Here Are Boston's Best New Restaurants That Opened in 2018
What did we do to deserve such culinary riches this year? The best restaurants of the year spread the wealth, both geographically and genre-wise: Asian-Latin American-Turkish cuisine in the Back Bay. Mediterranean fare on the banks of Boston Harbor. Southern comfort in the South End. A celebration of female winemakers in the Fenway, ground zero for alpha male worship. And while some of the best new entries splashed onto the scene with grand spaces, most were content to cultivate customer loyalty inside intimate, writ-small dining rooms. Here are the 12 best new restaurants of 2018.
Long-awaited standing snack bar from Tiffani Faison
Tiffani Faison can do no wrong -- all we can do is wait for her next right. And she and business partner/wife Kelly have truly gotten it right again, this time with an “adult snack bar” that dares Sox fans to demand more than hot dogs and watery chowder. The twee, standing-room-only tapas bar plays to our Euro-envy, and not just with the Old World decor: small bites include ham and butter finger sandwiches, corn and black pepper croquettes, crispy potato mille feuille, and a king crab mini tostada. As for cocktails, you’re skewing classic with the likes of a dry gin martini and mint julep -- Fenway regulars should be so lucky.
Grandly appointed space with global menu ambitions
Go big or go home: That’s the unspoken motto of this massive new space from the d.ream restaurant group, which operates dining spots all over the globe. Its first Massachusetts venture combines Asian and Latin American cooking with a dash of Turkish influence: Think ceviche, sashimi, and tacos, plus larger dishes like whole duck and rack of lamb. And the ambiance simply cannot be ignored: squint and you might think you’re dining in a private palace in a far-flung locale. It’s a far cry from the dining room’s previous incarnation.
Exciting wine bar celebrating female winemakers and lesser-known vintages
Back in 2016, the miniscule haley.henry shook our dining scene with its outrée menu of tinned fish and little-known wine producers. Cut to now, and owner Haley Fortier is blessedly spreading the wealth: Her new venture in the Fenway continues to push boundaries with a by-the-glass wine list that exclusively features female winemakers (said wines are also small production and/or natural). The sophisticated decor invites you to linger over your roasted pork shoulder as you break into one of the restaurant’s more expensive bottles -- as at haley.henry, the bar will open any bottle as long as your table commits to two glasses.
Charming 12-table enclave committed to well-sourced ingredients and wines
Enough with the cavernous steakhouses: The city needs more restaurants like Talulla, a welcoming refuge where care and attention reign supreme. Husband and wife team Conor Dennehy and Danielle Ayer (Talulla is the couple’s daughter) have married their dual loves for travel and seasonal ingredients to produce a curated menu of unfussy, flavor-forward dishes: chilled tomato bisque, local cod with chorizo and zucchini, and savarin with toasted coconut cream. Splurge on the wine pairings to get a taste of the couple’s relationships with winemakers across the globe, including those in lesser-known regions.
Oddly named brasserie focused on Japanese flavors and cocktails
What’s in a name? In this case, nothing and everything, The restaurant’s moniker refers to a nonsensical law in Oklahoma prohibiting whale hunting; it’s a signal from chef-owner Tim Maslow that he’s looking to have some unburdened fun. He and fellow Ribelle alum Matthew Hummel are focused on Japanese fare, with small bites like shishito peppers with crab butter and a marinated lobster hand roll; sashimi offerings like the bluefin tuna with rice crackers, dijon, and walnut oil; and larger dishes like salt-grilled amberjack. Drinks cement the Japanese theme, with cocktails like the Old Tokyo (rum, shiso, lemon, sparkling wine) sharing menu space with a sizable sake list.
Pita by day, pasta and porchetta by night
Never take your eye off a Barbara Lynch alum, because they’re always going to be up to something good. Latest example: Former No. 9 Park-ers Ted Kilpatrick and John DaSilva have set up shop inside the Seaport’s Design & Innovation Building to bring guests a gourmet twofer: pita-centric lunch options and a more formal Mediterranean dinner lineup. The case for twice-a-day visits: midday sustenance like the crispy chicken pita with labneh ranch, scallions, and turmeric pickles; and nighttime vittles like roasted porchetta and spiced duck breast.
Sophisticated fare from a hospitality pro fills West End dining void
Come for the cocktails, stay for the charred avocado, return for everything else. This spanking new restaurant is the first solo venture from industry vet Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, and his experience shines through: Just a few weeks into its opening, the restaurant is packed and humming. Schlesinger-Guidelli spent many years behind some of Boston’s best cocktail bars, which explains the stellar drink list (you’ll never have to quaff watery Buds before a Celtics game again). The menu plays with farm coast ingredients in surprising ways, netting you simple yet divine dishes like prosciutto with fried dough, crispy head-on shrimp with kaffir lime aioli, and radiatori with braised duck and collard greens (all pastas are made daily in-house). As for that avocado: It comes to the table blackened and in one piece; when you cut it open, a divine harissa aïoli spills out. Trust us: It’ll become your new favorite bar snack.
Real-deal Thai in a tiny takeaway spot
Co-owners Panupak Kraiwong and Nutthachai “Jeep” Chaojaroenpong understand the allure of a next-level noodle -- it’s why they named their place DakZen, which roughly translates to “chow down” (the exact translation is a bit more ribald). Kraiwong and Choajaroenpong have harnessed the power of culinary nostalgia -- both were born and raised in Thailand -- to bring authentic, Bangkok-style street food to the Somervillian masses. Your local Thai takeout joint is about to lose your loyalty: Brightly flavored dishes like khao soi, boat noodles, and ba mee moo dang are revelations, as are DanKen’s renderings of classics like spring rolls and pad thai. Now you understand the constant lines out the door -- and why they’re more than worth enduring.
No-BS French fare in convivial, classic space
You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Bar Lyon is committed to bona fide Lyonnaise cuisine, and we’re all the better (and slightly squishier) for it. The small dining room is a refuge from the busy South End intersection it occupies, the decor a callout to classic Eastern France bouchons: basketweave floor tiles, oversized vintage chandelier, copper pans dangling above the open kitchen. There are no menu surprises per se; the surprise comes from how revelatory a perfectly executed Coq Au Vin or bavette steak can be. Both the prices and the plate sizes are refreshingly modest, making it easier to justify the gougère starter on the front end and the chocolate mousse (off-menu) on the other.
What happens when a Peruvian filmmaker becomes a chef (hint: magic)
Esquire just named Celeste one of the best new restaurants in America -- and we’re pissed, because this was supposed to be our little secret. But you can’t keep a good (great) restaurant down. Step into the tiny Peruvian spot and you’ll worry you’ve crashed someone’s private dinner party, what with the cranking music and genuine welcome from the hostess. Ceviches But it’s the welcoming, genuine service that really puts this place over the finish line. Sit at the bar and chat with the bartender while watching your meal being prepped.
A warm Southern hug in an industrial South End space
The thrill here is not just that Southern cuisine has finally come to the South End, but that the food is so outstanding. Chef and owner Jason Cheek, nostalgic for his North Carolina upbringing, has concocted a tranquilizing menu of decadent shared table eats. The crunchy, juicy fried chicken is a no-brainer -- when you walk in, it seems every table already has a plate of it -- as are the baby back ribs, best accompanied by the extra-rich mac & cheese. Those looking to temper the dietary effects of all that meat can visit the “farmhouse” portion of the menu for charred okra and sweet potato hoe cakes. The cocktail menu is small but delivers smoke and citrus, and the decor is its own delight -- a raw industrial space transformed into a down-home roadhouse, with vintage pie plates dotting the walls and upside-down vintage lamps hanging from the rafters.
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