Guiding Bite: Chef Michael Scelfo’s Culinary Guide to Boston
Chef Michael Scelfo picks his favorite bakeries, breakfast spots, and layover food in all of Beantown.
As told to Chris Hughes
1 of 9Photo: Huge Galdones
Meet the Chef
You could say that chef Michael Scelfo has a thing for the coast. Sure, there was that brief childhood epoch when he was exposed to the joys of Kansas City barbecue. But outside of that Midwestern detour, the Long Island native has found himself drawn to the water.
He got his first big break in the James Beard Award-winning Wildwood Kitchen in Portland, Oregon. Then he moved back to the East Coast, eventually landing in Boston to helm the Temple Barand Harvard Square’s Russell House Tavern. At the latter, he developed a reputation for creative vegetable cookery that he carried with him to his first solo venture, Alden & Harlow.
Now the highly decorated chef returns to the saltwater creatures and sea air that first drew him to the kitchen. His second restaurant, Waypoint, embodies the best of the ocean, with a gleaming raw bar, classic caviar service, and wood-fired pizzas topped with a briny battery of goods. Even the ceiling is constructed from driftwood planks and fishing hardware.
But as the chef will tell you, dining in Boston is about so much more than the daily catch. Here, his well-trodden guide to the best pizza, pastries, and late-night sake bombs in the city.
2 of 9Photo: Michael Scelfo
Best Layover Food
I’m a huge fan of Santarpio’s in East Boston, which is right around the corner from Logan (Airport). They have a live coal-fired grill that gives their mixed grill of lamb, steak tips, and sausage, the most incredible flavor. Ask for a side of the prerequisite sauce. You just ask for “the juice,” and they give you a rocks glass filled with the brine from pickled cherry peppers. I use the bread as my utensil, pinch up some meat, and dip it in that rocks glass with the juice. Chase it with some of this really intense red wine that they serve in plastic carafes. It’s the best airport layover meal ever. I’d put it up against anything.
3 of 9Photo: Ana M. Reyes
Best Restaurants in the North End
Santarpio’s also has really good pizza, but I prefer the original Regina’s Pizzeria in the North End. There are two stops in the North End you have to make: Regina’s for a Giambotta pizza, which is a loaded pie with pepperoni, sausage, salami, mushrooms, and peppers. Then you have head over to Bova’s Bakery for cannoli, rice balls, or the pistachio cookies. They’re open 24/7 and all the desserts are to die for.
Of course, you also have Neptune Oyster (pictured), which is a classic Boston establishment to just crush some oysters—that is, if you can get in. Set aside plenty of time though, because there’s always a huge line to get in. It’s one of the toughest tables in town.
4 of 9Photo: Sofra Bakery
Best Lunch Spot
Oleana’s Ana Sortun and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, who are both amazingly talented, own this fantastic breakfast and lunch spot. I’ll go in and grab a lamb shawarma, one of their stuffed flatbreads, or a platter of meze. And Sofra Bakery always has really awesome baked goods like the chocolate-hazelnut baklava, or the tahini-brown butter donuts in the morning. But admittedly, I’m super biased because I moved to Arlington a couple months ago, which is just down the road.
5 of 9Photo: Andrea Merrill
Best Picnic Provisions
Formaggio Kitchen is another great spot for lunch, and even provisions. There are actually two locations, one in Cambridge and one in the South End. I usually head to the one in Cambridge because they have a great deli takeout counter with prepared foods that range from whole roasted turkey breast to confit duck legs to stacks of sandwiches. On the weekends they throw a big barbecue and you can grab a bottle of wine and sit outside. Or you can just grab a few hunks of cheese, some nice crusty bread—which comes from Clear Flour Bread in Brookline—and head down to Fresh Pond for a picnic.
6 of 9Photo: Tenoch Mexican
Best "Wild Card" Breakfast Spots
If you’re looking for something fun and adventurous for breakfast, I recommend Hei La Moon, which serves dim sum every day. Either that, or I’d head to Tenoch Mexican (pictured) in Medford, which has an awesome breakfast. This taco spot now has three locations and even a food truck, but in Medford they also have an all-day breakfast there with killer breakfast burritos and tortas that are loaded with eggs, beans, avocado, chorizo, and chipotle mayo.
7 of 9Photo: Kristin Teig
Best Elevated "Bar" Food
For dinner, I like to go to Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville’s Davis Square. The chef, John DaSilva, is serving some crazy delicious food. Not only do I consider him a friend, I think his food represents what’s exciting about Boston dining right now. Hojoko (pictured), right outside of Fenway is a Japanese-style izakaya that's great for late-night eats. I love to order the fried clam roll with grilled romaine lettuce. Everything on their robata menu is delicious, especially the chicken tail yakitori with black truffle salt. Sake bombs are fun and filling, and should count as their own course. But don’t leave without trying the “Brains on Crack.” Yes it’s calves brains’, but just do it. You won’t regret it.
8 of 9Photo: Shojo
Best Under-the-Radar Bar
This is one of the most underrated places to grab a cocktail in Boston, especially on the tiki side of things. But they do some really fantastic food as well. Their chef, Mark O’Leary, is also in charge of Shojo’s sister restaurant, BLR (Best Little Restaurant), which just opened up around the corner. It leans more toward Mark’s whimsical side with options like lionhead meatballs, salt and pepper smelts, and softshell crab egg foo young. But I think my favorite dish is the bone marrow that’s served with scallion pancakes and charred Brussels sprouts.
9 of 9Photo: Melissa Ostrow
Best Reason to Visit the 'Burbs
More people should be going to Watertown spot, Branch Line. I know it’s got the big Garrett Harker moniker (The mastermind behind Island Creek Oyster BarandEastern Standard), but it doesn’t feel big and overbearing like some of his other places. It’s more personal. Some of that can be attributed to co-owner Andrew Holden, who’s also the GM at Eastern Standard. The food is simple, but so well executed, with hearth-fired dishes like whole grilled branzino and rotisserie chicken.