Here’s the thing: I loved Boston more than I ever, ever, ever in a million years thought I would, or even could. I’m a sunny LA Pacific Ocean summer-scarf-and-tank-top girl, and four years ago Massachusetts was nothing more than a place with some American history or something and this thing called snow. So imagine my surprise when I boarded a United flight back to California for the last time after four long years in college and started bawling uncontrollably for two hours.
So this is just as much a love letter to my Beloved Boston as it is a list of recommendations. It’s rooted in my experiences and preferences, so if you’re a vegetarian or really love sports, then parts of this list are probably not for you. Still, if any single suggestion I make could possibly help someone love Boston a little more, I’ll know I did my job.
Picco | South End
This is the first thing I reccommend to any person who wants to eat well in Boston. I’m partial to their grilled cheese panini (with caramelized onions and bacon) and corn chowder (seasonal) and home made ice cream (literally to die for), but I swear by every single dish at this establishment. It’s not super cheap, not not super expensive either. Also, great beer and wine selection (if JK Scrumpy cider is available and cider’s your kinda drink, do not hesitate). If you’re just going to pick one single thing to try out of this list, please let it be Picco. But be sure to go early, especially in winter when the patio is closed — the place is small and fills up fast.
Trident Cafe | Newbury Street
Trident could go under both food and places, as it’s both a full restaurant (don’t let the term “cafe” fool you) and a wonderfully cozy bookstore, but brunch there was basically a weekly ritual for my friends and I so I filed it under food. I’m a big fan of their homemade corned beef hash, french onion soup, and all their fresh squeezed juices, but there’s a huge menu for you to choose from and I’ve heard great reviews about pretty much everything but their egg scrambles, which seem to be a little lackluster. The wait used to be a huge pain, especially on Sundays, and they’re huge sticklers about everyone in your party being present when they seat you, but they just opened up a huge upstairs dining floor so I think this is less of a problem now. And there are always a ton of books to peruse/read while you wait.
Rattlesnake Bar and Grill | Downtown
Not gonna lie to you, Rattlesnake is expensive. But the food is worth the price, the drinks are to die for (I literally have dreams about their Thai mojito), and there is absolutely nothing quite like lounging on their roof deck when it’s warm out after work and staying until the sun’s down. They’re super stringent about checking IDs, though, so make sure you have yours at the ready. Just request the roof deck when you get to the door and they’ll point you up the stairs.
Cafe Luna | Central Square
This place was within walking distance of my old apartment, but even if it’s out of the way it’s totally worth the trip. More of a brunch/lunch place, with awesome paninis, cider pretty much year round (hot and cold, for any weather), and…also kind of a long wait, usually. Also great for to-go orders. And run by the absolute kindest man in the whole world.
Flat Patties | Harvard Square
De-fucking-licious burgers (Forager with bacon and swiss instead of bleu cheese for life), usually under $5, perfect house sauce (and this is coming from someone who hates sauce of all kinds), perfect everything. Also a killer grilled chicken sandwich.
Fugakyu | Coolidge Corner
One of my very, very, very few gripes about Boston is how completely shitty their sushi selection seems to be. I’m recommending Fugakyu as sort of a “awesome in the context of BOSTON sushi, not sushi in general” place. I lived and died by their spicy tuna roll, though. Holy shit, no one makes it better, and not just “for Boston.” Best deal is the Makimono Lunch Special, where you could get one “special roll” and two “regular rolls” plus salad, miso soup, and an orange for literally $11.
Yamato | Brighton
Yamato is usually really expensive. So the only time you go is after starving yourself for several days and then hitting up the Sunday afternoon all-you-can-eat special for $15 a person. Protip: start with the dragon rolls (amazing) and keep them coming until you can’t feel your face anymore, because they’re regularly $12 each. The most glaring problem with this place is that it’s stupidly far out of everyone’s way unless you actually live in Brighton. Which I guess a lot of people do, but I was a Cambridge girl so this commute kind of sucked. But for one Sunday every few months, I was happy to make the sacrifice.
Dumpling Cafe/Gourmet Dumpling House | Chinatown
These two restaurant are basically two streets away from each other and serve essentially the exact same purpose. Gourmet Dumpling House is supposedly better, but it’s also 10000% more crowded, a little more expensive, and the dumplings/dishes are about the same quality as Dumpling Cafe…which is to say, fine. Good, even. Not to die for, not the best dumplings I’ve ever had, but definitely hits the spot when you’re craving Chinese food. I’m partial to Dumpling Cafe’s noodle soups, personally, but they have a pretty extensive menu from which to choose. It’s not exactly the Chinese food I grew up with, but it gets the job done.
Mr. Crepe | Davis Square
Also a great weekend brunch place. Even when it’s busy the wait is never too long, and every crepe is a good option. Savory, sweet, whatever. It’s all delicious. Plus! They have fresh squeezed lemonade. And cookies. And happiness.
South Street Diner | Downtown
Full disclosure, I’ve never been here sober. Or any time that wasn’t between the hours of midnight and 5AM. But I can tell you that they have the best damn steak tips ever, which is a savory welcome relief after a night of sugary mixed drinks. The waitstaff there can be a little…curt. But it depends on who you get. I think we just had one bad experience. My friend also tell me that all the breakfast options are great, although I’ve never actually had anything besides dem tips.
The Paramount | Beacon Hill
I’m drowning you in brunch options right now. But I guess that’s what happens when you spend only your college years in a particular city. This is another one of those places with a pain in the ass wait. My general recommendation is to get there early and not terribly hungry. By the time you actually sit down with your food, you’ll be starved. It’s cafeteria style, so you order at the counter and they cook all the food fresh in front of you. Swear it’s worth it.
Maria’s Taqueria | Downtown
If the sushi is spotty in Boston, the Mexican food’s even spottier. I’ve heard good things about Anna’s Taqueria, and I’m sure it’s great. But I’ve got a thing for quesadillas, and I can attest that Maria’s has both the most delicious beef, checken, carne asada, or shrimp quesadillas around, and also the most convenient to eat. They fold the cheese up in the tortilla in such a way that you can pretty much eat it like a burrito. Awesome for on the go…although beware the fateful grease drip. It’ll ruin your clothes. It’ll ruin your world.
Daedalus | Harvard Square
Rattlesnake might be my fave rooftop bar in Boston, but Daedalus is a close second. I think the food is better, personally, but the prices definitely reflect that. The crab cakes. The risotto. The wine. The view. Seriously awesome if parents are in town, or for a date. Just remember that if you want to get a table on the roof deck, you have to specifically request it when you put your name on the waiting list. This is super important, because otherwise you’ll end up waiting an hour for a table only to find out that you’ve been stuffed in a downstairs corner. Lame.
Jamba Juice | Northeastern University Campus
Okay, this isn’t exactly a culinary beacon of Boston, but I’m from California and there’s one single goddamn Jamba Juice in like, the whole city (state?) so I thought I’d throw this location on the list if anyone else needed to get their Jamba fix. The NEU Jamba Juice’s official page says it’s open Monday through Friday, but I’m 90% sure its hours are “when they feel like being open,” “sometimes Wednesday unless it’s not,” and “when it’s a little overcast but not totally.” The most frustratingly inconsistent schedule. Am I an addict?
5 Napkin Burger | Back Bay
I’ve never actually been here for a real meal, but it’s pretty easy to make 5 Napkin’s killer happy hour into an early dinner. $3 for gourmet beef sliders (with rosemary asiago and caremlized onions), or tuna or salmon hand rolls. There were some other things on the happy hour menu, but those were my picks. The drinks, unfortunately stay the same price (living in a Quaker State means “happy hours” can only discount food, not drinks), but I’d kill a man for one of those frozen strawberry mojitos right now.
Polcari’s Coffee | North End
Not a restaurant, but it has the best selection of coffee, tea, and loose spices I’ve maybe ever seen. Incredibly friendly staff, and also an adorable shop cat. I used to swing by Polcari’s, buy myself some prosciutto, then wander across the street to Bova’s and eat it with some bread and cheese. Perfection.
BerryLine | Harvard Square
I actually hate frozen yogurt, but I’ve been told many times that this makes me wrong as a human and also some kind of abomination. So for everyone else in the world who apparently likes this weird stuff, I hear BerryLine is the absolute best. Wish I had more to say about this, but that’s about all I’ve got. I guess their fruit is fresh? Go frozen yogurt? Yay? I don’t know, I hear good things.
Sweetwater Tavern | Downtown
It got to a point where I was at Sweetwater so often during the fall of my last semester that when they came to my table and I’d open my mouth to order, the waitress would hold her hand up and say “Shipyard Pumpkin, cinnamon sugar rim. What does everyone else want?” (PS: That is the best drink served at any bar ever. I literally have dreams about ordering this drink. It’s a Boston Autumn Right of Passage. It must be gotten.Must.) The food won’t blow your mind, but it’s comforting and homey and familiar which is usually just what you need after a long day of work. Awesome staff (the occasional Emerson senior or grad), sort of a darker pub atmosphere, hands-down favorite patio in all of Boston. Love me a good patio. Trivia Night Tuesday’s crazy popular and a lot of fun, never go to Open Mic Mondays, it’s rough as hell. And there’s a $5 cover on Saturday nights for some mediocre DJ, I believe; it’s not worth it. Sweetwater’s the place for kicking back, so play to its strengths and go on a casual weekday after work for dinner and some good company. Oh God. Take me back.
Miracle of Science | Central Square
Another great kick-back-with-a-beer place. I’ve never eaten here, but they put all their menu items on this huge chalk periodic table on the wall and it’s super adorable. Lot of MIT people here, so it’s a fun but casual atmosphere.
Common Ground | Allston
For someone who loves dancing as much as I do, I really hate clubs. Mostly because I hate being touched with people I don’t really know, and apparently entering a club gives dudes carte blanche to rub up on you without asking. Vom, vom, vomit. I also really hate “techno remixes” of songs that I love that are 98% techno and have like three words of the original song. Which, as it turns out, is what makes Common Ground my favorite Friday/Saturday night club-esque bar destination in all of Boston. Friday’s 90s Night ($5 cover, usually a line but not an eternal one, 1000000% worth it and if you get there at like 9 sometimes you don’t need to pay), Saturday’s Millennium Night (no cover, no line) — in music only, not fashion. Awesome dance space, great music played by DJ Phat Mike (who takes requests), less skeezy people than you’d find in a standard club, pretty solid beer selection, well drinks are mixed properly, but steer clear of the cocktails. Favorite. Weekend. Place. Ever.
Lord Hobo | Cambridge
Probably the most extensive beer and wine selection I’ve found in Boston. Also really good late-night snacking food. Like “don’t even get me started on their chicken nuggets” good. Pretty dark, but a good atmosphere. I feel cool when I’m here. Moody and mysterious. Kind of a pain in the ass to get to, though, considering there’s no convenient T stop near it.
The Tam | Downtown
The dive-iest bar to dive a bar and I love it. Cheap, way over-poured well drinks, beer for basically nothing, grunty but lovable bartenders, stools that you’re not totally convinced will support your weight — what’s not to love? If you think it looks sketchy on the outside, don’t worry, it’s even sketchier on the inside. But in a charming way? Maybe I just have Stockholm Syndrome.
St. Anthony’s Feast | North End
They should really call this “Festival of Stuffing Your Face With So Much Amazing Italian Food That You Can’t See Straight.” Tons of restaurants in the North End set up booths so you can sample a bunch of different small dishes. Smells like joy feels.
SoWa Open Market | South End
Half farmer’s market, half art trade show. There’s some really great stuff if you give yourself the time to look around properly. Great way to spend a warm Sunday afternoon. Also there are like 20 food trucks on sight, but the only one that matters is the one with lobster bisque.
Karma Yoga | Harvard Square
Okay, so I only did yoga for maybe two months, but I loved every second of it at Karma and they give you free tea after every $10 class. So if yoga’s your thing, this is the place to do it.
Esplanade | Charles River
If I could lay on the dock drinking Starbucks black tea lemonade and reading in the sun, I would do it in a heartbeat. This was my #1 summer spot. Great for being alone or flopping with friends.
The Hatch Shell | Charles River
Super close to the Esplanade. In the summer they put on a ton of free concerts, I’ve seen Train and OK Go and the whole lawn gets positively packed. Sometimes it rains, but that usually makes dancing better.
Revere Beach | Revere
Ugh, Boston beaches. Ugh, the sun doesn’t set over the ocean. Ugh nonexistent waves. But when you’re craving the sand between your toes, Revere off the Blue line will do. The water’s surprisingly warm even though I usually associate Boston with cold.
Longfellow Bridge | Cambridge/Beacon Hill
There are a lot of places to be and things to do in Boston, but my favorite thing activity will always be walking. I walked fucking everywhere in Boston, weather permitting. I spent my final summer living in Central Square but working downtown, and most days I’d walk the 45 minutes between the two. Walking across the Longfellow Bridge (or the Mass Ave Bridge) never, ever failed to blow me away. There’s nothing quite like that view of the Charles, especially when the sun’s shining and the sailboats are out on the water. I’d recommend this walk at night to, but only if you have someone with you.
Haymarket | North End(ish)
Two rules to Haymarket: examine your produce carefully before agreeing to purchase it, and bring cash. Adhere to them and you’ll be buying the cheapest vegetables, fruit, and seafood all summer long. It’s especially great because if vendors didn’t sell at Haymarket, all that food would probably go to waste, as it’s all overstock that grocery stores didn’t want.
Graffiti Alley | Central Square
I have such an aggressive thing for street art, and Graffiti Alley is the place to check out if you love it too. I was lucky enough that I got to walk through it every day on my commute to and from school/work, but it’s worth checking out every few weeks so long as you live in Boston. The beauty of Graffiti Alley is that it’s constantly changing. People come by just about every day to throw their own artwork on top of stuff that’s been there for a while. Some really gorgeous pieces have come out of that place, and then have vanished over time beneath the paint of others. Sometimes you’ll even catch an artist in the midst of his work, and you’re usually welcome to watch.
Boston Public Library | Downtown
The actual building with all the books in it is almost as aggressively ugly as the City Hall building (god dammit Brutalism ugh), but the side closer to Coply Square features a gorgeous courtyard garden with a fountain, halls of marble, and fancy architecture.
New England Holocaust Memorial | North End(ish)
I know this is kind of dark (also touristy), but this is genuinely one of the most powerful memorials I’ve ever been to. Really gorgeous, really deserving of a spare afternoon to take it all in.
Public Garden/Boston Common Hill | Downtown
I went to Emerson College and lived on campus for two years of my time there, so I spent about 90% of my outdoor time in the Public Garden or on the Common (conveniently located right next to each other) rolling around in the grass, reading by the pond, and crunching my heels in the frozen fountains when winter hits. The best part is walking around these parks just after the snow first begins to thaw in the summer. The moment it’s sunny and anywhere above 60, it feels like every person in Boston is out to enjoy the weather together. I’ve never felt more one with the city than on those days.
Every street of Beacon Hill ever | Beacon Hill
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with walking and Longfellow Bridge and all that, but there is no better place to walk around than Beacon Hill…particularly in the fall. Which is coming up, so get right on that. Longfellow actually drops right off into Beacon Hill, so trust me when I say the Cambridge to Downtown walk is literally impossible to beat in terms of urban beauty.
Conventions (I’m sure there are others but these are the only ones that matter to me):
Anime Boston | Hynes Convention Center
Boston Comic Con | World Seaport Trade Center
PAX East | Boston Convention and Exhibition Center
COMICS (because obviously)
Comicazi | Davis Square
The truest tragedy of my Boston experience (besides having to leave) is that I only discovered the treasure trove that is Comicazi when I flew back in May to walk at graduation. Back issues for days. Years, even. They also do these bundles of sequentially numbered comics for discount prices. I’m pretty sure I spent more money there than I did on alcohol the whole duration of senior week. That’s probably a lie, but it’s a close call. It’s perfect. I’d live there if I could.
New England Comics | Harvard Square/Allston/Coolidge Corner
Solid selection, although the staff can be hit or miss depending on which location you go to. I’d avoid the Allston branch entirely. Harvard Square’s pretty nice (positively seductive discount trade bookshelf), and Coolidge Corner has a basement with a ton of trades — unfortunately, they’re not in any sort of order. Not my favorite shop, but it was always convenient based on where I was living.
The Million Year Picnic | Harvard Square
Comicopia | Kenmore