View:

Food & Drink

Union Square Donuts
Photo Credit: Dan Watkins

Donut

Union Square Donuts

It’s fitting that Union Square Donuts opened its doors this past Valentine’s Day: It’s been seducing local sweet-tooths (and breaking hearts when the goods sell out) ever since. Plump and fluffy, these donuts tantalize from the inside out, reaching an apogee whether glazed with a tangy berry burst of cherry hibiscus or lightly robed in sea-salted bourbon caramel. We don’t even want to tell you about the maple bacon, lest you beat us to it in line.

16 Bow St., Somerville, 617-209-2257
  • Bagels

    Bagel Rising

    There are two types of people in this world: people who love bagels, and liars. This cozy Allston outpost delights lovers (and liars) with 16 varieties of rolls-with-a-hole cooked Old World style—kettle boiled, then hearth-oven baked. We’re talking chewy, soft rings with crispy shells. Cream cheeses from plain to jalapeño are also made from scratch, and vegans will applaud the homemade tofu spreads that taste like anything but afterthoughts.

    1243 Comm. Ave., Allston, 617-789-4000, bagel-rising.com
  • Bakery

    Flour Bakery + Cafe

    It’s the least gym-friendly of mottos: “Make life sweeter.… Eat dessert first!” But once you peer into Flour’s pastry case, how can you resist? Sticky buns are varnished with caramel-honey-sugar “goo.” Flaky, glazed pop-tarts erupt with raspberry jam. And our favorite cookie, the Chunky Lola, bursts with bittersweet chocolate, coconut and pecans. One whiff, and your willpower will dissolve into meringue clouds bigger than you’ve ever seen.

    1595 Washington St., Boston, 617-267-4300; additional locations in Boston and Cambridge; flourbakery.com
  • Bar Food

    Abe & Louie’s

    Enough with the nachos—old reliable Abe & Louie’s takes bar bites to the next level with their jumbo lump-crabmeat cocktail. Enjoy meaty morsels of Chesapeake Bay’s finest with cocktail sauce, remoulade or a simple spritz of lemon. The classic steak-house interior, with its rich mahogany, chandeliers and oversized leather chairs, is the perfect place to call it a day with some of Boston’s saltiest bartenders.

    793 Boylston St., Boston, 617-536-6300, abeandlouies.com
  • Barbecue

    Sweet Cheeks

    Start with the warm Bucket o’ Biscuits with honey butter, toss in some fried green tomatoes and then turn your attention to the main event: wood-smoked, Texas-style BBQ. You can freight your Big Cheeks (two meats) or Fat Cheeks (three meats) tray with finger-licking Berkshire pork, Great Northern brisket, half a slab of pork ribs, or buttermilk fried chicken. For sides you’ve got Hot and Cold Scoops, like broccoli casserole and slaw. To wash it down, reach for a House Bill 819—a palate-cleansing blend of lemon, mint and tea-infused corn whiskey.

    1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com
  • Brasserie

    Gaslight

    As the French iteration of the tavern, brasseries are designed to be inviting and social. Gaslight in the South End’s SoWa district upholds this tradition, flaunting a Parisian sophistication that’s never fussy. The glow of gas lamps reflected in vintage mirrors illuminates elegant steak tartare and ornate niçoise salads. Be sure to order the moules frites, embellished with a kick of Pernod.

    560 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-422-0224, gaslight560.com
  • Bread

    Clear Flour

    We first came to sample the much-ballyhooed challah turtles, their eyes fashioned from chocolate bits and dried cranberries, only available on Friday mornings. Then we returned for the puffy, salt-studded German pretzels sold on Saturdays and Sundays. When we finally tried the petite baguettes known as batards, it became clear that this is a gourmand’s favorite source for daily bread.

    178 Thorndike St., Brookline, 617-739-0060, clearflourbread.com
  • Breakfast

    Uncommon Grounds

    If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, do it right. That means a seat at this Watertown eatery and a plate heaped with crispy red-bliss home fries, buttered toast and the Uncommonly Special scrambled eggs. Variations include a wholesome veggie option, the sweet-spicy Chorizo & Cheese and, for lumberjacks and indecisive carnivores, the Meat Lover’s Scramble, overflowing with sausage, ham and bacon.

    575 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-9625, myuncommongrounds.com
  • Brunch

    Mistral

    Brunch can be an all-day affair. You’ll certainly want it to be at Mistral—one of the city’s most beautiful dining rooms, named for the cloud-clearing winds of Provence. Frittatas folded with foraged mushrooms issue from single-serving cast-iron pans, while impossibly dainty stacks of lemon–poppy seed pancakes burst with bushels of blueberries. And mimosas are elevated with hand-squeezed OJ and Veuve.

    223 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-867-9300, mistralbistro.com
  • Craigie on Main
    Photo Credit: Dan Watkins

    Burger

    Craigie on Main

    You’ve heard the legend: eight ounces of ground brisket, short rib and hanger steak. A soft-yet-structured homemade bun, studded with sesame seeds. Oozy Shelburne cheddar, a leaf of lettuce, a dab of mace ketchup. But you won’t find it on the menu—and only a limited number are hand-packed, slow cooked and seared each night. Like all the best stories, this burger is only available in the bar, so get there early to score a seat.

    853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com
  • Burrito

    Anna’s Taqueria

    Any burrito worth the name follows a formula: flavorful meats, a fresh tortilla and enough ambient warmth to melt the ingredients into a delicious jumble. Anna’s gets it right with a savory breakfast version as well as choose-your-own-adventure options in which you mix-and-match rice and beans with fillings like slow-cooked chicken ranchero, carnitas or (delicious) beef tongue. Don’t blink: Anna’s crew can build and hand off your wrap in less than 20 seconds.

    242 Cambridge St., Boston, 617-227-8822; additional locations in Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville; annastaqueria.com
  • Cambridge: Harvard Square

    Russell House Tavern

    Chef Thomas Borgia has recently taken the helm at this Harvard Square favorite, where he reinvents American classics in dishes such as the crispy pig’s head cake with a soft-poached egg and ginger-maple aioli. There’s top-notch charcuterie and people-watching, while oft-mustachioed bar manager Sam Gabrielli whips up homemade bitters and infusions behind the marble counter. Minimalists should opt for the Harvard Square Happy Meal: a house burger with fries, accompanied by a Narragansett tall boy and a shot of Fernet.

    14 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-500-3055, russellhousecambridge.com
  • Chinese

    Best Little Restaurant

    With a menu that encompasses nearly 200 dishes, the Best Little Restaurant has something for everyone looking to explore Cantonese cuisine. Their sizzling hot pots are standouts, particularly the eggplant and fish, which treats lobster with scallions and ginger, and bathes lapping conch in a black-bean coulis. Doused with a spicy sauce, it’s a notable exception to the eatery’s tendency toward milder seasonings. 

    13 Hudson St., Boston, 617-338-4988, bestlittlerestaurant.com
  • Chinese American

    Bernard’s

    Regulars can rest assured: When Bernard’s relocated to the Street at Chestnut Hill in April, they brought along favorites like chow foon with beef and Spa Selections like grilled salmon over sticky white rice and Chilean sea bass caressed in a delicate soy sauce. Since no heavy starches or MSG are used, even the heartiest eaters should still have room for a fortune cookie.

    The Street at Chestnut Hill, 55 Boylston St., 617-738-3388
  • Clam Chowder

    Atlantic Fish

    Nothing disgraces the New England name like milky, insipid chowdah. You can trust Atlantic Fish for an honorable iteration of our quintessential dish. A shrimp-and-quahog stock gives depth to the velvety base, which is a conduit for tender clams and soft chunks of potato. Celery and herbs subtly enrich texture and flavor. And you can swap your conventional cup for a perfectly crusty bread bowl.

    761 Boylston St., Boston, 617-267-4000, atlanticfishco.com
  • Cocktail

    Clio

    Four years into his tenure at Clio, bar manager/lead alchemist Todd Maul still looks every bit the mad cocktail inventor as he prepares a reverse-engineered gin and tonic, the ice cubes grafted with Persian lime extract to gradually infuse flavor. He’s the brains behind the bar’s rotovap (a rotary evaporator used to distill spirits) and centrifuge (for the heatless extraction of liquids from solids). If this sounds painfully scientific, wait until you taste the rotovapped Mary’s Liquor Cabinet—a smooth, potent elixir, finished with a blot of Maul’s trademark Lillet Paint.

    370 Comm. Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com
  • Render
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Coffee Shop

    Render

    “The Golondrina has notes of caramel and chocolate—it’s your closest to a dark roast. The Finca Nueva Armenia is a little nutty, more light-bodied.” Render’s baristas know their stuff. You’ll find a daily special at the brew bar, and if you’re patient during the three to four minutes when water is slowly poured over the coffee grounds, you’ll be rewarded with a fresh, silky, expertly brewed cup of java.

    563 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-262-4142, rendercoffeebar.com
  • Georgetown Cupcake
    Photo Credit: Dan Watkins

    Cupcake

    Georgetown Cupcake

    The sunny day you expected is suddenly overcast with gloom? Your spirits won’t be with Georgetown’s cure-all Chocolate³, made of gourmet Valrhona cake and Callebaut ganache icing, plus chocolate sprinkles. Cupcakes are topped with a fluffy crown of frosting (a cream cheese–based recipe is their specialty, but traditional buttercream is also available) that’s never sickly sweet. Follow the store on Twitter or Facebook to catch its cupcake of the day, and if you’re one of the first 100 customers to order it by name, you’ll get your fix for free.

    83 Newbury St., Boston, 617-927-2250, georgetowncupcake.com
  • Deli

    Rubin’s

    Ordering a deli sandwich at Rubin’s involves a series of decisions. Choose from two sizes (Large and Overstuffed), seven types of bread (we like the cissel, a caraway-seed rye) and at least 16 fillings (including hot pastrami, corned beef, chopped liver and whitefish salad). And then there’s the Creative Eating: your choice of meat, securely piled between two toasty latkes. With this many options, keeping kosher has never tasted better.

    500 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-731-8787, rubinsboston.com
  • Dessert

    Harvest

    It’s no wonder Food & Wine recently crowned Brian Mercury the People’s Best New Pastry Chef—East Region. The desserts he’s crafting at Harvest look as exquisite as they taste. Fennel custard is plated with giant crumbs of olive-oil cake, daubs of blood-orange marmalade and sprigs of candied fennel. Or there’s the irresistible chocolate crèmeux, which casts stone-ground Taza cacao in high relief. You’d be wise to save room for these accomplished sweets.

    44 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-2255, harvestcambridge.com
  • Dumpling Café
    Photo Credit: Emily Knudsen

    Dim Sum

    Dumpling Café

    Two words: soup dumplings. The uninitiated should direct their immediate attention to the miniature buns, otherwise known as xiao long bao. Filled with broth and either pork or a pork–crabmeat mixture, these Shanghai-style dumplings are sturdier that their thin skins suggest, and bear the weight of their contents without splitting. The trick is eating them mindfully, lest you burn the roof of your mouth. You’ll want to quickly rip a corner of the dumpling with your teeth, count to five as heat escapes, and then gulp it down.

    695 Washington St., Boston, 617-338-8859, dumplingcafe.com
  • Diner

    South Street Diner

    It has all the requisite elements for a retro diner: neon lighting, swivel stools lining the counter and, for $2, a bottomless cup of coffee so you can rise until you shine. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, South Street is still slinging ’50s throwbacks like extra-thick frappes, and comfort grub like cheesy mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers. While the rest of the city sleeps, swing in to start your day—or wind down your evening.

    178 Kneeland St., Boston, 617-350-0028, southstreetdiner.com
  • Dinner With Live Music

    The Beehive

    What’s special about the Beehive is its levels of immersion. Claim a cafe table at the edge of the stage if you want to feel the music quiver through your hair. Or give yourself more room to breathe in the adjoining bar if you’d rather focus on dinner and conversation. You can also migrate to the upstairs bar, acoustics rising with you, if you’re aiming to intercept a Daisy Buchanan as she walks through the door. The setting is so bohemian and 1920s-inspired, you just might find her there.

    541 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0069, Beehiveboston.com
  • Ethiopian

    Blue Nile

    A meal at Blue Nile is always intimate. Jade walls snugly enclose 10 tables, and pendant lamps blaze like low-hanging stars. After supple whole-wheat flatbreads have been dappled with a thick meat or vegetable stew, guests are encouraged to eat with their hands or feed each other in a loving Ethiopian act of gursha. For a diverse sampling, order the Nile Combination so you can relish one order of meat and three vegetables, such as lentils in a spicy berbere sauce, or yellow peas seasoned with tumeric.

    389 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-6453, bluenilejp.com
  • Food Truck

    Mei Mei Street Kitchen

    This truck is powered by joy. Although Mei Mei’s seasonal menu rotates, it’s consistently packed with exclamation points. Staff members are happy to discuss their locally sourced, sustainable ingredients, and there’s playfulness in their carte du jour, including the recently proffered Fat Schantz sandwich and 24 Karat Soup. You’ll be feelin’ the good vibes once you try their signature Double Awesome—two slow-poached eggs, cheddar and pesto in a crispy scallion-pancake pocket.

    Follow @meimeifoodtruck on Twitter for up-to-date locations, 617-396-7321, meimeistreetkitchen.com
  • French

    Bistro du Midi

    No one ever refers to soufflé as “game-changing,” but after tasting Bistro du Midi’s, you might. Ballooning from its ramekin of blissfully light custard, this airy wonder is worth the 25 minutes it takes to bake. Chef Robert Sisca’s inspired hand with Provençal flavors and fresh ingredients conjures dishes like lamb tartare, served with a smear of spicy mustard and a perfectly cooked quail egg. The conclusive proof that this is French dining at its best: beverage director Todd Lipman’s exquisite wine list and cocktail artistry. Unsurpassed.

    272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com
  • Gluten-Free

    Scampo

    Twenty years ago, celiac disease was synonymous with restaurant paranoia. Much has changed since then. For example, who would have thought that Scampo, one of the chicest spots in town, would not only provide a gluten-free menu, but deliver one that doesn’t smack of compromise? The hearty Bolognese, pasta pomodoro and insanely delicious duck-fat fries confirm the restaurant’s status as a fine-dining destination where dishes may be adjusted, but quality never is.

    215 Charles St., Boston, 617-536-2100, scampoboston.com
  • Gourmet Food Shop

    Formaggio

    Hawaiian black-lava sea salt. Luxardo maraschino cherries. Dandelion honey. Formaggio’s shelves are teeming with tempting novelties, foiling the best-laid plans to just dash in for a wedge of cheese and bottle of wine. Since space is at a premium at both locations, products are carefully curated, and you lose yourself discovering ingredients you didn’t know you wanted. So here’s to the recipe that necessitates a bottle of 20-year-old balsamic!

    244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750; 268 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-6996; formaggiokitchen.com
  • Greek

    Farm Grill Rotisserie

    A gyro crammed with bronzed, juicy meat, roasted on all sides in a vertical rotisserie, and sliced into a grilled pita pouch. This is Farm Grill Rotisserie’s champion foodstuff, which you can dress with tzatziki and savor alongside a small salad. Order at the counter—don’t skip the stuffed grape leaves, or baklava, either—and then go find your seat. That first bite will take you straight to Athens, via Route 128.

    40 Needham St., Newton, 617-964-7766, farm-grill.com
  • Hidden Gem

    Taqueria el Amigo

    Its exterior is dubiously nondescript, and next door, the divey Hose Trough Tavern is like a guard dog warding off ’fraidy cats. It’s Waltham’s best-kept secret: Taqueria el Amigo, home of $2 tacos filled with rich, braised beef cheek. For a mere $6, try the authentic Tacos Especiales, featuring four soft corn tortillas encasing fillings like al pastor, topped with ripe slices of avocado, heavy pinches of cilantro and sweet white onion. Bring your appetite and some George Washingtons (this is a cash-only joint).

    196 Willow St., Waltham, 781-642-7410
  • Batch
    Photo Credit: Dan Watkins

    Ice Cream

    Batch

    South End locals Susie Parish and Veronica Janssens make their seven deceptively simple batches from scratch. We say deceptively, because it takes real artistry to finesse something this good from so few ingredients. Beyond milk, cream and egg yolks, you’ll taste locally sourced sea salt in the salted caramel. In the vanilla bean, each organic bean is split by hand. With nary an additive or artificial flavor, this is the purest carton of cream you can find.

    Batch is available at various grocery stores and specialty shops, 857-263-8833, batchicecream.com
  • Indian

    Mela

    Sanskrit for fair, Mela offers tandoori dishes and classic curries that are your ticket for a joyride through Indian cooking. Goodies such as lamb, beef and shrimp kebabs are marinated in tikka—a zesty, spiced yogurt sauce—and baked in clay ovens known as tandoors. Curries—which range in heat from mild to code-red hot—include the superior boneless lamb saag and subz panchmael, a medley of stir-fried vegetables and green cardamom sauce. Take a moment to cool your tongue with a side of raita, a refreshing yogurt mixed with mint and shredded cucumber.

    578 Tremont St., Boston, 617-859-4805, melaboston.com
  • Italian

    Rialto

    Her Boston hotspot Trade has earned chef Jody Adams well-deserved accolades, but connoisseurs know that her most brilliant culinary flights are found upstairs at the Charles Hotel. Beneath garlands of twinkling white lights on the terrace, enjoy a chilled aperitif, beautifully composed by beverage director Young Won. Grilled Woodbury littlenecks, served on an iron grill with garlic bread and thick slices of andouille, are an exemplary starter. Never overwrought, Rialto evokes the beauty of northern Italy in its harmonies of Taggia olives and artichokes, mint and pine nuts. 

    1 Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050, rialto-restaurant.com
  • Japanese

    O Ya

    Dinner here is a conscientiously crafted sequence of perfect bites, each incomparable in its artistry. There’s the minerally Kumamoto oyster jeweled with watermelon pearls; Arctic char in a bamboo steam basket; foie gras with raisin cocoa pulp and rich balsamic chocolate. Tim Cushman’s creations are transcendent, and his wife Nancy’s sake pairings are the most thoughtful—and fun—in the city. O Ya may deliver one of the best meals of your life.

    9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900, oyarestaurantboston.com
  • Korean

    BonChon

    Why fry chicken once when you can fry it twice? So goes the wisdom at BonChon, with obsession-inducing results: juicy meat that’s piping hot, crunchy (not greasy) coating and no nebulous strip of fat between the two. Each piece is hand-brushed with a secret sauce and cooked to order. Fried chicken platters are a staple in South Korea, and with locations in both Allston and Cambridge, you now have two places to try it.

    123 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-254-8888; 57 JFK St., Cambridge, 617-868-0981; bonchon.com
  • Lobster Roll

    James Hook & Co.

    Here’s the deal with lobster rolls: The whole point is to showcase the lobster. If you start getting too fancy, you’ll end up masking its flavor. At James Hook & Co., the crustacean speaks for itself, sharing the podium only with chopped celery and a camera-shy hint of mayo. Available in two sizes—regular and large—your roll can be toasted upon request. And the best place to consume it is right outside at a picnic table overlooking the waterfront.

    15-17 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-423-5501, jameshooklobster.com
  • The Painted Burro
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Mexican

    The Painted Burro

    A newly expanded bar stocked with more than 100 bottles of craft tequilas make this the city’s ground zero for fierce margaritas—but that’s only the beginning. Short-rib or white Gulf shrimp tacos, roast corn on the cob with garlic mayo and cotija cheese, and a knockout guacamole flavored with pork belly and roasted tomatoes are reasons to vie for one of the crowded tables at this Davis Square favorite. Add an order of tofu, spring ramps and crimini enchiladas, and relish your passionate Latin love affair. 

    219 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-0005, thepaintedburro.com
  • Middle Eastern

    Oleana

    It’s occasionally forgotten that Ana Sortun’s Inman Square flagship, long adored as a romantic dining spot, serves some of the most nuanced cuisine in town. There is a complexity to each of her mezes, like the quail kebobs with a peppery Turkish baharat rub, and the creamy carrot puree made with dukkah, an Egyptian spice mix ground with nuts. Her seasonings add vigor without overpowering the plate. And extra-virgin olive oil, used in place of richer agents like butter or cream, will keep you light on your feet. 

    134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com
  • Neighborhoods: Back Bay

    Post 390

    Ever since this comfortable Back Bay eatery instituted a tavern menu a few years back, it’s morphed into the perfect place to go for a post-work tipple. Sit by the fire and linger over the imaginative small plates by chef Eric Brennan, including hog’s head meatballs with nuac cham–dressed vegetables. Don’t forget to sample the cocktails, some of the best in the “chef-inspired” arena. 

    406 Stuart St., Boston, 617-399-0015, post390restaurant.com
  • Neighborhoods: Beacon Hill

    The Paramount

    If you’ve been around since 1937, there’s a reason. This casual Charles Street bistro is whatever you want it to be—diner, bar, family-friendly—and is as humble as you can get in a neighborhood known for its deep pockets. Sporting fluffy stacks of pancakes, giant frappes and a finely tuned steak salad, the menu has something for every palate and time of day. Be warned about the brunch lines, though.

    44 Charles St., Boston, 617-720-1152, paramountboston.com
  • Neighborhoods: Brookline

    The Regal Beagle

    This plush Brookline boîte is the definition of dapper, with red velvet wallpaper on the walls and plates of upscale comfort food gracing the tiny tables. The mac ’n’ cheese—with a Ritz cracker, truffle oil and sea salt crust—is a long-standing favorite, but the menu is loaded with less-familiar crave-worthy dishes such as spicy whipped ricotta–stuffed squash blossoms or pork chops in a watermelon barbecue sauce. And it’s always the first on the block to play with the latest in-season produce. 

    308 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-739-5151, thebeaglebrookline.com
  • Neighborhoods: Cambridge: Central Square

    Rendezvous

    Despite chef/owner Steve Johnson’s James Beard nomination, his Mediterranean standout sometimes flies under the radar. Good. More opportunity for connoisseurs to sample his Gascon-style duck three ways, or the invaluable sautéed squid with fennel and preserved lemon. Rendezvous also has one of the best cocktail menus around, which is high praise considering it shares a neighborhood with at least four other temples to mixology. Go there on Monday evenings for the After Work Tapas Bar, and pair a green papaya salad with lobster and cashews with a freshly mixed Nehru (saffron gin, lemon and cardamom).

    502 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-1900, rendezvouscentralsquare.com
  • Puritan & Company
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Neighborhoods: Cambridge: Inman Square

    Puritan & Company

    Chef Will Gilson’s first solo project is a lesson in heritage. Not only does his family’s 1920s beast of a stove serve as the host stand, but his intelligent, often wildly creative menu is inspired by old-school New England fare, offering plates such as hay-roasted carrots and lamb belly glazed with Moxie, a beloved regional cola. Bare wood and simple linens, seasonal ingredients and deeply considered flavors: Tradition never tasted so sophisticated.

    1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-615-6195, puritancambridge.com
  • Neighborhoods: Cambridge: Kendall Square

    Area Four

    The brunch will bring you to your knees (pastry chef Katie Kimble is a wizard), but that doesn’t mean any other meal settles for less. The wood-fired ovens do triple duty on baked goods, roast meats and seafood and, most divinely, pizza. Glorious pies feature bubbly, crispy crusts and toppings such as house mozzarella or cherrystone clams and bacon. And the homemade soft-serve ice cream is back, sealing the deal that this is Tech Square’s indispensable eatery.

    500 Technology Square, Cambridge, 617-758-4444, areafour.com
  • Neighborhoods: Cambridge: Porter Square

    Temple Bar

    The definition of a great neighborhood watering hole, the bar is well stocked and the atmosphere casual—exposed brick, oak panels, secluded booths. The menu sports evolved comfort dishes such as lamb and oyster-mushroom stew or a Grafton cheddar fondue with pretzels and bacon burger bites, and the cocktail program leans hard on whiskies. Look for the barrel-aged drinks, like a house version of the Manhattan called the Brooklyn. 

    1688 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-5055, templebarcambridge.com
  • Neighborhoods: Charlestown

    Navy Yard Bistro

    Chef/owner John Moore is a staunch advocate for believing in your community, and five minutes in Navy Yard Bistro on a busy night is proof that the community believes in him right back. Or maybe they simply love the duck wings with Hoisin glaze and the buttermilk fried oysters. Either way, find an outdoor table on a summer night and feel the warm fuzzies as you dig into a plate of ginger-sake salmon with wasabi crème fraîche.

    One 1st St., Charlestown, 617-242-0036, navyyardbistro.com
  • Neighborhoods: Dorchester

    Ashmont Grill

    One has to wonder how many times in a night the kitchen staff at Ashmont Grill call out, “Train wreck fries!” The fries—topped with melted Jack cheese, bacon, jalapeños, sour cream and scallions—might be one of their best-selling items, but they’ve got plenty of other reasons to shout. Whether it’s wood-grilled lamb sliders with cucumber raita, or Buck-a-Shuck Thursdays, there’s reason to envy anyone who lives on their street. 

    555 Talbot Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-4300, ashmontgrill.com
  • Neighborhoods: Downtown Crossing

    jm Curley

    A maestro at mixing cuisines high and low, chef Sam Monsour composes junk-food symphonies—foie gras glazed jelly donuts, a “McRib” banh mi with wild boar, Curley’s Cracka Jack with candied popcorn, bacon and roasted peanuts (with a prize inside, natch). Add a late-night menu of killer burgers and boozy “concrete” shakes, and it’s no wonder jm Curley has become a raucous rallying point for industry types and downtown revelers alike. New restaurant-within-a-restaurant Bogie’s Place adds further enticements: steak house delights and a caviar service worthy of an oligarch.

    21 Temple Place, Boston, 617-338-5333, jmcurleyboston.com
  • Neighborhoods: East Boston

    Rino’s Place

    Rino’s is the poster child for making the most of what you’ve got. With a dining room the size of other Italian restaurants’ coat check areas, space is tight, so a wait is inevitable. But with sumptuous lobster ravioli as the prize, you can afford to spend a while staring at your smartphone. And since the pastas are handmade and served in behemoth portions, you may well get more than one meal out of the deal. 

    258 Saratoga St., east Boston, 617-567-7412, rinosplace.com
  • Neighborhoods: Jamaica Plain

    Tres Gatos

    The darling of Centre Street, this record shop/bookstore/tapas restaurant hybrid brings the best of three worlds under one old roof. Craft cocktails have joined the libation list, and in September 2012 the kitchen unveiled a crazy-delicious brunch menu with some of the best chickpea pancakes around. Browse through the shelves before sitting down to attack the head-on prawns—this is a place to feel at home. 

    470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4851, tresgatosjp.com
  • Neighborhoods: Newton

    Sycamore

    Chefs David Punch (formerly of Ten Tables) and Lydia Reichert (formerly of Craigie on Main) know their way around a bistro. Sure, the menu’s seasonal and local to a fault, but where this newcomer shines is with consistency. Everything is superb, with varied choices that include house-smoked bluefish pâté, spring-bean cassoulet and Jack’s Abby beer on draft. A Mediterranean inflection comes out in touches of merguez and za’atar, but the real theme here is perfect execution.

    755 Beacon St., Newton, 617-244-4445, sycamorenewton.com
  • Neighborhoods: North End

    Ducali

    Before heading to this pizza mecca perched on the corner of Causeway Street, check the TD Garden schedule. The smells from the ovens waft through the wind tunnels of the North End, bringing stampedes of hungry fans and concertgoers for fresh pies and draft beer. Owner Philip Frattaroli says he simply makes sure it’s approachable to all. Try the Rugola, with arugula and truffle oil.

    289 Causeway St., Boston, 617-742-4144, ducalipizza.com
  • Neighborhoods: Somerville

    Highland Kitchen

    “Bar” food at these prices has no business tasting so outstanding. Whether it’s the spicy coconut-curried goat stew (it’ll scorch your tastebuds off) or the storied jambalaya, tuck in with a Mai Tai Dragon or any one of the cheeky cocktails off the well-rounded list and stay a while. The jukebox is always blaring, and most nights it feels like an urban barn party gone terribly right. 

    150 Highland Ave., Somerville, 617-625-1131, highlandkitchen.com
  • Neighborhoods: South Boston

    Local 149

    Three words: Fontina. Stuffed. Zucchini. Anywhere that fries up a big ol’ zucchini blossom tempura-style, then pairs it with sunflower gremolata and honeycomb, is worthy of serious respect. This South Boston favorite showcases creativity with local zest, a mission backed by a starring lineup of local breweries. That, plus the kaleidoscope of funky vintage soda siphons on the walls, makes Local 149 feel like the only watering hole you’ve ever known. 

    149 P St., Boston, 617-269-0900, local149.com
  • Neighborhoods: South End

    Myers + Chang

    A haven for spice-seekers, this pan-Asian diner earns cultish devotion from fans far beyond the South End. Chef/owner Joanne Chang and executive chef Karen Akunowicz have a knack for cross-pollinating flavors in dishes such as Szechuan shrimp-and-grits with okra and chive flowers or a Korean BBQ sloppy joe. The noodles—udon, dan dan, etc.—are rightfully famous, but don’t overlook the extensive list of gluten-free fare.

    1145 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com
  • New Restaurant

    Asta

    Pick a number: three, five or eight. Those are the menu options at Asta, where you choose how many courses you want in your prix-fixe experience. They range from rustic to daring to an all-out experimental odyssey, ingeniously composed by chef/co-owner Alex Crabb. None of the dishes overlap, and ingredients that change with the seasons introduce ambrosial tastes like mussel foam or hawk’s wing mushrooms and unusual pairings such as scallops with blueberries. This is a solid vote for fine dining as fine art.

    47 Mass. Ave., Boston, 617-585-9575, astaboston.com
  • Outdoor Dining

    Stephanie’s on Newbury

    After you’ve spent the morning stalking styles at Kate Spade and Valentino, there’s no better way to rest and refuel than by dining al fresco at Stephanie’s. Cozied into the corner of Exeter and Newbury Streets, the sidewalk cafe is prime summer real estate—and you can bring your pooch with you. So linger over that superb salad of Asian yellowfin tuna drizzled with wasabi aioli. Close your eyes, sip a glass of grüner veltliner and you’ll feel positively continental.

    190 Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-0990, stephaniesonnewbury.com
  • People-Watching

    OAK Long Bar + Kitchen

    Last year the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel celebrated its 100th birthday and treated itself to a facelift that transformed the cherished Oak Room into the swank OAK Long Bar + Kitchen. Boston’s finest tableside martini service continues to impress, but it’s the clientele that’s making all the noise. Pull over and rubberneck at the copper bar as financiers commingle with TV anchors and tenured pick-up artists pursue Louboutined debutantes. This is the place to rub elbows, network and feast your eyes on the city’s cream of the crop.

    138 St. James Ave., Boston, 617-585-7222, oaklongbarkitchen.com
  • Pizza

    Regina Pizzeria

    Sure, Regina has the unfair advantage of an 87-year head start (it opened in 1926). But its tried-and-true recipe continues to outdo rival pizzerias, thanks to three key components: a sauce that’s piquant and peppery with a trace of aged Romano; aged whole-milk mozzarella; and a legendary crust that’s delighted diners for decades. To cap it off, gourmet pizzas are finished with a judicious sprinkle of basil.

    11½ Thacher St., Boston, 617-227-0765; Additional locations in Boston, Watertown and elsewhere; reginapizzeria.com
  • Place to Go When Price Is No Object

    L’Espalier

    This is where the city celebrates. Take an aperitif and a nibble in the salon overlooking Boylston Street while you wait for your crisp, linened table and enjoy the anticipation of mains like a tasting of Vermont rabbit with cannelloni mousseline, white asparagus, shallots and Chartreuse. No visit is complete without a trawl through maître d’ Louis Risoli’s cheese trolley—renowned as one of the best cheese boards in the country. As for Jared Bacheller’s desserts, they’re whimsical sculptures and landscapes that break apart into cardamom mascarpone or vanilla sunchoke ice cream. 

    774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-3023, lespalier.com
  • Power Lunch

    Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse

    Walking past the huge plate-glass windows of this bustling Back Bay destination, you’ll see the city’s movers and shakers talking shop over bowls of tagliatelle. A-list celebrities, media bigwigs, CEOs and politicians slap shoulders at the elegant, dark wood bar or retire to the private dining rooms to close the deal over white tablecloths and filet mignon. Of course, owner Steve DiFillippo knows a thing or two about doing business—the casual Davio’s Cucina just opened in Chestnut Hill, while two more restaurants are slated to launch this year in Lynnfield and Manhattan. 

    75 Arlington St., Boston, 617-357-4810, davios.com
  • Pre/Post-Fenway Dining

    Basho Japanese Brasserie

    Fenway has no shortage of wings, fries and pitchers of beer, but when you’re looking for something less likely to sink you into a sluggish haze in the sixth inning, walk a couple of blocks to Basho Japanese Brasserie. Try something hot off the robata grill, like the braised pork belly skewers or the water eel glazed with unagi sauce. The tempura choices are light and crisp, and the signature rolls number among the best in the city (the yuzu yellowtail roll is a particular winner). More ravenous appetites should opt for the birdbath-sized bowls of savory ramen.

    1338 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-1338, bashosushi.com 
  • Abby Lane
    Photo Credit: Dan Watkins

    Pre/Post-Theater Dining

    Abby Lane

    Savvy theatergoers know to leave enough time before the show for a stellar shrimp BLT. The latest venue from Blue Inc.’s blue-haired captain, Jason Santos, delivers with its contemporary American cuisine (white pizza with spinach, wild mushrooms, crispy egg and truffle oil), respectable tap selection and beverage director Jarek Mountain’s superb craft cocktails, tailor-made for sipping on one of the fireside sofas. You may decide to skip the theater entirely. Have another Endless Summer (a house twist on a ginger margarita) and remember that the show always goes on.

    255 Tremont St., Boston, 617-451-2229, abbylaneboston.com
  • Ramen

    Sapporo

    Long before everyone and their mother was on the prowl for a late-night bowl of broth and noodles, Sapporo was the go-to for ramen devotees in the city. Our hands-down favorite will always be the spicy miso ramen, a blend of noodles, spicy ground pork, corn, scallions and a kicky broth. We’ve never said no to a Sapporo trip, be it in the dead of winter or on a sweltering summer night. 

    1815 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-876-4805
  • B&G Oysters
    Photo Credit: Emily Knudsen

    Raw Bar

    B&G Oysters

    Any night at a Barbara Lynch outpost is a night in good hands, and for the mollusk-obsessed, it doesn’t get any better. The menu’s got more than 12 different types of East and West Coast oysters, plus littleneck and cherrystone clams on the half shell. The backyard patio is heaven in the summer with a dozen Wellfleets and a glass of Chablis. Or sit at the pristine bar with a Mediterranean-inspired entrée such as Faroe Island salmon with ramp polenta, or the city’s best fried oysters.

    550 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0550, bandgoysters.com
  • Relaunch

    Forum

    No one will forget the events of April 15, when the second blast occurred right outside Boylston Street restaurant Forum. Rather than shouldering their financial losses and closing doors, the Forum team is rebounding with a completely revamped menu, a new chef and a remodeled interior. They’re fresh off a series of dinners benefitting the One Fund, and we can’t wait to welcome them back into the fold. 

    755 Boylston St., Boston, 857-991-1831, forumboston.com
  • Rising Star

    Michael Pagliarini at Giulia

    This man is the pasta whisperer. By day, you can watch the veteran of Via Matta, Radius and Chicago’s famed Trio practice his magic at his restaurant’s open pasta table. Or, better yet, come for dinner and take a bite of the bucatini all’amatriciana. You’ll swear he’s a nonna incarnate from the old country. (Actually, his relatives are Umbrian lentil farmers.) 

    1682 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2800, giuliarestaurant.com
  • Romantic

    Sorellina

    Candlelight, chic decor, a menu ideal for sharing and enough quiet buzz in the room to make you feel like you made the right choice. Chef/owner Jamie Mammano’s evolved Italian cuisine features perfect first-date dishes such as gnocchi with lobster (no cutting, no mess), while couples celebrating a grand occasion can splurge on Painted Hills rib eyes, or canoodle over a killer tiramisu.

    1 Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-412-4600, sorellinaboston.com
  • Salad

    Met Back Bay

    Business lunches are a tough thing to get just right. Everyone wants a Cobb salad, and it’s always hold the bacon, hold the cheese, hold the lettuce. Met Club caters to special requests, but it also has a stellar lineup of star hitters: hot salads including kale with dates and pine nuts, cold mixes of grilled favas, English peas and French beans. But it’s the large, chopped dishes that stand out. Try the Hong Kong with fried tofu, cabbage, beets and tangerines, or add a topping of lobster to your giant Caesar with endive and escarole.

    279 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-267-0451, metbackbay.com
  • The Salty Pig
    Photo Credit: Emily Knudsen

    Sandwich

    The Salty Pig

    Chef Kevin O’Donnell may have some of the best charcuterie in town, but our favorite part of his lunch menu is the innocent-looking list of sandwiches. When you chow down on the explosively flavorful crispy pork-head terrine with pickled veggies, fine herbs and house mayo, you realize you’re a humble novice in this chef’s lunchtime court. Skip the side salad and go with the chips—it’s better for you.

    130 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-536-6200, thesaltypig.com
  • Seafood

    Island Creek Oyster Bar

    Bivalves are only the beginning. Whether it’s pearlescent crudo, an inspired halibut with mushroom broth or the gastronomic epiphany of the smoked trout on rye, chef Jeremy Sewall’s team knows how to make seafood soar. The menu effortlessly fuses the casual feel of a fisherman’s feast after a long day on the water with technique-driven dishes such as the masterful lobster roe noodles. In a city famed for its seafood, Island Creek rules.

    500 Comm. Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com
  • Secret

    First Fridays at the Bristol Lounge

    Everyone knows the Bristol is the city’s swankest playground, while chef Brooke Vosika’s Bristol Burger is an object of obsession among beef cognoscenti. But far fewer are aware that, between 5:30 and 7 pm on the first Friday of the month, visiting Champagne-makers pour complimentary bubbly while guests can win prizes like free appetizers or magnums. With labels including Cristal and Louis Roederer, this is no small treat. And with accompanying snacks such as grilled purple asparagus with poached egg, Manchego aioli and almonds, you know your weekend is off to a perfect start.

    Four Seasons Hotel Boston, 200 Boylston St., Boston, 617-338-4400, fourseasons.com/boston
  • Sommelier

    Nicholas Daddona at Meritage

    A great sommelier possesses assured and encyclopedic knowledge. But he also has the ability to psychically project his palate into random situations. A touch of daikon in your oyster dish? The acidity in a sparkling Vouvray would play well on that. Meritage, long a bastion of oenophilia (oenocentricism?), has a fitting champion in Daddona, whose expertise is as developed as his talent for boosting a superb meal to the sublime. And the impressive wine list at his disposal gives him a potent roster of flavors to showcase his art.

    70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, 617-439-3995, meritagetherestaurant.com
  • Southern

    Estelle’s

    Much of Boston’s Southern cuisine is an approximate mix of stereotype and hazy nostalgia, usually undermined by shortcuts or plain ignorance. Chef/owner Brian Poe and chef Eric Gburski are traditionalists where it matters, and know their way around a po’ boy or catfish burger or buttermilk fried pickle. But they’re not afraid of small refinements, like putting tasso ham in the hush puppies, or enhancing deviled eggs by means of smoked chicken livers.

    782 Tremont St., Boston, 857-250-2999, estellesboston.com
  • Spanish

    Toro

    Even as its New York iteration prepares to open, this South End mainstay remains furiously popular (good luck scoring a table during peak hours, sigh)—and with reason. Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette continue, despite years of accolades, to create Boston’s most exquisite interpretations of Barcelona-style tapas. Roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, smoked duck drumettes, seared razor clams with garlic… even the patatas bravas are memorable. And the drink list covers all grounds, including hard-to-find sherries and authentically down-market calimocho.

    1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com
  • Steak House

    Grill 23

    The grande dame of steak houses turns 30 this year, but she hardly feels over-the-hill. Classic service and chef Jay Murray’s unsurpassed standards for a filet have kept this jewel from losing its luster, while the wine program and top-notch seafood add to the sparkle. Sourced exclusively from California’s Brandt Beef (natural, sustainable bovines with impeccable genealogies), your steak is always a cut above, while à la carte delicacies such as the 100-day-aged rib eye are the measure of carnivorous desire.

    161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, grill23.com
  • Sushi

    Uni

    Not your average sushi joint, unless average means sashimi so bejeweled and breathtaking that you’d never dream of soiling it with Kikkoman. In true Ken Oringer style, each dish is authentic at its core, often sourced straight from Tokyo’s Tskuji market, then enlivened with a gutsy tweak. Dive into the deep end with the incomparable omakase, or choose from symphonic bites including hamachi toro with black-truffle vinaigrette and pork belly croutons. In recent months, the weekend late-night ramen menu has been making waves (try the vegetable version).

    370 Comm. Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, unisashimibar.com
  • Laffa
    Dan Watkins

    Take-out Lunch

    Laffa

    Despite an expansion into shawarma sandwiches in recent months, the mainstay of this workday favorite has always been the vegetarian salad bar. Order up a box of falafel and pile it with mounds of fresh Mediterranean flavors such as shirazi, eggplant ragout and marinated cabbage, and don’t forget the killer baba ganoush. If you’ve got room afterward (unlikely), stop back for frozen yogurt dispensed from the bank of machines on the side wall.

    31 St. James Ave., Boston, 617-423-1800, laffarestaurant.com
  • Thai

    Thai North

    Thai food brings out the picky in people, which is why we pledge allegiance to this little Oak Square take-out place. Unlike the listless pad thai and uniformly bland vegetables from the typical cardboard-carton shop, the food here is explosively fresh and traditional. When we promise we can handle the spice, they nod sweetly and melt our noses off with chilies—and we love them for it.

    433 Faneuil St., Brighton, 617-254-2025, thainorthbrighton.com
  • Vegetarian

    Clover

    Clover will always feel like it was the first drop in today’s tsunami of food trucks. It set the bar for the clever, fresh, fast street food that’s now the norm, and its expansion into multiple brick-and-mortars throughout town continues to spoil us with regular access to their excellent rosemary fries. And no more Googling truck schedules for an egg-and-eggplant sandwich! 

    1075 Cambridge St., Cambridge; additional locations in Brookline, Burlington and Cambridge; cloverfoodlab.com
  • Vietnamese

    Anh Hong

    Like much of Boston, Dorchester used to be a restaurant no-man’s land. That’s far from the case now, and some of the most impressive cuisine is at Anh Hong, where the seven-course beef is a cult favorite and the pho is guaranteed to lift you off the icy sidewalks in winter. Speaking of cold-weather food, leave room for the canh chua ca bong lau—the superb fish hot-and-sour soup.

    291 Adams St., Dorchester, 617-265-8889
  • Welcome Trend

    Central/Eastern European Food

    After the near-hysterical anticipation of Somerville’s Bronwyn (we think the Internet may have broken when it heard about the house-made breads), Central and Eastern European food has officially arrived. Chef/owner Tim Wiechmann is a wunderkind with wurst, to say nothing of borscht, pierogi and blutnudeln (blood pasta). Now we await progress on Liquid Art House’s promise to bring Lithuanian food to Arlington Street.

  • Wine Bar

    Les Zygomates

    While the focus is on classic French, the lengthy by-the-glass list at this Leather District standby doesn’t flinch from Italy and California, while the option for three-ounce pours gives you room to sample. The bistro fare—frisée with pig’s ear and soft egg or the duck confit crêpe—is beautifully executed (and Gallic), while the oyster specials are not to be missed. Almost as good: Some of the city’s hottest jazz acts burn up the stage while you sip.

    129 South St., Boston, 617-524-5108, winebar.com
  • Central Bottle Wine + Provisions
    Photo Credit: David Smith

    Wine/Liquor Store

    Central Bottle Wine + Provisions

    If the folks look familiar at this favorite spot for post-work wine runs, it’s because owners Nick Zappia and Liz Vilardi are two of the masterminds behind Belly wine bar and the Blue Room. An oasis of hard-to-find (and beautifully curated) bottles, Central Bottle also has a full-time cheesemonger on site, making it one of Cambridge’s best places to stock up for an indulgent afternoon. An Iggy’s ficelle, a jug of Sancerre and thou.

    196 Mass. Ave., Cambridge, 617-225-0040, centralbottle.com
  • Clerys
    Photo Credit: Emily Knudsen

    Wings

    Clerys

    There’s nothing immediately fancy about these barroom standards. They come in buffalo, BBQ or Wing of the Day, with blue-cheese dressing and celery sticks—but executive chef Kelly Snogles’ process makes all the difference. Never frozen, these wings are air-dried before baking, turning them extra crispy when they finally come out of the fryer. They’re tender enough to fall off the bone, with the perfect pitch of heat, thanks to judicious use of Frank’s RedHot sauce. With an ice-cold beer, they’re ambrosia.

    113 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-262-9874, clerysboston.com

Follow The Improper

Nominate Your Favorite Bartender, Bachelor/ette or Stylish Bostonian.

Unrequited crush? Bad hair? Send us your messages of love and spleen. They might appear in The Improper Bostonian.