A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well in Eastie

Neptune Oyster's Michael Serpa and Uni's Tony Messina, both longtime East Boston residents, share their favorite neighborhood spots.

michael serpa

From left: Chef Sam Jackson of KO Pies and Neptune chef Michael Serpa. Photo courtesy of James Rose

East Boston might be better known for its waterfront views and the sound of Boeings flying into Logan Airport, but it’s also has a diversity of cuisines, family-run restaurants, and tantalizing cheap eats found few other places in Boston.

“There’s no ‘fine dining,’ just good food from people who want others to experience their culture,” says Tony Messina, Uni’s executive chef who was born and raised in East Boston. “Many parts of East Boston have drastically changed since I was a kid, while others have stayed exactly the same. But with the influx of new cultures moving in, there’s been a huge change in the types of restaurants that are popping up. You can eat at an Indian restaurant then walk around the corner for El Salvadorian food. There’s Colombian, Italian-American, pizza, barbecue; there’s just so many options. There’s so many types of microcosms in East Boston that just from one block to the next you look around and go, ‘where the hell am I?’”

Messina and fellow chef Michael Serpa of Neptune Oyster are two of the proudest Eastie residents we know, so we asked the duo to take us around to their favorite neighborhood spots. From lengua and Pueblan-style pozole to braised tripe and kickass Vietnamese chilled chicken salad, here’s what they eat when they’re not on the clock.

KO Catering + Pies at the Shipyard
Serpa: “One of the most unique spots in all of Boston. My buddy Sam [Jackson], a pirate-mouthed Aussie, owns this place. It’s a great neighborhood pub with delicious meat pies, piri-piri chicken sandwich, and a Vietnamese chicken salad. It’s all super delicious, fresh, and cheap. There’s a solid local and Australian beer selection, a covered patio on the harbor, and it’s just steps away from the Maverick T stop.”

Messina: “KO Pies is an Australian meat pie joint in the shipyard. It’s a great spot for good eats and an all-around good time. My favorite is The Floater, which comes covered in mashed potatoes, gravy and peas. So good! They also have a Vietnamese-style chilled chicken salad with poached chicken and Vietnamese herbs. It’s a little spicy, a little sweet, and all around delicious.”

256 Marginal St., Bldg. 16, 617-418-5234 or kocateringandpies.com.

Taquería Jalisco
Serpa: “My go-to for taco delivery. I will usually get a dozen or so tacos and I’ve also heard a rumor about the chilaquiles being pretty legit here. Always go for the lengua and cabeza tacos when they have them.”

293 Bennington St., East Boston; 617-567-6367.

BlackStrap BBQ
Messina: “If you’re willing to take a five minute drive from Eastie to Winthrop, there’s even a solid barbecue joint that’s worth checking out on Woodside Avenue. My favorites there are the burnt ends sandwich, brisket, pulled pork, and ribs. All of the sides are ridiculous too—try the mac and cheese and baked beans. You won’t be sorry.”

47 Woodside Ave., Winthrop; 617-207-1783 or blackstrapbbq.com.

tony messina

Uni chef Tony Messina at Santarpio’s in East Boston. Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Serpa: “The best pizza in Boston. It also has the most authentic East Boston service. Just go in, sit down, order a plain cheese pie, a combo plate (charcoal grilled lamb and sausage), and a High Life. Don’t ask for a menu, for your own sake.”

Messina: “My favorite Eastie spot, and probably the majority of Boston’s favorite too. Santarpio’s is a landmark that’s been in operation for over a hundred years, and it’s hands down the best pizza in Boston. Tip for first time diners: they only have pizza, grilled sausage, or grilled lamb. If you ask for a menu, you’re suspect. Also, there’s a back door that leads into the kitchen for those who want a pizza to-go.”

111 Chelsea St., Boston; 617-567-9871 or santarpiospizza.com.

Rincon Limeno
Serpa: “A bit of a hybrid menu, featuring Peruvian specialties as well as typical Colombian dishes, since the restaurant is actually run by Colombians. I almost always get the roast chicken (pollo alla brasa) or the Colombian montanero plate. If you get the chicken, skip the fries and get rice and beans instead because the red beans are top notch. My wife loves them.”

409 Chelsea St., East Boston; 617-569-4942 or rinconlimeno.com.

Rino’s Place
Serpa: “This is the Italian spot that Guy Fieri really likes. They have pretty solid red sauce Italian dishes with some creative touches. You can expect a long wait, which is why I usually go for lunch. If you do end up going for dinner though, there’s a little wine bar (Prima e Dopo) across the way that serves as a great waiting room.”

258 Saratoga St., Boston; 617-567-7412 or rinosplace.com.

Serpa: “I like to go here when I’m to lazy to cook and I want some meat. I go for the pickled veggies, the farofa, plantains, and the churrasco meats. Save some room on your plate for a few chicken hearts, chicken thighs, and maybe a sausage, too. They weigh your dish and charge by the pound.”

297 Chelsea St., Boston; 617-561-7277.

angela's cafe

Chefs Angela Lopez and Michael Serpa at Angela’s Cafe. Photo courtesy of James Rose

Angela’s Café
Messina: “If I’m in the mood for Mexican food, or more specifically Pueblan food, Angela’s Cafe is the spot. The sopa azteca and the pozole are both incredible. You truly can’t go wrong when ordering at Angela’s, but my best advice would be to stick with any their traditional Pueblan-style dishes.”

Serpa: “Great family-run Mexican spot in Eagle Hill. Angela Lopez is a sweet lady from Puebla, Mexico whose family runs the front of the house. I usually grab a Negra Modelo and a sopa (azteca, pozole, or whatever else they have), some sort of tacos, and a mole dish. I just love going there to support them.”

131 Lexington St., Boston; 617-567-4972 or angelacafeboston.com.

Meridian Food Market
Messina: “If you’re in a hurry—maybe going to or coming from Logan Airport—Meridian Food Market is the best place in Boston for a sandwich. Or better yet, try their braised tripe, served only on Saturdays. It’s owned and operated by a first generation Southern Italian family and their kids and is a great place for quick eats in East Boston.”

121 Meridian St., East Boston; 617-567-9725 or meridianfoodmarket.com.

El Peñol
Serpa: ” A very typical Colombian Spot. Just go and get the lengua. It’s that good!”

54 Bennington St., Boston; 617-569-0100.

Royal Roast Beef
Serpa: “I usually grab a steak tip salad here or a chicken sandwich, but of course they are known for their roast beef, as well as their fried seafood. Good quality, affordable, and right across the street from Constitution Beach, so it makes for an easy picnic. Bring your own wine though.”

752 Bennington St., East Boston; 617-567-7779.