The neighborhood hole-in-the-wall is a world of happily surrendered concessions: cramped spaces are excused as intimate, peeling walls are described to friends as charming and authentic, and though the food is burnt and the staff forgetful, it reminds you of your sister or mother’s cooking, so chalk it up as homey and you’ll be back in no time. Classic 'holes' abound in the walls of Boston—ask anybody in any neighborhood and they’ll point you to their favorite little corner. However, a good many require that you look to your feet to find them: we’ll call them “holes-in-the-ground.” Located beneath the bustle, here are five of the city’s best hole-in-the-ground restaurants.
Through the neon steam swirling from the sewer caps, past the clicks and murmurs of men huddled about Chinese Chess boards, a short flight of stairs descends and disappear through an unassuming door on Hudson Street. BLR (Best Little Restaurant), has the feel of a high class, albeit covert, gambling den turned gourmet restaurant: hanging Chinese paper lamps shine light off of the gold painted brick walls, then a tray of simmering Oxtail Chow Fun emerges from the kitchen alongside a cocktail with a color you’ve never seen before. Nothing on BLR’s menu will disappoint, but the Ginger-Scallion Shrimp will change your life for the better, and their infused liquor cocktails are unlike anything else in Boston.
The sun sets over Back Bay like a parent turning out a child’s bedrooms light: dim yellow streetlights illuminate the sidewalks in a nightlight’s comforting glow, the wind blows in from the Charles River with the whir of a window fan, and the quiet is broken only by the murmur of parents downstairs. If you’re not yet ready for sleep, creak open your door and follow that murmur to the corner of Marlborough and Mass. Ave., and make your way downstairs to join the adults at Corner Tavern. There beneath the street, Corner Tavern is a prime place to while away the night alone with a book, get properly plastered and forget about what you talked about with your friends, or enjoy a hearty dinner with a satisfying selection of beer.
The Hungry I
The place for romance in Boston is Beacon Hill. The gas lamps have a way of casting a shadow and flushing a face just right, navigating the occasional cobbled street might call for a hand or arm in support, and the dripping candles that illuminate the basement nook known as The Hungry I dance just right in a pair of enamored eyes. Known as “Boston’s most romantic restaurant,” this den of fine French food and wine looks out across the feet roaming down Charles Street, but the real view is sitting across the table from you.
Like a cave carved from of the foundation of Beacon Hill, the walls of the subterranean Grotto consist of piles of Boston-ancient crumbling red brick. A true grotto in the hill, this hidden cavern of a restaurant is Beacon Hill’s Italian counterpart to the French Hungry I. An intimate hideaway, Grotto is one of the city’s most romantic and inconspicuous Italian nights out.
Staring down the length of Back Bay’s public alleys is not unlike catching a glimpse of the backstage machinations of a Broadway show. Tiered fire escapes climb the backs of the brownstones like scaffolds supporting street-facing stage piece facades; trucks weave down the narrow pavement to deliver the props that will soon fill Newbury Street’s storefront windows; while stagehands and painted-up actors take a five-minute break from the action for a cigarette and a cell phone check. When any show is over you can count on an after-party, and if you follow Public Alley 431 just past Gloucester Street, you can find it behind the unassuming tiled door of Casa Romero. It's easy to miss, a single sign juts out from the brick, but if you make your way down the short flight of stairs into Casa Romero, you’ll have found the best and most authentic Mexican restaurant in the city.