I’ve lived in Boston for two and a half years now, and while it’s a weird place — and let’s face it, America is a kind of a hellscape sometimes — there’s really, really excellent food here. You definitely have to know where to look for it (because the unreasonably high cost of rent and a liquor license in this city make it really hard to run a small business, so there’s a LOT of corporate chains here), but I’m very pleased to report that this list of my favourite places to eat here has gotten really, really long.
Like I did for my Montreal List, I’ll continually add to this list of my favourite places in Boston whenever I find something great.
I’ll start with a bunch of restaurants where you can eat for cheap, and then move on to slightly pricier options, then to the special occasion places, then to dessert, and then to wine.
Sidebar: every list of Boston cheap eats that I’ve come across elsewhere includes items like a hot pretzel with mustard for $7 as a cheap eat and I will not allow this treason to continue any longer. When I say cheap eats, I mean full meals for under $15, ~$20ish with tax and a nice tip because you should always, literally always leave a great tip because guess what the tipping system is a nightmare but we live in it and diners shouldn’t have the power to arbitrarily decide whether or not the person who serves your food makes rent but unfortunately they do, so if you can afford to go out to eat, you can afford to tip well [end of rant].
Here’s where you can and should eat in Boston, for less than (or about) $15 per person.
Tawakal Halal, East Boston. Tons has been written about what makes this family-owned Somali restaurant so special, and it really does live up to the hype. You MUST get the Tawakal Plate — buttery chapati cut into strips and tossed with a spiced tomato sauce, veggies, and a meat of your choice — it’s really unbelievable. The sambusas are fantastic, too, and the hummus chapati, and the beef kabab biryani (pictured).
Charlie’s Pizza, Allston. This place is completely unassuming- you’d walk right past it and not know that you’d be missing out on a Truly Important Pizza Experience. Charlie’s is perfect. Ordered by the slice, the pizza is somehow even better than when ordering a whole pie, but even the whole pies are the Platonic Ideal of an American cheese pizza. The thin crust flops under the weight of the tomato sauce and the piled-on, stretchy cheese, and it has a crust that’s perfectly poofy and delicious with ranch dressing. Also Charlie himself is wonderful.
Yume Ga Arukara, Somerville. This udon place is inside of a university cafeteria (Lesley University in Somerville to be precise) and it’s VERY SPECIAL. Since it was featured in an Important Food Media List in 2018, you can expect an hourlong line to get one of the 15 or so stools in the tiny restaurant, but this is one of those extremely rare situations where the wait is more than worth it. The cold niku udon is beefy and bright and perfect and the noodles are so springy and good and just go there. I want to get the spicy cold niku udon next. Also, they’re a gratuity-free restaurant because they pay their staff a living wage!
Rosticeria Cancún, East Boston. I love this place, which has the atmosphere of a divey, beachside bar and serves really great Mexican food. The tortas are amazing, filled with beans, tomato, avocado, cheese, lettuce, mayo, and your choice of meat (go with the adovada, which is stewed and seasoned pork). Grab some hot sauce from the table to dip into. The micheladas are also seasoned perfectly, and the service is friendly and familial.
Man-O-Salwa, Somerville. This place was mentioned by Ahmed Ali Akbar in his recent essay on Pakistani food in the US. I’m a big fan of Ahmed’s writing (and podcast!), and this essay was pretty much everything I love about food writing. Needless to say, I went to Man-O-Salwa the day after I read it about it, and it did not disappoint. The chicken tikka is bright red, super-spicy but not overpoweringly so, and ridiculously tender. The garlic naan was the perfect accompaniment. You’ll miss the place if you walk by it, and beware its changing schedule- call ahead to make sure they’re open. The sign outside says S & S Market.
Broad Street Paulie’s, Downtown. Best breakfast sandwich in the city. Get the ham, egg, and cheese on a cheddar biscuit, and a self-serve iced coffee. Also, their chocolate chip cookies are enormous and perfect, soft in the middle and crispy on the edges, with two kinds of chocolate chunks. Shout-out to Elizabeth, one of the nicest women in the world, who runs the show with her husband, Paul.
Galleria Umberto, North End. This is a North End institution and I went for the first time with my friend Haylee on a day when we really needed a win and BOY did Galleria Umberto ever come through for us. They’re only open for lunch, and they churn out sheet pan after sheet pan of some of the best square pizza slices I’ve ever had — and they’re so, so affordable. AND they have little Dixie cups of wine.
El Rinconcito Colombiano, East Boston. I love going here for a tequeño (aka dedito de queso, aka a block of fresh, salty white cheese wrapped in pastry and fried) and a milky, sweet coffee.
Thmor Da, Revere. A really, really good way to spend a summer afternoon is to go to Revere Beach, lounge in the sun, try to go in the freezing water, warm up again, walk 10 minutes to Thmor Da, and eat a huge plate of Cambodian food (or two — pictured here is the truly outstanding pork larb and the drunken noodles). Then, you can walk back to the boardwalk and get ice cream. This is me telling you how to live your life, yes.
Machu Chicken, Somerville. The 1/4 chicken plate is amazing- a roasted, spiced chicken thigh with rice, salad, and aji amarillo sauce. Even the plain-looking rice is somehow delicious, and I like chopping up the chicken, mixing it with the rice and sauce, and going to town.
La Abundancia Bakery and Restaurant, East Boston. At this little Colombian place, the carne asada platter, plus two empanadas, makes for a perfect lunch for two people. This is the first place I tried Colombian empanadas, which are fried and crispy, and filled with a mix of meat and potatoes.
Allston Diner, Allston. A pretty grungy, very hip diner with cartoons on screens, excellent french toast, and even better options for sides. We got side portions of sausage gravy and mac and cheese! What a time to be alive!
Cactus Grill, East Boston. I’ve heard that you can’t go wrong here, and that their burritos are particularly delicious, but I’ve only ever had the pupusas because a) they’re $2 apiece and so delicious and b) they come with a ziploc bag full of curtido and a side of sauce. Their horchata is also stellar, or if you want something fizzy, they have all the flavours of Jarritos.
S & I To Go, Allston. This tiny little Thai place is right on Brighton Ave, and has one of the best value dinner deals I’ve seen in Boston- choice of soup, choice of appetizer, and a huge portion of noodles with choice of meat for a total of ~$8.95. It’s really delicious and comes out fast. You can eat at one of their five small tables or take it to go. The food is perfectly seasoned, and when they say spicy, they mean spicy. Get a mango juice to quench any burning.
Cafe Rustica, Somerville. Cafe Rustica is the perfect European-style lunch place. Their espresso is fantastic, and they serve some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Try the salami-capicollo-provolone one, all dressed, or the equally wonderful fresh mozzarella-tomato-pesto one. The sandwiches come on baguette, but you can opt to have them on focaccia instead, which I actually prefer. The ingredients are so fresh and flavorful and it’s just a dream. The guys who run the place are awesome, too.
Dumpling House, Cambridge. I’ve been there in a group of three and in a group of 10, and either way, the food is fast and just incredible. The pork mini soup dumplings are one of my favourites, as are the steamed pork and leek or cabbage dumplings, which are just as good fried. The scallion pancake makes a great side dish. I’ve also had a lot of the other larger meat dishes, which are great, but the basil eggplant was outstanding.
Milennium Restaurant, Roxbury. Home of some of the best Dominican food I’ve ever had, they have a truly fantastic bowl deal where you can pick your meat, rice, and veggies- I went with yellow rice, plátanos, and roast pork- plus a drink, for $7.50. It’s unbelievable. Tastes homemade and hits the spot.
Angela’s Cafe, East Boston. The tacos are great, as are the salsas and the margaritas, but the star of the show was OBVIOUSLY the queso fundido con chorizo.
The Hot Dog Stand Outside Macy’s, Downtown. I am an avid fan of street meat and Boston does it very well. They have sauteed onions and peppers which is a nice touch, and several types of sauces beyond yellow mustard and ketchup. As someone who loves a hot dog with dijon, mayo, hot sauce and little barbecue sauce, I appreciate that. It’s also super cheap, as you can imagine.
And here’s where you can eat (and/or drink) for a little more money:
Delux, South End. This is the best bar in Boston, that’s it, that’s all. It’s affordable, it has EXCELLENT food, I love all of the people who work there, it’s decorated with Christmas lights and old records, it’s perfect. I’ve become a regular. The menu rotates, but if you ever go and you see the meatloaf sandwich with fontina and poblanos, OH MY GOD GET IT. Pictured here are the equally wonderful crab sliders.
Winsor Cafe, Chinatown. I love dim sum and though Winsor cafe is very small and you might have to wait for a table at peak dim sum time, it’s worth it. Great siu mai, great turnip cakes, great spare ribs in black bean sauce, great bbq pork buns.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge, Somerville. Really great service, really great mac and cheese (it has crumbled ritz crackers on it, and you can get it with cut up hot dogs in it). Also a great double cheeseburger. It’s just generally a fun and delicious place to be. They just made it to 10 years and it’s easy to see why.
The Quiet Few, East Boston. This newish neighborhood bar has really great food and drinks (I’ve tried the Greek BLT, the Eastie Dog with homemade cheez whiz, the pickleback and the frozen negroni), and really nice staff. The prices are great, and there’s an option on the menu to buy the kitchen staff a six-pack, which is cool.
Santarpios, East Boston. This is a Very Boston Place. I literally ran into the mayor here once. It has great pizza that’s done in a somewhat particular style where the cheese and toppings are mixed together, but it really works. Also, get the sausage barbecue and the steak tips to start.
Ebi Sushi, Somerville. A Very Special Sushi Place. The lunch deals are excellent value — amazing, creative sushi for a very reasonable price — and their udon bowls are great too.
Zaftig’s, Brookline. I love a Jewish deli, and this one is full of paintings of women who are a little zaftig themselves and I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT. The matzah ball soup is wonderful, as are the pickled green tomatoes, lox platter, and knishes.
And for a special occasion…
Celeste, Somerville. An Important Ceviche Experience. And the lomo saltado is unreal, as are the cocktails and the tiradito de atun. And the owners are an incredibly lovely husband-and-wife team. And the whole place is lit up all blue neon. It’s amazing.
Toro, South End. This place is Fancy, but surprisingly not outrageously expensive. It’s best for a couple of drinks with a couple of snacks- maybe eat a sandwich before you go to keep the bill on the lower side. However, the tapas are very much American-sized: still small plates, but much more generously served than in Spain. The stand-outs were the marinated Mahon cheese, boquerones, jamon serrano, cod croquettes, and the wide selection of vermouth, which is my favourite drink ever.
Coppa, South End. Coppa is Toro’s Italian cousin (owned by the same guys), and it’s a similar concept. Go for a drink or two and some fancy snacks, or, if it’s a special occasion, you can make a whole meal out of it- especially with a couple of their pastas or pizzas.
And for dessert…
Cafe Dello Sport, North End. Stellar espresso, great gelato, and a perfect place to post up and get some work done while eavesdropping on old men talking in Italian. We also went there straight from our city hall wedding and they gave us a free chocolate and espresso martini, so I will love it forever.
Gracie’s Ice Cream, Somerville. You can get your cone dipped in marshmallow fluff, which is then toasted with a brulée torch. It is a dream.
Union Square Donuts, Everywhere. The vietnamese coffee donut that I tried while at the Boston Public Market’s location of Union Square Donuts was a religious experience and honestly I’m not even going to try to describe it.
And if you want some great wine…
Rebel Rebel, Somerville. A wonderful and unpretentious and very feminist wine bar.