Shout out to national holidays. Also, shout out to our weird local holidays, to birthdays, to “sick” days, and to days when you just wake up, put on the Office Space soundtrack, and say f*ck it. These days are gifts, opportunities to actually enjoy the city instead of slog your way through it. These are the days when crossing the river for a meal, or spending three hours at a restaurant, or getting to that one place you’ve wanted to eat at forever is possible. And in our opinion, the best way to do any of these things on your day off is to have lunch - it’s just as good as dinner, but you spend a lot less money and have a much better shot at not waiting for a table. Here’s where to go.
You may have successfully made it into Toro before, but for as long as the waits are at this Spanish tapas restaurant, it probably required more advance planning than a destination wedding. There may still be a bit of a wait at lunch, but it won’t be nearly as bad and you don’t have anywhere else to go anyway, so grab a drink and get ready for some of the best tapas in town. Toro is a fun, small place that feels like a bar that happens to serve amazing food, so start with the white anchovies and roasted oysters, and then just wander around the menu from there.
One of your priorities on a day-off (in addition to wearing sweatpants until noon and being one of only 10 people in America watching the third hour of The Today Show) should be to do some day drinking. At Trillium in Fort Point, you can drink some of the best beers in the world in addition to enjoying an American menu that’s way better than what you’d expect out of a brewery. We recommend starting with the bone marrow and roasted oysters before moving on to the seared scallops in a pea puree.
The line at Neptune usually starts forming around 11, a half hour before it opens. The people in that line are called tourists, and while you normally avoid them, today you’re all just part of a brotherhood that’s escaped the fate of a sad desk salad. Join them, prepare to be asked to say something in a Boston accent like you’re some kind of circus monkey, and enjoy one of the best oyster bars in the city with the best oyster bars in the country.
If you not only have the day-off, but it’s also a nice day, then you should head to Coppa, grab one the tables that sits outside on a quiet South End corner, and sit there eating pasta and charcuterie for the next three hours (at least). It’s never easy getting a reservation here, given that it feels like a tiny neighborhood spot that’s been invaded by the entire city, so you’ve got to make the most of your experience here whenever you get in.
Eating and drinking by the water should be one of our god-given rights as Bostonians. But we actually have relatively few places to do that, thanks to a half-century of bad urban planning when the city’s leaders must have been afraid of pirates or something. The roof deck at the flagship Legal’s in the Seaport is frequently crowded because it’s unquestionably one of the best places to eat while also smelling the salt air. You can get a few the Legal’s standards up there, but mostly it’s a solid sushi and raw bar menu, so head up there and reclaim what’s rightfully yours.
Maybe you don’t really have the day off. Maybe you just told your boss that you had to work from home because you’re getting a bidet delivered to your apartment and the delivery window just happened to be from 9 to 5. That’s perfectly understandable - sometimes you just need a new office for the day. If that’s the case, head to Loyal Nine in East Cambridge, which is basically a really big cafe during the day that just so happens to make a really good brisket sandwich at that.
Pagu in Central Square is a place where you could show up any day, at any time, for any occasion and it would work perfectly. But it’s particularly great at lunch, when they offer “lunch sets” - three loosely themed dishes grouped together for under $25. And while the rest of the menu at this Japanese-Spanish fusion place is a little smaller than what you’d find at dinner, you can still get some of Pagu’s best dishes, like the squid ink oyster bao or cheesy potato waffle if you want to order a la carte.
Sofra, a small Turkish cafe where you might spend the meal bumping knees with the person next to you, is one of the best restaurants in the city. But you probably don’t eat there much, owing to the fact that, unless you’re an undertaker, there aren’t a lot of reasons to be in this quiet corner of Cambridge. When you have time on your hands, though, you should head up here, because the meze, pitas, and pastries give you combinations of flavor you didn’t even know existed.
You can’t do Cafe Sushi’s excellent omakase at lunch, but you can sit in the dining room and order from their “signature creations” section of the menu. These pieces of nigiri, which include things like yellowtail with aged balsamic and tomatoes, or house-cured tuna with wasabi and smoked salt, are just as good as what you get at the counter in the evening. And moreover, while there’s almost always a line of people waiting on Mass Ave to get in here, they do take reservations, so there’s no reason you have to be one of the people standing in it.
Eastern Standard in Kenmore Square is a big restaurant with big towers of seafood, big leather booths, and, unfortunately, big crowds. It’ll still be busy during the day with tourists, people in business attire, and, potentially, the starting infield of whatever team is in town to play the Sox later that night, but you’ll be able to get a table without much of a wait. What you’ll find inside is a great brasserie menu with things like steak tartare, carrot bucatini, and vegetable paninis, along with some really good cocktails.
Inman Square is a lot quieter than the busier parts of Cambridge, which might be exactly what you want on a day when you’re escaping the crush of commuting downtown. Head to this casual and colorful little Brazilian spot if you’re in the mood for some really good seafood stews in a place where neighborhood regulars talk to the wait staff in Portuguese.
You know who gets days off all the time? The French. But until there’s a revolution in this country, we’re stuck living without mandated 35-hour work weeks. At the very least, though, we can head to this little underground bistro in the South End and pretend we’re French - hopefully only to the point where we drink a lot of wine and eat steak tartare, though, not to the point where we ride scooters in Speedos.
Orinoco is hidden on a quiet South End corner, so there isn’t usually much of a crowd for a weekday lunch. That’s good news for you, because it’s a comfortable little place where you’ll want to stay as long as possible, ordering one caipirinha after another to help you work through some big and well-made Latin dishes, like chicken pies, empanadas, and passion fruit barbecue ribs.
Be careful as you make your way to Saltie Girl. It’s just a couple blocks off Boylston in the heart of the Back Bay’s cluster of office towers, and if you normally work in one of them, then there’s a chance you’ll bump into your boss as they’re running in and out of Dig Inn. But once you get inside you’ll find an atmosphere that’s pretty much the opposite of an afternoon budgeting meeting. Saltie Girl is a little party of an oyster bar, and from the torched salmon belly to the fried lobster and waffles, you’ll love just about everything on the menu.
The Daily Catch is another one of those tiny North End restaurants that almost always has a line. In this case, the line is very much deserved, and you won’t mind spending some time on the sidewalk when you’re killing some excellent squid ink pasta and plastic cups of wine.