Where to Eat and What to Do in Boston's South End

Boston’s South End is a wonderful amalgamation of a neighborhood. It offers the London-like charm of townhouses arranged around gardened squares, the sidewalk cafes of Paris, and the artist studios and galleries of Brooklyn, all in addition to its own decidedly New England character.

Sitting between the Back Bay, Chinatown, South Boston, and Roxbury, the highly walkable and relatively untouristed South End is something of a crossroads, with a diverse collection of one-of-a-kind shops and galleries. Small parks and playgrounds dot its acreage, making it a favorite neighborhood for young families. It’s also one of the centers (if not the center) of the city’s gay scene. And, because it boasts some of the best restaurants in Boston, the South End is a dining destination for folks from all over Boston and the surrounding area.

What to do in the South End

One of the joys of the South End is simply taking yourself for a walk. The landmarked historic district lays claim to the largest collection of Victorian-era row houses in the country, so the real estate gawking is epic. The main thoroughfare, lined with shops and restaurants offering outdoor seating in the warmer months, is Tremont Street; Columbus, Washington, Harrison and, to a lesser extent Shawmut, streets run parallel and also offer a mix of commercial, retail, and culinary spots. The tree-lined blocks running perpendicular to these are almost all residential, with Union Park Street offering some of the best townhouse architecture.

For decorating inspiration, head to Lekker Home for mid-20th- and 21st-century pieces by people like David Adjaye, Frances Knoll, Paola Navone, and Hans Wegner, all set up in residential vignettes across a light-filled space. The petite Hudson is equally enticing, focusing on somewhat more traditional items and smaller scale accessories. It’s excellent for host and housewarming presents, as is Olives + Grace. There, the look and feel of the locally sourced, artisanal gourmet items, home and fashion accessories, and other great gifts matches the minimalist-contemporary-bohemian vibe of its stylish owner, Sofi Madison. Fashion-wise, browse the workwear- and outdoor gear-inspired men’s duds and grooming items at Sault New England; the modern women’s wear from an array of boutique brands around the globe at Viola Lovely; and the contemporary handmade jewelry at Michele Mercaldo.

Many of the best galleries—as well as artists’ studios and a vintage market—occupy the brick-and-beam former warehouse and industrial buildings of the SoWa (South of Washington) district, on the neighborhood’s southeast edge. Be sure to hit the International Poster Gallery for antique travel prints. On weekends from spring through fall, the outdoor SoWa Open Market sets up shop with local vendors, artisans, food purveyors, farmers, and food and drink trucks selling their wares in a fun, alfresco setting.

Where to eat and drink in the South End

You’ve come to the right place. Many of the South End’s restaurants, and their chefs and owners, have earned acclaim well beyond Boston’s borders by the James Beard Foundation, and as well as many other short lists of America’s best food.

Chef Barbara Lynch has two spots here: The low-key B&G Oysters makes the most of New England seafood (don’t miss the Maine lobster roll, or the private terrace out back). Her Butcher Shop, for its part, makes meat its main focus, and it earns raves for its wine program, too. Stop in for Burgundy, stay for beef tartare and bone marrow.

Myers + Chang dishes Asia-inspired cuisine including creative takes on Taiwanese, Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese comfort and street food. It has become a favorite for its weekend dim-sum brunch. Myers + Chang is co-owned by pastry chef Joanne Chang, whose chainlet of Flour Bakery + Cafes, one of which is in the South End, prove indispensable for lunch on the go or for picnic supplies. 

The same is true of the Italian gourmet shop Formaggio Kitchen and of Tatte, a beautifully art-directed France-meets-the-Middle East patisserie, coffee shop, and cafe. If you’re looking for a bottle of something to go with that picnic, head to the Urban Grape, which has created its own system to help wine-lovers expand their horizons. The shop numbers each wine on a scale from one to five based on its body (one being the lightest). Love a certain level-five Bordeaux? Let the scale guide you to this biodynamic Chianti Classico next.

Back to fine dining, there’s chef-restaurateur Ken Orringer’s Toro, where visitors from near and far wait for hours to enjoy the Barcelona-style tapas and pintxos, and Spanish wines and sherries. (Check out its recently opened back patio.) SRV’s Venetian-inspired small plates made their debut in 2016, and the young chefs have gone from strength to strength since. (SRV’s $48 multi-course Arsenale tasting menu may be the best gourmet dinner deal in town.) Chef Douglas Williams’s rising profile, meanwhile, is thanks largely to his four-year-old restaurant Mida, where he serves seasonal Italian and Italian-inflected dishes in a Scandi-chic setting.

Perhaps because of its puritanical roots, any place that serves alcohol in Boston also has to have a full menu, so there aren’t straight-up bars here or anywhere else. But we’d recommend making a bee-line for the Beehive for cocktails, not just for the drinks but the live music and large streetside patio, too. The sports-bar-style Cathedral Station is one of the neighborhood’s prime LGBTQ+ hangouts, with a terrace that’s especially hopping Sunday afternoons, after the city’s gay sports leagues finish their games. And the range of cocktails served at the long bar and hightop tables at Yellow Door Taqueria extends well beyond your typical margaritas and palomas. Yellow Door turns out smart, surprising blends of tequila, mezcal, pisco, and rum—thankfully not all used together—that go down easy, with or without tacos.

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