Boston is full of breakfast and brunch spots. Here, you’ll find old-school diners stacking chocolatey pancakes, South American kitchens rustling up dishes passed through generations and legendary cafés serving hearty fan favorites.
Being a city with so many college kids, Boston is nothing without its watering-hole breakfast and hip brunch spots all across the metropolitan area. You can find them in tucked-away corners in Brighton and Allston and in hotspots packed to the gills in Cambridge and Somerville. You can indulge in everything from midnight-munchies-inspired dishes and family-style plates to a full Irish breakfast with coffee. Here are Culture Trip’s favorite places to go.
The Friendly Toast
Diner, Restaurant, Family style, Beer, Cocktails, Gluten-free, American, $$$
The Friendly Toast is so popular that it has locations in Vermont and New Hampshire, too. The hallmarks of a Friendly Toast dining room are the bright wall colors, homey antique signs and paintings, eclectic light fixtures, diner-style booths and the long lines out the door. Its all-day breakfast menu has a wide variety of dishes and clearly designates gluten-friendly, vegetarian and vegan options. Highlights include the seasonal variations on chicken and waffles, the colorful zucchini eggs benedict and fluffy gluten-free banana chocolate-chip pancakes. Sample a mimosa flight and split a plate of Some Like It Tot – crispy taters covered with gooey cheese, bacon and sriracha-honey glaze. Note that you can (and probably should) put your name on a waitlist through the restaurant’s website.
Across the street from the renowned Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Zaftigs touts itself as a no-frills, Jewish “non-deli deli.” What first welcomes you at Zaftigs is a glass case of challah, cookies and giant whoopie pies for takeaway at the counter. However, the breakfast menu, served all day, is the main attraction. Satisfy your sweet tooth with the banana nut bread grilled with date butter, banana-stuffed french toast dipped in bourbon-vanilla batter or fresh cheese blintzes with sour cream and berries. For something savory, try the San Francisco Joe’s Special with ground turkey hash or one of the smoked fish plates with a fresh bagel.
You cannot champion one without the other. The contention between Ball Square Café and Sound Bites is famous. So much so that while you’re waiting in line at Sound Bites, you can grab a self-serve coffee and read articles and essays on the rivalry that hang on the walls. Bostonians will joke about “cheating” on their favorite spot and wandering next door to indulge in one or the other’s hallmark dishes. Both Somerville institutions are friendly and offer generous portions.
Nestled in the former storefront of Sound Bites, Ball Square Café is a haven for french toast plates so sweet that you’ll want to forgo the syrup. Choose from fan favorites such as the coconut macaroon french toast or the pear-stuffed french toast. Pare down the sweetness with a Tuscan omelet stuffed with fresh mozzarella, mushrooms and roasted red bell peppers. This hotspot is also popular with gluten-free foodies searching for fresh waffles.
At Sound Bites, grab your coffee and start your visit off right with a warm blueberry scone. Its signature Jimmy’s Moroccan Eggs stars perfectly poached eggs over pan-sautéed tomato, onion and peppers plus a crispy hash brown dusted with cumin. If you’re especially hungry, try the sweet pepper corned beef hash with a heaping pile of breakfast potatoes. For something sweet, order the pumpkin pancakes topped with caramelized pecans.
Rosebud American Kitchen and Bar is a Davis Square icon – it’s even included in the National Register of Historic Places. Its old-time lunch car exterior and big, cursive neon sign stand out in a part of town crowded with great restaurants. Brunch here is nothing short of indulgent. Start with a Kentucky iced coffee (bourbon, amaretto and maple syrup), or sip booze-free with a lemon-lavender fizz. Pair the croque-madame on sourdough bread – with gooey gruyère and smoked gouda – with a side of brown sugar bacon. Alternatively, go for the brisket benny, with house-smoked meat and sweet heat sauce, and order some home-made, pull-apart cinnamon-sugar monkey bread.
Located in the South End, Mike’s City Diner has attracted the likes of TV chef Guy Fieri and former US president Bill Clinton and has received numerous accolades. Food Network even named its Famous Pilgrim sandwich as one of the best in America. Mike’s City Diner’s mission is clear: “Huge Portions. Great Food.” This motto is evident in breakfast specials such as the Emergency Room (two eggs, two pancakes, three pieces of bacon, home fries or grits, and toast) and Intensive Care, which offers up a 10-ounce sirloin steak. If you’re looking for something a bit lighter, try the cinnamon walnut waffles or the omelet with corned beef hash and cheese.
Bar, Beer, Cocktails, Wine, American, Snacks, Pub Grub, $$$
Weekends at Tapestry is all about brunch. Situated right around the corner from Fenway Park, the menu here is sure to please a crowd, baseball or otherwise. Favorites include the scallion pancake breakfast sandwich, served with grilled pork belly and pickled daikon, and the caramelized pineapple and almond pancake drizzled with coconut butter. The menu also splits to “the -Unch Side,” which features iced oysters and a few pizzas. The crispy potatoes, served with a delectable aji amarillo aioli, are something special, too.
Friends will tell you that Little Dipper is worth the commute – Jamaica Plain is only minutes from downtown via the subway. A short walk off the Orange Line in JP, Little Dipper is a bright little diner with slender model rockets hanging from the ceiling. Fresh acai bowls pair nicely with astronomically named omelets and breakfast favorites such as Major Tom (an over-easy egg and cheese sandwich with aioli and avocado). Save room for the house-made glazed yeast donuts.
Inspired by family-run eateries found along Venezuelan roadsides, a group of friends with a wealth of family recipes opened Orinoco: A Latin Kitchen. The South End restaurant, one of three locations, is nestled in the ground floor of a warm, charming brownstone from the early 1900s. Sunday brunch starts with antojitos (little cravings) such as almond-filled dates rolled in bacon, queso paisa wrapped in sweet plantains and tequeños with imported guayanés cheese. The restaurant also serves arepas (corn-flour sandwiches) with egg and chorizo, and cachapas (corn pancakes). Guests can even finish breakfast with dessert (try the quesillo, a traditional custard with caramel). Note that each location is walk-in only.
It’s no secret that Greater Boston has its share of Irish pubs and bars. The Rising in Inman Square is among the best. The dark wood elements and decor recall all the little pubs along the Wild Atlantic Way, and it has a menu to match. Its full Irish breakfast (with eggs, Irish back bacon and sausages, baked beans, white and black puddings, home fries and slices of Irish soda bread) is big enough that you’ll be full until the bar opens up again for trivia and live music. The pub also makes a great Irish coffee with Tullamore DEW whiskey and freshly ground Lavazza beans, topped with whipped cream. For a meatless alternative, treat yourself to Iggy’s stuffed brioche french toast and berries. Brunch is served on weekends until 3pm, but get here early if you can.
Believe the hype – the pastries and sweets here really are that good. James Beard Award-winning baker and restaurateur Joanne Chang opened the first Flour Bakery + Café in 2000 with husband and partner Christopher Myers, and has since added seven more locations. The line up to the counter is chock-full of copies of Chang’s best-selling cookbooks, takeaway bags of bread and cookie mixes, and fresh chocolate-dipped biscotti. The bakery case selections change throughout the day. However, for the best grab-and-go breakfast treat, don’t miss out on the sticky buns with their dark, sticky caramel or the brioche au chocolat. Pair it with a crafty latte listed on the whimsical chalkboard, and you’re ready to take on the day.