The Best of Beantown
Bon Appetit, January 4, 2013
If you're like us, you plan trips around where to eat and drink. With the BA Weekender Guides we've done the research for you. Each guide features our short list of the coolest restaurants, bars, hotels, and more--all vetted by the Bon Appétit Foodist. It's a highly curated, highly opinionated itinerary, perfect for a long weekend in town. So what are you waiting for?
Don't worry, Boston is still the best place on earth to wash down clam chowder with a pint of Guinness—but it's also home to one of the nation's best Japanese restaurants, excellent Italian and Moroccan cuisine, and high-end cocktail joints nestled in right alongside those classic Irish dives. Here's where to eat, drink, sleep, and play in Beantown right now. —Alex Van Buren
Craigie on Main
Craigie has been doing the local-seasonal thing since 2003, long before every restaurant in America claimed to grow arugula on the roof. After trading up from a tiny kitchen near Harvard (on Craigie Street) to a proper one closer to MIT (on Main Street) a few years ago, it remains one of the best restaurants in the Boston area. It's an elegant spot for a proper meal, serving an ever-changing menu that might include confit and roasted milk-fed pig's head (with Peking pancakes, spicy pumpkin sambal, and boudin noir-hoisin sauce) or cod a la plancha (with peekytoe crab, Jerusalem artichoke mash, and shellfish bisque), but it may be most famous for its burger, a fat short-rib-brisket-steak blend you can eat at the bar. Want one? Get there early: Chef Tony Maws makes just a few of them as an off-menu special every night. If you're still leaning upscale, consider the prix fixe. Most nights it's $67 for three courses, but on Sundays after 9 p.m., the "Chef's Whim" version is four courses for $45 or six for $57. You can pick meat or no meat, but beyond that it's up to Maws.
853 Main Street, Cambridge; 617-497-5511; craigieonmain.com
The exterior looks like a backdrop from a new wave album-cover shoot, with the name slashed in black directly onto white bricks. The little restaurant inside, though, couldn't be cozier, with mint-green wainscoting, a fireplace, and bird-emblazoned upholstery. A meal starts with homemade breads (including one flecked with seaweed) and Cabot Creamery butter. Menu items strain the attention span--e.g., "Marinated Local Oyster Mushroom Salad, Pig Ear Terrine, Pickled Plum Jelly, Jerusalem Artichoke, Bosc Pear with Mint, Petit Greens, Red Wine Mousseline"—but dang, do all those notes make a pretty song. Best of all, everything comes in a choice of small or large, so you can create your own tasting menu without breaking the bank.
279A Broadway, Cambridge; 617-661-0009; bondircambridge.com
Island Creek Oyster Bar
The Red Sox may be a religious institution here, but that doesn't mean you have to eat at church. Five minutes from Fenway you'll find the Island Creek Oyster Bar--and if you weren't able to get tickets to the ballgame, you can watch it on TV here. Even better, those big screens get tucked away into cabinets when the game's not on. The oysters are top-notch, standouts even in a town known for fresh seafood. Although Island Creek sources oysters from all over America, it specializes in superlocal, sustainable varieties. We liked the Wellfleets hauled up from the Cape, a few crispy oyster sliders on brioche slicked with a lime-chili aioli, and a well-priced Blanc de Blancs.
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston; 617-532-5300; islandcreekoysterbar.com
Whatever, North End. If there's a finer pasta in Boston than the rabbit strozzapreti at Barbara Lynch's Fort Point eatery--strewn with picholine olives and flecked with rosemary--we'd like to try it. The name's Italian for counter service, and the comfy black stools lined up against the graphic white Formica bars give the place a sort of American diner-meets-trattoria vibe. This is where we go for lunch when we're in town for a weekend; after a plate of that transcendent rabbit pasta, or maybe Anson Mills polenta with your choice of wild boar, porcini, or eggplant ragu, swing by the bakery counter to snag a cookie for later or a croissant to save for morning.
348 Congress Street, Boston; 617-737-1234; sportelloboston.com
After you've had your fill of traditional clam chowders and lobster rolls, it's time for a superelegant Japanese twist on seafood and more at O Ya. The cozy brick-walled room, which turns the chilly Asian-restaurant stereotype on its head, is a wonderfully intimate space for experiencing nigiri at a whole new level—and we're not just talking fish. A famous "sashimi of mushrooms" is the definition of umami, and Okinawan braised pork is served with Boston baked heirloom rice beans, kimchi, kinome, and soy maple. There's even a clam chowder, studded with tempura bits and cracklins. And who needs dessert when your foie gras is laced with balsamic and chocolate?
9 East Street, Boston; 617-654-9900; oyarestaurantboston.com
The sibling to Ana Sortun's beloved Oleana also shines a light on Moroccan and Middle Eastern cuisine, serving breakfast and lunch in a more casual setting. This is just the thing to mix up your midday routine, from a buck's worth of spicy za'atar bread to the $8 stuffed flatbreads, including one packed with sausage, cumin, oranges, and feta. A platter of five mezze, loaded up with options like sweet carrot salad, beet tzatziki, and smoky eggplant with pine nuts, is only $9. For breakfast, options include a pistachio pop-tart, a chocolate-sesame croissant, and "Turkish breakfast," with a soft-boiled egg, cucumber, olives, feta, yogurt, and sweet preserves.
1 Belmont Street, Cambridge; 617-661-3161; sofrabakery.com
One of Boston's fanciest cocktail dens is not so much a den as a library, furnished with couches, a fireplace, and shelves full of books and objets belonging to genius barkeep Jackson Cannon. It's a hop, skip, and a jump from Island Creek Oyster Bar, and a fine place to tie one on before or after. Cannon is a genius, so whether you're feeling a Phil Collins (vodka, cucumber, lime, chartreuse) or a Belle de Jour (cognac, Benedictine, pomegranate, and bubbly), you can trust it'll be exquisite.
500A Commonwealth Avenue, Boston; 617-532-9150; thehawthornebar.com
J.J. Foley's Bar & Grille
You can't go to Boston without hitting at least one great Irish dive, and Foley's, as everyone calls it, is one of the best. It's not pretty, and it's not sexy, but it is a damn good time, and just a drunken stumble from Chinatown, Boston Common, and the aquarium. Down your Guinness and Jameson like a local; save your regrets for the morning after.
21 Kingston Street, Boston; 617-695-2529; jjfoleysbarandgrill.com
The most elegant jail-to-hotel conversion we've ever seen has location in spades—crucial on a weekend jaunt. Steps from the beautiful esplanade, where you can walk along the Charles River, you're also at the foot of the Longfellow Bridge, a quick walk from Cambridge. And that whole jail thing? The building, completed in 1851, was declared unfit for habitation by prisoners in the 1970s, but you wouldn't guess it now from the plush, sedate rooms, decorated in rose and tan. Chow on the premises includes modern American cuisine at Clink (get it?) and Italian at Lydia Shire's delicious Scampo.
215 Charles Street, Boston; 617-224-4000; libertyhotel.com
Got kids? Cambridge's Engine 7 firehouse is now a family-run hotel with a B&B feel, with sweet touches like handmade quilts, a bright color palette of reds and blues and--if the tykes are lucky--a stuffed Dalmatian lounging on the bed. It's reasonably priced, too, and steps from the T. Sorry—no fire pole.
350 Main Street, Cambridge; 617-577-1399; kendallhotel.com
Julia Child fans, hie yourselves to Harvard Square. The Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe is home to an amazing collection of her papers and memorabilia, and many of them they're on exhibit Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., through March 22, along with a multimedia kiosk featuring audio and TV clips, a tribute in song, and more. There are even maps showing where she lived and worked in Paris and locally in Cambridge, should you wish to take a tour du Julia.
10 Garden Street, Cambridge; 617-495-8647; radcliffe.harvard.edu/schlesinger-library/exhibit/julia-child-centenary