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Best Restaurants of Boston’s South End

March 12, 2013

This post has long been overdue. Every time I wanted to write about my favorite restaurants in Boston, and specifically the South End (and I am thoroughly convinced that South End dining is the best dining in Boston), I would just yield to the tempting images of succulent food born in my imagination and head over to one of those places instead of actually writing about it. But this time, I am broke strong and hey, Restaurant Week is coming up, so I decided to finally share all my not-so-secret-but-precious restaurant gems in Boston. From French haute cuisine to mouthwatering Spanish tapas to classic American staples, this post will be your must-try guide to the best restaurants in Boston’s South End.

1. Toro

Toro

Photo Courtesy of Toro

This cozy tapas place on Washington street is one busy Boston hot spot. The fact that Toro can afford to not take reservations and only serve walk-ins already says it all: the average wait time is about two hours. The Chopped-winning chef will blow your mind with some of his house specialties: the grilled corn on the cob slathered with melted garlic aioli, juicy hamburguesas with pickled onions, and flavorful smoked duck drumsticks are definitely worth the wait. The place itself is very cozy and casual – chalk-board drawings, long tall tables and my personal weak spot – open kitchen – will make for one amazing dinner experience. This place gets my own Best of Boston award!

2. Aquitaine

Aquitaine Boston

Aquitaine on Tremont boasts classic Parisian chic without the pretension. Excellent service, a relaxed atmosphere and outstanding food make this restaurant my number two pick. It is perfect for a date night – very romantic but not cheesy. The only quibbling drawback is that the tables for two are set very close to each other, so you might get involved in other conversations, but why is that a bad thing?! Plus after a glass of wine or two, I start talking much louder, so I hear no one but myself. Besides your classic French dishes such as French onion soup, steak frites and Sole meuniere, which are very tasty, this restaurant has the best dessert in Boston – its chocolate caramel bread pudding is out of this universe. Crispy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside, this desert is one indescribable burst of flavor.

3. Stella

Stella

Photo Courtesy of Stella

Stella on Washington is an elegant Italian restaurant. Its summer patio is one of my favorite hangouts in Boston. The dominance of the white colors in the décor makes it very Milan-esque and posh. In terms of food, I always go for roasted salmon and spaghetti squash or one of its grilled flatbreads with combinations like roasted duck and pickled onions or braised short rib and fig jam. (Gosh, I think I will start drooling soon).

4. Stephi’s

Stephi's Burger

Stephi’s is my go-to weekend brunch place. I might be a bit biased because some of my friends work there, so it just feels like home when we go there every Saturday for the famous house Bloody Mary as one of the perfect hangover cures, but I am definitely not biased toward Stephi’s’ food – it’s simply delicious. The pretzel-crusted crab cake benedict…words fail me. The savory meatloaf hash, arepa con chorizo or the classic Stephi’s burger are exactly what you need on a wintery weekend afternoon. You can also order a custom-made Bloody Mary for complete satisfaction – add salami & cheese, classic olives, peppers or even a Slim Jim and be happy.

5. Gallows

Gallows

Photo Courtesy of Gallows

I love Gallows for three reasons – the amazing view of the Boston Cathedral, its funky design elements and delicious Poutine, a classic Canadian dish comprised of French fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. Gallows also laid the foundation for one of the most magical weekends of my life – Memorial Day weekend of 2011. It was our first summer in Boston and we were just discovering the Sound End for ourselves. Our friend Dave took us on a South End bar crawl and Gallows was among many other restaurants and bars, but there was something very special about this place. Maybe it was Anchorman on TV, or the classic 90’s hip-hop, or their delicious house cocktail The Grapes or Wrath, but I experienced the moment of Zen-like happiness. It’s when you realize that life is good and you’re surrounded by amazing people and you live in the best city in the world, that you almost want to scream to release that nubbin of excitement inside you. The bar is also famous for its burgers and charcuterie.

6. Union Bar & Grille

Union

Photo Courtesy of Union Bar & Grille

For me, Union is neck and neck with Gallows, not to mention they’re next door to each other. I don’t have a particular favorite dish here – all the food is very tasty, with a Southern twist. The bar area is my favorite – it’s charming and cozy. The banana bread beer tastes like liquid desert, and the pomegranate martini will knock your brain out your skull. The crowd is very South End-y, which gives it a neighborhood feel and makes everything even better.

7. Beehive

Beehive

Photo Courtesy of Starchefs.com

Beehive on Tremont is definitely a scene – the place gets crowded on weekends and the bar becomes filled with single Bostonians shooting looks at each other from across the bar, which is very entertaining. The live jazz (and other equally pleasing genres) is a big plus. Last time I was there, a girl with a deep, beautiful voice was performing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit in a throaty, bluesy interpretation. Her voice crawled inside of me and honestly made my eyes water. This is a place where I would bring people from out of town to show them the real Boston scene. My menu recommendations are mezze platter and Moroccan couscous. By the way, the chef also won on Chopped.

8. Orinoco/El Centro

Orinoco

Photo Courtesy of Orinoco

These two eateries are located on Shawmut, right across the street from each other and both of them offer awesome Latin American cuisine. Orinoco is famous for its Venezuelan specialties: its delicious arepas and empanadas and rustic interior design will win over anyone who is interested in going ethnic. El Centro is a traditional Mexican restaurant and a perfect summer place. I always go for the fish tacos – they are one of the best in Boston. Alex prefers the chorizo quesadilla and swears by it. Everyone is super friendly and eager to please.

9. Salty Pig

photo-2

If you crave good beer and good charcuterie, Salty Pig is the place to go – literally the best charcuterie I’ve tried in Boston. And it’s not just the cured meats – it’s the condiments perfectly paired with savory meats and cheeses. You can find good salami or prosciutto in many places, but try finding balsamic onion jam or red wine jelly anywhere else. My perfect charcuterie sandwich is grilled crostini, Dijon mustard, spicy soppressata, chicken liver mousse, Robiola cheese and balsamic onion jam. The bathroom walls are plastered in Far Side cartoons, and the rest of the interior is decorated with chalk drawings, which make the place super funky. And how surprised was I when I learned they were drawn by Abe, my classmate from EF International. It’s a small world, indeed.

10. Tremont 647

photo-3

Last but not least on my list is Tremont 647, a true neighborhood bar/restaurant. We devour its $2 tacos almost every Taco Tuesday. On weekends, they feature pajama brunch, which doesn’t even need further explanation. The southern cooking is outstanding. During the summer, they do bourbon pork Mondays – that’s when Alex goes completely insane. Being here just feels right and if you live in the neighborhood, you’ll see the same happy faces all the time. Its next-door neighbor – Sister Sorel – is a cool lounge space that reveals the true spirit of Boston’s South End.

11. B&G Oysters

B&G Oysters

B&G Oysters receives an honorable mention from me. I haven’t dined there yet but I love the bar and the oysters. We’re having dinner there next week so I’ll keep you posted.

So here you go, check these places out and let me know what you think about these Boston gems. I dare you not to like these amazing restaurants.

Most of these venues participate in Boston’s Restaurant Week that starts March 17 – a good reason to leave your stove or your favorite delivery behind and immerse yourself in the ultimate culinary experience of the Boston South End. Enjoy!

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