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Classy Foodie Nights on a Budget In Beantown

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Sportello Restaurant, Boston. Photo Amy CaoGoing out to eat in Boston, or any city, can be a headache. There’s a million recommendations and a zillion places to choose from. When you throw in being broke on top of it all, it makes one want to just order Chinese food and call it a night. But there are stylish, fun options in town for any taste and crowd. Here’s a few to get you started.

My mother and I went on a little girl’s night out to see Wicked at the Boston Opera House. With some extra time to kill, we hoped to find a place to nosh nearby. The suave cocktail lounge next door, Felt, instantly drew us in; partially because of the outside red steel decor and partially due to the very well-dressed and attractive doorman.

What sold us on Felt though was their small menu filled with brilliant food. The goat cheese salad topped with perfectly cooked steak tips was my choice, and the turkey avocado burger was beautifully moist and tender. All of it was fairly affordable as well, with most bar entrees under 12 bucks. The finale for me was my mother’s inability to meddle and nag with a mouthful of sinfully perfect food; that miracle in itself will definitely have me going back again. We stuck to the cocktail lunch menu on the first floor, but the formal dining also promises some great classic dishes including duck confit and panko-crusted pork loin. Gentlemen, don’t forget: leave your Red Sox hat at home, there’s a dress code. Check them out at

Also on Washington Street, but way down the South End, is a not-so-hidden treasure. Toro has managed to take a seed from Barcelona, Spain’s finest tapas, and plant it right here across the ocean. “Tapas” is a traditional way that Spaniards eat. Most bars and restaurants have a tapas menu with small little dishes to share bites with friends and to compliment a perfect glass of red wine. They can be anything from fried squid to little dumplings of pork, or ‘croquetas.’ I fought my boyfriend over the last piece of “patatas bravas” at Toro, smothered in some spicy red sauce and mayonnaise. After living in Spain for a while, I thought getting tapas in the near future again would be impossible. So when I heard about this place I booked it there to wrestle for a seat. Yes, this is a downfall; it’s always packed for dinner. And they don’t take reservations. But trust me, it’s worth the wait.

Toro is ideal for being able to sample many different flavors for a reasonable price. Tapas are small but can be shared, and they start at the four to five dollar mark for olives, breads and cheeses. Get adventurous and order their veal sweetbread or the dates wrapped in cured ham. You can see more of their menu at

The last place isn’t exactly cheap, but if you hint to your main squeeze about it for a special night, then maybe it won’t cost you a thing! On Commonwealth Avenue lies a restaurant and bakery called Sportello. The simple and tasty choices are perfect to split for a light lunch. They have homemade potato gnocchi and a luscious marinated eggplant panini. Good luck trying to pass up their cookie plate at the end. Don’t try to resist: go for the lavender shortbread.

Drink, Photo Mike RitterUnderground and underneath Sportello is the grand finale. Here you’ll find a small bar conspicuously called Drink; their website offers no clues at to what lies within its walls, so you have to get there yourself. The bar is lined up like jack-o-lantern’s teeth, snaking around the entire room. Hipster bartenders donning strappy vests and mutton chops will ask you to pick your poison. You give them a flavor or a fruit or a spirit, and they do the rest. Like mad scientists they begin to whip out beakers and eyedroppers, mixing a little of this and that. Each cocktail they invent is an adventure and I love being taken for the ride. YOu can leran more about Sportello at, and Drink at

The economy’s taking its sweet time to improve, so why not indulge a bit at Felt, Toro, Sportello and Drink to wait out the storm. Enjoy your food and savor the moment at these great eateries.

–Eileen Cotter is a Contributor to The Free George.

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