If you walk Boston’s beaten path, you’ll most likely be able to find a place for a mediocre midday meal. But if you’re looking for a lunch to remember, it’s going to require some exploration and a little guidance. Forego the fast food; leave behind the basic burgers and bland burritos, and head to a destination with local fare, flair and flavours. Below is a guide to the best soup, salad, sandwiches, seafood and sushi Boston has to offer (around noon). From legendary local favourites to the best new lunch counters in the area, here’s where insiders go to satisfy their lunch cravings.
If you find yourself near Fenway Park, Audubon is the place for healthy, gourmet comfort food. The sleek slate bar and stained wooden accents provide a chic yet casual setting for a great meal in a quiet environment. Offering the same menu all day long, the dishes at Audubon change seasonally ensuring the freshest local ingredients throughout the year. With grilled veggies, soups, salads and dips for the vegetarian, and a giant turkey leg, luscious sirloin and one of the best stacked burgers in the city for the carnivores, Audubon gives plenty of options for every eater under the sun – and oh yeah, you can enjoy that sun best on their sweet, semi-secret, bamboo-lined patio out back. If you’re thirsty, Audubon accommodates with an extensive list of American craft beer, perfectly stirred “tweaked” classic cocktails and a new series of carbonated bottled mixed drinks. Try the Mt. Tam, a refreshing mix of St. George Terroir Gin, Yellow Chartreuse and tarragon soda.
838 Beacon Street, Boston, 617-421-1910
11:30 a.m. to “late”
With spacious booths and a gigantic wooden bar carved out of a single tree trunk, Abigail’s is one of Kendall Square’s roomiest and most comfortable escapes from the biotech buildings, research laboratories and luxury high-rises that surround the restaurant. The raw bar features local seafood catches of the day, and beyond that you’re looking at soups and salads, pasta and gourmet sandwiches. The long cocktail lists leans on the lighter and lunch-appropriate side of things (if you’re looking for a boozier midday, the $6 “poor boy” combo consists of a surprise beer and shot; “You get what you get”). All in all, Abigail’s tries to please everyone, and they do it all very well.
291 Third Street, Cambridge, 617-945-9086,
Monday to Friday, 11:30 a.m. to “late”
Located just outside of Harvard Square in a concrete building lined with old carpets and blinding bright lights, the décor may not be Tokyo slick, but the unassuming Café Sushi makes up for it by offering up some of the freshest and most creative sushi in the Northeast. A local secret until recently, the restaurant keeps on pushing the boundaries of complex flavours in its healthy and well-priced creations. The midday opening hours are short, but the lunch specials are worth the effort of making it here in time. Try one of the Bento Box specials for value and variety or for a real treat order the “Chef’s Sashimi Lunch” and receive 10 pieces of chef-selected top-quality raw fish.
1105 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, 617-492-0434
Noon to 2:30 p.m.
In its five-year existence, Cutty’s has quickly earned its place as the Brookline area’s favourite lunch counter. It opens and closes early, and with just 18 seats available, you may have to get Boston’s best sandwiches to go. A venture by Charles Kelsey, former editor of Cook’s Illustrated and writer for Gourmet, Cutty’s offers up delectable twists on old favourites. “The spuckie,” named after the “spucadella” – a Boston specialty somewhat like a submarine sandwich – is a colossal creation combining fennel salami, hot capicola, mortadella, mozzarella and olive-carrot salad on ciabatta. Their now famous “roast beef 1000” is a highbrow spin on the reuben and boasts slow-roasted beef, crispy shallots, thousand island dressing and sharp cheddar on brioche. Those in the know stop by on Saturdays for the slow-cooked pork sandwich specials, while superfans wait in anticipation for “Super Clucking Sunday,” a once-a-month event where Cutty’s serves up its epic buttermilk fried chicken sandwich dressed up with zesty ranch, tangy barbecue sauce, shaved sweet onions on a sesame brioche bun. They’re only open till it runs out … and they run out fast. Check website for dates and details.
284 Washington St., Brookline, 617-505-1844
Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A signature sandwich at Cutty’s
When it comes to baking, owner Joanna Chang is an international superstar. What began with a few cookbooks and her flagship bakery in the South End has turned into a four-location lunch destination. Strategically scattered all around town, each one rocks to the non-stop bustle of the lunchtime hustle. Order at the counter and seat yourself – if you can. With an array of sandwiches and daily specials including a quiche and soup of the day, you can get a well-priced and well-crafted sandwich that should satiate any hunger … and it’s going to be hard to resist those mouthwatering baked goods provocatively presented in the display case.
7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Legal Sea Foods
It may not like to be referred to as a chain because of the stigma that comes along with it, but this Boston-born group of restaurants has spread across the eastern seaboard, with 24 restaurants in Greater Boston alone. Whatever you want to call it, Legal’s has been consistently offering the freshest and most diverse ocean fare since 1968. You’re in Boston, so you’ll have to try the chowder. Then order up some local oysters, pick from one of the wood-grilled daily catches and add a skewer of scallops for good measure. Beyond that, the variety of fish and choice of preparation at Legal Sea Foods is unmatched: choose from haddock, halibut, cod, scrod, sole, salmon, shrimp, scallops (and many more), and have it fried, grilled, boiled, broiled or stuffed. While locations may vary, each is outfitted with a bar and dining room.
11 a.m. to late
Since 1992, Parish Café has been a revered lunch spot for locals and visitors alike. Because of their grand patio located just feet from the Boston Common, the Parish is a prime location for people watching and best experienced in the spring and summer. The large menu offers salads, pastas and meaty entrées, but it’s the extensive list of signature sandwiches created by the city’s most famous chefs that make this lunch spot extra special. Try Ken Oringer’s (Clio, Coppa, Toro) “The Benny” and you’ll get a Vietnamese-style grilled chicken sandwich with julienned vegetables and a mint- coriander mayonnaise, spicy purple cabbage slaw, diced tomatoes, fresh mint, Thai basil, and cracked peanuts. For a rich, sweet and exotic alternative, you can opt for Chris Schlesinger’s (East Coast Grill) warm banana nut bread open-faced sandwich with melted monterey jack cheese, thinly sliced ham, mango chutney and pure cabbage slaw.
361 Boylston St, Boston, 617-247-4777
11:30 a.m. to late