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Campus Life

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 hippest 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.

Roast Beast
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. 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 most 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, make sure it’s accompanied by one of their tasty treats from the dessert bar, like a crepe cake or a macaron.

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.

Seoul Soulongtang
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 and Kitchen

Maddie Malhotra (COM’19)

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, wild mushroom–grilled pizza for lunch, or the shrimp risotto for dinner. The extensive cocktail menu (the bar is open daily until 2 am) has innovative drinks like the Shipwreck, strawberry-infused Ghost Tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime, strawberry simple, and prosecco, and the Millennium Park, featuring Knickerbocker Gin, tomatillo purée, fresh lime, and ancho chili salt. The beer list has an emphasis on American craft brews. Creative seasonal drinks—with and without alcohol—like an apple cider mimosa and pumpkin coffee—are available with brunch. There is also shuffleboard, pool, pinball, and old-fashioned arcade games. 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 creations 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.

Urban Renewals
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).

Tavern Allston
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 10 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. The new and improved digs offer brunch with live DJs every Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm, and a selection of “social plates” like guacamole and chips and bacon-wrapped mac and cheese bites, perfect for sharing with friends. On the drink menu, there are now “sharabowls” designed to be split among two or more people: try the “Take Me Back Bowl” with K. Wray Silver Jamaican rum, orange liqueur, orange juice, passionfruit purée, lime, falernum, and Plantation dark rum float. Be sure to check the restaurant’s dress code and hours online before heading over.

Fish Market Sushi Bar
170 Brighton Ave.

This sushi spot certainly 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, spicy mayo, and miso sauce, or the flaming maki with salmon, wasabi flying fish roe, Japanese basil, cucumber, squid, and ponzu sauce. The menu includes hand rolls, sashimi, and entrées from both the sushi bar and kitchen, including chicken or beef teriyaki or broiled eel.

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 lbe enthralled 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. Be sure to schedule plenty of time for browsing: you’ll need it.

Lulu’s Allston
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: White Trash Hash—Cajun tater tots topped with braised short ribs, two poached eggs, and hollandaise sauce—and French toast. One of the most popular lunch entrées is a wild game chili, with local cheddar, scallions, sour cream, and grilled naan. The dinner menu has tasty options like the short rib mac and cheese and Mama’s Fried Chicken, with mashed potatoes and arugula.

Exterior view of the Bazaar on Cambridge Eastern European market in Allston, MA

Photo by Cydney Scott

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 khachapuri, a puff pastry filled with feta cheese, or a giant cherry Danish. You’ll also find produce, smoked fish, lamb kebobs, 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 several brick-and-mortar storefronts. 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.

Two fresh made donuts from Twin Donuts in Allston, MA

Photo by Cydney Scott

Twin Donuts
501 Cambridge St.

Dunkin’ Donuts isn’t the only option for coffee and doughnuts something to soak it up. 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. 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.

One North Beacon St.

Vegetarians and vegans flock to Grasshopper and it’s no wonder. It may be the only vegetarian 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, which include a main dish, soup of the day, salad, and your choice of white or brown rice.

A bartender makes a cocktail at Deep Ellum in Allston, MA

Photo by Cydney Scott

Deep Ellum
477 Cambridge St.

Offering high-low cuisine (from a homemade charcuterie plate to pretzels with stout cheese) 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 served daily and there’s a late-night menu, too, that serves food until 1:30 am, perfect for night owls.

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, extensive list of tequilas and mezcals, and its late-night menu (11:30 pm to 1:30 am).

Dolphin Bay
72 Brighton Ave.

This Taiwanese eatery has a following drawn to its popular peppery popcorn chicken, dumplings, 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 tasty blend of pickled and salty.

White Horse Tavern
116 Brighton Ave.

White Horse Tavern’s casual, comfy ambience is a fine backdrop to a sit-down meal or a casual game of billiards. It features weekly trivia games on Wednesday nights as well as 15 high-def plasma TVs. 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.

Morning Call coffee ice cream with chocolate chips at Hi B3ar Ice Cream Roll in Allston

Photo by Cydney Scott

Hi B3ar Ice Cream Roll
147 Brighton Ave

Hi B3ar calls itself the city’s first ice cream roll bar. Rolled ice cream, a popular Thai dessert, is made by pouring ice cream onto a cold plate, spreading it, and then scraping up the ice cream in a way that forms cylinder-shaped rolls. Customers pick from one of 10 flavors, including key lime pie, morning call (coffee with chocolate chips), and matcha lady (matcha with red bean), and then watch as chefs create one of Allston’s most distinctive desserts.

Exterior view of Brighton Music Hall rock club in Allston, MA

Photo by Maddie Malhotra (COM’19)

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, 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.

Loui Loui
160 Brighton Ave.

This Louisiana-inspired seafood chain opened in Allston in 2017. You’ll find authentic Cajun-style boiled seafood (mussels, shrimp, clams, crawfish, and several types of crab), as well as fried seafood. Diners customize their meal with their choice of seafood, sauce (garlic butter, lemon pepper, or Louisiana), and spice level (mild to extra hot).

Silhouette Lounge
200 Brighton Ave.4

This dive bar is an Allston staple. The mostly under-30 crowd gathers here on weekends to take advantage of free darts, all-you-can-eat free 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 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 shawarma, kebabs, Greek salads, and falafel are fresh, prepared quickly, and will make you feel as though you’ve gone on a trip to the Mediterranean, all for $13 or less.

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 Korean-style baked pan cake bread or some of the house-made macarons with a cup of coffee or some bubble tea.

Regeneration Tattoo
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 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.

If you’re looking for a casual breakfast, brunch, or a quick coffee fix, look no further than @UNION. You’ll find delicious breakfast and lunch items, along with an extensive coffee menu served up in a cozy, inviting space. The “know your coffee” board helps you navigate their large coffee menu (the coffee is roasted in-house). Breakfast offers plenty of enticing options: our favorite is 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.

Exterior view of the Buffalo Exchange secondhand clothing store in Allston, MA

Photo by Cydney Scott

Buffalo Exchange
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. It has a friendly staff and a wide selection, sells both men’s and women’s clothes, including tons of shoes for both sexes, and buys and exchanges clothes as well. Make sure to call ahead, 617-779-7901, to find out what they’re currently interested in purchasing.

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, weissbeirs, meads, stouts, and ales, and a selection of dozens of wines from a 1,000-square-foot wine cellar. One visit will tell you why the Glenville Stops made both Boston magazine’s “Best of Boston 2015” list and the Improper Bostonian’s “Boston’s Best 2015” list.

The Breakfast Club diner in Allston, MA

Photo by Cydney Scott

Zone 3
267 Western Ave.

This hip spot on Western Ave., formerly a dry cleaners 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 a list of upcoming events, check out Zone 3’s calendar.

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.

This story originally ran August 6, 2008; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

Learn more about neighborhoods around Boston here.