Jamaica Plain may not be the easiest part of Boston to get to from the downtown section of the city, but those willing to make the relatively long trip down there by the T (or those who have cars and don't mind driving along the at-times scary Arborway and Jamaicaway) will find a number of restaurants, some of which are quite good. And this funky neighborhood also has a lot of bars, including a few Irish pubs as well as some old-school dives and neighborhood joints. One spot that straddles the line between dive and local watering hole is Costello's Tavern, which happens to reside right in the heart of the commercial area of JP on Centre Street. And yet even after many decades of being in business, the place remains little-known to many, including some who live in the neighborhood itself. It could be because Costello's looks a bit rough-and-tumble from the outside or because there are some terrific alternatives nearby that are more upscale, but this is a place that isn't scary at all, and also happens to have some of the best burgers within the Boston city limits--though with a caveat (more on this in a bit).
The exterior of Costello's Tavern looks not unlike a few other drinking establishments in Jamaica Plain including the Galway House (which is across the street) and the Jeanie Johnston, and like the Galway House, Costello's isn't as sketchy on the inside as it might appear from the street. The interior of the place feels vaguely like the long-closed Cambridge institution Nick's Beef and Beer House (minus the plastic logs and cylindrical colored hanging lights), with a long bar to the right, a mix of booths and high-top tables elsewhere, dim lighting, and TVs that tend to show the local teams when they're playing. The clientele here is very mixed, with blue-collar folks rubbing elbows with artists, college students, yuppies, retirees, and others.
The food at Costello's Tavern will never be mistaken for what you might find at such upscale gastropubs, but it does offer above-average takes on bar food. Two musts at Costello's include the chili cheese fries--which are some of the best that this writer has had in the local area in part due to the quality of the handcut fries--and the aforementioned burgers. The one thing to keep in mind here is, it is not wise to order the char-broiled burgers well-done or even medium-well, for that matter, as they can be dry. But if you order them medium, they are absolutely marvelous, with the char on the outside going perfectly with the juiciness of the interior (and toppings such as bleu cheese, bacon, roasted red peppers, mushrooms, and chili only add to the flavor). Some burgers you can get away with ordering medium-well or well-done; not here, however. If you're in the mood for something other than a burger, the wings and boneless tenders are very good here (excellent buffalo sauce) as well as the marinated steak tips, and the pizzas are also worth getting, with the buffalo chicken being one of the better options. Sandwiches include reubens, BLTs, turkey with all the fixings, and a veggie wrap, a number of hot dog options are available, and for those who come to the place on weekends, a brunch with French toast, pancakes, breakfast burritos, and more is offered. Beers at Costello's include a mix of popular American options and a few craft beers, and mixed drinks and shots are not uncommon here (especially among some of the regulars).
There are so many options for dining in Jamaica Plain these days that it is tough to recommend just one, but if you are looking for a completely unpretentious old-school watering hole with good pub grub--and terrific burgers--you can't go wrong with Costello's Tavern. Just remember to tell them not to leave the burger cooking for too long.
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