8 Hidden Gems to Discover on the Boston Dining Scene

By Jacqueline Cain
Crispy scallion pancake wrap from Bess's Cafe | Where to Find the Best Chinese Food in Boston

You may think you know what to expect from the Boston food scene. Maybe you’re picturing seafood on Boston Harbor, takeout in Chinatown, or elegant dining somewhere with sparkling views of the Boston skyline. Yet there’s so much more to this dynamic and diverse city when it comes to dining out. From mom-and-pop spots hiding in the suburbs to speakeasies across the city that you’ll want to get to know, check out these eight hidden gems in Boston.

Tony & Elaine's

food from Tony & Elaine’s one of the restaurants in the Boston Dining Scene
Credit: Chris McIntosh

It would be understandable if you passed by Tony & Elaine’s thinking it was just another dated red sauce joint in Boston’s tourist-trod North End. With a vibe straight out of the ’70s—from the red vinyl booths to the bottles of straw-wrapped Chianti on every checker-clothed table—the spot, located just off the Freedom Trail, is indeed a classic Italian-American restaurant. So if Prosciutto di Parma, calamari, and spaghetti and meatballs aren’t what you’re craving, keep on walking toward downtown Boston. But the comfort food at T&E’s is updated with high-quality ingredients and technique. We love the sizable plates of Chicken Parmesan with house-made mezzi rigatoni and Orecchiette Sausage & Rabe.

ramen from Bess’s Cafe one of the restaurants in the Boston Dining Scene
Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

If you didn’t know to look for Bess’s Cafe off Route 9 in Brookline, you’d probably drive right by the unassuming storefront. Far from the Boston skyline in a residential area, this Chinese dumpling house isn’t on any apps, so you have to call to order takeout; and there isn’t much room for dining in. Yet it’s worth any effort to devour these supple, meaty dumplings swimming in spicy Sichuan chili sauce; fried chicken bao buns graced with bracing mustard; and chilled peanut noodles bejeweled with crunchy scallions. Hong Kong native Bess Lee draws from family recipes to craft these tasty Jiangnan-style dishes. 

Taqueria El Amigo

Mexican food from Taqueria El Amigo one of the restaurants in the Boston Dining Scene
Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

It’s hard to get more hidden than a shoebox of a taqueria without a website in Waltham, but real ones know that some of Boston’s best Mexican food can be found at Taqueria El Amigo. Despite its low profile in the suburbs along the Charles River, this longtime favorite has earned tons of acclaim around the region for simply delicious tacos topped with cilantro, homemade hot sauce, and a slice of ripe avocado along with a choice of fillings (including silky and flavorful tongue or beef cheek, if that’s your jam); fall-apart-tender chicken enchiladas; and loaded burritos. Take it all to go if the few seats inside the shop are already claimed.

Bar Pallino

Bar Pallino one of the restaurants in the Boston Dining Scene
Courtesy of Bar Pallino

Wine director Jodie Battles is the hidden talent behind the thoughtful yet esoteric wines matched to the culinary stylings of the restaurants Ken Oringer co-founded with ex-partner Jamie Bissonnette (Toro, Coppa, Little Donkey). Bar Pallino, the group’s speakeasy-style wine bar, showcases all-natural picks in an appropriately hidden space, tucked beneath their latest restaurant. Located between Fenway Park and Boston Public Garden, the dimly lit bar below Faccia a Faccia on Newbury Street is a relaxing place to land after exploring the city. More than 70 wines plus a variety of amari, vermouths, and mezcals are in the mix, along with snacks like burrata and caviar. The elevator-accessible basement bar also offers curated spritzes and cocktails, including Negroni on tap.

food from Hecate
Credit: Adam Detour

The team behind Greek stunner Krasi unveiled this intimate basement cocktail bar, which honors the goddess Hecate in mysterious ways. Find the speakeasy-style  alleyway entrance in the Back Bay and discover another world: Drinks are inspired by global folklore and use unusual ingredients, such as Sanguine Alchemy, a savory combination of mole mezcal, gin, black garlic mastiha, tomato, hibiscus, and Sichuan peppercorn. A streamlined menu conjures classic bar snacks in new ways, such as Chinatown Crab Rangoon Dip with wonton chips; and Deviled Eggs with pickled ginger, miso, and wasabi. Expect to wait for seats; Hecate does not accept reservations. 

food from Tawakal Halal Cafe
Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

In the shadow of Logan Airport, you may have bypassed Tawakal Halal Cafe en route to whatever destination. But we bet you’d find this family-run restaurant in East Boston to be just as transportive: Specializing in spice-driven Somali cuisine, Tawakal takes care of visitors with homemade comfort food like sambusas (beef-filled hand pies) and Lamb “Ido” Biryani, a rice dish that sops up tender lamb shank and pepper sauce. Vegetarians are welcome here too, with options like coconut-creamy Grits “Soor iyo Maraq” and the vegan-friendly Tawakal Plate, which features strips of hand-kneaded chapati (a crispy, unleavened bread) alongside spicy tomato and spinach stew with chickpeas.

Hand-pulled noodles from Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe | Where to Find the Best Chinese Food in Boston
Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

More than having a hidden location, Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe—situated just outside of Chinatown in downtown Boston—obscures its most-loved menu items. It’s named for the sweet Chinese barbecue “flatbreads” that grace its menu, but fans are all about the hand-pulled noodles. We particularly love the chewy ribbons of the #4 sprinkled with cilantro, scallions, red chilies, and tons of garlic; and the #9 Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles. The latter, in turn, buries its most notable feature beneath shredded carrots and bean sprouts so you have to dig to discover the saucy strands and pieces of spiced lamb meat. Another surprising thing about Gene’s? How affordable it is.

Stanza dei Sigari

exterior of Stanza dei Sigari one of the Best Speakeasies in Boston
exterior of Stanza dei Sigari one of the Best Speakeasies in Boston

Stanza dei Sigari was first a speakeasy out of necessity: During Prohibition, North End residents gathered at this neighborhood hangout to imbibe on the sly. Now, it’s just a vibe. Stanza dei Sigari is Boston’s last remaining cigar bar, but it attracts even non-smokers to a historic subterranean space that’s only accessible via a steep staircase. For an unmatched authentic experience in Boston, take a seat at the molded wooden bar or in one of many leather armchairs to enjoy craft cocktails, such as an extra-boozy Espresso Martini or the M&M, a Manhattan variant made with a rosemary-vanilla-cinnamon simple syrup.

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