In a city synonymous with tradition, Boston chefs have spent recent years rewriting culinary history. The stuffy, wood-paneled formality is gone; the endless renditions of chowdah, lobster, and cod have retired; and the assumption that true foodies better hop the next Amtrak to New York is also—thankfully—a thing of the past.
In their place, a crop of young chefs has ascended, opening small, upscale neighborhood spots that use local New England ingredients to delicious effect. Traditional eats can still be found (Durgin-Park remains the best place to get baked beans), but many diners now gravitate toward innovative food in understated environs. Whether you're looking for casual French, down-home Southern cooking, some of the best sushi in the country, or Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, Boston restaurants are ready to deliver. Eclectic Japanese spot o ya and iconic French restaurant L'Espalier have garnered widespread attention, while a coterie of star chefs like Barbara Lynch, Lydia Shire, and Ken Oringer have built mini-empires and thrust the city to the forefront of the national dining scene.
The fish and shellfish brought in from nearby shores continue to inform the regional cuisine, along with locally grown fruits and vegetables, handmade cheeses, and humanely raised heritage game and meats. But don't expect boiled lobsters and baked apple pie. Today’s chefs, while showcasing New England’s bounty, might offer you lobster cassoulet with black truffles, bacon-clam pizza from a wood-burning oven, and a tomato herb salad harvested from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. In many ways, though, Boston remains solidly skeptical of trends. To wit: the cupcake craze and food truck trend hit here later than other cities; the Hawaii-inspired poke movement has only recently arrived. And over in the university culture of Cambridge, places like the Harvest and Oleana espoused the locavore and slow-food movements before they became buzzwords.