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Boston’s best holiday dining secrets

Off-menu martinis, rose-gold sundaes, and serenades, special for the season or all year long.

An off-menu calzone at Si Cara in Central Square.

Singing waiters. Martial arts displays. Hot tub booths and clandestine poutine. Impress your friends and family with our gift to you: a dazzling dining guide of curiosities, calzones, and even cannabis.

Special seating

All good meals start from the proper vantage point. At the Fenway’s Hojoko (1271 Boylston St., Boston, 617-670-0507, www.hojoko.com), regulars request the “Sapporo Booth,” says owner Nancy Cushman, who’s also acclaimed for James Beard award-winning sushi sanctuary o ya. This coveted space can accommodate up to six friends or family members, ideal for playing the restaurant’s favorite game: wasabi roulette.

Here’s how it goes: Get a six-piece Hamachi scallion roll, one of which comes laden with wasabi (and a baby bottle of horchata to soothe the sting). Who will bite it? Hopefully not your timid auntie visiting from out of town. Or look fancy and call ahead to request Lazy Bones handrolls, a rack of big-eye tuna ribs, and fashion your own rolls at the table. Cushman calls them “Fred Flintstone-esque.”

At Shy Bird in South Boston (12 Old Colony Ave., South Boston, 617-766-8309, www.shybird.com), owner Andrew Holden recommends reserving the “hot tub,” a banquette where eight of your closest friends or most awkward colleagues can marinate over fried chicken. Don’t be … shy? For an equally intimate experience, ask to sit at the fan-favorite “salad bar” at Dorchester’s Via Cannuccia (1739 Dorchester Ave., Boston, 617-506-1877, www.viacannuccia.com). Here, chef Stefano Quaresima chats with guests from an open kitchen while they nibble roast potatoes with secret, smoked aioli mayonnaise.


Harvest in Harvard Square (44 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-2255, www.harvestcambridge.com) has served generations of scholars and celebrities. Savvy gormandizers request Table 102, once a favorite of Julia Child, who lived nearby. Staffers know it as “the alcove,” tucked into a quieter corner of the dining room. Ask for “Julia’s table” the way the regulars do, and they’ll try their best to accommodate.


Downtown at OAK Long Bar + Kitchen (138 St. James Ave., Boston, 617-585-7222, www.oaklongbarkitchen.com), lovebirds can ask for a duo of bookend loveseat bar benches. They’re first-come, first-served, except on Valentine’s Day, when they’re offered as a bookable experience. If the one closest to the entrance is taken, head to the very end of the 83-foot bar for a better chance of procuring a perch.

The spacious Sapporo booth at Hojoko in the Fenway.Brian Samuels


If the holidays are truly stressing you out, visit A Season to Taste in Cambridge (1678 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-826-9037, www.seasontotaste.com), where owner Robert Harris has partnered with Herbwell Cannabis down the block. For the month of December, every 21-plus customer who orders a S’mores-inspired chocolate tart will receive a one-time use “toke”-n — pun intended, says Harris — which can then be redeemed for a heavily discounted pre-roll joint at Herbwell. Here’s hoping you’ve got a doggie bag.

Brighton cocktail bar Birds of Paradise (525 Western Ave., Brighton, 617-903-4298, www.birdsofparadisebar.com), designed like a midcentury modern airport lounge, recalls the golden age of air travel, when well-heeled jet-setters sipped gin instead of ginger ale. Ask for “first-class passes,” advises mixologist Will Isaza: This hush-hush menu of five cocktails features one common spirit and destination (this month it’s Oaxaca), with Boston-neighborhood-specific twists.

At Pagu in Cambridge, regulars know to request spicy hand-pulled biang biang noodles.

Late nights and off-menu delights

Central Square James Beard semifinalist Pagu (310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-9290, www.gopagu.com) is known for Spanish-Japanese tapas. But regulars visit for its off-menu, hand-pulled biang-biang noodles, says owner Tracy Chang. Other special requests: whole suckling pigs for 12, whole roast duck served with bao, and scarlet prawns in squid ink paella.


For a more casual outing, head down the block and hang around Central Square Neapolitan pizza parlor Si Cara (425 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-7629, sicarapizza.com) after 10 p.m to order a $24 meatball calzone that serves four people. It’s stuffed with meatballs, of course, but also pepperoni — and basted with garlic butter.

Speaking of pizza: Bricco in the North End (241 Hanover St., Boston, 617-248-6800, www.bricco.com) goes casual on Friday and Saturday nights after 11:30 p.m. It makes limited-edition pizza until 1 a.m.: margherita, mushroom, prosciutto, and more.

Late-night pizza at Bricco in the North End.

At the brand-new All That Fish + Oyster outside Kenmore Square (771 Beacon St., Boston, 857-305-3095, www.allthatboston.com), the latest from super-restaurateur Garrett Harker, there’s more than just seafood: Request the North Shore-style roast beef sandwich from its brunch menu, which they’ll make for dinner guests, too.

Buenas Empanadas at Brighton’s Super Bien (525 Western Ave., Brighton, https://thesuperbien.site) makes ham-and-cheese, Cuban-style sandwiches on garlic bread, stuffed with the chopped empanada of your choice. You won’t see it on its menu; ask for the empanada preparadas.

The Back Bay’s Buttermilk and Bourbon, meanwhile, will entertain requests for its husky, $21 chicken and waffles at Saturday dinner, even though it’s a Sunday brunch item (160 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-266-1122, www.buttermilkbourbon.com). And at Publico in South Boston (11 Dorchester St., Boston, 617-622-5700, www.publicoboston.com), ask for the off-menu “South Boston Big Mac”— a double patty with cheese, pickles, lettuce, and special sauce on a sesame seed potato bun for $16.


Or, if you’re really hurting, head to the West End’s A&B Kitchen Bar (115 Beverly St., Boston, 857-449-2251, www.anbkitchen.com) for an $18 hangover burger, served by request only to bleary-eyed customers: American cheese, over-easy eggs, bacon, and a brioche bun will soothe your woes. Same goes for the off-menu, $12 “trash can fries” at Lehrhaus in Somerville (425 Washington St., Somerville, www.lehr.haus); the restaurant was recently named to Esquire’s Best New Restaurants list. Those spuds, topped with sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese, just might be why.

If hangovers aren’t a problem, go to Pammy’s outside of Harvard Square (928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, www.pammyscambridge.com) and ask bar manager Rob Ficks for his below-the-radar “vintage” cocktails list. It’s a small collection of longtime fan favorites that aren’t formally on the menu. As the weather cools down, a Bitter Bobby made with Scotch, vermouth, and cynar will warm you up. Down the block at Giulia (1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2800, www.giuliarestaurant.com), act like a regular and order a Gibson martini with sweet pickled onions.

“It’s one of our favorite kitchen pickles, and we almost always have it around. They’re charred on the grill, smoked with hardwood, and then pickled. Addictively delicious and perfect for a martini,” says owner Mike Pagliarini.

Or book Arthur’s Lounge at The Dubliner in Government Center (2 Center Plaza, Boston, 857-317-2695, www.thedublinerboston.com), festooned with Guinness memorabilia. (The space is named for Arthur Guinness.) There, chef Aidan McGee serves designated specials such as steamed Irish crab claws in seaweed butter and Irish bread pudding with whiskey custard.


“We only have five tables for four. It fills up quickly, so add a note about Arthur’s Lounge when booking,” McGee suggests.

For dessert? Try the off-menu, $5 rose gold mini sundae at South Boston’s Bar Volpe (170 W. Broadway, Boston, 617-865-7100, www.barvolpe.com), made with salted vanilla soft-serve, rose gold sprinkles, and glitter. Owner and James Beard award-winner Karen Akunowicz recommends slurping it from a “godfather booth.”

“If you know to ask for them, they’re the biggest, swankiest, comfiest booths” in the restaurant, she says.

Inside The Dubliner. Insiders know to ask for Arthur's Lounge.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/file


Finally, perhaps you’re at a loss for conversation. Your small-talk budget has been spent, or you need a diversion to break the ice between your parents and new holiday paramour.

In the Seaport, Nautilus Pier 4 (300 Pier 4 Blvd., Boston, 857-957-0998, www.thenautilus.com) has splashy expense-account cred, but it has fun, too. Multi-talented server and rugby player Robin Peers enjoys serenading guests with “Happy Birthday” during his shifts. He’s the designated dessert drop-off guy.

At Sogno in Woburn (304 Cambridge Road, 781-625-1300, www.sognoitalian.com), ask for Giovanni Formisano: He’s a singer with Boston Bel Canto Opera, and he’s not above breaking into song in the dining room on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

And at Sweet Basil in Needham (942 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9600, www.sweetbasilneedham.com), owner Dave Becker sings the praises of server Dylan Peckham, who has a black belt in karate.

“If anyone asks him, he’ll do a split in the dining room,” promises Becker, who also once employed a palm reader.

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.