Despite being almost 200 years old and a National Historic Landmark, Union Oyster House retains its reputation as one of the best seafood restaurants in Boston - a place for special celebrations and lobster dinners, as well as quick bites at the oyster bar.
Located in a 1740s building near Faneuil Market on one of the first lanes laid out by the Puritans in 1636, Union Oyster House dates back to 1826 and claims to be the oldest restaurant in Boston.
Inside, old paintings line the cozy wood-paneled dining rooms, and many show famous patrons.
For example, there's Daniel Webster, who stopped by the oyster bar almost daily to consume 6 plates of oysters, with each plate of 6 oysters accompanied by a tall glass of brandy and water. Yes, that's 6 glasses of brandy and 36 oysters, every day.
In one of the upstairs dining rooms, you can see the favorite booth of another regular, President John F. Kennedy.
Seafood takes the spotlight here, along with traditional Yankee dishes such as Boston Baked Beans and Indian Pudding, although you'll see some contemporary touches as well.
Whether you're a tourist or local, Union Oyster House is a terrific place to order a whole steamed lobster, a shore dinner, a huge fisherman's platter, chowder, and anything from the raw bar.
Classic lobster and other seafood dishes such as Lobster Newburg, Steamers (local clams), and Broiled Boston Scrod are also excellent here.
Other specialties to look for are the lobster rolls and New England seafood pie.
Unfortunately, the menu, signs around the restaurant, and a first floor gift shop play up the restaurant's age with "Ye Olde . . . " labels, prompting some people to ask: "Is this place a tourist trap?"
Emphatically no - although at times you will see lots of tourists here.
Union Oyster House is the "real thing" - high-quality seafood served in a historic setting, a favorite of Boston visitors as well as local fans who come back again and again.
Should You Try the New England Shore Dinner?
If you're not from this area, you may want to try a local specialty, the Shore Dinner, a feast traditionally served by seafood shacks up and down the New England coast.
Union Oyster House's Shore Dinner is excellent, although huge. This is definitely one of the best places to sample this New England specialty in Boston, especially since the restaurant has its own lobster pools which means the highlight of this meal, lobster, will be as fresh as possible.
The feast starts with clam chowder, and steamers or mussels.
Then you move on to a whole boiled or broiled lobster, whichever you prefer.
Following tradition, the lobster is served with sweet native corn on the cob and creamy red potatoes.
Dessert is your choice of gingerbread or hot Indian pudding (a kind of molasses-sweetened corn mush . . . possibly you have to be born here to fully appreciate it). You may want to deviate from the set menu at this point and order Boston Cream Pie.
Union Oyster House or Durgin Park?
Union Oyster House shares some similarities with the slightly "younger" Durgin Park that opened in 1827 around the corner in Quincy Market / Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Both of these downtown Boston restaurants embrace traditional New England cuisine and emphasize fresh local seafood and perfectly cooked steaks and chops.
But of the two, the Oyster House is slightly more formal and sophisticated, whereas Durgin Park is more casual and old-timey. Durgin Park also offers more meat and chicken dishes on its menu, whereas the Oyster House is primarily a seafood restaurant.
So if you're visiting Boston and want to try some traditional Yankee cooking, have a meal at both of them.
Union Oyster House - Directions & Details
Address: 41 Union Street, 1 block from Faneuil Hall on the Freedom Trail; Orange Line/Government Center
More to Do Nearby: Explore the historic area around Union Street and Marshall Street, walk across the street and visit the Boston Holocaust Memorial, or head over to nearby Faneuil Marketplace for shopping
Union Oyster House Cookbook
Want to continue to enjoy Union Oyster House's wonderful food once you return home?
The Union Oyster House Cookbook is filled with many of the restaurant's own recipes, plus a lot of interesting history about the restaurant and this area of Boston. Buy it as a gift, or a to use yourself - and make the delicious clam chowder in your own kitchen.
You can find it in the first floor giftshop, or order (usually for a discounted price) direct from Amazon.