The Best Places to Eat and Drink in Salem, Massachusetts Right Now
From sit-down dining to taprooms to candy stores, here’s how to make the most of your Salem trip, in October or otherwise.
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Massachusetts’s most spellbinding seaport may experience a peak tourist season every October, but to be honest, the North Shore city’s restaurant scene is strong enough to warrant a quick trip from Boston any time of year. So whether you’re flying up for fall fun or just planning a post-Halloween day trip, here are some of the places you’d be lucky to find, from sit-down dining to cafés and candy shops.
This guide was last updated in October 2023; watch for periodic updates.
- Full-Service Dining
- Fast-Casual Dining
- Cafés and Breakfast-y Spots
- Sweets and Treats
- Fun Stuff
All Souls Lounge
Have you had a happy cry today? Here, let us help: Gourmet hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and vintage cocktails. Yes, there is a restaurant and cocktail lounge in Salem that builds its food menu around franks and melty sandwiches—the former might be topped with sweet brown mustard, remoulade, bacon, and fried onion (the Icelandic Dog), and the latter could be stuffed with creamy brie, sliced apple, arugula, and hot honey (La Femme grilled cheese). The drinks, meanwhile, pull on historic recipes from as early as 1806 (the Stone Fence, a concoction of spiced rum, apple cider, and Angostura). As for the vibe? When the jukebox isn’t jumping, the place spins vinyl.
282 Derby St., Salem, allsoulssalem.com.
Bambolina (and Kokeshi)
Wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas anchor the rustic Italian cookery at Bambolina, where the pies are topped with everything from artichokes to pickled hot peppers to Black Forest ham. You’ll also find pasta plates and sides, such as mushrooms marinated in lemon, thyme, and crushed red pepper. Also, take note: Sibling restaurant Kokeshi is currently operating out of the Bambolina kitchen, serving ramen and more Asian-inspired noodle dishes and snacks. You can order from one or both—perfect if half your table is in a pizza mood and half wants dan dan noodles.
288 Derby St., Salem, 978-594-8709, bambolinarestaurant.com.
When you’re seeking old-school Italian, you’ll find fabulous red-sauce plates (just like nonna made them!) at this cozy downtown stalwart. The homey interior is matched by bowls of hearty Bolognese or seafood linguini, and the plates, bearing big portions of lemon-sauced chicken or pepper-sauced pork loin, taste just as great via takeout as they do over carafes of Chianti in the dining room.
107 Essex St., Salem, 978-825-9911, bellaverona.com.
Open since 2019, this Moroccan restaurant is relatively new to the Salem dining scene, but it quickly cemented its place as a local favorite for its flavorful dishes, including a variety of tagine-cooked options. (The Moroccan tagine, for example, offers diners a choice of braised lamb shank, beef, or chicken cooked with an aromatic mix of apricots, figs, prunes, and cinnamon.) Vegetarians will find plenty to love, from falafel-topped hummus bowls to a tagine dish packed with braised veggies.
118 Washington St., Salem, 978-744-2700, bluefezrestaurant.com.
Escape downtown and head south to join the locals at Dube’s, serving up the crispiest fried seafood since 1961. Pretty much anything you can think of gets dunked in the fryer here: oysters, scallops, clams, and more, served in various combinations with fries, coleslaw, and tartar sauce. Enjoy your seafood feast—and a break from the tourist throngs—in the cozy, wood-paneled space.
317 Jefferson Ave., Salem, 978-744-9531, dubesseafood.com.
Flying Saucer Pizza
Let your geek flag fly here. From the “Spaceballs” (aka garlic knots) to the many specialty pies, the menu abounds with nerdy references: The “Audrey II,” for instance—covered in arugula, roasted red peppers, and balsamic fig glaze—nods to the hungry plant of Little Shop of Horrors. But you can also build your own pizza using ingredients like Cajun-style chicken, hot honey, ranch, and a ton of vegan alternatives. Gluten-free crusts are available, too, and trust us: They’re out of this world.
118 Washington St., Salem, 978-594-8189, flyingsaucerpizzacompany.com.
While this could also arguably be in the café category below, the boho-style Gulu-Gulu—a self-described “artisan sandwich shop and craft beer bar”—is a little bit of everything. It’s the kind of place where laptop warriors hammer out emails while sipping on draft-poured cold brew coffee, or toe-tapping music fans vibe out to local musicians while tipping back craft beers. Stick around for drag brunches, game nights, and open-mic shindigs. Or just grab a globally inspired sandwich, such as Istanbul (Not Constantinople) with turkey, mozzarella, tomato, and pesto, or an all-day breakfast item like a Belgian waffle, and consider enjoying it in the grassy park out front, where you’ll find the photo-opp-friendly Bewitched statue.
247 Essex St., Salem, 978-740-8882, gulugulucafe.com.
Howling Wolf Taqueria
Behold the massive burritos at this Mexican joint—including the signature Howling Wolf, a fork-and-knife-required beast filled with shredded beef, salsa, and beans that sits in a sea of chili sauce. The scratch-made tortillas are some of the best around, especially when they’re deep-fried for delicious chimichangas. Just don’t sleep on the menu’s other “wolf bites”: say, avocado fries or chicken wings served with jalapeño ranch. Need even more spice? Sip on margaritas made with fiery Ghost Tequila and muddled jalapeños.
76 Lafayette St., Salem, 978-744-9653, howlingwolftaqueria.com.
Ledger Restaurant & Bar
Even Ledger’s glitzy interior, a former bank, is outshone by the truly radiant, upscale New American cuisine from chef-owner Matt O’Neil and executive chef Daniel Gursha. You might find cider-glazed pork shank with grilled apples and honey nut squash puree, herb-brined chicken with salsa verde and pepitas, or Maine mussels with pork belly, curry, coconut, and lemongrass. Some of the biggest surprises, though, are saved for the brunch menu—more specifically its rotating doughnuts in flavors like salted brown sugar caramel or dirt cup and pumpkin spice.
125 Washington St., Salem, 978-594-1908, ledgersalem.com.
The Lobster Shanty
This seasonal dive bar and seafood restaurant has been doing its thing in Derby Square since the 1970s, snagging plenty of media attention along the way. (Yep, Guy Fieri has been here; he featured steak tips, pulled pork, and the Lobstertini, a lobster-y take on a dirty martini.) The cheeky signage out front says it best: “Warm beer, lousy food, surly waitresses, rude bartenders, rowdy regulars, cranky cooks.” (There’s often trivia and live music, too.) Closed from mid-January through the end of March.
25 Front St., Salem, 978-645-5449, lobstershantysalem.com.
It’s good-vibes-only at Mercy Tavern, a sunny, friendly hang serving excellent (and eclectic) comfort food. One might find fish and chips featuring coconut fried haddock; garlicky French fries covered in tzatziki sauce and feta cheese; and the venue’s signature pumpkin ravioli in a brown butter sauce with cherry drizzle and fried leeks. Meanwhile, potions like the Hocus Pocus—tequila with autumnal fruits and spices—keep us energized for Friday Blues jams and more live music.
148 Derby St., Salem, 978-741-4436, mercysalem.com.
Sea Level Oyster Bar
Water views beckon to this harborside spot, where the seafood-focused menu is wide-ranging: Maple-and-walnut-sauced salmon and fish stew share space with New England classics like the Salem Sound Clambake, which is anchored by a one-and-a-quarter-pound lobster. Of course, you’ll want to start off with the eponymous bivalves, served freshly shucked on shellfish platters or baked with chipotle bacon butter and panko crumbs.
94 Wharf St., Salem, 978-741-0555, sealeveloysterbar.com.
Chef Aaron Chambers—a longtime alum of restaurants by acclaimed chef Daniel Boulud, including Boston’s now-closed Bar Boulud—has struck out on his own to open a destination-worthy, fancy-but-not-unfriendly restaurant in Salem with his wife Shanna. Settler is all about local sourcing, scratch-made food, and Mediterranean influences, which results in dishes like harissa-spiced steak tartare with garlic labneh; potato-crusted cod with capers and preserved lemon; and pumpkin ricotta agnolotti with sage and brown butter. (Note: In October, a la carte dining is not available; all diners will get the $75 prix fixe menu.)
2 Lynde St., Salem, 978-744-2094, settlersalem.com.
A fabulous, family-run seafood restaurant inside Salem’s historic Lyceum Hall, Turner’s wholesales its super-fresh New England catch to customers around the country. But we’d argue it’s best enjoyed at its Salem restaurant, where our favorite has to be the finnan haddie, house-smoked haddock in a pearl onion au gratin sauce. Every preparation is excellent, though, so swim on by for similarly stellar Gloucester hake marsala, mussels and calamari fra diavolo, or salmon pasta in cream sauce. And if you opt for takeout, you can always add on-ice swordfish, scallops, and other seafood for creative cooking at home. (Note: Takeout and the market are suspended during the month of October.)
43 Church St., Salem, 978-745-7665, turners-seafood.com.
Boston Hot Dog Company
Sometimes the perfect midday pick-me-up—especially if you’ve been dodging crowds of tourists all morning—is a hot dog. At Boston Hot Dog Company, chef Mike Denk draws on his fine-dining background to spin up fun gourmet dogs like the Shorty Dog (braised short rib, caramelized onion blue cheese, and crispy shallots) and the Cubano Dog (ham, citrus pulled pork, mustard, pickle, and Swiss cheese). Add a side of rosemary parm fries and a chocolate peanut butter cookie, and you’ll be ready to face the rest of the day.
60 Washington St., Salem, 978-744-4168, bostonhotdogcompany.com.
Nowadays Life Alive is a local chain with 10 outposts and counting, but the Salem location was the third location and debuted over a decade ago. The colorful, funky space continues to offer a hearty vegetarian (and mostly vegan) menu of salads, noodle bowls, juices, and more with names like “Rainbow Harvest,” “Lover,” and “Innocent.” Gluten-free and nut-free diners will find plenty of options.
281 Essex St., Salem, 978-594-4644, lifealive.com.
New England Soup Factory
Soup! Come here for your hearty bowls of clam and corn chowder, chicken pot pie soup, chili con carne, and lots more. The restaurant’s repertoire includes over 150 recipes, and you’ll find a rotating collection of at least 10 on any given day. (We love the classic matzoh ball chicken soup and cold summer specials like the “sexy tomato peach.”) There are sandwiches, salads, and sides, too, but New England Soup, Sandwich, Salad, and Side Factory wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it.
140 Washington St., Salem, 978-744-0444, nesoupfactorysalem.com.
CAFÉS AND BREAKFAST-Y SPOTS
Coffee Time Bake Shop
Come for the Bismarcks; stay for the tasty drinks, from Mexican frozen hot chocolates to hot apple cider to fruit smoothies. And this is the place to go for seasonal doughnut-related specials, whether you’re looking for paczki (February 1 through Easter), sufganiyot (around Chanukah), or cider doughnuts (mid-September through Thanksgiving).
96 Bridge St., Salem, 978-744-0995, coffeetimebakeshop.net.
With a trio of Salem locations (plus Boston, Cambridge, and Tokyo!), Jaho is great at keeping visitors, locals, and Salem State students caffeinated. The flavored lattes are a highlight, with options like lavender vanilla, Nutella, and kulfi—with the option to add a shot of booze. On that note, there’s boba, too, which can also be made boozy. Fun!
Multiple locations, jaho.com.
Jolie Tea Company
From elegant high tea to light lunch to macaron and tea tastings, Jolie does just about everything related to tea (and sells plenty of it, too!) The lovely sunny space is perfect for private events or casual café time for tea lovers of all ages; there’s even high tea specifically for kids on Fridays. Keep an eye out for an expansion to Beverly in early 2024.
316 Derby St., Salem, 978-745-5654, istheteainyou.com.
The Ugly Mug Diner
This friendly diner has hearty breakfasts of all kinds, from the sweet (candy-stuffed French toast) to the savory (fried green tomato egg sandwiches)—and, yes, ugly mugs, to hold plenty of lattes and more. (Mimosas and beer cocktails are another good way to kick off the day here.)
122 Washington St., Salem, 978-745-6844, uglymugdiner.com.
SWEETS AND TREATS
A&J King Artisan Bakers
The A&J King team mills grains in-house to create irresistible breads, breakfast pastries, and other baked goods, selling them out of two bustling Salem locations. Swing by the Central Street outpost to enjoy a range of breakfast and lunch sandwiches—showcasing A&J King’s own breads, naturally.
48 Central St., Salem, 978-744-4881; 139 Boston St., Salem, 978-674-5387; ajkingbakery.com.
Caramel French Patisserie
This is the place to go for gorgeous French treats: sweet kouign-amann, colorful macarons, buttery croissants, crusty baguettes, and so much more. Keep an eye out for seasonal specials, like an autumn pumpkin and chocolate cheesecake.
281 Essex St., Salem, 978-594-0244, facebook.com/caramelfrenchpatisserie.
It’s a little bit of a hike from downtown, but we love this classic ice cream stand—which dates back to the 1950s!—for its mega sundaes in flavors like peanut butter cup and strawberry shortcake. Sorry to the Halloween crowds: Dairy Witch is seasonal and closed for 2023 on October 1. Stay tuned for a 2024 reopening.
117 Boston St., Salem, 978-744-5413, dairywitch.com.
This decades-old chocolate company is probably best known for its Sweet Sloops—chocolate-covered, pecan-dipped almond buttercrunch toffee sailboats. Swing by the storefront to stock up on these as well as other chocolate, caramel, and nut treats.
85 Leavitt St., Salem, 978-745-7648, harborsweets.com.
Kakawa Chocolate House
This Santa Fe-based chocolatier showcases the history of chocolate, drawing inspiration from old recipes from around the world and creating contemporary spins. You’ll definitely want to try some of the chili-based selections (green chili caramels are a nice nod to a signature Santa Fe ingredient) and the drinking elixirs, like the herbal, spicy Aztec Warrior.
173 Essex St., Salem, 617-548-4567, kakawachocolates.com.
Melt Ice Cream
This little ice cream shop is always busy—plan to take your treat and eat on the go, strolling around downtown. Choose from an ever-rotating list of fun flavors, like banana Nutella with peanut butter cups, salted caramel with sea salt brownies, and—our current favorite—white minty chip.
60 Washington St., Salem, 978-826-5703, meltsalem.com.
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie
It’s not just the name that’s old-timey: Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie lays claim to being the oldest candy company in the country, and it features some really old-fashioned candies you probably won’t find anywhere else, like lemon or peppermint Gibraltars and molasses sticks called Black Jacks.
122 Derby St., Salem, 978-745-2744, oldepeppercandy.com.
Back Alley Bacon
This long-running porky pop-up is taking a break for October 2023—sorry, Halloween tourists—but keep an eye on Facebook for future occurrences. You’ll find out the dish (such as pulled pork tacos or breaded pork cutlet sandwich) and the password on social media, then head to the alley, give the password, fork over your money, and be happy.
24 Liberty St., Salem.
You need to know about Goodnight Fatty, a weekend-only maker of cookies (or “fatties”) that are wildly delicious. As late as 11 p.m. on Saturday nights, fans show up to the tiny, secret-feeling shop for flavors like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, studded with white chocolate chips, or the Midnight Fatty, a chocolate cookie with toffee and pecans. Goodnight’s cult following has even supported a Sunday breakfast spin-off, Good Morning Chubby, bagel bite-like buns with fillings both savory (cheddar cheese shallots) and spicy (hot vegan sausage). And if you’re lucky enough to live in Salem or nearby towns, you can even send for home-delivered “drops”—no pre-ordering necessary—from your phone.
1 Washington Sq., Salem, goodnightfatty.com.
Whatever the season or occasion, you can be sure Speakeasy Donuts will be cooking up some ultra-creative themed doughnuts. (Sometimes booze-infused!) Keep an eye on the website for upcoming pop-ups; you’ll often find Speakeasy Donuts at Deacon Giles Distillery or Far From The Tree Cider. There are also periodic pre-order pickup/delivery opportunities—and a brick-and-mortar Salem location opening later in fall 2023.
If you didn’t stop into this liquor store to buy a T-shirt, did you really go to Salem?
204 Derby St., Salem, 978- 744-4539, bungholeliquors.com.
Deacon Giles Distillery
Around for nearly a decade, Deacon Giles makes what it describes as “damn righteous spirits”—a growing collection of vodka, rum, gin, and even absinthe. There are some canned cocktails, too, including the “Trader Giles” mai tai. Try a tour and tasting (available most Saturdays, but you need to book ahead of time), or swing by the Deacon Giles cocktail bar, the Speakeasy Lab, to taste its spirits in delightful cocktail form.
75 Canal St., Salem, 978-306-6675, deacongiles.com.
Far From The Tree Cider
If it’s fall in New England, you’re probably thinking about apples: where to pick them, where to find apple cider doughnuts, etc. How about where to drink them? Far From The Tree (which turns 10 in 2024) makes killer hard cider in a wide variety of flavors—pineapple jalapeño! Earl grey! Spiced blackcurrant!—from Central Massachusetts-sourced apples, and it has a cozy tasting room in which to try them.
102-108 Jackson St., Salem, 978-224-2904, farfromthetreecider.com.
Notch Brewery & Tap Room
When weather permits, you’ll want to post up in Notch’s lovely biergarten for hours, enjoying the sun and Notch’s easy drinkers. (The brewery focuses on session beers, so you’ll find most of the options have ABVs topping out below 5%.) Even in colder months, the taproom is a blast—watch the events calendar for food pop-ups, Skee-Ball nights, and more.
283R Derby St., Salem, 978-412-7674, notchbrewing.com.
Anytime you need a sweet retreat to the simpler days of childhood, get to Bit Bar—a retro-cool arcade and restaurant that trades on your fondest memories of ’80s Nintendo. The playful eats range from loaded “Tetris tots” to brisket-and-short-rib smash burgers to rainbow layer cake. Meanwhile, cocktails like the Princess Peach (vodka with fruity schnapps and cranberry juice) may just give your mood a 1-Up. As for the arcade? If you remember Bit Bar’s original space at the Old Salem Jail but haven’t been back since the relocation to Derby Street, in the former Salem Beer Works space, you’ll be pleased to find much more elbow room for toggling joysticks on the “Pac-Man” or “Burger Time” machines. (Note: 21+ after 8 p.m.)
278 Derby St., Salem, 978-594-4838, bit.bar.
Salem Willows Park
Need to escape the downtown crowds and get some fresh air? This waterfront strip features a big arcade, old-timey carnival rides for the kids (maybe a few too many creepy clown-themed ones, but otherwise very fun), lots of picnic space, and a few fast-casual food options. There’s the classic chop suey sandwich at Salem Lowe, of course (under new ownership as of 2022), plus fried seafood, ice cream, and more.
165 Fort Ave., Salem, willowsarcade.com.