In and around Boston, a new wave of seafood restaurants are creating menus that go way beyond New England classics like clam chowder and baked scrod. At this point, it’s practically expected that in-the-know Boston seafood restaurants offer two types of lobster rolls—the more traditional Maine-style, served chilled with mayonnaise, as well as the variation from Connecticut, served hot with drawn butter. These upscale versions can sometimes combine generous chunks of the succulent meat with unexpected ingredients like brown butter, avocado, or even crème fraîche; it might also arrive cradled in a homemade brioche roll instead of the classic split-top bun.
Neptune Oyster Bar and B&G Oysters, along with Island Creek Oyster Bar a little later in the game, solidified this makeover of traditional New England seafood. Neptune, in particular, kick-started the high-end lobster roll trend—and the compact North End restaurant still maintains a strong reputation for making one of the best in the city. Boston raw bars have also gotten more precise, culling bivalves from locales across Massachusetts, the rest of New England, and sometimes even the West Coast or Canada. Citrus-forward crudos abound, and chefs are more frequently combining lobsters and mussels with international ingredients like curry, coconut milk, and even Spanish chorizo. Here are eight Boston restaurants to try right now.
Located near the famous ballpark, the newly opened second outpost of the renowned Eventide Oyster Bar in Portland, Maine, maintains a stylish yet casual vibe with electric blue walls, silver accents, and counter service. Bite into the rich brown-butter lobster roll (it might convert even the most devoted mayonnaise fan) while looking out over busy Boylston Street. You can also find a rotating selection of raw oysters, a handful of crudos, Maine lobster stew with coconut and green curry, and homey New England desserts like whoopie pies and cream pies.
In East Cambridge, chef Marc Sheehan’s ambitious menu at Loyal Nine pulls influence from the food of colonial New England. His so-called “East Coast Revival” cuisine relies on ingredients obtained through direct relationships with nearby farmers and artisans and focuses on the region’s culinary traditions. But that doesn’t mean this modern restaurant deals in old-fashioned kitsch. Besides oysters and littleneck clams from across New England, you’ll also find “soused” bluefish on brown bread; grilled Rhode Island squid with charred carrots, walnuts, and squid ink; and whole mackerel wrapped in bacon. Also, choose from several roasts and vegetable-based dishes. The wine list features all grower-producer bottles, and the rest of the cocktail menu highlights a few New England–themed drinks like the Cape Codder made with real, tart cranberry juice and maple syrup.
North Square Oyster
Combine sightseeing with dining at this North End oyster bar located right on the Freedom Trail. Chef Douglas Rodrigues transforms regional ingredients like Nantucket Bay scallops into elegant dishes like a crudo dressed in angelica vinegar. Baked stuffed oysters benefit from the addition of bacon and white sweet potato. The oxtail-based Bolognese sauce served over rigatoni is an apparent tribute to the famous neighborhood’s Italian-American heritage, but it includes unexpected components like fresh lobster meat and parsnip.
Head to the newly revitalized Fort Point area to try local favorite Row 34 from the same team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar. The sleek industrial space creates an atmosphere that’s a bit more casual than its sister restaurant, but it also specializes in the prized Island Creek oysters from Duxbury, Mass., as well as several more varieties from across New England. Chef Jeremy Sewall draws inspiration from classic New England seafood-shack cuisine (but with a better beer list). Start with some Old Bay onion rings served with Maui onion mustard sauce, malt vinegar aioli, or togarashi aioli or some fried calamari with jalapeños. And then there are the lobster rolls; the restaurant is known for the hot version served on a homemade rosemary brioche, but the chilled option comes with mayonnaise and crème fraîche.
Legendary Barcelona tapas bar Quimet & Quimet inspired owner Kathy Sidell to open the intimate Saltie Girl inside a Back Bay brownstone. Although it lays claim to one of the most extensive tinned seafood collections in New England, chef Kyle McClelland’s whimsical menu showcases New England influences with indulgent dishes like uni lobster bisque, fried lobster and waffles, and mussels in a coconut green curry. The Gloucester lobster roll is available hot or cold, and diners can add extra lobster meat or even caviar (available by the ounce) to just about any menu item. The wine list offers several by-the-glass options, and the flavorful cocktail list has playful offerings like Pineapple, a drink for two that combines Elyx, lemongrass, and citrus soda.
Select Oyster Bar
After his stint at Neptune Oyster Bar, chef Michael Serpa moved across town to open the Select Oyster Bar in 2015. Housed in a Back Bay townhouse, the interior feels like a casual bistro with nautical touches. Seafood platters come heaving with everything from oysters to crudo to peekytoe crab salad. Delicate seafood dishes also exhibit some global flourishes—think Champagne-poached shrimp cocktail, sautéed clams with Spanish chorizo, and Maine lobster salad with vegetables, cashews, and Thai-style dressing. The deliberate wine list offers a surprising number of reds and several cocktails.
Across the Charles River in Cambridge, chef Michael Scelfo serves up pasta and pizza in a convivial atmosphere in Harvard Square. His dishes showcase contemporary New England seafood with an Italian twist, and the decadent menu includes chopped clam pizza and Maine lobster tail with black rice, brown-butter aioli, and chili garlic oil. Find equally powerful flavors on the absinthe-focused cocktail menu with drinks like The Professor, which mixes orgeat, Cognac, lemon, and honey.
The Hourly Oyster House
Harvard Square also got another new seafood restaurant last fall—the Hourly Oyster House. The raw bar has a selection of eight oysters from across New England as well as Cape Cod clams, chilled lobster tail, citrus-cured bay scallops, and more. At lunchtime, chef Phil Lewis also does curried mussels with a grilled baguette or a crispy haddock sandwich with fines-herbes aioli and oven-cured tomato. In the evening, find lobster pot pie and seared scallops with saffron rice and fennel jus.