The days when restaurant snobs sniffed that they had to go to New York to get a decent meal are long gone. Especially in warm weather, when excellent local produce appears on menus in every price range, the Boston area holds its own with any other market in the country. Celebrity chefs and rising stars spice up a dynamic restaurant scene, and traditional favorites occupy an important niche. The huge student population seeks out value, which it often finds at ethnic restaurants.
Seafood is a specialty in Boston, and you'll find it on the menu at almost every restaurant -- trendy or classic, expensive or cheap, American (whatever that is) or ethnic. Some pointers: Scrod or schrod is a generic term for fresh white-fleshed fish, usually served in filets. Local shellfish include Ipswich and Essex clams, Atlantic lobsters, Wellfleet oysters, scallops, mussels, and shrimp. If you're worried about overfishing, visit www.montereybayaquarium.org and download the Monterey Bay Aquarium's pocket guide to fish in the Northeast.
Lobster was once so abundant that the Indians showed the Pilgrims how to use the ugly crustaceans as fertilizer. Order lobster boiled or steamed and you'll get a plastic bib, drawn butter (for dipping), a nutcracker (for the claws and tail), and a pick (for the legs). Restaurants price lobsters by the pound; you'll typically pay at least $15 to $20 for a "chicken" (1- to 1 1/4-lb.) lobster, and more for the bigger specimens. If you want someone else to do the work, lobster is available in a "roll" (lobster-salad sandwich), stuffed and baked or broiled, in or over pasta, in a "pie" (casserole), in salad, and in bisque.
Well-made New England clam chowder is studded with fresh clams and thickened with cream. Recipes vary, but they never include tomatoes. (Tomatoes go in Manhattan clam chowder.) If you want clams but not soup, many places serve steamers, or soft-shell clams cooked in the shell, as an appetizer or main dish. More common are hard-shell clams -- littlenecks (small) or cherrystones (medium-size) -- served raw, like oysters.
Traditional Boston baked beans, which date from colonial days, when cooking on the Sabbath was forbidden, earned Boston the nickname "Beantown." House-made baked beans can be hard to find; Durgin-Park does an excellent rendition.
To wash it all down, consider a local beer. The Boston Beer Co., which produces the highly regarded Samuel Adams brand, has a brewery in Boston, as does Harpoon. Numerous bars in the area feature New England microbrews, and some places -- including Boston Beer Works and the Cambridge Brewing Company -- make their own.
Finally, Boston cream pie is golden layer cake sandwiched around custard and topped with chocolate glaze -- no cream, no pie.
Summer Lovin' -- The axiom that you should order oysters only in months with an "R" in them originates in biology. Summer is breeding season, when the energy that usually goes into bulking up (and making lots of juicy meat) gets diverted to reproduction. To experience the best the oyster has to offer, wait till the weather turns colder.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.