Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: East Boston
A guide to eating and sightseeing in a community prized for its diversity
For many, East Boston is synonymous with Logan International Airport, New England’s largest and one of the nation’s busiest airports, with approximately 36 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 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 ICA Watershed, the Institute of Contemporary Art’s 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 also boasts a grassy amphitheater and provides direct access to the waterfront and an amazing view of downtown Boston across the harbor.
Piers Park Sailing Center
95 Marginal St.
While you’re at Piers Park, take advantage of the nonprofit sailing center, which offers lessons, chiefly for beginners. The Learn to Sail course is between 16 and 20 hours, structured on 2 back-to-back weekends or 2 weeks of weekday evenings. If you want to sail one of the center’s 23-foot Sonar sailboats, but didn’t take lessons there, you must pass a “check out” test. College students, East Boston residents, and veterans can get discounted memberships good for the entire sailing season. The center has outreach programs for underserved youth and one of the country’s best programs for sailors with disabilities. 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 three-and-a-half-acre park’s two-and-a-half-courts (you can play under the lights at night), or play 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. For a more relaxing activity, stroll along the pier and enjoy the beautiful Boston skyline.LoPresti Park, along the Maverick Square area waterfront, is another great outdoor recreation spot. Grab a basketball and head to one of the three-and-a-half-acre park’s two-and-a-half-courts (you can play under the lights at night), or play 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. 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 about 300 acres of the 350-plus-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. Visitors can 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 basketball 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 29 urban wilds, or natural landscapes, thanks to the efforts of the Urban Wilds Initiative. In addition to 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.
Madonna Queen of the Universe Shrine
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 Queen of the Universe 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.
In 2018, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston (ICA) opened a seasonal exhibition space in a former copper pipe and sheet metal facility in the Boston Harbor Shipyard & Marina, which boasts 15,000 square feet of exhibition space. The ICA Watershed has become a popular summer destination for residents and tourists alike, who flock to its annual exhibition. This year’s show, titled Guadalupe Maravilla: Mariposa Relámpago, will feature a “healing bus” that transforms an everyday school bus into a sculpture adorned with plants, animals, gongs, and metal and volcanic stone. Be sure to visit the Harbor Room, a space for gathering and education projects that leads to an outdoor plaza overlooking Boston Harbor and the skyline. 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 in advance of your visit, are available on a first-come, first-served basis for both ICA members and visitors. Advance reservations are recommended. The Watershed is open Tuesday to Sunday from May 25 through September 4.
256 Marginal St., Building 32
Founded by two friends their senior year of college, Downeast Cider is a hard cider brewery in the heart of East Boston, offering rotating lines of hard cider and hard lemonade. The company is committed to using only fresh-pressed juices and natural ingredients. Visit the indoor taproom for a flight (one per person) of four rotating ciders on tap, then head to the outdoor bar, open seasonally, for full pours and canned offerings. Spring flavors include pomegranate, cranberry, cinnamon, margarita, and limited edition guava passionfruit.
305 Meridian St.
Saigon Hut is a testament to the many Southeast Asian immigrants who’ve made East Boston home for more than 40 years. The menu has a long list of soups, vermicelli bowls, rice plates, and fried noodles, and a vegetarian section. Try the Vietnamese crepe filled with chicken, shrimp, beansprouts, and onion or cool off with a taro, coconut, red bean, or honeydew smoothie.
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 chicken fajita omelet, and chilaquiles (corn tortillas sautéed with your choice of sauce, 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, tomato, and queso fresco) or veggie quesadillas (stuffed with assorted vegetables and served with guacamole and sour cream) and end your meal with churros, flan, or fried ice cream.
258 Saratoga St.
If you’re 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.” And with generous portion sizes and reasonable prices, Rino’s offers one of the best values to be found anywhere in the city. The restaurant features outdoor dining during warm-weather months.
978 Saratoga St.
This old-school Italian deli serves hot and cold subs, wraps, salads, calzones, and pasta. Check out the six-layer Italian Grande sub which features capicola, salami, mortadella, prosciutto, soppressata, fresh mozzarella, and pepperoncini peppers. Vegetarians will enjoy the caprese sub with tomato, basil, mozzarella, and roasted peppers served on a ciabatta roll. The deli also sells imported and domestic cheeses and meats, fresh bread, stuffed hot peppers, cutlets, and salads. Milano’s is open daily and offers catering, delivery, and 10 percent off your first online order.
111 Chelsea St.
Arguably East Boston’s most famous restaurant, Santarpio’s (‘Tarps to locals), established in 1903, has won Boston magazine’s Best of Boston Award more than a dozen times. Prized for its pies, the family-owned eatery’s friendly staff gives it a welcoming atmosphere. It also serves lamb, steak, chicken, 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, including 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 authentic Brazilian desserts, such as flan, arroz doce (rice pudding), and tres leches cake.
347 Chelsea St.
This home-style eatery describes its food as “the closest thing to mama’s cooking.” Mario’s serves Italian classics like chicken parmigiana, pasta alla vodka, and ricotta ravioli with marinara sauce and meatballs in an informal setting. Try the arancini stuffed with mozzarella cheese and bolognese sauce or the pan-fried, crispy calamari. And be sure to save room for dessert: a cannoli or tiramisu is the perfect end to your meal.
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 dark, cozy atmosphere, and outdoor patio dining is available during warm-weather months.
Kelley Square Pub
84 Bennington St.
Kelley Square Pub is filled with photos of celebrities and athletes who have either eaten there or are close friends of its founder, East Boston native and former professional boxer John Mastrangelo Sr., and his three sons. The family-run business started off with the idea that great, filling food should be available at an affordable price. The large menu includes barbecue, seafood, sandwiches, salads, pasta, and pizza. The restaurant also offers special deals like $6 cheese pizza every Wednesday and a $20.95 “dinner for two” special offered only in-house Sunday to Tuesday.
Royal’s Roast Beef and Seafood
752 Bennington St.
Located across from Constitution Beach, Royal Roast Beef and Seafood has been serving the East Boston community since 1979 with a variety of sandwiches and wraps, salads, and seafood dishes. The unpretentious restaurant also offers takeout, delivery, and catering. Although famous for its seafood combination plate—featuring clams, scallops, shrimp, haddock, fries, onion rings, tartar sauce, and coleslaw—the roast beef sandwiches are what put Royal on the map.
291 Bennington St.
Taqueria Jalisco serves classic Mexican staples, including tortas, tacos, burritos, and meat and seafood entrées, in a cheerful and colorful setting. Stop in for breakfast and enjoy abreakfast burrito, huevos rancheros (served with rice, beans, avocado, and corn tortillas), and other egg dishes like huevos con chorizo. Other popular menu items include birria tacos, carne asada, tamales, enchiladas, and quesadillas, all served with rice and beans. Be sure to order chips and sample the fabulous salsa. The fresh guacamole is also superb. You can order your food to go and wander over to the waterfront for an outdoor meal and a view of Boston Harbor and the city skyline.
211 Bennington St.
As its name implies, this walk-up corner shop serves Italian slush, classic gelato, and premium soft serve ice cream made on site daily with all-natural ingredients. Customers can select from more than 15 slush flavors, including lemon, passion fruit, blue raspberry, orange cream, and mango. Try a gelati (layers of slush and soft serve) or one of Slush King’s specialty sundaes: we recommend the s’mores, the fluffer nutter, and the turtle sundaes. Customers can add sprinkles, walnuts, and cookie dough to their soft serve. Gelato flavors include espresso, hazelnut, cookies and cream, and rum raisin. Slush King began in 1965 as a mobile vendor and opened its East Boston brick-and-mortar location in 2020. You can still find the company’s pushcart vendors selling slush and freshly squeezed lemonade at summer festivals throughout New England and on the Boston Common.
One East Pier Drive
There’s no more popular place in East Boston than The Tall Ship, a 245-foot vessel that’s been turned into a seasonal floating oyster bar. The ship offers three custom-built mahogany bars with breathtaking views of the harbor and skyline. The place is packed nightly with a mostly young (21-plus) crowd drawn to The Tall Ship’s atmospheric setting, bespoke cocktails, and fresh oysters, shellfish, and charcuterie boards. Navy Yard Hospitality Group, which runs the restaurant, has built out the pier to include a 40,000-square-foot outdoor space featuring food trucks, live entertainment, lawn games, and more. Parties of 8 to 15 can reserve a private lounge area on the pier that comes with a designated cocktail server. Plan to wait, especially on weekends, when The Tall Ship draws big crowds.
The Quiet Few
331 Sumner St.
This popular neighborhood whiskey tavern is first come, first serve, and dine-in only. They don’t take reservations, so arrive early if you don’t want to wait, especially on weekends. In addition to an extensive whiskey list, the tavern serves cocktails, beer, wine, and a full food menu until 10 pm, daily. Standouts include disco poutine fries with Cheez Whiz and chicken gravy, a po’ boy with cajun shrimp, creole potatoes, and andouille sausage, and a selection of caviar meal combos for those looking to indulge. Once the kitchen closes for the night, The Quiet Few offers a rotating grilled cheese menu until 1 am.
Getting there: Take any MBTA Green Line trolley to Government Center, transfer to a Blue Line outbound train toward Wonderland, and get off at Maverick, Airport, Wood Island, Orient Heights, or Suffolk Downs.
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.