Eating Around Beantown: Our Favorite Dishes in Boston

SCVFoodie visited Boston last week for a college reunion, and I was pleasantly suprised by the area’s number of great eateries over my long weekend. It’s a long way from the SCV, yes, but definitely worth the writeup.

No matter where I stopped, I wasn’t disappointed. Two reasons probably accounted for the tasty adventures: 1) Friends stayed in Boston after graduation and know the food scene and where to go; 2) It helps that we’re not on college budgets anymore.

Here’s a chronological travelogue of eating adventures, and I recommend these places if you find yourself around Beantown in the near future.

Tatte Bakery & Cafe (various locations)

After getting off a redeye on Thursday morning at 8 a.m., I needed coffee…badly…since my hotel wasn’t going to be available until 3 p.m. After dropping off my bag, I wandered my old Brookline neighborhood and found Tatte near Coolidge Corner. It’s a local chain that’s now expanded to Washington, D.C., but 15 years ago, founder Tzurit Or started off in her home kitchen, selling her baked goods at the Copley Square farmers market.

While the croque madame, shakshuka and fattoush were tempting (there’s a mix of Israeli/Mediterranean dishes and French pastries), I opted for the simple cappuccino and almond croissant, filled with a housemade almond filling and topped with tons of almond slices. It was a good start to the morning, and the cafe was cozy.

Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs (74 Winthrop St., Harvard Square)

With more energy after coffee, I started walking down Commonwealth Avenue to visit some of my old college haunts. Some are gone, some are still there — the poster store I used to work at is now a Vietnamese restaurant — but the memories remain.

And I kept on walking and decided to head over the Charles River to Harvard Square, less than three miles away. After an unfortunate turn, and Siri being of no help through the neighborhoods of Cambridge, I doubled the mileage. But I had to get to Pinocchio’s.

This small pizza shop at Harvard’s campus has the best Sicilian slices I’ve ever had. I was anxious whether the pandemic had changed their operations and pizza, but happily, no. The sauce is zesty, not spicy, and the cheese-to-sauce ratio is perfect. The restaurant only has five tables and it’s tight, but they’re doing something right after 50 years in business. I overheard a family next to my table mention that they drove to Pinoochio’s straight from Logan Airport. Smart folks. Must be Harvard alums.

Taberna de Haro (999 Beacon St., Brookline)

After stopping in for a cocktail at the upscale pub The Washington Square Tavern — which used to be The Hammond Lounge (the diviest of dives) — the super-friendly bartenders named some of their favorite restaurants in Boston. One of them was the Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro. And thank you bartenders.

Squid ink paella at Taberna de Haro in Brookline.

My friend Eileen and I had a delicious squid ink seafood paella with loads of squid and a saffron shellfish stock. The rice was al dente and the ink was savory and not salty. We scraped that cast-iron pan to make sure we finished every morsel. Chef Owner Deborah Hansen also earned her Sommeliere title in Madrid, so Taberna has an extensive wine and sherry list to accompany the tapas and raciones on the menu.

Since I hadn’t slept in 40 hours and walked more than a dozen miles through Boston, I was happy and content but tired after Taberna. But the eating adventures continued the next day…

Sugar Magnolias (112 Main St., Gloucester)

Located 37 miles north of Boston is the little fishing town of Gloucester, made famous by The Perfect Storm — a Sebastian Junger book and feature film with George Clooney. One of my college roommates lives on the North Shore, and we took a little road trip up the coast. While the weather was miserable that day, breakfast at Sugar Magnolias (Sugar Mags as the locals call it) was anything but.

Eileen opted for the crab cake special, served with eggs, avocado and swiss cheese on an English muffin. I had a few bites, and it was savory and delightfully decadent. Sugar Mags’ crab cakes weren’t greasy; crunchy on the outside and filled with moist lump crab inside.

Blueberry-lemon-ricotta pancakes at Sugar Magnolias.

The menu was a bit overwhelming so I took the server’s advice and opted for the blueberry-lemon-ricotta pancakes. After the first bite, I thought that this is what heaven must taste like. The buttermilk pancakes were soft and fluffy and nearly melted in my mouth. The icing hardened while cooling, turning the pancakes to a guilty pleasure. Like dessert for breakfast. The server talked me into a full stack of two pancakes, but I should have only ordered one because I wasn’t able to finish the breakfast. Besides, I knew where my friend was taking me for lunch.

Woodman’s of Essex (119 Main St., Essex)

After a couple hours of walking and driving around the North Shore, it was time for lunch. Before I headed to Boston this time around, I mentioned to my old roommate that what I really wanted (besides Pinocchio’s pizza) was a really good clam roll. You can’t really find them in Southern California.

So she drove us to Woodman’s of Essex, which has been around since 1914. Since I knew a dinner adventure was ahead of us, I ordered a clam roll (sandwich) with the whole belly clam instead of strips. Strips tend to be rubbery, and Woodman’s whole-belly gives eaters that briny taste with the tenderness that’s often lost with strips alone. Lightly coated and not greasy, the roll offered a generous heap of clams for the price (around $24).

Audubon (838 Beacon St., Boston)

Once back in Boston, reunion weekend had officially begun, and several of us met at Audubon near Kenmore Square (and Fenway Park) for dinner. Our friend Eric knows Chef Sergio Salas, who offers an eclectic menu of shareable plates.

We were having so much fun catching up that this is the only picture I took at Audubon. The pic doesn’t do the fried gnocci justice.

We tried the Dirty Potatoes (with chorizo, pepperjack cheese, BBQ sauce and scallion sour cream); pork potstickers, salt & pepper shrimp and beef brisket wontons. The dishes were delicious but the shrimp was a standout. I can’t speak to the San Diego tacos but I heard they were delicious. Just as we were wrapping up, Chef Sergio sent out a skillet of fried, crispy gnocchi with mozzerella and marinara. And we tucked into it with aplomb. It was simple and hearty dish that could have come out of a nonna’s kitchen Buono, Sergio!

Dolce Vita Ristorante (221 Hanover St., Boston)

After all the eating, my body needed a break so nothing to speak of on Saturday, but a Ceasar salad with chicken and Boston College reunion catering.

Before heading to my airport hotel on Sunday, Eileen and I headed to Boston’s North End (the city’s Little Italy) for sparkling waters and cappuccino at Caffe Vittoria’s outdoor tables, people watching on a gorgeous almost-summer day. I was transported to the sidewalk cafes of Rome. The North End is such an experience.

My final meal before leaving Beantown was at a windowside table at Dolce Vita Ristorante. Starting off with a fresh, simple house salad with a balsalmic dressing, it set the stage for the restaurant’s fettuccine bolognese. It was *chef’s kiss* one of the best bolognese dishes I’ve had in a long, long time. (Their bruschetta was the only thing I’d skip.)The sauce was made with a mixture of veal, pork and beef in tomato sauce, and wasn’t too heavy, oily or too salty, which I find many bolognese sauces to be. Dolce Vita balanced the flavor nicely and the pasta was cooked perfectly.

Thank you, Boston, for a wonderfully long weekend filled with great foods and friends. I’ll see you again in another five years.