Boston’s dining scene hasn’t been defined by baked beans and chowder in decades. Sure, seafood is a standout option around town — in a multitude of non-chowder preparations — but there’s much more to try when eating your way around the city.
Here are 26 iconic dishes and drinks that define Boston (and the surrounding area) in one way or another, along with bonus options to try related to each one. Some of these dishes have earned a place here primarily by way of their longevity and important place in Boston’s dining history; others are truly the best of the best of their kind, regardless of age; and others are unique items that can’t be readily found anywhere else in the area.
1. Woodman’s of Essex: “Chubby’s Original” Fried Clam Plate
Nothing screams “summer in New England” like a plate of fried clams — ideally accompanied by fries and onion rings as well. And fortunately it’s not just available in the summer; this classic North Shore spot, founded more than a century ago, is open year-round. Woodman’s claims to have invented fried clams.
The restaurant separates its food counter from its drink counter, so be sure to proceed to the beverage line (there’s a full bar available) after placing your food order. There’s plenty of seating inside and out.
2. Kelly’s Roast Beef: Roast Beef Sandwich
Roast beef sandwiches are practically ubiquitous in Massachusetts, particularly in the North Shore region, and there is no roast beef spot more well-known than Kelly’s Roast Beef, which opened in 1951 on Revere Beach. (These days, there are also three other locations — Saugus, Danvers, and Medford.) The company even claims to have invented the roast beef sandwich in the form that it appears around the state, and mega-chain Arby’s acknowledges drawing inspiration from Kelly’s.
True North Shore roast beef fans tend to go for the “three-way” sandwich, which comes topped with James River barbecue sauce, basic Land O’Lakes white American cheese, and mayonnaise.
3. Yume Wo Katare: Ramen
Boston has no dearth of ramen options these days, but one of the most unique options in town is an eccentric little shop in Cambridge’s Porter Square where diners stand up and share their dreams after finishing massive bowls of jiro-style ramen (a hefty pork-topped style not found elsewhere in the Boston area). The menu is simple: There are two sizes of ramen, and each can be served with one slice of pork (kids only), two slices, or five slices. No takeout, aside from a 500-gram block of pork. Cash only. Generally long lines.
Other dishes to try at Yume Wo Katare:As noted above, there are generally no other options. However, there are occasionally seasonal specials; keep an eye on Facebook for details. On the coldest days of winter, for instance, there may be a spicy ramen available. Or head to its newer sibling down the street, Yume Ga Arukara, for udon.
If you like this, also try: ramen from Ganko Ittetsu Ramen in Brookline, Snappy Kitchen in Somerville, and Pagu in Cambridge.
4. Bagelsaurus: T-Rex Bagel Sandwich
Bagelsaurus started as a pop-up at Cutty’s in Brookline before opening in its own Cambridge space in late 2014. The perpetually crowded bagel spot is an Eater Boston reader favorite, snagging the win in a 2014 poll of Boston’s best bagels and winning again in a 2016 Breakfast Week pollthanks to the T-Rex bagel sandwich, stuffed with almond butter, banana, honey, and optional bacon.
Other dishes to try at Bagelsaurus:hot smoked bagel sandwich, bialy, everything bagel.
5. Neighbourhood Restaurant: Cream of Wheat
Non-Somerville residents may raise a confused eyebrow to learn that one of the most iconic dishes in town is a humble bowl of Cream of Wheat, but anyone who has ever braved the line for brunch at Neighborhood — ideally on the pastel umbrella-bedecked seasonal patio — knows the truth. Every Neighborhood breakfast comes with a choice of fruit or Cream of Wheat. Don’t make the wrong choice. (Note: You can also order Cream of Wheat on its own, and it’s available for takeout as well. Let this information get you through all future Boston winters.)
Other dishes to try at Neighborhood: anything from the specials menu, which is always jam-packed with over-the-top pancake and French toast options.
6. Union Square Donuts: Maple Bacon Doughnut
Union Square Donuts has expanded beyond its Somerville home, now with satellite locations in Brookline and at the Boston Public Market, not to mention distribution of doughnut holes to various area businesses. But the growing company hasn’t lost its focus and still knows how to please fans and draw long lines, particularly on weekends. A mainstay on the menu since day one, the maple bacon doughnut delicately toes the line between sweet and savory, making it the ideal brunch treat.
Other dishes to try at Union Square Donuts: brown butter hazelnut crunch doughnut, orange creamsicle doughnut, sea salted bourbon caramel doughnut
7. Oleana: Baked Alaska
Boston’s been paying particular attention to desserts recently; talented pastry chefs are making names for themselves with beautifully plated, intricate creations that in some cases overshadow the main courses. But go back a few years before the explosive growth of Boston’s dessert scene.
You’ll find one classic that has always been there — the lovely baked Alaska at Oleana, full of coconut ice cream and sitting in a sweet pool of passion fruit caramel. Other dishes to try at Oleana: meze-style vegetable tasting menu, Sultan’s delight, Turkish-style profiteroles
8. Regina Pizza: The Giambotta
Sure, nowadays the Polcari family’s Regina Pizza is a chain with a tendency to open up locations in malls, and Boston’s pizza scene has exploded with plenty of new options since the days of Regina’s domination, but there’s no denying the importance of the original North End location of this classic brick oven pizzeria, which opened back in 1926. And yes, it still draws long lines. For a true Regina experience, get the Giambotta pizza, which includes all of the traditional toppings — pepperoni, sausage, salami, mushrooms, onions, peppers, and anchovies (upon request).
Note: The Regina Pizza name refers to full-service pizza locations, while Regina Pizzeria refers to quick-service locations, such as the ones at malls. There are also two locations of Polcari’s Italian Restaurant, the family’s full-service restaurant that features a full Italian menu in addition to pizza.
Other dishes to try at Regina Pizza: Napoletana pizza (“old world style anchovy”), shrimp scampi and spinach pizza, margherita pizza.