The 15 best restaurants in Boston (as chosen by critics)

Thousands of professional reviews went into creating our list of Boston's 15 best restaurants. Here are the best places to eat in one of America's greatest food cities.

by Tom Williams

Ranking restaurants is a contentious and difficult task, as the controversy over this year's World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking illustrates. At TripExpert, we have the ability to create superior restaurant rankings that avoid the issues that plague other "best of" lists. 

Restaurants rankings fall into one of two camps, both of which are flawed.Restaurant rankings fall into one of two camps, both of which are flawed. The first are rankings selected by one person or a small committee who, no matter how knowledgeable, have their own personal preferences and biases. When compiled by a committee, every voter has not sampled every restaurant individually. 

The other camp is rankings generated from sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp that rely on user-submitted reviews. These are problematic for a number of reasons; many of the reviews are fake, the people writing them generally don’t have valid points of comparisons because people haven't dined at multiple comparable restaurants, they often focus on things tangential to the restaurant's quality (e.g. "it was super hard to get a reservation here": 1 star), and the rankings themselves are not scientific.

Our list is different. We aggregate reviews from professional food writers and critics found in travel guidebooks, local and national media, and trustworthy websites. These reviews are passed through our patent-pending algorithm that considers the reputation of the source (The New York Times is carries a lot of weight while the Grand Forks Herald does not; sorry Marilyn), the number of professionals that endorse a restaurant, and the sentiment of the reviews, among other factors. It’s a process similar to how Nate Silver handles presidential polls at FiveThirtyEight; by aggregating a large number of polls and weighing them on past accuracy, he’s able to make the most accurate predictions. We do a similar thing, only with restaurants (and hotels and attractions).

Neptune Oyster

We've decided to rank the restaurants in one of our favorite food cities, Boston. With the thousands of restaurants cooking with the bounty of the North Atlantic and the produce of small New England farms, there are so many worthwhile options that it can be difficult to narrow your choices down. Our ranking presents the best of the best of Boston. Don't think the restaurants at the bottom of this list are just alright; mere inclusion on this list means the restaurant is highly recommended. There are hundreds of other great destinations in Boston that missed the cut.

Want to know more about how these rankings work? Skip to the bottom for a detailed explanation. 

63 Salem St, Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

“Here is the great seafood restaurant people are always looking for in Boston,” proclaims the Boston Globe. What might otherwise be written off as hyperbolic cheerleading is echoed by other reviewers. Time Out calls Neptune Oyster “at once exemplary and exceptional”, Rough Guide says the lobster rolls are “best-in-town” (Gayot agrees), and Frommer’s proclaims it to be the best seafood place in the North End (and possibly the city). Expect a long wait at this popular destination - Neptune Oyster can only sit 22, plus 15 more at the bar - but for the mounds of oysters, the impressive raw bar, towers of seafood, North End Cioppio, johnnycake, and of course the lobster roll, Neptune Oyster is worth the effort. You’re in for a treat, says Time Out.    

Neptune Oyster
1704 Washington St, Boston, MA 02118-3307

The reviewer from Frommer’s says that “for my money, this is the best lunch restaurant in Boston.” Well, Toro is more than just that. According to our aggregation of reviews, Toro is one of the top three restaurants in all of the city. Built around a menu of “simple but sublime tapas” (Lonely Planet), Ken Oringer’s South End restaurant is “a chic little spot where the tapas are intriguing little bites; the paella is excellent; and the vibe is cool,” according to the Boston Globe. BlackBook says Toro delivers dozens of tantalizing tapas and Time Out gushes that Toro “effortlessly captures the rustic spirit of Spain…the food is superb.” Highlight dishes include cider-simmered foie gras sausage, salt cod croquettes and grilled corn with alioli and crumbled cotija, garlicky shrimp, seared foie gras with piquillo pepper and candied walnuts. It’s no surprise that crowds line up for hour plus long waits at this no-reservations restaurant.

134 Hampshire St, Cambridge, MA 02139-1421

“To experience what farm-to-table really means, come to Oleana during the growing season,” gushes Concierge.com. It’s easy to see why reviewers love the “wonderful and welcoming atmosphere” that makes Oleana “one of the best restaurants in the Boston area,” according to Frommer’s. Chef-owner Ana Sortun, one of the Boston’s culinary treasures according to Fodors, reconciles a host of Mediterranean styles. Gayot notes elements from the cuisines of Turkey, Spain, Morocco, Italy, and Armenia, while Time Out adds Greece, Egypt, and Sicily to the list. With her reliance on local ingredients, you get dishes like Vermont lamb with Turkish spices, whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers, and wild salmon in grape leaves. Time Out also notes that “most of the small plates are memorable, while many of the desserts are downright extraordinary.”

9 Park St, Boston, MA 02108-4804

In the shadow of the State House dome is No. 9 Park, first restaurant by Boston’s Culinary Queen, Barbara Lynch. The “French and Italian dishes are the type people want to talk about having to anyone who will listen after they’ve been,” says BlackBook of the bold bistro food. The famously decadent prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras and almonds is always offered, even if not on the menu. Time Out highlights this well-loved Boston landmark’s “finely wrought pastas” and the Boston Globe notes that after more than a decade, No. 9 Park restaurant hasn't flagged one bit. 

No. 9 Park
774 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02199

Next to the Mandarin Oriental is the New French New England legend, L’Espalier. Breathtaking in its creativity, scope, execution, and price, as Time Out notes, the restaurant is helmed by James Beard Award winner Chef Frank McClelland. Gayot praises McClelland’s use of impeccable local ingredients and Forbes Travel Guide highlights the “french-influenced, traditional New England recipes like butter-poaches Maine lobster with braised pork belly and corn off the cob.” Lonely Planet says L’Espalier remains “crème de la crème of Boston’s culinary scene,” and indeed the restaurant is Boston’s go-to spot for marriage proposals, anniversaries, and business-deals.

9 East St, Boston, MA 02111

It seems almost like the beginning of a fairy tale - behind a hidden door down a unassuming alley in a little-visited part of town lies… arguably one of the finest Japanese restaurants in the United States. This is O Ya, a self-styled Japanese tavern that “bite for bite…arguably serves the most expensive food in Boston,” says Time Out. Yet critics unanimously agree that it’s worth it; Gayot says the omakase is “not a meal but a capital-E Experience.  Run by 2012 James Beard Award winner Chef Tim Cushman and his wife Nancy (who manages the extensive sake list), O Ya presents a New England twist on Japanese classics, such as grilled lobster with light shiso tempura and fried kumamoto oysters with yuzu aioli and squid-ink bubbles. Time Out finds the O Ya to be daring yet meticulous, and delicate but rarely pretentious.”    

O Ya
370A Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215

In the shadow of the State House dome is No. 9 Park, first restaurant by Boston’s Culinary Queen, Barbara Lynch. The “French and Italian dishes are the type people want to talk about having to anyone who will listen after they’ve been,” says BlackBook of the bold bistro food. The famously decadent prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras and almonds is always offered, even if not on the menu. Time Out highlights this well-loved Boston landmark’s “finely wrought pastas” and the Boston Globe notes that after more than a decade, No. 9 Park restaurant hasn't flagged one bit. 

1145 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02118

Concierge.com calls Myers + Chang “pure rock ’n’ roll”, an apt description if there ever was one. Created by Joanna Chang (owner of Boston's beloved Flour bakery) and her husband Christopher Myers (owner of Rialto, #10 on this list), who pull liberally from the cuisines of China, Vietnam, and Thailand, Myers + Chang is what the Boston Globe calls a “lovable…dim sum diner,” producing a wide array of dishes “high in flavor and low in price”. Come with friends to maximize your sampling potential and be sure to try dishes like the braised short rib tacos with pear, tea-smoked spare ribs, the peking dumplings (loved by Time Out), and the Gayot-approved braised pork belly buns with brandy hoisin sauce.    

Myers + Chang
1246 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

A Cambridge must-visit since 1960, Mr. Bartley’s makes “great burgers and incomparable onion rings,” says Frommer’s. In addition to the burgers, Gayot also recommends the thick frappes and lime-rickeys. The clutter that bedecks this institution makes for a tight squeeze, but Time Out says that’s all part of the fun.  

Mr. Bartley's Gourmet Burgers
41 Union St, Boston, MA 02108-2406

Not only is the Union Oyster House Boston’s oldest continually operating restaurant (open on Union Street since local boy John Quincy Adams was President), it’s one of the oldest in America. And while the pedigree attracts the crowds, the food shouldn’t be overlooked, especially the legendary raw bar. Time Out, in a Critic’s Pick review, recommends oysters and a pint or two. DK Eyewitness praises the raw bar too, recommending you savor the differences in oysters from around the world.

Union Oyster House
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

Owned by James Beard Award winner Tony Maws, who frequently can be found working as a line cook in the restaurant’s open kitchen, this restaurant has been buzzing with critical acclaim since moving into its new, larger space. Travel + Leisure recommends the Vermont pork three ways (suckling confit, spice-crusted rib, and country sausage), while Time Out calls the burger “the stuff of legend”.

Craigie on Main
500 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02215-2606

Oysters, a big draw at Island Creek Oyster bar, are far from the only reason to visit this seafood restaurant located within Hotel Commonwealth. With a menu that changes daily, you can frequently find striped bass ceviche and salmon crude in the raw bar, and a seafood casserole that can feed a family, lobster roe noodles with braised short ribs, grilled lobster, oysters, mushrooms, and pecorino (recommended by Gayot), and a brunch-only lobster omelet that Fodors calls “decadent”.  But let us not forget the oysters. Originating from Duxbury Bay, Island Creek oysters "are to local raw-bar crawlers what a pint of Guinness is to a thirsty Irishman: the go-to choice that is eminently satisfying,” says Time Out, who adds that the Island Creek Oyster Bar exceeded their high expectations. 

Island Creek Oyster Bar
550 Tremont St, Boston, MA 02116-6314

At chef / Owner Barbara Lynch’s (of No. 9 Park and the Butcher Shop, #5 and #21 on this list, respectively) tiny subterranean restaurant “servers describe briny bivalves with the same reverence sommeliers have for wine,” according to Michelin Guide. Travel + Leisure says that “B & G Oysters has become the go-to destination for seafood in Boston’s South End.” Multiple reviewers also highlighted the lobster roll, filled with decadent chunks of meat.    

B & G Oysters
354 Congress St, Ste 101, Boston, MA 02210-1295

“Owner-chef Barbara Lynch, one of the most respected culinary figures in the city, has made Menton a hot, if expensive, dining destination.” - Gayot

1381 Boylston Street, Boston, MA

“Red Sox fans, foodies, and Fenway residents flock to this meat lover's mecca, where Texas-style BBQ is the name of the game.” - Fodors 

Sweet Cheeks Q

About TripExpert's scoring system

The rankings described in this article are based on the TripExpert Score. You can read about how the score is calculated on our About Page, but simply put, the TripExpert Score takes into account how many publications have recommended a venue and what they’ve said about the venue, including any score or rating they’ve awarded it. It’s a method not dissimilar from how Nate Silver conducts his poll analysis for fivethirtyeight.com. By looking at a wide range of experts and weighing them based on their reliability, we’re able to generate the most accurate appraisal of quality for hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

Unlike sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp, we don’t incorporate crowdsourced reviews, or rely on sites that use them. While we do believe these sites have their uses — they’re good at surfacing under-the-radar dining spots that may not come to the attention of  travel critics (for example, a great sandwich counter hidden away in a bodega), they suffer from issues that make them unreliable to the point of unusable for the sake of measuring the true quality of a hotel, restaurant, or attraction.

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