Well, I would not call this the definitive list of Boston restaurants, but it is a path that will guide you to some pretty good eating based on my family's visit in the last week of 2007.
Christmas means one thing to a Jew. Chinese food. From our hotel, the Boston Hyatt, we could practically smell the tofu. We peeked into Grand Chau Chow but got the wrong vibe. East Ocean City (25-29 Beach St.) seemed more hopping. I wanted one of the cods swimming in the tanks, but the waitress warned us off, too big for our party of four. Instead, we got the decidedly non-local baramundi. I cringed a bit as we all, especially the kidz, liked the fish. We liked nearly everything: steamed oysters with black beans (also not local! Canadian Pacific); fried soft shell crabs with "house sauce" (something ketchupy and not that special, although the crabs were fine); baby bok choy with garlic (excellent); and best, salt and pepper shrimps with something like deep fried chili sauce.
I expected to find more places like Charlies Sandwich (429 Columbus) in Boston. A barely altered diner. The above picture kinda captures it. I rued that we skipped the fishcakes and eggs, after all, it's a fishcakes and eggs kinda place, but my wife and I did not go wrong when we split the house special turkey hash and the french toast with cranberry compote.
While my plan included visits to Union Oyster Bar AND Durgin Park, family obligations and a too long list of need to try places got me only to the latter. Both are part of the Faneuil Hall/Freedom Trail complex, which is not quite as gaudy as it could be. (Durgin Park is at 340 Faneuil Hall Market Place, parallel to Quincy Market.) The lobster roll was expensive, over $20, but about worth the money. Better, the lunch special of scrod, baked with crumbs and a good amount of butter. Fish chowder needed a bit of something beyond the butter. And I liked the Indian pudding, but the kidz found the molasses too much. Go for lunch when the prices, lobster roll aside, are lower.
My wife first read about the local food centered market, Lionette, in one of our in-room magazines (I think). I'll cover Lionette and some related places in another post. We did not love-love brunch at the associated cafe, Garden of Eden (571 Tremont Street)--although we had an open mind, honest! we were less than impressed with the New England cheeses that were one of our dishes. Smoked bluefish pate could have used more ooph. Still, our visit made me fall in love with the South End. That is, there were all these restaurants that just looked great, especially the so French it could not exist in France Aquitaine. Two places above all else that called to me.
When I became obsessed over the idea of a meal starting with oysters at B&G Oyster Bar (550 Tremont) and finishing with meat at the Butcher Shop (552 Tremont), I had no idea that they were brainchild's of one of Boston's top chefs. I had no idea who was Barbara Lynch. I do now. The planned meal, if it was not quite as sublime as I hoped, it was because B&B was so good, Butcher Shop could not compare. At B&G we had three East Coast oysters, and I am a convert to East Coast oysters, so much more intense. Then, we had oysters shucked and fried, a dollop of tarter sauce put in the shells, and the oysters placed back. My kidz are now fanatics over fried oysters. At Butcher Shop we had a small portion of hanger steak (arrived a bit cold), oxtail pot au feau and crispy skin roast chicken, whose side of mustard potato salad made with bacon fat was that good.
I'm no expert on Boston restaurants, but the oyster bar may be the best thing about in-town eating. Was Neptune (63 Salem) a better oyster bar? Classic, white tile and all, to B&G's more modern stone, fried clams instead of fried oysters (and now the kidz like fried clams too). I would return here just as fast as B&G.
We had one more Charlie's and two more visits to Chinatown. This Charlie's is Charlie's Kitchen (10 Eliot St., Cambridge), and you can get two lobster rolls for less than half of one at Durgin Park. It was not quite as good, but not nearly 1/2 as bad. Great selection of local beers and top caliber juke box. One time we visited Chinatown for dim sum breakfast at Chau Chow City (88 Essex, h/t Galleygirl). Generally better dim sum than in Chicago. Lobster dumplings! Another Chinatown breakfast Pho Pasteur (682 Washington) was generally not quite as good as we've had elsewhere, an especially fishy batch of beef noodle soup.
Of course there was corporate but well done seafood at Legal (bring your child for the $17 whole lobster deal); internatonally corporate Wagamama (fine respite on a rainy afternoon); ice cream at Emack and Bolio's (good) and Herrell's (better) and really good espresso in the North End. My list of places not tried is long including Peach Farm Chinese, No Name, Flour Bakery, South Street Diner, Summer Shack, and Henrietta's Table.