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Dining in the South End

Home to lovely Victorian brownstones, art galleries, and the city's most diverse crowd, the South End is Boston's cultural engine.

It's also ground zero for local foodies, who flood the scores of resto-bars that morph from neighborhood bistros into packed hot spots as the evening progresses. Some of the city's most popular restaurants are clustered here in the small square between Berkeley Street and Massachusetts Avenue to the west, and Harrison Avenue and Columbus Avenue to the north. French brasseries predominate, but the neighborhood also offers up everything from modern American (Union Bar & Grille; Franklin Café) to Italian and Indian. Don't miss the well-executed Spanish tapas at Toro on Washington Street.

A five-minute walk from Back Bay, the South End is also a popular shopping destination, with bakeries and cafés sprinkled alongside emerging jewelry designers and cool boutiques. It's easy to wander the entire length of the neighborhood in an afternoon, but beware: many South End spots stop serving lunch at 2 and don't reopen 'til 5.

Toro Lunch

At night, chef Ken Oringer's tapas bar is a buzzing, standing-room-only collection of Boston's young and fabulous. But on weekdays from noon until 3 Toro (1704 Washington St. 617/536–4300) hosts a lesser-known (and cheaper) lunch, minus the evening wait and parking hassles. Try the tortilla Española or the selection of artisanal cheeses. Plan a siesta for the remainder of your afternoon!

Sweet Spots

Flour (1595 Washington St. 617/267-4300) is the consummate neighborhood bakery. Owner Joanne Chang stocks a rotating selection of decadent ginger molasses, Belgian chocolate brownies, and meringue clouds, plus thick sandwiches and a great cup of joe.

Some of the city's best muffins—including the best-selling morning-glories (carrot-raisin-little-bit-of-everythings)—are baked at the Appleton Bakery (123 Appleton St. 617/859–8222). Simple and unpretentious, this spot often lacks the morning lines that form at Flour and the Buttery.

Only the iron-willed can walk out of Sweet (49 Massachusetts Ave., Boston 617/247–2253 225 Newbury St. 617/267–2253 Zero Brattle St., Cambridge 617/547–2253) without a dark chocolate, red velvet, or Boston cream pie sweet. The cupcake menu—like the shop—is pink, and the creations taste as scrumptious as they look.

Bronwyn. Harkening back to his German heritage, chef-owner Tim Wiechmann and his wife, Bronwyn, the restaurant's namesake, have brought a rib-sticking, yet sophisticated taste of Central and Eastern Europe to Union Square. The menu here includes juicy hand-stuffed pork sausages served with powerfully seasoned sauces, hearty dumplings, noodle dishes (try the chewy pork blood noodles with tender nuggets of pork), and sauerbraten made, not with your average grade of meat, but with Wagyu beef. Small farms supply many ingredients and a designated baker makes the hot pretzels, grainy breads, and desserts (don't miss the Bavarian special of fluffy pan-sautéed pancake batter bits topped with warm fruit sauce). To wash it down, try any of the excellent beers or German, Austrian, or Northern Italian red or white wines. With an outside biergarten and a cozy interior filled with small tables set with Medieval manor–like carved wooden chairs, the only thing missing from this Germanic oasis is an Oompah band. 255 Washington St., Somerville, MA, 02143. 617/776–9900. www.bronwynrestaurant.com. Closed Mon. No lunch.

Brunch Steals

Come Sunday, it seems like every single person in the South End is enjoying a leisurely late-morning meal. The good news is the neighborhood's favorite pastime need not be a pricey habit: popular eateries offer prix-fixe weekend brunches with single-digit price tags. At Union Bar and Grille (1357 Washington St. 617/423-0555) $9.95 gets you a veritable smorgasboard: crumb cake, a salmon egg scramble, toast, coffee, and fresh-squeezed juice. Southwestern-flavored Masa (439 Tremont St. 617/338-8884) offers tapas dishes like carmelized plantain empanadas for about $4 and huevos rancheros with all the fixings for less than $10.

Sister Sister

Boston's a small city, so it's no wonder that the same names are repeated … and repeated … and repeated again in the dining world. Particularly in the South End, a handful of hip restaurateurs are opening multiple properties with similar atmospheres—so if you like one, maybe you'll like them all. After enjoying Toro's success, Ken Oringer recently welcomed sister property Coppa (253 Shawmut Ave. 617/391–0902), an Italian wine bar with a small-plates menu just a few blocks away. Meanwhile, local entrepreneur Seth Woods is behind Metropolis Café (584 Tremont St. 617/247–2931) and Union Bar and Grille, which have upscale brasserie vibes. Finally, neighborhood newcomer Stephanie Sokolov of Stephanie's on Newbury fame opened a second, smaller outpost, Stephi's on Tremont (571 Tremont St. 617/236–2063), which borrows a few popular entrées (like the mac 'n‘ cheese and heaping salads) from its big sib.

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