ON APRIL 15, shortly before 3 p.m., two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and changed Boylston Street forever. The explosions shut the area down for days, with businesses losing revenue and employees their wages and tips. The city pulled together. Hotels and restaurants cared for the investigating officials. Donations of time, money, and food poured in.
Now, walking down Boylston, the street seems different. Handmade signs and hanging running shoes remind us of those injured and killed. But every open business is a testament to the city’s capacity for endurance and recovery. There has never been a better time to head to the area to share a meal. What could be more life-affirming than good food, good friends, and maybe a little wine?
Back Bay doesn’t have the reputation as a dining destination in the way that, say, the nearby South End does. But there is plenty to capture one’s interest up and down Boylston and the side streets that run off it, from native seafood to far-flung cuisines. There is vibrant food culture to be found in the fantastic Copley Square farmers’ market, held Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the season. Food trucks offer everything from tacos to chicken and rice to gourmet grilled cheese. And there are the many restaurants and bars that were closed or affected by the bombings. (One, Forum, is still out of commission. It will reopen this summer, renovated and with a new chef, Matthew Barros, who has worked at Market and Myers + Chang.)
There are so many, in fact, it would be hard to visit them all. A Boylston Street excursion lets you sample a variety of the area’s offerings and celebrate and support its businesses. Begin at the end of the street closest to Massachusetts Avenue and work your way to the Public Garden. Shall we?
Back Bay has much to recommend it, but with its chic stores and beautiful town houses, edginess doesn’t rank high among its attributes. For a dose of attitude in the neighborhood, head to Bukowski Tavern — there are parts of its menu that can’t be quoted in a family newspaper. At this serious beer bar, you’ll find everything from PBR to Gritty McDuff’s Black Fly stout on tap. It’s simply gravy that the place also offers fine sweet potato fries, a “white trash poutine” tater tots plate, and crazily topped hot dogs and burgers (peanut butter and bacon, anyone?).
50 Dalton Street, 617-437-9999, bukowskitavern.net
Billing itself as both an Irish pub and this country’s first sports bar, McGreevy’s is Boston in microcosm. But even if you’re not much for Guinness or game viewing, you can get behind what might be Boylston Street’s best deal: $1 cheeseburgers on Tuesdays from 4 to 11 p.m. And in the same time slot on Thursdays, there’s build-your-own pizza for the same price. This isn’t Boston’s most affordable neighborhood. It’s good to find a bargain even here.
911 Boylston Street, 617-262-0911, mcgreevysboston.com
Walk into Cafe Jaffa, a bit off the beaten path, and find yourself unexpectedly in a real Middle Eastern cafe. If you’re craving hummus and grape leaves, falafel and schwarma, this might be your best bet close to Boylston. That said, the place can also function as a deli for those who would rather have a burger or a tuna roll-up than kebabs.
48 Gloucester Street, 617-536-0230, cafejaffa.net
TOWNE STOVE AND SPIRITS
This buzzy spot is a collaboration between two of New England’s most famed chefs, Lydia Shire (Biba, Locke-Ober, Scampo) and Jasper White (Jasper’s, Summer Shack). Old friends, the two have been shaping Boston’s restaurant scene for decades. The menu here roves all over the globe, from dumplings and scallion pancakes to Wiener schnitzel and Piedmontese beef arrabbiata. Both chefs have a way with lobster, and dishes featuring the ingredient are generally worth ordering. Two to try: lobster popovers with Lyle’s Golden Syrup and lobster pizza with corn and honeyed ricotta.
900 Boylston Street, 617-247-0400, towneboston.com
BACK BAY SOCIAL CLUB
If McGreevy’s has the least expensive burger on the street, Back Bay Social Club probably has the priciest. Made with more than a half-pound of dry-aged prime rib, short rib, flank, and skirt, ground together, seared on a flat-top, and loaded up with super-caramelized onions and cheddar, it’s $22. Just think of it as a steak on a bun.
867 Boylston Street, 617-247-3200, backbaysocialclub.com
M BAR & LOUNGE
At the bar here, in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, you might befriend a traveler from Texas wearing a Stetson and a chatty Iranian beauty in the same hour. The menu also offers global randomness, from pork dumplings to crispy artichokes to a variety of sliders. Among the last, the mini lobster roll, for $6, comes brimming with meat studded with bites of mango. The combination offends New England tradition, but it tastes pretty darn good.
776 Boylston Street, 617-535-8888, mandarinoriental.com
The top tier of Boston dining is dwindling, yet L’Espalier keeps going strong, with beautiful, innovative cuisine and fine service. A meal here is an experience. But one can also come for just a taste — in the petite salon, one can have oysters and caviar, cocktails and small plates, or dessert. Try offerings such as seared scallops with morels and seaweed broth or rack of lamb with garlic sausage, fava-mint puree, and harissa. And no cheese fanatic will be able to resist L’Espalier’s cart of ripe, perfect selections.
774 Boylston Street, 617-262-3023, lespalier.com
ATLANTIC FISH CO.
Chowder on a patio on Boylston Street? You must be a tourist. Well, but. Patio dining is one of the great pleasures of summer, and this longtime seafood spot offers prime viewing from its outdoor tables. Add in a platter of briny Wellfleet oysters or fried whole-bellied clams from Ipswich, and the experience improves exponentially. And that creamy clam chowder is award-winning for a reason. Just don’t get it in a bread bowl. That really is for tourists.
761 Boylston Street, 617-267-4000, atlanticfishco.com
Located at the corner of Boylston and Exeter streets, across from where the explosions occurred, the Lenox Hotel became headquarters for law enforcement following the bombings. Those who work here gave generously of their time and resources. Also in their favor: In-house restaurant City Table serves tasty plates such as skirt steak tacos in flour tortillas with avocado mousse and pico de gallo and Cuban sandwiches with braised pork, ham, salami, pickles, Swiss cheese, and spicy chipotle mayonnaise.
65 Exeter Street, 617-933-4800, citytableboston.com
The Boston Public Library is a landmark on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth streets, there since 1895. It’s home to the Courtyard Restaurant, which offers one of the most civilized repasts in the area: high tea. Choose among Earl Grey, dragon pearl jasmine, chamomile, and other loose-leaf brews. Then dig into scones with marmalade and cream, French macaroons and other sweets, and delicate sandwiches of cucumber with herbed cream cheese, apricot chicken salad, and more. Afternoon tea is offered from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.
230 Dartmouth Street, 617-859-2251, tcacourtyard.com
LOLITA COCINA & TEQUILA BAR
This is Back Bay’s sexiest take on Mexican food — dark as a movie theater, with red velvet wallpaper and flickering candles. The kitchen offers intriguing flourishes as well, like an amuse-bouche of grapefruit-and-mint granita smoking over dry ice, or the complimentary puff of cotton candy sprinkled with Pop Rocks that ends each meal. You’ll also find good nachos, all-you-can-eat taco nights on Mondays, and a fun menu of street food like grilled corn with spicy mayo and carne asada sliders.
271 Dartmouth Street, 617-369-5609, lolitatequilabars.com
OAK LONG BAR + KITCHEN
Last summer the Fairmont Copley Plaza renovated its historic Oak Room. Oak Long Bar + Kitchen is the result, with coffered ceilings, grand arched windows, rich fabrics, fireplaces, and a copper-clad bar that is long indeed. A new hearth oven is a centerpiece, and a highlight of the menu is roast chicken, scented with rosemary, served in a cast-iron skillet with potatoes. It tastes as good as it smells.
138 St. James Avenue, 617-585-7222, oaklongbarkitchen.com
Vlora showcases the food of the sunny Mediterranean, just what you want to eat when seated on the restaurant’s patio. A simple dish of watermelon and feta is just right for a summer evening — crunchy cubes of crimson fruit topped with squares of creamy, tangy cheese, sprinkled with olive oil and a bit of balsamic.
545 Boylston Street, 617-638-9699, vloraboston.com
POE’S KITCHEN AT THE RATTLESNAKE
Chef Brian Poe is building a very laid-back mini-empire in Boston, with Estelle’s (Southern food in the South End), the Tip Tap Room (steak tips and beyond in Beacon Hill), and this partnership with the Rattlesnake, known for its roof deck. Poe’s Kitchen features flavors from south of the border, along with some unusual ingredients. In addition to chicken quesadillas and smoked pork torta, for instance, you’ll find antelope tacos.
384 Boylston Street, 617-859-7772, rattlesnakebar.com
End your crawl on a light note with one of Parish’s giant sandwiches. The combinations are created by celebrated local chefs such as Chris Schlesinger, Tim Cushman, and Tony Maws. Jamie Bissonnette’s fried eggplant torta with black beans, chipotle aioli, avocado, and Oaxaca cheese is a vegetarian’s delight.
361 Boylston Street, 617-247-4777, parishcafe.com