The Best Dishes We Ate This Year in Boston
From comforting fried chicken sandwiches to a new take on classic clam chowder, these are the dishes that got us though 2021.
With another year in the books, it’s time to reflect on the highlights of the year. And while 2021 may not have lived up to all that we had hoped it would be, there were some serious bright spots.
Sure, we had to grimace through Tom Brady’s first Super Bowl win without us, but we also saw some of our favorite bars finally reopen and welcomed a ton of new restaurants to the city, seemingly against all odds. Through all the ups and downs of this year in Beantown, this city’s incredible bars and restaurants brought us much-need comfort and opportunities to celebrate—and we couldn’t have gotten through 2021 without a handful of dishes from new restaurants. From comforting fried chicken sandwiches to a new take on classic New England clam chowder, here are the best dishes we ate this year.
Squid ink bao bun from PAGU
A dish that's sure to grab everyone's attention, PAGU's squid ink bao bun adds a colorful punch to any table at PAGU. Since owner Tracy Chang created her spin on an oyster-inspired po' boy, incorporating the deep-purple, delicate steamed bun, the dish has made a pretty significant mark on the restaurant's menu and within Boston's culinary scene. You can now get this acclaimed snack with unagi (grilled eel), pickled green apple, and spicy togarashi. Plus, as if the chef hasn’t made enough of an impact this year with her culinary skills, she’s also helped out the Boston community and beyond as the co-founder of two nonprofits including Project Restore Us, which provides families of essential workers in low income, high COVID-19 areas with groceries packed by restaurants.
—Jillian Hammell, Thrillist Contibutor
Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich at Fiya Chicken
Over the past few years, there’s been plenty of hype around the chicken sandwich, with popular chain restaurants continuing to ride the wave. However, if you’re looking to have the most quality chicken sandwich in the game, Fiya Chicken, near Boston University, blew the competition out of the water this year. The Korean fried chicken spot is known for the crispiness and powerful combination of flavors that make up the spot’s Korean fried chicken sandwich. Using a buttermilk kimchi brine and frying each piece of chicken twice, Fiya Chicken achieves an impressive crunch and epic burst of flavor in each bite. The sandwich is topped off with homemade pickles, kimchi, and garlic dijon aioli, but if you want to add more flavor into the mix, you can choose from other homemade sauces like soy garlic, spicy garlic, apple cider honey mustard, and signature FIYA style sauce, made with Korean peppers.
Aged gouda mac ‘n cheese from Buttermilk & Bourbon
Buttermilk & Bourbon’s second area location in Watertown made its grand debut in August, and in typical Jason Santos fashion, the Southern-style menu is positively brimming with ultra-flavorful dishes. Santos’ deep affinity for New Orleans is evident with Cajun-inspired plates like crawfish and dumplings and freshly fried beignets, but if you’re aiming to hit the calorie high score, the aged gouda mac ‘n cheese is a top contender. This decadent dish comes loaded with pork scraps, fresh chives, and a healthy dose of red hot dust from a bag of Cheetos, each ingredient melting together to form an abundantly savory selection that pairs perfectly with a bourbon flight.
How to try it: Book a table at the Back Bay or Watertown location via OpenTable. Order pickup via website.
—Jared Ranahan, Thrillist Contributor
The Chowda flatbread from The Banks Fish House
Clam chowder is a tried and true classic for New Englanders, but there’s always room for innovation when it comes to this beloved dish. Case in point—The Chowda flatbread. This deconstructed clam chowder pizza is one of many savory seafood dishes found at The Banks Fish House, a Robert Sisca-led venue that arrived in Back Bay in July. Dressed with a hearty creme fraiche sauce and loaded with smoked bacon, potatoes, clams, and oyster crackers, this dish is a truly fun and delicious take on New England’s—and quite possibly the entire nation’s—most iconic soup.
How to try it: Book a table via OpenTable. Order pickup and delivery via Doordash.
Meatball Gigante from Bar Enza
A very recent newcomer to Boston’s food and drink scene, the Charles Hotel’s Bar Enza is already off to a strong start. Led by Michelin-starred chef Mark Ladner, the cozy neo-trattoria has been serving up a whole slate of savory Italian dishes and expertly-crafted spritzes since September, but for certified meat lovers, the meatball gigante is pretty tough to beat. Ground pork, beef, and veal all unite to form an orb of mammoth proportions, which is then gently placed on a bed of potato purée and bathed in a hearty helping of tomato sugo.
How to try it: Book a table via Resy
Pastitsio Rollo from Krasi
Think Greek food is all just gyros and olives? Think again. In the heart of Back Bay, Krasi continues to highlight the diverse array of flavors and ingredients found all across the nation of Greece—and with roughly 200 inhabited islands, they certainly have a lot of options to consider. This year, Krasi rolled out pastitsio rollo, a savory dish that’s brimming with braised short rib, cinnamon, and homemade egg pasta. Popular on the western Greek island of Zakynthos, this dish is just one of many at Krasi that stand as a testament to the restaurant’s position as a leader in showing off the deep culinary roots forged across this Aegean nation.
How to try it: Book a table via OpenTable. Order pickup via website.
Culurgiones at Bar Volpe
The James Beard award-winning and former Top Chef contestant, chef Karen Akunowicz, only unveiled Bar Volpe in November but the menu has already made its mark on the city. Specifically, the Southern Italian-inspired restaurant’s culurgiones, stuffed with potato, goat cheese, and traditional tomato sugo are an early favorite. Hailing from Sardinia, Italy, the uniquely shaped pasta is traditionally stuffed with potatoes and mint, then folded and pinched together to lock in the flavorful filling. After perfecting how to make homemade Sardinian culurgiones during her time in Modena, Italy, we have Akunowicz to thank for bringing the dish to Boston.
Detroit-style pizza from Night Shift Brewing – Lovejoy Wharf
If you’re craving Detroit-style pizza, there’s no longer a need to book that flight out to Michigan—Night Shift Brewing’s Lovejoy Wharf venue rolled out eight different varieties of the signature Rust Belt dish just a few steps away from the Zakim Bridge this year. Not content with simply purchasing pre-made dough, the brewery crafts its base from locally sourced flour and puts it through a 24-hour fermentation process to ensure maximum freshness and flavor. For the pepperoni pizza in particular, Night Shift purchases Ezzo pepperoni to provide a Detroit-style dining experience that’s just as authentic as it is delicious.
How to try it: Book a table via OpenTable
Croque Madame at Cafe Sauvage
This newly opened Parisian bistro brought to you by founders Antoine and Anaïs Lambert brings modern French cuisine adorned with a trendy aesthetic to Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. The restaurant, which highlights the cuisine’s multicultural roots, has everything from sweet and savory crêpes to plantains, but the real standout lies on the brunch menu—the croque madame. Those who know the dish may say, another croque madame? But Cafe Sauvage masters the dish combining brioche, dijon, jambon de Bayonne (cured ham), mornay (cheese-flavored cream sauce), and a sunny-side-up egg into pure perfection.
Squash carpaccio at Contessa
Contessa, located on the rooftop of The Newbury Boston (formerly The Taj), has quickly transformed the hotel into one of the most popular dining destinations in Boston thanks to New York-based Major Food Group. This spring, founders Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick opened this trattoria-style restaurant with a menu of decadent dishes like, most notably, the vegetarian squash carpaccio. Vegetarian-friendly and available on Contessa’s brunch menu, the dish puts a spin on the traditional carpaccio, replacing with squash and topping with arugula, pumpkin seeds, and the sweet and sour taste of agrodolce.