A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in the North Shore

Stephanie Cmar and Dave Becker give us their guide to the best patios, the most hedonistic sandwiches, and the stiffest drinks from here to New Hampshire.
the barnacle

Party of Two chef Stephanie Cmar at The Barnacle. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Salem, Salisbury, Lynn, Peabody, Beverly, and all the coastal towns all the way up to New Hampshire are now teeming with great dining options. Just ask North Shore natives like Juniper’s Dave Becker, who grew up Newburyport and still travels to his hometown to indulge in everything from succulent prime sirloins and towering plates of fried scallops to cheap beers at townie bars where the hard-drinking regulars still smoke Marlboro reds inside.

“I try to avoid downtown Rockport and Salem when eating out on the North Shore,” Becker says. “Both towns have some great restaurants, but I try my best to sniff out the touristy places and aim for the lesser known spots; places with a little more character. When I was growing up in Newburyport, there weren’t a ton of good food spots except for the stuffy, special occasion places where you’d go for your grandparents’ birthdays. Now, every town on the North Shore has a couple great restaurants that do really well.”

Becker, along with Party of Two’s Stephanie Cmar, whose family still lives in Marblehead, helped us traverse the vast number of towns and seafood shacks in order to come up with an expert’s guide to the North Shore. Here in their own words are all the best chicken wings, lobster rolls, and stiff drinks, which keep them coming back home.

nick's roast beef

Nick’s Roast Beef in Beverly. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

 

Nick’s Famous Roast Beef

Cmar: “Can I get a beef three-way? I thought you could get that everywhere. Let me paint a picture for you: a soft hamburger bun griddled in butter, a generous dollop of mayo, and roast beef sliced to order. The beef gets doused in James River barbecue sauce and is topped with a slice of American cheese. When you mash all that together and wrap it in wax paper, you have my perfect sandwich.”

139 Dodge St., Beverly; 978-922-9075 or nicksfamousroastbeef.com.

Glenn’s Restaurant & Cool Bar 

Becker: “At Glenn’s, there’s great music. There’s never an open mic night with some idiot singing. It’s always someone up-and-coming and a lot of the people who have played there—Johnny A, Sax Gordon, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings—go on to make a name for themselves. The food’s consistently great too. It’s a creative new American menu that doesn’t stray too far from the classics. When I sit down, I always order a flurry of the snacks like the angus sliders, tilapia tacos, and spring rolls.”

44 Merrimac St., Newburyport; 978-465-3811 or glennsrestaurant.com.

nick's roast beef

Nick’s Roast Beef. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits

Becker: “No. 8 is in a really cool location that’s been in the restaurant industry forever, so it brings back memories for me. They have a back deck where you can order a cocktail and look at the river and waterfall. The menu has really nice charcuterie and small plates that are good for sharing. My story behind the place: when I was a kid I worked at Scandia, which was in Newburyport for a while and then moved to what is now the No. 8 space in Amesbury. It was this kind of snooty restaurant where old people had a great time. Working there was non-stop entertainment and debauchery.”

37 Main St., Amesbury; 978-792-5476 or no8kitchen.com.

Brine

Becker: “Every little part of Brine’s space is cool, including the host stand, which is this tall structure made out of old industrial milk crates. You can’t go wrong with anything here, but I’d recommend starting off with some oysters and then ordering a steak. They’re crazy good! It’s the kind of well-rested, super juicy sirloin that you want to take your time chewing. You just don’t want the flavor to leave your mouth.”

25 State St., Newburyport; 978-358-8479 or brineoyster.com.

the barnacle

The Barnacle’s chicken wings and what Cmar calls, “the best Bloody Mary on the North Shore.” Photo by Chelsea Kyle

The Barnacle

Cmar: “As a kid, my mom used to send me and my two brothers there because my youngest brother liked the chicken wings. Circle back 15 years later, and I find this place to be a perfect North Shore restaurant. It’s right on the tip of Old Town in Marblehead with a perfect view of the Neck and Harbor. Everything’s good there, but it has by far the best Bloody Mary on the North Shore. Pair that with those damn chicken wings and you’ve got a pretty great afternoon. Be warned, these are not city drinks. They make them strong!”

141 Front St., Marblehead; 781-631-4236.

The Deck 

Becker: “The Deck is right on the water in Salisbury in an old dining car. Before it was The Deck, I used to sneak out at night when I was a kid to go there to get $1.35 french fries. They’d open at 2 a.m. to make breakfast for the guys heading out on their fishing boats. They don’t serve breakfast to fishermen anymore, but the dining car is preserved and the chef there really cares. They use farm fresh eggs and make all their own bread, hamburger buns, sauces, and everything. The location is right across the bridge so you can sit and look out over the Newburyport Harbor. I like lobster rolls with a little more guts (mayo, onions, the works), so I don’t usually order them at restaurants, but I’ve heard from everyone that The Deck makes a great one.”

179 Bridge Rd., Salisbury; 978-499-4422 or thedecksalisbury.com.

the barnacle

Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Su Chang’s

Cmar: “For as long as I can remember, my family has gone out for Chinese food on Christmas day. We have dabbled with other places—Kowloon, Gourmet Garden, Fen Yang—but nothing beats Su Chang’s. I want my hot and sour soup boiling, my crab rangoons steaming, and my egg foo young messy. The food’s just great. One year my mom gave our server (an older dude) a $40 tip in cash for Christmas. He was so excited he posed with it with a big grin on his face. That was the year the Cmar family cried at the Chinese restaurant. It was a situation. He still works there and we look for him every year.”

373 Lowell St., Peabody; 978-531-3366 or suchangspeabody.com.

The Thirsty Whale

Becker: “If you’re looking for something a little more eclectic, try The Thirsty Whale in Newburyport. It’s definitely a dive bar and feels like somewhere that Popeye’s grandfather would be caught drinking. The menu is simple: burgers and strong, cheap drinks. You’ll want to finish your drink quickly so the ice doesn’t melt.”

24 Market Square, Newburyport; 978-462-1140.

the causeway

Peter’s Platter at The Causeway in Gloucester. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

The Causeway

Becker: “The Causeway is my go-to spot for old-school fried seafood. Like Sweet Basil, it’s BYO and there’s always a wait. What you want to do is put your name in then sit out back by the marsh. Pass the time by throwing rocks at stuff and cracking into your beer. There’s a great view back there of the marsh and the Commuter Rail tracks. Peter’s Platter is the best thing to try on your first time there. It’s this huge pile of fried haddock, shrimp, scallops, calamari, and clams with coleslaw and fries. It’s really good food in large portions. And you can tell the food is great, because all the locals love going there.”

78 Essex Ave., Gloucester; 978-281-5256 or thecausewayrestaurant.com.

Bella Varona

Cmar: “This is a hidden gem. It’s the cutest place in Salem. The menu is written on a chalkboard that they bring from table to table. It’s super traditional, and all the pastas and specials are delicious. It’s so tiny you’re basically sitting on the diner’s laps next to you, but it’s worth it.”

107 Essex St., Salem; 978-825-9911 or bellaverona.com.

blue ox

The Blue Ox burger. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

The Blue Ox

Cmar: “The food is just delicious at The Blue Ox. It’s a place where Lynn’s politicians gather in one corner, there’s a baby shower in another, and families and regulars are scattered throughout. The burger is so good that I crave it constantly. The chef makes dishes that you’ve eaten all your life, but makes them taste new and reinvented.”

191 Oxford St., Lynn; 781-780-5722 or theblueoxlynn.com.

Andiamo Restaurant + Bar

Becker: “I’ve heard Jim Rodgers, the chef/owner behind Andiamo, described as the Todd English of Newburyport because his resume is so stacked. I worked with him a while back and I honestly don’t know if I’d even be a chef if it weren’t for him. Andiamo is tucked into an old colonial house on a side street. It looks pretty unassuming, so you have to know you’re looking for it. Inside, Jim’s food is awesome. Musicians are there tickling the ivories while you gorge yourself on their pasta, which is amazing.”

24 Winter St., Newburyport; 978-255-4341 or andiamo-restaurant.com.

muffin shop

The Muffin Shop. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

The Muffin Shop

Cmar: “Oh my humble beginnings. This is where I learned to cook, decided my career path, and worked through high school. I owe Louisa a lot. She taught me how to be a short order cook, a skill that’s obviously helped me through the years. I like the blueberry muffins the best. The egg sandwiches are awesome, too. When I’m in Marblehead, I still see certain customers and remember how they like their coffee.”

126 Washington St., Marblehead; 781-631-8223 or officialmuffinshop.com.

muffin shop

Egg sandwich at The Muffin Shop. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

The Park Lunch

Becker: “The Park Lunch is a spot that’s been open for decades and is known for their amazing fried clams. The owners collect and display high school and college memorabilia from local teams and any athlete from the area who’s ever gone pro. A while back, there was a grease fire in the kitchen and the place completely burned to the ground because firefighters ran into the restaurant, dropped their hoses, and grabbed all the priceless artifacts off the walls. The restaurant couldn’t be saved, but all of the memorabilia was.”

181 Merrimac St., Newburyport; 978-465-9817 or parklunch.com.

The Neptune 8

Becker: “The Neptune 8, or “The Neps,” is a private club in Newburyport. People might look at you funny if you go in there, but they won’t kick you out or anything. It’s not 100-percent dive-y, but it’s been around forever and you can still smoke in it. It’s the kind of place you might see in a Mark Wahlberg movie. I try to go in for a drink once a year. Once, I met a guy who went there for part of his bachelor party and they totally rolled out the red carpet for him. It’s always an experience.”

40 Hancock St., Newburyport; 978-465-9091


Christopher Hughes Chris Hughes, Food Editor at Boston Magazine chughes@bostonmagazine.com