When it comes to the dining scene in any major city, everyone’s always so focused what’s new and trendy, but fixating on the next big thing means we sometimes neglect the bedrocks of Boston’s dining scene. Lets not forget to honor our elders a little. Here are 10 old-timers who deserve your undying loyalty for making the city’s restaurant scene what it is today:
- Back Bay
Lunch, afternoon tea, and weekend brunch mean that we hoi polloi can rhapsodize over chef Frank McClelland’s French-tinged regional cooking, while the salon menu lets you go wild over the cheese and wine programs. If it’s a celebratory meal you’re after, you really can’t beat a nighttime tasting menu astride one of the streetside picture windows. Still amazing after all these years.
- Downtown Crossing
Marliave first made its debut in 1885, opened by a French immigrant who brought over a closely guarded cachet of Francophile recipes. It’s had its ups and downs in the 13 decades since, but Marliave really is an under-appreciated institution. Where else can you enjoy French onion soup and rarebit at the bar while savoring a drink called the Chauncey Warbucks ?
- Harvard Square
Over four decades, this Square workhorse has pushed farm-to-table ideals while training many a future celebrated chef. It’s New England cuisine the way everyone wants it: ingredients like lobster and halibut done to the nines. The tasting menu is anniversary-worthy, while the two-course “business lunch” is a steal!
Most of Chinatown’s old-time spots have since quietly slipped away, but China Pearl remains a constant. Climbing up those stairs is like slipping down a rabbit hole of nostalgia: the decor, dishware, and menu all feel mostly unchanged, and the dim sum itself is as dependable as ever.
- North End
Pizzas and pitchers, what’s the big deal? The history, of course. Regina started in 1926 as both a sit-down and to-go pizzeria; Bostonians like to think we spurred the home-delivery pizza business. But really it’s about the 16in brick-oven baked delicious pies.
- East Boston
The centenarian East Boston spot started life as a bakery, strangely enough, but in 1933 it began slinging the pies that still cause the same happiness in all who partake. It’s simple, it’s no-frills, it’s hard to get to, and it’s delicious. Give a Bostonian a sausage pie, some lamb kabob, and a beer, and he’s all set.
- Faneuil Hall
Oh, no big deal, just the oldest restaurant in America. Go for the decor and the New England staples (or as the menu calls them, “Ye Olde New England Favorites”): steamers, clam chowder, boiled or baked stuffed lobster, and by all means the baked beans and Indian pudding.
- Back Bay
If you think Boston’s Mexican food scene sucks today, try 45 years ago. Back then Casa Romero was the city’s enchilada oasis, a tucked-away basement eatery visited by pretty much every single denizen at some point in their residency. And the appeal endures: it’s got the Mexican tile tables, the generous margaritas, and the massive menu of classic over-the-border entrees. Are the prices a little nuts at this point? Absolutely — but then again, nowhere in Boston does history come cheap.
- Beacon Hill
Beacon Hill’s classic luncheonette isn’t always easy to navigate – but it’s always worth it. It’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner (or breakfast for dinner, or lunch for breakfast), with most dishes prepped on the griddle and all servings proving crazily ample.
- Downtown Crossing
Craving some Boston cream pie and a martini served on a silver tray? Then you’ve found your nirvana. Here are just a few of the crazy historical tidbits from this 100-some-year-old dining room: It hired the first French chef in America in 1855 (M. Sanzian); and Malcolm X was a busboy in the 1940s. Sanzian is actually credited with inventing Boston cream pie. Take all that in before considering the menu full of bygones, with its iceberg wedge salad and roasted quail and baked Boston “schrod”.