If you're reading headlines about Boston's Fenway neighborhood this fall, it's not because of a great Red Sox season. Instead, the legendary locale—for out-of-towners, Fenway is both the Park and a neighborhood—is undergoing a bit of a restaurant boom along a stretch of Boylston Street, between the two intersections of Park Drive.
This area used to be a culinary wasteland of fast-food outlets and sub shops, but today, diners get to choose among cuisines from around the country and the world, particularly with a growing Asian influence. (Daisuke Matsuzaka, you left town too soon.)
The change began five years ago, when, in the fall of 2010, David Dubois, longtime owner of popular Franklin Café in the South End, opened his all-natural burger joint Tasty Burger and his New England gastropub Citizen Public House & Oyster Bar, within a month of each other.
“Everybody always looked at that neighborhood as sort of a no man’s land that you’d drive through, “ Dubois recalls. “But in actuality, it was a super vibrant neighborhood—from the Red Sox and the MFA to the hospitals and 11 colleges. It had a lot of life, a lot of activity.”
Tasty Burger’s burgers, dogs and fries concept was so successful, it has since expanded to three other locations with two more in the pipeline—including the District of Columbia. Citizen continues to pack patrons in with Chef Brian Reyelt’s seasonally driven local fare and a bar that boasts over 200 whiskeys. Citizen’s legendary whole suckling pig roast with all the fixings (price tag: $450 dollars) feeds 10 hungry people and needs to be reserved well in advance.
Across the street, Tiffani Faison opened Sweet Cheeks Q in 2011, now a popular barbecue palace. She loves the Fenway so much she’s opening a second restaurant a few doors down the street.
“It’s a neighborhood in transition,” she says. “Everyone who lives here and works here feels as if they own a piece of it. It becomes very personal.”
At Sweet Cheeks, Faison, known to TV watchers as one of the two finalists on the first season of Top Chef, cooks up some of the city’s best Southern food—ribs, pulled pork, smoked brisket, fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas and flaky biscuits. Her upcoming South East Asian restaurant Tiger Mama is inspired by trips to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
But, props for the first Asian eatery in the Fenway go to Jack Huang, who opened Basho, a self-styled Japanese brasserie featuring creative sushi, sashimi and makimono hand rolls, back in 2010.
The menu has since expanded to include Korean specialties. Delectable dishes range from the spicy stir-fried squid to codfish and tofu stew to the steamed monkfish with soybean sprouts and chili paste.
These days, the newest gastronomic addition to the ‘hood is Tim and Nancy Cushman's Japanese izakaya Hojoko, situated at the rock 'n' roll-themed Verb Hotel. This hip watering hole is a step away from their posh and pristine freshman effort O Ya sushi restaurant, and serves cocktails, beers and sakes, raw fish, noodles, dumplings, burgers and fried chicken wings.
Cushman, a James Beard Award winner, lived in the Fenway when he was a student at Berklee College of Music in the 1970s. “It’s almost becoming a new dining mecca,” he says of this stretch of Boylston Street. “It’s fun. There’s a lot of youthful energy. The Fenway is really coming into its own.”
Boylston Street Restaurants
- Basho, Japanese, 1338 Boylston St., Boston, 617.262.1338
- Citizen Public House, gastropub, 1310 Boylston St., Boston, 617.450.9000
- Hojoko, Japanese, 1271 Boylston St., Boston, 617.670.0507
- Pavement Coffeehouse, bagels and coffee, 1334 Boylston St., Boston, 857.263.7355
- Regina Pizzeria, Italian Pizza, 1330 Boylston St., Boston, 617.266.9210
- Sweet Caroline's Modern Kitchen & Bar, American, barbecue, 1260 Boylston St., 617.424.1260
- Sweet Cheeks Q, American, 1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617.266.1300
- Tasty Burger, Burgers, 1301 Boylston St., Boston, 617.425.4444
- Tiger Mama, Asian, 1363 Boylston St., Boston (opening soon)