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Mr. Harper's Travel Guide

At the heart of New England, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a rich heritage as a hub of America's colonial incarnation and fledgling democracy. Founded by Puritans in the 1600s, Massachusetts was more recently the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage ...

At the heart of New England, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a rich heritage as a hub of America's colonial incarnation and fledgling democracy. Founded by Puritans in the 1600s, Massachusetts was more recently the first state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. Its geography spans similarly disparate poles, from bustling Boston on the Atlantic coast to the forests and small farms of the central and western regions. 

The Boston area offers a nearly inexhaustible array of cultural and historical treasures, from colonial-era landmarks like Paul Revere's home and Faneuil Hall Marketplace to the hallowed halls of Harvard University in nearby Cambridge. On the state's western border, the Berkshire mountains are home to Tanglewood, the summer residence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In the southeast, Cape Cod and the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket have drawn generations of summertime leisure-seekers to their quaint maritime villages, sweeping beaches and luxury estates.

bird icon Recommended Luxury Hotels in Massachusetts

All Andrew Harper-recommended hotels offer impeccable accommodations and high levels of personal service. Only the best of the best make our list, so we rate them on a scale from bird icon 90 to 100.

Best Restaurants in Massachusetts

Neighboring Oak Bluffs is much more relaxed than Edgartown, with dainty Victorian gingerbread houses encircling the Methodist Tabernacle (the scene of lively band concerts in summer). There, The Sweet Life Café is a longstanding favorite. Its French-American cuisine strikes a judicious balance between casual and fine dining. Notable dishes include the beet and burrata salad, followed by the breaded Vermont quail breast served on a ragout of quail confit with favas, cherry reduction and foie gras mousse.

63 Circuit Avenue Oak Bluffs Martha's Vineyard

This 1803 Beacon Hill townhouse offers a classic view over Boston Common. Chef Barbara Lynch’s fare can include appetizers such as Arctic char crudo with grapefruit, Aleppo chili and pistachio; or prune-stuffed gnocchi with foie gras, almond and Vin Santo. Equally fine main courses might be Faroe Island salmon with lentils du Puy, Burgundy escargot and saffron aioli; or Berkshire pork served two ways with red cabbage, chicharones (fried pork skin) and pearled barley. The intelligently crafted wine list highlights France and Italy. 

9 Park Street Boston $80. Three-course menu, $75; six-course chef’s menu, $120

This relatively new place in Edgartown is located in a choice spot right on the harbor. The building’s exterior comes with the mandatory shingles and white trim, and the interior hums with activity. The fare is straightforward but enticing. Coming to the end of my starter of bone marrow and cod brandade topped with Asiago cheese gratin, I found myself wishing for more. Fortunately, a juicy swordfish steak, which needed nothing more than the accompanying lemon beurre blanc, was entirely satisfying. Other standouts include the wild striped bass crusted with pumpkin seeds and served with a charred tomato vinaigrette. Carnivores are not neglected, and I have particularly enjoyed the Moroccan lamb tajin.

Two Main Street Edgartown Martha's Vineyard

For more than 25 years, Grill 23 has been a Boston steakhouse favorite. The beef comes from a single herd on a family-owned ranch in California that uses neither hormones nor antibiotics. Some top choices include New York steak, filet mignon and a fine porterhouse. To begin, there is an extensive raw bar with oysters and a generous shellfish sampler, and appetizers such as a classic iceberg wedge with roasted tomato, bacon and blue cheese dressing; and a plump Jonah crab cake with scallop mousse and coleslaw. 

161 Berkeley Street Boston $80

Located in the fishing town of Menemsha, this long-established restaurant was a personal favorite for many years. But after a while, the place seemed to have lost its stride. I am happy to report that the good times are back. A short walk from the Coast Guard station, the Home Port serves excellent Vineyard seafood. I can’t think of a better starter than the smoked bluefish pâté; then I invariably opt for the baked lobster stuffed with shrimp and bread crumbs and topped with butter. Reservations are a must.

512 North Road Menemsha Martha's Vineyard

In this handsome bistro-style restaurant in Cambridge, chef Tony Maws has built a reputation for using the abundant produce of the area in exceptionally imaginative ways. The seasonal menu changes daily, but look for starters such as crisp fried clams from Essex, a New England favorite given a twist with preserved lemon, pickled peppers and a squid-ink anchovy paste; and main courses like olive oil-poached halibut with braised little gem lettuce, Manila clams, Serrano ham and sake; or Vermont pork prepared three ways: spice-crusted rib, slow-cooked belly and roasted loin. Closed Monday.

853 Main Street Cambridge Three-course menu, $70

The question of who makes the best clam chowder is a source of endless debate on the Vineyard. I have long since resolved this weighty issue to my satisfaction: The Bite. This is not a restaurant; it is a takeout stand in Menemsha. Not a typical Harper recommendation, to be sure, but still worthy of attention. The fried clams are also excellent. I invariably head to the nearby Menemsha Beach for a sunset feast.

29 Basin Road Menemsha Martha's Vineyard

Edgartown provides excellent window-shopping, and once you have become immersed in this, you often find that more time has elapsed than you thought or intended. It was under just such circumstances that we discovered Espresso Love, just out of the bustling town center. The cool garden is perfect for enjoying the baked goods that draw morning crowds, as well as the fresh-made, generous sandwiches and salads.

17 Church Street Edgartown Martha's Vineyard

L’Espalier features a mix of New England and French culinary approaches. Chef/owner Frank McClelland with chef de cuisine Matthew Delisle offers starters such as Georges Bank scallops and spring sunchokes with Maine crab salad and popcorn. Main courses could be butter-poached Maine lobster with braised Belgian endive, shrimp dumpling, white asparagus, grapefruit and basil. 

774 Boylston Street Boston Three-course prix fixe menu, $95; six-course degustation menu, $120
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