If you live in the South End, congratulations. Not only have you managed to find housing in Boston’s most desirable neighborhood without selling any internal organs on the dark web (hopefully), but you also live in the best restaurant neighborhood in the city. If you don’t live in the South End, the good news is they don’t check passports when you cross Mass Ave., so visit one of the 17 places listed below and then start apartment hunting.
Myers + Chang on Washington is an Asian fusion spot with a large menu that gives you whatever flavor you’re looking for. It’s a small, cool, cocktail party of a restaurant that’s open for dim sum brunch on the weekends (get the Nirvana Chicken Congee), and both lunch and dinner every other day of the week. That’s a good thing for you, and a bad thing for your loved ones, who are going to miss you after you decide to spend most of your waking hours here.
There are 43 dishes on the menu at this Washington Street tapas restaurant that almost always has a wait (they only take reservations for the tasting menu). If you bring one friend and average six dishes per meal (starting with the white anchovies if you know what’s good for you), you’ll be able to eat everything in this place in one week. At that point, feel free to start all over again, because Toro really is that good.
If you don’t have a seaside villa on a Greek island, come to Kava Neo-Taverna and pretend you do as you sip a glass of white wine and eat phyllo-wrapped feta. If you do have one, come here anyway, because we imagine that seaside villas on Greek islands aren’t the kinds of things you get sick of. More often than not you have to wait, but it’s worth it for perfectly cooked octopus and (during good weather) shaded sidewalk tables.
You could come to this tiny, corner enoteca on Shawmut just for the excellent pizza (we love the one with the smoked bone marrow), but then you’d be a boring, one-dimensional person. Instead come here for the pizza, and the great small plates and charcuterie. That way, you’ll be a complex person with a variety of interests (interests that all seem to revolve around Italian food, but still).
Are you ever in the mood for a sandwich but not in the mood for bread? Probably not, since bread is essentially the defining characteristic of a sandwich, but just in case you’re kinda weird, go to Mana Escondido on Aguadilla Street. This is a counter-service Puerto Rican restaurant, and the best thing on the menu might be the pernil jibarita, a roast pork sandwich that swaps out the bread for two fried and flattened sweet plantains that is every bit as awesome as it sounds.
Certain things are essential in life: reliable wifi, a friend who will tell you if your new haircut really isn’t working, and a little corner French restaurant that you return to often enough to have a favorite dish and go-to glass of red. If you don’t have one yet, make it Bar Lyon. What you’ll find here is a manageably small menu with one outstanding dish after another (including the best burger in Boston,) and a comfortable little bistro atmosphere that will make you wish you were an expat living in post-war Paris.
You can come to Bar Mezzana, an Italian restaurant in the Ink Block, when you’re in the mood for a great crudo, or some interesting pasta, or if you’re in the mood to eat dandelions for some reason. Or, you can come here when you want a little bit of everything, and opt for a great prix-fixe menu that nets you five courses, most of which have multiple dishes of their own. There’s a crudo course with at least three different kinds of fish, a pasta course with two different pastas, and protein, a dessert, and another small plate on top of that. That’s a lot of different tastes for $52.
Once you’ve been to Coppa and Bar Mezzana, come to SRV - a spot on Columbus that focuses on pasta and has great small plates - and decide once and for all which place deserves the title of best Italian restaurant in the South End. Although come to think of it, maybe deciding once-and-for-this-week is a better option, that way you can re-evaluate and do it again a few days later.
High-end sushi is great for impressing people. And hidden restaurants are also great for impressing people. So No Relation, a nine-seat sushi counter hidden behind the bathrooms of a tiki bar, is basically the restaurant equivalent of the Tenenbaum children. This is an omakase-only place where you’ll get 15 courses for around $100. That’s not cheap, but it’s about as cool a restaurant experience as you’ll find in Boston, and the high-quality pieces like cured sea bream topped with mango and chili are worth it.
Ilona is the type of trendy place that makes you feel like you should get a haircut before eating there. But it’s more than just a restaurant that looks good, it’s a legitimately excellent place for rich, warming Eastern Mediterranean small plates, and a great option for celebrating something with friends (though not too many because it’s not particularly big). The menu shares some similarities with Ilona’s nearby sister restaurant, Kava Neo-Taverna, but Kava is on our Greatest Hits for good reason, so that’s not a bad thing - especially when some of those similarities include perfectly cooked octopus and fried vegetable chips.
If you don’t already have a daytime margarita spot, consider Orinoco, an inviting Latin restaurant on a quiet corner of Shawmut Ave. It’s also a great option if you’ve been looking for a great cuban sandwich, an impressive but affordable date night spot, or a place to browse for Venezuelan dry goods that are prominently displayed on the wall but probably aren’t for sale.
If you’ve been looking for an LED tree in your life, head to Banyan on Tremont Street. It’s got one in its lounge, so you can sit under shining blue branches as you split a scorpion bowl (a tiki drink that isn’t nearly as scary as it sounds). For dinner, we recommend the scotch egg, which comes wrapped in a fried sausage, and the dragon noodles, which aren’t quite as spicy as the warning on the menu indicates, but which are delightful nonetheless. If you’re here in the summer, grab one of the sidewalk tables under a thick canopy of branches strung with lanterns, and remind yourself that, oh yeah, real trees are pretty cool, too.
The menu at B&G on Tremont isn’t big, but that just means that everything from the whole branzino to the Ipswich clams is fresh out of the water. This is a great spot for relaxed midweek seafood dinner, and during the summer, you really should be sitting on B&G’s back patio with a glass of wine and the fried oysters every single night. We’ll give you a pass if you missed a few evenings because of things like “family commitments” or “your wedding” but try and do better next time.
The modifier “cute little” could be added to just about every spot in the South End - cute little French spot, cute little coffee shop, cute little $1.4 million gut-renovated basement condo with leathered granite countertops, etc. It doesn’t work for Oishii, though. This multi-level sushi place with blue accent lighting and rock sculptures looks like the type of sushi restaurant Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street would’ve enjoyed, and the menu fits the theme, too. You’ll find lots of fancy ingredients like caviar and truffle that make this place too pricey to be an everyday option, but keep it in mind when you’re celebrating and want to splurge on hamachi served under a smoke-filled glass bowl.
Every Monday, Mida has one of our favorite restaurant specials in the city: a $35 all-you-can-eat pasta deal, which frequently features a menu put together by guest chefs from excellent places like Uni and Mamaleh’s. But it’s still worth coming here the rest of the week, too. Their lobster scampi is the rare lobster pasta dish that’s not so loaded with creme that it’s impossible to finish, and the gelato is outstanding. If you can’t get into Ilona across the street or SRV around the corner, Mida will still salvage your night.
When you’re looking for tapas in the South End, everyone - including us, your friends, your mom, and your mom’s boyfriend Ken who calls you “sport” and still asks what you’re majoring in even though you’re 27 years old - is going to send you to Toro. And Toro is phenomenal. But when you can’t get a table (because Ken sends everyone there) make Barcelona your more than acceptable Plan B. The menu here is fairly standard tapas, and while nothing is so outstanding that you’ll consider writing love notes to it the next day, it’s all good to very good. The space is lively but dark and intimate, making it great for dates. And if you don’t know where to start (besides with wine, because it has a great old world list), go with the chorizo and figs.
As you probably guessed based on the name, the Butcher Shop specializes in big cuts of marbled meat. But it’s really best used as a wine bar instead of a steakhouse. As good as the meat is, the best things on the menu come from the small plate sections (you pretty much have to start with a charcuterie board). And it’s a small, dark spot that feels more like a date night restaurant than a place where business travelers drink martinis and close deals to buy struggling media companies.