Since we both work in tourism in Salem Massachusetts, we get asked for our restaurant recommendations a lot. It’s just so hard! There’s really no such thing as bad food in Salem (with the exception of one place) It really just depends on what type of food you’re in the mood for, and what your budget is. So I decided to blog about it so next time I’m asked “Where should we eat?” I can send them to read this!
First off, disclaimer: This is only our opinion. We have been to almost every restaurant downtown, but we aren’t food critics or anything. I do think we have a unique perspective with all of the traveling we have done. We know what it’s like to want to eat the best food when you only have a short amount of time in the place you’re visiting. There’s only so many meals in a day- I’d want to know what restaurants are not to be missed.
I’m putting stars ⭐️ next to our favorite restaurants as follows:
⭐️ = A place we frequent and we like a lot.
⭐️⭐️ = A place we frequent and we love.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ = One of our absolute favorite places and you should not miss it.
❌ = The one and only place you should NOT eat in Salem (You’re really curious now, huh?)
So here we go…
Washington Street. (I’m going to start with the closest place to the train station, and work my way down.)
Odd Meter Coffee: Really good coffee (and we’re from Seattle, we’re picky). Really friendly staff. But a coffee here costs more than Starbucks so be warned. Their drinks with two shots of espresso cost the same as Front Street and Wolf Next Door’s drinks that have 4 shots.
Boston Hot Dog Company: Good lunch on the go. You can usually get in there even at the peak of October tourist season They really should get a Seattle Dog on the menu though. 😉
Melt Ice Cream: They have the best Butter Pecan ice cream I’ve ever had outside of La Paz Mexico (but they don’t always have it, which is a bummer), and they make their own waffle cones.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Settler: OMG. This has some of the best food we’ve ever had. It’s all farm fresh, kind of an American-French mix I think. It’s one of those places where you go, “mmmmm” with every single bite. The staff is amazing and friendly. It’s pricy so we don’t go too often, but if you’re only here for a few days, and you want the best food, definitely go here. It’s a very small place so make reservations.
Koto: This place is kind of a Chinese/Japanese blend. I haven’t had anything bad here. It’s great for delivery too. The owners are super nice and good friends with some friends of ours. I think my favorite thing on their menu is the avocado salad. They also have a pretty cool night scene.
Opus: Cool vibe. Small Plates. Good drinks. They have a bar downstairs but they closed it at the height of covid and we haven’t been down there. I hear it’s pretty cool though and I believe it’s open again. The food is an eclectic mix of things. Good sushi. Not as good as sushi in the Seattle area though. (I have not found sushi that good in New England.)
Fountain Place: Basic breakfast place. I think they have lunch too but I haven’t been for lunch. It’s good but there are other way better breakfast places that shouldn’t be missed.
Rockafellas: People rave about this place. We’ve been a few times and I honestly just don’t think it’s anything special. The atmosphere is nice, the staff is nice, the food is fine, but it’s just not amazing.
⭐️ Gulu Gulu Cafe: A really cool place to hang out, drink coffee, and play board games. Or, a good place for a cocktail in the evening- they have bands play there quite a bit. Super yummy breakfast crepes and I love their Barcelona sandwich.
Flying Saucer Pizza: This is owned by Gulu Gulu. Mars attacks pizza is our favorite here so far. And the space balls bread bite things are really good too.
Blue Fez: This is a Moroccan restaurant and I think it’s really good. The staff here is very friendly and happy to see you. The portion of the paella was so big that I ate the leftovers for two more meals.
Ginger: This place is new and kinda weird… not necessarily a bad weird though. It’s a cajun asian mix. So, like, they have gumbo and po’boys, and also sesame chicken and ramen. The gumbo was fantastic (and I had just gotten back from New Orleans when I tried it). I had a “Seafood Bag”. You pick the seafood and the seasoning and it’s all tossed together in a bag with corn and potatoes. I picked cajun seasoning. It was good. Big portion. Justin had ramen. He enjoyed it as well.
⭐️ Ledger: This used to be a bank so the inside is really pretty. Neat ceiling, and walls made out of old safe deposit boxes and stuff. It’s pricy and upscale. When we went on a date night, we ordered 5 types of appetizers and 2 desserts. (So, no main course). It was all really, really good. I’d give it maybe second place after Settler for amazing fine dining. Get the popovers and squash bisque for sure. We had brunch once too. They always have a “donut of the day”. Delicious. I’d definitely go back for that.
⭐️ Ugly Mug Diner: My second favorite breakfast place in town. Everything on their menu is delicious. I love the cinnamon butter on the french toast. A lot of people love the duck confit.
⭐️ O’Neill’s Irish Pub: When we lived in Salem before our sailing travels, we would go to O’Neills every Friday night for live Irish music. It was super kid friendly before 8pm and we’d dance, have a beer or two, and try everything on their menu. It was our go-to place. Everything on the menu is really great. They have the best fish and chips outside of England in my opinion. Steak tips are good, Irish curry is good, cobb salad is good, everything is good. Since we’ve been living in Salem again though, we don’t visit too often. The staff just isn’t as friendly as they used to be and it doesn’t have the same fun family-friendly vibe. They have $5 burgers on Wednesday nights so we take the kids there sometimes. I always tell people to visit here even though it isn’t what it used to be. The food hasn’t changed even though the vibe has.
Gyro Spot: They just opened last week and I walked down from my office to try it today (10/11/22). They were super friendly and so fast, but the gyro wasn’t great, to be honest. I got a lamb and beef one and the meat was tough and chewy. Maybe they’re still working out the kinks so I’ll give them another try, but for now, I’m gonna say, “meh”.
New England Soup Factory: It’s soup. All kinds of soup. If you go to their website, there’s a phone number for the “Soup Line” and it’ll give you a recorded message of today’s soup.
⭐️ Boston Burger Company: Giant burgers with weird, wonderful ingredients piled on high. Delicious fries with all kinds of toppings. And these gigantic milkshakes (Or I guess in New England they’re called frapps) that are piled high with things like candy and cake on top. I think everything is too expensive here, but most of it is so big that it’s good for sharing.
Adriatic: This is a Mediterranean restaurant. We’ve only been here once. Everything was good… I think. I don’t remember what I ordered so I guess it wasn’t very memorable. I remember thinking we should come back though, so I guess we should!
Passage to India: Good Indian food. Nice staff. This is also a great place to order delivery if you don’t feel like venturing out of your hotel room.
The Derby: Basic American food. Burgers and salads and pastas and what-not. Again, one of those places where the food is fine, but it’s nothing special. I think the prices here are better than Rockafellas and it’s the same type of food.
Church Street: (Starting at Washington)
⭐️⭐️ Turner’s Seafood: Love Turner’s. It looks like it’s really upscale but the prices are less expensive than you’d think. They’re also more kid-friendly than I would expect too. Everything we have had on their menu is delicious- From brunch, lunch, and dinner. Also, it is one of the most historic places in Salem. It was built on land that used to be owned by Bridget Bishop, the first person executed during the witch trials. And the building itself was built as a meeting house called Lyceum Hall. The first telephone call was received here. Alexander Graham Bell was in Boston and his colleague Thomas Watson picked up the phone here. Also so many famous people have been here. Edgar Allen Poe, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc. It’s just a really cool place (and it’s totally haunted.)
East Regiment Beer Co: They started serving food during the pandemic because they were forced to, and ended up getting pretty good at it. They make a mean grilled cheese sandwich, and I hear they’ve added a bunch of other yummy sandwiches to their menu. They have a great beer selection. Their basement is where I used to take tourists at the end of my tours when I owned Paranormal Salem because my office used to be right upstairs. So, if you’ve read my book, the first chapter takes place in the area that now holds tanks of fermenting beer. And the story about hearing a chair being dragged across the floor would have happened in what is now East Regiment.
⭐️ Essex Pizza (Inside Witch City Mall): Our teenager and his friends go here at least 3x a week. It’s their favorite pizza place in Salem. I can always get in and out quick during peak tourist season between walking tours. Their pizza is great, salads are great (I love their greek salad that comes with a squishy-soft pita bread), and their calzones are great. Everything is great.
⭐️ Thai Place: I know I’ve mentioned that sushi is not as good in New England as it is on the west coast, Thai is also not as good as the west coast. (All Asian foods are just better on the west coast… besides Chinese. Chinese food is way better here.) Anyway, this Thai food is the closest I’ve found to west coast Thai food. It’s also somewhere I can usually get into quickly during October in between tours. I actually try to not tell tourists to go here in October so that it’s my own little secret.
Rosadellas– This is a new bakery cafe. I’ve only been once so far for a coffee and it was quite tasty. I’ll definitely be back to try more things.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Goodnight Fatty: They make late-night cookies, and they also have some breakfast items. You have to continue all the way down Church Street as it turns into Brown Street and meets Hawthorne Blvd to get here. (Right next to the Salem Witch Museum) GO HERE. They’re only open Fri-Sun nights and their cookie selection changes every weekend. 3 flavors, warm right out of the oven. Always the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. I tell every tourist I meet to make sure you get fatties. They deliver, you can pick up, or you can eat there. They also have bottomless milk.
Essex Street (Starting at Summer Street- near the Witch House)
Bonchon Chicken: Korean fried chicken and fries. Sandwiches and sides. Good for lunch.
⭐️ Life Alive: Fresh, organic, vegetarian cafe with really flavorful bowls and salads. They have wraps and smoothies too but I really love their bowls. Justin and the kids are not a fan of this place but I love it. It’s colorful, healthy, and filling, and the prices are good. It’s a great lunch spot as my office is close by.
The Counter/The Roof (at the Salem Hotel): I have not eaten at The Counter yet, but I believe it’s the same food as The Roof. The Roof is a roof-top bar and the drinks are crazy priced for tourists. I’ve only been once. We had some appetizers and the vibe and view was pretty cool and made us feel like we were on vacation.
⭐️ Red Line Cafe: This is my go-to place for coffee. People will disagree with me but I think this is the best coffee in Salem because it reminds me of any Seattle-area espresso stand. They have homemade chocolate croissants and their sandwiches and salads are really fresh and delicious. AND it has the best spot for people watching. Sit at the bar at the window and watch people walk down Essex Street. It’s fun.
Polonus European Deli: Pierogis are what you order here. A quick snack on the go.
Village Tavern: Basic American Fare. Burgers, Salads, Pasta, etc. Good food, great desserts. I don’t like that they charge you $5 to upgrade regular fries to sweet potato fries (or onion rings, salad, etc.) That seems ridiculous to me. (O’neills will give you whatever side you want with your burger or sandwich for no additional charge.) This place is always still hopping with loud music when we walk by after a night of tours and ghost hunts in October. Salem’s only spot for night life, if you can call it that.
Brew Box: Decent coffee. They have “cereal milk” that’s fun for the kids. It changes flavors every… day? week? It’s just like it sounds. Milk that’s flavored like it’s been sitting in cereal. They also have pretty good breakfast biscuits.
Olde Main Street Pub: This place is kind of weird when you walk in. When we first went, we didn’t really know if we were supposed to wait to be seated, or if we went in the wrong door, or what to do. And we felt like we were completely ignored. Servers would walk right past us. It happened twice when we tried to go and we gave up. We finally went in the dead of winter, and finally had a meal here. It was fine. American pub food.
Tavern on the Green (Or just “The Tavern” if you’re looking on GPS. It’s inside the Hawthorne Hotel): The Hawthorne is a cozy historic hotel and the restaurant has a crackling fireplace. The staff is so friendly and the food is very good. We have been for dinner and also weekend brunch. All was delicious.
Bella Verona: I hear a lot of tour guides recommending Bella Verona as their go-to restaurant in Salem. It’s a really authentic, quaint little Italian place with a great staff. We’ve only been once, but we plan to visit more often.
Side Streets (Most of these are between Essex and Derby, and a few off Lafayette on the other side of Derby)
Maria’s Sweet Somethings: Ice cream and candy. A big selection. They only take cash but they have an ATM inside.
Front Street Coffee House: This is my second favorite coffee/lunch spot after Red Line Cafe. They have great coffee and sandwiches and I go often for lunch.
⭐️ Lobster Shanty: I should probably give the shanty 2 or even 3 stars but we don’t go here very often. I don’t know why. We really should. It’s great food, and they’ve even been on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. They close for a few months in the off-season and we sort of forget about them when they’re tucked in artist row. I do really love the vibe of the place, and their outdoor patio is a great place to hang out in the summer.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ Reds Sandwich Shop: Best breakfast in Salem and it’s the restaurant we frequent the most in town. We’re regulars here. The servers know what drinks we want before we sit down. You cannot go wrong with anything on their menu. Omelets, pancakes the size of your head, amazing sausage patties, sandwiches, THE BEST FRIES. Go here. Don’t miss Reds. Anyone who visits us from out of town comes with us to Reds. UPDATE: Reds was just bought by a total right-wing whack job. I don’t like to get political, and I know there are restaurants in town that I frequent who have different political beliefs than I do, and I go there anyway… but this guy is really, really bad. I don’t think I can eat here anymore and I’m so sad. ❌???
Barrio Tacos: Brand new taco place. I noticed they had quite a few bad reviews as they’re working out the kinks. I liked it. You build your own street tacos by choosing ingredients by filling out a little order sheet. Their prices are great and I think their tacos were pretty tasty. I loved their salsa, it has a smoky flavor. Their margarita was delicious, made with fresh lime… but very weak. I agree with reviews saying not to expect a buzz here.
Adeas Mediterranean Grill: Fresh tasty Israeli cuisine. Only open for lunch. Amazing hummus.
Spitfire Tacos: I have not been here yet but I keep meaning to try it. Our son has been though and he says they’re the best street tacos he has had since we left Mexico. And he likes that they have Mexican coke in glass bottles.
Crave– They make delicious breakfast sandwiches. And my favorite part… you can order them as a bowl with an arugula salad instead of bread. They also make amazing pastries and great coffee.
Witch City Hibachi: Your basic hibachi place… you know the type where they grill the food in front of you and tell a lot of jokes and throw food at you. It’s really good though. Their sushi and bento boxes are great too.
AJ King: I’ve probably only been inside here once. I’ve had their breads and baked goods all over town though and they’re delicious. I think they have sandwiches but I’ve never tried one. Another thing to try and update this list!
Paprika Grill: Middle Eastern Doner wraps, falafel and greek-style plates. It’s a take-out window next to the Salem Wax Museum just off Derby Street. They have a few small tables outside. Fresh and really good.
Derby Street (Starting at Washington after The Derby)
⭐️⭐️ Howling Wolf Taqueria: I think Howling Wolf hands-down has the best nachos, like, ever on the whole planet (and I’ve had a lot of nachos in a lot of places, so this is saying a lot.) And their margaritas are strong and decently priced.
Flip the Bird: Amazing chicken sandwiches. They have a few locations around the north shore. This would be a good lunch spot to check out.
Engine House Pizza: It’s pizza. Your basic decent pizza.
Jolie Tea Company: I have not been in for high tea yet with the little sandwiches, but their tea is great, the decor is adorable, and they have great macaroons.
Casa Tequila: I’m picky about my Mexican food. This place is just ok. I’d pick nachos at Howling Wolf any day over anything on the menu over here. The staff is nice and it has a much different vibe than Howling Wolf though- It’s more “Family Mexican Restaurant” rather than “Hip American-Mexican Bar”.
Flatbread: They’re closed… new owner coming soon, I think? I’ll keep this as a placeholder for whatever ends up here. Edit: A new Flatbread company moved in. We have not been down to try them yet but will update when we do.
⭐️ Bambolina: Super amazing fancy pizza. (You know, like, not delivery-style pizza but up-scale Italian wood-fired pizza) My best friend’s son works here and they’re good friends with the owner. Awesome all around. The owner also owned a ramen noodle place called Kokeshi, and during the pandemic, they closed it and shared one kitchen and would only offer Kokeshi for take-out. I guess they decided to close Kokeshi for good and just add all of their asian meals to Bambolina’s menu permanently. So, it’s a little different to blend Italian and Asian together, but… why not? Their Colonel Sanders Ramen is so good and enough to take home for leftovers.
Lulu’s Bakery and Pantry: They have decent sandwiches and baked goods. I like their iced mocha because they don’t put a ton of chocolate in it. It’s just a subtle chocolatey sweetness… BUT just like Odd Meter, there’s only two shots of espresso in their large size. Front Street Coffeehouse puts 4 shots of espresso in the same size for pretty much the same price. And The Bees Knees at Wolf Next Door also has 4 shots for the same price. So choose this coffee if you are looking for a treat, not if you’re needing an extra pick me up.
Brothers Taverna: When we lived in Salem previously, this place was just called Brothers and it was an inexpensive cafeteria-style restaurant. It’s a sit-down restaurant now. They have good breakfast and are the only place in Salem that has hashbrowns in addition to homefries. (I don’t know why hashbrowns are not popular in New England.) But my favorite thing so far on their menu is the chicken kabob dinner. The chicken is so tender it melts in your mouth and it comes with mashed potatoes and steamed vegetables. Writing this makes me want to walk over there and order that right now.
Notch Brewing: Notch has a great beer selection. It’s popular in restaurants throughout MA, and it’s available in cans in the grocery stores. When you get it at the tap house, it just tastes even better. They have appetizers that change each.. month? I think? They’ll have Czech style apps, then change to German apps, etc. It’s a cool spot to hang out, especially in the summer when they have tables outside.
⭐️ All Souls’ Lounge: Really cool vibe, great drinks, fancy grilled cheese sandwiches at a decent price. Our go-to grown-up bar. It’s small though and can get pretty crowded.
Jodi Bee Bakes- This is a vegan bakery and they have a lot of gluten free items. It’s all delicious.
❌ Bit Bar: This is the one and only place in Salem that I tell people NOT to eat. Their food is awful. It’s always cold and too salty. I’m pretty sure all their food just comes frozen from some food service company and they fry it up and add salt… and then leave it back there to get soggy and cold. Their staff always seems overwhelmed. The only thing I’ve ever had that was halfway decent was their guacamole. I think it’s made in-house. That being said, it’s a cool place. Go for the drinks and go for the games. Don’t eat there. Also, something to note, teenagers cannot go here by themselves. I think that’s the dumbest business model ever. Our son and his friends all have jobs downtown and their own money. They meet up to eat at places all over town together… but they’re not allowed to go to the restaurant that’s full of arcade games? So dumb. These kids would spend so much money here if they were able. I don’t think teenagers even care if the food sucks. They’re bottomless pits. Update: I saw on their facebook page that they want to hire a new chef to create a new menu. Crossing my fingers that the food gets better soon. I’ll update when I hear more.
Brodies Seaport: We’ve only been here twice. I had a burger once and did not like it. It’s really thick and dry. And the other time I had a chicken sandwich that had pesto I think? I don’t remember what was all on it but it was delicious. I just hopped on their website to find out the name of it and I don’t see it on the menu. So, I guess I’m not sure what’s good here. I have had a 50/50 experience.
Jaho: My least favorite coffee shop in Salem (which is a bummer because it’s the closest one to us.) Every time I order a hot coffee here, it’s cold. I order it extra hot, and it’s still cold. Iced coffee is fine. An iced hanoi is really good. Sandwiches are decent. Jaho is good but really expensive. And if you look at their menu board, their drinks are not priced. I think they up their prices during tourist season, or maybe just whenever they feel like it. You never know how much you’ll be paying. It’s a little weird.
Wolf Next Door Coffee: Cute little take-out neighborhood coffee shop. I like their chai lattes, and their “Bees Knees” is amazing! So, so good. It’s 4 shots of espresso with milk and honey. Their coffee is never bitter. Also, they make delicious breakfast sandwiches. Super fluffy eggs and crunchy bacon.
Witches Brew Cafe: I don’t know what’s going on with this place. They’re hardly ever open, and when they are open there’s hardly anyone inside. I have not been here since we lived in Salem previously. I have fond memories here though. My Tarot cards found me here over a decade ago. (Yes, my cards found me, I didn’t find them.)
⭐️ ⭐️ Mercy Tavern: Another of our favorite places. I’d give it 3 stars but it’s a small place and we’ll probably be there and you’ll be taking up our table 😉 The BEST burgers and they’re $8 on Tuesdays. They also have amazing mac n’ cheese (like, maybe the best ever.) and really good salads. Amazing drinks and super nice staff. Love Mercy Tavern. And they’re kid friendly too. We usually start out here with the kids and then send them home and stay a little longer for an extended date night. They also recently began serving Sunday brunch. There is no bad food here.
Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream: Their “Witches Brew” ice cream has all sorts of things in it and is one of my favorites.
Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie: I know I left out all the other candy places around town (but noted the ice cream and coffee places!) but I’m putting this one on the list because it’s America’s oldest candy company and that’s really cool. Check it out. It’s right across the street from the House of the Seven Gables.
VFW: The VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) is open to the public and they have a great menu and cheap food. Not many tourists venture this far down the road or even think to go inside, but it’s decent bar food and good appetizers.
The Landing: This is a tiny little outdoor bar only open in the summer at the Salem Ferry dock. Drinks and appetizers with a view of the ferry coming and going. It’s kind of cool.
Pickering Wharf (and Congress Street)
Antique Table: This is on Congress Street. A great little Italian place. The decor is really cute and it’s so much bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. Cool vibe and good food. It just occurred to me that we don’t visit here nearly as much as we should.
Regatta Pub (inside the Waterfront Hotel): I honestly wasn’t expecting a whole lot from this place and it was one of the last restaurants we visited in Salem. I was pleasantly surprised. The staff is super friendly and the food is really good. I like their fried fish sandwich. Their tartar sauce is amazing.
⭐️ Longboards: We come here a lot. One of my good friends works here and it has the best prices on the wharf (and if you didn’t already know, we live on our boat right here at Pickering Wharf.) Flatbreads are good, burgers are good, sandwiches are good. Bar food, bar games, tv’s, patio tables and chairs on nice days. Family and pet friendly.
Popped Popcorn: This place is owned by Longboards, and if you eat at Longboards first, your receipt will give you a discount at Popped. It’s yummy-flavored kinds of popcorn, and also ice cream.
Ocean’s Edge: This place is not open. I’ll keep this as a place-holder to write about what opens in this spot next.
⭐️ Finz and Sea Level: These restaurants are right on the water and we live right on the dock next to them. They are owned by the same person so I’m just grouping them as one restaurant. (Super nice guy. He’s married to Evie’s 2nd grade teacher actually.). Everything on the menu at both places is good. It’s mostly seafood but they also have burgers and salads, etc. I believe Sea Level is a bit less expensive and slightly less upscale than Finz. We visit both restaurants pretty frequently but visit Sea Level more often.
Outside of Downtown (A few places worth mentioning within a quick drive or a long walk)
⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Salem Willows: The Willows isn’t far from downtown. If you wanted to get a good walk in, you can get there on foot. It’s a park on the water with a whole bunch of tiny restaurants that are only open in the summer. Most famously, Hobbs Popcorn (the best popcorn in the whole world and anyone who comes to Salem should not miss stopping by for a bag) There’s also seafood, pizza, tacos, ice cream, an arcade, and a beautiful view.
⭐️ Deacon Giles Distillery: Really cool place to get a craft cocktail.
Salem’s Retreat: Decent breakfast place with a parking lot out back off of North Street. I like their garden omelet, they use american cheese. Melty goodness. (It used to be called Leslie’s Retreat after the story about how the Revolutionary War almost started… I think it’s dumb the new owners changed the name. Google the history of the bridge.)
Maria’s Place: Another great breakfast place just slightly out of downtown.
Phew… well, I hope that’s it. I bet I’ll be walking down the street and realize I completely forgot somewhere. I’ll update this list the more we try new things!