Salem, Massachusetts may be a small city, but the variety of restaurants is impressive. Here are my favorites, listed in order of greatness, in the Witch City. Don’t visit Salem without eating at, at least, the first two.
I’m starting with dessert for a very good reason . . . I can honestly tell you that I haven’t enjoyed French pastries this good outside of Paris. As soon as you enter, your eye will be drawn to the long, glass counter filled with meticulously made pastries of every shape and color. Just admiring them is a feast for the senses. I always take several minutes to decide what I want because there are too many good choices. I’ve also been known to order two desserts just for myself! Before making your selection, be sure to wander over to the case of scrumptious macarons in a variety of flavors. The master chef at Caramel comes from South Central France, and the techniques that he uses to magically create the pastries have been passed down to him from his great grandfather who opened a patisserie in France back in 1931. If you love French pastries as much as I do, then run (don’t walk) to Caramel. If you visit Salem without stopping there, you are seriously missing out!
2. Boston Burger Company
Do you love a juicy, delicious, big-as-your-head burger as much as I do? If so, there’s no better place in Massachusetts to get one than at Boston Burger Company! Mind you, these are not your everyday burgers. From the “Killer Bee”, with a stack of beer-battered onion rings, honey, BBQ sauce, and American cheese, to the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”, piled high with mac and cheese, pulled pork, onion rings and BBQ sauce, to “The King”, featuring peanut butter, bacon, and fried bananas, to the “Sophie” topped with prosciutto, goat cheese, candied walnuts, fig jam, greens, and a balsamic reduction, the large menu has something for everyone in your group. Boston Burger also offers a variety of lip-smacking frappes (milkshakes) and a plethora of options to crank up the flavor on their hand-cut fries. Why eat regular fries when you can have them covered with bruschetta, garlic parm, Greek or nacho toppings, caramel and cinnamon, or even clam chowda’? Boston Burger Company also offers appetizers, salads, boneless wings, and sandwiches, but I always stick to their namesake. The restaurant is very popular, but if you have to wait too long for a table, don’t skip eating there. Just call in an order for take out and then find a bench or a nice piece of grass to settle in. Boston Burger is so good that you should resort to all options to eat there!
3. The Clam Shack
If you love classic New England fried seafood, then the Clam Shack is the place for you. Located in the grounds of Salem Willows and overlooking the ocean, eating at the Clam Shack is a no-frills (think outside picnic tables) experience for your taste buds. Please do not let the outdoor seating put you off, the seafood here is the best! The menu ranges from perennial favorites like whole belly clams or clam strips to flaky haddock to (my favorite) fried calamari. Can’t make a decision? Then order the Captain’s Combo. The Clam Shack lets you decide how hungry you are, or in my case, how hungry I think I am! Choose from a roll, a box, a basket, or a full dinner plate portion. They even have non-seafood options for you landlubbers. The best thing about the eating there (other than the food, of course) is that you can combine your meal with an enjoyable afternoon or evening at Salem Willows.
Please note that the Clam Shack and Salem Willows are seasonal. They’re open roughly from mid spring through September.
4. Flatbread Company
Seafood not your thing? Do you have people in your group with special diets or food allergies? Don’t worry because I’ve got you covered! Flatbread Company serves pizza (and more) made from organic ingredients, that are sourced from local farmers, cooked to perfection in a natural, wood-fired clay oven. They’re happy to make substitutions in any of their meals and have menu items that cater specifically to vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets. Try “Mopsy’s Kalua Pork Pie”, with smoked pork shoulder, free range chicken, mango BBQ sauce, pineapple, whole milk mozzarella, parmesan, garlic oil and their own herb mixture. If your mouth isn’t watering yet, imagine digging into the “Punctuated Equilibrium” featuring a ton of veggies and imported Kalamata olives or the “Jimmy’s Free-Range Chicken” with black beans, cilantro tomatoes, roasted corn, mozzarella and parmesan, jalapenos, and a sour cream lime drizzle. It makes me want to phone in an order right now! You can also design your own pizza from a wide variety of organic toppings, and Flatbread even has gluten free crusts, that my friend attests are the best she’s ever had. If all of this wasn’t enough, you can enjoy waterside, outdoor seating, and . . . get ready for it . . . connected to the restaurant is a small candlepin bowling alley. How fun! Make a day, an afternoon, or even a date night out of it. Flatbread Company is my number one choice for pizza in the Witch City, if not in the entire North Shore of Massachusetts!
5. Passage to India
Looking for something more exotic and full of Asian flavors and spices? Passage to India will take you on an amazing food journey from the northern to the southern parts of the Indian Subcontinent without ever having to leave your seat. Every meal is served fresh and features spices that are ground in-house. I recommend starting with the vegetable pakoras, the meat samosas, or the delicious coconut soup. For a main course, I recommend the flavorful Chicken Mango or the creamy Lamb Korma. If you’ve never tried a dosa before, I highly encourage you to order one. Picture a thin and very long crepe, made of ground lentils and rice, stuffed with meat and/or vegetables of your choice, and served with sweet coconut chutney. I dare you to try finishing it in one sitting! I may have once or twice J. Passage to India also offers a plethora of vegetarian options, and don’t forget to partake in some made-to-order naan bread with your meal. Go for the Kashmire Naan that’s loaded with raisins, cashews, and coconut. I think it’s more like dessert than a side course, but that’s an even better reason to enjoy it!
6. Turner’s Seafood
For slightly more upscale seafood dining, my “go to” place is Turner’s Seafood. Turner’s began as a wholesale fish company in 1954, and one of their fresh fish markets continue to exist today right inside the restaurant located in the old Lyceum Hall building. Whether you’re enjoying lunch or dinner, start with fresh-shucked oysters, steamers, tuna sashimi, lobster or shrimp cocktail, or cherrystones and littlenecks from their raw bar. Alternatively, try the award-winning lobster bisque or cherry pepper calamari. For main courses, Turner’s has a variety of fish dishes, fried seafood, pastas, and even a sandwich board. They also feature New England lobsters (both regular and lazy-man’s, as I call it), a made-to-order New England bouillabaisse, and many gluten-free options. If you’d like to have a lovely, sit-down, New England style dinner, you can’t beat Turner’s Seafood.
7. Ye Olde Pepper Companie
No, I’m not sending you to store that sells peppers or spices. Ye Olde Pepper Companie is actually the oldest candy company in the United States (since 1806). If that’s not enough of a reason to visit, their chocolates, fudge, salt water taffy, caramel corn, and other old fashioned candies are hand-made using original recipes that have been passed down through the generations. I dare you to walk into the store, take in the intoxicating aroma of chocolate and sweets, and leave without buying anything! If you plan on visiting the House of Seven Gables, Ye Olde Pepper Companie is located right across the street. How convenient!
Click on a name to be taken to a driving or walking map.
Caramel is located at 281 Essex St. in Salem, MA.
The Clam Shack is located at 200 Fort Ave., Salem Willows Park, in Salem, MA.
Boston Burger Company is located at 133 Washington St. in Salem.
Flatbread Company is located at 311 Derby St. in Salem.
Passage to India is located at 157 Washington St. in Salem.
Turner’s Seafood is located at 43 Church St. in Salem.
Ye Old Pepper Companie is located at 122 Derby St. in Salem.