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Home of the bean and the cod and so much more, Boston has grown into a huge foodie town with a roster of celebrity chefs making waves in the food industry. Many of these chefs find their places topping the best Boston restaurants list. These Boston restaurants can easily compare with the best anywhere. Some, like Jasper White, have put their own stamp on New England staples like chowder and lobster making places such as the Summer Shack one of the best Boston restaurants. Others, like Todd English and Ming Tsai, offer distinctive versions of cuisines from elsewhere. And regular infusions of new cooking talent make sure that the best places to eat in Boston change regularly.
Neighborhood: Financial District Price: Expensive
Chef Michael Schlow’s Radius restaurant on the edge of the business district near South Station is one of the best Boston Restaurants—and one of the city's finest and most expensive. But if $38 seems like a lot for Pekin’ Duck, wait till you see it laid out in ravioli, with English peas, Seville orange and green garlic purée. Emulsions, reductions and flavored oils are keys to cooking that’s as elegant as the room it’s served in.
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Neighborhood: Waterfront Price: Expensive
Known as one of the best places to eat sushi in Boston, foodies come from far and wide to eat at this small, ultra-high-end restaurant. Simple, but hip décor serenely showcases the beautiful, inventive and wildly flavorful sushi and a small menu of eclectic Japanese-style tastes. O Ya is the kind of place where your braised shiitake mushroom comes with anise hyssop and truffle honey sauce and your hamachi nigiri might bear a dollop of spicy banana pepper mousse. You’ll be drinking from a selection of carefully curated sakes. Such was the buzz when this place opened that there’s been a backlash dissing it as over-hyped and overpriced. Don’t listen. Just take your credit card and go.
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Neighborhood: Cambridge Price: Expensive
This longtime Cambridge stalwart became a favorite for its pan-Mediterranean cuisine. After a rethink a few years ago, Chef Jody Adams serves exquisite seasonal and mostly Italian food in this restaurant overlooking Harvard Square from inside the Charles Hotel. Rialto restaurant and bar is one of the top Boston restaurants, and for good reason. Pair a salad of lettuces, herbs, radishes and champagne vinaigrette with a main course of orange-infused seafood brodo, a dish that includes scallops, lobster, shrimp, mussels and squid. A soothing room and excellent service complete the experience.
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Neighborhood: South End Price: Moderate
Boston native and chef Barbara Lynch has opened a series of top Boston restaurants, including her ultra-luxe No. 9 Park on Beacon Hill, but the Butcher Shop offers you a chance to sample her high standards for a more moderate price. The small storefront down the street from the Boston Center for the Arts includes a small bar and a few tables, as well as a full-service butcher shop that preps all sorts of high-end meats. There’s a house hotdog and a steak tartare with toasted brioche, but our favorite meal is the charcuterie plate, best enjoyed alongside the restaurant's excellent wine service, of course. If you’ve got a yen for surf and turf, Lynch’s B&G Oysters is across the street.
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Neighborhood: Somerville Price: Moderate
Take the Red Line to Davis Square in Somerville to check out this busy barbecue joint. For appetizers, start with hushpuppies and barbecue hash, made with pulled pork, barbecued beef, potatoes, peppers and various spices. Then, tuck into a rack of Memphis-style ribs, served with beans, coleslaw and extra sauce on the side. Yep, you’re gonna get messy. Add in a bunch of good regional brews and a good time is guaranteed. If you opt for a pulled pork sandwich or the small half-chicken, Redbones qualifies as a budget meal.
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Neighborhood: Cambridge Price: Moderate
Chef Erwin Ramos is friends with Chicago’s famous Mexican food chef Rick Bayless and has grown ever more ambitious with his own regional Mexican cuisine. Bright décor and a lively atmosphere can’t hide the serious skill behind Ole's entrees like róbalo asado: Pan-seared wild sea bass with grilled corn polenta, sautéed organic baby spinach and red bell pepper-chipotle sauce. Make sure you get the guacamole, prepared tableside, and try the ahi tuna ceviche when you dine at this top Boston restaurant. There’s a selection of small plates, and for entertainment, well, there’s usually action at the tortilla-making station by the bar. Ramos also has a takeout taquería across the street called Olecito. And if you can’t get a table at Olé, the great East Coast Grill is just around the corner.
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Neighborhood: Seaport Price: Moderate
It’s getting trickier to find a simple, moderately priced seafood dinner in town. There’s still plenty of fish, but prices—and pretentions—have hit the stratosphere. Boston Sail Loft, an unheralded dockside restaurant, which doesn’t have a website, bucks the trend. Don’t bring your foodie friends here to impress them, but if you want a nice lobster dinner or a cup of chowder and fish-and-chips, along with a marina view and a whiff of saltwater, this is one of the best places to eat in Boston. The deck is great on a sunny day.
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Neighborhood: Cambridge Price: Budget
A funky favorite of students and professors alike since 1960, Bartley’s often wins best-burger awards. It specializes in big, sloppy, juicy burgers saucily named for various celebs, including the Ted Kennedy with cheddar (“a plump, liberal amount of burger”) and the Tom Brady, served with guacamole and red onion. Don’t skip the sweet potato fries, which have fueled many a study marathon. No alcohol. Cash only.
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Neighborhood: South End Price: Budget
When a restaurant says, “Booths are reserved for parties of three or more from 1AM to 5AM,” you know you’re in a night-owl venue. The South Street Diner is open all the time, but it’s the prime destination in town after the bars close, which means you’ll find everyone from cops to musicians to visiting celebs here, as well as club-goers and college students trying to stave off hangovers with the classic comfort food menu. Maybe the coolest thing about the place is that you'll be dining in an authentic 1947 Worcester Dining Company car.
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Neighborhood: Fenway Price: Budget
Legions of devoted fans of this modest taco-and-burrito joint were elated when it recently reopened after a fire—and disappointed that El Pelon Taqueria moved several miles west of its previous Fenway location. A new Fenway edition is in the works, but in the meantime it’s worth making your way to this top Boston restaurant for classic fish tacos with limed onions and overloaded burritos, all cooked fresh and as healthy as this sort of thing can be. Word is they’re serving Mexican Coca-Cola now—made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Grab a t-shirt featuring the mascot (a pirate crossed with a conquistador?) You’ll gain instant coolness cred.
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Neighborhood: South End Price: Budget
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Most of the pizzas at Picco are just over $10, with a puffy, blackened crust and top-notch toppings like Lioni Fresh Mozzarella. Our favorite one is their version of France’s tarte flambé, a pizza with onions, crème fraiche, bacon & Gruyere. There are a few Italian entrees, too, like a nice, simple spaghetti aglio e olio from time to time. For dessert, there’s fantastic ice cream. Try the Adult Ice Cream Soda, with your choice of Belgium lambic beer poured over vanilla ice cream.
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