This Restaurant Reinvented the McGriddle
A bit of old-world Paris in (somewhat) old-world Back Bay
We put our faith in Michael Serpa. The man who brought us the warm lobster roll and expanded the city’s oyster bar repertoire has gloriously moved onto French fare. Did you think that escargot pie would be your next favorite dish in town? Trust us on this one, or work up to it while eating your way through bistro stalwarts like duck rillettes, artichoke soup, mussels, and two varieties of steak frites. Vegetarians, not to fret. There’s a whole separate vegetable menu -- and the all-American wine menu is another pleasant surprise. Less surprising is the intimate yet lofty space, reminiscent of Select Oyster Bar but with a distinctive Parisian flair.
A surprising, pleasing next move from a kitchen legend
When L’Espalier shuttered at the end of 2018, we couldn’t predict what chef-owner Frank McClelland would do next. But it’s safe to say we didn’t anticipate a North Shore second coming. Lucky you, North Shorers: Frank is a day and night café offering a more casual approach to McClelland’s decades-long commitment to hyperlocal ingredients. The dinner menu is all about simple, impeccable classics: crispy roasted half chicken, skirt steak with frites, cassoulet, crispy duck confit. But you could turn Frank into a three-meal affair, what with its breakfast sandwich offerings and lunchtime salads, all of which are also available to go.
The unlikely delight of a Cuban restaurant in Downtown Boston
Mariel is a gift, a sumptuous, cavernous Cuban restaurant that has shaken up the Downtown Crossing dining scene in a most delightful way. The space is literally awe-inspiring, a one-time bank transformed into a high-ceilinged, fresco-adorned room that invites celebratory dining. Gather a posse and work your way through small plates like Havanese lamb belly, blackened shrimp, prime steak churrasco, and a chorizo street pizza. After your meal, hightail it downstairs to Mariel Underground, a clandestine space in the restaurant’s basement inspired by the underground clubs that sprung up during the Cuban Revolution.
Exquisite modern dining in a legendary locale
Once upon a time, locals took out-of-towners to Anthony’s Pier 4 for lobster, popovers, and old-school harborside ambiance. Now, finally, another family-owned restaurant has taken over the highly coveted Seaport location. The similarities end there, however, as this an authentic farm-and-sea-to-table experience, with meats and produce sourced from owner Kristin Canty’s The Farm at Woods Hill in New Hampshire as well as other local purveyors, including sustainable fishmongers just outside the door. Come for the caviar service, stay for the New England raw cheese, crispy lamb ribs, IG-worthy shaved whelk, and lobster Newburg for two.
Modern Asian cuisine served in a colorful dining room
The crowds here signify that this is a place to excite your palate. But don’t expect a tour through familiar Thai classics -- this is South Asian fare is all its breadth and glory, with dishes from Vietnam, Southwest China, Singapore, and Indonesia (and Thailand, too, of course). Yes, you’re getting out of your comfort zone, but with dishes like steamed snapper dumplings, roasted duck salad, Singapore chili beef, and Javanese Gule kembing of lamb shank curry, you’re really just expanding your repertoire. Vegetarians will rejoice over the separate plant-based menu, and all will revel in the Thai tea caramel custard with salted caramel ice cream.
Sturdy French cuisine in a celebratory setting
This isn’t so much a French restaurant as it is a French playground. After all, it’s hard not to smile in a space offering an oyster and charcuterie station, cocktail art, and wood-grilled lobster frites. The sprawling, two-story, three-meal affair is a day-to-night venture, where you can pop in for pastries and coffee in the morning, a salad Nicoise at lunch, after-work drinks and snacks, and coq au vin for dinner. Oh, and then return for a brasserie brunch, from brioche French toast to duck confit hash to lobster poutine.
Est. 2019 | South End
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, we have Shore Leave, we have No Relation, and now we have Black Lamb, a hug of a brasserie inside the former Stephie’s on Tremont space. Deemed a “love letter” to the South End (the Lynches also live in the ‘hood), the restaurant has a regional appeal, featuring raw bar delicacies, lobster roll, prime rib, and 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.
Est. 2019 | The Fenway
Has Tiffani Faison introduced us to the feminist Italian restaurant?
“Serving you carbs, steaks, and martinis since 2019” might be the most intriguing tagline of, well, 2019. Tiffani Faison’s newest venture is her classiest joint yet, where waiters in bowties shake up martinis tableside and the menu’s font harkens 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 her partner, Kelly Walsh, committing to female leadership in the kitchen. Lobster bucatini in brown butter sauce is the early frontrunner for most decadent, while the New York sirloin, 35-day, dry-aged ribeye beckons for an expense account. But fear not: Nonna’s garlic bread -- served in a paper bag! -- is one of the best things on the menu and a cost-effective treat.
Est. 2019 | Downtown/Financial District
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 its replacement, Stillwater. 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. But dishes like crispy smoked chicken wings and spaghetti pomodoro let you play it a little safer. And, for all you working stiffs, there’s also a brown bag takeaway special featuring a weekly rotating sandwich and salad special.
Est. 2019 | Beacon Hill
Second solo venture rom 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, might represent the acme. Let’s start with the pastas, 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). But we’re perhaps most elated with the idea of ordering a glass of wine and delving into the bar snacks menu, which is free (!) on weekdays from 3-5pm.
Est. 2019 | South End
Your best chance to experience the flavors of Georgia and Lebanon
What’s hunkar begendi, you ask? A Turkish speciality, for one, in this case made with braised short ribs instead of lamb, 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 South End dining entry in the former Parish Cafe space. Boston chefs have given Greek fare more than its fair share 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 (your favorite chickpea dip topped with roasted chicken livers and schug, 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.
Est. 2019 | South End
Speakeasy sushi tucked in the back of a South End tiki bar
Meet your new 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 Chefs 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.
Est. 2019 | North End
When family-style dining goes glam
We didn’t expect a sports reporter turned caterer 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: duck confit ravioli, charred octopus, shrimp scampi, panzetti, ricotta Zeppoli. Can Boston’s misanthropes handle the conviviality? Surprisingly, yes. The place has been a huge hit since its opening and even Royle’s six-course Sunday brunch is consistently sold out in advance. But this is what seals the deal for local curmudgeons: a spankin’ new liquor license that lets guests revel an expansive list of Italian wine.
Est. 2019 | South Boston
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, which have already earned “Best New Restaurant” accolades from Food & Wine. 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 maybe the campanelle with feta and pistachio-mint pesto. One more reason we’re in love? Because it’s the rare (only?) all-woman-run restaurant in town.
Est. 2019 | Porter Square
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? And then some. A bigger outpost than its sister restaurant in Waltham, Gustazo brings impeccable Cuban fare to Cantabrigians. But let’s actually start with the cocktails from Sam Treadway, co-owner of Backbar. Besides Cuban classics like the Hemingway daiquiri and 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, and chili liqueur). The tapas-centric dinner menu, 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 place for both a weekend gathering and a weeknight quick-bite.
Est. 2018 | South End
No-BS French fare in convivial-esque 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 gougeres starter on the front end and the chocolate mousse (off-menu) on the other.
Est. 2018 | Huron Village
Charming 12-table enclave committed to well-sourced ingredients and wines
Enough with the cavernous steakhouses: the city needs more restaurants like Tallula, a welcoming refuge where care and attention reign supreme. Husband and wife team Conor Dennehy and Danielle Ayer (Tallula 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: celeriac soup with spiced pinenuts, chestnut spatzle, miso-glazed local cod. 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.
Est. 2018 | Union Square
What happens when a Peruvian filmmaker becomes a head chef (hint: magic)
Step into this tiny Peruvian spot and you’ll worry you’ve crashed someone’s private dinner party, what with the cranking music and genuine warmth from the hostess (co-owner Maria Rondeau, as it turns out). The menu is small and concentrated with expert ceviches, terrines, and stews from chef JuanMa Calderón, also a noted indie filmmaker back in Peru. Sit at the bar, order a pisco sour, and chat with the bartender while watching your meal’s dramatic preparation take place in the kitchen.
Est. 2017 | Central Square
A neighborhood restaurant serving special-occasion food
Why can’t more restaurants be so straight-up crowd-pleasing? The “New American trattoria” from married partners Pam and Chris Willis does familiar dishes impeccably. The entrees reflect the changing seasons: look for regional fish dishes in the summer and heartier fare when the weather turns cold (previous winners include the boneless half chicken and the pork chop). Another draw: the natural wine list from wine director Lauren Hayes, a true restaurant rarity. The new cocktail menu from bar manager Rich Andreoli celebrates the classics, offering about 20 tried and true drinks that are slightly tweaked throughout the year to reflect the seasons, as well as a curated lineup of amari, whiskeys, rums, agave, liqueurs, and vermouth.
Est. 2017 | Union Square
Neighborhood spot celebrating locally sourced comfort fare
Field & Vine plates simple American dishes impeccably prepared with seasonal, sustainable ingredients -- so simple, so straightforward, so successful. There is never a miss on the small-plate menu; the menu changes monthly, so take that as an excuse alone to return often. 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 a glass of Sauvignon Blanc on Monday and a multi-hour, multi-course spread with friends the following Saturday.
Est. 2017 | Kendall Square
Cozy French-Canadian bistro in a romantic, antique-filled atmosphere
Who would have thought a French-Canadian restaurant would be one of our most celebrated entries? But the State Park and Mamaleh’s team lured us in immediately with dishes both familiar -- oysters, pea soup -- and uniquely Quebecois, including poutine, and tourtiere, a pork and venison meat 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.
Est. 2016 | Union Square
Neighborhood restaurant and cafe with a social conscience
Rarely have social justice and fine dining dovetailed so seamlessly. The twee Union Square cafe and restaurant has woven equality into its ethos: fair wages for all of its employees, a gratuity-free pay structure, and a one-room layout that lets diners and kitchen workers share in the evening experience. The dining joys begin in the morning with the cafe’s lovely breakfast menu (Gruyere omelet, breakfast tacos) and continue through the early afternoon with dishes like saffron risotto and wild Chatham mussels. Then dinner arrives, another experience entirely: a prix fixe menu, thematic and dictated by the seasons (the a la carte menu is also available all day); and on Sundays, a special supper menu focused on pasta dishes.
Est. 2016 | South End
Proof that all you need in this world is crostini and killer cocktails
Food needn’t be complicated to be transportative. The aforementioned chef Colin Lynch, a Barbara Lynch protégé, whips up straightforward coastal Italian fare that is still a marvel, including his daily changing crudo menu to an expansive list of homemade pastas (the lobster paccheri and bone marrow risotto are two standouts). But, unexpectedly, it might be the crostinis that are the true stars here: grilled Iggy’s bread topped with caviar and lardo, ricotta and peperonata, or chicken liver with bacon and onions are all savory flavor punches. You’d expect a strong wine and cocktail list at a spot like this -- and Bar Mezzana delivers -- but another surprise is the well-curated beer list, perfect for a quick after-work stopover.
Est. 2016 | South End
Italian small plates at a spaciously chic wine bar with outdoor patio
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 the likes of roasted cantaloupe, lobster risotto, and goat cheese pansotti. 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.
Est. 2016 | Jamaica Plain
Unexpected French cuisine from two young upstart restaurateurs
Whisk pop-up founders Jeremy Kean and Phil Kruta have finally put down roots, though that hardly means they’ve settled down. Expect the same unpredictable fare, experienced either as a tasting menu or a la carte. The seasons dictate the menu, but current highlights include marrow fried rice and grilled halibut. If all you seek is American comfort fare, spring for either the brassica burger or the country-style fried chicken -- and then return for cafe breakfast menu and classics like smoked salmon on a bagel.
Est. 2016 | North Cambridge
Hidden gem serving superb, seasonal French-inspired plates
If you're going to eat one prix fixe meal all year, go for this one. The Table at Season to Taste may be (OK, is) super-awkwardly named, but it's also splendidly committed to seasonal cuisine and French techniques. Not to mention, fair labor practices: the prix-fixe price includes labor costs and thus is gratuity-free. If you seek a less formal meal, sidle up to the wine bar for a la carte entrees like roasted lamb sausage and celery root ravioli.
Est. 2016| Harvard Square
Coastal-inspired raw bar with pizza, pasta, and, yes, absinthe
Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square venture was always 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 cheeky choices as filet o’ fish sticks. Pizzas come with atypical toppings like chopped clams and smoked whitefish, and there are bowls of seafood pastas and larger plates like wood-grilled octopus and steak and eggs crumpet. To pair with all this ocean fare? A host of cocktails, including four featuring absinthe.
Est. 2016 | Downtown Crossing
Splashy Downtown spot for celebratory Japanese cuisine
Head to this 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 maitake mushroom tempura 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.
Est. 2016| Back Bay
A one-stop shop to satiate all your seafood desires
The last time we were here, we witnessed a man lovingly spooning uni into his date’s mouth before they both downed a glass of champagne. That’s how seductive it is. Oysters, bubbly, caviar—all the traditional aphrodisiacs are here, plus the entrees that get New Englanders’ motors running: chowder, fried clam bellies, and a hot lobster roll that rivals Neptune’s. If you can’t stand to wait for a table (the place is tiny), grab two seats at the bar, watch one of the chefs torch a slab of salmon belly, and feel the heat rise.
Est. 2016 | South End
Lovingly prepared pasta and cocktails in tucked-away South End space
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 chilled octopus salad, lobster scampi, sweet corn ravioli, and pork milanese. The menu rotates regularly, but the wine list remains committed to both Northern Italian and French bottles (although a Negroni starter doesn't hurt). Regulars know to pop in on Monday nights for all-you-can eat pasta ($35).
Est. 2015 | Watertown
Slow-roasted rotisserie meats and veggies at this neighborhood brasserie
It’s still hard to wrap our heads around there being fine dining near the former Arsenal Mall area. But what Strip-T’s started, Branch Line continues. The beautiful space from Eastern Standard folks Garrett Harker and Andrew Holden headlines its menu with rotisserie chicken (or a rotisserie cauliflower appetizer for the vegetarians); one genius starter dish is simply rotisserie drippings served with bread and roast garlic. The corn risotto and wood-grilled butcher’s steak are entrees you’ll be craving winter or summer. Right now, we’re savoring these autumnal days of alfresco rosé and bocce in the restaurant’s outdoor space -- which actually stays open all year round (yep, snow bocce is a thing).
Est. 2015 | Back Bay
Urban oyster bar from the man who brought you the city’s best hot lobster roll
Michael Serpa’s townhouse space pays proper homage to New England seafood with dishes like blue prawns a la plancha and whole roasted sea bream. Oysters are aplenty, as are the blue crab salad, dressed lobster, and a seafood-friendly wine program. Reservations can only be made through Open Table, and a flat 20% tip is added to every bill, eliminating the mental gymnastics of tipping protocol.
Est. 2015 | Somerville
Special-occasion, super-high-end, ticketed dining
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 $210-per-person cost, especially considering that includes tax, gratuity, and drink pairings. Still blanching at the imaginary bill? Make your first visit a $70 lunchtime one, or drop in when the restaurant transforms into a late-night natural wine bar with glasses starting at $8 and bar snacks running you just five bucks.
Est. 2014 | Harvard Square
New American small plates in fun, rustic underground space
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.
Est. 2013 | Back Bay
The next best thing to Noma (in Boston at least)
Is it the fact that the space used to be a takeout joint? Is it the inscrutable website and lack of social media presence? Somehow, despite many a press accolade, Asta just misses making the short list of many Bostonians’ favorite restaurants. But chef Alex Crabb -- once a Noma intern, last of L’Espalier -- is truly killing it with high-concept fare in a congenial, pretension-free space. The restaurant only offers a tasting-menu, which is perfect. You simply sit back and wait to see what wonder Crabb will come up with next. Your only lament will be that each dish has to end.
Est. 2012 | Harvard Square
Divine homemade pastas in an intimate, romantic setting
The strangely forgotten stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter is home to some of Cambridge’s buried gems (Temple Bar, 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 pumpkin and squash agnolotti and pappardelle with wild boar. If you’re a paleo nut who insists on denying yourself the area’s greatest carbs, you can tick carnivorous boxes with the housemade lamb sausage.
Est. 2012 | Inman Square
Where Will Gilson has been slaying new American for years
When you bring your A-game for so long, sometimes folks take it for granted. But Will Gilson’s Inman Square institution deserves many a return trip, and not just because the playlist is always killing it. These are straightforward, seasonal dishes impeccably done: pan-roasted halibut, phyllo-wrapped cod, cast-iron roasted duck breast. Puritan also does the hearty brunch thing right, offering pork belly and poblano hash, sourdough griddle cakes, grilled skirt steak and eggs, and one of the best croissants in the city. Most tempting of all, the pick-and-choose pastry basket means you don’t have to decide between the cider donut and cinnamon bun.
Est. 2010 | Fort Point
Barbara Lynch proved that we’re a Relais & Chateaux town
They’re all important in different ways, really: B&G Oyster. Butcher Shop. Stir. Drink. Sportello. No. 9 Park, which is the foundational pillar in the Barbara Lynch empire. But Menton did something no other Boston restaurant has done in earning Relais & Châteaux status in 2012 -- one of only 42 such properties currently in the US. The restaurant has done so much more, of course. It has introduced us to the inimitable pleasures of butter soup, for one (a dish sadly departed, at least for now). Sold us on the absolute value of a $165 chef’s whim tasting meal, for another. And convinced us of the undersung pleasures of dining at a restaurant bar, especially with the full restaurant menu plus cocktails like the Baie de la Seine (Brennavin aquavit, green apple, and celery bitters). No aspiring gourmand should leave the city without experiencing Menton.
Est. 2008 | Central Square
Local and seasonal French-inspired fare in a fine dining setting
Chef Tony Maws had us at Craigie Street Bistrot, and then cemented our love with his bigger Central Square space. Now, more than 10 years in, he’s shook up the joint and somehow made it even better. The dining room is now a prix fixe affair. The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, Maws’ second restaurant off Inman Square, helps feed the soul in between Craigie visits, but it should never supplant its fountainhead.
Est. 2007 | Chinatown
Inimitable sushi for when the bonus check rolls in
If you’ve come well under your dining budget for the month (or year) and seek a singular celebration, Tim and Nancy Cushman have you covered. Twelve years ago, they changed our city’s dining reputation and they’ve yet to let up on the gas pedal since. Order a la carte if you’d like, but the true O Ya experience is found in the Omakase menus. For a steep $285 per person (plus optional $150 beverage pairing), you’re treated to the grand experience, a 20-course miracle of small-plate delectables from the hokkaido sea urchin and osetra caviar to the foie gras and bluefin toro. If you’ve somehow managed to drag along a landlubber, even they’ll be won over by the Wagyu steak menu (hello, $280 Aragawa-Style striploin with truffle fries).
Est. 2007 | South End
Chinese pork dumplings like mama used to make (literally)
There’s never a bad time to go to Myers & Chang, the city’s stalwart for comfort Chinese. Seven nights a week, the menu serves up spice, crunch, and umami in the form of all your favorites: dan dan noodles, pork and chive dumplings (Joanna Chang’s mom’s recipe, natch), tea-smoked pork spare ribs, twice cooked lamb belly stir fry, and many more. On Monday and Tuesdays the restaurant offers a $45 prix-fixe menu and special wines by the half carafe. Plus, the dim sum brunch menu is full of crispy, umami delights and is served until 4pm on both Saturday and Sunday. Or rush in for a banh mi sandwich and their famed hot and sour soup at lunch. In other words, Chang and Christopher Myers have created a please-all-palates place.
Est. 2005 | South End
Where we learned just how fun tapas can be
NYC readers, just so’s you know: Toro was ours first. Long before Toro NYC debuted in Chelsea, there was the original in the South End, which kicked off the city’s obsession with Spanish small plates. Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette put a modern twist on Barcelona tapas, using seasonal and regional ingredients to deliver so many favorites: salt cod fritters, garlic shrimp, braised beef tongue, and of course the grilled corn with aioli, all perfectly complemented by the Spanish wine list. And the dinnertime no-reservation policy has only kept its light shining brighter -- where else do you see people drinking cocktails at 4pm on Tuesday afternoon to nab the first tables of the evening?
Est. 2005 | Kenmore Square
Where Garrett Harker began to change the city’s dining scene
Hard to remember now, but Kenmore Square before 2005 was a place you ducked out of as soon as you could, even on game nights (unless you were a regular patron of the Deli Haus). Then Eastern Standard opened, and everything changed. Garrett Harker gave us the bistro experience we didn’t yet know we needed, in a cavernous hotel space that reinvigorated our love of red leather banquettes. It was shellfish platters and roasted bone marrow and the perfect roasted half-chicken. Today, you return over and over again because the success of your night is absolutely assured. Oh, and then there’s the fact that bar director Jackson Cannon completely revolutionized the city’s cocktail scene, with a reverence for fresh ingredients and doing the classics right. Harker has since helped open other favorites like Row 34, Branch Line, and Island Creek Oyster Bar -- and our loyalty has only grown deeper.
Est. 2004 | North End
The warm lobster roll revered ’round the world (well, city)
Did we even talk about fine-dining lobster rolls before Neptune’s warm butter wonder came along? The unlikely North End gem became an instant crowd pleaser when (now-departed) chef Michael Serpa reminded us that mayo isn’t the only way to slay a lobster roll. It’s not just the roll though (and those fries, oh those fries). The made-to-order clam chowder, the fried Ipswich clams, the regional fish entrees, and the daily rotating oyster selections all make this a spot worth the hour-plus nightly wait.
Est. 2002 | Back Bay
A beloved sashimi bar transformed into an expansive izayaka
Do you even miss Clio anymore? Ken Oringer and Tony Messina’s UNI gives equal love to hot dishes like lobster fried rice, baby shrimp tempura, and wagyu beef dumplings, as well as the expected cold stuff, 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, often attracting outside ramen stars to stage pop-ups.
Est. 2001 | Inman Square
Where Ana Sortun first blew our minds with Turkish flavors
Did you think even twice about Turkish spices before Oleana came along? Ana Sortun’s second spot, Sarma, might get more of the buzz -- and rightfully so -- but it was Oleana that first opened our eyes to a different kind of Mediterranean fare: fragrant, spicy, delicate. Oleana has also proven the world’s greatest date spot for vegetarian couples, given that the majority of meze plates are meat-free. And anyone who has spent more than a year or two living in this town has almost assuredly enjoyed at least one celebratory meal on the twee patio.
Est. 1984 | Harvard & Central Square
The place to go for a four-star nigiri education
It’s not as clandestine as it used to be -- as of a couple of years ago, there’s an actual entrance right off Mass Ave -- but Cafe Sushi still feels like one of the city’s great secrets. One of its gifts is that it caters to both a casual crowd and those seeking a splurge-worthy meal (O Ya this is not). Come on a Tuesday evening and savor some of the freshest nigiri around, including seasonal choices like Japanese barracuda and New Zealand king salmon. Then, make a reservation and return with your most discerning dining partner for the market-price omakase, a many-course, small-plates meal savored over more than two hours. Oh, and never forget that they offer takeout for both lunch and dinner.
Est. 1983 | Back Bay
Proof that the classic steakhouse should never go out of style
The city’s paleo patriarch has been giving us our daily protein for almost four decades now, and it isn’t even close to slowing down. This place is expense-account central, what with a three-figure wagyu striploin kicking off the menu (just think of all the backroom business deals that have been made over this dish). The a la carte cuts are the stars here, with the 100-day-aged ribeye and the Kobe cap steak being the star of the stars--and you have to love that $72 dollar steamed lobster add-on. If you’re not willing to pay more for dinner than you pay for your monthly heating bill, there’s always the clam chowder and classic wedge salad.
Est. 1975 | Harvard Square
Still one of the city’s top go-tos for a celebratory meal
It’s nice to know that old-school Harvard Square hasn’t completely disappeared. Over more than four decades, this Square workhorse has pushed farm-to-table ideals while training many future celebrated chefs. It’s New England cuisine the way both locals and visitors want it: dishes dictated by the seasons, ingredients like lobster and halibut done to the nines, and charcuterie and cheese at every meal. Come summer, a spot on the garden terrace is still one of the most coveted tables in the city.
Est. 1933 | East Boston
This pizza doesn’t need any frills
There is no easier way to prove your foodie bona fides to out-of-towners than to haul their butts to Eastie for a revelatory slice. The centenarian East Boston spot started life as a bakery -- its only misstep, perhaps -- but has since served the city’s best cheese pizza since 1933 with a side of unparalleled people-watching. Sometimes, a sausage pie, a side of lamb kabob, a pitcher of Bud, and a wad of cash (no credit cards here, hon) are all that’s needed to make a night epic.
Est. 1800s | Downtown Crossing
One of the city’s few remaining icons
Want a martini served on a silver tray? Then you’ve found your nirvana. Here are just a few of the crazy historical tidbits from this 100-some-year-old dining room: It hired the first French chef in America in 1855 (M. Sanzian); Emeril Lagasse, Lydia Shire, and Jasper White all cooked in the kitchen; JFK proposed to Jackie here; and Malcolm X was a busboy in the 1940s. Oh, and Sanzian is actually credited with inventing Boston cream pie. Take all that in before considering the menu full of bygones, with its baked brie and lump crab cakes and Boston "schrod" (a seafood staple since 1906). Such throwback decadence is only enhanced by a wood-paneled dining room so ornate you’ll feel compelled to end the meal with brandy and a cigar.