AR080301055H1.jpg(300)Boston has undergone a radical transformation since it last hosted the AIA convention 16 years ago: The Big Dig has turned the site of the elevated Central Artery into a mile-long necklace of parks, which are giving once-landlocked neighborhoods like Chinatown room to spread out. Meanwhile, neighborhoods that had been on the “wrong” side of the Artery are suddenly accessible, and booming. And there are plenty of new boutiques, restaurants, and watering holes emerging throughout Boston and Cambridge.

With the AIA returning to Boston this May, we asked half a dozen local architects—Eric Höweler and Meijin Yoon of Höweler + Yoon; Mark Pasnik of over, under; David Hacin of Hacin+Associates; Preston Scott Cohen of Preston Scott Cohen Inc.; Bill Whitlock of Whitlock Architects; and Monica Ponce de Leon of Office dA—for suggestions on where to find a good cocktail, dine with colleagues, and shop for the loved ones back home. And because seminar burnout will inevitably set in, they also recommended some great places to play hooky.

Architecture

MIT is an architectural hot spot, where it's worth seeing Frank Gehry's Stata Center and Steven Holl's Simmons Hall, both flawed but fascinating extravaganzas. While you're on campus, visit a pair of classics: Eero Saarinen's ethereal chapel and Alvar Aalto's stolid Baker House dormitory. mit.edu

A walk around the Harvard campus should qualify you for a master's in architectural history. Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center competes for attention with pre-modern masterworks by H.H. Richardson, Richard Morris Hunt, and McKim, Mead & White. Leers Weinzapfel, the AIA's 2007 firm of the year, has completed three buildings at Harvard, including the New College Theatre (formerly the Hasty Pudding Club). And the graduate dormitory by Machado and Silvetti, across the river in Allston, is worth a gander for its far-out brickwork.

AR080301055H2.jpg(300)That two firms known for their radical designs have completed their largest buildings to date in Boston says a lot about the city's rekindled architectural ambitions. Both are visible from the convention center. The Institute of Contemporary Art, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, is drawing crowds to South Boston for an afternoon; the MacAllen, a condo building by Office dA, is making them want to live there. ICA, 100 Northern Ave., 617.478.3100, icaboston.orgThe MacAllen, 141 Dorchester Ave.

The city is also a treasure trove of buildings by the late Paul Rudolph—it's hard to miss the vast, castlelike Government Service Center (bordering Cambridge, Staniford, Merrimac, and New Chardon streets). The First Church in Boston and the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Building, which has been slated for demolition, are lesser, but no less intriguing, Rudolph creations. First Church in Boston, 66 Marlborough St., 617.267.6730, fscboston.orgBlue Cross/Blue Shield, 133 Federal St.

Pink Comma is the first gallery in Boston devoted to contemporary architecture. On May 15, it will unveil Young Boston, a show of nine of the city's up-and-coming firms. 81B Wareham St., 617.426.4466, pinkcomma.com

AR080301055H3.jpg(300)Food

Olives, the restaurant that launched the career of celebrity-chef Todd English, is a Boston classic still going strong, says architect Bill Whitlock. He also recommends No. 9 Park, facing the Boston Common—for “amazing food” by one of Boston's culinary rock stars, Barbara Lynch (“the Berkshire pork loin is unbelievable, and the wine list is superb,” he says) and décor—with unfussy velvet banquettes and beaded chandeliers by husband-and-wife designers Jeff and Cheryl Katz. Olives, 10 City Square, 617.242.1999, toddenglish.com No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., 617.742.9991, no9park.com

The South End is full of hot new restaurants, says David Hacin, who lives and works in the neighborhood. His favorite eatery is Myers + Chang, “a very buzzy, upscale Chinese restaurant.” 1145 Washington St., 617.542.5200, myspace.com/myersandchang

Mark Pasnik recommends Stella, an Italian restaurant on historic Blackstone Square, and Banq, a brand new restaurant in an old bank building, smartly updated by Office dA, offering Asian-and-French-inflected cuisine. Blackstone Square, 1525 Washington St., 617.247.7747, bostonstella.com Banq, 1375 Washington St., 617.451.0077, banqrestaurant.com