Massachusetts is the most populous state in New England — and over 80 percent of that massive population hails from the Greater Boston area. It’s no surprise that the food scene in Boston (and its surrounding cities) is so stellar. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The city of Boston is home to over 30 colleges and universities, making it an attractive location to open a restaurant or bar. It’s also no surprise that the best dive bar in Massachusetts is in Boston — we’re willing to bet it’s packed with students looking for a cheap beer almost every weekend. If you don’t love dive bars, there’s a vibrant night life that’s on the classier side, as well. Whether you’re going to a bah in Hah-vard yard or an Irish pub in Southie, there’s a crowd and a good time guaranteed. The seafood scene in Massachusetts is well-known for its incredible shellfish and (of course) clam chowder.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and farmers markets to its best dive bar and craft brewery in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs. We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state.
Petsi Pies is an independent bakery that has been serving tasty handmade pies and pastries since 2003. They bake everything fresh daily and use only natural ingredients — you won’t find any fillers or mixes in these pies. For Katie Lee's Rustic Apple Pie recipe, click here. Their best-selling apple pie is hearty and sweet and sells out fast, so hurry up and get a slice before it’s gone!
Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar has more than 200 whiskeys, including a rolling list of the niche, century-old wooden bar’s own hand-selected single barrels. There are rare and nearly impossible-to-find bottles, weekly whiskey flights, a whiskey club, and one of Boston’s strongest craft cocktail programs, led by bar and beverage manager Kayla Quigley. The signature drinks at the bar — which is punctuated with bubble glass pendant lights, local art, chalkboard drawings, and worn leather booths — are Fernet-Branca on tap and the Ideal Manhattan (Maker’s Mark, St-Germain, Cinzano Rosso, Angostura bitters, and grapefruit bitters). The bar is known for its oysters, upscale tavern fare, and whole roasted pig dinner for 10. Citizen is also conveniently located just behind Fenway Park for a post-game drink.
You can’t go wrong with any IPA from Boston’s Trillium Brewing Company, but the Double Dry Hopped Congress Street takes the cake. With a milky, yellow-orange appearance, this brew is the perfect example of what Galaxy hops can turn into. Each glass simply explodes with flavors of grass, tropical fruits, and the slightest creamy malt (for balance).
Austin S. L./Yelp
Serious chefs never used to serve burgers in their restaurants, and when they started doing so, you always sort of had the feeling that they would much rather you didn't order one so they could sell you that heritage pork belly and bone marrow tower with kale pesto and quinoa foam instead. At his Cambridge restaurant, chef Tony Maws offers a really great burger — fat and dripping with flavor — and has figured out an easy way to keep the number of burger orders down: He prepares only 18 of them a day. If you're 19th in line, them’s the breaks. It's worth getting to the place early for this 8-ounce grass-fed patty (custom-blended daily from various cuts of meat) on a house-baked, dome-shaped sesame bun. It’s topped with Shelburne Farm Vermont Cheddar, vinaigrette-dressed lettuce and tomato, and Maws' own mace-flavored ketchup. Thankfully, it’s also usually available during lunch and brunch.
Photo by Vivian C. via Yelp
Trillium Brewing Company
Trillium Brewing Company originally opened in March of 2013 and they quickly made a name for themselves as one of the top breweries in Massachusetts. Trillium Brewing now has two locations, but the original is nestled in South Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. This New England farmhouse-style brewery focuses on hoppy brews that can be found in shops throughout Massachusetts. Try Sprang, an ale inspired by Germany’s Kölsch ale, or Night and Day Imperial Stout, brewed with Barrington Coffee Roasters coffee.
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Boston's Sweet Bakery offers a list of cupcake flavors that seems to keep growing. Looking for something light but decadent? The classic Boston cream pie flavor is a sweet chiffon cake filled with homemade pastry cream. It’s topped with chocolate ganache and a frosting “cherry.” Click here for 13 Old Time Desserts That Need to Make a Comeback.
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The people of Massachusetts take their doughnuts seriously, which is why Donut King is such a resounding success. This old-fashioned doughnut shop makes its pastries fresh throughout the day and focuses on making the perfect batter rather than messing around with fancy flavors. The result is sizeable, warm, fresh, and fluffy doughnuts.
Right smack in the middle of downtown Boston, in the famous Copley Square, sits this market. Open Tuesday and Friday, the Copley Square market is operated by Mass Farmers Markets, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting area farmers and providing residents nutritious, locally grown and produced food.
When a restaurant cultivates its own oysters (which happen to be among the best on the East Coast), you know that it takes its seafood very seriously. Island Creek chef Jeremy Sewall is one of the nation’s leading experts on sustainable fish sourcing, and the seafood selection at his restaurant changes daily depending on what’s coming out of the water. Their fish and chips are usually made with pollock (but is subject to change according to availability), and they’re light and crunchy thanks to a beer batter. Make sure you don’t forget about the malt vinegar aïoli, which brings everything together.
Melissa F./ Yelp
Run by three siblings, Mei Mei is dedicated to sustainably sourced food and creative takes on Chinese cuisine. Get their “Double Awesome,” a scallion pancake sandwich with pesto, Cheddar, and two runny eggs, or the pierogi dumplings with Sriracha fried rice. After the success of the truck, Mei Mei opened a brick-and-mortar location, which was voted the best restaurant in Boston by Eater in 2014 and is a go-to spot for renowned London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi when he's in town.
Yelp/ Jacie N.
Obviously, the location of the “Official Burger of the Red Sox” is going to offer up some tasty fries. Described as “thin crispy fries,” they are shockingly addictive: The more you have, the more you’ll want. There is a location right next to Fenway Park where you can get your beer, burger, and fry fix before or after the game.
Photo by Frank E. via Yelp
Ask any Bay Stater: Market Basket is their store. In a price comparison study conducted by a Boston news outlet, Market Basket held consistently lower prices than Target and Walmart. One reviewer said online, “Everything here is affordable and offers a large selection of products and food!” What more could you ask for?
The Plough and Stars / Facebook
If it isn’t already obvious, the Boston area is full of some of the best Irish pubs outside of Ireland, and The Plough and Stars is definitely one of them. Its cozy ambiance, warm service, and innovative, traditional fare constantly draw huge crowds. Naturally, it has become a cornerstone of the Cambridge community.
James Beard Award-winning chef and Daily Meal Council member Lydia Shire is one of Boston’s legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italianish restaurants you’ll ever dine at. While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or Spanish ibèrico ham into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties. There’s a full "mozzarella bar" with five different seasonal fresh-mozzarella-based dishes (just opt for the mozzarella tasting, you know you want to). Spaghetti comes topped with cracklings and hot pepper, and pizza is topped with white clam and bacon, among other things. Entrées include brick chicken with black garlic purée and Meyer lemon risotto, cotechino sausage ravioli with truffle foam and purple kale, and braised short rib with whipped celeriac. It’s one of those menus where literally everything looks delicious… but we’ll be waiting for Friday night, when the special is roast suckling pig.
Locals line up around the block to get into the two locations of Zaftigs, the best deli in the Boston area. It’s most famous for its breakfast (which is thankfully served all day), with standouts like ham and cheese Benedict, pastrami scramble, chocolate French toast with raspberry sauce, buttermilk pancakes, smoked fish platters, and potato pancakes. But the sprawling lunch and dinner menu isn’t to be missed, either; specialties like chili and Cheddar “loaded” latkes, homemade borscht, stuffed cabbage with cranberry-tomato sauce, chicken pot pie, and slow-cooked brisket “Bolognese” with egg noodles are also must-trys.
Yelp/ Natalie N.
At B&G Oysters, chef Barbara Lynch serves a world-class lobster roll, flawlessly prepared. Claw and tail meat is tossed with a little bit of mayo, diced celery, and chopped chives, and it’s served on an ideal bun. Every element of this lobster roll is made with a serious amount of care and precision, and it’s served a alongside a mound of tarragon-kicked fries.
While Boston isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of great Mexican food, El Sarape has been serving from-scratch sauces in its cozy environs since it opened in Braintree in 1988. Highlights include carnitas, grilled pork tenderloin, enchiladas verdes, and the guisado con chile ancho specialty — your choice of chicken or beef with potatoes and onions under a smoky red chile sauce with rice and refried beans — and the chiles rellenos.
Courtesy of L’Espalier
Yelp/ Randy V.
This legendary food truck has spawned four Boston restaurants, and they’re all serving some of the best grilled cheeses in the city. Favorites include the Green Muenster (Muenster, bacon, and housemade guacamole); the Hot Honey Bacon (Vermont Cheddar, Muenster, fontina, bacon, and spicy honey); and the super-popular Mighty Rib Melt (BBQ braised short rib, fontina, and caramelized onion).
James Beard Award-winning chef and Daily Meal Council member Lydia Shire’s Scampo is a true Boston gem. You might call it “Italianish”: While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or Spanish ibèrico ham into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. Handmade breads come in seven varieties. There’s a full "mozzarella bar" five different seasonal fresh mozzarella-based dishes (just opt for the mozzarella tasting, you know you want to). But when she devotes her attention to simple, straight-ahead classic Italian fare, you end up with one of the best plates of pasta you’ll ever have. Her aglio e olio is as simple as can be – al dente spaghetti tossed with high quality olive oil, garlic, hot pepper flakes, and a sprinkling of cheese – but it’s a master class in balance and moderation.
Photo by Greg W. via Yelp
The local favorite has already seen its fair share of fame after winning various best-of-Boston pizza lists over the years. Santarpio's, which opened in 1903, sticks to its traditional roots when it comes to the slightly chewy and satisfyingly wet slices. The menu consists of a variety of options but includes a list of customers' favorite combos, like a pie that combines sausage with garlic, ground beef, and onions; and even "The Works": mushrooms, onions, peppers, garlic, sausage, pepperoni, extra cheese, and anchovies. First-timer? Order Santarpio’s most popular pie — mozzarella, sausage, and garlic — to establish a baseline.
O Ya Restaurant
Chef Tim Cushman brings innovative sushi and related new-Japanese fare to his menu with imagination and flair, accompanied by a large choice of excellent sake and wine, in an understated dining room whose simplicity belies the complexity of flavors on the plate. Cushman won the 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast. At this North End sanctuary, you can expect to enjoy dishes like hamachi with yuzu soy marinated Chilean sea urchin, Ora king salmon with unfiltered wheat soy moromi (the mash from which sake is fermented), and yuzu-cured Arctic char with sesame brittle, cumin aïoli, and cilantro. For a truly unforgettable O Ya experience, try to get a seat at the counter to watch the delicious food being created before you in what is definitely one of America’s best sushi restaurants. And with a second sushi outpost (as well as a Mediterranean-themed place, Covina) in New York, Cushman is sharing the love.
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This tiny sandwich shop has achieved astounding levels of renown since opening in 2010, but that’s what meticulous ingredient sourcing and attention to detail will get you. The slow-roasted beef and roast pork sandwiches here are astounding, but the true masterpiece is the Spuckie: ciabatta filled with fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, fresh mozzarella, and an olive-carrot salad.
Woodman’s of Essex, one of the hottest spots on the so-called “Clam Highway,” claims to have invented the fried clam in 1916, two years after it first opened for business. If that isn’t enough reason to position this joint at the top of your list, how about the fact that Woodman’s is listed at No. 769 in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, a favorite book of world travelers? Take in the view from the rooftop deck and choose between fried clams, fresh New England lobster, steamed clams, shrimp, clam chowder, or scallops. We have their recipe for clam chowder here.
Yelp/ Hannah S.
The Union Oyster House is Boston’s most famous restaurant, and its New England clam chowder is the definitive version, hands-down. It starts (as all great clam chowders do) with diced salt pork, which is rendered down and combined with butter, flour, onion, and celery to form a roux. It’s combined with housemade clam juice, half-and-half, chopped fresh clams, a couple dashes of Tabasco, and diced potatoes, and end result is thick, creamy, simple, and perfect.
This popular South End spot is the best place in Boston for spaghetti and meatballs thanks to the care and dedication that chef Evan Deluty puts into every component. The meatballs are loosely formed and nicely browned before finishing in a pot of thick homemade sauce, the spaghetti is homemade and tender, and it’s topped with a sprinkling of Parmigiano and parsley. And to top it off, the kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than most other restaurants.
M K. via Yelp
Dining at this diminutive 20-seat steakhouse, which is without signage and hidden away inside burger joint JM Curley, is an experience unto itself; more a private party than a restaurant. A sign reading “Adults Only. Please No Cell Phone Use.” adorns the entrance, and these rules aren’t arbitrary. Inside you’ll find power brokers eating caviar, foie gras, and 30-day dry-aged New York strips, ensconced in comfortable booths amidst jazz and wine-colored walls. Bogie would have definitely felt right at home here.
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These San Francisco and Boston sister izakayas are the brainchildren of chefs Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga (who runs the San Francisco cult favorite Hana). There are plenty of hot prepared dishes here (and just about all of them are spectacular), but the sushi is second to none and as creative as it is delicious. Nearly 30 varieties of nigiri and sashimi are available, including four varieties of tuna, sea bream, striped jack, ocean trout, cuttlefish, and even foie gras and A5 Japanese Wagyu. And as far as rolls go, Michael’s Negitoro (O Toro, scallion, uni, and salmon roe) is one of the most delicious bites of food you’ll find anywhere.
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Nobody would argue that Taco Loco is anything but a dive, but ask anyone who’s ever dined here and they’ll tell you it serves some of the best Mexican food in Boston. A huge variety of dishes are available at the steam table, and you really can’t go wrong with pupusas, burritos, and tamales, but don’t miss the classic tacos, especially the slow-cooked lengua. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.