Based in a picturesque Back Bay brownstone, Select Oyster Bar is a must-visit Boston seafood restaurant that goes beyond clam chowder and lobster rolls. It’s a cool and cozy raw bar where you can count on ordering pristine crudo, local oysters, and Mediterranean-inflected small plates and entrees. This Gloucester Street spot was the ownership debut for longtime local chef Michael Serpa, who left the North End’s iconic Neptune Oyster to captain his own fleet of restaurants. Newbury Street bistro Grand Tour and South End seafood-centric tapas bar Atlántico are also under Serpa’s purview—and so are his restaurants’ awesome wine programs.
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The well-traveled district of downtown Boston that borders the Public Garden and the Esplanade boasts some of the city’s best shopping (Newbury Street, Copley Place) and its most exciting attractions (the Boston Marathon, a beautiful public library). There’s no shortage of dining options—but that actually makes it kind of hard to find the best Back Bay restaurants. In our expert opinion, we can help. Whether you’re looking for a quick breakfast or lunch, a cool bar, or a splurge-worthy place to have dinner, here’s where to eat in Boston’s Back Bay.
The boutique Eliot Hotel might feel plucked out of Paris, but its sprawling first-floor restaurant is like a high-end, hip Tokyo sushi bar where the chef has a Boston address and a well-stamped passport. Indeed, Uni is exactly that: a high-end izakaya and sushi bar from one of Boston’s best-known chefs (Ken Oringer of Toro, Coppa, and Little Donkey)—and it’s worthy of all acclaim as one of the city’s top dining destinations. The menu showcases New England and Japanese seafood in delicately garnished sashimi, nigiri, maki rolls, and caviar flights, with eclectic small plates and an extensive selection of Japanese whisky that help make this one of our all-time favorite celebration spots. Do not skip the Maine-urchin Uni Spoon or the Spicy Tuna and Foie Gras Tataki.
When you’re craving ramen in Back Bay, get in line at Santouka. This Japanese import helped introduce Boston to really good ramen when it landed here in 2015 with long-simmered tonkotsu in the Hokkaido style. Shio Ramen, topped with springy noodles, tender pork, and a range of ready-to-dunk extras, is rightfully Santouka’s signature: The light and cloudy, salt-bolstered broth gives all the flavor without the heaviness that some bowls of ramen inflict. When we’re wanting something punchier, Spicy Miso is the move. Yes, there’s usually a wait—which involves queuing up on Hereford Street—for a seat at this shoebox-sized slurping spot, but service is super efficient.
Perched on the tony corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts avenues, Deuxave is every bit as posh as the mansions that surround it. There may be a wine book loaded with Bordeaux and Cabernet, and a modern French menu boasting dishes such as Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras and 9 Hour French Onion Soup, but chef-owner Chris Coombs isn’t boxed in by traditional cooking. Deuxave is known in part for its Tagliatelle “Bolognaise,” a Frenchy nod to the Italian staple; and dishes like harissa-spiced cod with Israeli couscous also make an appearance. An imposing wine bottle display dominates the dining room, and it’s not just for show: The restaurant’s impressive list has been honored with a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.
A relative newcomer to Back Bay, Krasi is a gorgeous, Gloucester Street meze bar that goes in on all things Greek. From its unmatched wine selection to unique charcuterie boards and even weekend brunch, reading the menus may require a glossary—for example: Tsipoura, or grilled sea bream, is dressed up seasonally with the likes of an herb salad and kritamo ladolemono (seaweed-infused Greek dressing)—but the passionate staff is ready to show you the way. And speaking of guides to another world: Krasi just unveiled sister-cocktail bar Hecate, an intimate space below which honors its namesake goddess by inviting mystery with globe-traveling libations.
Technically located in Bay Village, Boston’s smallest official neighborhood that’s wedged between the South End, Back Bay, and the Theatre District, Mike & Patty’s is worth the detour as an antidote to the out-of-town sandwich shops with cookie-cutter menus that abound in Back Bay. There’s scant room to stand inside, but somehow the tiny kitchen cranks out two-hands-required handhelds like Grilled Crack, a breakfast grilled cheese with eggs, double the bacon, and quadruple the cheese; and the Mission Breakfast Burrito with scrambled eggs, cheese, hash browns, roasted poblanos, and several tasty sauces and salsas in a house-made flour tortilla. Non-egg sandwiches are served, too, and the whole menu is available through the early-afternoon closing time.
Leave whatever hangups about tinned fish you may have at the door of Saltie Girl. This Euro-style raw bar and restaurant on Dartmouth Street specializes in seafood that’s been canned as a delicacy, not as a convenience. You’ll also find a bountiful all-day menu of non-preserved fruits de mer, such as dressed-up crudo, large and small plates like deep-fried Lobster and Waffles and Torched Salmon Belly, and craveable classics like clam chowder, Fried Ipswich Clams, and one of Boston’s best lobster rolls. Don’t go thirsty: A lineup of bright, acidic, and sometimes-shareable cocktails provide the perfect foil to salt and brine. Originally a much smaller footprint, Saltie Girl has expanded with a spacious dining room that now accepts reservations, as well as an outdoor patio.
Grill 23 & Bar
The Back Bay’s beauty serves to remind us that Boston is a storied city that’s hosted more than a century’s worth of important meetings over Martinis and pre-Symphony dinners. It’s easy to imagine such events happening at Grill 23 & Bar, a well-appointed steakhouse and a locally-grown throwback to the Gilded Age. Rich woods and fabrics, intimate private rooms, fresh flowers and some of the city’s classiest Christmas decor set the scene, but it’s really about the top-of-the-line dining. Begin with a glass of grower Champagne from the Wine Spectator Grand Award winning wine menu, and an appetizer like American Kobe Steak Tartare or Shrimp Cocktail and Local Oysters—but it’s a power move to snag a seat at the bar and pair an ice-cold cocktail with a prime steak.
Escape the hustle of the neighborhood when you step off Boylston Street and into Life Alive Organic Cafe. The Back Bay outpost of the local vegetarian chain is decidedly hippie-ish, matching rattan decor and funky throw pillows with a rainbow palate of colors—and greens, grains, noodles, and salads with teas, tonics, fresh-pressed juices, and smoothies. We love the Adventurer Bowl (and not just because the name makes us forget we have to go back to work): It’s savory and bright, with tamari and sesame-ginger sauces for tofu, beets, broccoli, kale, corn, and almonds over a hearty base of quinoa and cheddar rice.
Chef-owner Alexander Crabb has bona fides like seven years as sous chef at Boston fine-dining traditionalist, L’Espalier, but the tasting-menu restaurant he co-owns with Shish Parsigian isn’t your typical white-tablecloth: Asta is not afraid to break the rules. Exposed brick and warm woods make for an inviting, yet sparse interior centered on an open kitchen. The menu belies the technique of each dish, where a description like “Duck Confit, kimchi butter sauce, sweet potato” arrives resembling a dainty plate of orange spaghetti with an unctuous, beautifully butchered drumstick. Asta is whimsical, minimal, elegant, and earthy, and well worth the splurge—but we also love when it gets “distracted” with casual pop-ups, like Fried Chicken and Biscuit every Saturday afternoon in April.
Blissfully, there are many places around Boston and Cambridge to get our Flour Bakery fix; Back Bay boasts two locations, and we legit love them both. After the original South End opening, Clarendon Street was an early expansion which brought (not-yet award-winning) baker Joanne Chang’s signature Sticky Bun, cookies, scones, pies, sandwiches, and more closer to the commuters of Back Bay Station. In the fast-changing Hynes Convention Center area is a newer Dalton Street spot that’s just as well-stocked despite its small size. The second neighborhood bakery shines for its chic design, including a pretty peony painting by Flour employee and local artist, Alexis Weinrich.
Wherever Demetri Tsolakis and his business partners go (Krasi, Committee), they bring with them Greek hospitality. At Greco on Newbury Street, this authenticity is served up in the form of fast-casual Gyros, salads, sides, and Loukoumades. The fluffy pita wraps are stuffed with a choice of grilled meats or vegetarian fritters, plus crunchy vegetables, herbaceous sauces, and crispy hand-cut fries. Loukoumades, meanwhile, are bite-sized fried dough balls drenched in Greek honey, walnuts, cinnamon, and other sweet combinations. With a friendly atmosphere and such fresh flavors, it’s no wonder why Greco is a go-to lunch spot in Back Bay.
Eric Twardzik contributed reporting.