For many, East Boston is synonymous with Logan International Airport, New England’s largest and the nation’s 19th busiest airport, with approximately 33 million passengers annually. But with its prime waterfront property, this working-class enclave has some of the most breathtaking views of Boston Harbor and the city’s skyline to be found.
Established in 1836, the neighborhood was created using landfill to connect five Boston Harbor islands. The waterfront location made it a center for shipbuilding and other marine industries—a legacy that continues today.
Long a home to various immigrant groups, East Boston offers a wide range of restaurants and cuisines as well as recreational activities. Canadians settled here in the 1840s, followed by the Irish in the 1850s. Russian and Eastern European Jews were the next to arrive, and Italian immigrants came at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, it’s home to a mix of people of Italian and Irish descent and newly arrived Central and South American and Southeast Asian immigrants. The neighborhood’s many ethnic stores and restaurants reflect the tastes and traditions of its diverse residents.
East Boston is also a neighborhood in flux. Once primarily working class, today it features several new luxury condominium projects, and the Institute of Contemporary Art just opened a seasonal space in the Boston Harbor Shipyard and Marina.
BU Today has compiled a list of some of the best places to visit in East Boston.
Piers Park is ideal for spending the day outdoors. You can walk the 600-foot promenade, exercise using the outdoor fitness machines, or embrace your inner child on the playground. Several decorative gazebos and spray fountains provide relief on hot summer days. The park has direct access to the waterfront and an amazing view of downtown Boston across the harbor. During warm weather months, a series of free concerts is held there.
Piers Park Sailing Center
95 Marginal St.
While you’re at Piers Park, take advantage of the nonprofit sailing center there, which offers lessons for novices, intermediate, and experienced sailors. The Learn to Sail course is 21 hours, structured on two back-to-back weekends. If you want to sail one of the center’s 23-foot Sonar sailboats, but didn’t take lessons there, you must pass a “checkout sail.” Early registrants, college students, and East Boston residents can get discounted membership, good for the entire sailing season. You can also purchase five-day passes. The center has outreach programs for underserved youth and one of the country’s best programs for disabled sailors. With easy access to the Inner Harbor and Harbor Islands, this is one of East Boston’s most popular attractions.
LoPresti Park, along the Maverick Square area waterfront, is another great outdoor recreation spot. Grab a basketball and head to one of the four-acre park’s two courts (you can play under the lights at night), put on your helmet and head over to the street hockey rink, or play a game of ping pong in the picnic grove. It’s also home to a state-of-the-art artificial turf soccer field, a children’s play lot, and a spray fountain. You can fish along the waterfront, a popular dusk activity here. For a more relaxing activity, stroll along the pier and enjoy the beautiful Boston skyline.
Belle Isle Marsh Reservation
A large salt marsh inside the city limits? Who knew? The reservation, open year-round from 9 am to dusk, preserves 152 acres of the 241-acre Belle Isle Marsh, the last remaining salt marsh in Boston. Its protected waters are a breeding ground for numerous fish and shellfish, as well as for native vegetation, and it offers a view of wildlife rarely seen in a metropolitan area. You can take a guided informational walk (well worth it) and scan the marsh, Logan Airport, and the nearby town of Winthrop from an observation tower.
You don’t need to travel to Cape Cod or the North Shore to find a great beach. Just take the MBTA Blue Line to Orient Heights and spend the day at Constitution Beach. Among the park’s amenities are a bathhouse, tennis and handball courts, a baseball field, a picnic area, a concession stand, and a playground. It’s no wonder it’s one of the city’s most popular beaches. Lifeguards are on duty from June through Labor Day. When you’ve had enough of the beach, take the nearby pedestrian overpass across the MBTA tracks and explore the neighborhood’s many dining options.
Condor Street Urban Wild
Once a marine industrial site, this area is now one of Boston’s 39 urban wilds, or natural landscapes, thanks to the efforts of the Urban Wilds Initiative. As well as meadow grasses and salt marshes, it has a boardwalk, walking paths, and a viewing platform overlooking Chelsea Creek. In the winter and spring, harbor porpoises can sometimes be seen swimming along the creek.
120-150 Orient Ave.
The most iconic site in East Boston is the 35-foot statue of the Mother of God atop Orient Heights. The Madonna Shrine, built in 1954 from copper and bronze, is the national headquarters of the Don Orione Fathers (also known as the Sons of Divine Providence), an order of Catholic priests founded by St. Luigi Orione, who was canonized in 2004. The statue is a replica of one in Rome created by Jewish sculptor Arrigo Minerbi to thank the Don Orione Fathers, who shielded him and his family from the Nazis during World War II. Some of Boston’s best views of the waterfront and downtown skyline can be had from the shrine.
256 Marginal St.
The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) has just opened a seasonal exhibition space in a former copper pipe and sheet metal facility in the Boston shipyard and marina. It has 15,000 square feet of exhibition space, including a gallery dedicated to the shipyard’s history and East Boston more broadly. Visit the Harbor Room, a space for gathering and education projects that leads to an outdoor plaza overlooking Boston Harbor and the skyline. The community area launches this summer with an exhibition of photography by teens from the ICA Teens digital photography class. Watershed admission is free for all. Purchase an ICA admission ticket, or become an ICA member for complimentary ferry service to and from the Seaport. Ferry capacity is limited, and tickets, which can be reserved online a month ahead, are available on a first-come, first-served basis for both ICA members and visitors. Advance reservations are recommended. The Watershed is open through October 8.
KO at the Shipyard
256 Marginal St., Building 16, Boston Harbor Shipyard
This restaurant features Australian-inspired cuisine, thus explaining the name (KO is an abbreviation of the Australian slang phrase “ken oath”—meaning absolute or definite—and also of the word knockout), and is best known for its delicious meat- and veggie-filled pies. KO takes its pies seriously—instructions on how to eat a pie are posted on the wall. A KO opened in South Boston in 2010, and a second in East Boston two years later. It was voted Best of East Boston Restaurants 2013 by Boston magazine. Meat lovers should try the beef stew pie: shredded beef simmered for over five hours with garlic, onions, bay leaves, and red wine, under a crisp and buttery puff pastry top. You can also buy a number of Australian grocery items to take home.
256 Marginal St., Building 32
Founded by two college friends senior year, Downeast Cider is a hard-cider brewery in the heart of East Boston. The company is commited to using only fresh-pressed juices and natural ingredients. Make reservations online for a free brewery tour (Friday through Sunday), with free samples and a flight of cider on the house.
305 Meridian St.
Saigon Hut is a testament to the many Southeast Asian immigrants who’ve made East Boston home for 40 years. The colorful paper lanterns give this small (eight tables) Vietnamese restaurant a whimsical feel and make it a pleasant place for an intimate meal. The menu has a long list of soups, vermicelli bowls, rice plates, and fried noodles, and also has a vegetarian section.
131 Lexington St., Eagle Hill
1012 Bennington St., Orient Heights
This family-owned restaurant serves traditional regional dishes from Puebla, Mexico, and now has two East Boston spots—the original in Eagle Hill and the more recent in Orient Heights. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s known for its superb moles, the richly flavored sauces that are a staple of authentic Poblano cuisine. Unique breakfast items are dulce de leche pancakes, a shrimp fajita omelet, and chilaquiles (corn tortillas sautéed with salsa, shredded chicken, sour cream, queso, onion, and avocado with a side of eggs and refried beans). For lunch or dinner, try some mini flautas (crispy fried corn tortillas filled with either chicken or potatoes, with lettuce, avocado, sour cream, and cheese) or veggie quesadillas (filled with green and red peppers, mushrooms, onions, queso, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream) and end your meal with a chocolate bread pudding or vanilla flan.
258 Saratoga St.
If you are in the mood for Italian food, look no further. This eatery has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, as well as the Fox 25 Morning Show and Phantom Gourmet. Its extensive lunch and dinner menu will satisfy your craving for tomato sauce, thick-cut veal, and ravioli. The shrimp scampi and homemade gnocchi are great dinner choices. Chef Anthony DiCenso, whose parents, Rino and Anna, opened the restaurant over two decades ago, is famous for his maxim: “It won’t be sent out until it’s done right.”
300 Saratoga Cafe
300 Saratoga St.
Notable for being BYOB, this restaurant doesn’t serve wine, but you can bring your own. Grab a nice red or rosé from home to complement its mouth-watering Italian menu of tasty family recipes like shrimp scampi, lobster fra diavolo, and chicken piccata. The meatballs are delicious as well. Note: reservations are required for parties of six or more.
111 Chelsea St.
Arguably East Boston’s most famous restaurant, Santarpio’s, established in 1903, has won Boston magazine’s Best of Boston® Award 13 times over the last 30 years. Prized for its pies, the family-owned eatery’s friendly staff gives it a welcoming atmosphere. It serves lamb, steak, and sausage skewers, cooked fresh over an indoor grill. Check out the pictures of heavyweight champions on the wall and pick a song to play on the electronic jukebox in the back.
Oliveira’s Steak House
297 Chelsea St.
Oliveira’s is a must for meat lovers. Best known for its Brazilian churrasco (barbecue), it also has a variety of skewered meats, among them pork sausage, sausage, sirloin steak, and chicken, seasoned with traditional Brazilian spices and sea salt and slow roasted or grilled over an open flame. Diners can pay a fixed price for an all-you-can-eat buffet or pay by the pound. The meats and sides are fresh and selections change every day. Oliveira’s also makes fresh mango, pineapple, and acai juices and many tasty authentic Brazilian desserts.
387 Chelsea St., Day Square
A mainstay since 1924, Jeveli’s bills itself as the oldest Italian restaurant in Boston. Four generations have nurtured this destination restaurant, attracting a loyal clientele returning for the dependable service, delicious food, and comfortable atmosphere. Whether you want a fast lunch, a big dinner, or just drinks in the Terminal J Lounge, it’s all here. You’ll find classic dishes like eggplant parmigiana and fresh ravioli and traditional Italian desserts like spumoni and cannoli. Bill Clinton stopped at Jeveli’s while he was president, and the room where he ate has been called the White House ever since. Check out the collection of presidential memorabilia, some belonging to Clinton.
Rincon Limeño Restaurant
409 Chelsea St.
This authentic Peruvian restaurant serves breakfast, tapas, soups, seafood, and many traditional plates. Try the seco de cabrito (Peruvian-style lamb stew), arroz con pollo (rice with chicken), or plato montañero (grilled steak with rice, beans, fried pork, egg, plantains, and salad). It has a warm and cozy atmosphere and an authentic Peruvian décor, with a large painting of Machu Picchu.
Royal’s Roast Beef
752 Bennington St.
Across from Constitution Beach, Royal’s Roast Beef has been serving the East Boston community since 1979 with a variety of sandwiches and wraps, salads, and seafood dishes. The unpretentious restaurant has a recently renovated dining area, and takeout and delivery are available. Although famous for its seafood combination dinners—with clams, scallops, shrimp, haddock, and onion rings—and steak and cheese subs, the roast beef sandwiches are what put Royal’s on the map.
Getting there: Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, transfer to a Blue Line outbound train, and get off at Maverick, Airport, or Wood Island.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to East Boston.
This story originally ran July 19, 2012; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.