Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Allston
A guide to eating, shopping, and hanging just beyond BU
Everyone in and around Boston University seems to have a fond memory of Allston: a Saturday morning brunch at the Breakfast Club, that first apartment on Glenville Avenue, or that table or chair you rescued from the sidewalk during the September move-in/move-out event known as Allston Christmas, when departing tenants leave household items on the sidewalk for new residents to pick over. It’s safe to say, however, that few recollections involve high-end clothing, artisanal cocktails, and spa treatments. But the new 02134—once called a “student ghetto”— now mixes local mainstays with some of Boston’s freshest shopping and dining venues.
“I’ve seen a real diversification of the kind of businesses here,” says Katie Reed (GRS’06), a BU historic planning and preservation program graduate and former executive director of nonprofit neighborhood improvement association Allston Village Main Streets.
Allston takes its name from the 18th-century American painter-poet Washington Allston, who lived in Cambridge and famously painted the area in the landscape Fields West of Boston. The neighborhood developed around a major railroad yard and nearby stockyards. Allston is cut off from most of Boston by the town of Brookline, which borders it on the south and east.
The neighborhood’s busiest nexus is the triangular intersection where Harvard, Brighton, and Commonwealth Avenues meet, an area that caters to the large student population that calls Allston home. Many immigrants hailing from places like Eastern Europe, South Asia, and South America also live in the neighborhood.
Harvard University owns over 350 acres in North Allston, and several buildings were razed to make room for a new 497,000-square-foot science and engineering complex scheduled to open in 2020.
There are lots of interesting places to check out in this constantly evolving neighborhood.
1080 Commonwealth Ave.
Roast Beast is home to the best roast beef sandwich in Boston. (The turkey and chicken are pretty good, too.) Served on freshly baked rolls, the meat is stacked high, with toppings that will have you salivating. The process is simple: choose your size, choose your roll, choose your toppings, then dig in. They also have some cleverly named premade creations you can order, including the Terrier, the Fat J, the Moondog, and the King Richard. Started by BU alum D. J. Lawton (Questrom’09) in 2011, it has become a popular destination for students and faculty. For the daring, the restaurant offers its thermonuclear challenge: finish a sandwich dressed with spicy Thermonuclear Sauce in five minutes or less and you’ll get a T-shirt boasting that you’re “Simply the Beast,” and your photo will be displayed on the restaurant’s “Wall of Beasts.”
LimeRed Teahouse & Espresso Bar
1092 Commonwealth Ave.
One of the recent entries to Allston’s café scene, LimeRed serves up craft bubble tea drinks, using freshly brewed tea sweetened with brown sugar and topped with your choice of tapioca pearls, aloe, nata de coco, and more. There are more than eight flavors to choose from, but the classic milk tea is a guaranteed delight. You can also head to their espresso bar for a latte or macchiato if bubble tea isn’t your thing. Whatever drink you choose, accompany it with one of the dessert bar’s tasty treats, like a crepe cake or a macaron. There’s lots of seating, making it the ideal spot to do some work or hang out with friends.
Super 88 Hong Kong Supermarket & Food Connection
1095 Commonwealth Ave.
Half food court, half supermarket, this sprawling complex is a mecca for anyone seeking authentic East Asian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian cuisine. The Food Connection food court offers a dazzling array of cheap eats at 10 stalls. A must-try is Pho Viet’s, with its extensive menu of delicious Vietnamese specialties. Try one of the massive banh mi sandwiches or two burrito-size fresh summer rolls, with a side of sweet peanut sauce. Other stalls sell Korean, Indian, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese cuisine. And you can get a quick bubble tea to go at Kung Fu Tea. The Hong Kong Supermarket has an array of inexpensive spices and teas, exotic seafood, fruits, noodles, and condiments, and a large variety of frozen buns and dumplings, as well as instant noodles—great for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking.
1245 Commonwealth Ave.
Seoul Soulongtang bills its traditional seolleongtang, a Korean broth soup enriched with ox bones, brisket, marrow, thin noodles, and spices, as “beef soup for the soul.” It’s flavorful and hearty, making it a great liquid lunch or dinner on a cold day. The menu has other Korean specialties, like bulgogi, thinly sliced rib-eye steak in a soy sauce–based marinade, and japchae, stir-fried glass noodles with beef and vegetables.
Hopewell Bar & Kitchen
1277 Commonwealth Ave.
Opened in Allston in 2016, this restaurant follows three principles: serve up terrific drinks and food, take pride in your work, and remember your roots. Try dishes like the cast iron skillet–baked cinnamon roll for brunch, one of four grilled pizzas for lunch, or the roasted mushroom gnocchi for dinner. The extensive cocktail menu (the bar is open daily until 2 am) has innovative drinks like the Ghost Tears (Ghost tequila, cointreau, fresh lime, and blood orange) and the Frida Kahlo (Del Maguey Vida mezcal, cointreau, pineapple, ginger beer, and mint). Hopewell also has a big beer and whiskey selection. Creative seasonal drinks—with and without alcohol—like an apple cider mimosa and pumpkin coffee—are available with brunch. The bar offers shuffleboard, pool, pinball, and old-fashioned arcade games, too. Stop by and discover why the Hopewell was named Boston magazine’s 2017 Best Neighborhood Bar in Allston.
Spike’s Junkyard Dogs
108 Brighton Ave.
Looking for a good place to stop after a night on the town? Try Spike’s. You’ll find 100 percent real beef hot dogs on fresh-baked French rolls for around $5. Choose from 12 free topping options (e.g., Spike’s house mustard, Russian dressing, teriyaki sauce) or for an extra 50 cents, one of 18 special toppings (e.g., hot pepper rings, sautéed onions, sauerkraut). Among the most popular menu items are the Texas Bandit, topped with barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese, and hot pepper rings, and the Lonely Guy Dog, with mustard, scallions, and sautéed onions. Spike’s also offers fat-free veggie dogs, Angus beef and veggie burgers, wings, chicken sandwiches, pizzas, salads, and subs. Spike’s menu is now available for delivery via Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub. If you eat six hot dogs in 90 minutes, you’ll get your picture displayed in the restaurant and a free Spike’s T-shirt. And the store will cover the cost of the challenge if you beat the current record of 25 hot dogs in 90 minutes for men and 12 dogs in 90 minutes for women. Keep an eye out for their next anniversary, where they will give away free hot dogs.
122 Brighton Ave.
A store offering secondhand clothes, accessories, toys, appliances, books, and furniture, Urban Renewals has the feel of a giant yard sale. Apparel is organized by color instead of size, making your hunt for a good pair of jeans more difficult. Other challenges: it’s cash only (there is an ATM machine on site), there are no dressing rooms, and returns are not allowed. On the plus side, there are lots of sales to catch and the store offers a different deal every day (e.g., a 50 percent student discount on Thursdays with a valid college ID). Most clothing items cost less than $10, and the store also has plenty of books and stuffed animals for sale, along with a good selection of furniture, for furnishing your off-campus apartment. If you’re lucky, you might even find a Keurig coffee maker for sale.
161 Brighton Ave.
Tavern in the Square first opened in 2004 in Cambridge’s Central Square as a neighborhood sports bar. The chain now has 12 locations, with more on the way. The Allston location underwent a complete overhaul in summer 2017, with a new interior featuring three full-service bars, bigger TV screens, a new club room and lounge, and an enhanced audiovisual system. There’s also a revamped menu with an emphasis on shareable plates and innovative cocktails. The new and improved digs offer brunch with live DJs every Saturday and Sunday from 10 pm to 2 am, and a menu that includes small bites like fried pickle chips and guacamole, table shares like the veggie or wing sampler, as well as burgers, sandwiches, and a range of delicious entrées, including cornflake chicken and waffles. On the drink menu, there are now “sharabowls” designed to be split among two or more people: try the “Take Me Back Bowl” with Bacardi Superior White rum, orange liqueur, orange juice, passionfruit purée, lime, falernum, and Plantation dark rum float. Check the restaurant’s dress code and hours online before heading over.
Fish Market Sushi Bar
170 Brighton Ave.
This sushi spot isn’t the most spacious of restaurants, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in friendly service, reasonable prices, and incredibly fresh, tasty sushi. Try special maki, like the spicy crispy tuna maki with flying fish roe, tempura flakes, cucumber, and spicy mayo, or the spicy crispy salmon with cucumber, cream cheese, spicy mayo, and tempura flakes. The menu includes hand rolls, sashimi, and entrées from both the sushi bar and kitchen, including chicken or beef teriyaki or broiled eel.
172 Brighton Ave.
A Korean restaurant with Mexican fusion options, Coreanos offers quite a range, from Korean fried chicken and kimchi quesadillas to tacos and tteokbokki (soft rice cakes, vegetables, and fish cakes cooked in a sweet red chili sauce), and a drink menu that includes a sweet, refreshing peach limeade and Vietnamese cold brew iced coffee. We recommend the Coreanos bowl, which includes rice, a protein, and veggies topped with flavorful sauces or the very tasty chicken poppers dressed with so much sauce that you’ll need a fork to handle them.
252 Brighton Ave.
Replay’d, Allston’s only retro video game shop, is a gamer’s paradise. You’ll find used copies of nearly every new game and console for sale, but fans with a taste for nostalgia will love looking through the cases. Rare collectible titles from years past to childhood-favorite consoles like the Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis are available at reasonable prices. Replay’d is a haven for diehard and casual gamers alike. Schedule plenty of time for browsing: you’ll need it.
421 Cambridge St.
Lulu’s is known for tasty and imaginative comfort food and is open for lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch. Among the brunch items: cinnamon vanilla French toast and the Weekday Hash with tater tots topped with braised short rib, scallions, creamy garlic sauce, and over-easy eggs. One of the most popular lunch entrées is a wild game chili, with local cheddar, scallions, sour cream, and tortilla chips. The dinner menu has tasty options like the short rib mac and cheese and Mama’s Fried Chicken, with mashed potatoes and arugula.
Bazaar on Cambridge
424 Cambridge St.
Hankering for a taste of Eastern Europe? Then stop by this well-stocked gourmet supermarket, with its Russian, Georgian, Armenian, and Polish cuisine. Over half of the store is stocked with imported goods, ranging from chocolate, drinks, and candy to liquor and packaged foods. There are myriad options in the bakery section, with lunch sandwiches, bread, and sweets. Try the giant cherry Danish. You’ll also find produce, smoked fish, lamb kebabs, pirogues, and much more. Bazaar is famous for its poppy seed rolls.
Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese
485 Cambridge St.
Roxy’s began as a food truck, selling grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers around the city. The cheese-colored food truck is still a city staple, but Roxy’s now also has brick-and-mortar storefronts in both Allston and Cambridge’s Central Square. Hungry customers can enjoy the same mouthwatering burgers and inventive grilled cheese sandwiches (we recommend the Mighty Rib Melt, with braised beef, caramelized onions, and gooey fontina cheese on perfectly grilled pain de mie), but in the comfort of a sit-down restaurant. Roxy’s carries sides like poutine and tomato soup, a stellar house-made lemonade, and for those 21+, a rotating beer menu.
501 Cambridge St.
Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t the only option for coffee and doughnuts. This no-frills mom-and-pop donut shop has been an Allston mainstay since the 1950s. If you’re there when doors open at 4 am (6 am on Sundays), you’re likely to see cabbies and other early risers sitting across the table from students who haven’t been to bed yet. The glazed donuts are the big draw. Get there early while they’re still warm. Other donut flavors include honeydew, lemon, black raspberry, Bavarian, apple spice, and honey dip. You’ll also find a full breakfast menu, with breakfast sandwiches, omelets, eggs, and pancakes, and on the lunch menu are salads, soups, and sandwiches. And the coffee is a bargain at just $2.05 for a large cup, a lot less than what you’ll pay at chains like Starbucks or Caffe Nero.
One North Beacon St.
Vegetarians and vegans flock to Grasshopper and it’s no wonder. It may be the only vegan Chinese restaurant in the Boston area. The spicy steak fillet, for example, is actually sliced soft tofu, pan-fried with red bell peppers and onions in a black bean sauce and served over a bed of steamed spinach. The No Name—battered gluten in a sweet-and-sour sauce with steamed vegetables and sesame seeds—is another popular dish. The restaurant offers inexpensive house specials for around $8, which include a main dish, soup of the day, salad, and your choice of white or brown rice.
477 Cambridge St.
Offering high-end bar food alongside an impressively long craft cocktail list, Deep Ellum opened in 2007 and quickly became a Cambridge Street hot spot. Named for the trendy Dallas, Tex., neighborhood famous for its nightlife, this eatery caters to a variety of tastes in a fun and casual setting. Brunch is available daily and for night owls, there’s a late-night menu, too, with food served until 1:30 am. The expansive menu includes appetizers such as charcuterie, pickle plates, and chicken wings, and entrées like steak frites and a yummy lentil-mushroom burger.
Lone Star Taco Bar
479 Cambridge St.
In 2012, Deep Ellum’s owners opened a sister restaurant, Lone Star Taco Bar, next door. Lone Star is known not only for its tacos and other Mexican street food–inspired offerings, but also for brunch, served until 4 pm daily, with dishes like huevos rancheros and jalapeño corn cakes. There are taco choices for both meat eaters and vegetarians, with fillings such as beef, chorizo, fish, and tofu. Small-plate dishes, like the sweet grilled street corn topped with salty cotija cheese, have gained devoted fans. Lone Star also draws a big nighttime crowd with its inventive cocktails, its extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, and its late-night menu (11:30 pm to 1:30 am).
72 Brighton Ave.
This Taiwanese eatery has a following drawn to its popular peppery popcorn chicken, dumplings, noodle soups, stir-fries, bubble teas, and huge portions of shaved ice. In addition to cheap, tasty eats, enjoy the small restaurant’s kitschy nautical-themed décor.
80 Brighton Ave.
Shabu-Zen is a magnet for anyone seeking authentic Asian-style hot pot (for novices: meats, seafood, and vegetables cooked in a simmering hot broth). You cook your meat to the desired temperature in a simmering pot in the center of the table in this interactive dining experience. It’s an ideal dish for hungry students to share. There are a variety of proteins available—boneless short ribs, pork, scallops, shrimp, chicken, and rib-eye beef—and eight tasty broths to choose from. Try the Korean kimchi broth, a blend of pickled and salty. You can order your hot pot in one of two sizes: regular and jumbo, depending on how hungry you are and the size of your party. Shabu-Zen serves up plenty of sides, appetizers, and sushi for those wanting something other than a hot pot.
White Horse Tavern
116 Brighton Ave.
White Horse Tavern’s casual, comfy ambiance is a fine backdrop to a sit-down meal or a casual game of billiards. The tavern hosts weekly Wednesday night trivia games and has four high-def plasma TVs, two pool tables, a seasonal patio, and dueling pop-a-shot machines. It’s a little on the expensive side if you’re on a student budget, but it’s a great place to take the parents when they visit.
Brighton Music Hall
158 Brighton Ave.
Formerly called Harpers Ferry, this music venue has become a favorite of Allston residents and music lovers from all over Boston. It’s known for hosting some of the nation’s best touring indie and alternative acts. Tickets are available on Ticketmaster, at the Paradise Rock Club box office at 967 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-562-8800, or at the Music Hall one hour before events begin. Check here for upcoming shows. Tickets are not replaceable, so treat them like cash.
200 Brighton Ave.
This dive bar is an Allston staple. The mostly under-30 crowd gathers here on weekends to take advantage of free darts, free all-you-can-eat popcorn, and cheap pitchers of beer. Although food is not served and the bar is cash only, the place is popular with students, who come to enjoy the pool table, jukebox, dartboards, and weird computer games. This is the place to go for a chill night of socializing, as “the Sil” is famous for attracting a wide spectrum of patrons from all of Boston’s scenes. But be warned: single guys may have trouble getting in by themselves, so be sure to show up with a diverse group of friends.
Garlic ’n Lemons
133 Harvard Ave.
Offering Mediterranean food at reasonable prices, this mom-and-son-operated restaurant is one of Allston’s lesser-known treasures. There is a wide array of menu options to appeal to both carnivores and vegetarians. The shawerma, kebabs, Greek salads, and falafel are fresh and prepared quickly. One taste and you’ll feel as though you’ve gone on a trip to the Mediterranean.
Tous les Jours
152 Harvard Ave.
Those with a sweet tooth will want to head over to this French-Asian bakery just a short walk from West Campus. The chain, which began in South Korea, opened its second Boston location in Allston in 2017, serving up mouthwatering pastries, cakes, and breads. Try the honey bun cake bread or some of the house-made macarons with a cup of coffee or some bubble tea. Tous les Jours also has a delicious selection of sandwiches and a welcoming environment.
155 Harvard Ave.
If you’re thinking about a tattoo, this is the place to go. There are currently five artists on staff and consultations can be scheduled over the phone. Prices are lower than, or comparable to, other tattoo parlors in the area. If you’re a tattoo novice, you can flip through the artists’ portfolios on Regeneration’s website to decide who can best draw what you have in mind. However, make sure you are over 18 years of age and bring your ID with you, or service will be refused.
174 Harvard Ave.
Looking for a casual breakfast, brunch, or a quick coffee fix? You’ll find it @UNION. There are plenty of delicious breakfast and lunch items to choose from, along with an extensive coffee menu served up in a cozy, inviting space. Caffeine lovers take note: @Union offers bottomless cups of coffee if you order a meal and the food is too good to pass up. Try the brioche French toast—add strawberries, bananas, blueberries, or chocolate chips to make it even sweeter. Not in the mood for something sweet? Try the Cajun hash with onion, two eggs any style, and buttered toast. @UNION sells its coffee, made with 100 percent fair-trade Arabica beans, by the pound, so you can take some home for brewing later.
180 Harvard Ave.
This “new and recycled fashion” chain offers a counterpoint to Urban Renewals. The store is well organized, with clothing sorted by type and size. A higher-end thrift store, its clothes cost more than what you’ll pay at a typical thrift store, but discerning shoppers can find plenty of gems for decent prices. It has friendly staff and a wide selection, selling both men’s and women’s clothes, including tons of shoes for both sexes, and it buys and exchanges clothes as well. If you want to sell or exchange clothes, make sure to call ahead, 617-779-7901, to find out what they’re currently interested in purchasing.
190 Harvard Ave.
Short for “Addictive Way Of Life,” AWOL is Allston’s best bet for sneakerheads looking for that next pair to add to their collections. The small store is lined not just with sneakers, but cutting-edge apparel (brands include Bleached Goods, Stussy, Kendall Jenner’s Kendall X Ksubi, and more). The shop provides screen-printing services so you can customize your clothes, as well.
The Glenville Stops
87 Glenville Ave.
Specializing in Latin-inspired cuisine, this gastropub’s small-plate-centric menu is full of appetizing bar bites, salads, soups, sandwiches, and entrées to entice your inner foodie. The real star, however, is the expansive drink menu, with ciders and 31 craft beers on tap, including lagers, saisons, weissbiers, meads, stouts, and ales, and a selection of dozens of wines from a 1,000-square-foot wine cellar.
267 Western Ave.
This hip spot on Western Ave., formerly a dry cleaner and auto body garage, has been transformed into a space for creative programs and events. Made possible by a Harvard University initiative designed to energize Western Avenue with retail and creative programming, Zone 3 hosts outdoor movie nights, holiday markets, and art installations in partnership with various community organizations. It’s also home to the PRX Podcast Garage, a public podcast studio that offers studio space and radio equipment to local audio producers and those interested in audio storytelling. During the summer months, Zone 3 hosts Aeronaut Allston, a musical beer garden run by Aeronaut Brewing Company for those 21+. For a list of upcoming events, check out Zone 3’scalendar.
The Breakfast Club
270 Western Ave.
Named for the classic 1985 coming-of-age movie, this retro diner is decked out in 1980s memorabilia. The popular brunch menu features dishes inspired by your favorite breakfast club misfits, like the Criminal (two eggs any style with home fries and toast, along with choice of bacon, sausage, or ham) or the Princess (a Belgian waffle topped with seasonal fresh fruit and whipped cream). The diner’s meatloaf, milkshakes, and Nutella waffles help explain the lines that form on weekends.
Getting there: By foot, walk down Comm Ave away from Kenmore Square. You’ll know you’ve reached Allston when the avenue veers left. By MBTA, take the Green Line B trolley to either Harvard Avenue or Packard’s Corner.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Allston area.