Boston Eats
January 19, 2011 1:23 PM   Subscribe

BostonFilter: I'm taking my girlfriend to Boston for her birthday next month. Where should we go for dinner?

We're flying down from Toronto in the first weekend in February, staying in Back Bay. I've got most of the weekend planned out, except for a nice dinner on the Saturday night.

I'm looking for some good recommendations for a birthday dinner. Not looking to spend a fortune, and I'm not too interested in the really high end of the spectrum in Boston cuisine. A lot of the restaurants I've looked at are a bit intimidating.

So... I'm looking for some recommendations. Good food (we both love seafood), nice views, wine, and a nice neighborhood for a stroll would fulfill what I'm looking for!

(I know there's been other threads, but they're all a bit different from what I'm looking for, so hopefully this is okay)
posted by smitt to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
if you drink, start at top of the hub?
posted by anya32 at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2011

I'd suggest the North End, Boston's Italian neighborhood. I don't have a specific place in mind but it's a great neighborhood to walk around and you can find anything from mega-expensive to cheap eats. You'll find plenty of good wine and seafood.

After dinner you can hit one of the many bakeries (locals will tell you to avoid Mikes, as it's overrated and overcrowded, but I've always enjoyed whatever I've had there) and walk the neighborhood.

Avoid Legal Seafood. Overpriced mediocrity.

Outside of the North End I've enjoyed Brasserie Jo, though it's been many years since I've eaten there so I don't know how it rates now.
posted by bondcliff at 1:31 PM on January 19, 2011

How about a place like Lala Rokh?

The food is very good and probably not too familiar if you're not Middle Eastern, so it has a nice exotic vibe, but still very approachable. It's on Beacon Hill, which would give you an interesting stroll through a neighborhood (although, February isn't a great time for outdoor strolling here). The dining room is cozy (but not horribly cramped), good for a birthday dinner for a couple . A very nice place without being some swankola boite.
posted by briank at 1:33 PM on January 19, 2011

I like the Petit Robert Bistro (French) near Kendall.

Toro (Tapas) in the South End is good, too.

Neither is overpriced for the fare.
posted by justkevin at 1:36 PM on January 19, 2011

It might be more expensive than you're looking for, but Sel de la Terre has great food. The Long Wharf location is close to the waterfront and a stroll away from Faneuil hall.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:38 PM on January 19, 2011

Giacomo's in the North End is just about the best Italian food I've had in Boston. If the line is too long, there's one in the South End. Yes, people line up outside in the cold for this place. I have and I'd do it again with nary a second thought.

Picco in the South End is nice. For that matter there are more than a few great restaurants in the South End.

Ten Tables in Cambridge near Harvard Square (also in JP) is excellent, but maybe too pricey depending on your tastes. I had one of the best meals of my life at Ten Tables.

Grotto in Beacon Hill (behind the State House) is great food and romantic in a cozy way.
posted by KevCed at 1:39 PM on January 19, 2011

I like Marliave in the downtown crossing area. It's an old restaurant that's kept the decor from the 1920s. Great cocktails, the food was fantastic, and you can either sit downstairs with the old-timey bar, or upstairs with a view on the street. I might be making it sound kind of chintzy. It's not, it was lovely.

And then after you can walk around the Common to Beacon Hill for dessert, or walk the Freedom trail to the North End (the Italian neighborhood - also very historic, and very quaint, though touristy as you can imagine).

posted by Curiosity Delay at 1:40 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also you could do what I did before my most recent vacation-with-a-nice-dinner: subscribe to Boston Groupon and see if anything good comes up in the next few days. You could end up with a great meal and a great deal.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:41 PM on January 19, 2011

Also check out Beehive!
posted by ghostbikes at 1:43 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd avoid the much-hyped Regina -- long lines, bad service, and the pizza is not all that.
posted by swift at 1:44 PM on January 19, 2011

Not fancy, but still delicious - Beantown Pub. The only place you can drink a Sam Adam's beer and look out at the cemetery across the street where he's buried! Also just across the street from Boston Common and walking distance to all the cool brownstones in the neighborhood. Food was good!
posted by jillithd at 1:46 PM on January 19, 2011

Some good suggestions already, but my quick two cents would be: for seafood, I'd recommend either Neptune Oyster in the North End (no reservations, so there might be a wait) or The Barking Crab in Fort Point, right on the harbor. They are both fun, informal places, although the latter probably more so. And if you end up in Fort Point anyway, you might consider stopping at Drink for a cocktail (although that place can get a bit pretentious).
posted by AwkwardPause at 1:50 PM on January 19, 2011

I apologize but all of my suggestions are Cambridge-centric:

Casablanca in Harvard square is superb.

Central Kitchen in Central Square has great food, some people might be turned off by the neighborhood.

Oleana near Inman square is some sort of award winning, I think, and the food is captivating.

Dali restaurant near Harvard square is my favorite for birthdays/celebrations, super-delicious tapas, romantic yet relaxed atmosphere and great sangria.

I've heard amazing things about Hungry Mother in Kendall Square, but haven't been there myself yet. For this one you'll need to make reservations a few days in advance.

Whatever you do, do not eat anywhere on Newbury Street.
posted by Shusha at 1:54 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not a local, but when we visited there recently, we really enjoyed Andala coffee house. They do have food, and what we had was excellent. Even if you don't want to eat there, it might be a nice place to go after dinner for arabic coffee (yum.)
posted by fritley at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2011

oh! I just remembered how awesome Atlantic Fish on Boylston street is. Amazing amazing seafood and a good "boston-y" location too. Not so much for views, but the food more than makes up for it.

Also, it's not unique to Boston, but you can't go wrong with McCormick and Schmick's for seafood. There's one in Faneuil Hall.
posted by ghostbikes at 1:57 PM on January 19, 2011

I would recommend Top of the Hub for desserts and a nightcap more than pre-dinner drinks. Boston doesn't really do 'views'. The Cambridge side of the river, where you can get a gorgeous panorama of Boston are taken up by the campuses of MIT and Harvard on the north, and in the east, by the airport. Aside from the aforementioned Top of the Hub, there aren't much in the way of rooftop restaurants. Don't know why.

Sel De La Terre is decent and relatively affordable Provencal food (it is the more mainstream cousin of the high end L'Espalier). The waterfront location is ok, but doesn't actually have a view of the water, but it's convenient if you're staying downtown and is walking distance to the Freedom Trail and North End (which are fine as far as meandering neighborhoods go). The Back Bay SDLT is a little more modern and sleek in decor, and you can wander from there through the Back Bay and South End (which, imho, is a nicer stroll) ... SDLT Back Bay is also very close to the Top of The Hub if you're going to combo both. SDLT's wine list is also very well curated.

Ten Tables just outside of Harvard Square is fairly intimate and in the Huron Village area, which can also be nice to stroll through (though quieter and more placid at night than the South End). Good romantic dinner spot though it's in a basement so the views are non-existent.

If you're into the craft cocktails that they serve in TO's Black Hoof cafe and looking to see Boston's take, you could try either Bergamot which is a new-ish place in Inman Square that my girlfriend took me to for my birthday that I liked. It hits that sweet spot between being hip to the craft cocktail movement but also trying to do interesting menu items while not being too expensive (ie. Craigie Street, No. 9 Park), and the area between there and Harvard Square has some pretty neighborhoods to wander in.
posted by bl1nk at 1:58 PM on January 19, 2011

If you like seafood and want classic atmosphere, then the No Name is where you want to go. Great basic seafood and right on the waterfront.
posted by chiefthe at 2:01 PM on January 19, 2011

oh, feedback on some of the other responses:

Ditto on the Beehive and Oleana. Oleana is especially recommended if the weather is good and you can sit outside, and if one of you is more vegetarian than pescetarian. Beehive is in the South End, which is my favorite strolling neighborhood.

Dali can be hit or miss for romance. Sometimes it's crowded and noisy, but the candlelit interior has a nice intimacy.

Hungry Mother is decent but tiny. You must like pork. Think upscale, fancy Southern food. Good cocktails, but I would not go there if I'm primarily pescetarian. Also tiny. Definitely make reservations.

I would not do Drink on a weekend. Especially a cold weekend, as you can expect to wait upwards of 30 minutes to an hour to get a spot inside. The cocktail movement in Boston has democratized enough, that you can go to a perfectly decent restaurant that will also serve you an awesome Manhattan or Stinger or some scientific contraption involving Mezcal, Fernet-Branca and Dolin Vermouth if it strikes your fancy.

If I were to dine in the Downtown Crossing area and look for an old-timey place with decent drinks, I would pick Marliave for the ambiance (or consider Stoddards if you don't mind eating in an old-timey bar that also happens to have ginormous ass flatscreen TVs ... eww) Woodward's isn't far from the Marliave, but it's a rather pretentious little place with good people watching potential but overpriced menu items. In any case, if you do eat at Downtown Crossing, you'll want to stroll in Boston Common. The Crossing area and Government after dinner time is a dead zone.

also, ditting on avoiding Pizzeria Regina. If you're in the North End and you want pizza, go to Ernesto's.
posted by bl1nk at 2:11 PM on January 19, 2011

Views are surprisingly tough in Boston, if you care about the food. But you can have a lovely dinner at any of the following:

Neptune Oyster (stroll the North End while waiting for your table, they will call your cell)
Bergamot (walk to Harvard Square for your stroll)
EVOO (cross the Longfellow Bridge to Beacon Hill for your stroll)
Ten Tables (stroll in JP or Harvard Square)
Journeyman (longish walk or short ride to Harvard or Davis Square for your stroll)

Depending on what "not a fortune" means to you, Oleana, Craigie on Main and Troquet (best place for wine, view of the Common) are more expensive than the above. L'Espalier, Menton and O ya are even more expensive.

Also highly recommend Chowhound for Boston restaurant advice.
posted by frescaanddietcoke at 2:16 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I dunno, The Marliave wasn't all that tasty the few times I've been there. If you're in Downtown Crossing, I'd go to Silvertone or Stoddard's instead. Great cocktails and comfort food at Silvertone. It's in a basement, but you're right by the Common for that stroll. Stoddard's is also near the Common, a little fancier - but they take reservations and the place is Cool.

I'd second LaLaRokh or Neptune Oyster. I also like Artu in the North End or Beacon Hill - definitely not intimidating, but tasty with good walks nearby.

While many of the other recommendations are great restaurants (EVOO, Journeyman, Craigie, Bergamot, Hungry Mother), they're further afield for you. I've chosen Craigie on Main for birthday dinners and Loved it, and it's not too far from the T. But I think the downtown places may be more to your liking if you're not major foodies.
posted by ldthomps at 2:35 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

TW Food, Harvest, Oleana, or Henrietta's Table in Cambridge are all great for a birthday dinner!

Not sure how much $ you are hoping to spend, the above might be too much. East Coast Grill, also in Cambridge, is a little bit less expensive, less formal vibe. But you can't make a reservation.
posted by teragram at 2:41 PM on January 19, 2011

Journeyman, according to my fine dining loving friend, is the place to be at the moment. He tried and failed to get a table at the last minute when he was here last month, so be sure to get your reservations in advance.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:51 PM on January 19, 2011

If you're looking for a good restaurant in the North End that isn't a horrible tourist trap, go to Pomodoro. I can't comment on Giacomo's because I've never bothered to actually wait in line when my apartment is up the street. Agreed on skipping Pizza Regina though. Ernesto's is the standby for cheap pizza in this neighborhood. If you're in the North End around lunch time though, check out Volle Nolle. Delicious sandwiches and soups. And the cookies. Oh god, the cookies.
posted by clockbound at 3:16 PM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: I spent years working in the fish industry in Boston so I am very picky about seafood and the restaurant scene. But I ate at Island Creek Oyster a two weeks ago and it was perfect. Recent review in the NYT here.

Whatever you do, avoid the No Name like a plague. Just because they are on the fish pier does not mean their fish is fresh. They buy mostly frozen, and have for years. All of the other recommendations are very good, especially about avoiding the North End. The North End is good for an after dinner walk, pastry and espresso but I wouldn't eat there. Except Artu for lunch, that is.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:34 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're in the mood for a burger, go to R. F. O'Sullivan & Sons. (it's by Porter Sq.)
posted by oonh at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

What is your budget? "Not a fortune" is kind of vague.

Top of the Hub has a great view, but they tend to only give window seats to large parties and others dropping serious coin. Plus they're definitely overpriced - $15-20 for average drinks.
posted by modernserf at 3:58 PM on January 19, 2011

Upon re-reading your question and reading modernserf's answer there's one thing I want to mention: The rule of thumb for Boston restaurants (and most cities follow this) is that as the view gets better the prices get proportionally higher, but there is an inverse relationship in the quality of the food. So it's best to eat somewhere good, and then walk to where there is a romantic view.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:08 PM on January 19, 2011

+1 for Atlantic Fish. Definitely an "expense account" place price-wise, but very good.
posted by clicking the 'Post Comment' button at 4:25 PM on January 19, 2011

Only providing agreement with the following:
Craigie on Main - kinda out there if you are in the Back Bay/South End.
Sel de la Terre - decent, wont be disappointed
Central Kitchen - easy on/off on redline, but in cambridge so a hike, but not as bad a hike as Craigie.
East Coast - hard to get to, no T access, but worth it if you do.

You could also go cheap for dinner, then go catch a show, and the go to Finale for dessert in the theatre district... wife's personal favorite dessert it involves awesome dessert.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:29 PM on January 19, 2011

Seconding Giacomo's in the North End. Also Neptune Oyster, also in the North End. Generally suggesting the North End.

The South End is great, but not that different from parts of TO (Church and Wellesley, frex). Cambridge is great, but not that different from parts of TO (The Annexe, frex). The North End combines both some of the oldest buildings in Boston, which are just as much fun to look at from the outside as to tour, with a vibrant and distinctive Italian-American neighborhood of many generations.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:34 PM on January 19, 2011

My wife and I visited Boston a few months back, and I got most of my recommendations from previous AskMe threads like this one, so I for one believe these are threads are worthwhile.

Towards the North End: We enjoyed Pomodoro (as someone suggested above) - there was no line at 6:30, but it filled up quickly. Very intimate candlelit interior, excellent service (I think it was the owner, or someone who the locals seemed to know very well - either way, she comped us dessert), and very good food. We did try Legal Seafood at our parent's urging, but didn't care for it - the food was only okay while being extremely pricey. We're both from Hawaii so maybe our taste in fresh seafood is skewed towards big Pacific fish... anyway, the only reason I mention Legal is because we had a great walk along the waterfront afterward, in back of some really nice hotels that are well out of our price range. I think Sel De La Terre was in the same area, which has been mentioned a few times above.

Towards the South Side: Our favorite meal of the trip was at Gaslight Brasserie Du Coin. Excellent everything (ambiance, service, price) including some inventive herbal cocktails and wines available by the 1/2 carafe. Only problem was that the neighborhood didn't inspire cozy feelings in the wife and it isn't very close to a rail station, but it was a short cab ride to the Back Bay for an after dinner stroll down Newbury St.

In the Chinatown/Theatre District, we were pleasantly surprised by Montien, which we only chose because the line into Jacob Wirth's (a few doors down) was so long. I'm an asian food snob so it bothered me that they served Chinese, Japanese, and Thai all on the same menu, but was actually blown away by how good the thai dishes were. It's not necessarily a romantic restaurant, but after dinner we had a nice, semi-spooky walk across the Commons and under the gas lamps on Beacon Hill.

Damn, we really loved that trip.
posted by krippledkonscious at 4:42 PM on January 19, 2011

Also, keep in mind, it is FREEZING in Boston right now. If you're gal is going to get all dressed up to the nines in a little black dress with nylons and high heels, walking around is not something she may want to do. There is a ton of ice on the sidewalks, and a new storm is coming in on Friday morning and is predicted to last for part of Saturday.

The North End is charming and all, but waiting or strolling outside on a likely rainy/snowy evening in January is probably not the most romantic of plans. So either make sure you have set reservations some place there, or don't go.

My husband and I have gone to Top of the Hub numerous times, and it is soooo worth it. It is surprisingly not as expensive as you would think, probably because they have so much seating.

For something different but charming, Addis Red Sea is really wonderful. Be prepared to eat with your hands. The food is good. The service is wonderful, and it's incredibly small and intimate.
posted by zizzle at 5:04 PM on January 19, 2011

Ahh, I misread and see you are coming in February. But my comments about the freezing still stand.
posted by zizzle at 5:05 PM on January 19, 2011

It will be cold, but perhaps warmer than Toronto? :)

I second Ten Tables, Hungry Mother, Gaslight, Sel de la Terre, Brasserie Jo. The chocolate mousse at Brasserie Jo is out of this world. If you like chocolate, you want that! Even if you don't go there for dinner, go there for dessert. They even serve it at lunch.

It would be really helpful to know what kinds of food you are looking for and at what price point. You can get great food of almost any kind at any price here. One of my favorite restaurants in the South End recently is Metropolis in the South End.

I have to disagree with Mariave. We ate there a few months ago and had a horrible experience with both the service and the food. I'm also not really a fan of Henrietta's Table.

I've been wanting to go to Beehive and Bergamot for a while.

Any Barbara Lynch restaurant will be excellent. If you like a good raw bar, B&G Oysters is great.

For seafood, I really like Turner Fisheries in Copley Square. I'm not really a fan of Barking Crab or No Name. Stay away from Anthony's Pier 4.

If you can't get good Italian in Toronto, go to the North End. However, I think there are much better neighborhoods to go to. The North End is nice but I don't find Italian to be that exciting. The almond macaroons at Modern Pastry in the North End are awesome.

Where's your hotel? Boston's a pretty small city, but some places are a lot more convenient than others.

Have fun! Boston is awesome.
posted by reddot at 6:49 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Wonderful suggestions, I'm going to go dig through the options tomorrow but I'm very thankful for everyone's input!

I look forward to a great weekend in Boston. :D
posted by smitt at 9:47 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm not too worried about the cold. We're coming from Toronto as it is, and all my girlfriend knows right now is that we're not going anyplace warmer than where we already are :D
posted by smitt at 9:48 PM on January 19, 2011

Response by poster: Also, we're both HUGE oyster lovers. So I'm putting emphasis on looking into the places everyone recommends for oysters.
posted by smitt at 9:50 PM on January 19, 2011

Nthing Gaslight. Also in the South End: Myers and Chang, which is a great Asian fusion restaurant that's kind of in a diner.
posted by dcheeno at 10:41 PM on January 19, 2011

Best answer: For oysters:
Island Creek Oyster Bar in the Hotel Commonwealth at Kenmore Sq (I can't stress this one enough)
B&G Oyster in the South End
Neptune oyster is alright.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 5:29 AM on January 20, 2011

I nth Beehive - I had a lovely Valentine's Day dinner there once, and I think it is really perfect for a special occasion. I am also a big fan of wandering around the North End - I have never had a bad meal in any of the random places I've wandered into.
posted by naoko at 7:46 PM on January 20, 2011

East Coast Grill in Inman Square has an oyster bar with a good selection, and was recommended upthread. Avoid Legal Sea Foods. :)
posted by Shusha at 8:49 AM on January 21, 2011

Response by poster: I ended up taking her to Island Creek Oyster, and it was fantastic. I'm glad I made the reservation when I did, that place was busy!!

The food and service was great, they printed menus which said 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY' on them, and even put a candle on my girlfriend's desert when they brought it out.

She was extremely (extremely) impressed. Thanks soo much to everyone for your suggestions, we had a great weekend.
posted by smitt at 1:06 PM on February 8, 2011

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