Boston's restaurants: a smorgasbord of choices

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

"It's a wonder the American Revolution wasn't settled over scallops at Ye Olde Union Oyster House," a diner remarked at one of the oldest (1826) and best seafood restaurants in Boston.

In an unpretentious atmosphere with the original stalls and oyster bar, the menu lists such delights as oysters, lobster, and charbroiled meats.

For the Boston Jubilee visitor, seafoofd is a priority. Scrod, lobster, clams, and shrimp hold an esteemed position on most menus. Competition becomes keen over which has "the best seafood in town."

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Among the leaders is Legal Seafoods at several locations around Boston, the most accessible in the Statler Office Building, where you can get large portions of tender fresh fish at medium prices.

You can expect a wait at Legal, but it's worth it to dine on fresh tuna, soft shell crabs, or -- if you're up to it -- a nine-pound lobster (the average lobster is about three pounds). The chech is paid immediately after ordering, so don't be surprised or offended.

No Name Restaurant, at 15 1/2 Fish Pier, is another popular place where there will be a wait. It may be hard to find because there is no name on the outside, but the effort is worthwhile when you sit down to a steaming bowl of milky, buttery chowder packed with fresh fish.

The regular menu includes heaping portions of scallops, swordfish, clams, and other broiled or fried fish at one of the lowest prices around, served in a "no frills" atmosphere of long plank tables crammed together, family style. The service is fast and expert.

For classier dining, there's Jimmy's Harborside at 248 Northern Avenue, with a view of historic Boston Harbor. Jimmy's features baked finnan haddie and baked stuffed lobster. It's more expensive than No Name, but the ambiance and the service are pleasant.

In the North End -- Boston's Little Italy -- you'll find some of the tastiest pizza around. Regina's, 11 1/2 Thatcher Street, and The European on Hanover Street offer crusty pies at reasonable prices.

Felicia's, on Hanover Street, is famous for more elegant Italian dining. Donna Felicia is a grand woman who wanders among the tables, speaking to her customers while they indulge in her distinctive pasta.

Your taste buds will be assaulted at Quincy Market, so go hungry. Everywhere you look there is food. Have a gourmet taco from Paco's Mexican Food. Craving a hot dog? Stop in at the Brown Derby and have one, or two. How about some flaky fish from Marion's? Or a bowl of Peanutbutter Cup ice cream from Dawson Farms? You'll find all these and plenty more in the center building.

A raw bar for oysters, Chinese foods, fresh fruit salads, pastries, frozen yogurt, fried dough, hot chocolate chip cookies from The Chip Yard, tasty pastas from Cybele, traditional New England entrees served with puffy popovers from The Proud Popover -- this is just the beginning of a long list of foods you can eat on park benches or in cushiony luxury.

The Last Hurrah, at the Parker House (corner of School and Tremont) features two sizes of all entrees -- a large portion for big appetites, and less for light eaters. It's a bit expensive for the fish and steak, but if you can resist the price, you can't resist the music. Lively swing is provided by the Bo Winiker band, which plays nightly.

On Beacon Hill, enjoy the rate flavor of curried chicken and avocado soup, or Italian-style shrimp at Another Season, 97 Mount Vernon Street. It's as intimate and opulent as the "Hill" itself.

Or stroll down to Charles Street and eat at Rebecca's. The exotic gourmandise is, in the owner's words, "dedicated to broadening the horizons of the New England palate." Try the stuffed grape leaves, or the goose braised with apples and onions. The less adventurous palate will be pleased to know that a fish of the day and a number of plain pastas are available.

In the Black Bay area of Boston, after enjoying the majestic beauty of the brownstone mansions and magnolias which line the boulevards, dine at the Cafe Vendome, inside or out --

Friday's, at Exeter and Newbury Streets, has everything. And if they don't have it they'll go out and get it. From artichoke hearts to pizza quiche, Friday's has the most extensive menu you'll see in New England. There's always a line -- Friday's is one of Boston's most popular places.

For those of you can't seem to eat enough hamburgers, Ken's Pub at Copley offers a thick burger (try it with Swiss cheese and mushrooms) with steak fries for $2.75.

If you're a romantic with money to spare, head toward the South End and Cafe Budapest at the Copley Square Hotel. You can sit at a cozy table for two in the "Pink Room" and devour iced cherry soup, sweetbreads, and a delicate champagne torte. The management has lost count of how many couples have become engaged at Cafe Budapest, so be careful.

In all cases, wherever you dine, check ahead for hours, dress restrictions, and reservations. For a copy of a helpful booklet, contact the Boston Chamber of Commerce and ask for their "Guide to Dining in Boston."

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