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restaurants for every occasion

Just for Fun

By Abby Bielagus, Christie Matheson, Janice O'Leary, and Rachel Travers
April 20, 2008

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Dinner before a movie you don't really want to see
The bar at Toro opens at 4:30 p.m. for those who want to get a jump on the crowds, and who could blame them? At 5:30, tapas portions of roasted hot peppers with sea salt and smoked duck with quince start coming out of the kitchen. By the time you look up from your tumbler of Rioja and grilled corn with aged cheeses and lime, the place is jumping inside and there's a stylish South End crowd clogging the sidewalk in front. But now you have a difficult choice: head to the cineplex or linger over the last bites of silky tortilla espanola?

Toro 1704 Washington Street, Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com

Dinner alone
Neptune Oyster in the North End seats only about 50 people (and doesn't take reservations), and that's with tables squeezed together and strangers bumping elbows. Shorten your wait by going solo and dining at the raw bar. Besides that impressive menu - a dozen kinds of oysters on many nights - the kitchen turns out fresh, dependable dishes such as fish- and shellfish-packed cioppino, raw tuna "ribbons," or the ever-changing local fish special. Food this enjoyable makes excellent company.

Neptune Oyster 63 Salem Street, Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com

Ladies' night
The Soiree Room at UpStairs on the Square - the mischievously matched gilt chairs and pink plaid-painted walls take 10 years off anybody's mood - is just the place to go with a posse of decked-out girlfriends ready for good food, good wine, and good fun. Chef Steven Brand is an unsung culinary star (hiding out in Harvard Square) whose tasting menu - including English pea ravioli with ham and mint and roasted chicken with asparagus and morels - will leave you swooning.

Upstairs on the Square 91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617-864-1933, upstairsonthesquare.com

A quick bite after work
Get yourself through that last hour of polishing your presentation and answering e-mails by using the carrot method. Only your reward is better than that: It's a pressed Cuban sandwich at the bar at Chez Henri in Cambridge. Two enormous slices of French bread are stuffed with roasted pork, thinly sliced ham, diced cornichons, and gruyere, then the whole thing's grilled until it turns golden brown. Put those multi-tasking skills to good use by enjoying a glass of red while you eat.

Chez Henri 1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, 617-354-8980, chezhenri.com

Birthday dinner that even your starving-artist friends can chip in for
Mark another year's passage at Redbones BBQ, where if you're not getting sauce on your chin, you're not doing it right. Order meaty "Memphis" pork ribs and watch the bones pile up like birthday candles. The restaurant, in Somerville's Davis Square, doesn't take reservations on weekends, but there is enough room to spread out if you go with a group during the week.

Redbones BBQ 55 Chester street, Somerville, 617-628-2200, redbones.com

Birthday splurge
You'll enjoy every last bite of the exquisitely prepared dishes at T.W. Food, and if you plan wisely and eat a light lunch, you don't have to choose between the Duxbury oyster shooter and roasted Vermont veal - order the $69 tasting menu ($95 with wine), which includes both. Savor the freshest ingredients and tastiest wines, from fennel to artichokes, asparagus to fiddleheads, wild morels to Vermont cheese, and by all means have the ice cream for dessert.

T.W. Food 377 Walden street, Cambridge, 617-864-4745, twfoodrestaurant.com

Afternoon meeting for the sugar-dependent
Both outposts of Flour Bakery + Cafe can get packed with regulars in the morning, at lunchtime, and on the weekends. For a side of peace and quiet with your homemade oreos or fresh fruit tart, head to the South End location after 5 p.m. (it's open till 9) or to the Fort Point Channel location after 4 p.m. (open till 7) to get a seat and enjoy talking in your inside voice - and maybe go back to the counter for just one more of the perfect chocolate chip cookies.

Flour Bakery + Cafe 1595 Washington Street, Boston, 617-267-4300, and 12 Farnsworth Street, Boston, 617-338-4333; flourbakery.com

Study break
With its top-notch tamales and exactingly grilled chicken - extremely juicy yet just a tiny bit charred - Boca Grande's five campus-friendly locations draw more than a college crowd. Then there are the prices: The three small tacos with meat, pico de gallo salsa, beans or rice if you want them, and hot sauce in doubled corn tortillas cost only $2.50. Most of the locations stay open until 11 in good weather; stop by before your next all-nighter.

Boca Grande 149 First street, Cambridge, 617-354-5550, and other locations, bocagrande.ypguides.net

Takeout on the way to the airport
You'll see the sign for Santarpio's Pizza after you exit the Callahan Tunnel but before you enter the ramp to Logan, and it's a good idea to plan a 15-minute stopover there before your flight. In addition to some of the best pizza in the city, there's barbecue, too, and it's highly portable. Pick up grilled lamb and homemade sausage with hot cherry peppers and fresh bread; the airport security guards will smell it and be jealous, but they won't stop you from taking lunch right through to your flight.

Santarpio's 111 Chelsea Street, East Boston, 617-567-9871, santarpiospizza.com

A quick bite at Logan
An unforeseen wait at the airport doesn't have to mean choosing between a doughnut and fries when you get hungry. (In fact, if you like, plan to arrive a little early.) Instead, grab some fresh chowder or a lobster roll at one of Legal Sea Foods' four airport locations. Two of these, in terminals B and C, are located outside security checkpoints. The others, in terminals A and (again) B near the shuttles, can have almost a singles vibe. A cranberry martini is a great icebreaker if you want to meet fellow passengers jetting to New York or D.C. for the weekend.

Legal Sea Foods Logan Airport, Terminal A, 617-568-1888, Terminal B, 617-568-2811 and 857-241-2000, Terminal C, 617-568-2800; legalseafoods.com

Will drive for steak
When you have a hankering for both a big, juicy slab of protein and a mini road trip, take a drive on Route 1 to Saugus: When you see the giant neon cactus with a sign that reads "Hilltop Steak House," you're there. (While you eat, debate what the Hilltop's original owners could have been thinking. A saguaro? In Saugus?) With gas so expensive, it's a good thing the restaurant's prices remain reasonable, even for the larger cuts, like the 22-ounce porterhouse.

Hilltop Steak House 855 Broadway, Saugus, 781-233-7700, hilltopsteakhouse.com

Pedicure-optional bridal shower
Novel, one of the restaurants in the main branch of the Boston Public Library, holds elegant afternoon tea for groups from two to 50. The room is tucked away from the Back Bay's bustle and feels private, even if your party is one of several. The place is also convenient: Guests can grab a last-minute gift at the Copley or Prudential malls beforehand, and the whole group, fortified with tea, finger sandwiches, and sweets, can walk to Newbury Street for pedicures - or for a round of stronger drinks.

Novel Boston Public Library, 700 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-385-5660, bpl.org/restaurants

Raunch-optional bachelor party
Silvertone Bar and Grill, with its well-made and well-priced upscale bar food (pasta, steak tips), can fill up a group of guys while still leaving them plenty of cash to buy the bachelor drinks. Larger parties can celebrate in a private room that accommodates 65 people. The restaurant's proximity to Centerfolds in Chinatown is, of course, completely coincidental.

Silvertone Bar and Grill 9 Bromfield Street, Boston, 617-338-7887, silvertonedowntown.com

Celebrating your PhD
When you finally get to add those three little letters to your resume, raise a glass - and a fork - at Craigie Street Bistrot. The Harvard Square hideaway offers consistently exquisite dishes that are ambitious enough to feel important: white soy- and butter-braised French turbot with rock shrimp, lily bulbs, spring peas, and sherry vinaigrette, say, or asparagus with morels, house-made Chinese sausage, a farm egg, pig foot, and black-truffle essence. Chef Tony Maws cooks with the freshest seasonal ingredients and only finalizes the daily menus once he's seen what's available from farms and markets. For once, let somebody else do the homework.

Craigie Street Bistrot 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, 617497-5511, craigiestreetbistrot.com

Pre-Marathon carbo-load
At Marco, in the North End, the homemade pasta melts in your mouth (you deserve the best after all that training). The portions are generous but not huge (you don't want to feel stuffed before the run). The scene buzzes enough to be exciting, but it's not crazy (you need to chill). And unlike many Italian joints, Marco doesn't overload every dish with garlic (you do not want to taste that on Heartbreak Hill).

Marco
253 Hanover Street, Boston, 617-742-1276, marcoboston.com

Going out after work with colleagues
Genevieve from marketing just got promoted. Or maybe it's just Friday. Gather a group of colleagues and head to Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin in SoWa for a celebratory dinner. The classic bistro menu is varied enough to please a diverse group - the roasted salmon filet is especially good, as are the french fries. Wine is served by the glass or the bottle, the half carafe or the carafe, so everyone can raise a glass or two - to whatever.

Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin 560 Harrison Avenue, Boston, 617-422-0224, gaslight560.com

Dinner with a friend who's thinking of moving to town
There's no better way to help a friend fall in love with Boston than with dinner at the celebrated No. 9 Park. Located across from historic Boston Common and Beacon Hill, just the walk to the restaurant is an occasion to show off the city. Then there's the scene at No. 9. Settle in at the bar and sip a signature Palmyra cocktail while watching the parade of power-clientele. A seat at the bar also means a chance to order from the more affordable cafe menu (there's a three-course prix fixe for $45). Try the boudin blanc with a poached farm egg and spring-bean cassoulet.. By the time dessert arrives, your friend will be ready to start calling realtors.

No. 9 Park 9 Park Street, Boston, 617-742-9991, theno9group.com

Dinner with your college roommates
Casa Romero's Mexican food - chicken in mole poblano sauce and pork marinated with oranges and chipotles - is unlike any in the city. So is its private patio, tucked off an alley in the Back Bay, with views between the brownstones up to the stars above. Book a corner table, add a pitcher of sangria and enchiladas, and talk yourselves back in time - only now, the food's a lot better.

Casa Romero 30 Gloucester Street, Boston, 617-536-4341, casaromero.com

Happy hour
Yes, a litchi martini will set you back $10, but the delicious dim sum goes for just $2 at Pho Republique in the South End between 5:30 and 7:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Candied garlic spare ribs. Chicken and ginger potstickers. Curry potato samosas. Go ahead, have another martini.

Pho Republique 1415 Washington Street, Boston, 617-262-0005, phorepublique.net

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