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 lately with its in-house hotel dining, and the latest one might represent the acme: Peregrine, the second solo venture from the revered Juliet team (see below). 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 (vegetarians will be very happy here). 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 new restaurant is the first solo venture from industry vet Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli, and his experience shows: Just a few weeks into its opening, the restaurant was 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.
Anarchistic wine bar in Bow Market
If it’s named after a Bowie song, it has to be good, right? Owner and local wine consultant Lauren Friel has opened up her first solo spot to spotlight obscure natural wines that come in at a great price point. No snobbery here; Friel encourages you to order wine by the pretty label by displaying them prominently, and she also leads weekly Natural Wine 101 classes. You’re not here to eat -- there are only a couple of snack foods on the menu -- but Friel will point you towards other Bow Market vendors once you’ve had your vino fill.
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.
The underground tiki bar of your formerly unacknowledged dreams
If Trader Vic’s met a New Orleans speakeasy, you might end up with Shore Leave, a cheeky delight of an underground tiki bar from the team behind nearby Bar Mezzana. Enter through the inconspicuous side door, wind your way down a few flights of stairs, and emerge into the tropics. The decor is that of a moody beach bar -- bamboo wall trim, wooden shingles, palm fronds wallpaper -- with plenty of bar space and table service even for those just there to drink. As for the drinks, traditional tiki cocktails are merely the jumping off point for elixirs like Air Conditioned Eden (a pineapple infused martini with Bianco and dry vermouths, Agricole rum, and a molasses-based gin from Germany) and the namesake cocktail, a bright but smooth blend of white rum, Jamaican rum, passionfruit, aromatic bitters, molasses, and madeira. Yep, the drinking vessels are epic -- think ceramic skulls and coconuts -- and a couple are available for purchase. The final surprise? Just how good the pupu platter-inspired food is. We’re still dreaming of the dan dan wontons.
Your first and best chance to try Kaiseki cuisine
Kaiseki is more about culinary approach than execution, the Japanese term referring to the tradition of serving multiple courses of seasonally inspired, delicate small plates. And restaurateur Youji Iwakura will quickly turn you into a convert. The beautiful, streamlined space reflects the modern sophistication of the menu: seasonal sashimi, fig tempura, Jonah crab shinjo. Order a la carte or turn yourself over to the kitchen via the tasting menu; if you seek an epic evening, settle in for the traditional, 12-course Kaiseki menu, served at the chef’s counter table.
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. The newly introduced weekday lunch service lets you ditch the desk salad for fluke ceviche and soy-mirin marinated duck.
First offshoot of cult-famous Watertown restaurant
Thai cuisine connoisseurs have long known to hop the 57 bus and head to Watertown for the authentic cooking at Cha Yen Thai Cookery. Now Chef Manita Bunnagitkam is spreading the wealth with her second venture, more conveniently located in the Haymarket district. You’ll ditch the takeout apps after your first visit: Fresh ingredients elevate standards like kapow dumplings, see ew, and panang curry (double spicy, like many other dishes). And for those obsessed with Cha Yen’s homemade ice cream, you’re in singular luck: Bunnagitkam is serving a single different flavor once every week.
An unexpected seafood boil in the South End
We didn’t see the seafood boil trend coming, but we’ll happily embrace it. Joining the likes of Holly Crab and Loui Loui Seafood is this bona fide Creole den in the South End. Bootleg Special is not for the dieting crowd -- the Cherry Coke-glazed ribs appetizer makes that readily apparent -- but the rest of us get to savor treats like crawfish mac & cheese, fried oyster po-boys, and a build-a-boil menu that could net you lobster, jumbo gulf shrimp, and Dungeness crab served with a moonshine sauce. The biggest surprise of the “Libations” menu is not the whiskey-forward cocktails but the well-curated wine list.
The cocktail and Szechuan experience Boston proper has been waiting for
No more $30 Lyfts to Woburn. Baldwin Bar superstar Ran Duan has upended his parents’ original Sichuan Garden space in Brookline Village, and it’s a twofer fantasy come true: an all-killer menu of dan dan noodles, Chengdu dry hot chicken wings, and double-fried pork to accompany the inevitably amazing cocktail program. Sidle up to the tiki-adjacent bar and savor elixirs like the Bocadillo Sour (Bacardi Carta Blanca, guava paste, mascarpone, lime, mint). Or just put your drinking fate in Duan’s hands and let him entertain you off-menu, then return the next day for hair of the dog ma paul tofu thanks to its newly introduced lunch service.
Southern comfort in the South End
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. 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.
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.
Exciting wine bar celebrating female winemakers and lesser-known vintages
Back in 2016, the miniscule haley.henry shook our dining scene with its outre menu of tinned fish and little-known wine producers. Cut to now, and owner Haley Fortier is blessedly spreading the wealth: her newest 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 stuffed chicken wings 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.
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.
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.
Barbara Lynch proved that we’re a Relais & Chateaux town
They’re all important in different ways, really: B&G Oyster. Butcher Shop. Whisk. 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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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. Once you go, you’ll understand the constant lines out the door.
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.
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.
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.
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 seasonal, small-plate menu; the menu changes monthly, so take that as 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.
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.
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 the 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 and also appear on the Monday to Friday lunch menu, along with salads that stray delightfully far from your usual deskside fare.
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 30 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. Coming back for brunch mandates you wait for a table in the back-room solarium, both for the vitamin D and the dramatic floral wallpaper.
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.
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 rotisserie cauliflower for the vegetarians); one genius starter dish is simply rotisserie drippings served with bread and roast garlic. The cacio e pepe and butcher’s steak are entrees you’ll be craving winter or summer. Right now, we’re savoring these long, languid days of alfresco rosé and warm-weather bocce in the restaurant’s outdoor space.
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.
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.
A home run of Mediterranean food and spices
Did most Americans even think 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 seven layer hummus to Sicilian squid to feta cheese gnocchi. And then there’s that cocktail program unlike any other -- when’s the last time you found salted yogurt in your drink?
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.
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.
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.
A tropical oasis in Boston serving funky riffs on Southeast Asian classics
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 the marinated, smoked, and fried whole duck. The only thing you shouldn’t eat? The herbs growing on the vertical indoor garden.
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.
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.
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.
Seasonal Italian fare in tiny, book-lined room complete with mysterious cocktail window
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 roasted duck breast or wood grilled ribeye. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Japanese fusion in sleek loft space
Tracy Chang, the 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 striped bass sashimi, chicken katsu, and pork belly bao complement larger dishes like grass-fed beef short rib 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").
Playful Southern cuisine in a New Orleans-like lair
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 ham toast, suckling pig fries, French onion mac ‘n’ cheese, and buttermilk fried chicken served four ways (Nashville hot, white barbecue, sweet and spicy, BBQ syrup). By all means, start with a black walnut sazerac, but don't just drink your dessert -- beignets, after all, are also on the menu, served with vanilla bean whipped cream for dunking.
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).