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 second 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 brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer 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, and you can find our Massachusetts gallery ahead.
Legal Sea Foods/Yelp
Legal Sea Foods started out as a fish market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1950, and its first restaurant opened next door in 1968. A Boston classic, Legal Sea Foods has four locations throughout Boston’s Logan International Airport. Dine like the president by ordering their famous New England clam chowder, which has been served at every presidential inauguration since 1981.
Nick F./ Yelp
This laid-back restaurant serves some of the best soul food in Boston, and it’s best known for its all-you-can-eat jazz brunch, served Sundays from 10 to 3. For $29.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids 6-12, you can feast on fried chicken, barbecue ribs, rice and beans, collard greens, mac and cheese, scrambled eggs, grits, waffles, breakfast links, ham, and a variety of other weekly rotating dishes. Pro tip: If you get there between 10 and 11, you only have to pay $19.99.
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.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.
Tropical fruits such as pineapple, mango, and papaya are at the front of this insanely juicy IPA from the highly-regarded brewery Tree House. Honestly, any number of their beers could have been Massachusetts’ No. 1, but thanks to its thick, hazy hoppy flavors, we got to give it to King Julius. The best part about this beer? It goes down so smoothly, it barely hints at its 8.2 percent ABV.
The Langham is one of Boston’s most luxurious hotels, housed in the former Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Their Sunday City Brunch, held at the hotel’s Café Fleuri, is the most elaborate brunch in the city, a buffet held in a sunlit atrium accompanied by the musical stylings of the Robert Rivera Ensemble. Available September through June, the $75 brunch (including a mimosa) is a veritable extravaganza of breakfast dishes, seafood, charcuterie, meats, cheeses, and fresh produce, but make sure to save room for the ever-popular chocolate bar.
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.
Located just a couple blocks from Fenway Park, this tiny restaurant is a favorite of in-the-know locals who pick up a burrito before heading to the game. Pescado is a standout: Atlantic cod is lightly breaded with corn meal and fried until crispy, and then wrapped up with black beans, Mexican rice, lettuce, spicy mayo, and salsa fresca. If you find yourself jealously eyeing someone downing a tasty-looking burrito diring a Sox game, this is where they got it.
Photo by Vivian C. via Yelp
Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown isn’t just the best Chinese restaurant in Boston; it’s the best in the state. Their spicy Szechuan fish soup with peppercorns and fiery chiles is a must-order, and other standouts include scallion pancakes, tofu skin, sautéed pea greens, and pork soup dumplings. It's not just a big hit with the locals; many top Boston chefs, including Ken Oringer, are regulars.
Considered by many to be the best chocolates in America, Beacon Hill Chocolates does everything perfectly. The taste, texture, and look of their confections are world-class. Their most popular offerings include their caramel sushi, couer de sel sea salt caramel, and their half-dipped strawberry truffle. These chocolates are almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Pavement Coffeehouse is a small chain in Boston that just might give Dunkin' Donuts a run for its money. Delicious coffee and an artistic vibe welcome patrons here; guests can choose from an extensive menu that notably includes homemade bagels, a variety of sandwiches, and lattes that can be matcha, Spanish, chai, and more.
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.
Photo by Elle H. via Yelp
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.”
Photo by Amanda M. via Yelp
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.
Daddy’s Bonetown Burgers serves juicy burgers out of its truck, which features a large decal of a high-heeled boots-wearing, bikini-clad woman in the form of a devil, sitting on a shark-shaped rocket and eating a burger. It’s very much the Guns N’ Roses brand of rock and roll with a host of other cultural references on the menu. But how do the burgers stack up? People love them. Whether you order the Kick Out the Jam, their 100 percent Angus burger with pickled red onions, bourbon bacon jam, and Monterey Jack cheese; the Richard Simmons, a black bean and quinoa burger with cilantro aioli and cheddar; or the Lemmy, 100 percent Angus beef, bourbon barbecue sauce, crispy fried onions, bacon, and cheddar cheese; consider yourself welcomed to the jungle (of flavor). You’re guaranteed a mouthful of happiness, and if you’re still hungry, pick up an order of tots, because, you know… tots!
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.
Trina’s, one of Boston’s quirkier eateries, features delicious, creative renditions of a dizzying variety of cuisines and cocktails in a vintage-noir, vaguely Southern atmosphere. Among other things, head chef Suzanne Maitland tops a buttermilk waffle with a piece or two of fried chicken and drizzles it with hot-pepper maple syrup. This meal is not one to miss — and it’s even better paired with a signature Trina’s brunch cocktail (we like the maple bourbon).
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.
The Provincetown Fudge Factory opened in 1984, but you can be forgiven for thinking it opened in 1884. The fudge is hand-crafted in small batches using high-quality ingredients; the fact that each batch is hand-paddled in copper pots and can take up to eight hours results in a truly superior product. Its fudge is also available in some fun flavors, including Bailey’s Irish Crème, chocolate chip swirl, chocolate marshmallow, coconut, cranberry walnut, and chocolate peanut butter.
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?
This old-school chrome diner has been going strong since 1947, when it was built by the Worcester Dining Company to feed local factory workers. Today it’s a favorite among the local college students and artists, and is widely regarded as the best late-night eatery in the city. (It’s open 24/7.) The menu includes a variety of breakfast items (including the super-popular Boston crème pancakes), more than a dozen Benedicts, burgers, sandwiches, frappes (a New England spin on the milkshake), and a surprisingly good beer list.
This modern, low-key burger joint has locations in Beacon Hill and on Boston Common, and the owners are committed to sourcing all their ingredients as locally as possible. This means that their hot dogs come from Lynn, Massachusetts’ Old Neighborhood Foods, and man are they good. Quarter-pound all-beef franks come with a slew of option toppings; free ones include pickles, relish, onion, tomato, sauerkraut, onion sauce, and chipotle aïoli. For 50 cents you can get cheese, sautéed mushrooms, kimchi, truffle aïoli, or tomato-jalapeño marmalade, and a buck will get you guacamole, chili, a fried egg, bacon, Cajun ham, or sausage. Wash it down with an ice cream float and you’ll be in hot dog heaven.
This family-run dairy farm serves homemade ice cream in traditional flavors like chocolate and vanilla, as well as fun ones like Phantomberry and Snickas With Snickers. Plus, their farm also houses sheep, chickens, ducks, roosters, and 370 cows!
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.
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.
An Asian fusion café owned and operated by the Chin family, Double Chin has made waves on Boston foodstagrams for its cube toast — a treat made with brioche that's been made like French toast and then stuffed with small pieces of French toast, as well as fruit, mochi, cereal, Pocky sticks, and condensed milk, as well as some kind of flavored sauce and ice cream depending on the type of cube toast you order. Try the Matcha Ma Call It (made with green tea ice cream and chocolate syrup), or if it's your birthday, order the It's Mah Birthday (made with strawberry ice cream and chocolate sauce, with macarons on top and served with a birthday serenade).
At Boston’s most upscale restaurant, chef Frank McClelland serves a variety of tasting menus that draw on French influences to turn New England-sourced ingredients into truly luxurious creations. After taking a seat in one of the three romantic dining rooms (each of the four rooms has its own unique design scheme), you’ll be treated to dishes including game bird terrine with beets, green peppers, and onion brûlée; Pineland Farms roasted beef tenderloin with chanterelles, Brussels sprouts, and new potatoes; poached gray sole with toasted hazelnuts, endive, and grapes; and roasted duck with Sauternes-poached raisins, Turkish figs, Puy lentils, and foie gras.
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).
The Paramount is a quintessential neighborhood joint, serving classic and unpretentious American fare since 1937. And hiding in plain sight on its breakfast menu? Some of the best pancakes you’ll ever encounter. Big, golden brown, and with a slightly crispy crust, they’re available in classic buttermilk or filled with chocolate chips, banana, apple, blueberry, or strawberry, or with fruit on top. Make sure you spring the extra two bucks for pure Vermont maple syrup.
Area Four’s owners, Michael Krupp and Jeff Pond, are dedicated to providing local and sustainable ingredients. Factor in dough made from a 30-plus-hour fermented, 16-year-old starter (flour, water, and salt) by chef Pond, homemade cheese, and a wood-fired oven, and you get one of Boston’s best pies, a pizza whose style is kind of like a neo-Neapolitan with a super-charred cornicione on steroids.
The signature pizza is the clam and bacon, but if you want to take a page out of President Obama’s book, order the mushroom and fontina (mushroom sauce, pecorino, and gremolata) and the Carnivore (mozzarella, tomato, soppressata, sausage, and bacon) — his order from a couple years ago. From all reports, the man knows good food.
There are three locations of Totto Ramen in Manhattan, two in Boston, and two in Taipei, and they still can barely keep up with demand. What began as a tiny second-floor restaurant in New York back in 2003 is now a certifiable juggernaut, largely thanks to its legendary ramen: homemade al dente noodles in a rich chicken broth simply topped with roast pork or chicken, scallion, onion, and nori. Today four ramen options are available, including spicy paitan, miso paitan, and vegetarian, and you can also customize your own with 20 toppings.
In 2002, restaurant industry vet George Athanasopoulos came upon a 1962-vintage diner in disrepair, and knew he had to have it. He restored and renovated it, named it The Breakfast Club, and gave it an ‘80s theme, and it wasn’t long before crowds were lining up outside the door, waiting more than an hour for a table on the weekends. What are they flocking for? A massive variety of three-egg omelettes filled with everything from house corned beef hash and Cheddar to shaved sirloin, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and pepper jack; 11 varieties of Benedicts; world-class buttermilk pancakes, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches; and combo platters called “Library Specials” (don’t forget the name of the restaurant). Open from 6 a.m. during the week and at 7 on the weekends, The Breakfast Club is simply the best place in Massachusetts for breakfast.
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" 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.
Photo by Lea C. via Yelp
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.
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 mixed 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.
Cask ‘N Flagon is everyone’s favorite Fenway bar. Established in 1969, this is the place to meet up to watch a baseball game (it was named the Top Baseball Bar in the Nation by ESPN). Check out the iconic black and white sports photographs which line the walls, taken by Boston Globe photographer Dennis Brearley. Before it was a bar, the building was a Ford dealership, and the dealership’s original terrazzo flooring still exists in the nightclub area and event space.
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.
Photo by Kay Y. via Yelp
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.
Photo by Jacqueline T. via Yelp
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 2019.
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