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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: The South End

Trends overlay classics along Tremont Street

One of Boston’s most beautiful neighborhoods, and one of its most culturally diverse, the South End has a rich history. Bordered by the Back Bay, Chinatown, and Roxbury, the primary commercial area runs along Tremont Street, Columbus Avenue, and Harrison Avenue. Most of the residential cross streets are named after the towns (Dedham, Newton, Canton, Dover, etc.) that were served by the former Boston and Providence Railroad, which originally bordered the South End.

Developed in the mid-19th century to relieve overcrowding in downtown Boston and Beacon Hill, the neighborhood, originally a narrow strip of land surrounded by salt marshes connecting Boston to Roxbury, was created with landfill from nearby Needham. Prominent architect Charles Bulfinch (the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Common, and much of the US Capitol), designed the new neighborhood.

Today, Bulfinch’s imprint can still be found. Tree-lined streets are graced by connected brick bow-front townhouses surrounded by iron gates and built around a series of shaded pocket parks, many with elegant fountains. In 1973, the South End was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “the largest urban Victorian neighborhood in the country.”

The area has long had cycles of boom and bust. By the 1880s many of its wealthy founding families had been replaced by waves of immigrants from Ireland, Lebanon, and Greece, and tenements and settlement houses were built to accommodate them. During the 1940s, the South End became home to a vibrant African American middle class. At the same time, it began to attract gay men and women drawn by the many single-sex rooming houses that provided them with social cover.

By the early 1960s the area had become synonymous with crime and poverty. But it underwent another gentrification beginning in the late 1970s, led primarily by gay men.

Today, the South End is one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, both economically and racially. Still home to a large gay community, it also has a sizable Hispanic population. Seven-figure townhouses abut several large subsidized housing projects. And it has become a popular place to work for artists.

Pricey restaurants like chef Barbara Lynch’s Butcher Shop, B&G Oysters, and Aquitaine Bar à Vin Bistrot draw locals as well as those from surrounding suburbs. But there are still plenty of places to grab good, cheap food and lots of trendy boutiques and performing arts venues. Below is a sampling.

Southwest Corridor Park, South End, Boston

Southwest Corridor Park

Southwest Corridor Park

Southwest Corridor Park follows the Orange Line nearly five miles, from Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain to Back Bay station. A stroll along the section between the Mass Ave and Back Bay subway stops is a great way to start a visit to the South End. The gently meandering path, popular with dog walkers, joggers, and cyclists, is dotted with community gardens maintained by local residents.

Wally’s Café
427 Massachusetts Ave.

The sole remainder of a nexus of famous jazz clubs (among them the High Hat, the Savoy Ballroom, and the Wig Wam), Wally’s has been a neighborhood institution since 1947. Its name comes from owner Joseph Walcott (better known as Wally). As jazz’s popularity waned, in the early 1960s Walcott began featuring up-and-coming artists from Boston’s nearby conservatories. Today, the club continues to provide a platform for emerging jazz talents, offering live music—funk, blues and salsa, as well as jazz—365 days a year.

Berkeley Perk Café
69 Berkeley St.

With booths, high-top tables, and comfy wingback chairs, this is a friendly spot to stop in for a scone or sandwich. It also serves a cup of coffee you’ll never forget. The place is cozy, but high ceilings, yellow walls, and a huge storefront window make it seem bigger than it is. Breakfast and lunch are served daily, except Sundays, when the café is closed.

Delux Café
100 Chandler St.

You can hear Delux before you see it. The music in this crowded, windowless hipster dive bar–restaurant tucked away from the more posh eateries varies, but is always loud. Walls are plastered with old LP covers and festooned with Christmas lights (one wall is dedicated to Elvis memorabilia), and a portrait of Dolly Parton at Symphony Hall dating to 1979 stands out among the eclectic décor. The drinks (including bottles of Schlitz and Narragansett tall boys) and the seasonal better-than-dive-bar menu (entrées like scallops, skirt steak tacos, and eggplant ravioli) are priced right, but bring cash. Delux does not take credit cards.

Outside of Wally's Cafe jazz club, 427 Massachusetts Ave., Boston

Wally’s Café, 427 Massachusetts Ave. Photo by Cydney Scott

Club Café
209 Columbus Ave.

The owners say when Club Café opened in 1983, it was the first gay club in Boston to have windows—patrons didn’t have to hide from passersby. Still a favorite gay restaurant and bar, it serves lunch and dinner and a popular Sunday buffet brunch. There is dancing, trivia, bingo, karaoke nights, and special events. Entrées like Statler chicken, shrimp and scallop scampi, steak tips, and salmon fillet, among others, are served till 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. However, late-night diners can order from the bar menu until 1 or 2 a.m., depending on the day.

433 Columbus Ave.

In a neighborhood where shops claim a “cheese philosophy” and restaurants promise “the art of Thai cuisine,” it’s nice to know that a place like Anchovies still exists. This is authentic Italian. Take a seat at one of the high booths, and you’ll be fed and treated well at a reasonable price. Named Boston’s Best Cozy Bar in 2017 by Improper Bostonian, it offers classics like linguine with meatballs, chicken or eggplant parmigiana, and penne with chicken and broccoli.

Café Madeleine
517 Columbus Avenue

Named for the mother of its executive pastry chef, Café Madeleine serves up elegant, authentic French pastries. With an open show kitchen, customers can watch as chefs turn out macarons, tartes aux pommes, éclairs, and delicious almond- and ham and cheese–filled croissants. On the lunch menu are classic savory French dishes like croque monsieur and salade niçoise.

Outside of Cafe Madeleine, 517 Columbus Avenue, Boston

Café Madeleine, 517 Columbus Ave. Photo by Cydney Scott

Blackbird Doughnuts
492 Tremont St.

One visit here, and you may forswear Dunkin’ Donuts forever. The unique flavors—like apple cider or salted toffee—are sublime. Stop back a couple of weeks later, and the flavors may be completely different. This artisanal doughnut shop—the only one in Boston with doughnuts baked on site—is known for its creative, ever-changing take on the classic breakfast treat, with both airy raised doughnuts made from brioche dough and cake doughnuts, monkey bread, and of course, coffee. Natural and local ingredients are used whenever possible. Note: the tiny shop has no seating (a shame, since the open kitchen has plenty of action), but there are a couple of benches out front. Be sure to check out Blackbird Doughnuts’ new spot, next door to Target in the Fenway.

511 Tremont St.

This trendy men’s boutique carries all of the stylish clothing you’d want: sweaters, chinos, wallets, and more from brands like Scotch & Soda, Ben Sherman, and RVCA, making it easy to create the look—from classic to modern—that suits you best. Deciding on what items to buy? That’s the hard part. Not to worry. The helpful staff will assist on your hunt for what’s hip. Note: the boutique is closed Mondays.

513 Tremont Street

Known for its thin-crust pizzas and homemade ice cream, Picco is a South End favorite, offering soups, salads, pastas, snacks, like roasted cauliflower gordita and beef and pork meatballs, and most notably, pizzas (cooked “well done with some char,” the menu warns). The wine menu features wines from Italy, France, Austria, California, and Spain, and its beer offerings (from pale ales to ciders, lagers, and stouts) are extensive.

Barcelona Restaurant and Wine Bar
525 Tremont Street

With a warm walnut décor, friendly staff, an impressive wine cellar, and a menu influenced by the flavors of Spain, South America, and the Mediterranean, this Spanish tapas restaurant, helmed by chef Marcellus Coleman, offers charcuterie and cheese plates, an extensive tapas selection (bacon-wrapped dates, chorizo with figs, potato tortilla), salads, and larger dishes for two or more people. It also has a popular weekend brunch and special dining events throughout the year. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m. seven days a week.

Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont St.

Among the city’s most vibrant cultural hubs, the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) supports three resident theater companies and houses an art gallery and studio space for local artists. One of the buildings, the Cyclorama, a massive brick rotunda built in 1884 and topped by a copper skylight dome, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly home to a bazaar and later a flower market, the 23,000-square-foot space is now a venue for art shows, public events, and private functions. In 2004, through a partnership with the Huntington Theatre Company, the BCA opened the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, with two performance spaces: the 372-seat Virginia Wimberly Theatre and the 250-seat Nancy and Edward Roberts Studio Theatre. The pavilion is a second stage for the Huntington, as well as a venue for a number of smaller companies.

Boston University BU, things to do, nightlife Boston, The Beehive, drinks music food

Beehive, 541 Tremont St. Photo courtesy of the Beehive

The Beehive
541 Tremont St.

This exuberant bohemian restaurant–music venue has hip vibes, cool tunes, and delicious plates. Nosh on tasty appetizers like “fall-off-the-bone” baby back ribs, and then go for one of the entrées, like the Beehive prime burger or the house-made fazzoletti pasta. Live music almost every night makes it a premier nightlife destination and a great place to hear local musicians and up-and-coming jazz bands, like the Mike Mele Trio. There’s a popular jazz brunch on weekends.

Banyan Bar & Refuge
553 Tremont Street

Banyan, with a modern twist on Asian cuisine, is open for dinner and Sunday brunch (with a special in-between menu on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m.). Choose from delicacies like salmon poke with pickled red onions, soy cucumbers, and house hot sauce, and hush puppy takoyaki (Spanish octopus cornmeal fritters, charred scallion, and chili aioli), as well as rice bowls and platters. The modern décor includes show-stopping chandeliers made from tree branches, and diners can enjoy a meal on the patio during warm weather. There is a selection of sake, white and red wines, beer, and specialty cocktails.

Frenchie Wine Bistro
560 Tremont St.

This restaurant serves up modern cuisine with a French touch, paired with great wines. Headed by chef Alex Falconer, former executive chef at Kenmore Square’s now-closed Josephine, it cooks up lunch and dinner daily, with brunch on weekends from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner standouts: a selection of cheese and charcuterie plates, traditional steak frites, beef bourguignon, and salt cod croquettes. Those with a sweet tooth can end a meal with crème brulée and mousse au chocolat.

584 Tremont St.

Noted for its mix of French and Italian comfort food, the Mediterranean bistro serves popular dinner items like pan roasted chicken, rigatoni with fennel sausage, and veal scallopini. It’s equally famous for its weekend brunches, but be prepared to wait. But the huevos rancheros, blueberry pancakes, and smoked salmon eggs benedict are worth it. Dinner reservations are strongly recommended.

Niche Urban Garden Supply
619 Tremont St.

Named Improper Bostonian’s Boston’s Best Plant Shop 2017, this cozy store provides a tranquil sanctuary, with a wide array of plants and pots of every size, shape, and shade of green. From tiny potted succulents to three feet tall cactuses to ready-to-plant vegetables and herbs for your backyard garden (spring and summer), Niche has it all. Not sure where to start? Not a problem—the shop offers monthly workshops on topics like seed starting, terrarium design, and natural fabric dyes and consultations if you need help designing and installing your garden or interior display.

Green plants cover the walls and floor of Niche Urban Garden Supply store.

Niche Urban Garden Supply located at 619 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End. Photo by Sarah Silbiger (COM ’18)

Olives & Grace
623 Tremont St.

Here you’ll find a shop stocked with tea, chocolate, candles, ceramics, jewelry, and other small-batch delights for men, women, and children, crafted by artisans from across the country and the world. It’s the place to find a unique birthday or housewarming gift. Many of its wares are made locally, like the handmade bowls from Jamaica Plain–based Ogusky Ceramics and the homemade peppermint patties from Seacoast Sweets in Newburyport, Mass. The shop also sells jewelry and housewares from BADALA, a nonprofit fundraising organization that employs women from Africa and Central America to combat poverty and sex trafficking.

Heartbreak Hill Running Company
652 Tremont St.

Founded by former BC track stars Dan Fitzgerald and Justin Burdon to put a fun and fashionable spin on traditional running gear and fuse fashion with function, Heartbreak Hill also has stores in Newton and Cambridge. It’s decorated minimally, but carries the running industry’s top brands and has an impressive rainbow-colored wall of shoes for both runners and nonrunners. The store also offers several free run clubs for all levels, studio classes, professional personal coaching, and a running club, the Heartbreakers.

The Gallows
1395 Washington St.

You may want to make this gastropub your new neighborhood hangout. Sure, Beacon Hill has the original Cheers, but the welcoming staff here will make you feel like everyone knows your name, too. Popular for its cocktails, its seasonal menu changes weekly, depending on what’s fresh. Diners can gnosh on bites, shares, burgers, and main dishes. It’s all delicious.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross, South End, Boston, nearby neighborhood

Cathedral of the Holy Cross, 1400 Washington St.

Cathedral of the Holy Cross
1400 Washington St.

The cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, opened in 1875, signaling the city’s demographics shift from Protestant to Irish Catholic. Designed in the Gothic revival style, it is 364 feet long and 120 feet high and contains one of the country’s finest pipe organs. Today, the cathedral serves a diverse faith-based community, including English- and Spanish-speaking congregations, a German apostolate, and Ge’ez Rite Catholics from Eritrea and Ethiopia, as well as a large traditional Latin Mass community. It is the largest Catholic church in New England and has played an important role in the life of Boston’s evolving immigrant communities.

Boomerangs Special Edition
1407 Washington St.

Boomerangs Special Edition is the upmarket version of this chain of thrift stores, whose proceeds benefit the nonprofit AIDS Action Committee, which provides services and advocacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Like the other Boomerangs, this one sells used clothing, furniture, housewares, and jewelry, but the goods are higher end. If you’re looking for elegance, but don’t want to pay elegant prices, this is the place for designer fashion at a good price. Best of all, you’ll be supporting a worthy cause.

Foodie’s Urban Market
1421 Washington St.

You can pick up a gallon of milk and some eggs here, but this is the South End, so it’s not just the hardwood floors and stamped tin ceiling that make this place different from your average neighborhood market. In the produce bins are hard-to-find items such as sunflower sprouts and organic wheatgrass. The deli has prepared lunch dishes like chicken salad with cranberries, autumn sweet potatoes, and chicken empanadas. There’s also a salad bar, with classic ham and macaroni, red bliss potato, and quinoa salads for a quick snack, befitting the store’s slogan: “For gourmet and every day.”

1525 Washington St.

Stella offers modern twists on authentic Italian dishes, like pork Milanese and seafood risotto, and has an outside dining patio that makes it a great place to visit in warm weather. Although the entrées can be pricey, discounted appetizers are available at the bar between 4 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. It has gluten-free, vegetarian, and kids menus as well as Sunday brunch.

Flour Bakery and Café
1595 Washington St.

Blue hospital scrubs and stethoscopes are a common sight among the outdoor lunch crowd at this renowned bakery and sandwich shop a couple of blocks from the BU Medical Campus. Indoors, patrons stake out a square foot or two while waiting for a roast beef sandwich with horseradish mayo, crispy onions, and tomato on ciabatta or grilled cauliflower, with Oaxaca cheese, smoked poblano relish, and pumpkin seed butter. The pastries—among them the sticky buns that usurped Bobby Flay on his Food Network show Throwdown with Bobby Flay and the lemon-raspberry cake—are legendary. Be forewarned: the sticky buns sell out quickly during the lunch hour, so plan on arriving early if you want one. A saying chalked on the menu board urges Flour patrons to “make life sweeter…eat dessert first.”

The Giving Tree sandwich at Blunch, 59 East Springfield St., Boston.

Blunch, 59 East Springfield St.

Code 10
1638 Washington St.

Taking its name from police speak for lunch break, this corner café serves a full menu all day long: breakfast sandwiches, paninis, hot dogs, salads, and soups. Lunches tend toward stalwart sandwich classics like smoked ham and cheese, turkey club, and genoa salami. And while it can’t compete with Flour for sweets, it offers its own temptations: Richardson’s ice cream, such favorites as maple walnut, cookie dough, totally turtle, and purple cow, and brownies, cookies, and homemade baklava.

1704 Washington Street

This Barcelona-style tapas bar serves traditional and modern small plates made with local and sustainable ingredients, as well as an eclectic wine list and cocktail menu. Open for lunch Monday through Friday and dinner seven nights a week, it serves a Sunday brunch that attracts patrons from all over the city. Dinner reservations are not accepted, so plan to arrive early. Some favorites: croquettas de bacalao (salt-cod fritters with tempura lemon rings and aioli), gambas al ajillo (griddled garlic shrimp with cascabel chilies, parsley, and lemon), and maíz asado con alioli y queso cotija (grilled‎ corn with alioli, lime, espelette pepper, and aged cheese).

59 East Springfield St.

This tiny, unpretentious sandwich shop’s name says it all. Breakfast and lunch are the only options here, but when homemade soups, pressed sandwiches, and bagelwiches taste this good, who needs dinner? Just across the street from Boston Medical Center, it’s popular with med students, faculty, and staff (you can call in your order ahead). Try the Giving Tree, a scrumptious combination of smoked turkey, cheddar cheese, shaved green apples, honey Dijon dressing, and greens on multigrain bread, and top it off with one of the eatery’s oh-so-gooey triple chocolate chip cookies.

SoWa Open Market
530 Harrison Ave.

From May through October, a parking lot in the SoWa district is transformed into an artisan market every Saturday and Sunday (except holiday weekends). Artists and craftspeople set up shop under white tents, with more than 150 rotating vendors. Check out the adjacent vintage market, the farmers market at 500 Harrison Ave. offering fresh produce, baked goods, meats, jams, and flowers, and the beer and wine garden open Sundays at 540 Harrison Avenue. Hungry? Head over to the food truck bazaar parked at 540 Harrison Avenue. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The SoWa Winter Festival is held the first weekend of December, just in time for the holidays, featuring more than 100 artisans and specialty food vendors.

Cinquecento Roman Trattoria
500 Harrison Avenue

Cinquecento (five hundred in Italian) has a contemporary, casual, energetic Roman trattoria–like atmosphere, a dinner menu, and a weekend-only brunch menu. Among the dinner standouts: sea bass with escarole and wild mushrooms, squid ink linguine with clams, toasted garlic, vin blanco, and Calabrian chili, and prosciutto-wrapped veal tenderloin with cabbage fonduta, Brussels sprouts, and marsala. Diners walk up an illuminated cast-iron and glass staircase to the main dining room and bar, and in true trattoria fashion, the dining room has two communal tables. The downstairs private dining room is for parties and functions. The 60-seat patio, open during warmer months, is a big draw with locals. There is adjacent complimentary parking.

Gaslight, Brasserie du Coin
560 Harrison Ave.

With its handcrafted zinc bar, beamed wooden ceilings, mosaic tiles, and vintage mirrors, Gaslight puts a modern twist on classic French style. Lively and often loud, it has a variety of seating options—from café and communal tables to booths and banquettes—as well as an interesting wine selection (all French) and some of the best pommes frites you’ll find anywhere. A bit on the expensive side, it’s still a solid choice for dinner or a weekend brunch. An outdoor patio provides a romantic setting for a candlelight dinner during warm weather and there is free parking in the adjacent lot.

Estragon Tapas Bar
700 Harrison Ave.

Estragon offers excellent tapas at reasonable prices. Classic dishes such as albondigas (meatballs with brandy cream), roasted Brussels sprouts with chorizo and golden raisins (one of the most popular items), and several superb paellas explain why the place has so many repeat customers. Enjoy a quiet weeknight meal, but on weekends it’s bustling and reservations are recommended. An outdoor patio offers great people-watching during warm weather.

Bobby from Boston located at 19 Thayer Street in Boston’s South End. Photo by Sarah Silbiger (COM ’18)

Bobby from Boston located at 19 Thayer Street in Boston’s South End. Photo by Sarah Silbiger (COM ’18)

Bobby from Boston
19 Thayer St.

Men looking for distinctive clothing and accessories from another era will find them at this vintage clothing store, with its large assortment of hats, suits, shoes, vests, and coats, as well as flasks, pipes, and yes, even monocles. Rumored to be a favorite of designer Ralph Lauren, it’s a must for men who want to add some classic pizzazz to their wardrobe. It also has a small but growing selection of women’s vintage clothing and accessories.

253 Shawmut Ave.

A neighborhood favorite, Coppa offers innovative Italian dishes by chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, both James Beard Award winners. You’ll find a seasonally updated menu that sources local ingredients to create both classic and new dishes, including pastas and pizzas cooked in the restaurant’s wood burning oven. Visit on weekends from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the special brunch. Be sure to check out Coppa’s special events, like the Goodfellas Style Italian dinner—for $65, you get a prix fixe four-course meal. An outdoor patio is open during the summer.

A counter of treats for sale at Polka Dog Bakery, 256 Shawmut Ave., Boston

Polka Dog Bakery, 256 Shawmut Ave. Photo by Cydney Scott

Polka Dog Bakery
256 Shawmut Ave.

This palace of pooch pampering was inspired by a one-eyed dog named Pearl, who would perform a little polka in an effort to see people with her good eye. In addition to walls of fashion-forward collars, leashes, and dog sweaters, glass jars are crammed with doggie treats such as peanut butter Wonder Nuggets and Chicken Little Sfizis. There’s also a huge selection of meat jerky (including haddock, cod, and chicken), squeeze toys, and seasonal treats like gingerbread dreidel cookies. The “no hide” bones—made from rice and coated in salmon flavoring for pups with sensitive stomachs—are very popular. The small downstairs boutique carries more practical supplies, like toys and stain removing spray. It’s worth stopping by, even if you don’t carry your dog around in your handbag.

South End Formaggio
268 Shawmut Ave.

To get to the artisan cheeses that have made Formaggio famous, you first need to walk past the handmade pastries and shelves of pastas, pâtés, spices, olive oils, and specialty items ranging from fig relish to organic Tuscan fruit preserves. This wonderful food specialty shop offers the best cheese selection in Boston, as well as artisan beers and carefully chosen wines that include some inexpensive everyday table wines. The staff is well-informed about everything they sell and the shop regularly hosts various tastings. It’s a must for serious foodies.

South End Formaggio, Boston

South End Formaggio, 268 Shawmut Ave.

274 Shawmut Ave.

This women’s boutique sells modern bohemian chic apparel. It has skirts, tops, pants, outerwear, and intimate apparel, as well as unique jewelry, bags, scarves, gloves, and gifts for the home. With its Urban Outfitters-like aesthetic, it features brands like Wildfox, Sugarboo & Co, and Quay Australia. And you can’t beat the friendly and knowledgeable customer service.

The Franklin Café
278 Shawmut Avenue

This charming café has an innovative approach to traditional American cuisine, with dishes like turkey meatloaf with fig gravy and chive mashed potatoes, skillet smoked PEI mussels, and five spice pork belly tacos with pickled vegetables and hoisin-orange sauce. It serves a full menu (with numerous gluten-free options) every night until 1:30 a.m. The bar offers local microbrews on tap, a diverse wine list, and an innovative cocktail menu. Try the Ideal Manhattan, made with Evan Williams bourbon, Cinzano Rosso, St. Germain, Angostura, and grapefruit bitters. Boston magazine awarded the café a Best of Boston award in 2014.

South End Buttery
314 Shawmut Ave.

Owner Richard Gordon (LAW’89) has created a welcoming bakery and café, restaurant, and takeout market that will satisfy you and your canine companion (dogs are welcome on the patio). The restaurant is committed to using organic, all-natural, locally raised and grown ingredients whenever possible. The lunch menu has crowd pleasers like a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich (bacon, gruyere, aged cheddar, and tomato on sourdough) and a curried chicken salad wrap (roasted chicken breast, green apples, grapes, celery, cashews, arugula, chutney, and curried mayo in a whole wheat tortilla). The dinner menu has comfort food like vegetable Bolognese, and a bacon cheeseburger (natural angus ground chuck, aged cheddar, caramelized onions, crispy bacon, garlic aioli, brioche bun). Stop by between 4 and 6 p.m. on weekdays or 3 and 6 p.m. on weekends to take advantage of happy hour specials, like $5 parmesan-garlic fries or $7 lobster grilled cheese. You can’t go wrong with a chocolate-dipped macaroon or a salted caramel cupcake from the bakery. The café serves Equator Coffee and Teas ethically sourced drip coffee. And for your four-legged friend? The fresh biscuits are from neighbor Polka Dog Bakery.

Shrimp ceviche and guacamole at El Centro mexican restaurant, Boston South End

El Centro, 472 Shawmut Ave.

El Centro
472 Shawmut Ave.

El Centro is a standout among the city’s recent surge in south-of-the-border dining. Its vibrant Mexican street art, like a hand-painted mural along the back wall and portraits of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and film idol and singer Pedro Infante, is complemented by equally vibrant food, with entrées like camarones papantla (shrimp wrapped in bacon and stuffed with cheese, served with rice and avocado). Sonoran native, chef, and owner Allan Rodriquez whips up family recipes every night. It has a small, but choice selection of wines, beers, and sangrias.

477 Shawmut Ave.

With its colorful chairs, warmly painted walls, and friendly staff, this casual Venezuelan restaurant, inspired by taguaritas, the country’s small, rustic roadside eateries, gives the feel of dining in someone’s home. On the menu are old family recipes that blend dishes indigenous to the Andes and the Caribbean, and servings are generous and reasonably priced. Among the offerings are shredded beef empanadas and a plaintain and cheese arepa, the traditional Venezuelan corn pocket sandwiches. Try the torta fluida, a molten chocolate cake made with 100 percent Venezuelan dark chocolate. Named Boston’s Best Neighborhood restaurant of 2017 by Boston Magazine, Orinoco also has locations in Brookline Village and Harvard Square. It’s a great place for a Sunday brunch, too.

Patch NYC
The Courtyard at 46 Waltham St.

This South End boutique, created and run by designer duo John Ross and Don Carney, offers choice accessories and home décor. They have collaborated with big name stores like Anthropologie and Target and have attracted fashion icons like Sarah Jessica Parker and Julianne Moore (CFA’83). The elegant shop offers a variety of unusual items, from beaded beetle earrings by Miriam Haskell to pillows silkscreened with drawings by Carney. You’ll find scarves, terra cotta planters in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, candles, and more. Many items are made by hand in limited quantities, so prices are on the high side, but it’s one of the best places in Boston to find an out-of-the-ordinary gift for someone special or an extravagant treat for yourself.

The funky interior of Patch NYC

Patch NYC located at 46 Waltham Street in Boston’s South End. Photo by Sarah Silbiger (COM ’18)

Maná Escondido Café
68 Aguadilla St.

Low prices, authentic Puerto Rican food, and friendly staff: what’s not to love about Maná Escondido? There are only a few tables in the tiny restaurant, but don’t let that stop you. It’s known for its mofongo (fried mashed plantains), available with a variety of toppings, from chicharron (fried pork rinds to camarones (shrimp). And it may offer the only jibarito—a Puerto Rico by way of Chicago sandwich made with smashed plaintains instead of bread—in New England. Word of warning: the mofongo can take up to 30 minutes, so if you’re looking for a quick snack, try one of the ready-made frituras (fritters). We recommend the bacalaitos (a thin, crispy salted cod fritter) or pastellito (turnover stuffed with beef or chicken). The café was named Boston’s Best Hidden Gem of 2017 by the Improper Bostonian.

Getting there: The BU Shuttle (BUS) runs from the Charles River Campus to the Medical Campus, which borders the South End. Nearby MBTA stops include Massachusetts Avenue and Back Bay on the Orange Line and Symphony, Prudential, and Copley on the Green Line. The Silver Line bus also runs up and down Washington Street.

Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the South End area.

This article was originally published on May 29, 2008; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.