Where to Eat in Downtown Boston: 12 Must-Try Restaurants

By Scott Kearnan  |  April 21, 2014
Credit: Vincent DeWitt

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When it comes to dining options, Downtown Boston was once rather desolate. Aside from sandwich shops suited to office denizens, there just wasn't much to draw diners from surrounding neighborhoods. But in recent years, an influx of new attractions have joined the pioneering old favorites to create a much more vibrant food culture. With the latest entry, Bostonia Public House, opening this week (and still more, like MAST', on the way) we took a minute to trace a food crawl of some of the best eateries in the area. 

Artisan Bistro. Until recently, this Ritz-Carlton restaurant had our 30 Under 30 honoree Adam Kube at the helm. (He's since moved on to the as-yet-unopened Bastille Kitchen.) Even in his absence, the modern menu of American bistro fare deserves a visit, especially since the environs are familiar and unstuffy for such a high-end hotel. Must-try: Maybe not your standard Ritz fare, but the Bistro Burger ($22) topped with caramelized onions, mushrooms and pepper jack, is a standout. 10 Avery St.; 617-574-7176

jm Curley. Eccentric, creative takes on comfort food draw food geeks and after-work crowds alike to this Downtown destination. And the cocktail program, overseen by 30 Under 30 honoree Kevin Mabry, is its own marvel. Must try: The burgers here earn raves too, but there are smaller snacks that deserve attention, particularly "Curley's Cracka Jack," ($6) caramel-candied popcorn with bacon and peanuts. And yes, it comes with a prize. 21 Temple Pl.; 617-338-5333

Highball Lounge. It's been open for less than six months, but Highball has already emerged as an industry fave thanks to a creative cocktail program and kitschy, nostalgia-tinged approach that jibes with Gen-Y drinkers. Think menus glimpsed through View-Master toys, board games, rubber duckies as cocktail garnishes and nightly DJs. Must-try: The Wallflower, a surprisingly potent mix of Bombay Sapphire East Gin, orange vermouth, basil and lemon finished with a spritz of honey-lavender essence "perfume." 90 Tremont St.; 617-772-0202

Kingston Station. Moderate prices for fine food makes this American bistro a nice find, plus the kitchen is open all day, so you won't have to worry about wandering in during between-menu lulls. Must-try: We hate to sing the praises of a burger yet again, but this one comes with a twist: Kingston does a great salmon banh mi burger ($18) with pickled daikon and carrot, vegetarian pâté, cilantro and a sriracha aïoli. 25 Kingston St.; 617-482-6282

Legal Crossing (pictured). Housed in the luxury Millennium Place development, this distinctly upscale entry from the Boston-born Legal Sea Foods brand is brand-spanking new. Here's our overview of the sparkling space, which isn't the last unique concept planned from Legal. Next up: Legal Oysteria, an Italian seafood concept slated to open this spring in the Charlestown space that formerly belonged to Todd English's Olives. Must-try: There are a number of Pan-Asian flourishes on the menu, including the Korean Rice Bowl of pickled veggies, shiitake, wakame, jasmine rice and egg yolk that can be topped with shrimp ($16), tuna sashimi ($16) or organic tofu ($13). 558 Washington St.; 617-692-8888

Marliave. This romantic Italian hideaway is filled with white subway tile and dark wood, with an "old Boston" air that feels comfortable and inviting, rather than staid. It also runs a popular "dollar oyster" special twice daily: from 4-6 PM and 9-10 PM. Must-try: The osso buco ($35) of pork shank, sausage, orecchiette and broccoli rabe is an indulgent delight. 10 Bosworth St.; 617-422-0004

The Merchant. It booms with after-work crowds, largely thanks to a massive 40-foot bar where beverage manager Ian Strickland pours out creative cocktails and brews from the 36 varieties on draft alone. But don't neglect the dining room, where Craigie on Main alum chef Matt Foley creates a fantastic American brasserie menu. Must-try: Here's our existing "Cheat Sheet" to the menu, but if you have to choose just one dish, the crispy duck à l’orange might be the one to beat. 60 Franklin St.; 617-482-6060

Petit Robert Central. The largest restaurant in the Petit Robert Bistro family serves sumptuous French cuisine with a relatively laid-back vibe. The restaurant (yet another Downtown spot, alongside Bostonia and MAST', designed by HGTV's Taniya Nayak) buzzes with post-work crowds that take advantage of a $5 "Rendezvous Menu" with happy hour-style food specials. Must-try: We're addicted to the escargots bourguignon ($11) baked with garlic and parsley butter. 101 Arch St.; 617-737-1777

Silvertone Bar & Grill. One of the area's pioneering spots, this long-standing subterranean restaurant has a slightly kitsch, midcentury, vaguely hipster vibe, fun cocktails and great, accessible American eats that will fill your belly without breaking the bank. Must-try: A fantastic mac 'n' cheese ($9) is cheap, delicious, and pure gooey goodness. 69 Bromfield St.; 617-338-7887

Sip Wine Bar and Kitchen. If the name doesn't make it clear, the big draw at Sip is its wine program, which makes varietals available as tastes, half-glass pours, full-glass pours and bottles. But that's not to say there aren't some tasty eats to be had, especially on a spacious patio that allows for plenty of Downtown people-watching. Must-try: There's an extensive sushi selection, but among the larger plates our favorite is the beef short rib ($22) with celery-root purée and balsamic syrup. 581 Washington St.; 617-956-0888

Stoddard's Fine Food & Ale. Filled with historic relics from Downtown (it's housed in an old corset shop), Stoddard's boasts an impressive beer selection and creative cocktails. The place really comes alive at night, when thick crowds gather around the immense bar. Must-try: The so-dubbed "grubery" menu has a hefty aged Gouda and cask ale fondue ($10) with pretzels and focaccia. 48 Temple Pl.; 617-426-0048

Teatro. This reasonably priced entry from chef Jamie Mammano, the man behind the high-end Columbus Hospitality Group restaurants, is especially popular with pre- and post-theater crowds. One of the area's most established spots, it boasts a menu of fabulous Italian fare with a side of dramatic ambience. Must-try: We're partial to the saltimbocca ($34) with veal, prosciutto, spinach and mushrooms. 177 Tremont St.; 617-778-6841