date published: April 3, 2000

Standing Ovation
Restaurants in the thriving Theatre District are cropping up faster than fleet-footed Kenyans in the Boston Marathon. Panorama spotlights the best and brightest in this red-hot dining scene.
By Christopher Wallenberg

It doesn’t yet rival the South End as Boston’s premier restaurant mecca, but the thriving Theatre District is one of the hottest dining scenes in the city. The marquees in this bustling neighborhood continue to sparkle like Regis Philbin’s pearly whites, while restaurants are cropping up faster than fleet-footed Kenyans in the Boston Marathon. 

The comeback that has taken place in the Theatre District over the past decade is truly remarkable. Once a thriving cultural center, boasting dozens of theatres during the first half of the 20th century, the neighborhood fell into disrepair in the 1970s and ’80s as both the economy and Broadway tours sputtered. In the 1990s, however, many of the area’s decaying playhouses were refurbished and relighted and new businesses began to sprout. Thanks to visionaries like the Wang Center for the Performing Arts’ Josiah Spaulding and impresario Jon Platt, the marquees of the remaining theatres—the Wang, Shubert, Colonial, Wilbur, Emerson Majestic and Charles Playhouse—are now illuminated year-round. 

Nowhere is this rebirth more evident than in the number of new bars and restaurants that have opened up in the neighborhood—from the swankiest bistros to the chicest after-theatre hotspots. The Theatre District’s restaurants are now buzzing with socialites, young professionals and avid theatregoers. 

So in order to ensure that you’re ensconced in your cushy theatre seat come showtime, we’ve ferreted out the best and brightest spots in the neighborhood for both pre- and post-theatre dining. Here’s a sampling.

You can’t talk about dining in the Theatre District without talking about Dominic’s (255 Tremont St., 426-8769). Located directly across the street from the Wang Theatre and next door to the Shubert, Dominic’s has stood as a Theatre District landmark for almost 30 years. Owner Dominic Paulo has seen dozens of Broadway stars saunter through his doors over the past two decades, including Laurence Olivier, Jennifer Holliday and Liza Minnelli. The restaurant serves up a simple yet delicious stable of food—from Italian classics like chicken cacciatore and mouth-watering pasta dishes to some of the most delicious pizzas in town. If the past is any indication, Dominic’s will continue to receive rave reviews for years to come.

Brew Moon
Though only in business for five years, Brew Moon (115 Stuart St., 742-BREW) has fast become one of the most popular pre- and post-theatre dining spots in the neighborhood. Due to its proximity to the six major theatres (you can be in your seats less than five minutes after paying the bill), this innovative brew pub has thrived in a crowded field. The restaurant serves up inspired re-creations of standard pub staples like burgers and pizza. Blast off with appetizers like smoked pork quesadillas, sesame seared tuna and spicy almond buffalo tenders. Brew Moon also offers an array of ultra-thin-crust grilled pizzas and savory sandwiches. However, the restaurant’s real trump card is its award-winning micro-brewed beer. Munich Gold, a German export lager, garnered a gold medal at the 1996 Great American Beer Festival, while the Grasshopper, an India pale ale, is aggressively hopped to produce a bitter yet smooth taste. Or try their popular lunar sampler, which features 4-ounce servings of five of their most acclaimed brews.

Legal Sea Foods
Like the Freedom Trail, Fenway Park and the Swan Boats in the Public Garden, Legal Sea Foods (26 Park Plaza, 426-4444) stands as a hands-down Boston institution. Its legendary identity is inextricably tied to our city’s reputation for fine seafood. Purveyors of fresh seafood for almost 50 years, Legal has grown from a small fish market in Inman Square in Cambridge to a chain of 19 world-class restaurants nationwide. Legal recently opened a brand-spanking-new flagship eatery around the corner from its former space in the Park Plaza Hotel. The new digs offer the same fresh seafood classics like Alaskan King Crablegs and Baked Stuffed Lobster, as well as wood grilled seafood and shellfish selections from the raw bar—all in a sparkling new setting.

There’s no better way to cap off an evening of theatre than downing a spectacularly-presented, lip-smacking dessert confection from the acclaimed dessert eatery, Finale (One Columbus Ave., 423-3184). Originally a field study project for two Harvard Business School students, Finale burgeoned from a dream into reality when it was launched in 1998. Although the restaurant offers an array of starter dishes like roasted free range chicken breast, salmon and roasted sirloin, its calling card is its sumptuous dessert menu. Chef Nicole Coady is a chocolate-addicts fantasy, or nightmare, depending on your point of view. Coady cooks up a luscious lineup of pastries, including her signature molten chocolate cake, baked-to-order warm chocolate cake lacquered with coffee ice cream and chocolate sauce; or the classic creme brulée, garnished with half moons of orange butter cookies and a medley of fresh fruit. One spoonful of her verboten sweets and you’ll never again say no to dessert.

Experience authentic, family-style Italian dining at Maggiano’s (4 Columbus Ave., 542-3456), which opened this past fall in Park Square and is one of the most welcome additions to the Theatre District. The large dining room is fashioned in the manner of a pre-World War II dinner house, complete with checkered tablecloths, a black-and-white tile bar floor and the sounds of Sinatra and the Rat Packers wafting through the air. The swanked-out Italian eatery features classic Italian dishes like homemade gnocchi, four-cheese ravioli, lasagna and a parade of pasta dishes. Healthy cuts of steak, lambchops and veal fill out the menu.

P.F. Chang’s
Although Chinatown is only a few blocks away, there are a number of excellent Asian-style restaurants within the Theatre District itself, among those P.F. Chang’s (8 Park Plaza, 573-0821). The restaurant features authentic Chinese cuisine with a flair for American comfort, hospitality and contemporary decor. Choose from a deluge of traditional Chinese dishes like crispy honey shrimp, Chang’s lemon scallops and Cantonese duck. However, patrons most enthusiastically sing the praises of P.F. Chang’s signature soothing lettuce wraps. These tasty concoctions are comprised of cool lettuce leaves sheathed around your choice of quickly-cooked spiced chicken or wok-seared Southeast Asian-style vegetables, and topped off with a unique sauce created by your server.

Pho Pasteur
Boston foodies swear by Pho Pasteur (682 Washington St., 482-7467), a local chain of lauded Vietnamese eateries. Pho cooks up a deluge of dynamic dishes boasting chicken, beef, seafood and tofu that are enhanced by fresh, vibrant vegetables swimming in light, tasty sauces. The extensive menu features rice vermicelli and noodle dishes; chicken wtih ginger and peanuts; lemongrass chicken, beef or tofu; and your choice of chicken, beef, scallops, shrimp or tofu in a mouth-watering vegetable medley. Their hearty noodle soups (pho) are to die for, as are their fresh spring rolls. And no MSG is added to any of their colorful creations. Their two Theatre District locations are currently on Kneeland and Washington Streets, around the corner from the Wang Center. But be on the lookout for a new, centralized Theatre District eatery at 123 Stuart Street, opening soon.

The 57 Steakhouse
If age is a sign of wisdom, then the 57 Steakhouse (The Radisson Hotel Boston, 200 Stuart St., 423-5700) is the equivalent of your wise old grandmother. The 57 is one of Boston’s stalwart dining traditions. Since 1951, this Brahmin bastion has been packing them in by serving up classic steak and seafood dishes in an atmosphere of elegance and warmth. Its regal environs are not to be outdone by its hearty fare, which includes prime rib of beef—slow-roasted, cooked bone-on and served au jus; baked stuff lobster—a succulent 1 3/4 lb. North Atlantic lobster stuffed with, what else?, more lobster; and the surf and turf—a tender cut of filet mignon accompanied by baked stuff shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes and fried onions.

The Theatre District offers a deluge of dining options that cater to all kinds of palates. Here are a few other suggestions for your pre- or post-theatre repasts. Jae’s (212 Stuart St., 451-7788) serves some of the best sushi and Korean barbecue in the city. Galleria Italiana (177 Tremont St., 423-2092), situated across from the Boston Common, dishes up some of Boston’s most inspired Italian cooking outside of the North End. California Pizza Kitchen (137 Stuart St., 720-0999) proffers creatively-adorned pizzas like Tex-Mex, Thai and Tandoori chicken. Two of the top Zagat-rated restaurants in the city, the elegant, four-star Aujourd’hui (200 Boylston St., 451-1392) and Lydia Shire’s impeccable Biba (272 Boylston St., 426-7878), are located in the Four Seasons Hotel just around the corner from the downtown theatres. Take a stroll down Charles Street to experience the fine cuisine of chef Peter Ballarin at one of Boston’s most romantic restaurants, Hungry i (71/2 Charles St., 227-3524). Or head in the opposite direction, down Columbus Ave., to the hip, French-Brazilian fusion joint Bomboa (35 Stanhope St., 236-6363). The restaurants of Chinatown are only a stone’s throw away, as are some South End hotspots like the upscale gay mecca Club Cafe and the Provençe-inspired Mistral.

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