Neighborhood Gems: Must-Try Dining in Dorchester

By Scott Kearnan  |  January 14, 2014

In the first in a series on the city's many distinct neighborhoods, we're exploring the must-try restaurants, bars, take-out shops and ice cream parlors through Boston's many off-the-beaten-path enclaves. In honor of our new mayor, here's a guide to Marty Walsh's neck of the woods: Dorchester, a working-class area with hard-working hospitality. If we've left out your favorite, let us know in the comments below. 

  • The Neighborhood's Top Toque

    He built a fine-dining favorite at the South End's late Icarus, which once inhabited the Appleton Street space that will soon house Wink & Nod. But since then chef-owner Chris Douglass has focused his work on two Dorchester restaurants that bring the same flourish and sophistication - but respect the convivial, familiar vibe of the neighborhood where he also lives. His Ashmont Grill serves elevated tavern cuisine (think lemon-braised pork shank with caramelized apple and squash) that merits making it a destination. And under the day-to-day culinary direction of chef de cuisine Nuno Alves, his Tavolo turns out top-notch Italian (we love these gorgeous beet raviolis) that makes mouths water but wallets happy. 

  • The Prodigal Son

    2012 30 Under 30 honoree Chris Coombs, a two-time Chopped competitor, has made quite a name for himself in Boston. He's chef-owner of French-American Deuxave in the tony Back Bay and the sleek steakhouse Boston Chops in the also-well-heeled South End. But he got his humble beginning in this more humble neighborhood when restaurateur Brian Piccini pinched him to command the kitchen at Dorchester's dbar. Coombs, who had previously worked under Ming Tsai at Blue Ginger, was responsible for bringing refined but accessible cuisine to an area where dive bars dominated. It became the epicenter of Dorchester's growing gay scene, and remains a popular evening hangout for diners, cocktail clinkers and karaoke queens alike. Coombs has added on to his empire, but it's at dbar that he first set the bar for himself. 

  • American Spirit 

    For over two decades, 224 Boston Street has quietly served glorious New American cuisine with minimal fanfare. But its upscale takes on mac 'n' cheese (added: lobster and truffle), cod cakes (with broccoli slaw) and other favorites is truly impressive. (So is its adorable, verdant outdoor seating area.) For more casual environs, Ledge Kitchen + Drinks also draws with its big patio in Lower Mills; fast service, a buzzing scene at a wraparound bar and better-than-average pub grub set The Blarney Stone apart; and live music adds to the vibe at Savin Bar + Kitchen, where flatbreads and small plates like steamed mussels and Cajun fried dill spears dominate the menu. 

  • Irish Eyes Smiling

    Irish roots run deep in DOT, but it can feel intimidating to wander into a pub where you're the one person who's not "a regular." But The Banshee (pictured) beckons to all corners of town with a reputation for good times, raucous football (as in, soccer) games and a warm, authentic vibe. Other must-stops: The Eire Pub, a dated-in-the-charming-way that is always a pit stop for glad-handing politicos looking to charm the locals, and J&J's Irish Pub and Grille, a total hole-in-the-wall haunt with cheap food, beers, darts and pool.  

  • Pan-Asian Potential

    Though its Irish reputation precedes it, this neighborhood on Boston's east side also has a healthy smattering of Eastern restaurants. Our top picks: Shanti (pictured), where you can spice up your life with curry-laden vindaloo and other Indian favorites; Van Shabu, a social scene offering sushi, tabletop hot pots and Thai sides; and Pho Hoa, where unspectacular interiors belie fab pho at really cheap prices. 

  • Caribbean Warmth

    Dorchester is one of Boston's most diverse neighborhoods and home to the Caribbean Foundation of Boston. So it's no surprise that two of the city's top-rated Caribbean restaurants are also here: Irie Jamaican Style Restaurant, with a reputation for warm hospitality and hot plates (including jerk chicken to die for), and the aptly named Flames, a counter-service spot where surveyors praise "mad-spicy" and generously portioned plates. 

  • BBQ Gems

    You've never heard of them. That's okay, most haven't. But those in the know vouch that under-the-radar Mrs. Jones and largely unnoticed Pit Stop BBQ (which looks, as you see here, like a ramshackle pit stop) have some of the best and most authentic BBQ ribs, brisket and fixings in Boston.

  • A Sweet Finish

    In a world dominated by Ben & Jerry and Haagen Dazs, it's nice to know a place like this still exists: The Ice Creamsmith, an old-school ice cream parlor with homemade cones of creamy deliciousness, shakes and hand-packed take-home pints. Locals swear by it, for good reason.