It was pretty bold for mid-19th century Boston to look at a stinking swamp on the edge of the city and decide to build the North American version of Paris on it. But that’s exactly what we did. With tree-lined boulevards, a riverfront park, and a name that no one can decide whether to put “the” in front of, Back Bay is the most impressive neighborhood in Boston.
But whether it’s because there are too many hotels, fancy buildings with giant glass lobbies, or luxury condos that house overseas investment funds instead of actual people, the restaurants and bars in Back Bay can be frustrating. It’s just too easy to end up at a mediocre restaurant, and there are surprisingly few casual places to relax with a drink. Our most impressive neighborhood still has room for improvement. But if we can get more places like the 17 spots below, we’ll be getting somewhere.
With only a bar and four booths, it’s hard to get into Saltie Girl. But as Jimmy Duggan said, the hard is what makes it great. While waiting an hour for a barstool on a Monday night might not be ideal, Saltie Girl makes up for it with a seafood menu that’s consistently fantastic from crudo and sushi to fried clams and waffles. The fact that it’s always packed and feels like a party at all hours doesn’t hurt, either.
If you aren’t collecting rental income from foreign investors, then dropping $100 on lunch for one (which is possible at many Back Bay restaurants) is less than ideal. Eating an affordable but mediocre meal is also not a great solution, which is why you should head over to Dirty Water Dough on Newbury. There’s lots of good pizza here, all on a thin, crispy crust made with IPA. If you decide to go for a whole pie (there are slices too), you’ll have interesting options to choose from - like the ones topped with mac and cheese or cola-marinated steak.
It’s hard to know what to think of the vegan menu the first time you step into Red White. Despite there being only a few options to choose from at this fast-casual spot, the menu layout can make things a little confusing. We’ll just make it easy for you - order the Buddha ramen, and add the miso-seasoned avocado. The noodles have the right amount of bite, and the broth is satisfyingly rich and flavorful, especially when you consider there’s no meat in it. Better yet, there’s never a line here, unlike at nearby Santouka.
Puro might be too cool for Newbury Street. The people shopping for $3,000 antique tea sets usually don’t go in for graffiti murals and pisco sours. But if that sounds like your thing, head to this tiny subterranean spot between Fairfield and Gloucester. It feels like a pop-up underground art gallery that happens to have a great menu of Latin small plates to go with a strong selection of ceviche. Our favorite is the mixto, which gets you red snapper, shrimp, and octopus in one dish.
Would you like to cook wagyu beef on a tableside hot rock? The answer to that question probably depends on how you feel about pricey cow parts on one hand, and how much confidence you have in your ability to not burn yourself on the other. Either way, Uni on Comm Ave is worth visiting. It’s a stylish izakaya, with a great hip hop soundtrack, that could host the even more exclusive after party to an already exclusive party you didn’t get invited to. The menu is filled with exciting dishes that taste as good as they are fun. The sushi selection and small plates are very good, and you can’t go wrong with a place that serves late-night ramen.
In what’s essentially the basement of the SuitSupply store on Newbury, you’ll find Cafe Susu - a cool coffee shop complete with a green velvet couch and matching leafy wallpaper. There’s surprisingly good coffee here, cocktails and beer are served throughout the day, and the wifi is also relatively fast. So you can foreseeably work remotely with a cappuccino in one hand and an Aperol Spritz in the other, right alongside tailors that are hemming suits - making it one of the most unique spots in the city.
There are actually three different venues at this seafood spot on Stuart Street: Mooncusser Fish House is the white tablecloth seafood spot upstairs, Moon Bar is its cool, younger sister with the nose ring downstairs, and Cussers is the takeout window that operates for lunch. We like Moon Bar best, in part because it’s shaped like a triangle and covered with steel surfaces, so it kinda feels like drinking on a spaceship. You can get a lot of the same things from the Mooncusser menu here, but we like this place for drinks and snacks like the scallop poke or tuna burger with ginger and mustard.
Don’t call Bukowski on Dalton Street a dive - call it a place that’s seen a lot of love. Besides, despite the fact that it’s covered in grease, named after one of literary history’s greatest drunks, and only accepts cash, it isn’t really a dive - not with the extensive selection of craft beers on tap, anyway. The menu consists of standard bar food, but the burgers are pretty good as far as greasy bar burgers go.
Why is Ryan Gosling hanging out in the bathroom of Asta on Mass Ave? We’re not sure we’ll ever find out since he exists only in movie poster form, but we suspect he likes it because it’s the rare fine dining restaurant that also feels casual and cool, just like him. This is a tasting menu place with dishes like buttered turnip and venison with rutabaga mash. And while it’s correspondingly expensive (five courses for $85, eight for $110), it manages to feel like a comfortable neighborhood spot thanks to walk-in-ability, a lively counter overlooking the kitchen, and playful touches like aforementioned Gosling poster and a mural of Thor in the dining room (the real one, not the Hemsworth one).
Normally you should stay away from alleys - there’s like a 30% chance that Robert Shaw will emerge from a cloud of steam and try to stab with you a switchblade every time you step into one. But Casa Romero is a great argument for living a little dangerously. In the alley off Gloucester in between Newbury and Comm Ave, you’ll find cucumber margaritas, tacos with an awesome citrus slaw, and a hidden patio with lanterns and hanging plants.
Select is a New England oyster bar that doesn’t serve clam chowder. We love clam chowder, but we also respect some good iconoclasm every now and then. Besides, the rest of the menu is strong enough on its own. The scallop ceviche is a great way to start any meal, and the cauliflower with hazelnut aioli is a fantastic option if you’re looking for something that didn’t come from the sea. It’s a funky place with weird art on the wall, a good sized bar, and a back patio, so come here the next time you want a drink and some oysters.
You can spend your life going to every great restaurant in Boston, or you can go to Parish Cafe and say you did, because the menu at this gastropub is filled with sandwiches created by chefs from some of the city’s best spots. We’re fans of The Bravas from the people behind Sarma that has prosciutto, chorizo, manchego, brussels sprouts, and a bunch of other ingredients you’ll have trouble believing fit onto one bun. Try to get here in the summer, too, when they have a patio that spills out onto Boylston.
We understand if you’re hesitant to say “let’s go get a pasty” out loud. But if you can work out some kind of hand signal situation with your friends, you should head to this tiny pub on Mass Ave that looks like it was directly transported here from Cornwall. Grab a seat in one of their wooden booths and order a beer and a pasty, which turns out to be not a sexual favor but a kind of English empanada filled with everything from bangers and mash to chicken tikka masala.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen anyone use the four food groups guidelines, but if our memory serves, pizza was one group, and charcuterie was another. Salty Pig’s got both of them covered, and it does so in a cool space that feels kinda like a mix between a bar and a pizza place. Depending on which map you look at, this place could technically be in the South End, but they have enough great spots already, so we’re giving the pizza with merguez sausage, goat feta, and arrabiata sauce to Back Bay.
There are a lot of French restaurants in the neighborhood, but with a dining room overlooking the public garden upstairs, a casual bistro at street level, and a menu with things like duck breast served with chamomile duck jus, Bistro du Midi is our favorite. It’s pricey and fancy, but absolutely worth it for a special occasion, or any time you want to look out at the garden while eating kobe beef tartare.
When a menu has an entire section dedicated to lobster, you should probably get the lobster. That’s the case at Summer Shack on Dalton, a casual spot with nautical lamps hanging from the ceiling and a pan roasted lobster with bourbon and chives that you have to try. The rest of the menu is solid, too, and it’s open for lunch.
Weirdly, there are very few Italian restaurants in Back Bay. But when you have one as good as Sorellina, you don’t need too many others. This place is pricey and a little stuffy, with a crowd that seems to be made up primarily of partners from one of the law firms headquartered nearby. But it has high-end pasta dishes we love, particularly the maccheroncelli with meatballs and Montepulciano sauce.