-357-6861

  • Credit: Courtesy of Oleana

    Baked Alaska at Oleana
    ​Chef Ana Sortun is a local legend for her deft work with Eastern Mediterranean and Turkish cuisine at this long-standing restaurant. On the food front, though, it's the Baked Alaska whose reputation precedes it. It's big, bold (in flavor) and beautiful.

    134 Hampshire St., Cambridge;  617-661-0505

  • Credit: Courtesy of Erwin Chuk/Cutty's

    Roast beef 1000 sandwich at Cutty's
    ​This Brookline sandwich shop offers inimitable creations between two slices of bread. But perhaps the single most recognized sammie here is the roast beef, loaded on brioche with crispy shallots, sharp cheddar and Thousand Island dressing. 

    284 Washington St.; Brookline;  617-505-1844

  • Bagels at Bagelsaurus
    Last year, owner Mary Ting Hyatt turned her former weekly pop-up at Cutty's into its own bagel-focused business in Porter Square. Bagelsaurus features her hand-shaped, slow-fermented bagels in varieties like sea salt, cinnamon raisin and black olive, plus tasty bagel sandwiches like the T-Rex, filled with banana and almond butter (bacon optional).

    1796 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge;  857-285-6103

  • Credit: Courtesy of Brian Samuels Photography/haley.henry

    Tinned seafood at haley.henry
    The tinned seafood trend has arrived in Boston, and haley.henry is a Downtown wine bar serving as a fine ambassador for it. The changing selection of tins, most of them imported from Spain and Portugal, include everything from smoked eel in olive oil and cockles in brine to smoked BBQ oysters and spiced calamari in ragout sauce. Get here, and graze away. 

    45 Province St.; 617-208-6000

  • Credit: Courtesy of Saus

    Poutine at Saus
    ​The Faneuil Hall–side frites dispensary is a must-try for many reasons, but foremost the curd cheese– and housemade gravy–topped poutine, a hunger-pain cure-all. For $3, add the bacon-and-stout-braised beef for a bona fide meal. 

    33 Union St.; 617-248-8835

  • Credit: Courtesy of Amy Braga/O Ya

    Omakase at O Ya
    ​It's not any one dish — but, rather, the experience — that sets apart this Leather District gem. Bring your black card or a generous employer; the sublime sushi is worth every hard-earned penny. 

    9 East St.; 617-654-9900

  • Credit: Courtesy of PABU Boston

    Happy Spoon at PABU
    Boston is the second city to receive PABU, an upscale izakaya from the chef team of Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga, and the spot's signature starter is the adorable, delicious Happy Spoon: a single-bite scoop of oyster with uni, ikura, tobiko and ponzu crème fraîche. 

    3 Franklin St.; 857-327-7228 

  • Credit: Courtesy of Good Life Productions/The Smoke Shop

    Brisket at The Smoke Shop
    Boston isn't known for its barbecue — but we're slowly getting there. And it's thanks to chefs like Andy Husbands, whose award-winning beef brisket is a highlight at this just-opened Cambridge 'cue joint. 

    1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge; 617-577-7427

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