Boston, a city steeped in history and culture, is renowned for its iconic baked beans, the delectable Boston cream pie, the energy of Fenway Park, the enduring legacy of The Boston Marathon, and the nostalgic charm of the bar from “Cheers.”
Yet, in recent years, Boston has been carving out a new identity on the culinary map. The city is rapidly blossoming into a haven for vegan and vegetarian enthusiasts. Amidst its cobblestone streets and historic landmarks, a green culinary revolution is underway. A plethora of plant-based restaurants are sprouting across the city, while established eateries are innovatively reimagining traditional Bostonian and classic American dishes with plant-based twists.
This guide aims to navigate you through Boston’s vibrant vegan and vegetarian landscape, showcasing the fusion of tradition and modernity in its culinary offerings.
Traditional Boston & Massachusetts Foods
Boston Cream Pie
The Boston cream pie, despite its name, is not a pie at all but a sumptuous cake that holds a special place in the annals of American desserts. Its origins trace back to 1856 when Armenian-French chef Mossburg Sanzian, working at the famed Parker House Hotel in Boston, crafted this delightful creation. Evolving from its predecessors, the American pudding-cake pie and Washington pie, it underwent a series of name changes on the Parker House menus, from “chocolate cream pie” to “Parker House chocolate cream pie,” before settling on the now-iconic “Boston cream pie.”
The traditional Boston cream pie is a masterclass in texture and flavor. It features two layers of delicate French butter sponge cake, separated by a luscious layer of thick custard. The cake is then brushed with a rich rum syrup, its sides adorned with the same creamy custard and toasted sliced almonds, while the top is lavishly coated with a glossy chocolate fondant. This intricate composition of flavors and textures has earned the Boston cream pie its status as the official dessert of Massachusetts, a title it was awarded on December 12, 1996.
Boston Baked Beans
Boston Baked Beans stand as a hallmark of New England’s culinary repertoire, offering a unique twist on the traditional baked bean dish. While many baked bean recipes around the world use brown sugar for sweetness, Boston’s rendition is distinctively characterized by the rich, honeyed notes of molasses. This deep sweetness is traditionally combined with the savory undertones of salt pork or bacon, but the good news is that you can easily find fully vegan and vegetarian Boston Baked Beans.
The dish’s significance in the region’s culinary landscape is further highlighted by its traditional preparation and serving customs. In colonial New England, it was customary to bake the beans on Saturdays, allowing them to remain in brick ovens overnight. This ensured that on Sundays, families could enjoy a warm, hearty meal that adhered to Sabbath restrictions.
Boston baked beans aren’t a common feature on Boston restaurant menus, but you will find them in some places. Alternatively,
(Plant-Based) Lobster Roll
In the bustling streets of Boston, where seafood is celebrated with fervor, the lobster roll (or lobstah, as it’s pronounced locally) stands as an iconic delicacy. However, in recent years, a new culinary wave has emerged, offering a compassionate twist to this beloved dish: the vegan lobster roll.
Crafted with ingenious plant-based ingredients like hearts of palm, artichokes, or even jackfruit, these vegan versions capture the tender, flaky texture of traditional lobster meat. Marinated in a blend of herbs and spices, and combined with vegan mayo and fresh accompaniments, the mixture is then nestled within a toasted, buttery roll.
The result is a dish that pays homage to the flavors of the sea, without the need for seafood. This plant-based rendition not only caters to the growing vegan community but also invites traditional seafood lovers to experience a sustainable and equally delectable alternative to a Boston favorite.
(Plant-Based) Fenway Frank
Veggie dogs are available.
Synonymous with the exhilarating energy of Fenway Park and the passionate fans of the Boston Red Sox, the Fenway Frank stands as a testament to Boston’s unique culinary spin on the classic hot dog.
Unlike its counterparts, the Fenway Frank undergoes a dual cooking process: it’s first boiled to lock in its juices and then grilled to achieve a tantalizing charred exterior. Served in a perfectly toasted bun, it’s traditionally adorned with a tangy relish and a streak of mustard, creating a symphony of flavors that resonates with every bite.
In recent years, as plant-based diets gain traction, vegan versions of the Fenway Frank have emerged. Crafted with plant-based sausages that mimic the texture and flavor of traditional meat, these vegan alternatives are prepared with the same care and attention, ensuring that even those on a plant-based diet can partake in this iconic Boston culinary tradition.
In the vibrant culinary landscape of Boston, the cannoli stands out as a beloved dessert, marrying Italian tradition with the city’s own sweet sensibilities. These delightful pastries, characterized by their crisp tubular shells, are generously filled with a creamy ricotta cheese mixture, often adorned with toppings ranging from nuts and chocolate to succulent fruits.
While cannolis are typically vegetarian, the city’s evolving food scene has seen the emergence of vegan versions, ensuring that this Italian treat can be savored by all.
The best way to experience a cannoli in Boston is undoubtedly fresh from a bakery, with the North End neighborhood being the epicenter of this sweet indulgence. Here, two bakeries, Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry, engage in a friendly yet fierce rivalry, each claiming to offer the best cannoli in town. Locals and tourists alike find themselves drawn into this delicious debate, making repeated visits to determine their own personal favorite.
(Plant-Based) Clam Chowder
In the heart of Boston, amidst its historic landmarks and bustling streets, clam chowder—or as locals affectionately pronounce it, “chowdah”—reigns supreme as one of the city’s most iconic dishes. While the creamy concoction is celebrated throughout New England, it’s in Boston where the chowder truly finds its zenith. As a testament to its popularity, countless restaurants across Boston serve up their renditions of clam chowder, each vying for the title of the best bowl in town.
However, as culinary trends evolve and plant-based diets gain traction, Boston’s chefs have risen to the challenge of reimagining this classic. Plant-based versions of clam chowder have begun to make their mark, using innovative ingredients to replicate the creamy texture and rich flavors of the traditional dish, all while omitting the clams. These vegan iterations, crafted with ingredients like oyster mushrooms, jackfruit, or heart of palm, offer both locals and visitors an opportunity to indulge in a bowl of chowder that aligns with their dietary preferences, ensuring that this Boston favorite continues to be enjoyed by all.
(Plant-Based) Roast Beef Sandwich
In the vibrant culinary tapestry of Boston, roast beef sandwiches hold a special place, rivaling even the famed lobster roll in their popularity and cultural significance. These sandwiches are a testament to the city’s knack for hearty, flavorful creations. Layered onto soft Kaiser rolls, often sprinkled with sesame seeds or onion bits, the meat is typically crowned with a medley of toppings. While the combinations are vast, a classic Bostonian roast beef sandwich often boasts a “three-way” topping of cheese, barbecue sauce, and mayonnaise. Especially in regions like the North Shore, roast beef-specializing sandwich shops are not just eateries; they’re integral to the local culture, making Boston a veritable roast beef capital.
However, as the city’s culinary scene evolves to cater to a growing vegan and vegetarian populace, innovative chefs are crafting plant-based renditions of this beloved sandwich. Using alternative ingredients that mimic the texture and flavor of roast beef, these sandwiches offer the same robust experience without the meat.