Most, if not all, self-proclaimed ‘foodies’ in Boston will tell you flat-out that the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Boston were simply wrong. In some regard, they’re right: the places Tony decided to visit during his one-time filming in the city do not showcase its “best” restaurants and platings, the most popular or well-reviewed establishments, or really anything near what one would be able to call a must-see food attraction. That being said, as someone who has lived in Boston for nearly a decade and has, without a doubt, struggled to understand and fully grasp the workings behind this unique episode, I think I finally get it.
“This is not the best of Boston [or] what you need to know about Boston. This is about me and my friend Mike trying to have a wicked good time in Boston, and if you have a problem with that, you just f*ck off over to Samantha Brown.Tony, in the intro scenes of this episode
Anthony Bourdain visited Boston to film season 7 (episode 7) of No Reservations; it was his only on-screen visit to the city. In terms of unmatched top-of-the-line cuisine, Boston probably can’t beat its contested neighbor, New York City, where Tony spent the bulk of his culinary career (though you’ll never be able to rip that honest of a confession out of a through-and-through Bostonian).
If you’re keen to have a wicked good time and discover Boston through Tony’s guidance, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find a guide to all of the places Anthony Bourdain ate in Boston as well as what he tried – and drank. Let’s do it!
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Massa-adchu-es-et (Massachusett), Pawtucket, and Naumkeag peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Belle Isle Seafood (Winthrop)
Paired with what I like to think of as an on-brand topic of conversation for Bostonians (shit, age, and colonoscopies, oh my!) Tony and his friend Mike feast on some classic local staples: lobster rolls, clam chowder, and a towering plate of fried shrimp, fried clams, fried haddock, fried scallops, and onion rings– also fried, in case you hadn’t already caught on to the pattern here.
At Winthrop’s Belle Isle Seafood, located on the coast just outside of Boston, seafood is caught fresh daily and the owner, Jim, promises that each and every lobster roll is packed with a whopping half-pound of local lobster. This has contributed to the restaurant’s over 80 years in business (when this aired, even more to this day) of loyal clientele.
As Tony makes his way through the meal, he makes note of two things in particular: one, Manhattan makes “soup” NOT “chowder” (a win for Boston) and, two, Jim does the best possible thing he could do for a lobster roll– “almost nothing,” save for the light essence of mayo.
Michael’s Deli (Brookline)
Michael’s Deli is located in Brookline, a neighborhood of Greater Boston, and currently claims the title of “The Corned Beef King” on its website. On a more disappointing (for many Bostonians) but potentially more telling note, its website also states that it’s “A New York Style Deli.”
Tony visits this spot alongside Howie Carr, local radio host (and generally-disliked conservative personality) for corned beef and brisket on a roll, thin-sliced tongue on rye, and pastrami knishes – meat and mustard in a flaky pastry crust. The obvious New York deli competitive spirit runs thick through the air, but Tony is left undeniably impressed and satisfied with the Boston-based deli’s offerings.
Galley Diner (South Boston)
Much of the episode takes place in South Boston, aka “Southie,” which is historically very Irish, very working class, and very tough. Cue here Tony’s childlike-excitement-filled commentary on Southie’s rich cinematic history. Since the neighborhood’s golden movie-screen era, a lot has changed. Tony notes that “depending on how you look at it, Southie has either benefited or suffered from gentrification.”
Many who knew the area decades back have strong feelings about South Boston’s very real evolution, while those living in its newer luxury properties may have differing opinions. But, among all, there’s no question that the neighborhood continues to change dramatically to this very day.
“A perfect example of what corned beef hash and eggs should taste like.”Tony, in this scene (and as listed on the diner’s website)
Following a night filled with Tony’s dreaded locally-required drink, McGillicuddy’s, and candlepin bowling (and not in that order), he heads to Galley Diner located in South Boston. The diner, which still proudly lists Tony’s quote from this visit at the front and center of their website’s homepage, serves up an ungodly-sized omelet filled with ham, cheese, and veggies, as well as toast, home fries, and hash made with corned beef, potatoes, and peppers. When asked about the ultimate Boston dish, owners Paul and Colleen suggest “franks and beans.”
Eire Pub (Dorchester)
There’s not much to say in the way of cuisine or culinary delight for this stop, though that in itself might say all it needs to, in the truest and fairest sense, about Eire Pub in Dorchester.
Here, Tony meets up with Mike’s high school friend, sometimes known as “Mink Jaguar,” a member of a late-80s/early-90s rock band banned from most local venues as a result of their wild antics which include, but aren’t limited to, the throwing of frozen rodents on stage. Tony, Mike, and MJ enjoy some double shots of Jameson over some goodhearted poop talk, here.
Rondo’s (South Boston)
After a visit to Peter Welch’s Gym in Southie where Tony gets a more in-depth perspective on the city’s tough-guy culture from boxing legend Tommy Connors, the group makes a visit to Rondo’s for what Tony’s calls a “big, fat, greasy sandwich– something to make me hate myself in the morning.” He orders up a classic sub with steak, provolone, mushrooms, onions, and “the hot stuff.”
Having lived here for upwards of ten years and counting, I’ve learned that there are just some things you accept without question. What are hots, exactly? A relish of chopped peppers and oil, maybe? Who’s to say. Whatever they are, the go-to is “hots” on absolutely anything and everything.
Senhor Ramos (E. Cambridge) (CLOSED)
As Tony reminds us, Boston is really, through and through, a town of immigrants. While the Irish and Italians tend to get most of the attention here, Portuguese immigrants also make up a large portion of the city’s historic population. Tony reminisces on his time spent in Cape Cod, during which he was introduced to these flavors, commenting on the impact they had on his understanding of gastronomy and good food.
As such, he makes a trip to Senhor Ramos in East Cambridge. Owners John and Dora serve Portuguese classics particular to the Azores, such as Dobrada (tripe with white beans), linguica and clams (marinated in white wine, garlic, and spices mixed into a light tomato sauce with potatoes, peppers, and olives), and Alcatra (braised beef, bacon, onion, garlic, and allspice marinated in wine overnight, slow-cooked for several hours, and served in a clay pot), alongside vinho verde.
As he approaches each dish with fully-open arms – or, rather, open stomach – he points out the fact that the restaurant “looks like any run-of-the-mill pizza joint… [with an] ugly-ass dining area and shockingly awesome menu.”
Murphy’s Law (South Boston)
Tony visits Murphy’s Law, a well-known “all-man bar,” for a few beers. Then-owner Peggy Kelly shares that she has only one rule: behave yourself. Or else. The low-key, dark wood-filled bar is known as a true townie spot to all who are even an ounce familiar with the area.
If you dare to come through the door and find yourself strong enough to handle being greeted by at least a few judgmental “who-the-bleep-are-you” stares, you can be sure to have a genuinely good pour of Guinness here.
L Street Tavern/Woody’s (South Boston)
Just around the corner at yet another famous Irish pub in Southie, Tony and his crew are stopped at the front door and ordered to take off the branded sweatshirts given to them moments before at Murphy’s Law. These sweatshirts are promptly replaced with L Street’s own t-shirts.
Following some beef stew, Guinness, and Jameson, Tony wishes to once-and-for-all emphasize to the audience: “drinking in Boston is fun.”
Quencher Tavern (South Boston) (CLOSED)
As Tony approaches the former bookie joint, he’s pelted on the back of the head by multiple snowballs, incoming from somewhere in the dark distance. As he takes his seat at the bar, staff assure him that the assailant is just a kid who habitually hangs out and throws snowballs at patrons; they’re not sure why, exactly. Tony’s response? “I love this kid.”
As Tony settles in with a celebratory grouping of Jagermeister and Red Bull (yikes), we steadfastly learn that “the drink of choice here is alcohol.” Except for McGillicuddys. Never McGillicuddys, the Irish Colgate, ever again, Tony assures.
Food Tours in Boston to Try
If you’re looking to sample a lot of Boston’s flavors in a short time, you could do a lot worse than taking a food tour. Here are a few that look good, especially if you don’t have long in Beantown but want to make the most of it.
For those looking to visit Boston but left feeling anxious following Tony’s macho-filled take on the city, I say to you: Boston is kind, not nice. As someone who grew up in the Midwest and moved out here on my own at 18, this took a while to learn. Now? I wouldn’t want it any other way. So sit back, enjoy a cup o’ *real* clam chowder (just as I did while researching and writing this piece), and be willing to let your guard down – or up, depending on how you want to think of it – just enough to find the Masshole hiding somewhere, maybe not even as far down as you think, in you.
Have any questions about these places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Boston? Let me know in the comments below!