Here are some of my favorite restaurants, coffee roasters and craft brewers in Boston and Los Angeles, as well as things to do during the day if you're in either city for the games.
Boston has a wonderful food scene, with nationally renowned restaurants, including strong presences for Italian, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. I lived in the area from 1990, when I started college, until 2010, when I decided I had had enough of brutal winters and high housing costs -- but some of my old favorite haunts are still there and still good eight years later. Here are a few recommendations I have tried myself, as well as some others on my to-do list the next time I get a few days in the city.
Toro/Coppa:My favorite restaurant in Boston is Toro, enough so that when I passed through the area over the summer between scouting the Cape Cod League and signing books at the Silver Unicorn Bookshop in Acton, I stopped in Boston to see a friend and eat one meal in the city ... at Toro. It's Spanish tapas, with many highly authentic regional specialties on the menu, including boquerones, white anchovies served in garlic and olive oil -- and no, they're not like the fishy gray things that come out of the can -- and a real tortilla Española. Its sister restaurant, Coppa, is also wonderful, with more focus on charcuterie; the meatballs, served with a sliver of lardo on top that melts into the dish from the radiant heat, are the best I've ever eaten, and the pizza is pretty good too.
Flour:If you want real baked goods, including pastries to die for, you should head to any of James Beard Award-winning chef Joanne Chang's flour [sic] bakeries around town, with nine locations in the metro area. They do savory dishes as well as sweets, including many sandwiches on their own bread, plus salads, grain bowls and some gluten-free bread options, as well.
The Parish Café: If you're in town as a tourist, the Parish Café's concept is perfect for you -- the menu features sandwiches devised by many of the city's most successful chefs, and it's a stone's throw from the Boston Common and Public Gardens. They also have salads and other lunch fare, but the treat of being able to try something conceived by a fine-dining chef for $15 is the hook.
Mr. Bartley's (Cambridge): I'm cheating a little here; I lived in a dorm across the street from Mr. Bartley's and ate there quite often, as my then-teenage body was much more tolerant of a meal comprising beef, fried potatoes and a milkshake. Its burgers are among the best in Boston, probably not the best any more (Craigie on Main often ends up winning that honor), but I have a strong sentimental attachment to this place, even though I gave up eating cow more than a year ago. The founder, Joseph Bartley, passed away this spring at age 87, after owning and running the place for 58 years.
Other suggestions: Giulia in Cambridge for fresh pasta, O Ya or Hojoko in Boston for sushi, Brewer's Fork in Charlestown for pizza and beer. But skip the North End, the historical Italian neighborhood that is loaded with tourist-trap restaurants with food that doesn't live up to the billing.
If you want coffee in Boston, the grandfather of the modern artisan coffee movement, often called "third wave," is based there. George Howell started the modern specialty coffee movement in the 1970s, founding a small roaster and coffee shop chain called the Coffee Connection that was bought by some Seattle company in 1994, which is how the world ended up drowning in Frappuccinos. Howell returned to the retail coffee business about eight years ago, and he has three shops, one in Newtonville, one in the Godfrey Hotel (at Downtown Crossing) and one at the Boston Public Market (at Haymarket). If you want a single-origin cup and know your V60 from your Chemex, this isn't just a place for you -- it's a pilgrimage. (Warning: If you ask a local to point you to good coffee, you will end up at a Dunkin' Donuts.)
Boston was early on the craft brewing scene, led by Sam Adams and Harpoon, both of which have grown to the point that they're no longer microbreweries -- although I still maintain a strong love for many of Harpoon's beers, including its best-of-breed Oktoberfest. You also can head over to Congress Street to visit Trillium Brewery, known especially for its IPAs, or Chelsea's Mystic Brewery, recognized for Belgian Saisons and barley wines (which pack quite a punch).
If you're in Boston, you need to take the T, the local nickname for the Boston subway system. (If you've seen "Good Will Hunting" and didn't understand the line, "Morgan wanted to get you a T pass," well, now you get it.) The bus system is also good, not New York City-level good, but you really don't want to be in a car if you can avoid it, given Boston traffic and its narrow streets. Parking around Fenway Park can be absurdly expensive, and even taking a taxi or ride-share service will likely be slow before or after games because of the traffic around the park.
Other stuff to see
Boston has one of the country's great art museums, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which is very close to Fenway and whose great collection is still short a few major pieces: In 1990, thieves stole 13 works of art worth, collectively, over half a billion dollars, including a Vermeer and a Rembrandt, and none of them has been recovered to date. There's also the excellent Boston Children's Museum downtown and the Museum of Science just over the river in Cambridge.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also suggest a tour of the campus of Harvard University, the oldest college in the United States, although you'll get the same dumb speech about the three errors on the John Harvard statue that they've been telling tourists for at least 30 years. Harvard offers tours of its rare books library, the Houghton Library, on Fridays at 2 p.m., with rooms dedicated to works by John Keats and Emily Dickinson, as well as several loose pages from copies of Gutenberg Bibles -- the university's complete copy, one of only five in the United States, is in the Widener Library and can only be accessed if you are affiliated with the school.
If the weather cooperates, the Boston Common and Public Gardens are lovely places for a walk -- just please make way for ducklings. History buffs might enjoy a trip out to Lexington and Concord (pronounced more like "CON-kid," not like the supersonic jet) to see some of the sites of Revolutionary War battles. There's also the Boston Sports Museum at the TD Garden, home of the Celtics and Bruins, if you're visiting and want to be reminded of all their recent sports championships.
The best food scene in the country belongs to either New York City or Los Angeles, and I don't think there's a good way to settle that debate -- both cities offer such a diverse bounty of cuisines at all price points that choosing one over the other is impossible. One facet of Los Angeles' scene that New York can't match, however, is local, seasonal produce just about all year round, and that features heavily on the menus of a few of my favorites below.
P.Y.T. (downtown):A "vegetable-centered" restaurant in downtown Los Angeles, P.Y.T. isn't strictly vegetarian, but the menu is built around the bounty of seasonal produce available in California, so it's the kind of place where an omnivore can skip the meat without really noticing its absence. Its house-made pastas are wonderful, as is the peanut pudding with salted caramel if you have room for dessert.
Pizzeria Mozza (Melrose/West Hollywood): Still my favorite pizzeria in Los Angeles, the brainchild of Nancy Silverton (founder of the La Brea bakeries) does simple Neapolitan-style pizzas very well and very quickly, with several items featuring tomatoes grown by Robert DiNapoli and Phoenix pizzaiolo Chris Bianco. Also on the menu are vegetables roasted in the wood-fired oven, salads, paninis and traditional Italian starters such as arancini and fried squash blossoms.
Animal (Fairfax): If you want meat, Animal has got you covered from snout to tail -- that's its ethos, in fact. There are menu items without animal flesh, of course, but if you want the meat sweats, or are looking for a Meat Tornado, this is your place, particularly for clever presentations of "offal" -- cuts of meat less often seen in grocery stores or on Americans' dinner tables, such as fried pig ears, yellowtail collar, chicken hearts and the always divisive sweetbreads. (I'm out on those. I've tried. Lord knows, I've tried.) The gentlemen behind Animal also have three other restaurants, all excellent, including Jon & Vinny's, which does neighborhood New York Italian food in immaculate style, and Son of a Gun, with one of the best fried chicken sandwiches I've ever had -- although it's probably best shared with a friend.
Sqirl (East Hollywood): People love them some Sqirl, especially its breakfast bowls, with a sorrel pesto rice bowl its signature item, featuring its own fermented hot sauce. The menu also features more typical breakfast fare, including brioche French toast, buckwheat pancakes and a breakfast sandwich with Greek flavors throughout. But when you see the line out the door at Sqirl, most of those folks are there for the rice bowls.
Guerrilla Tacos (downtown): The folks behind the Guerrilla Tacos truck have put down roots, opening a taco shop in downtown L.A., allowing them to expand their menu of ridiculously fresh, flavorful street tacos from four or five on any given day to more than a dozen options, although fan favorites like their sweet potato taco are still available.
Salt and Straw (several): The legendary Portland, Oregon, ice cream shop now has five locations around Los Angeles, including ones in the Arts District and West Hollywood, featuring over-the-top flavor combinations like James Coffee & Bourbon, Sea Salt Caramel and Honey Lavender. The menu right now also includes a few special flavors for Halloween, including the vegan Pumpkin Spiced Potion, Dracula's Blood Pudding and Creepy Crawly Critters (with dried mealworms!).
Also: Bestia (Arts District) for rustic Italian food; night + market song (West Hollywood & Silver Lake) for authentic Thai cuisine; Square One (East Hollywood) for breakfast, especially its tea-cured salmon benedict. There's also the giant Grand Central Market food hall, a downtown landmark for a century, with more than 30 food stalls and shops.
If you're into coffee, you're in luck, as Los Angeles might have the best assortment of artisan coffee options of any U.S. city. National stalwarts such as Intelligentsia (my choice for pour-overs), Blue Bottle (my choice for espresso) and Stumptown all have cafes here. Verve Coffee now has three locations around Los Angeles, another third-wave roaster practicing direct trade with farmers, and they appear regularly on best-of lists for their single-origin beans and their Streetlevel espresso blend.Local coffee impresario Tyler Wells, founder of Handsome Coffee, has a new place in downtown LA's financial district called Nice Coffee, serving 49th Parallel coffees as drip or espresso (no pour-overs) as well as homemade donuts from Hot Fat.
Craft beer has been big in California for 20-plus years now, as long as the movement has existed, although until recently Los Angeles lagged behind Northern California (home of Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada) or San Diego (Ballast Point, Stone Brewing) for native craft breweries. Ballast Point now has a gastropub in Long Beach. Another San Diego stalwart, Modern Times, just opened a brewpub in Los Angeles, with a vegan menu and its own beer available in cans to take out. Among Los Angeles breweries, Mumford Brewing stands out for its assortment of IPAs; Monkish Brewing, for American Imperial IPAs and Belgian Saisons; and nearby El Segundo Brewing, for a range of American ales. Don't miss Mikkeller, a Danish microbrewery that just opened a beer hall in downtown L.A., with more than 50 beers of its own making and from other craft breweries, as well as beer-friendly food and some morning offerings such as cold-brew coffee and kombucha.
You might have heard there's some traffic in Los Angeles, and the city's mass transit system is rather lacking, so ... best of luck.
Other stuff to see
You're in Los Angeles, so you could be a tourist and do touristy stuff in Hollywood or visit the Santa Monica Pier or the amusement parks. But if you're aiming a bit higher than that, L.A. and its environs boast an impressive array of museums, starting with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose installation "Urban Light" might be familiar to you by sight if not by name. The Getty Museum is a bit outside of town, but it's free to enter and enormous, with an important collection of Impressionist paintings among its showpieces. The Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City is also free to enter, showing print and digital photography, with a special exhibit featuring photos from National Geographic.
The iconic Griffith Observatory isn't too far from downtown and includes a planetarium, many exhibits on astronomy and various spots offering tremendous views of the city, as well as the art deco design that has made the building so recognizable. (It was paid for by and is named for a man who shot his wife in the face, which seems problematic.) You can even hike there up Fern Dell, although that's a level of ambition I do not possess. You can take a tour or attend a tasting at Greenbar Distillery just east of downtown, boasting a broad portfolio of organic spirits and both potable and non-potable bitters. The Last Bookstore boasts more than 22,000 square feet of floor space, with new and used books and records. The small but beautiful Japanese garden at the Japanese-American Cultural & Community Center downtown is also free for visitors. Echo Park Lake, notable for its appearance early in the film "Chinatown," is perfect for an afternoon walk or for a leisurely pedal boat ride on the lake.