Boston’s Best New Restaurants of 2019
Another year, another stellar set of restaurant openings in the books. While Boston’s dining scene suffered from some unexpected shutterings this year, established and emerging talents rushed in to fill the void, with stellar results. Italian food dominated the new culinary landscape, though chefs also delighted us with singular sushi and New American dishes. What were the commonalities of our favorite picks? A reverence for high-quality ingredients, an emphasis on conviviality, and an unmatched attention to detail (we’d revisit each of these spots for the decor alone). And let it not go unnoticed that female restaurateurs really led the charge this year, whether as copartners or solo venturers. Here are the best new openings of 2019.
Karen Akunowicz’s award-winning debut solo venture
You might not have known it, but you’ve been enjoying Karen Akunowicz’s cooking for years. The Top Chef finalist and James Beard winner made her splash at Oleana and Via Matta before really killing it in the Myers & Chang kitchen, bringing her Italian cuisine background to dishes like wild boar Dan Dan noodles. In her debut space, her Italian techniques are front and center, as are her talents. What are you eating? The taleggio-stuffed focaccia as a starter, a spritz to go with it, and then a homemade pasta dish like the wild boar tagliatelle Bolognese or campanelle with feta and pistachio-mint pesto, perhaps with a whole red snapper for the table to share. One more reason we’re in love? Because it’s the rare all-woman-run restaurant in town.
Has Tiffani Faison introduced us to the feminist Italian restaurant?
“Serving you cards, steaks, and martinis since 2019” might be the most mouth-watering tagline of, well, 2019. Tiffani Faison’s newest venture is her classiest joint yet, where waiters in bow ties shake up martinis tableside and the menu’s font calls back to the special-occasion red-sauce eateries of yore. But, this is the Italian-American restaurant reimagined, with photos of strong Italia women gracing the walls and Faison and partner/wife Kelly Walsh committed to female leadership in the kitchen. Lobster bucatini in brown butter sauce is the early frontrunner for most decadent pasta dish, while the New York sirloin, 35-day dry-aged ribeye, and duck Marbella for two beckon for an expense account. Never you mind: The Nonna’s garlic bread -- served in a paper bag! -- is one of the best things on the menu and a cost-effective treat.
The latest home run from the Bar Mezzana crew
Man, are we lucky that restaurateurs Colin and Heather Lynch committed themselves so deeply to the South End. We have Bar Mezzana, Shore Leave, and No Relation, and now there’s Black Lamb, a hug of a brasserie. This they’ve actually deemed a “love letter” to the South End (the Lynches also live in the ’hood), which explains the timeless, regional appeal of the menu: raw bar delicacies, lobster roll, prime rib, duck breast frites with orange bearnaise. And lest you lament the loss of your weekday go-to lunch place, Black Lamb has you covered there, too, with classics like a chicken club and grilled tuna steak Niçoise.
High-end comfort fare from a Chopped champion
The closing of Townsman was a loss, no two ways about it, which is why we’re so heartened by what has replaced it. Chopped champ Sarah Wade has taken her self-described “junk food expertise” to the next level with high-falutin’ comfort fare that’s unlike anything else in the city. Everything bagel popcorn? Vegan pork rinds? Chicken-fried ribeye? Ritz Cracker-crusted fried chicken thighs? That’s some cheeky fare right there. Don’t worry: Dishes like crispy smoked chicken wings and spaghetti pomodoro let you play it a little safer. And for all you downtown working stiffs, there’s also a brown bag takeaway special featuring a weekly rotating sandwich and salad special.
Second solo venture from the sublime Juliet team
We expect competence from our hotel restaurants and don’t hope for much more. But the city has been on a roll with its in-house hotel dining, and Peregrine, the second solo venture from the revered Juliet team of Katrina Jazayeri and Josh Lewin, might represent the acme. Let’s start with the pasta, which are half or full orders of wonders like asparagus and artichoke lasagna and wild mushroom ravioli with brown butter and hazelnuts. Heartier appetites will be satiated with entrees like saffron-marinated chicken breast or striped bass alla ghiotta. The brunch menu is its own decadent revelation -- salumi and truffle scramble, anyone?
In-museum dining both casual and special-occasion
Is the MFA becoming a bona fide dining destination? 465 might prove the tipping point. Located in the Linde Family Wing of Contemporary Art inside the former Bravo, the restaurant is all about the seasonable and shareable. Start with roasted baby beets and grilled flank beef tips, Then move onto hand-cut pappardelle and a cherry-smoked duck breast . If you’re in a selfish mood and don’t feel like sharing, you can opt for the grilled chicken paillard or pan-roasted char. And look up from your plate once in a while -- the pale-wood, modernist design coupled with the still lifes sourced from the museum itself make for a perfectly picturesque meal.
Simple-pleasure fare, three times daily
Unusual is the restaurant that serves three delectable meals a day, but Shy Bird is that rare bird. The team behind Branch Line has created a Kendall Square go-to for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with Branch Line’s famous rotisserie figuring into all three menus. Start your day with a rotisserie brisket egg bowl; return at noon for a half or whole chicken with choice of sauce; then finish off the hat trick with an a la carte rotisserie cauliflower at dinner (an item that has moved over to the appetizer menu at Branch Line). Breakfast and lunch are casual café affairs but dinner is far more formal, with a short but lovely wine list and additional offerings such as grilled beef short rib frites, clam toast, and Branch Line’s beloved sugar snap pea salad.
Speakeasy sushi tucked in the back of a South End tiki bar
Meet 2019’s impossible dinner reservation. Down a long corridor in the back of Shore Leave -- itself a prized underground destination -- shines a rare gem of a sushi bar. With just nine seats and two nightly seatings, No Relation demands you slow down and savor the exquisite omakase plates from Chef Colin Lynch. It’s a prix-fixe evening of approximately 14 dishes (price per person ranges from $95 to $120, depending on the night’s selection) with a chef’s explanation as to the origins and flavor profiles of each fish. Start saving now.
When family-style dining goes glam
We didn’t expect a sports reporter turned restaurateur to be one of this year’s standouts, but Jen Royle plays by no one’s rules, and that extends to her first solo venture. TABLE is a family-style affair, with just two nighty seatings at communal tables (one seating 14, the other 22). A nine-course menu changes by season and whim, but expect to stuff yourself with impeccably turned out Italian classics: beef, pork, and veal meatballs; gnocchi Bolognese; chicken Madeira; shrimp scampi. Can Boston’s misanthropes handle the conviviality? Surprisingly, yes. The place has been a huge hit since its opening, and even Royle’s smaller Sunday supper is consistently sold out in advance. What might have sealed the deal for local curmudgeons: a long-awaited liquor license that now lets guests revel in an expansive list of Italian wines.
An immersive Cuban dining experience in the heart of Cambridge
The restaurant’s website informs us that “darse or dar un gustazo” means “to treat oneself or someone else to something special.” So does the space live up to its name? In brief: And then some. A new, bigger outpost of its sister restaurant in Waltham, Gustazo brings impeccable, modern Cuban fare to Cantabrigians. But let’s actually start with the cocktails from Sam Treadway, co-owner of Backbar. Besides impeccable Cuban classics like the Hemingway daiquiri and the Hotel Nacional (signature drink at the famed Havana hotel), Treadway gets the party started with the unusual likes of the Westerly Wind (Mezcal, papaya, lime, red pepper, chili liqueur) and the Rhumba Rye (aged rum, rye, amontillado sherry, walnut, chocolate, olive oil). The tapas-centric dinner menu, helpfully divided between vegetarian and non, is a delight of ingredient-driven indulgences like bacon-wrapped maduros (plantains), squash fritters with a goat cheese mousse, and oxtail tacos. Add in the piped-in Cuban music, fastidious customer service, and reasonable prices, and you have the ideal new place for both a weekend gathering and a weeknight quick-bite.
Your new best chance to experience the flavors of Georgia and Lebanon
What’s hunkar begendi, you ask? A Turkish speciality, for one, made with braised short ribs instead of lamb in this case, served over smoked and spiced eggplant. But it’s also the perfect encapsulation of the piquant flavors you’ll encounter at Ilona, a sultry new dining entry. Boston chefs have given Greek fare plenty of attention these past few years, but Ilona is all about underserved Eastern Mediterranean cuisine: Georgian, Turkish, Lebanese, Israeili, Egyptian. The mezze menu really lets you sample the restaurant’s range of sensory experiences, from the uber-rich cigeri hummus (topped with roasted chicken livers and schug, a serrano chili hot sauce) to kibbeh, a Lebanese lamb and bulgur fritter containing scallions, eggs, and cilantro. The kebabs and roasted lamb will calm tamer eaters, but Ilona is a beguiling invitation to step outside of your culinary comfort zone.
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