I spent most of the first two and a half decades of my life a proud Bostonian, able to recite stories of the Revolutionary War by heart and always ready to get a round of “Yankees suck!” chants going, if necessary.
There are lots of things I miss about Massachusetts: the sparkling ocean that’s just as beautiful in the city as on the Cape. Walden Pond (just minutes from my father’s house in Concord) and the silent, shady forests that stretch for miles, into Western Mass. and up to the New Hampshire border. The ever-present promise of a White Christmas. Fresh-basked bagels.
While I don’t get a chance to visit very often, there are a few places I always have to hit when I do. Here are a few of my favorite things, by neighborhood:
Anna’s Taqueria – Home of the first burrito I fell in love with (and plenty of high school memories), Anna’s boasts the best quesadilla I’ve ever tasted, too. The trick’s in the tortilla: they coat it in oil and grill it, cheese nestled inside, before filling with perfectly seasoned rice and slow-roasted, spicy carnitas (or whatever you’re into). They have several locations around town, so there’s no excuse to miss it. (1412 Beacon Street, Brookline)
Coolidge Corner Theater – This arthouse theater tends to have the best weekly schedule in the city, screening new releases alongside festival favorites and cult classics. The first time I heard of the Alamo Drafthouse was at the Coolidge’s Trapped in the Closet singalong, hosted by Alamo Chief Creative Officer Henri Mazza. (290 Harvard Street, Brookline)
Brookline Booksmith – As a veteran of Boston’s relatively rich indie bookselling scene, the Booksmith is like a second home to me; with a basement full of cheap used books and some of the best staff recommendations this side of Powell’s, there’s something for everyone on their beautifully arranged floor. The shop hosts several author events a week, making it a great place to meet local authors and bestsellers alike. (279 Harvard Street, Brookline)
Zaftig’s – A Jewish deli like none other, with portions so big you’d think your Bubbie’s in the kitchen, trying to fatten you up, and matzo ball soup so good it cures colds. (335 Harvard Street, Brookline)
Otherside Café – Located just north of the Newbury Street / Mass. Ave intersection, the Otherside is a refuge from the shopping strip, with a rotating list of on-tap beer offerings (they’re currently featuring the tasty Nogne O Pumpkin Ale and Ballast Poiint Sextant Oatmeal Stout, among others) and a full menu of sandwiches, soups, salads and snacks. They’ve also got a great weekend brunch (I recommend the waffle sandwich). (407 Newbury Street, Boston)
Johnny Cupcakes – You’ve probably seen Johnny Cupcakes iconic t-shirts on several dozen celebrities by now, but back in the day, founder Johnny Earle sold his self-designed pins and tees out of his car at punk shows around town (and on tour with his old band). Now, Cupcakes has four brick-and-mortar stores — including outposts in LA and London — that play on the bakery theme, stocking shirts in mock freezer cases. (279 Newbury Street, Boston)
Harvard Square / Central Square
Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage – It sounds like a magical wonderland, and it doesn’t disappoint; Bartley’s menu features cleverly named classics (like the Bill Clinton bbq burger) alongside savory sandwiches (like the Tufts, which pairs grilled chicken and pineapple with teriyaki) and triple-deckers. Fun fact: my favorite part of the otherwise eye-roll-inducing The Social Network (controversial opinion, I know) was when Zuck & co. chowed down at Bartley’s; it pops up in Good Will Hunting, too. (1246 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge)
Grendel’s Den – A longtime Harvard Square staple with a very New England-y feel — it’s nestled in the basement of a brick building on a cobblestone side street — Grendel’s has one of the best happy hour menus in town. From 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. everynight, and again from 9 p.m. - 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, all food is half off, from seafood to sirloin to their signature fondue, a perfect blend of Swiss, Gruyere and Raclette cheeses, white wine and kirsch. (89 Winthrop Street, Cambridge)
The Miracle of Science – A short walk, drive or Red Line ride east of Harvard Square lies the equally eclectic Central Square, home to famed venue The Middle East (and unfortunately named Asian eatery Pu Pu Hot Pot), along with two of the best upscale bars in town, the Enormous Room and the Middlesex Lounge. But my favorite Central hang spot is The Miracle of Science, which occupies a triangle-shaped corner space and displays their menu on a whiteboard, in the style of the Periodic Table — they are right on the MIT campus, after all. (321 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge)
Fort Revere Park – This eight-acre park is located at the top of Telegraph Hill, which houses the stone remains of two Revolutionary-era forts. This is my favorite view of the city; from the top of the hill, you can gaze out at the idyllic peninsula of Hull in one direction, Boston’s gorgeous skyline in another. (60 Farina Road, Hull)
Daddy’s Dogs – A walk-up beachfront shack with cheap dogs and cold drinks — nothing exceptional, just the perfect complement to an afternoon road trip. (Disgression: I have Very Serious Opinions on hot dogs, and my two hometown favorites are Sullivan’s on Castle Island and the Dairy Joy in Weston.)
Nantasket Beach – Occupying about a mile and a half of the Hull, Mass. coast, with cute cottages stretching for blocks on its border, Nantasket Beach is a getaway for those who can’t make the drive down the Cape but still want to clock some time by the water. Sure, it’s a little chilly this time of year, but that’s fine; my friend Bonnie and I prefer to visit at night, bringing blankets and settling in on lifeguard chairs.