JAMES ROSE
Food & Drink

The Best Restaurants in Boston Right Now

Published On 10/09/2017
Alden & Harlow

Alden & Harlow

West Cambridge

Michael Scelfo’s inaugural solo joint took over the iconic Casablanca space on Brattle St and brought Harvard Square a tasty repertoire of shareable plates that included everything from chicken-fried rabbit and fried Brussels sprouts to the Hub’s new favorite secret burger. The seasonal cocktail list is its own distinct pleasure, and one worth revisiting frequently. Order the “That’ll Do” -- it’s made with a smoked pork-infused scotch, absinthe, and Green Mountain Maple Liqueur.

Fawn Deviney

Branch Line

Watertown

It’s still hard to wrap our heads around there being fine dining near Arsenal Mall. But what Strip-T’s started, Branch Line now continues. The beautiful new space from Eastern Standard folks Garrett Harker and Andrew Holden headlines its menu with rotisserie chicken (or rotisserie cauliflower for the vegetarians). The salted avocado and fried cheese are already celebrated starters, and the prime bavette steak is an entree you’ll be craving when the mercury plummets. Stay tuned for warm-weather bocce.

Michael Piazza Photography

Craigie on Main

Central Square

Chef Tony Maws had us at Craigie Street Bistrot, and then cemented our love with his bigger Central Square space. It’s not just about his magazine-cover model of a burger, which should never overshadow the nightly wonders coming out of the kitchen, be it chicken stuffed with dates and sausage or an entire roasted pig’s head for two. The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Maws’ second restaurant off Inman Square, helps feed the soul in between Craigie visits (see below), but it should never supplant its fountainhead.

Flickr/Matthew Mendoza

Giulia

Harvard Square

The strangely forgotten stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter is home to some of Cambridge’s buried gems (West Side Lounge, Cambridge Common), but Giulia is a true diamond. Chef Michael Pagliarini spends hours each day rolling out his doughs at the restaurant’s pasta table, which produces some great corn and brown butter agnolotti, whole wheat penne with pork sausage, and pappardelle with wild boar. If you’re a Paleo nut who insists on denying yourself the area’s greatest carbs, you can make carnivorous do with the grilled bone-in beef rib-eye with lemon, sea salt, and salsa verde.

Hojoko

Hojoko

Fenway-Kenmore

Hipster hotel izakaya? It’s just too good. Tim and Nancy Cushman took a hard right turn from O Ya to give us a cheeky, accessible hangout inside The Verb Hotel. Creative maki rolls, ramen, and robata, yes, but also the most wondrous hot dog in all of Boston: the bacon-wrapped, jalapeño-stuffed Doggzilla. The much-discussed drink menu gives you frozen Tiki classics and tweaks on your famous trough cocktails -- yep, we’re talking scorpion bowls.

Michael Piazza Photography

The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

Somerville

There are so many reasons to hit up Maws’ more casual gastropub, but we’re just gonna highlight three here: Hot Dog Mondays, which invite area chefs to put their spin on the encased American classic; the hearty brunch, a meat lover’s paradise of beef tongue & brisket hash and grilled kielbasa; and the Sunday afternoon fried chicken specials, which currently dovetail nicely with our plan to watch football all day.

Flickr/justinliew

L'Espalier

Back Bay

Every Bostonian should feel like a Brahmin for one night. Chef Frank McClelland’s exquisite play on regional ingredients makes the $118 seasonal tasting gustation seem like an absolute bargain (and sure, spring for the wine pairings!). Lunch service, weekend tea, and the salon menu all let the more budgeted among us dip a toe in the highborn world. New to the lineup is the weekend prix fixe brunch -- as in, both Saturday and Sunday -- that lets you have your caviar omelette and eat foie gras, too.

Sarma

Sarma

Somerville

Did we think even twice about Turkish spices before Ana Sortun came along? Oleana set the stage for her second, already revered spot -- our favorite place for group outings when a vegetarian or two is involved. We’re talking almost 40 Mediterranean small plates, from salmon falafel to Brussels sprout brava to pork and eggplant dumplings. And then there’s that cocktail program unlike any other -- when’s the last time you found geranium or saffron in your drink?

James Rose

Select Oyster Bar

Back Bay

Michael Serpa left Neptune Oyster? Nooo! Serpa opened an epic solo spot in the Back Bay? Yes yes yes! The townhouse space pays proper homage to New England seafood with dishes like blue prawns a la plancha and whole roasted seabream. Oysters are aplenty, as are razor clams, Jonah crab claws, dressed lobster, and a seafood-friendly wine program. Reservations can only be made through Reserve, and a flat 20% tip is added to every bill, eliminating the mental gymnastics of tipping protocol.

Shepard

Shepard

Harvard Square

Two restaurant vets, Rene Becker and Susan Regis, took over the popular Chez Henri space on Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter Squares and turned it into something equally alluring, if not more so: a neighborhood spot that celebrates our seasonal bounties with French flair but zero pretension. The half-chicken is one of those simple marvels that reminds you to ask why every restaurant in town isn’t executing this well.

The Tasting Counter

Tasting Counter

Somerville

Once you buy your way into chef Peter Ungár’s space and create an online profile specifying your tastes, you leave your dining fate in the hands of the kitchen, which prepares your meal in front of an intimate 20-seat counter. Oysters with cucumber-seaweed gel? Chocolate-covered venison? Nashi pear and candied Meyer lemon? Not a problem. Every dish is outlandishly inventive and well worth the $165- to $180-per-person cost, especially considering that includes tax, gratuity, and drink pairings.

Townsman

Townsman

Downtown Crossing

The national hype came fast: Esquire named Townsman one of the nation’s best new restaurants in October. But we get it. Chef Matt Jennings fastidiously sources his ingredients, then plays with classic New England dishes in unexpected ways: deviled eggs with crispy hen skin, clam chowder with squid, crispy bBrussels sprouts with pork fat croutons, quail a la plancha. The crudos, cheeses, and charcuteries could make a whole meal on another night; either way, you must start with the dry martini service with “All the fixins'.”

Uni Sashimi Bar

UNI

Back Bay

The bad news: Clio, Ken Oringer’s long-venerated Back Bay dining room, recently bid adieu forever. The good news: It’s been replaced by a larger version of UNI, Boston's jewel of a sashimi bar. The new restaurant expands UNI's adventurousness and gives equal love to hot dishes like Japanese milk bread, brown butter seared abalone, and wagyu beef dumplings. Save some room for the cold stuff as well, which now includes many nigiri and maki options in addition to inventive sashimis. And not to worry: The late-night ramen menu is not only intact, but expanded, and now available on Thursday nights as well.

Worden Hall

Worden Hall

South Boston

This animated, clubby spot snuck up on us this fall. Let’s start with the pizza: Our city lacks the authentic deep-dish varietal, but it’s here, along with classics entrees like grilled flat iron steak and an addictive Kobe hot dog served Chicago-style. The 100-strong whiskey menu is its own joyride.

Nina Gallant

Yvonne's

Downtown Crossing

Yvonne's got it right: You don’t replace Locke-Ober, you pay homage. It saved what was important -- namely, the 19th-century mahogany bar -- but otherwise created an au courant supper club that turns out crispy tater cubes and popcorn brulee to complement both its classic and heretical cocktails. With the Brahmin-meets-Bieber vibe of the space, there's little surprise that it’s become the most Instagrammed restaurant in Boston.

Mike Diskin

Tiger Mama

Fenway-Kenmore

We’ll follow Tiffani Faison anywhere, but thankfully she simply skipped down the street for her follow-up to Sweet Cheeks. That said, it’s a 180-degree turn from her down-home Q sanctum: Tiger Mama is neon lights, punchy Tiki cocktails, and umami heaven. The menu explores all manner of spicy, crunchy Southeast Asian cuisine, from crispy chili potatoes to Singapore street noodles to lamb roti. Come with a crowd to hit up the banquet-style dishes, which include salt and pepper monkfish tail and chili crab (with, dear god, beurre blanc). The only thing you shouldn’t eat? The herbs growing on the vertical indoor garden.

Morgan Ione Yeager

SRV

South End

Don’t know what a Bacaro is? Simple, really: It’s a Venetian wine bar, and it’s your new favorite dining conceit. SRV (Serene Republic of Venice) is a small plates/pasta haven, which means you get to sample beef carpaccio and green garlic risotto, smoked sea trout and ricotta gnudi. For the full family meal experience, spring for the shared Arsenale menu, which puts you entirely at the gastronomic mercy of the SRV kitchen. Also? This is the place where you and your vegetarian friends can dine equally well.

Brassica Kitchen

Brassica Kitchen + Cafe

Jamaica Plain

If you've been breathlessly wondering what had happened to the Whisk pop-up group, get ready to exhale. Co-chefs and owners Jeremy Kean and Phil Kruta have finally put down roots, though that hardly means they’ve settled down. Expect the same unpredictable French-influenced fare, experienced either as a tasting menu or a la carte. The seasons dictate the menu, but peekytoe crab salad, a wild mushroom omelette, and duck l’orange might all make an appearance. If French simply isn’t where your head’s at, American comfort will save the evening, in the form of either the customized house burger (pork belly as a topping?!) or the country-style fried chicken.

Ren Fuller

The Table at Season to Taste

North Cambridge

The Table at Season to Taste may be (OK, is) super-awkwardly named, but it's splendidly committed to seasonal cuisine and French techniques. If you're going to eat one prix fixe meal all year, you might as well go for this one: foie gras mousse and duck leg confit, served with purple mustard, almonds, and pickled cherries.

Huge Galdones Photography

Waypoint

Harvard Square

Michael Scelfo's latest Harvard Square venture was guaranteed to be a hit, but he certainly isn't resting on laurels. Think of Waypoint as the Alden & Harlow maestro going by sea instead of land. The snack selection includes raw-bar munchies, from caviar to peel-and-eat shrimp, and small plates that include such choices as tallow-fried peanuts. Pizzas come with atypical toppings like chopped clam and smoked whitefish, and there are bowls of seafood pastas and larger plates like grilled monkfish cheek and king crab in chili garlic oil. To pair with all this ocean fare? A host of cocktails, including four featuring absinthe.

Courtesy of Banyan Bar and Refuge

Banyan Bar + Refuge

South End

Coming from the team behind The Gallows and Blackbird Doughnuts, this eatery features Asian gastropub fare from chef Phillip Tang (aka the pulled-noodle maestro behind the late, lamented East by Northeast). You can start with delicious oddities like scallop rangoon dip or mapo Frito pie, then lick your fingers and dive into larger-plate delicacies like fried cornish game hen and pastrami fried rice. And then, if you're like us, you'll start ordering cocktails for the names alone: Svelte Sumo (vodka, sake, lemon, cucumber), Sad Panda (gin, watermelon, aloe, lime), and Dharma Chameleon (shiso-infused gin, burnt cinnamon, lemon).

Courtesy of Saltie Girl

Saltie Girl

Back Bay

Tinned fish are having a moment, and we're not talking two-buck anchovies from Trader Joe's, either -- we mean Siberian caviar, octopus, eel, and cod liver, to name but four of the imported delicacies at Saltie Girl. For every clam chowder or lobster roll at the lilliputian seafood bar, there's another unexpected treat: uni Benedict, torched salmon belly, fried lobster and waffles, etc. Sit at the bar to watch the dish assembly happen in real time, and be sure to explore the wine menu that includes seven rosés.

Courtesy of Fat Hen

Fat Hen

Somerville

Housed inside the former La Brasa marketplace space, Fat Hen dishes up pasta with seasonal stuffings and toppings, and those wanting to go heartier can opt for secondi plates like lamb saddle or chicken al mattone. The charms of the super-cozy space are only enhanced by the little cocktail window, where drinks are passed through from the La Brasa bar.

Good Life Production

The Smoke Shop BBQ

East Cambridge

If you unabashedly love meat, you'll unabashedly love the Smoke Shop, the latest venture from noted pitmaster Andy Husbands of Tremont 647. Ribs, crispy pork skins, brisket, burnt ends, fried chicken: Basically all the good barbecue food groups are represented, but because you can't order everything at once, you'll want to make sure to come with a large group so you can eat off each other's plates.

Pabu Izakaya

PABU Boston

Downtown Crossing

Head to this new Downtown Crossing hotel spot for a date night of creative sushi, piping-hot robatayaki, and unique decor. The glam, modern izakaya from chef Michael Mina (who just happens to own a global dining empire, including the original PABU in San Francisco) brings next-level event dining to the suddenly happening DTX. Seasonal small plates like lobster and pork belly okonomiyaki and seared foie gras lead up to a massive sashimi and makimono menu. If you're feeling flush, go for a once-a-year splurge like the $115 Australian tomahawk steak for two.

PAGU

PAGU

Central Square

Tracy Chang, the still-under-30 sensation behind Guchi's Midnight Ramen, planted roots in a polished, open-kitchen space that introduces Central Square diners to the full array of her talents. Small-plate offerings like ikura avocado toast, sea scallop sashimi, and pork belly bao complement larger dishes like uni miso mazemen and Chang's take on the fried rice she ate as a child. Her global travels also result in menu surprises like the jamon and curry crab croquetas, while the a la carte and three-course lunch menus give you one more reason to ditch your sad desk salad. It's hard to resist any establishment that offers you a departing satsuma orange as a symbol of good luck, or one that's named after a dog ("pagu" is Japanese for "pug").

Zac Wolf

A4cade

Cambridge

What sort of four-star affair attracts regular lines out the door? Why, that would be a throwback arcade fronted by a famed grilled cheese joint. The Area Four team knows how to play to its base, which in this case means pairing Galaga with cocktails like There's No Crying in Skeeball (Chamucos, Lejay, lime). As for that food menu, there are 14 gooey options from the Roxy's Grilled Cheese maestros, plus burgers, dogs, and vanilla soft serve.

Maria DeNapoli

Buttermilk & Bourbon

Back Bay

Did the city need another Southern restaurant and another Jason Santos venture? Yup and yup. This subterranean Comm Ave space finally got the design love it deserved, with Santos embracing its moody, labyrinthine appeal and working with designers Michael and Erica Diskin to soften its edges with whitewashed brick and distressed wood seating. As for the New Orleans-inspired menu, it's indulgence upon indulgence: deviled egg toast, pork belly cracklings, shrimp & grits, and buttermilk fried chicken served three ways (Nashville hot, white barbecue, sweet and spicy). By all means, start with a frozen Voodoo Grenade (yes, there's an actual NOLA-style frozen drink machine behind the bar), but don't just drink your dessert -- beignets, after all, are also on the menu, served with vanilla bean whipped cream for dunking.

The New East Coast Grill

East Coast Grill

Cambridge

It closed, and we wept. Then it reopened, and we wept again, just this time with joy. Former ECG cooks and current Highland Kitchen owners Mark Romano and Marci Joy purchased the space from Jason Heard and Chris Schlesinger with the goal of preserving the menu's timeless appeal while adding a bit of new to the old. It's a wondrous marriage: The beloved Jerk Wings From Hell and grilled mahi-mahi now share menu space with Highland Kitchen's beloved buttermilk fried chicken. Ample barbecue plates are still front and center, now chased with Tiki-influenced cocktails from bartending virtuoso Joe McGuirk. And yup, Sunday brunch is also back, oysters, Bloody Marys, and all.

Jose Luis Martinez

Mida

South End

With its unpretentious yet sophisticated interior, Mida is all about humble, beautiful cooking. Chef/owner Douglass Williams draws from Italian influences and places a premium on seasonal ingredients to turn out homey fare like caponata toast, crispy duck wings, handmade ricotta gnocchi, and grilled beef collette. The menu rotates regularly, but the wine list remains committed to both Northern Italian and French bottles (although a Negroni starter doesn't hurt).

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Boston's Best New Restaurants of 2017

Published On 11/13/2017
B oston's culinary year wasn’t about big, splashy openings, but instead filled with sneaky surprises. We got a delightful little Quebecois bistro, a new Mario Batali Italian grill, a sleek yet unpretentious Japanese fusion spot, and more from restaurateurs both new and established. In general, eating in 2017 felt less about being seen and more about eating well -- a refreshing change of pace that felt right for our tumultuous times. Field & Vine's fried chicken and Frenchie's steak frites might have had something to do with that. As you browse our picks for Boston’s best new restaurants, just remember: none of these tables comes easy, so book your end-of-year dining plans now.
Nir Landau

Cafe du Pays

Kendall Square

The ne plus ultra of Boston's French Canadian fare
Who would have thought a French Canadian restaurant would be one of the year’s most exciting debuts? But the State Park/Mamaleh’s team lured us in immediately with dishes both familiar -- oysters, charcuterie, a crispy, fatty half-duck -- and uniquely Quebecois, including poutine, mushroom oreilles de crisse (a vegetarian twist on fried pork jowls), and tarte du sucre, or maple sugar pie. Even the sourdough bread slathered in butter and topped with radish slices is a snack to be savored. The dark, atmospheric back room is for romance, the brighter front space for large-group conviviality; for the sake of eating your way through the whole menu, we suggest multiple visits to both.

Brian Samuels

Frenchie Wine Bistro

South End

Cozy, accommodating French bistro and wine bar
There’s a little Francophile in all of us, which is why it’s so hard to resist even the most mediocre French bistro. But co-owners Sandrine Rossi and Loic Le Garrec (Petit Robert Bistro) know their way around an authentic French meal, and Frenchie is thus a small-scale revelation. The diminutive, subterranean space serves mostly small-plate versions of classic dishes: think escargot toast, a drumstick coq au vin, mussels with chorizo, and beef bourguignon. The 32 wines by the glass seal the deal, and a solo diner could do far worse than cozying up to the snug bar and ordering steak frites with a couple of glasses of French red.

Huge Galdones

Cultivar

Downtown

Sustainable, beautifully arranged new American cuisine
If there was one unambiguous Instagram food-porn star of 2017, Cultivar was it. The moment Mary Dumont’s hotel restaurant opened, stunningly plated entrees started populating our feeds. But none of this is about flashiness for its own sake; Dumont merely seeks to please as many of your senses as possible. Though sustainable seafood and dry-aged meats feature prominently on the menu, the on-site hydroponic garden is what elevates so many of the dishes, with bright, fresh vegetables adding texture and depth of flavor to both the pastas and entrees.

Emily Hagen

Les Sablons

Cambridge

Europe by way of Harvard Square and excellent for cocktails or foie gras
From the supergroup behind Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34 comes yet another unabashed winner, this one housed in Harvard Square’s historic Conductor’s Building. The first floor is bartender Jackson Cannon’s masterpiece, a funky, expansive cocktail space with a long bar, cow-print bar stools, and some booth seating. After you’ve downed a French 75 or three, head upstairs to the austere, narrow dining room for a decidedly European repast. Beef tartare and foie gras torchon are two of the decadent starters that segue into equally rich entrees like braised rabbit and beef tournedos with bordelaise. If you seek a less hedonistic spread, the lunch or brunch menus are your gateway drugs.

Tracy Chang

PAGU

Central Square

Japanese fusion in sleek loft space
Chef-owner Tracy Chang may not yet be 30, but the wunderkind has already cut her teeth at O Ya, built buzz with a late-night ramen pop-up, and now hit the big leagues with her restaurant debut. Hers is a Japanese menu with many twists and surprises: mazeman and fried rice and sashimi and a sumptuous pork belly bao, yes, but also ikura avocado toast, curry crab croquetas, and a tortilla espanola (Chang draws inspiration from many of her overseas travels). Don’t be fooled by the polished loft space: PAGU is a place of warmth and sociability, even in the early mornings when it serves a cafe menu that includes bottomless congee -- the ultimate comfort food before 9am.

Field & Vine

Field & Vine

Somerville

Neighborhood spot celebrating locally sourced comfort fare
Why can’t every restaurant be like this? Field & Vine plates simple American dishes impeccably prepared with seasonal, sustainable ingredients -- so simple, so straightforward, so successful. There isn’t a single miss on this small-plate menu, but highlights include the fried chicken, the gnocchi with foraged mushrooms and kale, and the bluefish pâté. The chocolate lavender pot de crème, meanwhile, arguably deserves its own Instagram account. The former Journeyman space, once chilly and inaccessible, now feels homey and pretension-free, with wood tables and an open kitchen  where you can watch the magic happen. This is a neighborhood spot you’d visit for some oysters and glass of sauvignon blanc on Monday and a multi-hour, multi-course spread with friends the following Saturday.

Courtesy of Eataly Boston

Terra

Back Bay

Eataly's homage to all things wood-grilled
This massive space feels a world removed from the controlled Eataly chaos downstairs, but you can feel Batali’s imprint nonetheless. Terra delivers on rugged, rich, primal cooking driven by the behemoth wood-fire burning stove in the center of the restaurant. You could eat your way through the skewers menu and leave sated and raving, but every entree offering gives you the salt and fat fix you crave, from the crispy, brick-grilled chicken to the extra-rare grilled lamb chop, seasoned only with lemon and mint. But gluten lovers needn’t fret: the bruschetta and pasta menus deserve equal love.