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With a rich colonial history, international influences (North End, we’re talking to you), and a seaside locale, Boston certainly has a seat at the big-name dining table. Through the years, the city has morphed its simple local flavor into globally recognized and universally loved classic dishes.
We rounded up 10 classic Boston dishes and asked readers to weigh in on their favorites. More than 150 readers responded and told us about menu items that are iconic to the area, from lobster rolls to cannoli. They voted on their favorites, with clam chowder coming in as the top pick, earning 22% of the reader vote.
Here’s your essential guide to diving fork first into Boston’s proudest moments in the kitchen, and what readers had to say about each dish.
They don’t call it “beantown” for nothing. With a history of being served during Native American meals, beans slow-baked in molasses are not only a nod to times of yore, but also to when the city was awash in molasses during its part in the “triangular trade.” The dish is traditionally served in a small crock, with brown bread sitting sidecar.
Reader Matt from Holliston said, “It’s the best Boston dish because it’s the oldest, and it’s named after the city! … I used to like to get baked beans at Durgin-Park (RIP) and The Fours (RIP), but now the best baked beans are at Menotomy Tavern in Arlington. Have them with the cod cakes for a true Boston treat.”
When you’re located along Boston’s Freedom Trail, it’s a no-brainer to dish out a classic plate or two. The Beantown Baked Beans is a traditional recipe with brown bread on the side. (100 Tremont St., Boston)
Chef Suraj Chopra takes two days for this heirloom recipe, beginning with an overnight soak of dried beans. After six hours of simmering in molasses and brown sugar and an overnight rest, the North Country Smokehouse bacon flavor comes through like a rebel’s yell. (200 Stuart St., Boston)
When a restaurant’s name harkens back to its city’s original 1600s settlement, the menu is sure to be classic New England. Such is Menotomy Grill — an homage to yesteryear when Arlington was known as Menotomy. Its Boston baked beans are a sweet-meets-salty bowl thanks to the bacon and caramelized brown sugar. It’s available as a piping hot side dish or to accompany the New England cod cake entree. (25 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington)
This high-end restaurant serves a duo of Boston baked beans and eggs as a hearty answer to what’s for breakfast. Served Monday through Friday, the hearth-baked cast iron skillet is filled with eggs, pork andouille, spinach, and parmesan and is served with ciabatta. (138 St. James Ave., Boston)
America’s oldest restaurant has its sights on the traditional beans as a side dish. Starting with navy beans, browned salt pork, onions, molasses, water, brown sugar and mustard, they’re baked for several hours until the beans are tender. (41 Union St., Boston)
As the story goes, Omni Parker House is the birthplace of this dessert, which identifies more as a cake than pie. Sweet custard is layered between yellow butter cake, and glazed with chocolate.
Virginia S. from Vermont told us that the treat, which she orders from the Parker House for special occasions and birthdays, is the “perfect combination [of flavors] for a dessert or celebration.”
Joanne Chang’s Boston cream pie is a moist sponge cake filled with a fluffy combo of vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream, soaked in coffee syrup, and topped with glistening, pure chocolate ganache. Attempt your own with the recipe in her “Flour, Too” cookbook. (multiple locations)
When legendary French chef and Parker House’s chef de cuisine Augustine Francois Anezin drizzled chocolate ganache onto French sponge cake filled with vanilla custard, he created a slice of local history. (60 School St., Boston)
This near-century-old deli known for piled-high sandwiches and “grandma’s favorite” matzo ball soup also provides Inman Square with great desserts. Feast on the Boston cream, which features layered rich golden cake and sweet vanilla custard with chocolate ganache. (1334 Cambridge St., Cambridge)
Thankfully, the café in the Omni in the Seaport just returned its Boston Cream Pie donuts to the menu. Made with Valrhona dark chocolate glaze and filled with vanilla pastry cream, they use ultra-fluffy dough made with cultured butter for a tiny bit of tang. (450 Summer St., Boston)
The Boston cream pie at this nearly 100-year-old North End mainstay is a rich layered dessert that is created with both vanilla and chocolate cream fillings. Topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache, it will satisfy your sweet tooth craving no matter when you have it (bonus: Bova’s is open 24 hours a day, every day). (134 Salem St., Boston)
With an Italian neighborhood like the North End within its city limits, it’s no wonder Boston loves these pastry and cream masterpieces. And as home to one of the city’s biggest culinary rivalries (Mike’s versus Modern), Boston knows: Where you get them is just as important as what kind you get.
Readers who picked cannoli as a favorite dish recommended both of the famed bakeries, Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, with an equal number of votes.
This mega maze of Italian delicacies can be intimidating, but its cannoli selection is worth it. Think raspberry, pistachio, tiramisu, chocolate, and ricotta. A mini trio makes the decision less stressful. (800 Boylston St., Boston)
Diehard loyalists know the signature white box with bright blue font and string bow. These cannolis are legendary, with Nutella, peanut butter, amaretto, strawberry, mint chocolate, and more sitting in the huge case alongside traditional. (Multiple locations)
The other Boston cannoli king. Team Modern Pastry finds themselves noshing on the crisp, deep-fried pastry tubes filled with delicious yellow or chocolate cream or ricotta. Flavors can be chocolate-dipped with chocolate chips, almond, or pistachio. (Multiple locations)
There’s no tunnel vision at Nebo when it comes to this Italian confection. Instead of a tube, the dessert is a deconstructed layering of the cannoli shell and ricotta crème topped with powdered sugar. (520 Atlantic Ave., Boston)
Served three to an order, “Mario’s Cannolis” are filled with whipped mascarpone cream then dipped in chocolate chips, and finished with a heavy dusting of confectioner’s sugar. (100 Huntington Ave., Suite K006A, Boston)
True New England clam chowder (pronounced chowdah, if you please) is a rich and thick concoction of shellfish, salt pork or bacon, potatoes, and cream. Don’t forget the oyster crackers.
Todd Z. from Peabody recommended a place to get the soup in Marblehead, saying, “Get onto the dock, and walk down to The Barnacle for a piping hot dish of deliciousness!”
Its thick and creamy clam chowder put this family-owned restaurant on the map by winning several local “best of” awards over the years. Served in an overflowing mug, it’s loaded with fresh chopped clams and potatoes, and copious amounts of dill to cut through the richness. (80 Atlantic Ave., Boston)
No chowder list is complete without this seafood giant’s. Salt pork and cracklings up the ante and combine with rich cream and clams. It’s so celebrated, the chowder is available online. Mug not included. (Multiple locations)
Mooncusser adds smoked scallops and skate in with fresh clams. The piping hot bowl is accompanied by bobbing, house-made moon crackers. (304 Stuart St., Boston)
Chef Will Gilson uses mussels and clams to impart a deeper flavor to his chowder at this historical Inman Square spot. He also blends in pinches of herbs from his family’s Herb Lyceum in Groton. (1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge)
Among the crudo, caviar, and tinned fish at this seafood-centric Back Bay restaurant sits a steaming bowl of the Holy Trinity of Clam Chowder: whole and fried clams with a trifecta of marble potato, salsify, and bacon. (279 Dartmouth St., Boston)
Milk and syrup make up a milkshake, but add ice cream, and it miraculously becomes a frappe. Thick and filling, this dessert drink is an exercise in living your best life.
Ann from Easton called the frappe “perfect” and recommended Sharon-based Crescent Ridge Dairy.
The Freak Frappe menu is no joke. A gasp-inducing example of these blended monstrosities is the S’More Than You Can Handle, a frozen hot chocolate frappe with graham cracker rim, chocolate syrup, and a wicked big s’more. (Multiple locations)
Turn any of your favorite flavors (even dairy free and hard yogurt) into a proper frappe, from regular to extra thick. There’s also an espresso frappe option, taking advantage of the in-house roasted coffee. (Multiple locations).
Sully’s seasonal opening brings the masses for its hot dogs, but the thick shakes have their own fan base. Grab a frosty frappe in vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coffee, mocha, or black and white from this seasonal Castle Island concession stand, and head for a walk by Pleasure Bay. Or order them year-round at Hub Hall, or out of the Hood Milk Bottle at the Children’s Museum. (Multiple locations)
If it’s indulgence you want, this vegetarian diner and vegan bakery aims to please. Their vegan frappe menu is a baker’s dozen of concoctions made with local FoMu coconut-based ice cream. The Matcha Frappe is a favorite – vanilla, MEM Tea matcha, and oat milk, topped with coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut. (450 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)
At Wahlberg-owned restaurants, milk and ice cream are the base for shakes. Kiddos sip on chocolate, strawberry, chocolate mint, and mocha, while the over-21 crowd can order frappes like the Mud Pie with coffee ice cream, Pinnacle vanilla vodka, Créme de Cocoa, Kahlua, vanilla frosting, and crushed Oreos. (Multiple locations)
While we wouldn’t call this American classic a Boston original, adding lobster to its melty goodness is a recent New England tradition that’s sure to stick around. Because lobster and cheese.
J.T. T. from North Quincy said of the dish that they “haven’t had it for years but enjoy lobster and mac together.”
Billed as a dish “for the table,” this four-cheese blend (mascarpone, parmigiano, havarti, and white cheddar) is so decadent you may not want to share. Oven-baked with campanelle pasta and delicate poached lobster meat, it’s topped with buttered and toasted crumbs. (Multiple locations)
The Seaport restaurant’s new lobster mac and cheese is an updated take on one of their most popular and decadent sides, featuring whole Maine lobster, Tillamook cheddar, and luscious noodles. (140 Seaport Blvd., Boston)
The legendary New England chef Jasper White pairs elbow pasta with a sauce made from aged cheddar from Vermont cheddar and succulent meat from a one-pound lobster. The heaping bowl is topped with garlic bread crumbs toasted until golden brown. (Multiple locations)
While the setup changes seasonally, Chef Anthony Caturano’s weekend-only dish always boasts lobster, short cut rigatoni, and a decadent cheese sauce. This winter, guests enjoy the additions of roasted squash, pancetta, and mascarpone. (Multiple locations)
Counter service, a harbor patio, and disposable dishes are the super casual speed of this waterfront staple. The lobster mac and cheese has huge chunks of succulent lobster and a seasoned bread crumb topping. Grab a live lobster from the market for DIY at home. (300 Northern Ave., Boston)
This seemingly simple Boston favorite sparks huge debate: Should the lobster be mixed in mayo or melted butter?
The dish can be “deceptively simple, yet easy to screw up,” reader Mark T. from Pembroke said. “When it’s done right, there’s nothing better. I moved to California years ago, and I dream of a fresh lobster roll.”
Barbara Lynch’s Maine lobster roll is piled high with freshly-shucked meat cold with mayo. It comes with French fries, coleslaw, and a heap of butter pickles that cut through all that richness. (550 Tremont St., Boston)
When Eventide brought its famous name down from Maine to Fenway, with it came its highly acclaimed lobster roll. The steamed bun is mildly sweet, and it’s stuffed with pieces of brown butter lobster. (1321 Boylston St., Boston)
When you’ve been trapping your own lobsters since 1925, your lobster rolls are epic. Note that this feast on a bun is made with lobster blended with mayo. (440 Atlantic Ave., Boston)
This North End nook plays it safe with both variations — hot with drawn butter and cold with mayo — in seven, 14, and 28 (“the Lobstitution”) ounces. The smallest comes on a grilled New England-style hot dog roll, while the larger ones are piled onto sub rolls to accommodate all that meat. (65 Salem St., Boston)
Chef Jeremy Sewall’s cousin Mark Sewall, who helms his own lobster boat in Maine, sources the lobster at Row 34. The warm buttered lobster roll is just that, while Ethel’s creamy lobster roll (named for the chef’s grandmother) is traditional cold mayo prep. (Multiple locations)
Not for the faint of appetite, the area’s roast beef sandwiches are stacked with heaps upon heaps of roast beef. Tradition dictates slices are sandwiched into an onion roll, but rules are made to be broken.
Jay M. from Westford said the “North Shore Beef” has many options and should be introduced to the masses. “Starting with a crunchy, grilled, buttery bun, with cheese, roast beef, and plenty of James River sauce,” he said. “If it ain’t a murder scene, you might as well toss it in the trash.”
Tucked down a North End alley behind its sister restaurant, Frank DePasquale’s salumeria shaves and piles housemade roast beef onto onion-topped buns, following up with a hefty drizzle of homemade barbecue sauce. (11 Board Alley, Boston)
Wagyu eye round is roasted to medium-rare daily and served on fluffy house-made buns out of an old-school lunchtime takeout window. Try the North Shore Three-Way (barbecue sauce, mayo, and cheese) or 80T style (with cheddar, pickled red onions, and spicy aioli aka Thoreau sauce). (Multiple locations)
This diminutive Brookline Village sandwich shop hits its big with the Roast Beef 1000 — a meaty masterpiece packed with slow-roasted beef, crispy shallots, Thousand Island, and sharp cheddar on brioche from Iggy’s. (284 Washington St., Brookline)
The specialty sandwich at this family-owned spot is shredded Grade A prime beef served on a toasted onion roll with a zesty barbecue sauce. Add a dollop of the hot pepper relish for an extra kick. (80 Chickering Rd., North Andover)
This shop has carved out its place as one with, arguably, Boston’s most famous roast beef sandwiches. Thin slices are piled on a grilled sesame seed roll. Head to Revere Beach to visit the original location. (Multiple locations)
Coastal and casual, a typical clambake includes lobster, clams, corn, and red potatoes wrapped together and steamed over a fire. Consider it beach time minus the sand.
Rose F. from Brookline said, “I love the different food items that make up a clambake. … It is the quintessential summer meal!”
This individual-sized clam bake is served with chorizo, lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp, potatoes, and charred corn for your own little taste of summer by the sea. (406 Stuart St., Boston)
This Boston Harbor institution easily fits the bill for waterfront dining. Picnic tables and buoys set the scene, and when you pair a Cucumber Cooler cocktail with the 1.25-pound lobster, clams, corn, and potato salad combo, this is what life on the water is all about. (88 Sleeper St., Boston)
The eponymous “Bootleg Special” is this South End eatery’s signature boil serves three people with 1.5-pound lobster, a half-pound each shrimp, crawfish, mussels and clams, corn on the cob, potatoes, and andouille sausage. (400 Tremont St., Boston)
Served in an individual pot, the clambake includes a choice of chowder or a salad followed by a one-pound boiled lobster, clams, red bliss potatoes, linguica, and corn on the cob. (314 Newbury St., Boston)
The N.O.B. Clambake boasts a whole two-pound Maine lobster, clams, chorizo, and sweet summer corn. The North End spot doesn’t take reservations and, as it has gobbled up its share of awards for seafood, be prepared for a wait. (63 Salem St., Boston)
Popular in frugal New England kitchens, Yankee pot roast of yesteryear included tough cuts of beef roasted for hours to tenderize, and was served with root vegetables (think: carrots, potatoes, parsnip, and turnip).
Whitney S. from North Easton told us, “It’s the perfect dish for cold New England winters and my go-to when there’s a Nor’easter.”
The hours-long process for chef Aiden McGee’s Sunday feast is all about slow bone-on roasting. The dish serves up roast pork shoulder on a bed of carrots, onions, apples, roast potatoes, and braised cabbage for a great winter warmer (2 Center Plz., Boston)
A simmer in veal stock gives this pot roast its fork-tender appeal. In the wintertime, it’s served with a side of locally grown roasted carrots, crispy shallots, and gravy to complete the hearty meal. (1 Bennett St., Cambridge)
The New England pot roast at this north shore restaurant is slow-cooked until tender and is served up with a pile of creamy mashed potatoes, crisp asparagus, and rich gravy. (1140 Osgood St., North Andover)
This Yankee pot roast comes with butternut squash, mashed potatoes, pot roast gravy, and Revolutionary War stories that took place minutes from the 300-year-old Colonial Inn’s door. Also of note are the tales of British and colonial soldiers’ spirits said to roam its rooms. (48 Monument St., Concord)
Tuesday night is Yankee pot roast night at this Parkway original. It’s all about simple simmering and hand slicing, creamy, homemade mashed potatoes, seasoned, sliced carrots, and gravy. Bonus: The old-school vibe translates to being called “honey” when you order. (4515 Washington St., Roslindale)
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