Best Dining Bets
Best, Period: If you have only one meal during your visit, make it dinner at Mediterranean Rialto, in the Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St., Cambridge (tel. 617/661-5050; www.rialto-restaurant.com).
Best Seafood: Legal Sea Foods, 800 Boylston St., in the Prudential Center (tel. 617/266-6800; www.legalseafoods.com), and other locations, does one thing and does it exceptionally well. It's a chain for a great reason: People can't get enough of the freshest seafood around.
Best Spot for Romance: Soaring ceilings, colorful decor, and (seasonally) a roaring fire make the atmosphere in the Monday Club Bar at Upstairs on the Square, 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge (tel. 617/864-1933; www.upstairsonthesquare.com), perfect for a rendezvous.
Best Spot for a Business Lunch: Plenty of deals go down at private clubs and formal restaurants, but that can take hours. Leave an impression with your no-nonsense approach and a quick but delicious meal at Cosi Sandwich Bar, 53 State St. (tel. 617/723-4447), 14 Milk St. (tel. 617/426-7565), or 133 Federal St. (tel. 617/292-2674).
Best Spot for a Celebration: Cool your heels at the bar at Dali, 415 Washington St., Somerville (tel. 617/661-3254; www.dalirestaurant.com), and toast your good news with sangria while you wait for a table. (Finally, a restaurant that makes you glad it doesn't take reservations.) The dishes on the tapas menu are perfect for sharing, and the atmosphere is lively and festive.
Best Decor: The luxurious banquettes, gorgeous paintings and flowers, and picture windows overlooking the Public Garden make Aujourd'hui, in the Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St. (tel. 617/351-2037), feel like an extremely elegant treehouse.
Best Wine List: Organized by characteristics (from light to rich) rather than by vintage or provenance, the excellent offerings at The Blue Room, 1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge (tel. 617/494-9034; www.theblueroom.net), are arranged in the most user-friendly way imaginable.
Best Service: The waitstaff at Troquet, 140 Boylston St. (tel. 617/695-9463), answers more questions than the parents of a toddler. Your server will graciously walk you through the wine-oriented menu or graciously leave you to your own devices.
Best Value: At the Midwest Grill, 1124 Cambridge St., Cambridge (tel. 617/354-7536; www.midwestgrill.com), the hits just keep on coming. The sword-wielding waiters bring succulent grilled meats until you ask (or beg) them to stop. Arrive hungry and you'll definitely get your money's worth.
Best for Kids: The wood-fired brick ovens of the Bertucci's chain are magnets for little eyes, and the pizza that comes out of them is equally enthralling. Picky parents will be happy here, too. Try the locations at Faneuil Hall Marketplace (tel. 617/227-7889); 43 Stanhope St., Back Bay (tel. 617/247-6161); 533 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square (tel. 617/236-1030); 21 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge (tel. 617/864-4748); and 799 Main St., Cambridge (tel. 617/661-8356).
Best Raw Bar: After just a few minutes of gobbling fresh seafood and being hypnotized by the shuckers at Ye Olde Union Oyster House, 41 Union St. (tel. 617/227-2750; www.unionoysterhouse.com), you might feel sorry for the people who wound up with the pearls instead of the oysters.
Best Place for a Classic Boston Experience: Durgin-Park, 340 Faneuil Hall Marketplace (tel. 617/227-2038; www.durgin-park.com), has packed 'em in since 1827. From tycoon to out-of-towner, everyone is happy here except the famously crotchety waitresses. It's a classic, not a relic.
Best American Cuisine: It's not quite "cuisine," but what's more American than a burger? Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage, 1246 Mass. Ave. (tel. 617/354-6559; www.mrbartleys.com), is famous for its burgers, its onion rings, and a down-to-earth atmosphere that's increasingly rare in Harvard Square.
Best French Cuisine: Sel de la Terre, 255 State St. (tel. 617/720-1300; www.seldelaterre.com). Technically, it's Provencal. Not so technically, it's delicious. Fresh New England ingredients go into the thoroughly French end product. Try as many different breads as you can without ruining your meal.
Best Bistro: A friend who knows both Paris and Boston swears by Les Zygomates, 129 South St. (tel. 617/542-5108; www.winebar.com), where you can enjoy the flavor of the Left Bank in a congenial American setting.
Best Italian Cuisine: By far the best restaurant in the North End, Mamma Maria, 3 North Sq. (tel. 617/523-0077), is one of the best in town. In a lovely setting, it offers remarkable regional Italian fare in a spaghetti-and-meatballs neighborhood.
Best Pizza: Considering how well pizza travels, it's surprising that the branches of Pizzeria Regina can't seem to get it quite right. For the real thing, head to the North End original, at 11 1/2 Thacher St. (tel. 617/227-0765; www.pizzeriaregina.com).
Best Investment (of Time & Money): Dinner at L'Espalier, 30 Gloucester St. (tel. 617/262-3023; www.lespalier.com), is an event. For your event, whatever the occasion, the grand cuisine and solicitous service will make it unforgettable.
Best Outdoor Dining: Oleana, 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge (tel. 617/661-0505; www.oleanarestaurant.com), offers a fantastic combination of food and setting. The superb Mediterranean cuisine makes a good match for the peaceful patio.
Best Brunch: The insane displays at many top hotels are well worth the monetary and caloric compromises. If you're looking for a delicious meal that won't destroy your budget and waistline, join the throng at the S&S Restaurant, 1334 Cambridge St., Cambridge (tel. 617/354-0777; www.sandsrestaurant.com).
Best for Pretheater Dinner: Snappy service is the rule all over Chinatown. Start your evening at Grand Chau Chow, 45 Beach St. (tel. 617/292-5166), and you'll be both prompt and well fed when you arrive at the theater.