Chef Picks: The Most Under-the-Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

If you're looking to side-step the hype and find delicious food, follow an off-duty chef or bartender. We asked some of the Boston's best to reveal their favorite lesser-known food haunts.

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Tourist-clogged North End trattorias and goopy bowls of clam chowder may endure as Boston stereotypes, but Julia Child’s beloved city—she lived across the river, in Cambridge—has become one of the country’s most exciting food towns. If the last meal you had in Beantown was at Legal Seafood, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

In addition to the buzzy new spots popping up, though, Boston is full of underrated cheap eats that don’t get any press but are beloved by locals—you just have to know who to ask.

When the guys and gals running the city’s most ambitious kitchens have a rare, relaxing moment away from the stove, it’s simple, honest grub they crave. We hit up 10 Boston-area chefs (and one restaurateur) to find out where they hang out when they’re off the clock. From an old-school Italian deli sandwich to a bargain omakase menu, here are their picks for Boston’s best under-the-radar eats:

Jamie Bissonnette

Chef/owner at Coppa and Toro

boston bissonnette Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Anchovies (433 Columbus Ave; 617-266-5088, anchoviesboston.com)

Bissonnette says: “It’s just a good red-sauce restaurant with no pretension. They have a solid mix of dishes that range from pasta Bolognese to cubanos, and they even have corn tortilla nachos. The Bolognese is wicked good—you can taste the pickled cherry peppers and they serve it with some creamy ricotta, too. The best part is that they’re open late, so I’ll go in at 1am after service and just order a feast.” (Photo: bakingmehungry.com)

Garrett Harker

Proprietor at Eastern Standard and the Hawthorne 

boston harker Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: KO Catering and Pies (87 A St, 617-269-4500; kocateringandpies.com)

Harker says: “The meat pies at this home-style Australian spot are addictive. The lamb shank is awesome, but I mix it up once in a while with the curried vegetable.” (Photo: Kristin Teig, Facebook)


Lydia Shire

Chef/co-owner at Scampo

boston shire Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Aegean Restaurant (257 Cochituate Rd, Framingham; 508-879-8424, aegeanrestaurants.com)

Shire says: “Aegean Restaurant has a lively bar that is fun to sit at, and it has two fabulous dishes that I love. Well, they have more than two dishes that are delish, but I tend to be a creature of habit if I find something that grabs me. The first is the lamb ribs, lightly marinated and broiled. The other dish I always order is pikilia, which has three spreads: hummus, taramasalata, and melitzanosalata. I ask the server for just the taramasalata with a plate of hot, grilled bread brought out at the same time. I have not been eating much bread these days, but I do make an exception when faced with my favorite spread in the world.” (Photo: Trip Advisor)

Tim Wiechmann

Chef at BRONWYN

boston wiechmann Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Lone Star Taco Bar (479 Cambridge St; Allston, 617-782-8226, lonestar-boston.com)

Wiechmann says: “The best nachos anywhere. I always get them, along with a barbacoa taco. They are open all day and I can go when nobody else is in there, like 3pm on a Monday.” (Photo: Eric Wolfinger, Lone Star Taco Bar)


Louie DiBiccari

Chef/owner at Tavern Road

boston dibicarri Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Vinoteca di Monica (143 Richmond St, 617-227-0311; monicasboston.com)

DiBiccari says: “A family restaurant in its second generation, Monica’s is great because while the menu looks like the North End standard, it’s really anything but. All of the food is made from scratch, and everything’s good. I’ll order anything with a meat ragù.” (Photo: Foodspotting)

Tony Maws

Chef/owner at Craigie on Main and the Kirkland Tap & Trotter

boston maws Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Chilli Garden (41 Riverside Ave, Medford; 781-396-8488, chilligardenonline-hub.com)

Maws says: “Just phenomenal cooking in a stripped-down, no-frills [setting], just one level above a dirty Chinese restaurant. Dishes called ‘Cilantro and green pepper salad,’ ‘Chicken with three types of pepper,’ and ‘Whole fish with special spicy sauce’ all sound ubiquitous enough, but once the food comes, you know you’re in for a different ride. Prepare for tears and runny noses—in a good way.” (Photo: Yelp)


Tony Messina

Chef at Uni Sashimi Bar

boston messina Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Meridian Food Market (121 Meridian St East Boston; 617-567-9725, meridianfoodmarket.com)

Messina says: “If you’re in Eastie and 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, their braised tripe, served on Saturdays only. Owned and operated by a first-generation Southern Italian family and their kids, this is my go-to place for quick eats.” (Photo: Facebook)

Jody Adams

Chef/owner at Rialto and TRADE 

boston adams Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Diesel Café (257 Elm Street, Somerville; 617-629-8717, diesel-café.com)

Adams says: “The best coffee in town for the past 15 years. I’ve been going there since my son Oliver was in day care at nearby Tufts, and it’s still my all-time favorite spot. We have great memories of playing pool there when Oliver could hardly reach above the table.”


Tim Maslow

Chef/owner at Ribelle and chef Strip-T’s

boston maslow Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Neptune Oyster (63 Salem St; 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com)

Maslow says: “The Buttermilk Johnny Cake—with honey butter, smoked trout, and caviar—is breakfast, lunch, and dinner on one plate.” (Photo: Neptune Oyster)

Jason Bond

Chef at Bondir

boston bond Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: The Druid (1357 Cambridge St, Cambridge; 617-497-0965, druidpub.com)

Bond says: “I like this place in the daytime. You get the same delicious fish and chips or beef stew, but miss the nighttime crowds. Plus, you can catch a Manchester match, and—if you’re lucky—see Cindy Crawford, the owner’s dog.” (Photo: Andy Ryan, Druid Pub)

Will Gilson

Chef/owner at Puritan & Company

boston gilson Chef Picks: The Most Under the Radar Eating Experiences in Boston

Favorite under-the-radar spot: Café Sushi (1105 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge; 617-492-0434, cafesushicambridge.com)

Gilson says: “From the street it looks like any other sushi place where you can get a standard Spider Roll, and you can. But the Spider Roll is delicious especially because you can have it next to a local Scituate scallop hand-roll. The omakase is one of the best in the city dollar-for-dollar, and the team there is just fun to talk to. You can tell they know their shit and just keep pushing the boundaries of what they can serve in an unassuming environment.”

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