Of all the things this country might be lacking, be it political transparency, racial sensitivity, or even—in the case of California—water, “best of” compendiums are hardly in short supply.
In Boston, more than a few come around for all manner of reasons. Such lists tend to ignite discussion, agreement, disagreement, and atonement. Anyone supporting even the general concept of a democratic system would consider the final proclamations regarding which cats are king being based solely on our own opinions, with no input from the readership at all, as the move of an assembled braintrust of fatuous instincts. And that’s just not our style.
So now that your votes for Boston’s best of the best in the fields of Arts and Entertainment, Eats and Drinks, and Goods and Services have been tallied and assembled, we present them here, with a few favorites of our own inserted into the list to cap off the 2015 DigThis Awards’ endless brigade of wowsers. Enjoy. – Dan McCarthy, Editor, DigBoston
BARBER SHOP MEN’S MODERN
Floyd’s 99 Barbershop
There’s nothing wrong with a classic barbershop. Nothing. But there’s something to be said for one that flanks you with funkiness and rock ’n’ roll ephemera while you’re getting down to some righteous beard and bean grooming at the hands of skilled technicians. You can also check the schedules online, which is handy. Especially when you get to that “Last Man On Earth” look after a long hiatus from the snippers.
[Mass Ave locations in Cambridge and Boston. floydsbarbershop.com]
Ah, Inman. The Cantabridgian staple of on-demand hot tubbing. And owner Renee Farster (who has passed the Oasis torch to a new owner now that she’s stepping down with nine years of “best of” wins under her belt) has probably saved the city from a few angry mobs by getting locals through the kind of snowstorms and MBTA issues we had this year. Hats off to another win.
[243 Hampshire St., Cambridge. 617-491-0176. inmanoasis.com]
Whatever one wants to do or for or with one’s netherparts on the crotch-fro front, well, that’s a personal choice. And to implement that choice you’ll need the aid of a trusted technician. Once again readers have chosen this W-Hotel spot, revered for its attention to detail when detailing the undercarriage, if you will. I guess what we’re saying is this place is great if you’re looking to get your vag waxed.
[100 Stuart St., Boston. 617-261-8747. blissworld.com]
It’s not hard to fall in love with a hat shop when entering the building feels like you’ve just stepped into a period film set. But it’s real, as is the insane selection of incredible fedoras, panama beauties, and lids of every stripe from classic brands to exclusive line jobs and even their own “Boston Classics.” If your dome requires something awesome to place atop it, look no further.
[765 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. 617-522-5047. salmagundiboston.com]
Boston Sports Club
When it comes to cathedrals in which to genuflect before the fitness gods and get your fat ass doing something other than waxing your couch cushions, BSC is a crowd favorite. They’re pretty well spread out throughout the Hub, which means besides making you less of a fat slob, membership ensures you’ll never again use this transparent excuse: “I didn’t work out today because I wasn’t near my gym.”
[Various locations. 617-248-9797. mysportsclubs.com]
The bouldering and top-rope type stuff that’s for the grabbing at this gorgeous state-of-the-art indoor rock gym, with funky art and color splashes across the different levels inside, is tops once again. They even have classes on learning how to fall the right way. As opposed to the wrong way. One of those wrong ways involves drinking before rock-climbing. After, yes. Before, no. Remember that.
[12a Tyler St., Somerville. 617-764-4188. brooklynboulders.com/somerville]
BOXING + MMA
George Foreman III
The brainchild of the child of the George Foreman of your indoor-grilling dreams, this is less the sweat and stain-filled gym of Rocky and more of a shrine to what boxing fitness can do for the body overall. Sparring rings, core workouts, an organic juice bar, steam rooms and saunas, and classes like “fighter’s booty” mark this Foreman as the only one you care about when getting in fighting shape.
[15 Channel Center St., Boston. 857-250-4150. everybodyfights.com]
Getting into yoga is sometimes derailed due to the feeling that within one move your flexibility levels will expose you for the brittle piece of antique china that you are. It’s intimidating. Which is why so many love this approachable spot suitable for all levels, from the breath-synchronized movements of Vinyasa style to a class called “Chair Yoga” that’s designed for seniors as much as it is for beginners. It’s all here.
[663 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. 617-522-4411. blissfulmonkey.com]
Farm and Fable
If you’ve ever looked around your central cooking command post (ie: your kitchen) and said, “Well doesn’t this just look beautiful and filled-with-unique vintage cookbooks and fancy cutlery and cutting boards made from reclaimed wood,” then you’ve probably shopped here. If you can’t say that but want to, check out why readers picked this as the homestead for housewares.
[251 Shawmut Ave., Boston. 617-451-1110. farmandfable.com]
Levi’s Red Label
The brand name Levi’s connotes a certain style. Which is why some time back the company launched its “Red Label” division, which veers away from button-fly and Marlboro Man staples, carrying the trendier cuts and fashion-forward renditions of those classics. And once again this Newbury Street shop gets the top nod from readers looking to sheathe their legs in pants their butt can be proud of.
[131 Newbury St., Boston. 617-262-0135. us.levi.com]
Owner Alison Barnard’s denim temple is a mainstay of the North End boutique shopping scene, and has built up a devoted following of ladies looking for long-lasting and flattering jeans that aren’t being worn by everyone else in town (her selection tends to be well curated). Stopping in to work hand in hand with the staff over many, many fittings of different pairs is a right, not a privilege.
[441 Hanover St., Boston. 617-523-5326. injeanius.com]
Leaving this Fort Point Channel treasure cave of foodie wonders having spent a lot more than you intended is a common occurrence. Between their fresh-slice deli and charcuterie counter, the subway tiling and overall aesthetic harking back to a classic (but polished) rustic provisions store, brilliant cheesemongers, and damn fine craft beer and wine selection (not to mention the chocolate counter), it’s no surprise they got the gold.
[12 Farnsworth St., Boston. 617-292-2337. beeskneessupply.com]
“Skate shop” feels like a woefully inadequate way to describe Orchard. Most skate shops can’t boast a half-pipe ramp behind the shoe racks, or an art gallery space on the second floor. But even as a straight-up retail outlet, the Allston flagship store (with a North End spot set to debut) stands above the rest, featuring a diverse selection of boards, shoes, clothes, and gear curated by knowledgeable staff.
[156 Harvard Ave, Allston. 617-782-7777. orchardshop.com]
OUTDOOR SUPPLY COMPANY
Whether you are planning on surviving in the woods for a week Rambo-style or just need some killer sleeping bags, REI offers an absurd amount of stuff for the outdoor enthusiast. The excellent selection of camping, climbing, and fitness gear is complemented with a full-service bike shop and ski & snowboard section, making it the badass Swiss Army knife of outdoor stores (they sell those too, by the way).
[401 Park Dr., Boston. 617-236-0746. reistores.com/stores/boston]
Bikes Not Bombs
How can you not love a place that repurposes and redistributes roughly 6,000 used bikes per year? This nonprofit Jamaica Plain shop stays close to its community-centric roots, putting all funds back into youth programs while offering a full range of repair and retail services.
[18 Bartlett Sq., Jamaica Plain. 617-522-0226. bikesnotbombs.org]
This is the stuff 12-year-old boys’ dreams are made of, a veritable paradise of everything from Superman to Star Wars, Magic cards to manga. Other people may not understand, but when you walk out with a shopping bag full of action figures, graphic novels, and vintage Star Trek mugs, it’s not because you want them—it’s because you need them.
[407 Highland Ave., Somerville. 617-666-2664. comicazi.com]
New England Comics
As at a good small chain record store, each of New England Comics’ eight locations is staffed by people who know their stuff, whether that’s the origin story of Silver Surfer, the difference between the power cosmic and gamma rays, or maybe just where the bathroom is. They also host writers and artist events, so there’s another reason to get out of the house.
[Multiple locations. newenglandcomics.com]
Pretty soon there will be as many Whole Foods as there are Dunkin’ Donuts, but even then we’ll still be coming back to Harvest. The store’s selection of organic and natural products and bulk spices, not to mention the ability to grind your own peanut butter, easily rivals its larger competitors.
[Multiple locations. 617-661-1580. harvest.coop]
Shag is salon heaven. Trendy shampoos line the wall right next to a neverending line of hair color options in this sleek, modern space. Stylists that are equal parts intimidatingly cool and refreshingly kind know the perfect cut for your face. Want a glass of wine at 10am? They’ve got your back, no judgments. Did we mention MTV has invaded the space for TV-worthy makeovers? Yeah. Shag knows its stuff.
[840 Summer St., Boston. 617-268-2500. shagboston.com]
Want to be hip and also able to see? Warby Parker is your spot. The brick and mortar showroom on Newbury Street brings class to style at an affordable price. Chunky frames get a sleek finish so you can go from businessman to bartending hipster in the same day. Don’t be surprised if your friends start asking you where they can get their own pairs.
[83 Newbury St., Boston. 508-658-7444. warbyparker.com]
Looking at the face of our publisher Jeff Lawrence, you’ll notice he wears glasses. And he, like many other bespectacled denizens of Boston, makes this his go-to haven for eyewear, especially given the South End location (new frames = excuse to hit some of the nearby restaurants after). And since the owner Paul is a foodie, patrons often leave not just with great sight, but with insight into the local eats scene as well. Nice.
[544 Tremont St., Boston. 617-542-9600. spectacle-eyewear.com]
The real gems are hidden away at SoWa Market (recently rebranded as South End Open Market at SoWa). This artisan heaven hides Boston’s best artists and jewelry designers until the sun’s warmth returns to us (eventually). You can find everything from floral imprints to remarkably bold metal to tiny lollipop earrings. And when it closes during the winter, come find us. We can all sob together until spring lets them open their doors back up. Or, you know, shop at their vintage market indoors.
[460 Harrison Ave., Boston. newenglandopenmarkets.com/southend]
Mr. Music is Allston’s best hideout. A treasure trove of new, used, and vintage equipment all sit inside this cozy music shop. Looking for a mini banjo, a 50-year-old fuzz pedal, and a new electric Rickenbacker? This is your one-stop joint. Come for the gear, stay for the staff. They will chat with you all day if you want, or jam with you in the back room. You choose.
[128 Harvard Ave., Allston. 617-783-1609. mrmusicguitars.com]
In Your Ear
In Your Ear Records is about as reliable for a day of music geeking as it gets. Endless stacks of vinyl, CDs, and cassettes rest underneath the busy hustle of Comm Ave. Keep your eyes peeled for more than audio gems, though. Sometimes the greats do some poking around in there, too, people like say, Jimmy Page. Pro tip: No air-Stairway in front of him, should you cross paths.
[957 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-787-9755. iye.com]
WOMEN’S FRIENDLY SALON
Behold: the “lovably kitschy” hair salon you and your aspiring blue locks have been lusting after. When you walk in, you feel as if you’ve been transported into some purple-y space-age 1960s hair haven, full of equally edgy and talented hairstylists. Trust that Judy Jetson will transform your head into the neon green mohawk of your dreams. But if you just want some highlights and a blow-dry, all good here.
[1765 Mass Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-2628, judyjetson.com]
The Handle Bar
Spin classes. You hop on a stationary bike, pedal hard, and sweat your ass off (note: Your ass will most likely hurt the first few times). That’s what you want out of a sleek modern spin gym, along with a variety of classes all week, and studios in both Southie and the Fenway.
[Multiple locations. handlebarcycling.com]
You may be king or queen of thrifting around the city, but you may not know that Boomerangs is run by the AIDS Action Committee of MA and all proceeds go towards AIDS prevention. Perhaps now you’ll be more keen on the idea of purchasing that strange set of decorative roosters or that vintage oversized argyle sweater. In fact, you should have been already.
[Locations in JP, West Roxbury, Central Square, and the South End. shopboomerangs.org]
Mass athletes and average Joes alike have been trusting Marathon Sports with their sore feet since 1975. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a couch potato in remission, you’ll get a free consultation and shoe fitting. They’ll even let you run around outside to get a feel for the sneaks before taking them home. First things first, we advise you burn those old Sketchers you’ve been lugging to the gym.
[1654 Mass Ave., Cambridge. 617-354-4161. marathonsports.com]
Stingray Body Art
If you’re looking to get inked, it’s very likely that somebody will tell you to go to Stingray. In which case, that person gives stellar advice. It’s easily accessible and immaculately clean, and the artists actually know what they’re doing. They also do tattoo removal, so you can erase the evidence of your 16-year-old self who just had to have a tattoo of the word “dream” in comic sans, next to an infinity symbol.
[386 Cambridge St., Allston. 617-254-0666. stingraybodyart.com]
It says something about Trader Joe’s that former employees sometimes wear old work shirts just to hang around the house. While most people wouldn’t be caught murdered in their company uniform while off-duty, the Trader’s pattern summons happy thoughts of scrumptious frozen apps and affordable gourmet goods. Oh, and enormous racks of wines that don’t burden the bank, which we suspect had something to do with this victory.
[Multiple locations. traderjoes.com]
MEN’S FRIENDLY SALON
Hands down the best modern salon in Boston, Shag maintains its stellar reputation with regular art shows, charity events, and original photography projects to show off a talented roster of stylists and colorists. For upscale treatment in a friendly and professional environment, look no further than Shag’s highly communicative, fashion-forward stylists. They’re masters of quick, modern mens’ cuts in a variety of styles that will have you walking out runway-ready.
[840 Summer St., Boston. 617-268-2500. shagboston.com]
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Davis Square is an indie gift shop boasting a selection reminiscent of the best punk rock flea market you’ve ever attended combined with offerings from the local fine art studio. The little store carries a vast collection of quirky cards and stationery, and the eclectic finds gathered for sale will help you delight even your most enigmatic friends.
[416 Highland Ave., Somerville. 617-623-3330. magpie-store.com]
Good Vibes does a great job of making everyone who enters feel like family. Er, not in the awkward way, but in the not-creepy way. Yeah, maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it. But if there’s such a thing as a completely relaxed and casual sex toy shopping experience, this place is the most likely place for that to happen. There. That’s a better way to say it.
[308 Harvard St., Suite A, Brookline. 617-264-4400. goodvibes.com]
A local gem reminding locals lucky enough to have this bookseller in their backyards of the importance of supporting independent stores run by cool, smart people. The staff is effortlessly friendly, and they know their stuff—brightly colored Post-its decorate the shelves alerting browsers to the staff’s picks, and they regularly host writers of both local and national fame, like Joyce Carol Oates. See? Famous.
[279 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-566-6660. brooklinebooksmith.com]
This is not the place to enter with the intent of wandering aimlessly while an employee tails you, dying to wait on you hand and foot. No, the Tannery means business, and when a customer enters with purpose (they can tell), this shoe mega-resource delivers. But seriously, don’t ever go here if you aren’t thick-skinned and iron-willed. This is full-contact boot procurement.
[402 + 711 Boylston St., Boston. 617-267-5500. thetannery.com]
SUNGLASSES + KICKS
Having matured without selling out, and becoming a nationally known destination for much more than just excellent sneaker game, the famously hidden “sneakeasy” has, impressively, again been honored. On the accessory front, from custom and exclusive lines to extremely raw shades from brands like Stussy, Cazal, and Shwood, theirs is an especially remarkable sunglasses and sneaker success story, with a bright trajectory for a boutique with zero windows.
[6 Clearway St., Boston. bdgastore.com]
Long gone are the days when Sugar Daddy’s was the only show in town, a place where heads could and would trek to from both near and far. What hasn’t changed is the dedicated Sugar Daddy’s staff, always down to put us on to new tricks and toys, from pocket grinders to new vapes and other paraphernalia. It’s more important than ever to have the kind of competent coaches for which this place is famous.
[472 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-536-6922. bostonsugardaddys-boston.com]
The team at Mass Vapors has known since day one that e-cigs and the cornucopia of their nifty plugin cousins are here to stay, and as such the store has emerged as a leader on a landscape of rookies. Go ahead, bring them all your questions. Take our word for it—you’re not the first person to ever want to quit stinking like the ashtray outside Dunkies.
[1236 Comm Ave., Allston. 781-592-0068. massvapors.com]
Buffalo Exchange may be a chain, but it’s stuck around for a reason. The used, vintage, and consignment store depot has a neverending flow of new clothing (and even sick shoes). The staff is picky about the quality of items carried, so you know you’re getting the most bang for your buck. No pit stains or loose threads allowed. At least to sell you. Your own duds are your deal.
[180 Harvard Ave., Boston. 617-779-7901. buffaloexchange.com]
The Garment District
We’ll be honest, it’s hard to write about vintage shops. After all, they have new and different stock every day. But to us, and you apparently, it seems like the Garment District has the most new stock, along with kickass organization and employees who are happy to help. They’re tops in town for everything from vests, to denim, to those ornate cowboy boots after which you have been lusting. Oh, how you lust.
[200 Broadway, Cambridge. 617-876-5230. garmentdistrict.com]
Polka Dog Bakery
If you don’t have a pet in your own life, then there is probably somebody whom you love or are at least trying to bed who considers their pooch to be their own offspring. Believe us when we tell you that the Polka Dog whisperers will help you pick the perfect treat for any pup you’re visiting. And feel free to ask them which vittles are safe for human consumption. They have answers.
[Locations in Jamaica Plain and the South End. polkadog.com]
Just when you thought that Mitt Romney losing his last race for the White House was the most hilarious thing to ever happen on the South Boston waterfront, Laugh Boston opened right next door to the convention center with the best damn comedy club setup we have ever seen Multiple tiers of seating keep the crowds gasping for air while howling at local hopefuls, up-and-comers, and godlike comic legends alike.
[425 Summer St., Boston. 617-725-2844. laughboston.com]
Improvisation is a beautiful thing. So is sketch comedy. Mash those two things together and you get Improv Asylum. Basically SNL meets Whose Line Is It Anyway? live in the flesh. Next time you find yourself nonchalantly strolling the cobbled sidewalks of the North End, you might want to consider dropping in on this slightly hidden comedic den and infusing your evening with some clinically insane hilarity.
[216 Hanover St., Boston. 617-263-6887. improvasylum.com]
Cast of Improv Boston
Improv needs two things to succeed: witty minds and a good crew. Improv Boston has both figured out. Well-known comedians are interwoven with local celebrities, promising an evening of both highbrow and lowbrow humor (but we’re partial to the latter). The onstage bond shared by members lets them pull off even the weirdest jokes, including sketches about Shrek and period blood. Don’t ask. Just watch.
[40 Prospect St., Cambridge. 617-942-6556. improvboston.com]
MEDIUM MUSIC VENUE
It may be two years old, but The Sinclair already feels like a standard of the Boston music scene. The swanky music venue hosts an inventive gastropub as well as three on-site bars, mesmerizing lights, and Nine-Inch-Nails-meets-MoMA decor. The location’s real claim to fame is its top notch audio. No matter where you stand, the band sounds amazing. Then again, they book critically acclaimed acts, so the talent certainly helps, too.
[52 Church St., Cambridge. 617-547-5200. sinclaircambridge.com]
SMALL MUSIC VENUE
Great Scott is the Cheers of Boston music clubs. Step inside the miniature venue and a handful of friendly faces will welcome you as one of their own. Friendly bartenders, top-grade audio engineers, and a low-level stage make for a memorable performance just as much as the ecstatic crowd. These are what keeps acts far too large to fit within Great Scott’s walls (Ty Segall, Speedy Ortiz) coming back for more.
[1222 Comm Ave., Allston. 617-566-9014. greatscottboston.com]
Don’t let the tables fool you. Johnny D’s may be small, but that doesn’t mean you’re robbed of a stellar performance. Chow down on killer fresh burgers while bands plug in their guitars mere feet away from your table. Sure, stuffing your face while bands play may be a bit out of the norm, but give it five minutes and you’ll start wondering how you ever watched music without this.
[17 Holland St., Somerville. 617-776-2004. johnnyds.com]
Want to know what bands are living in your own backyard? Visit their porches. Somerville’s eclectic festival PorchFest sees over 100 bands take over porches to perform along the streets of the city. Wander around aimlessly letting the banjos and violins sooth you. Just don’t try to catch every act. Trust us; it’s impossible.
Boston deserves its own music festival, and boy did we get one. The three-day, two-stage event lets local acts play on the same bill as musical giants. Krill shares the same stage as Beck, St. Nothing plays hours before Lorde, and Neutral Milk Hotel’s tour de force brings the audience to a yelling frenzy. Alas, college kids and financial district suits finally see eye to eye.
[City Hall Plaza, Boston. bostoncalling.com]
DANCE CLUB (DRESS CODE)
For a venue that draws so many electronic acts, Royale is pretty dang fancy. Don your sexiest black dress or clubbiest club shirt and prepare to dance under crystal chandeliers and mahogany ceilings. Grab a cocktail at the giant circular bar or play it cool in one of the giant velvet sofas. Why you would sit when there’s infectious music playing nonstop is beyond us.
[279 Tremont St., Boston. 617-338-7699. royaleboston.com]
DANCE CLUB (NO DRESS CODE)
Dancing requires some to get all dolled up and ready for a night on the town. Others just need a spot, killer music, and no pretentiousness while they bust out their best moves ( some people’s best moves largely revolve around doing the robot). Either way, as far as Central Square houses of dance go, Zuzu is tops once more.
[474 Mass Ave., Cambridge. 617-864-3278. zuzubar.com]
The Moth @ OBERON
The Moth understands the whole “everyone has a story to tell” ideology, and has been encouraging people to exercise their storytelling muscles in front of live audiences since 1997. Conceived in NYC, the nonprofit Moth’s StorySLAM has come a long way, and its Boston branch just launched in October. Since then it’s already developed a devoted following, making the Tuesday night event in Harvard Square the reigning pick of story night supremacy.
[2 Arrow St., Cambridge. 617-547-8300. themoth.org]
Hong Kong & Midway Cafe (Tie)
Don’t like karaoke? You’re fucking lying. Everyone loves karaoke. Everyone also loves scorpion bowls, and luckily Hong Kong has both of these things in abundance. The party hub of Faneuil Hall hosts its famous karaoke night every night of the week, which is a rarity in itself. If you’re feeling competitive, enter the karaoke contest and win $100 in cash. Meaning more dollar bills to buy shots with. (TIE ALERT: This year Midway Cafe tied with Hong Kong. Congrats to both.)
[65 Chatham St., Boston. 617-227-2226. hongkongboston.com]
Are you one of those people with a vast knowledge of random and seemingly useless facts? We advise that you check out The Druid’s trivia night and use your silly skills to win some extra dough. Even if you lose, you’ll get complimentary drinks from the bar and gain fiery drive to come back the following Wednesday and kick everyone’s asses.
[1357 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-497-0965. druidpub.com]
Coolidge Corner Theatre
A main auditorium that doubles as a movie palace, programming that includes indie hits and celebrated foreign films, and the best blockbusters Hollywood has to offer. Add to all that a dense scheduled of repertory screenings—including the city’s only year-round midnight movie program—a bar, and great popcorn, and you may as well remove the “Indie/Art-House” qualifier from this award. The Coolidge just plain old rules.
[290 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-734-2500. coolidge.org]
Boston Underground Film Festival
The 17th Boston Underground Film Festival went down last month, with a schedule that exemplified everything we love about it. Namely, the mixes of local and international filmmaking, programming bridging grindhouse and art-house, and the way we leave each screening in need of four showers and five drinks. What began as an informal movie-thon has become the city’s most gloriously debauched cinema event. Long live the BUFF.
[Multiple locations. bostonunderground.org]
Arts at the Armory
In just a few short years, Arts at the Armory has established itself as a leader in the independent Boston arts scene, showcasing a packed calendar of events that proudly give much-needed recognition to a diverse array of artists. From graffiti shows to community fundraisers to bookbinding workshops, there’s something awesome going on every week—and you’re missing out if you’re not finding time to show up once in a while.
[191 Highland Ave., #1A, Somerville. 617-718-2191. artsatthearmory.org]
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
The biggest and most prestigious art museum in the greater Boston area, the MFA could easily sit back on its heels, safe in its national reputation and impressive collections. However, this museum does not—it consistently curates diverse, increasingly contemporary exhibits, and cultivates a healthy calendar of community outreach programs that prove even an institution as old and hallowed as this one can still keep things fresh.
[465 Huntington Ave., Boston. 617-267-9300. mfa.org]
American Repertory Theater
Led by the groundbreaking director Diane Paulus, the A.R.T. has a little bit of everything for the discerning and open-minded theatergoer. The genre-bending Donkey Show is a Boston staple, and this spring promises a strong end to a triumphant season with two back-to-back world premieres. Once again, it gets top marks in this category. And that’s well deserved.
[64 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-547-8300. americanrepertorytheater.org]
Bella Luna Restaurant & Milky Way Lounge and Midway Cafe (tie)
Sometimes you wanna hit the town with your favorite queers, but you don’t necessarily want to have your space invaded by the straight dudes who hang around the dancefloor at Machine. Enter local goddess-send Bella Luna, which boasts a laid-back and pub-y atmosphere, combined with one of the most inclusive and diverse entertainment lineups in town, seven nights a week. (TIE ALERT: This year Midway Cafe also tied with Bella Luna for best LGBTQ night. Congrats to both).
[284 Amory St., #10, Jamaica Plain. 617-524-3740. milkywayjp.com]
LARGE MUSIC VENUE
House of Blues
Years after it replaced Axis and Avalon, it’s now almost hard to imagine Lansdowne Street without the House of Blues. And just like Fenway Park, what the space consistently offers—in this case, superb acoustics, a diverse selection of artists, and a host of guest-pleasing amenities—tends to justify the extra cost required. From intimate acoustic shows to full-blown raves, the House party keeps going year round.
[15 Lansdowne St., Boston. 888-693-2583. houseofblues.com/boston]
MICRO MUSIC VENUE
Even in a highly competitive category, this beloved Harvard Square cafe remains a perennial favorite after close to 60 years. You know the legend—a rich history littered with names like Dylan, Baez, and Mitchell—but even in its present form, Passim is the best place to sip a beer or two and enjoy live music nightly with both established and on-the-rise folk artists. That combination will never go out of style.
[47 Palmer St., Cambridge. 617-492-5300. passim.org/club-passim]
Maybe it’s because they use a legit slush machine to keep their housemade frozen margaritas in check. Or the way they occasionally like to switch up the blanco tequila or add new flavors in just the right way. Or that they have an entire wall dedicated to their collection of the finest mezcal and tequila around. No matter what, “I regret ordering all those margarita’s” won’t be something you hear here.
[479 Cambridge St., Boston. 617-782-8226. lonestar-boston.com]
The Painted Burro
Tequila freaks and indecisive tequila freaks alike gather before the 100 craft tequilas and endless margarita possibilities the minute they step in. Maybe a little overwhelmed, too. Luckily their killer Margarita menu features tequilas infused with hibiscus and cucumber, along with all the Agave nectar and lime juice your little donkey heart could possibly fathom. Which soothes nerves, we think. Or numbs them, at least.
[219 Elm St., Somerville. 617-776-0005. thepaintedburro.com]
If you’re ever meandering about the outskirts of Central Square, you’re bound to stumble upon this tucked away scoop shop. Trust us when we say that Tosci’s will be your savior come the blazing summer months. The store’s traditional flavors as well as non-traditional flavors (ie: grapenut, bourbon, and Earl Grey) are all made in-house, which gets them all the glory this year. Well deserved.
[899 Main St., Cambridge. 617-491-5877. tosci.com]
South Street Diner
There are three ways you know your unbearable bus ride from New York to Boston is finally almost over: You see that big white building with the half-moon windows, the pig next to you wakes up after seven hours of snoring, and your mouth begins to water as you dream about the football-sized omelette and perfectly browned potatoes you’re about to grub at South Street Diner.
[178 Kneeland St., Boston. 617-350-0028. southstreetdiner.com]
BURRITO (TO GO)
Dear fellow hipsters and food nerds in other cities: Pick your most flavorful homegrown taco spot, or burrito truck, or enchilada stand, whatever. We’re going to go head to head, Boston vs. your unworthy metropolis, and when the carnitas have been rolled, the soft shells steamed, and the stewed tomato chicken forked off the bone, we’ve no doubt that Anna’s will emerge numero uno.
[Multiple locations. annastaqueria.com]
While in the past we’ve been impressed by Veggie Galaxy’s amazing penchant for attracting non-veggies and even anti-vegans, what’s more impressive has been their becoming the hands-down favorite of so many actual vegetarians, as we’re a picky bunch. Congrats to Veggie Galaxy, the center of our universe. Don’t forget to try the Rachel or the Reuben. Or both.
[450 Mass Ave, Cambridge. 617-497-1513. veggiegalaxy.com]
East Coast Grill
Clearly, there’s no better place to sip (or chug) some bloodys than at a restaurant that sometimes asks its customers to sign a legal release before eating certain hot foods. Worship Mary any way that you want here—it’s a make your own type of situation—and when you’re done licking the ice cubes, enjoy spending the rest of your Sunday fueled and ready for anything. Or just a nap.
[1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-491-6568. eastcoastgrill.net]
Bratwurst cravings hurt. Union Square’s Bronwyn, in all its cozy German glory, will banish your wurst cravings—order a platter of handcrafted bratwurst, kielbasa, or liverwurst, to name just a few of the mouthwatering meats on offer. Bronwyn is an establishment sent straight from the sausage Gods. Which are our favorite gods.
[255 Washington St., Somerville. 617-776-9900. bronwynrestaurant.com]
Spike’s Junkyard Dogs
Truly, one of the best things about spilling out of Brighton Music Hall after a show on a hot summer night, drunk and hungry and happy, is skipping over to Spike’s for one of their creative, homemade, packed-with-toppings, 100 percent beef hot dogs. The hardest decision is determining whether or not there’s room for more than one—don’t worry, we won’t judge.
[108 Brighton Ave., Boston. spikesjunkyarddogs.com]
BEST OF CHINATOWN
If more bubbling broth than you know how to deal with is something you appreciate while slurping pho, then you’ve found the right place. This Washington Street staple serves up quick and fresh bowls of noodle soup at an extremely reasonable price for the area, and its prime Theater District location makes it an ideal spot for lunchtime people-watching. Or just staring at your food.
[682 Washington St., Boston. 617-482-7467. phopasteurboston.net]
Mei Mei was voted tops for their prowess at things like pierogi dumplings—available both at their brick-and-mortar restaurant and at their adorable food truck. Haven’t had one? Imagine everything you love about the traditional Polish comfort food (creamy potato, buttery onions, sharp cheddar cheese) wrapped up in thin handmade dough and fried to crisp brown perfection. Then raise that mouthwatering fantasy to the next level with a side of sriracha rice and house-made pickles. Outstanding.
[506 Park Dr., Boston. 857-250-4959. meimeiboston.com]
Zo Greek Cuisine
There are gyros, and then there are Zo gyros. Eat one, and you’ll never be able to go back to the non-Zo imposters. The traditional rotisserie-cooked, hand-carved crispy pork, atop chopped tomato, onion, herb dressing, and crisp cucumber tzatziki sauce, wrapped in a warm, soft flatbread, is one of Boston’s most underrated lunch offerings. Just, yes.
[Multiple locations. 617-227-0101. zoboston.com]
It’s the Italian restaurant so good that there’s an independent blog dedicated to sharing thoughts, research, and answers to customer questions by local hero Cosmin. It’s also the Italian restaurant notorious for its biblically long wait times for their handmade pastas and buttery, rich, lobster-based Giacomo sauce. Mm. Giacomo sauce.
[355 Hanover St., Boston. 617-523-9026. giacomosblog-boston.blogspot.com]
Five years after opening, this little enoteca in the South End regularly ranks as one of the best for overall Italian, and it’s no different at the Dig. From the mouthwatering salumi boards to the wood-fired artisanal pizzas (for which they won a separate DigThis award) there isn’t really a wrong direction you could go on this menu. Pro tip: For lunch, go for their take on an Italian sub sandwich. It’s ethereal.
[253 Shawmut Ave., Boston. 617-391-0902. coppaboston.com]
Oh, Falafel King. How far you’ve come from that dingy original location tucked among other fast food joints in a dark, dirty strip mall. Four locations later, hungry downtown lunch breakers can continue to count on generous helpings of your addicting shawarma plates, piled high with rice, meat, hummus, and of course, your crispy-on-the-outside, perfectly-spiced-on-the-inside falafel. And thanks for those samples while in line. You truly are the king.
[62 Summer St., Boston. 617-482-2223]
The Salty Pig
As the wise Homer Simpson once said, the pig is a “wonderful, magical animal.” The good folks at The Salty Pig have taken those words to heart, with a pork-centric bar menu that combines the three most important food groups: meat, cheese, and booze. Creative “Salty Pig Parts” and a diversity of Italian and French imports take their charcuterie boards to the next level. Just go.
[130 Dartmouth St., Boston. 617-536-6200. thesaltypig.com]
If not for Zaftigs and a small handful of other authentic sandwich spots, we’d have to drive to New York every time we wished to tackle our pastrami jones. In a land with barely any delis, the place with the knish is king, and around here that’s the Z. Now in Natick too, which may come in handy for students at the Northeastern Institute for Cannabis who have the munchies.
[335 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-975-0075. zaftigs.com]
PIZZA (CLASSIC SLICE)
Same Old Place
Though we’re well aware of their allegiance to the Red Sox from countless conversations over the counter, in a way, Same Old Place is kind of like a Yankees bar in a sea of Bostonians. Of course, there’s one major difference between their classic sweet tomato pies and the Bronx Bombers, and it’s that you keep on rooting for their winning New York lineup year after year.
[662 Centre St., Jamaica Plain. 617-524-9461. sameoldplacejamaicaplain.com]
Galleria Umberto only sells cheese pizza. Sicilian-style, dripping with cheese over a perfect layer of slightly-sweet tomato sauce, and unassumingly fresh-crusted cheese pizza. With a perpetual line out the door, frequent early closings due to sold-out stock, and a profit margin that allows the family-owned eatery to take off the entire month of July each year, Umberto’s proves the age-old saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
[289 Hanover St., Boston. 617-227-5709]
If there’s one thing about the Harpoon Brewery to rave about, it’s the beer hall. Pair their seasonal flight beers with their fresh soft pretzels (and their phenomenal dipping sauces). The UFO line is particularly unique, each beer bursting with flavor. Oh, and the brewery tour is cool, too. Make sure you take home a growler, they fill it right in front of you. Which is nice of them.
[306 Northern Ave., Boston. 617-456-2322. harpoonbrewery.com]
BEST GRILLED CHEESE + FOOD TRUCK
With their new brick and mortar location centered in Allston, Roxy’s Grilled cheese has expanded their food truck gig to include a haven of not only delicious grilled cheese, but also burgers with more cheese. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t miss out on though, it’s the gravy-soaked cheese curd chunky goodness that is the poutine. Go ahead, eat like it’s winter.
[485 Cambridge St., Allston. roxysgrilledcheese.com]
Sunset Grill and Tap
Whenever you think about wanting nachos, you think of a great heaping pile of tortilla chips drenched in jack and cheddar cheese, jalapenos, sour cream, and guacamole. Not only does Sunset have such a thing, its called “South-of-the-Border Giant Fiesta Nachos.” That name in itself is enough to make you head there right now.
[130 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-254-1331. allstonsfinest.com]
The Silhouette Lounge
Cheap beer. Check. Free popcorn. Check. Darts. Check. Authentic atmosphere. Check. What more do you really want from a dive bar? Other subtle features of the corner bar include a giant jukebox to play whatever song you feel like punishing the bar with, a back patio to smoke in, and graffitied walls in the tiny one-stall bathroom. This cash-only Allston favorite is the perfect location in which to drink your sorrows away during the daytime, or get rowdy with the locals at night. Whichever you prefer.
[200 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-206-4565]
When you find yourself wandering into any of the five locations and give the coffee a taste, you’ll know why Pavement has won for best coffee shop. Direct trade and single origin are the keys to what makes their coffee taste so goddamn good. They also have a new menu, released last September, with rotating sandwich and salad options made from fresh local produce. Excellent latte art is just a nice touch, too.
[Multiple locations. 617-277-8737. pavementcoffeehouse.com]
Union Square Donuts
With their new location a few storefronts down from the original in Union Square, Somerville, these guys are just nailing down the donut-making business. All of the donuts are made from scratch, and they come in all unique and classic flavors. Try the sea salt bourbon caramel, or the green tea donut. We’d be screwing up if this review by omitting that biting into a bacon-covered maple-glazed donut will cause you to make strange sounds of approval.
[20 Bow St., Somerville. 617-209-2257. unionsquaredonuts.com]
Once you do brunch at The Friendly Toast, there’s no turning back. The massive portions will give your alcohol-lined stomach the sustenance it needs to heal from last night’s rager. The Bloody Marys help, too. Grab a booth, study the menu, and keep it at your table. You’ll want to keep ordering dish after dish. Your hangover will thank you.
[1 Kendall Sq. #b3101, Cambridge. 617-621-1200. thefriendlytoast.com]
Not many people would think to go to a Mexican restaurant for Sunday brunch, which is what makes it so unique of an experience to sit down and enjoy a mimosa or a Bloody Mary alongside Lone Star’s great brunch menu. You can’t go wrong with the huevos rancheros: beans, eggs, and pico de gallo with some fresh avocado served on top of soft tortillas. A+ location for curing your hangover woes.
[479 Cambridge St., Boston. 617-782-8226. lonestar-boston.com]
The Painted Burro
This is what you call one of those good problems: by the time you’re ready to pick something from the mouthwatering menu at this popular Davis Square cantina—think duck carnitas enchiladas, crispy pork belly tacos, and decadent chorizo nachos—you’ll have already gone through a couple rounds of the outstanding margaritas. No matter—whatever you order, it should pair well with another.
[219 Elm St., Somerville. 617-776-0005. thepaintedburro.com]
Even though you can pick it up at Walgreen’s these days, we still think sushi should be something to get excited about. So do the chefs at this cozy Central Square pan-Asian spot, who conjure decadent rolls inspired by their favorite music and fairy tales, like the octopus-topped Gaga’s Monster Roll or the spring onion confetti-dusted Rumpelstiltskin Roll.
[524 Mass Ave., Cambridge. 617-441-2116. theloniousmonkfish.com]
Abe & Louie’s
Think of Abe & Louie’s as a place where it’s well worth spending an entire paycheck on a single meal (so long as your rent’s not due too soon and the cable bill is paid). They’re legend for innumerable good reasons, but above all because the menu is so refined, the cuts cooked to such perfection that the lunch, dinner, and brunch spreads may be even sweeter than the eye candy perched by the bar.
[793 Boylston St., Boston. 617-536-6300. abeandlouies.com]
If you think happiness should be served with the bone in, welcome to your special place. This bustling Back Bay favorite continues to set the standard with exquisite steaks and chops, fresh seafood, an expansive wine cellar, and meticulous service, but don’t sleep on those fries either (sea salt, gremolata, garlic and herbs). We mean eat those. And, don’t fall asleep on fries. Again.
[161 Berkeley St., Boston. 617-542-2255. grill23.com]
Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar
Rosebud is back in action and, in addition to a revamped menu, has a life-altering signature Manhattan featuring housemade sweet vermouth. From the outside, this Davis Square staple looks like a simpleton grandma-approved Worcester lunch car diner. On the inside, it’s got a full bar and restaurant, and even features a late night menu and a pie menu.
[381 Summer St., Somerville. 617-629-9500. rosebudkitchen.com]
Whether you take yours dry or dirty, this hidden haunt in Fort Point offers something for both traditionalist and progressive (pumpkin and mango get the treatment here) martini aficionados, served with a side of Sinatra tunes on the weekends.
[355 Congress St., Fort Point. 617-357-5825. luckyslounge.com]
Find a seat between the artsy hipsters, technology square nerds, and hardcore dudes with gauges. Take in the vintage diner decor and the retro book wallpaper. Admire your table’s unique salt and pepper shakers. Then order. The pancakes are unbelievably fluffy, even when filled with fresh blueberries or smothered in peanut butter and nutella. The huevos rancheros are perfectly spicy. The vegan options are delicious. It’s all a bit surreal. Welcome to the cult.
[1 Kendall Sq. #b3101, Cambridge. 617-621-1200. thefriendlytoast.com]
Gourmet Dumpling House
Chinatown can get overwhelming. Ditch the flashy signs and massive ballrooms for this tiny hideout. Gourmet Dumpling House cuts straight to the chase with a long menu of dumpling options. Pick at least two and don’t skip over the pork buns. So what if there’s a line. It’s worth the wait. As soon as you’ve swallowed your first dumpling, you know it’s love at first bite.
[52 Beach St., Boston. 617-338-6223]
Grendel’s Den (Harvard)
Anxious twentysomethings wiggle into Grendel’s Den for relief from collegiate stress. Wait 10 minutes, and they’ve downed their first beer. This is a bar for relaxing, laughter, and getting drunk. The characters on either side of you are worth befriending, as is the selection of beer on offer. Half-price food during happy hour saves you plenty of bucks, too. See, not all college bars are obnoxious.
[89 Winthrop St., Cambridge. 617-491-1160. grendelsden.com]
In Cleveland Circle, Roggie’s, Mary Ann’s, and CitySide form the golden triangle of BC bars, but the latter finishes on top thanks to the outdoor roof patio, plenty of high-def TVs, and the 13 beers on tap, all of which can be served in 65 oz. pitchers. Unlike in college dorms, chugging contests are discouraged here. So we’ve been told. Sternly.
[1960 Beacon St., Brighton. 617-566-1002. citysidebar.com]
Blue Ribbon BBQ
At this longtime Arlington favorite, they live by the holy trinity of Southern cooking: a meat and three sides. Religious or not, whatever combination of slow-grilled deliciousness (Kansas City burnt ends, North Carolina pulled pork, or Texas sliced brisket, to name three) and sides (collard greens, baked beans, and the like) you decide to have, you will leave feeling blessed. And close to exploding.
[908 Mass Ave., Arlington. 781-648-7427. blueribbonbbq.com]
Notable for its juicy, meaty ribs, perfect balance of crispy on the outside, tender on the inside fried chicken, and the mac and cheese (which should be slathered in generous helpings of your favorite house hot sauce), SoulFire has been raising its stock (not to mention the stock of Tums) year after year. Between the silly-good cornbread and the really affordable prices, boom: BBQ go-to for all to enjoy.
[182 Harvard Ave., Allston. 617-787-3003. soulfirebbq.com]
Chicken fried quail. Fried Chesapeake oysters. Smelts. Yeah, that’s right. Smelts. All part of the foodie makeup of this Kendall Square standard for down-home grits and skillet cornbread with inventive locally sourced spins on Southern traditions. Roll up here for dinner and land discounted tickets to the Kendall Square Cinema next door. May want to go easy on the collard greens if you’re seeing a long one, though.
[233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge. 617-499-0090. hungrymothercambridge.com]
Sure, foodie gods Jamie Bissonette and partner Ken Oringer brought the panache of their South End tapas game changer and all the wildly delicious wares therein to a brand new NYC locale to great fanfare. But lucky for you, while all those clowns in Manhattan are just now starting to rave about the razor neck oysters and salt cod alioli fritters, you know you can always visit the smash hit where it all began.
[1704 Washington St., Boston. 617-536-4300. toro-restaurant.com]
This winter caused the roadways around town to become near-impassable nightmares of a living hellscape nobody could avoid. Yet you wouldn’t have known it at any of the Tasty Burger locations, especially at the Southie take-out garrison post, where Tasty’s fantastic fries and inventive daily specials (not to mention incredible “nitro” chicken nuggets) were enough to make the most snow-weary traveller stop by for owner Dave Dubois’ meat-sandwich magic.
[Multiple locations. tastyburger.com]
A well-known venue for weary hipsters and sustenance-starved foodies looking to refuel their already-being-over-everything-ness. The rest of the food is dynamite, but there’s something about the French fries that make some people weak in the knees and other people go “Goddamn those are good!” Either way: killer fries.
[150 Highland Ave., Somerville. 617-625-1131. highlandkitchen.com]
Myers and Chang
Myers and Chang’s “outdoor Asian street market indoors” vibe is a supreme setting in which to belly up to the bar or grab a seat on a tucked-away patio in the South End and embrace wok-ing noodle goodness. Sate your appetite for spicy pork dan-dan noodles here. Your stomach will be extremely glad you did.
[1145 Washington St., Boston. 617-542-5200. myersandchang.com]
Normally, any ethnic restaurant’s making a point of including the word “quality” in the name would seem like some sort of a red flag. Luckily, the only flag you have to prepare for is the white flag of surrender after you’ve grabbed a few pals and claimed a table with no time limit at which to enjoy their reliable, solid North Indian cuisine. Try the curried cabbage.
[484 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-267-4499. indiaquality.com]
BEST OF NORTH END
You might say that Pizzeria Regina has expanded as a business in a manner similar to its dough: to perfection. But while it’s great to have such easy access all across New England to their spicy and unique marinara sauce, the North End original remains the best, not only among Regina’s own kingly locations, but also as compares to the stiff competition on Boston’s greater Italian eatscape.
[Multiple locations. pizzeriaregina.com]
Take one landmark 70-year-old North End bakery known for mind-blowing cannolis and celebrity spotting. Now, take the sliver of space that it was and expand into the adjoining storefront until the size of the place has doubled. Finally, go downstairs and find a renovated basement with flatscreens where you can catch the Bruins game while noshing on solid tacos and house-recipe steak tips as the owner’s father serenades people in Italian. Modern Underground.
[257 Hanover St., Boston. 617-523-3783. modernpastry.com]
It’s not hard to see why Uni is regularly voted best sushi enclave in town. Between the secluded atmosphere, tight libations, and fresh and inventive sushi and sashimi offerings (see: striped jack fish from Japan), this is about as solid a place can get mixing raw fish with a sexy vibe.
[370 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-536-7200. unisashimibar.com]
It’s pretty simple really. Marquee chef and restaurateur Frank McClelland’s longstanding testament to French cuisine and cooking techniques using artisanal New England-sourced ingredients, not to mention posh and spacious surroundings (it’s adjacent to the Mandarin Oriental in the Back Bay), makes this the home-run winning house that France built year after year.
[774 Boylston St., Boston. 617-262-3023. lespalier.com]
BEST OF ASSEMBLY ROW
Earl’s Kitchen and Bar
Most guesses were that Assembly Row was going to be some kind of standalone oasis of shopping, eating, and drinking once completed. And it became just that, thanks to spots like Earl’s, which due to its serving steaming hot BBQ pork buns in small baskets, as well as lobster offerings and novel cocktail flights of fancy (ask for their custom ice cubes), was voted best of this new Somerville destination.
[698 Assembly Row, Somerville. 617-666-1790. earls.ca/locations/assembly-row]
BEER BAR (BOTTLES)
Long reigning as the reader’s choice with its steady supply of over 100 bottles of life-affirming beers of impressive range, quality, and rarity (be sure to check out something from the “extra special” selections), Bukowski recently overhauled its Inman Square spot to become an all-new beer-soaked animal. Just like the poet it was named after.
[Multiple locations. bukowskitavern.net]
Sunset Grill and Tap
With its craft beer list so extensive it’s practically anxiety-inducing, Sunset winning the Allston’s Finest title isn’t surprising. I mean, just look at that website URL. It’s an obvious nod to Sunset’s fame amongst the beer lovers of Rat City. But it’s not just the 100+ taps and 300+ microbrews that have our mouths drooling–there are nachos too. A wise Allstonian once said, “Go for the beer, stay for the nachos.” But also definitely have a beer. Seriously.
[130 Brighton Ave., Allston. 617-254-1331. allstonsfinest.com]
BEER BAR (DRAFT)
The Publick House
No reservations, no gimmicks, and no bullshit. This place is just a draft beer heaven for anyone who specializes in all things Belgian beer, loves huge burgers and almost as huge portions of sloth-inducing mac and cheese, and moreover loves the proper pours of monk-brewed glory. And isn’t afraid to take down respectable numbers of pints of high ABV monsters. A fine choice made by a readership with fine beer sensibilities.
[1648 Beacon St., Brookline. 617-277-2880. thepublickhousebeerbar.com]
BEER BAR (CASK)
Russell House Tavern
The casual beer drinker may like the idea of throwing back a few pints of cask goodness (unfiltered and unpasteurized conditioned beer sans added CO2), so it makes sense Russell House Tavern gets voted best of, as they tap a new cask every Friday at 5pm. Each offering affirms why purists call the stuff “real ale.”
[14 JFK St., Cambridge. 617-500-3055. russellhousecambridge.com]
Come for the sprawling microbrew selection, stay for the vibe. Deep Ellum nods to Houston with old Westerns on the TVs, DIY ceiling fans, and a giant bull skull above the bar. Order a plate of Gorgonzola truffle fries, sip one of the sour beers, and lean in close to your friend. They play garage rock loudly here, but you don’t have to be a 22-year-old to enjoy it.
[477 Cambridge St., Allston. 617-787-2337. deepellum-boston.com]
Be it for the Boston Marathon Monday, or pre-post Red Sox game tippling, the Hotel Commonwealth’s best buddy Eastern Standard carries a long tradition of employing perfectionist barkeeps who know how to do the classics right. Look no further than their gloriously crafted Old-Fashioned, which, as the voting demonstrated, puts the place in a class all its own.
[528 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-532-9100. easternstandardboston.com]
The Butcher Shop
Barbara Lynch’s South End bastion of all that is good and holy in the world of charcuterie is decorated with a hip and minimalist look and a lean toward dark tones (which makes the huge meat refrigerators in the back stand out). But more than the appearance of the store, it’s the kind of service and knowledge diners crave that results in being voted best of the best.
[522 Tremont St., Boston. 617-423-4800. thebutchershop.com]
Anyone who has ever set foot here after a long day of work, sunk down in the plush seating or just bellied up to a corner of the bar, and overheard the chatter coming from what is clearly a revolving door of fellow restaurant industry folk cohabiting the space with common drinkers can attest to why this was voted a true bartender’s bar. That bar overlord Jackson Cannon is the maestro here only seals the deal.
[500a Comm Ave., Boston. 617-532-9150. thehawthornebar.com]
As soon as Brass Union burst onto the drinking scene in Union Square, with its funky subterranean location loaded with everything from board games to shuffle board, the question of whether or not the cool stuff was all a masking gimmick arose—and was soon answered by those sampling serious cocktails created by a seriously talented staff. Serious cocktails, yes. Overly serious scene, no. Win.
[70 Union Sq., Somerville. 617-623-9211. brassunion.com]
Joanne Chang of the dynamic duo of Myers and Chang has been making Hub denizens gloriously chunkier and damn happy about it ever since she opened her first location of gluten excellence in the South End in 2000. Since then, her Flour bakeries have popped up all over town (as have their insane scones), and after publishing a few cookbooks, many high accolades, and innumerable croissants later a “best of” legend rules the Greater Boston bakery roost.
[Multiple locations. flourbakery.com]
Sure, the Cambridge store has everything you need, but there’s something about the South End location’s quaint feel and shelves overstocked with so much delicious artisanal cheeses, olive oils, and hot sauces—not to mention the killer sandwiches and charcuterie masters—that always makes shopping here feel like you’ve left Boston and wound up in Tuscany. Provided Tuscany has a lot of Patriots fans. Still, awesome.
[268 Shawmut Ave., Boston. 617-350-6996. formaggiokitchen.com/boston]
Island Creek Oyster Bar
It should come as no shock that readers voted Island Creek Oyster Bar the best raw game in town. It’s become ground zero for all things shellfish, especially, well, Island Creek Oysters (right down to the thousands of calcium-rich shells adorning the walls in the sleek and well-designed space). There’s no sign of this place getting off its game anytime soon.
[500 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-532-5300. islandcreekoysterbar.com]
Russell House Tavern
What’s cooler than sitting at the bar or in the window of the Russell House Tavern after a hard day of work and sipping on some microsuds with friends? Easy, doing all of the above with a smorgasbord of fresh assorted primo oysters on a bed of ice. Even better than that? Pile on the shrimp salad, tuna tartare, and Cape Cod clams.
[14 JFK St., Cambridge. 617-500-3055. russellhousecambridge.com]
Get used to seeing Jamie Bissonnette on these kinds of lists. It seems like everything he touches turns to foodie gold, including Coppa, which came to the South End scene, emerged a rockstar, and hasn’t fallen off its game yet. To express shock at their pizzas being voted best in class would be like expressing shock that Boston drivers are assholes. It’s just how it is.
[253 Shawmut Ave., Boston. 617-391-0902. coppaboston.com]
All Star Pizza Bar
When it comes to funky pizzas, this Inman Square pizza hub is the only option. We recommend the El Hefe—ancho chile sauce, smoked mozzarella, pulled pork, pickled red onions, mango, and fresh cilantro. It’s hard to believe you aren’t burning a slice-shaped hole in your wallet with toppings like duck confit and roasted butternut squash. Also, our vegan and vegetarian friends will be stoked to know that there are always dairy and meat-free options on the menu.
[1238 Cambridge St., Cambridge. 617-547-0836. allstarpizzabar.com]
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Once more, these guys were voted the best lobster roll in town by readers who look askance at anything claiming to be a shining example of the classic New England dish, usually with vitriol and spite if it doesn’t deliver (read: too much mayo and the like). It’s stiff competition in these parts, and while it’s hard to get a bad roll in Boston, it’s impossible to get one that’s anything less than fantastic here.
[500 Comm Ave., Boston. 617-532-5300. islandcreekoysterbar.com]
James Hook & Co.
We know what you’re thinking: gateway, as in “gateway drug.” But while the bulging fresh-out-of-water mountains of lobster meat they serve here will get you hooked (pun intended),we’re just referring to the fact that this stalwart sits on the “gateway,” or edge, of the so-called Innovation District, and reminds us that the area’s history goes back further than a decade.
[15-17 Northern Ave., Boston. 617-423-5501. jameshooklobster.com]