Cool stuff in Boston?
July 22, 2010 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Boston Filter: Moving to Boston in the middle of August. Looking for restaurant/music store/cool stuff/anything else recommendations.

I have a few specific requests, but any recommendations at all are welcome.

-I'm looking for a sort-of-classy but not-too-expensive restaurant. My girlfriend's birthday is a few weeks after we get up there, and I'd like to surprise her by going to somewhere nice - most kinds of food are good, though I'm not a big fan of most Asian cuisine (except for some sushi). Not looking for something boring, but nothing too out there, either. Close to a T-Stop is a plus, since I'll be relying on Google Maps for directions. It'd be nice if I don't need to wear a jacket/tie, but if you have the BEST RESTAURANT IN THE BOSTON AREA that'll cost less than ~$85 for the two of us, I'll be willing to consider it. Also, we're not 21 yet, if that matters.

-Any awesome music stores? Independent or chain, not picky, just looking for a place with a big selection (though independent stores do tend to be cooler). A record section is cool, too, but I'm not bringing my turntable up so it isn't urgent. I'll be living on Commonwealth Ave, right near the Brookline/Boston border, if that helps as far as location goes, and my school is in the Washington St./Brookline Ave area of Brookline. If I help narrow that down some, let me know - I don't know the geography well enough to give specific neighborhood names or anything.

-Cool, indie coffee shops? I love Starbucks, but I'd like to give some independent places a shop, too, especially in the areas I listed above.

-Likewise, cheap restaurants?

-Anything else at all. Stuff in Boston that I just have to do, places I need to see, awesome date spots, whatever you can think of. Places with student discounts are especially nice.

Thanks a ton!
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Dali on Washington Street in Somerville is an amazing, gorgeous, fun tapas restaurant. It's a bit expensive but if you're not drinking you could easily get out of there for less than $85. It's not directly on the T but it's a short walk/cab from Harvard, and on several bus routes. If you tell the server it's your girlfriend's birthday the entire staff will come sing her a song and have her blow out a candle.

As for something cool you need to see..the Natural History Museum at Harvard is pretty awesome and has a student discount.
posted by tetralix at 6:32 AM on July 22, 2010

There's a music store on Harvard Ave. north of Commonwealth-- never been inside it-- and a ton of cheap restaurants along that stretch of Harvard Ave. and in either direction along Brighton Avenue (which you reach by walking north on Harvard from Commonwealth). Not sort-of-classy, really, but great for takeout or, in some cases, delivery. The neighborhood you are in is usually classified as Allston/Brighton, by the way.
posted by posadnitsa at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2010

I lived in that area for a couple of years. Get ye down to Tasca - really excellent tapas without breaking the bank, and it's walking distance!

For other places to hang out, check out Washington Square in Brookline. Athan's is a great bakery; their cakes are delicious and you can (if you're like me) order a cup of coffee and a couple biscotti and read for an hour or so in the evenings (unfortunately, they didn't have wifi when I was living there). There are a couple of other restaurants in the square that may be of interest to you; the Publick House is a great beer bar, but you may need to wait on that.

Coolidge Corner would be another place to check out - it's a little more hip than Washington Square, and there's a Trader Joe's if you need groceries. The Brookline Booksmith is one of the best independent booksellers in the area.

In Allston, everything around the Harvard Ave. B-Line stop should be of interest. This is basically the hipster mecca of Boston, plenty of cheap eats and stores catering to students (futons and the like). I'm not aware of any record shops in the area, but I imagine there has to be on somewhere nearby...

Newbury Comics is sort of the go-to place around here for music, and there are a bunch of locations around. Maybe someone else can answer this a little better.

Other coffee locations... Espresso Royale further down on Comm Ave. across from BU is supposed to be good, but I've never been. There are a couple of places in Brighton Center that you may want to check out also; that area's only serviced by bus, so I feel like it gets overlooked a bit - it's really a nice few blocks to explore.

Feel free to drop me a line if you have any other questions about living in the area.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:49 AM on July 22, 2010

Garden at the Cellar, between Harvard and Central, was absolutely amazing when I went.

Baraka in Central is less fancy, but unique and still pretty delicious (It's Algerian food, so no booze there-- being underage won't make you feel like you're missing out.

Dali is also great, so I'm seconding that (although tapas are always exponentially more fun with a huge pitcher of sangria).

Caveat: none of these places take reservations, so plan ahead.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:08 AM on July 22, 2010

Here's a good AskMe on date night restaurants in Boston. I recommended the Baraka Cafe in that thread.

The 2nd Cup Cafe in Allston is my favorite area coffee shop.

I highly recommend exploring Boston by bicycle, if you've got the stomach for the Masshole drivers. You wouldn't believe how much faster it is to get around town compared to car or the T.

The thing about Boston is you can very easily spend all your time in one neighborhood and never see anything else (basically all the students do this). I say, get up and check out Dorchester, South Boston (Southie), Jamaica Plain (JP), Charlestown etc..

Other cool stuff- check out the local music scene, it is a pretty good time. is super active, if you have any sort of inclination towards anything there's already a dozen experts on it in the Boston area.
posted by nowoutside at 7:09 AM on July 22, 2010

Oh, and the #1 thing I miss about Cambridge is Andala Cafe. Unbelievably chill, delicious Turkish and Arab coffees, and a beautiful grape vine-covered patio. Hands down my favorite place to plunk down for a day of homework.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:11 AM on July 22, 2010

Welcome! Cheap restaurant recommendation: I like the food court in the Super 88 on Comm Ave wear Brighton branches off. Also Azama Grill on Harvard in that strip mentioned above.

Similar to Dali (and owned by the same family) is Cuchi Cuchi in Central Square. Tasty tapas, fun decor, festive, and it's closer to the T. Tasca or anything on Newbury will be closer to your location, though. The Regal Beagle in Coolidge Corner might be a little too casual for what you're looking for, but it's nice and closer to home. Seconding Garden at the Cellar!

Coffee shops: The Allston Cafe at the corner of Brighton and Harvard has good ice cream and is funky - and they're also a coffee shop.
posted by ldthomps at 7:21 AM on July 22, 2010

As stated above, Tasca is fantastic (I used to live just a few blocks down comm ave).

As for music stores, I've always been partial to Nuggets in Kenmore Square. There's a really kick ass comic shop, Comicopia, right near by as well if you're into that kind of thing.
posted by brand-gnu at 7:40 AM on July 22, 2010

Yes, I'm glad someone recommended Tasca! I used to live on Washington Street in Brighton (next to Brookline) and we went there for birthdays and special occasions all the time. I also LOVE The Fireplace on Beacon Street and Washington (walking distance!), and they're super nice. You need a reservation on busy nights, but tell them you're new in town and celebrating a birthday and they'll treat you well.

I'll second biking as a general Boston recommendation, but I also like walking around the city, Comm and Beacon over on that end of town are wide and shady and really nice for strolling. Have fun exploring!
posted by hungrybruno at 7:43 AM on July 22, 2010

10 tables is an awesome resturaunt in Jamaica Plain, you need reservations, it is on the 39 bus. They have a 3 course meal for $33 each. Supper yummy food. Also in JP are Canto 6, Ula Cafe and City Feed all are great coffee shops/ bakery sandwich shops.
posted by momochan at 7:44 AM on July 22, 2010

There are tons of places in Coolidge Corner. Nori is an excellent Japanese cuisine place. It's not all sushi. They have a delicious seared tuna. It's small, intimate, and really good. Not terribly expensive.

Elephant Walk in Boston (on Beacon St near the St. Mary's stop on the C line or from the B, you can get off at Blandford and walk from there) is a really nice restaurant. With no alcohol you could easily afford two meals for $85. Their lunch options are exceptionally well-priced for the caliber of restaurant they are, so if your girlfriend is amenable to a later and really nice lunch instead of dinner that may be an option. It is a French-Cambodian restaurant, so there'll be a mixture of some really out there stuff for some people and also some very well-known safe choices.

For a coffee shop, I wholeheartedly recommend Ivy on the Boston side of Harvard. It's about a block from the Harvard T stop heading toward Brighton ave. It's a small cafe that is never busy. I went there all the time with Baby Zizzle on my maternity leave. It is owned by an Asian couple. They recently started to serve sushi, but they also have your standard coffee faire plus bubble teas. Very quiet, very cool.

Twin Donuts at the corner of Beacon and N. Harvard St is a cool little place. It's a Mom and Pop alternative to Dunkin + diner food. Only opened for breakfast and lunch.

At the corner of Washington St and Comm Ave is another excellent diner. Also only opened for breakfast and lunch (until about 4 pm).

Essentially, where you'll be living (which is right where we are living still for a few more weeks), there's no shortage of choices for restaurants for cuisine type and price. The best thing you can do is walk all around. Walk from Brookline Village to Allston on Harvard St. Walk up Comm Ave to Washington and over to Beacon. Walk down Beacon from Brookline to Boston. There's so much compacted in that three or four mile radius it's not even funny.
posted by zizzle at 8:00 AM on July 22, 2010

I used to live right around there, close to Harvard & Comm Ave. Now I live in Inman Square and I'm SO much happier that I no longer have to keep my dog from eating chicken wings or a pile of vomit off the sidewalk every morning. But I'm also a little older than you. It's definitely a fun place to live for your age group. If you like live music, check out Great Scott, I've seen some great bands play there. (although it might be 21+, I can't remember)

Boston has so many places to eat and things to do and see, it's hard to sum it up in a quick post like this. Yelp is your friend. Also sign up for things like Thrillist and Urban Daddy -- easy way to stay on top of things happening and new places opening around town.

As far as restaurant recommendations for your GF's birthday, Tasca is a good one, as is The Fireplace. There's also Regal Beagle and Lineage, both in Coolidge Corner, which are a little more upscale. You should be able to get out under $85 at all but the very fanciest restaurants if you're not drinking. So, avoid anything that borders the Common and you'll be fine.
posted by roscopcoletrane at 8:07 AM on July 22, 2010

If you guys are meat eaters, I wholeheartedly recommend the Hungry Mother -- absolutely delicious food, lovely but not overly expensive, and fun/classy non-alcoholic drinks, too. It's in Cambridge, so a bit of a trek for you guys, but I think it's worth it. (It's close to the Kendall station on the red line, and a bit farther from the Lechmere station on the green line.)

For coffee shops, I recommend Diesel and Block 11, both in Somerville.

A great museum that you might not think would be great is the JFK museum -- definitely worth checking out.
posted by cider at 8:10 AM on July 22, 2010

Grotto: A casual hole in the wall steps from the State House, affordable and outstanding italian food.

Mapparium: Stand inside a 30-foot-tall stained-glass globe.
posted by dust of the stars at 10:23 AM on July 22, 2010

Algiers Coffee House in Harvard Square is a great North African/Middle Eastern coffee shop and restaurant - the atmosphere is very cozy and intimate, and the restaurant is architecturally interesting. A little more expensive than your typical coffee shop, but they have unique drinks. Excellent sandwiches, wraps, amazing hummus, a wide menu. I've only ever had coffee and lunch there, but I think a dinner date there would be a lovely experience.
posted by illenion at 11:51 AM on July 22, 2010


You must check out Newbury Comics - they have several locations. They sell all kinds of music-related stuff and novelties.

Green Line:

Brookline - Coolidge Corner: Theatre (lots of indie/foreign, good films), Brookline Booksmith, Peet's, other little stores and restaurants

Allston/Brighton for In Your Ear Records, dive bars/shows, cheap eats, vegan restaurants

Kenmore Square - Nuggets Records

Whole Foods and Trader Joes are great for food shopping and there are various locations including one near your school.

On the Red Line:

You will probably like Davis Square in Somerville - restaurants, cool shops, Goodwill, J.P. Licks (ice cream), Diesel Cafe (coffee shop, artwork on the walls). Somerville Theater has some good bands play there and it's also a good place to see movies.

Harvard Square - if you like tea - check out Tealuxe [cool tea shop], Planet Records, a comic book store, Newbury Comics, Black Ink (cool little store with random things to buy), Curious George Store (big toy/book store), a few really great book stores, Mr. Bartley's (if you like huge burgers and shakes)
posted by KogeLiz at 9:53 AM on July 26, 2010

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