Like your cousin struggling his way through puberty, every time you see Union Square you can’t believe how much it’s changed. But instead of acne and sexual confusion, Union Square is getting pop-up markets, eco-focused co-working spaces, and a new transit connection to the rest of the city. But through all the construction, this place still hasn’t lost its soul as a neighborhood full of people doing and trying new things. Thankfully, that spirit extends to a lot of great places to eat and drink. Here are our favorites.
It’s hard to tell whether the space that houses Celeste in Union Square is an actual building or just an RV that was abandoned by the side of the road and then decorated by an underground art collective with mod sensibilities. Either way, just about everything here is great, from the stews, to the ceviche, to the ceviche that doesn’t even have any fish. It’s tiny and hard to get in here, but it makes for a fun night out.
If you’re put off by communal seating and restaurants that make you go outside to go the bathroom, don’t bother coming to Tanam. But if you want amazing Filipino food served to you directly by the chef who made it who also gives you a personal history of each dish, then head to this tiny spot in Bow Market. There’s not much by way of decor, but that’s kind of appropriate because you won’t want anything to take your attention away from the oxtail or brussels sprouts with lychee and crab. Come here for either a great five-course tasting meal for $90 (Fri-Sun), a $70 communal meal tossed on banana leaves (Wednesdays), or a more casual bar night when you can order drinks and bites a la carte (Thursdays).
There aren’t a lot of restaurants that can pull-off printing prose poems on the menu without coming off as pretentious, but that’s exactly what Juliet does. Here you’ll get a seasonal five-course fine-dining meal for only around $60. It changes frequently, but expect things like squid stuffed with rice and topped with chocolate sauce, and rosemary roast lamb. And you’ll get it all in a space that feels more like your friend’s endearingly messy apartment than a restaurant. Don’t be surprised if you leave this place feeling like you made friends with the owner and find yourself coming back again shortly thereafter.
Remnant Brewing kind of seems like the Boston brewery that’s not trying to be too cool and ends up being way cooler as a result. There’s no live music, colorful murals, or couches with people half-ironically playing board games. There’s just coffee, beer, and a great back patio. Come here when you want fresh beer and the occasional trivia contest testing your knowledge of local history.
You’ll feel like you stepped into a kids’ coloring book of Mexico when you walk into the tiny but festive space that is El Potro. And the bright colors extend beyond the charro wall murals to a fun menu of strong margaritas and big plates of Mexican standards. The tacos are great, but if you’re not in the mood for something tortilla-based, go with the house steak that comes with pico de gallo and cheese.
There are cocktail bars where you feel out of place if you’re not wearing summer wedding attire and discussing your upcoming trip to Tulum, and then there’s Backbar. At this speakeasy behind Field & Vine you’ll feel like you should be wearing jeans and a hoodie because you’re just hanging out in the living room of a friend - one who just happens to be design-conscious, obsessed with Star Wars, and makes fantastic cocktails. If you like to drink, you need to come here for things like the Treaty of Friendship, a mix of Japanese whiskey, sherry, lemon, pear, maple, and walnut bitters.
Don’t come to Rebel Rebel if you don’t like talking to people. Or, for that matter, don’t come to Rebel Rebel if you do like talking to people, but not about the liberation of the nipple. This is a tiny and proudly feminist wine bar in Bow Market, and if you’re here for all of 10 minutes, you’ll probably end up talking with strangers, most of whom seem like they’re here multiple times a week. The result is a really friendly atmosphere, and if you can’t keep up with discussion on the third-wave feminist works of Elizabeth Wurtzel, just talk about natural wine instead.
Machu Chicken doesn’t exactly do only one thing - the menu contains everything from empanadas to grilled steak. But the moist, perfectly crisped chicken cooked on a charcoal grill is the reason why you’re here. Like the high school friend you only see every couple of years but spend all night with when you do, this place is fun, easy-going, and reliable.
Bull McCabe’s is a tiny little pub that looks like it got here on a boat from Galway. We’re guessing, though, that most pubs in Galway don’t have weekly shows by local reggae collectives. This place has live music six nights a week, and you and the 30 other people who can fit in here will feel like you’re getting a private show.
Casa B has two different spaces: a small bar upstairs where the bartender might shuffle through David Bowie songs for you all night, and a dining room in a windowless basement downstairs, which - thanks to greenery, walls made of wine racks, and a lot of energy - is a much more fun than windowless basements tend to be. In either spot you can enjoy a mostly Spanish menu of both tapas and large plates. We like to stick with the small plates, particularly the grilled squash with honey chilli and shallots.
By all appearances, Ebi just looks like a casual neighborhood sushi spot. That’s exactly what it is, but don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a typical place whose menus you step over on your way into your apartment. The sushi here - particularly the daily specials which often include things like torched salmon belly with honey-lime marinade and truffle scallop tartare expect - is seriously good.
Most of the space that is the Independent is taken up by a perfectly good gastropub that does things like poutine, maple buffalo wings, and mushroom risotto. If you do dinner or brunch here you’ll leave satisfied. But if you want to actually be happy instead of merely content, head here not to eat in the main restaurant, but to drink in the little bar on the side. There’s a massive draft list, some really well made cocktails, and it’s all served to you in a space you won’t really want to leave. The atmosphere straddles the line between classy private library and neighborhood pub in Paris, and if you’re thinking those are two good places to hang out in, you’re right.
Machu Picchu is Machu Chicken’s slightly more ambitious older sibling. There’s no grilled chicken here, but the menu is much bigger otherwise, with everything from lomo saltado and marinated beef heart, to a really good appetizer made of layered yellow potatoes and chicken salad. The restaurant has a proper dining room, but it’s still every bit as casual as Machu Chicken, so come here when you just want to relax and eat some good food.
If your idea of a German place is fixed on sausages served to large communal tables by dirndl-wearing waitresses, then Bronwyn is going to surprise you. There are sausages (and a few large tables) but this place is much cooler than the type of spots that look like they belong in a theme park called Deutschland Land. The furniture looks like it came from a church liquidation sale (which, knowing the history of the Catholic Church in Boston, it very well may have), and it’s got a great beer garden for the warmer months. Check it out on Tuesday nights, when they feature a different kind of footlong hot dog every week. They’re always on pretzel buns, but the toppings could include anything from Cheeze-Its to vinegar-braised beef brisket.
As far as we can tell, there’s no field in this tiny restaurant tucked behind the municipal parking lot, but, oh my, are there vines - lots and lots of vines, hanging above the bar and covering the windows. It’s appropriate, because the menu here seems like it was put together in the midst of a farmer’s market fever dream. There are a lot of really good vegetable-heavy dishes like rainbow carrots with turmeric and tahini, and they’re joined by some really good meat and fish dishes, like smoked sausage or whole fried scup. Come here when you want to feel like you’re living off the land, but you don’t actually want to get your hands dirty.