Ordering from a ‘secret menu’ is a bad idea and here’s why
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Like most major cities, Boston is a series of unique neighborhoods – 23 to be exact. Each one has its own feel and flavors.
Dorchester is the place to go for a bowl of pho, while Roxbury has some of the best regional African and soul food options in the Bay State. The North End is now the largest Little Italy in the Northeast, while multigenerational Jewish delis in Brookline are still going strong. Unofficial Koreatowns and Chinatowns are emerging in neighboring Allston and Quincy. And a short train ride from North Station will take you to the highest concentration of Cambodian restaurants in the country.
From Dorchester to the North End and the Lowell Highlands to North Quincy, here is our list of some of the best Greater Boston neighborhoods for foodies.
The stretch of Harvard Avenue between Gardner Street and Commonwealth Avenue is Greater Boston’s unofficial Koreatown. This area – where the members of Aerosmith once shared an apartment – is now lined with Korean barbeque joints and cute bubble tea shops.
Tiger Sugar sells a variety of different tea and milk drinks with black sugar boba, and the drink names get pretty creative. Brave as a Tiger is on the decadent side, with a mix of pearl milk and cream mousse. They also have chocolate and coffee varieties. As of this writing, there’s no Eye of the Tiger.
Allston is also home to Greater Boston’s only Burmese restaurant. Thawdar Kyaw and her husband opened Yoma in 2007 to serve the local student population. Their tea leaf salad became so popular that, in 2013, it inspired them to open a Burmese grocery store in the same space as the restaurant. They started by selling the main ingredients you need to make lahphet thoke (tea leaf salad).
Even during the height of COVID, they continued to distribute hard-to-find ingredients to the rest of the country. Today, they have a separate warehouse in addition to the small section of the restaurant at the intersection of Beacon and Cambridge.
There are too many Korean options to list individually, but Seoul Topokki is an ideal street food option, while Korean Garden has the traditional grill-your-own-BBQ option. Kimchipapi serves Korean-inspired poke bowls, while Seoul Soulongtang are known for their beef broth soups. Yoma’s Thawdar Kyaw prefers Tiger Sugar for bubble tea and the adjacent Oppa for sushi.
Main thoroughfare: Harvard Avenue
Nearest T station: Harvard Avenue
Boston’s Chinatown is the northernmost Chinese enclave in the eastern United States. The gate near the intersection of Beach and Hudson is an ideal place to start your food tour, with the majority of the food spots being located between Essex and Kneeland.
The dining options are a mix of modern and traditional. Hei La Moon is an upscale dim sum restaurant with around 200 items. Gourmet Dumpling House is a more casual spot where you can try traditional soup dumplings, as well as jellyfish, ox tongue or sautéed pig’s blood. Tea Do is a popular bubble tea spot. Pearl Street is lined with bakeries.
Both locals and tourists often make Chinatown their last stop before heading out of town via nearby South Station. Regardless of the time of day, you’ll likely see pedestrians strolling east with everything from egg custard tarts to French macarons from places like Great Taste, Eldo and Mrs. Choi’s.
With access to three different T lines, Chinatown is one of the most easily accessible Boston neighborhoods. If you’re looking for a mix of neighborhood flavors and local history, longtime Bostonian Jackie Church runs customizable walking tours for under $100. They typically include three to four different food tastings. It’s best to do the tour at the beginning of your trip so you can integrate some of her suggestions later on.
Main thoroughfare: Beach Street
Nearest T station: Chinatown
While you can find Vietnamese restaurants sandwiched in between noodle shops and dim sum houses throughout Chinatown and the surrounding neighborhoods, most locals will tell you to head to Dorchester if you’re in the mood for a steaming bowl of pho or a banh mi sandwich. All you have to do is take the T to Fields Corner, walk east to Dorchester Avenue and turn left. There are more than a dozen Vietnamese restaurants and stores in the mile-long stretch between Charles and Victoria streets.
Boston consistently ranks as one of the least car-friendly cities in the country, but you can find parking in Dorchester, which is much more spread out than most other places in this list. Chinatown tour guide Jackie Church recommends Pho Le, which is located at the corner of Dorchester and Kimball Street.
Their menu is as big as the dong to dollar exchange rate. While you’ll see pho on many of the tables, Le are also known for nuoc mam and Vietnamese clay pot catfish. If you’ve never tried beef-stuffed betel leaves, this is the place. Think of the stuffed grape leaves you get from Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants, but with nothing else inside but seasoned beef. Their durian smoothies are also an ideal way to sample the king of fruits without having to inhale the pungent scent of fresh durian.
Located right across the street, Pho Hoa is another option. They have outdoor dining, and like Pho Le, they have a private parking lot behind the restaurant.
Main thoroughfare: Dorchester Avenue
Nearest T station: Fields Corner
Also known as Eastie, this smurf head-shaped neighborhood between Logan Airport and Boston Harbor has some of the best Latin American food in Greater Boston. Pupusas outnumber pizzas along Meridian Street, which starts just north of the Maverick T station.
Most of the restaurants in this area are a mix of Mexican and Salvadoran, but there are other Central American options as well. The majority are small and informal, but Mi Pueblito is more on the festive side. In the summer, they turn their parking lot into an outdoor dining space. You can sit outside and enjoy a horchata along with an enchilada Salvadorena. Try the nuegados for dessert!
There are more Salvadoran restaurants west of the Wood Island T station along Bennington Street, which eventually runs into Meridian. Closer to the Airport T station, Helado Juli’s is a popular dessert spot. In the summer, the line can stretch as far back as Chelsea Street. The separate city of Chelsea (located just across the Chelsea Creek) has similar dining options along Broadway.
Main Thoroughfare: Meridian Street
Nearest T station: Maverick
This former mill town at the convergence of the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is home to one of the highest concentration of Cambodians in the United States. In the Highlands neighborhood, you can find durian or jackfruit just as easily as you can find an apple or banana.
There are more Cambodian restaurants in this area west of the Lowell MBTA station than you’ll find in every other New England city combined. During the hot summer months, most of the restaurants will feel, sound and smell like Phnom Penh or Battambang, but the Highlands look more suburban, with large parking lots and open spaces.
If you include bakeries and takeout places, there are roughly a dozen different Cambodian eateries in Lowell, and most are in the Highlands. The majority are no-frills casual dining spots that were meant to give Khmer people a taste of home. But you can’t keep a good thing secret for long. Bostonians who realize that Cambodian food is not just like Thai or Vietnamese come here for everything from Phnom Penh noodle soup to beef loc lac.
Heng Lay is a popular spot for both dishes. Their loc lac is served with black pepper sauce which is meant for dipping. Phnom Penh has a huge menu of nearly 100 items and is an ideal spot to try prahok, also known as “Cambodian cheese.” If you want to impress your Cambodian friends (or be treated like an honorary Khmer by your server), order tirk kroeung. Be sure to try their butterfly milk tea as well.
Mekong Pho is a popular breakfast spot, where people go for Cambodian egg rolls and fish porridge. Many first-timers gravitate towards chicken wings, which you can find some version of on most Khmer menus. Le Petit Café serves chicken wings stuffed with glass noodles and other Khmer spices.
Main thoroughfare: Westford Street
Nearest MBTA station: Lowell
This cupcake-shaped section of Brookline between Beacon Street and Commonwealth Avenue is home to some of the best New York-style delis in Massachusetts. If you exit the T at Coolidge Corner and walk north on Harvard Street, you’ll see a plethora of kosher dining options before you reach Coolidge Street. Zaftig is the most impressive of the Jewish delis, but there are also neighborhood strongholds Kupel’s and Michael’s.
The Zaftig menu can seem a bit overwhelming, but you can narrow things down a bit by focusing in on the Nanny’s Favorites. Those special items have an icon of Nanny Fanny (the inspiration for the restaurant) next to them. They include homemade knishes, potato pancakes, the Reuben and combo smoked fish platter combo.
Just a couple blocks north, Kupel’s has 37 different Boston-themed bagels, as well as pastries. Closer to Coolidge Corner station, Michael’s has Cuban interpretations of Jewish classics, such as the Juban, which substitutes roast pork with pastrami. Their critically acclaimed Corned Beef Reuben is also popular. And in true New York fashion, they are cash only.
Main thoroughfare: Harvard Street
Nearest T station: Coolidge Corner
Boston’s North End is the largest Little Italy in the Northeast. More than 80 restaurants are densely packed into this area of less than one square kilometer. The majority have a traditional old country feel, but you can still find places that are breaking with tradition. For example, Tresca serves chicken parmesan egg rolls, which are the invention of head chef and part-owner Rich Ansara.
Tresca can also lay claim to the most sought-after table in the North End. Table 77 seats two on the restaurant balcony, which extends over busy Hanover Street. The number 77 is not in honor of the Talking Heads’ debut album but a nod to part-owner Ray Bourque, who wore the number during most of his 20-plus-year NHL career with the Boston Bruins. Table 77 reservations are by phone only.
As Boston is a coastal city, there are several seafood-centric restaurants in the North End. Mare Oyster Bar has a full raw bar, as well as zucchini blossoms with lobster meat and whole belly clams, which are a New England staple. This white-tablecloth seafood haven feels hidden from the rest of the North End as you enter from a narrow alleyway across from the out-of-place-looking CVS. Mare’s outdoor patio section is also an ideal spot for watching the sunset over Downtown Boston.
If Hanover Street feels too crowded and overwhelming, walk one block west to Salem Street. There are a dozen different bakeries, pizzerias and cozy restaurants along this narrow alleyway between Morton and Prince Streets. You can find everything there is to love about Salem Street and the North End at Antico Forno.
Try any veal dish and also enjoy one of their pies fresh out of the North End’s first authentic wood-fired oven. For dessert, try the Nutella pizza, which is topped with the world’s most famous hazelnut spread, as well as strawberry and banana slices and artfully placed mascarpone.
The sheer volume of good North End dining options will guarantee you a table somewhere. But if you have a specific place or two in mind, be sure to check individual hours as many of the more upscale restaurants are open for dinner only. If you want a table at Giacamo’s or cannoli from Mike’s or Modern, you’ll have to wait in line. It’s worth checking to see which restaurants validate parking. Tresca will validate up to three hours for $3 at the nearby Haymarket Garage.
Main thoroughfare: Hanover Street
Nearest T station: Haymarket
To casual tourists, Quincy may be known as the “City of Presidents,” but a lot has happened since John Adams and John Quincy Adams became the first father and son to occupy The White House. The stretch of Hancock Street between Walnut Street and Elm Avenue has become Greater Boston’s second Chinatown. You can get here from South Station via the red line in 15 minutes, which is less time than it typically takes to find legal parking in the original Chinatown.
Between Elm and Walnut, nearly every block has a bubble tea shop, hot pot restaurant or dim sum house. Many of the classic Chinatown restaurants from Boston now have sister locations along Hancock. Winsor serves dim sum all day and also has a full bar. Cathay Pacific has a full Cantonese menu with some Polynesian and Szechuan options. They also host nightly entertainment.
Beyond Hancock Street, China Pearl has a second location in the same shopping center as Kam Man, which is like Wegmans, but with mostly Asian groceries and cookware. And if you’re going to make the journey to Quincy, you should also check out the still-developing Marina Bay. There are a handful of restaurants less than a quarter-mile from the Marina Bay Ferry stop.
Victory Point is a popular spot for Cape Cod oysters and upscale Italian fare. The father and son Donatos own Victory Point, as well as the adjacent Donato’s Gelato and Boardwalk Pizza. The latter offers a New England take on 16″ pies with their Maine lobster and fresh clam pizzas. As of this writing, the ferry does not run on weekends.
Main thoroughfare: Hancock Street
Nearest T station: North Quincy
Since the 1960s, Roxbury has been the heart of Black culture in Boston. You can find a variety of Caribbean, regional African and soul food here. There are several options along Dudley Street, just south of Nubian Station.
Suya Joint is a good place to start, with their traditional, hearty Nigerian cuisine. “Suya” refers to the popular West African spicy meat skewers, which are an essential appetizer. Their pepper soup comes with either tilapia or goat. Meat pies are popular, as well. Owner Cecilia Lizotte and her team make everything from scratch.
The orange T line runs along Roxbury’s western edge. If you’re traveling by train, exit at Roxbury Crossing and try Ashur, which is a super casual Somali restaurant that serves all halal meat. Meat-centric rice and spaghetti dishes make up the majority of the food menu. They also have a variety of non-alcoholic African malt beverages. Just one stop north (off Ruggles), Ali’s Roti is a popular spot for Trinidadian food.
As Roxbury is one of Boston’s largest neighborhoods, it helps to have a local guide. If you want to learn the local history and sample small bites from local eateries, check out Live Like a Local Tours. Their Food & Liquor Walking Tour includes samples from a handful of local restaurants and distilleries.
Main thoroughfare: Dudley Street
Nearest T station: Roxbury Crossing
Boston’s Seaport District and Waterfront are connected via the Seaport Blvd Bridge, and there are dozens of high-end dining options on both sides.
While seafood rules the day in both neighborhoods, there are also upscale steakhouses like Davio’s and Smith & Wollensky. Legal Sea Foods has one location next to the Long Wharf Ferry Terminal and another near the Boston Fish Pier. At James Hook & Co., you can buy fresh lobster meat to go by the pound and/or enjoy their outdoor dining space with views of the downtown skyline. There’s a small parking lot behind the trailer/seafood store.
The Seaport District is also an ideal place to stay during your visit. Many of the hotels that line Seaport Blvd have rooftop bars and restaurants with views of the city. Located on the 12th floor of the Yotel, Deck 12 has a full bar and serves international takes on popular seafood dishes. You can’t go wrong with the classic French Cape Cod clams or the Thai spicy green curry mussels.
The Hampton Inn Boston Seaport and other hotels a bit farther from the bridge include breakfast. But if you’re staying anywhere near the Boston Public Market, it’s best to start your day with a walk to the market and have breakfast from one of the dozens of food vendors there. They open at 8 am from Wednesday to Saturday (10 am on Sundays).
Main thoroughfare: Atlantic Avenue/Seaport Blvd
Nearest T station: South Station
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