If you live in the South End, congratulations. Not only have you managed to find housing in Boston’s most desirable neighborhood without selling any internal organs on the dark web (hopefully), but you also live in the best restaurant neighborhood in the city. If you don’t live in the South End, the good news is they don’t check passports when you cross Mass Ave., so visit one of the 20 places listed below and then start apartment hunting.
You probably don’t need a bright neon sign to tell you that wine is awesome, but Frenchie on Tremont Street has one just in case. It also has a glass-enclosed back patio and a menu that ranges from nice light dishes (brussels sprouts with currants, or the apple and pear salad) to heavy dinner stuff (coq au vin or beef bourguignon). But the best part about it may be that it’s open for lunch, so it’s the perfect place to try next time you’re “sick” and can only be cured with a tray of oysters and an afternoon riesling.
Myers + Chang on Washington is an Asian fusion spot with a large menu that gives you whatever flavor you’re looking for. It’s a small, cool, cocktail party of a restaurant that’s open for dim sum brunch on the weekends (get the Nirvana Chicken Congee), and both lunch and dinner every other day of the week. That’s a good thing for you, and a bad thing for your loved ones, who are going to miss you after you decide to spend most of your waking hours here.
If you’ve been looking for an LED tree in your life, head to Banyan on Tremont Street. It’s got one in its lounge, so you can sit under shining blue branches as you split a scorpion bowl (a tiki drink that isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds). For dinner, we recommend the scotch egg, which comes wrapped in a fried sausage, and the dragon noodles, which aren’t quite as spicy as the warning on the menu indicates, but which are delightful nonetheless. If you’re here in the summer, grab one of the sidewalk tables under a thick canopy of branches strung with lanterns, and remind yourself that, oh yeah, real trees are pretty cool, too.
You don’t have to dress up to go to Wink & Nod on Appleton Street. But you might want to in order to fully enjoy this hidden cocktail club that feels like the perfect place to plan your next casino heist. This spot has one of the most extensive selections of fine scotch in the city, but don’t just settle for a glass of something you can buy off a shelf. Instead, go for one of their creative cocktails, like the Death or Glory, which is served on a charred cedar plank.
If you don’t have a seaside villa on a Greek island, come to Kava Neo-Taverna and pretend you do as you sip a glass of white wine and eat phyllo-wrapped feta. If you do have one, come here anyway, because we imagine that seaside villas on Greek islands aren’t the kinds of things you get sick of. You’ll have to be prepared to wait, but it’s worth it for perfectly cooked octopus and (during good weather) shaded sidewalk tables.
Ideally, a great tiki bar would serve at least 51% of its drinks in crazy glassware. Shore Leave actually fails on that account, but it succeeds everywhere else. This underground den off Harrison is the dark, tropical escape you need to get you through a Boston winter. Don’t come here just for drinks, though, because you’ll miss a small but great Asian fusion menu (start with the Filipino ribs).
You could come to this tiny, corner enoteca on Shawmut just for the excellent pizza (we love the one with the smoked bone marrow), but then you’d be a boring, one-dimensional person. Instead come here for the pizza, and the great small plates and charcuterie. That way, you’ll be a complex person with a variety of interests (interests that all seem to revolve around Italian food, but still).
If you don’t already have a daytime margarita spot, consider Orinoco, an inviting Latin restaurant on a quiet corner of Shawmut Ave. It’s also a great option if you’ve been looking for a great cuban sandwich, an impressive but affordable date night spot, or a place to browse for Venezuelan dry goods that are prominently displayed on the wall but probably aren’t for sale.
Are you ever in the mood for a sandwich but not in the mood for bread? Probably not, since bread is essentially the defining characteristic of a sandwich, but just in case you’re kinda weird, go to Mana Escondido on Aguadilla Street. This is a counter-service Puerto Rican restaurant, and the best thing on the menu might be the pernil jibarita, a roast pork sandwich that swaps out the bread for two fried and flattened sweet plantains that is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
Fried chicken is good, hushpuppies are good, and hot sauce that’s so spicy it stays hidden behind the bar until some brave soul asks for it is great. You can get all of that at Southern Proper on Washington Street. This place is a great option for any meal, but should definitely be your new South End brunch spot.
If underground restaurants that have live music (mostly, but not exclusively, jazz), work equally well for a weekend date night or Sunday brunch, and serve great comfort food like braised beef cheek gnocchi aren’t your thing, then you really need to re-evaluate your things. Come to Beehive when you need elevated gastropub-type food (things like bacon-wrapped shrimp and brown butter salmon) served in a place that’s always fun.
In a city this old, it’s natural that a lot of places have earned the distinction of being called “institutions.” One of those is Wally’s on Mass Ave and it’s a tiny, brick-walled club that’s the type of place the word “joint” was invented for. You can’t get any food here, but you can get a tumbler full of liquor and hear live jazz every single night. So come to Wally’s and experience a little of what Boston was like when City Hall wasn’t the ugliest building in America and JFK was just that nice young congressman with the good haircut.
The menu at B&G on Tremont isn’t big, but that just means that everything from the whole Bronzino to the Ipswich clams is fresh out of the water. This is a great spot for relaxed midweek seafood dinner, and during the summer, you really should be sitting on B&G’s back patio with a glass of wine and the fried oysters every single night. We’ll give you a pass if you missed a few evenings because of things like “family commitments” or “your wedding” but try and do better next time.
You can come to Bar Mezzana, an Italian restaurant in the Ink Block, when you’re in the mood for a great crudo, or some interesting pasta, or if you’re in the mood to eat dandelions for some reason. Or, you can come here when you want a little bit of everything, and opt for a great prix-fixe menu that nets you five courses, most of which have multiple dishes of their own. There’s a crudo course with at least three different kinds of fish, a pasta course with two different pastas, and protein, a dessert, and another small plate on top of that. That’s a lot of different tastes for $52.
The Gallows on Washington street is the neighborhood pub every neighborhood should have. If you don’t have one, you can either apply for a small business loan, buy an abandoned CVS, and get cooking, or you can come here and enjoy the buffalo brussels sprouts. One of these is easier than the other.
Once you’ve been to Coppa and Bar Mezzana, come to SRV - a spot on Columbus that focuses on pasta and has great small plates - and decide once and for all which place deserves the title of best Italian restaurant in the South End. Although come to think of it, maybe deciding once-and-for-this-week is a better option, that way you can re-evaluate and do it again a few days later.
Consider yourself warned: the spicy sangria at this closet-sized taqueria on Shawmut is actually pretty spicy, in addition to being good. The marinated pork sope is pretty good, too, but food being tasty doesn’t really seem like something you need to be warned about. This is a great casual spot to keep in mind for a spur-of-the-moment lunch and day-drinking.
In a neighborhood where most of the best restaurants seem to be either tiny bistros, small plates places, or both, Boston Chops is the exception. This Washington Street steakhouse is housed in a large space with big, plush booths and even bigger cuts of beef. Come here when you need a little room to breathe and prefer that the air you’re breathing smell like grilled meat.
This wood-paneled spot on Tremont has an expanded pub menu (tacos and pizzas in addition to the requisite burgers and wings), and close to 30 beers on tap, including one rotating cask option. If you haven’t had cask ale before, it’s a little warmer and less carbonated than what you’re used to. Cask beer usually doesn’t feel too filling, so you’ll at least think you’ll be able to try the other 29 beers for a moment before realizing what a terrible idea that would be.
There are 39 dishes on the menu at this Washington Street tapas restaurant that’s usually so packed you need to book in advance. If you bring one friend and average six dishes per meal (starting with the white anchovies if you know what’s good for you), you’ll be able to eat everything in this place in one week. At that point, feel free to start all over again, because Toro really is that good.