To say that I love concerts is a bit of an understatement. Ever since I turned 18, I’ve gone to (on average) one concert a month. It’s sort of weird now, since I tend to be one of the oldest people at the concert (save for a few parental chaperones), but I truly believe that live music can heal in a way most things can’t.
Something that I get asked a lot by my friends is where they should eat before a concert. While food is my top priority, proximity is a close second. I always try to keep the food bill (before beverages, taxes, and tip) under $20, so the recommendations you’ll see here are all in that ballpark (though, rarely, slightly over). Every single restaurant here is someplace I would willingly go to again, and not just mentioned out of sheer convenience. Music may rival my love for food, but it certainly won’t encourage me to eat whatever garbage chicken fingers are being served inside.
After visiting every venue on this list, I have pretty strong opinions as to which is the best/worst.
Venue: House of Blues.
Restaurant: Sweet Cheeks BBQ.
The House of Blues is far and away my favorite venue in Boston. The acoustics are great, the bars and aisles around the sides are distinct enough to allow a constant flow, and they keep prices for their tickets consistently affordable (I generally expect to spend less than $40). It also has the added bonus of being widely accessible from anywhere, whether you are looking for affordable parking (good luck finding a $10 parking spot near the Garden the night of your concert) or just take the green line into the Kenmore Station.
To sweeten the deal, a quick walk away from the House of Blues is my favorite barbecue spot in New England, Sweet Cheeks! B and I will usually split a tray (one meat choice, one hot side and one cold side) and then get a big bucket of the biscuits – they are absolutely to die for!
Venue: The Sinclair
Restaurant: Cambridge, 1
The Sinclair sneaks in barely behind House of Blues for my favorite venue. I’ve seen some amazing shows here, but while the intimacy of The Sinclair is hard to match, I think truly great artists can shine a bit more at the House of Blues. Harvard Square may be evolving away from its former quirky glory that I remember it most fondly by, but The Sinclair is thriving as always. An obvious choice is to eat at the kitchen at The Sinclair, but it can get pretty busy during the pre-show rush, so I prefer to walk down Church Street to Cambridge, 1. They have a great wooden interior, clean but sultry vibes when the sun goes down, and really great, innovative pizza pies.
Venue: The Red Room at Cafe 939
Restaurant: Trident Booksellers & Cafe
Cafe 939 is a totally unique venue in that it’s actually run by students at Berklee College of Music. The business students are tasked with booking artists for the venue, and seniors have their performance recitals here as well. I saw Rachel Platten and A Great Big World here back in 2011 before either of them had made it big, and it was such a great experience. It’s a small and cozy venue, with great acoustics and a friendly, engaging atmosphere. Pop over to Newbury Street before hand to grab a bite to eat at Trident, which is totally different than my old go-to for Cafe 939, the since closed Cactus Club. Trident is a favorite shop of mine, thanks to their friendly and helpful environment, plus being one of the only independent bookstores left. If you can find your way out of the shelves, they serve breakfast and sandwiches all day long.
Venue: Agganis Arena
Agganis is my favorite arena sized concert venue. It’s more intimate than the Garden, and with better acoustics. I saw Macklemore and Halsey within two months of each other there, and they were my two favorite concerts of that summer. Comm Ave is full of places you could eat at, but I’d recommend going to Otto for their thin crust pizza. Right across the street and on the same block as Agganis, the location can’t be beat. The interior of this one is my favorite of all their locations – bright white walls, wooden tables and bar, an outdoor patio, and a wall of basil right as you walk in. They do pizza by the slice or whole pies, and they also have gluten free crust available! It’s also important to note that they have an extensive craft beer and wine selection available, in case you want to get the party started a little early.
Venue: Great Scott
Restaurant: Roxy’s Grilled Cheese
My sister and I saw Matt Hires (one of my all-time favorite musicians) and Alex Dezen play the coolest joint set here, and they mingled around the audience before and after the show. Since Great Scott has a very low key vibe, I like to kick off the night with some equally low key (but delicious) grilled cheese over at Roxy’s brick and mortar destination (the food truck can frequently be found at the Greenway, Downtown, or Harvard Square!)
Venue: Brighton Music Hall
Restaurant: Lone Star Taco Bar
Brighton Music Hall to me is a better version of Paradise Rock Club. It’s less than a mile down the street, has no poles blocking your view (see below) and has a set up that makes it very easy to get to the bathroom, bar, or merch table. Lone Star Taco Bar is the perfect place to get your Mexican fix beforehand, with $4 tacos every day of the week, not just on Taco Tuesday! Their servers are amazing, and all the ingredients are fresh. For the price you just cannot beat it, but it is very small and pretty popular, so try to get here as early as you can.
Venue: TD Garden
As far as concerts go, the Garden is a 0 on the -5 to 5 scale. That energy I felt when Paul Pierce returned for his last game and played under Larry Bird’s number, the eery feeling of history being made in front of your eyes just doesn’t translate to concert performances. The acoustics aren’t great, and the upper deck can be hard to dance around without feeling like you’re going to fall off. That being said, bigger acts aren’t going to stop at the smaller venues, and some concerts I’ve seen here have been truly great in spite of the circumstances.
Around the corner from the Garden, inside of the Boxer Hotel, is Finch, where American fares on the lighter side are paired with specialty cocktails. The interior falls somewhere between vintage and farmhouse, which strikes a much more elegant balance than one might expect. Finding a meal at a nice restaurant in the West or North End can seem budget breaking, but Finch really slides in at a palatable price point.
Venue: Gillette Stadium
I don’t personally love going to concerts at Gillette, if only because the traffic on Route One after an event is my own personal kind of hell. I would absolutely make an exception to go back if The Boss decided to do another stadium tour (…please?!) At any rate, the other 66,000 people attending are also trying to get food in Patriot Place before the concert, which can make it frustrating, if not impossible, to fuel up. Tavolino has done a great job capitalizing on the lack of restaurant seats available, and set up a “To Go” station on the sidewalk outside for pizza. You’ll still have a wait, but it will be tremendously shorter than waiting for a table and sit down service, guaranteed. (Celiac friends: since they didn’t have any gluten free pizzas ready outside, they walked my sister inside and let her order a GF pizza at the bar to go!)
Venue: Paradise Rock Club
Restaurant: Mei Mei
I decidedly do not love going to shows at Paradise, which garners a lot of scorn from my fellow concert lovers (and boyfriend, for that matter). The low ceilings can induce a bit of claustrophobia, and the unsightly poles block the line of sight for the entire back half of the theater. They also hosted U2 one time back before I was born and they will never let anyone forget it. B loves the intimacy of the small venue and its location, being right off the T and near plenty of food and bar options. It’s also a sort of institution in Boston, the kind of place that you grow up going to. Some artists I love, including but not limited to Wrabel and Cigarettes After Sex, have made stops on tour to Paradise though, so I will continue going back for worthwhile performances. Luckily, Mei Mei- my food spot of choice- is also a very enticing reason to head to Paradise. Another food truck that amassed a huge following, Mei Mei’s small, but open restaurant serves up the most drool-worthy dumplings, amongst other Asian Fusion choices.
Venue: Fenway Park
Restaurant: Tiger Mama
There, I said it. Fenway Park is the worst concert venue in Boston. It’s great for baseball games, but absolutely terrible for concerts (which is good, since it was actually built for baseball games…) I’d really only go for people I desperately wanted to see (i.e. Lady Gaga, who had been on my list for years). It’s also a great reason to go to Tiger Mama. Right down the street from its sister restaurant Sweet Cheeks, Tiffany Faison’s Southeast Asian outpost never disappoints. They did an amazing job on the interior, and it feels as authentic and transporting as you could ever dream. I love going family style here, and sharing a bunch of items because they are all way too good to pass up.
Bonus: some concert venues around New England!
Venue: Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
Restaurant: Red Fez
Now named the Strand Ballroom, I guess I’m a little old fashioned because I love all the history that the name Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel holds. They’ve held court for my beloved Colony House, among many others. My friend Erick never steers me wrong for recommendations in Providence, so hats off to him for introducing me to the nearby Red Fez. If you aren’t in the mood for something too heavy, its perfect for bar snacks or tacos before the show.
Venue: Maine State Pier
Restaurant: Flatbread Company
B and I really love Portland, so I frequently check in on their concert lineups just in case there’s a great show that we could take a night away to go see. The Maine State Pier is home to many waterfront shows during the summer months, and is about everything you might expect from an outdoor venue. Just steps away is a location of Flatbread, which I will gladly go to any time, any place, for their (wait for it…) flatbread pizzas.
Venue: Port City Music Hall
Restaurant: Duck Fat
A small venue with great sound quality is pretty much a one way ticket to my heart, as far as concert halls go. Port City strikes an amazing balance between retro vibes, and actually looking clean, somehow. It has the nice added bonus of being within walking distance from Duck Fat, which is possibly my greatest weakness as far as greasy food goes.
Venue: Mohegan Sun
Restaurant: Frank Pepe’s
I’ve never had a bad show experience at the Mohegan Arena (if you don’t count the brutal hour that I had to listen to Colbie Caillatt open for Christina Perri three years ago…) It’s nice to have free parking at a venue, and the casino offers endless amounts of entertainment before or after your show. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, but I personally am a sucker for grabbing a slice of Pepe’s red tomato pie (clearly, pizza is a very prominent part of this guide). That, and a couple Krispy Kreme donuts after the show…