A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in the South End
Ken Oringer and Kristen Kish break down the best Asian supermarkets, fish tacos, and hallowed hole-in-the-walls.
What more can be said about the South End’s well-trod restaurant scene that hasn’t already been mentioned ad nauseam? Actually, quite a bit. Those stately avenues lined with elegant brownstones, art galleries, and Victorian red brick row houses harbor more than Boston’s best al fresco dining and the kinds of culinary icons that are regularly name-dropped on Twitter. There are a number of unheralded Italian, Indian, French, Japanese, and Southern “Low Country” restaurants, dive bars that pre-date Gordon Hamersley, and diners that continue to cater to the neighborhood’s blue collar heritage.
In fact, with Hamerley’s Bistro closing last October—the restaurant widely credited with ushering in the South End’s gastronomic dominance—we thought it was due time to explore the neighborhood’s foodie legacy. What kind of residual impact has the legendary Hamersley had on Tremont’s “Restaurant Row”? Do destination-worthy diners still exist, despite the departure of the Manjourides family from the beloved Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe? And what new chefs are ready to take up the mantle forged by the Barbara Lynches and Jamie Bissonnettes?
To help us answer those questions, we asked two of the South End’s most recognizable figures, Ken Oringer (Uni, Toro) and Top Chef Season 10 winner Kristen Kish, who cut her teeth at Lynch’s outstanding demonstration kitchen, Stir. Here, in their own words, are all the best places to saddle up to the bar for a cheap drink, experience world-class pizza, shop for obscure Korean condiments, and enjoy the gut-busting concoction known as “crack fries.”
Kish: During my workday at Stir, I would always find time to drop by B&G. It’s one of my favorite places in Boston. Obviously, they have good oysters and wine, but they also have all kinds of beautiful seasonal things. Like the last time I was there, we just went to town on this whole Branzino that was deep-fried. Also, during the summer, they have this raw snap pea salad, which they make with julienned snap peas, house-made ricotta, and preserved lemons. I’ve probably eaten that 10 times while sitting on their patio with a cold glass of rosé.
550 Tremont St., Boston; 617-423-0550 or bandgoysters.com.
The Butcher Shop
Oringer: Barbara [Lynch] and I both opened Clio and No. 9 Park around the same time, and I continue to love everything she touches. It’s great to stop into The Butcher Shop for their kick-ass wine list, amazing cheeses, and the steak tartare. It’s this killer, very traditional tartare made with mustard, ketchup, egg yolks, and of course, great beef—but it’s so frickin’ good.
Kish: I’ve been to the Butcher Shop a good number of times, even just over the past couple months. The best thing about going there is just propping up at the bar, having a little charcuterie, a glass of sherry, and listening to the band saw in back sawing through bones. It’s awesome!
552 Tremont St., Boston; 617-423-4800 or thebutchershopboston.com.
Oringer: Jugos has amazing juices and smoothies. The coconut pulp ceviche is one of my favorites. They also have really great Mexican-style fruit with chili, tamarind, salt, and sugar. It’s my go-to place for an afternoon snack when I need to recharge before service. Since it’s outside Back Bay station, I always grab a ton of stuff here before I hop the train to New York City.
145 Dartmouth St., Boston; 617-418-9879 or visitjugos.com.
Kish: This is going to get a little dirty and I’ll probably lose a little bit of street cred on this one, but right next door to where I used to live is this awesome takeout place called Nicole’s Pizza. They’re open until midnight, so I would go over there and order a lot of chicken parm sandwiches. Also, I know their fries come off a truck in big frozen bags, but they’re the seasoned kind with that outside crispy layer. I’ll walk down the street with an order of those, grease dripping through the bag, squeezing packets of ketchup on them. It’s so delicious!
639 Tremont St., Boston; 617-266-0223 or nicolespizza.com.
Oringer: I’ll usually head to Anchovies after work for their great meatballs, steamed clams, and strong drinks. The gravy on the meatballs is just delicious and the clams are super garlicky, which is a vice for me. Their house iceberg lettuce reminds me of my childhood. Back in the day we’d eat a simple salad like that before we got too fancy. It’s just so old-school, served as it is with chilled iceberg lettuce, carrots, and tons of Russian dressing.
Kish: This is another one of those go-to late night spots for me. I don’t think I’m offending them when I say it’s a little dive-y. More than the food—which is all really solid—I go for the setting, which is perfect for a beer and a shot of Fernet.
433 Columbus Ave., Boston; 617-266-5088 or anchoviesboston.com.
Kish: The steak frites at Franklin has long been a staple of mine. It’s just a really nicely cooked hangar steak with a little bit of char on the outside, and this demi-glace with tons of blue cheese. After it gets to the table, I wait those extra couple of minutes so the juices from the meat soak into the pile of fries. They also have these things called Crack Fries, which aren’t listed on the menu, but they’re fries covered in that demi-glace and the same seasonings that come on the steak frites. It’s one of the few places I know I can stop by and get a great meal, drink a couple of High Lifes, and be out of there for not a lot of money.
278 Shawmut Ave., Boston; 617-350-0010 or franklincafe.com.
Kish: Metropolis is one of my favorite places, particularly in the wintertime. I love sitting at the bar there with a big glass of red wine and a bowl of their rigatoni. It’s a very standard dish. A lot of Italian places have that kind of rigatoni plate with broccoli rabe, and sausage, and creamy Marsala sauce, but there’s just something about it. You get beautifully cooked rigatoni, a side of bread—which you can use to sop up all that sauce—and just gorge yourself on a copious amount of pasta. It’s a huge portion, you just eat and eat and it never seems to go anywhere.
584 Tremont St., Boston; 617-247-2931 or metropolisboston.com.
Oringer: Even with the new ownership, the place remains a classic dive: Christmas lights year-round, that dive bar smell of years of accumulated drunkenness, eclectic album covers as wallpaper, graffiti in the bathrooms, and most importantly, cheap drinks. Nothing has changed in 25 years. Sadly, it’s one of the few remaining dives left in the South End. My go-to when I’m there? Tequila on the rocks.
Kish: This is a crazy good dive bar that’s cash only. There’s like 20 seats total. They have Christmas decorations year-round and crazy shit hanging from the ceilings. There’s very few windows and it’s so dark in there, you feel like you could be anywhere in the world. I love that about it.
100 Chandler St., Boston; 617-338-5258
Myers + Chang
Kish: Who doesn’t love Myers + Chang? Seriously! I was lucky enough to have been their recently with a big group that included Joanne [Chang]. So, we basically just let her order everything for the table, which is how I was introduced to her riff on bibimbap. It has quinoa instead of white rice, tons of flavorful bulgogi beef, and just all these little accoutrements. It’s just a fun, cool place whether you’re going for dinner, drinks, or their weekend dim sum brunch, which has [executive chef] Karen Akunowicz’s awesome breakfast banh mi.
Oringer: I love going here with my wife and kids. What’s great is that they have a ton of vegetarian-based stuff. They’ve got amazing dumplings for the kids, and then really spicy, funky stuff that I enjoy, like the grilled corn with sriracha butter, broccoli rabe over rice noodles, or any of the tofu dishes. Also their fish tacos, they’re some of my favorite in the city.
1145 Washington Street, Boston; 617-542-5200 or myersandchang.com.
Kish: Not so much a restaurant, but right down the street from Myers + Chang is Ming’s Supermarket and C-Mart. I’m not incredibly well-versed in Asian cooking, but after stuffing myself on all that awesome food at Myers + Chang, I’m usually inspired to walk down to Ming’s—my personal favorite. I kind of just peruse the aisles and see what I can pick up, that way I can go home and try some things out without embarrassing myself.
1102 Washington St., Boston; 617-338-1588
Kish: I’ll pop into Stir to read cookbooks and then head to Coppa for lunch. Since I’ve left Menton, I’d say this is probably my most frequented place in the South End. What I love about it is that they carry the spectrum of really straightforward dishes alongside all this beautiful offal and the more adventurous things that I like to try. I think all their specialities pizzas are great, but I will say I’ll often stop by with my friend Kim who’s not as adventurous as I am. We’ll always order a margherita pizza with a side of red pepper flakes and it’s perfect! It’s not soggy and when you pick it up the point on your pizza still sticks, so you have time to fold it up and eat it. Also, don’t miss out on their specialties like the sweet bread raviolis, the beef tongue, and their whipped mortadella, which is pretty much a meat butter you spread on crusty bread.
253 Shawmut Ave., Boston; 617-391-0902 or coppaboston.com.
Mike’s City Diner
Oringer: Mike’s has the best turkey hash on earth. Jay [Hajj] is a dear friend and Barbara, the woman who runs the place, is a Boston legend. We love doing pop-ups there, like in the past we’ve raise money for Boston firefighters who’ve passed away, the Haiti relief fund, and Hurricane Sandy victims, all at Mike’s.
1714 Washington St., Boston; 617-267-9393 or mikescitydiner.com.
Flour Bakery + Café
Oringer: Of course everyone loves Flour. But my favorite thing lately are their croissants. They’ve been perfecting them for years and have really made huge strides to fine-tune them. It seems like it’s really been a passion project for Joanne. My family and I also devour her chocolate chip cookies and the cream-filled brioche.
1595 Washington St., Boston; 617-267-4300 or flourbakery.com.
Kish: Orinoco on Shawmut is an absolutely fantastic place for South American cuisine. I don’t know what they put in their braised beef, but it is so fucking delicious! The flavor they pack into such an unassuming plate of beans, rice, and meat is pretty unbelievable.
477 Shawmut Ave., Boston; 617-369-7075 or orinocokitchen.com.