Back Bay is one of Boston’s most well heeled neighborhoods, the pulsing heart of Brahmin blue blood. But it’s also a busy urban crossroads of Hub residents and suburban visitors, international tourists, college students and office workers. So when it comes to dining, there’s enough to fit most tastes – and budgets.
Need a little guidance? Here are five standout spots for lean wallets and big appetites alike.
Need to grab lunch on the go? Great food doesn’t need to cost a fortune.
Locations include: 655 Boylston St. & 131 Dartmouth St., bgood.com
Burger chains are a dime a dozen. But this locally based brand takes a different approach, using factory-free beef and ingredients from sustainable farms to put clever spins on fast food favorites: think chili pepper-topped burgers, quinoa salads and kale and fruit-filled shakes. They taste better than the traditional, remain affordable, and won’t leave your stomach feeling like a grease trap.
48 Gloucester St., cafejaffa.net
Deal seeking foodies praise this flavorful gem hidden in plain sight. The Middle Eastern focused fare includes generously portioned plates of schwarma and flame grilled meat kabobs. But for an even more inexpensive meal, scout the pita-wrapped sandwiches averaging about seven bucks, heaped with everything from tahini-brushed chicken schnitzel to spicy lamb and rice-stuffed grape leaves. Cheap burgers, tuna salad, and steak tip sandwiches are on hand for your less adventurous lunch mates.
Dirty Water Dough
222 Newbury St., dirtywaterdough.com
Fear not. It’s not brackish H20 that gives this newish pizza place a distinct taste: it’s the splash of custom-brewed IPA that is added to the dough. (Thirsty? You can get the beer on tap too.) The result is crispy, hand-stretched pies in both familiar and funky varieties: like the “Dirty Taco,” strewn with spicy beef and sour cream, and the “Steak n Cola,” topped with caramelized onions and soda-marinated steak.
659 Boylston St., sweetgreen.com
This Washington, DC-founded chain recently expanded into Boston, where it adheres to its fresh-and-local philosophy by sourcing many ingredients from the Copley Square Farmer’s Market. They’re used for a quick-service menu of veggie soups, build-your-own salad bowls filled with faro, tofu and candied nuts, fresh pressed raw juices, and frozen yogurts – options that can be as kind to your waistline as to your wallet.
244 Newbury St., wichitsandwich.com
This subterranean sandwich spot is nothing like your average lunch meat-slinging deli. Here you’ll find thoughtfully baked breads brushed with house made sauces, then loaded with all permutations of tasty fillers. The hot pressed “Goudapest” melts the smoky cheese on chicken with a basil-walnut pesto, while the sauerkraut and pastrami-on-rye standout “Carnegie” is a refined little take on NYC tradition.
Small and shareable plates offer unique portion control. You can order incrementally until your hunger is sated or your daily dining budget is reached.
160 Commonwealth Ave., barlola.com
This Back Bay staple has lured diners for a decade to its sexy, unostentatiously swanky digs, where international crowds enjoy tapas reflecting various regions of Spain. Crepes stuffed with spicy veggies, clams with pasta in a garlic-wine broth, and sherry-sautéed pork plates are perfect for splitting with a date – especially on Sundays, during live flamenco performances with strumming guitarists and hip-twisting dancers.
226 Newbury St., piattini.com
Its name is Italian for “small dish,” but the flavors are big at this wine café. The two-floor, brick walled dining has a cozy amber and copper color scheme that ups the romance factor while noshing on prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella, white wine-soaked mussels, ricotta-stuffed roasted peppers, and lamb lollipops. There are a few larger entrees too, if you’re not in a sharing state of mind.
266 Newbury St., tapeo.com
Pressed tin and ornate porcelain tiles imbue a European flair at this famed little tapas destination, where it’s all about shareable Spanish favorites. There are communal plates of paella (saffron rice) topped with chorizo sausage and seafood, authentic staples like patatas bravas, fried taters with spicy tomato sauce and aioli, and creative concoctions like goat cheese-stuffed prunes wrapped in bacon, and little lamb chops in an apricot glaze.
222 Berkeley St., ticoboston.com
Michael Schlow is one of Boston’s star chefs, and this pan-Latin restaurant is among his most successful; it just spawned a second location in Washington, DC. It’s not specifically a small plates space, but a recent reconceptualization of its menu is stressing those options. There’s now a bite-sized bounty that includes spicy meatballs, sweet corn served with jalapeno and smoked bacon, Brussels sprouts with spiced cherries, and an indulgent mac n cheese with Serrano ham.
The Salty Pig
130 Dartmouth St., thesaltypig.com
This playful spot emphasizes build-your-own charcuterie boards. Pick from smoked, cured, and otherwise flourish-laden “pig parts,” from beef tongue to rosemary-tinged pork shoulder, then pair them with cheeses from near and far: a soft Belgian, a strong Vermont, or a buttery Spanish fromage, to name a few. Add jams and jellies, spread on crusty breads, and go hog wild.
Not cheap. Not expensive. Just fair prices for fabulous food at these consistent favorites.
30 Gloucester St., casaromero.com
Tucked down a Back Bay alleyway is this four decades-spanning hideaway with an upscale (but non-bank breaking) Mexican menu that encompasses everything from enchiladas to fajitas, plus creative entrees like cactus-stuffed chicken. The classy cantina interior, all low ceilings, patterned tiles and candlelight, transports diners south of the border – and that’s not just the big tequila list talking.
65 Exeter St., citytableboston.com
A sleek and sophisticated eatery quietly tucked inside the Lenox Hotel, City Table serves up elevated takes on traditional American comfort food. Chowder bowls boast smoked mussels and bacon, roasted half chickens come with truffle laced potatoes, and pork chops get a sweet cider demi-glace. It’s a polished go-to for dates, while swinging singles preference the cocktail scene at its sister spot, City Bar, just across the lobby.
Chef Chang’s on Back Bay
30 Massachusetts Ave., chefchangsonbackbay.com
It’s only been open for a few months, but this newcomer is garnering high praise from the city’s in-the-know foodie scene. Exploring underrepresented regions of China, Chef Chang’s small, humble interior belies its bold menu: bright and spicy noodle stews, lamb and chicken plates with complexly layered flavors, and an appetizer-sized pork “hamburger” topped with tangy cabbage. Your late-night takeout tradition this is not.
Poe’s Kitchen at the Rattlesnake
384 Boylston St., poeskitchen.com
Several years ago, chef Brian Poe took this bro bar and gave it a menu makeover – raising the stakes from ho-hum pub food to truly original, Southwestern-inspired fare. The coveted roof deck is a draw in warmer months, but in winter months you can warm up with cola-marinated duck tacos, a chicken sandwich slathered with jalapeno-peach jam, and an enchilada of buffalo meat braised with garlic and shallot. Bite in.
406 Stuart St., post390restaurant.com
This “urban tavern” offers two options: a quieter upstairs dining room with the more refined (and thus, pricier) menu, and a dialed-down downstairs where after-work crowds clink cocktails by a trio of glass-encased fireplaces. But both menus combine rustic New England charm with chef-driven polish, delivering with gusto native seafood, high-minded American cuisine (bacon brined pork with bourbon poached pear!), and a “Farm to Post” series that spotlights a different local farm weekly.
These unabashedly upscale restaurants are worth every penny for special occasions and swanky nights on the town.
776 Boylston St., barboulud.com/boston
New to the ultra-lux Mandarin Oriental hotel is this bistro from Daniel Boulud, one of the few internationally lauded chefs to fire up a kitchen in Boston. Its interior evokes the inside of a wine barrel (behold curved oak panels overhead), and bottles flow as guests order pâtés sourced straight from Paris, flashy platters of chilled seafood, and elegant entrees reflecting French tradition, like coq au vin, with some Americanized spins on poultry, pasta and more.
371 Commonwealth Ave., deuxave.com
Chef Chris Coombs, freshly 30, is considered one of Boston’s young culinary hot shots. He earns that rep at this classy and romantic nouvelle French restaurant, where snappy, knowledgeable servers present intricate dishes that hew to changing seasons. Spice crusted tuna comes with candy roaster squash, while a “Fall Harvest” pork trio includes cider braised pork and pickled apples. A popular proposal spot: a seat by the fireplace, which still offers snowfall views through big glass windows.
774 Boylston St., lespalier.com
This institution is from the “old guard” of fine dining that characterized spiffy days of yore. (RIP, Locke-Ober.) It still feels fresh today, thanks to chef Frank McClelland’s always-inventive use of ingredients personally plucked from Apple Street Farm, his Essex home. The highly composed plates, merging New England and French cooking, are fabulously fancy. To get the full effect, save up for the “Chef’s Tasting Journey,” a $250 multi-course tour de force with wine pairing available.
Liquid Art House
100 Arlington St., liquidarthouse.com
Boasting a high concept and haute cuisine, this restaurant-slash-art gallery lines its walls with rotating exhibitions (all art is saleable), with each changeover inspiring a complementary refresh of chef Rachel Klein’s menu. Attractive sophisticates chatter around a circular bar, set before a towering graffiti-covered wall and under an ornate violet chandelier of hand-blown Venetian glass. It’s worth shelling out for the gorgeously presented, globetrotting plates, from rotisserie meats to elaborate desserts flecked with flower petals.
1 Charles Street South, ostraboston.com
Behold sparkling white walls, crisp white tablecloths, and complex white wines from glass encased display racks. This glistening pearl of contemporary seafood dives deep into various Mediterranean cuisines: from French escargot to ricotta gnocchi (with local lobster) and fish stew with saffron. The tinkle of a lounge pianist and stylish design accents, like jellyfish-shaped hanging lights, add to the glitzy tone.