Every place has its must-try foods. Whether you’ve lived somewhere your whole life or are just visiting for a weekend, the meals and snacks you have along the way become part of the story of your time spent there. Food memories stick with you.
Like any city, Boston food is vast and varied – a melting pot of different cuisines and restaurant styles. But the best food in Boston, naturally, flaunts a New England stamp. Some of the city’s most well-known dishes were born from Colonial traditions or feature fresh local seafood. Others simply can’t be found anywhere else.
As with our compilation of famed Rhode Island eats, we hope to introduce you to 10 city-defining Boston foods with hopes of helping you to create some long-lasting memories.
Boston Baked Beans
The recipe that put the bean in Beantown. The preparation of baking beans can be traced back to the Native Americans and was adapted by the colonists, eventually evolving into the molasses and salt pork preparation now famously known as Boston baked beans.
Molasses most likely took on the role of primary sweet component when Boston had a surplus of the ingredient in the late 1700s due to producing and exporting rum. In fact, the sticky stuff was in such excess that it proved to be a devastating force during the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, one of the oddest disasters in history.
Marliave, which claims to be the “oldest chef-owned restaurant in Boston,” takes their beans seriously. Slow cooked and light on the molasses, if you’re used to the canned version you will be pleasantly surprised. It might seem out of place at a restaurant with French roots, but the city’s eponymous dish is not too far off from a classic cassoulet.
Boston Cream Pie
The chocolate-topped, cream-filled golden sponge cake was said to be invented at Parker’s Restaurant at the Omni Parker House and has been served since the hotel’s debut in 1856. Fun fact: It’s also the birthplace of Parker House rolls.
While Boston cream pie has been many things since its creation, including a Betty Crocker boxed mix and a reinvention as everyone’s favorite doughnut, one thing it has never been is an actual pie. The name comes from its originally being baked in pie pans.
Can’t make it to the hotel? Omni Parker House ships the pies anywhere in the country ($89, free shipping).
Samuel Adams Boston Brewery
The Boston brewery is one of three Samuel Adams breweries in the country, but it’s the only one that is open to the public. As the headquarters of research and development, here you can sample specialty and experimental beers solely available in the Boston area or – even more exclusively – in the brewery tap room or beer garden.
Free tours happen every day except for Sunday and depart every 40 minutes from open to close. Tickets are first come, first served; weekday and early tour times are less busy. Paid specialty tours like the “Beyond the Brewhouse” tour, which takes visitors into the exclusive barrel room, are also available.
Cannoli at Mike’s Pastry
Boston’s North End is the city’s little Italy and a popular tourist spot for those looking to indulge in its delicious selection of restaurants, bakeries and cafes. If you’re in the area, make sure to make a cannoli stop at Mike’s Pastry. In addition to the classic cream, there are 18 flavors to choose from, such as amaretto, espresso, limoncello and Nutella with a chocolate shell. People line up for these, so be prepared for a wait. Mike’s also has locations in Cambridge and Somerville.
Neptune Oyster Lobster Roll
If you’re looking for a good lobster roll in Boston (not an unreasonable expectation), there is a consensus that Neptune Oyster is the place to go.
Located on the charming streets of Boston’s North End, Neptune’s beloved lobster roll is served either hot with drawn butter or cold with mayo on a brioche roll. There are no fillers – just big, hunky pieces of sweet, fresh lobster meat.
There are even more Boston favorites to try on the menu, like the stellar raw bar selections, Wellfleet clam chowder made fresh to order, or johnnycakes topped with Boston smoked bluefish and caviar.
Sticky Buns at Flour Bakery and Cafe
Sticky buns don’t just become one of the most, rave-able, craveable, unbeatable foods in Boston, they have to earn it. The buns at Flour most certainly have. Made with traditional yeasted French brioche dough, the acclaimed treats are rolled with cinnamon sugar and toasted pecans and served dripping with a dark, sticky caramel goo of honey, cream, butter and brown sugar.
Flour Bakery and Cafe has all types of delicious goodies, but none have reached the much-deserved sticky bun level of fame. It’s partially responsible for helping chef/owner Joanne Chang launch her bakery from one to eight outposts in and around Boston.
Try one warm from the oven and you’ll quickly understand why they are such a big deal.
When owner Mary Ting Hyatt noticed a lack of good bagel options in the area, she took it upon herself to change that. Located in Cambridge just a short drive from Boston, Bagelsaurus bagels are bagels done right, and some may say worth traveling any distance for, never mind 15 to 20 minutes.
Crafted with time, patience and a sourdough culture that results in a one-of-a-kind flavor and texture, the bagels stand well enough on their own, but the menu of creative bagel sandwiches elevates them even higher.
The shop’s claim to fame is the sea salt bagel with honey rosemary cream cheese. Another customer favorite is the Hot Smoked, stacked with hot smoked salmon, cream cheese, pickled red cabbage, dill and red onion, as well as the T Rex, starring homemade almond butter, banana, honey and bacon.
No Red Sox game is complete without a Fenway Frank in hand. As classic as Fenway Park itself, the hot dogs have been a staple of the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball as far back as anyone can remember. When the stadium got an update in 2009, so did the Franks.
Kayem’s signature recipe, developed especially for the park, did not let fans down. Made with a hint of garlic and smoke, they are prepared and served the way they have always been in Fenway – boiled and grilled for the perfect balance of juiciness and snap, and snuggled into a New England lobster roll-style split-top roll. Top it however you like or enjoy it plain.
Click here for more iconic baseball stadium hot dogs.
Baked Alaska at Oleana Restaurant
Also in Cambridge, Oleana serves a spin on baked Alaska that is the perfect refreshing finish to a tableful of its Turkish and Middle Eastern-inspired small plates. Presented like a toasted cloud surrounded by passion fruit caramel, a swirl of meringue envelopes homemade coconut ice cream atop a coconut graham cracker macaron crust. The ideal balance of flavors and textures is what keeps fans coming back.
Historic Fanueil Hall is a hot spot for visitors. Once the site of such notable events as the establishment of “no taxation without representation” in 1764 and where Samuel Adams rallied for independence from Great Britain, today it is a hub of activity.
There is always something going on at the cobblestone promenade surrounding the markets, and plenty of options to eat. If you’re more of a fancy foodie, you might not be all that impressed with the options, which can be touristy, like the recreation of the TV bar Cheers (the real one is in the Beacon Hill neighborhood) and Dick’s Last Resort, where servers are told to be obnoxious and guests are made to wear silly paper hats.
Nonetheless, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a must for the itinerary. It’s central to top attractions like the New England Aquarium and Paul Revere’s house, and there are some good, casual eateries where you can grab a bite. In addition to a selection of cuisines from around the globe, there are sweet shops and snack kiosks, and lobster rolls and chowder galore. Stop at the outpost of McCormick & Schmick’s, Anthem Kitchen & Bar or the Salty Dog Seafood Grill & Bar, a cool hangout to get all the fried seafood goodness that New England is known for.
Save up to 20% on purchases at participating stores when you shop with a AAA Offer Sheet.
As it turns out, there’s much more to Boston food than beans. It’s about history, seafood, culture and dreams realized in the form of delicious treats. Try them all while exploring the best of the city.
What’s your favorite Boston food? Tell us what or where you like to eat in the city in the comments below.