What’s Good About Boston?

Folks, I’m going to Boston on March 4. I’ve never been before. Can anybody tell me if there’s a dish associated with Boston?

Baltimore has crab cakes (amazing!), Philadelphia has those horrific cheesesteak sandwiches, Louisiana has gumbo (meh), St Louis has Imo’s pizza (not horrible), Chicago has hot dogs (any hot dog is a good hotdog), Florida has key lime pie (yuk but that’s any pie I didn’t make myself). What do I get in Boston?

Also, aside from Harvard and the ballet (and my evisceration of hashtag feminism at the conference I’m going to, obviously) is there anything that’s an absolutely must-seen?

If you are going to NEMLA, my talk will be in English, so feel free to come by. Details provided on request. Or just look it up in the program. I will be announcing a book series I’m launching, it will be good.

21 thoughts on “What’s Good About Boston?”

  1. When I think of Boston foods, I think of clam chowder and Boston Cream Pie — which isn’t a pie at all, but a yellow cake with vanilla pudding in the middle and chocolate ganache on top.

    One place that I really enjoyed visiting in Boston was their large public library. It’s a lovely building, and when I was there (years ago), they had an amazing historical book display. Not sure what they have on display now, as I’m sure it changes, but I still think that book lovers would be interested in the building and whatever they have on display.


  2. The best meal in Boston is calamari in white sauce over linguini at the Daily Catch on Hanover Street in the North End. Hands down, the best calamari I have ever had in the world. Enjoy.


  3. Boston Baked Beans has it right in the name, though I’d rather eat New England Clam Chowder and other seafood dishes. Try one of the several “Legal Seafood” restaurants around the city.


  4. When I lived there, the thing to do was go to the North End, get a sandwich at Il Panino (prosciutto, fresh mozz, fresh basil), then cannolis or gelato nearby. Very Italian though. Dishes traditionally associated with Boston are definitely clam chowder, and maybe lobster.

    I second others’ suggestion to see the public library. It is lovely, and the old section has murals by John Singer Sargent. The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is also very nice (but costs money, which the library does not).


  5. Brown Bread(which is boiled like an english pudding) and baked Beans are the traditional. Go to the main branch of the public library and look at the murals.


      1. “This will be a fun trip”

        Be sure to learn to talk with a Boston accent… and be ready to talk about knowing other people’s relatives and inquiring about their current whereabouts…


  6. I’m fond of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but you have to like renaissance and early modern art, since that’s most of the collection (there is other stuff as well).

    Part of what I appreciated about it is the building and the eccentric layout. In addition to paintings and sculpture, she collected furniture and alter pieces and general bric a brac as well, and my recollection is that it all seemed to be just sort of strewn around. It felt more like rummaging around in someone’s attic than being at a normal museum.


  7. The Boston Public library is gorgeous. And if you want dessert, try Mike’s Pastry in the North End. When I was there, they had an excellent peach cobbler (don’t think it’s in season now, but always worth checking).


  8. Not sure if my first comment went through, so trying again. Boston Public Library is great. And Mike’s Pastry in the North End is terrific. I had a great peach cobbler when I was last there (might not be there now, since a lot of their stuff is seasonal).


  9. Go to Durgin Park near Faneuil Hall. Have the roast beef and onion rings. My Dad found it in basic training in the early 50s, took me there multiple times. Bonus: Deliberately rude waittresses.


  10. Several good ideas here, and some obvious ones missing. The Gardner museum is a treat, and lunch there is worthwhile (or used to be, it’s been awhile since I lived in the area). The Faneuil Hall area is a must, although I’m not as keen on Durgin Park as I am on the Union Oyster House.
    The North End still has some nice Italian restaurants, plus Paul Revere’s House, the Old North Church of Longfellow fame (a fav of mine), and Mike’s Pastry Shop (where they used to keep a lookout for cops as customers triple-parked to get to the goodies such as the creme horns).
    The Copley Hotel still has the Lincoln room, dedicated to him and maintained as it was when he stayed there, although trimmed in black after his death.
    The Boston Aquarium is fun.
    However, some of my favorite places aren’t in the City Center. They include:
    (1) The National Park celebrating the skirmishes of Lexington and Concord, the formal start to the Revolutionary War.
    (2) The Alcott House in Concord
    (3) The Shaker graveyard in Harvard MA (a town along I-495 named for the founder of the University) and the Fruitlands Museum, a Transcendental retreat for Emerson, Alcott and their friends and now a museum
    (4) Sturbridge Village and Plymouth Plantation, both living history sites with people reenacting life in the 1600s and 1700s (no, they aren’t co-located)
    (5) Salem and the House of the Seven Gables
    (6) Lowell, with an extensive museum dedicated to the early textile industry and paying tribute to the women who made it happen.
    (7) Any of the 11 or 12 sites where the recent version of “Little Women” was filmed (Fruitlands and the Harvard General Store were in the movie).
    There’s more, but you’re never going to see all of this stuff unless you totally blow off the conference.


  11. Hi,
    New reader, wandering here via Rod Dreher. Doesn’t seem like this went through the first time, so trying again…

    As you can see from the responses above, there are not really any iconic Boston foods that you “must” try; New England seafood in general coming the closest. So here are a few more interesting places we have enjoyed in the past couple years. Our daughter goes to Northeastern, so most are generally around the Back Bay area though one is across the river not far from MIT.

    The first is Saltie Girl, which is a small, cute place with delicious seafood. Here you can get some of that New England flavor, but in a much more unique and contemporary way than, say, Legal Seafood and such. You’ll have to wait, but there is a very nice bar right for that purpose they will send you to.

    Another is Pagu, which somehow manages to combine Japanese and Spanish cuisine. It’s a small plates menu. Right on Mass Ave in Cambridge.

    And finally our go-to for comfort food (luxed up somewhat) is Eastern Standard, which has an amazing cocktail menu. We return here partly for nostalgic reasons (we had such a fun time when we first came during college visits) but it never disappoints. Always crowded.

    The sad thing about Boston is, ironically because of its status as one of the earliest, most important US cities, it was hit very badly by the initial wave of urban “reconstruction” ie destruction, replacing beautiful, historic buildings with hideous, concrete modernist and brutalist ugliness. They managed to ruin a lot before the era of historic preservation started. It is really depressing when you walk through major historic areas like the Common and see so many ugly modern buildings. Nevertheless, it is a fun town to visit.



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