Here’s the thing that absolutely sucks about working in the Back Bay: you’re surrounded by people who aren’t working. Everywhere you look are people on vacation, people in town for trade shows (A.K.A., all-expenses paid vacations), and people who spend their afternoons buying nice clothes on Newbury Street. It can be hard to drag yourself to a 2 o’clock meeting after seeing a bunch of people sipping lunch cocktails, but check out the spots below and you’ll have at least one major advantage over all the tourists: you’ll know where to go.
Fast-Casual and Takeout Spots
It’s really, really hard to pick the best thing at Greco, a fast-casual Greek spot on Newbury. The menu is built around gyros, which are made with great pita, juicy meat, and stuffed with french fries. But the fried zucchini chips deserve a shout out, the fries are just as good outside of the gyro as in, and the Greek donuts (think munchkins, but fried and covered with things like honey, fig marmalade, and hazelnut praline) will haunt your dreams. If we ever do a guide called Where To Go When It’s 2:30 And You Can Barely Stay Awake On Your Conference Call And Need Some Sugar, Greco will be on it.
If you grew up on the North Shore, then you no doubt already have a favorite roast beef sandwich place - one that you’re religiously devoted to, will fight to the death for, and maybe even tattoo onto your arm, along with a drawing of an onion bun. We’re not going to try to convince you that the roast beef sandwiches sold out of the window at Cusser’s (or, in the colder months, inside Moon Bar) are better than your childhood favorite, but we will tell you that they’re very good. The fact that you can also get some great seafood here, like lobster rolls, fish tacos, and the smokey skate and scallop chowder, makes this place even better.
When a restaurant uses the word “vegan” in its name, you kind of expect it to feature all sorts of plant-based stuff that may or may not actually work as substitutes for pulled pork. That’s not the case at Red White Japanese Vegan, though. This fast-casual Newbury Street spot doesn’t try any tofu alchemy to make fake cheese, it just has a small menu of rice and noodle bowls that happen to be vegan. And more importantly, they’re also good. They only have about five or six bowls and you can make your own if you want, but leave it up to the pros when you go the first time - order the spicy udon and definitely add the miso avocado.
Sometimes you don’t need to overcomplicate lunch - you just want a deli sandwich. Moody’s is your best bet when you’re in that mood. The sandwiches at this spot that’s kind of hidden in the first floor of an office building off Clarendon are made with really good, fresh bread, and have close to a perfect carb-to-protein ratio. Start with the Katz if it’s your first time, because you can never go wrong with pastrami and swiss on rye.
Deluca’s smells delicious. But it isn’t any one particular thing that will have you wandering around looking at expensive cheeses on your lunch break. The smell is the result of serving as the specialty grocery store for people who live in Comm Ave condos and hire dog-walkers for over a hundred years. The sandwich counter in the back is a great option for classic deli sandwiches and Italian subs, and - surprisingly for a place that also sells imported infused honey - some good ones are under $10.
It’s rare that you’ll want to take your time at a fast, order-at-the-counter spot, but, Jonquils is different. It’s a cafe with huge windows, tons of natural light, mobiles hanging from the ceiling, and a spacious patio on Newbury Street. The menu is a pretty limited selection of sandwiches, quiche, and one tartine. But just about everything is under $10 and it’s all more than good enough to justify the real reason you come here: to sit outside on Newbury Street for 20 minutes and pretend you don’t have to go back to work.
With a bunch of brick and mortar locations and more trucks than Ryder, Bon Me is a known entity at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s still not one of the best lunch options in the neighborhood. The Stuart Street location of the fast-casual spot makes a really good sandwich with excellent French bread (and has a vegan option, too), but our favorite thing on the menu may actually be the broth-less Sichuan ramen.
The thing about being a known entity applies to Flour, too. And, judging by the lines in this place every day from 12-2, there aren’t a lot of people we need to tell Flour about. But if you’re someone who’s been wondering if waiting in line is worth it, we’re here to tell you that it absolutely is. They have a large regular selection of sandwiches, salads, and bowls that are really good, but what keeps us coming back here are the seasonal menus that feature a bunch of specialty sandwiches made with things like tomato-ginger chutney and cherry pepper crema. This is also a place where it’s really hard to pass by the dessert case without stopping, so do yourself a favor and don’t even try to.
It’s understandable if you’ve never actually noticed the taco cart in Back Bay Station, since shutting down all sensory receptors is the best strategy for walking through that place. But this taco and burrito cart in the lobby off Dartmouth Street is one of your best bets for quick and cheap Mexican food on your lunch break. The meat is tender and flavorful, you can have a meal for under $10, and the burritos are noticeably grease-free, which is nice if you plan on walking and burrito-ing at the same time.
A Few Sit-Down Places For When You Have A Little More Time
You’ll probably have to wait in line a bit to get into Santouka, which is smaller than your freshman year dorm room. But once you get a table, the service is very quick, so if you plan right, you’ll make it back to the office in time to hear the HR person’s presentation about the new policy on timed bathroom breaks (or maybe don’t make it back in time for that). The pork-based broth bowls are great, and they come in three different sizes, so get the small if you’re worried about falling asleep at your desk later.
Saltie Girl is probably not going to be a regular lunch option for you. It can’t be - with only a handful of seats and a perpetual wait, you’ll almost never have time to come here in the middle of a work day. But on one of those rare days when business is particularly slow, the boss is weirdly in a good mood, or, better yet, the boss is gone altogether, then this place needs to be your destination. It’s Boston’s most fun oyster bar, a little cocktail party of a restaurant with a menu does everything from warm lobster rolls to torched salmon belly. Take a look at the boss’s Outlook calendar, find the next time they’re going to be stuck in meetings for hours on end, and really enjoy lunch for a change.
If you’re in the mood for seafood but don’t have quite enough time for Saltie Girl, Select Oyster Bar is your spot. The menu isn’t quite as exciting as at Saltie Girl’s, but just about everything is really good and the crowds are significantly lighter. It’ll even work for any seafood-phobic coworkers, as the romanesco cauliflower salad with hazelnut aioli is actually one of our favorite things they make.
The best thing about Citrus & Salt is that you’ll step in the door and forget you’re working that day entirely. With a lot of distressed wood, butterfly murals, and string lights overhead, this place feels like a party at a Mexican beach cabana. The ceviche selection is solid and, if you really want to commit to the fantasy, they’ve got a strong selection of tequila and mezcal cocktails.