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Food & Drink

Alden & Harlow
Photo Credit: Gretchen Devine

New Restaurant

Alden & Harlow

After years as a mercenary chef, Michael Scelfo finally added “owner” to his title, and his overdue solo debut is a smash. Alden’s array of shareable plates leans heavily on bold flavors, especially smoke, and achieves stunning effects even with (gasp!) vegetables: Few chefs could make charred broccoli on winter-squash hummus feel like a revelation. A cozy redo of Harvard Square’s old Casablanca space and a first-rate beverage program nudge the year’s freshest debut ahead of a very competitive field.

40 Brattle St., Cambridge (617-864-2100) aldenharlow.com
  • Asian Fusion

    Shojo

    This is how it starts: You bring a cocktail—let’s make it mezcal—to your lips, and suddenly, you’re enveloped by a nectarous fog of elderflower foam. You’ll long to hover indefinitely, but your attention soon turns to some duck-fat fries. Douse them in sriracha aioli, and poof—they’ll be gone. A samurai film plays above the bar; watch intently, wise one. You’ll need to channel your inner warrior to save room for multiple orders of bao, brimming with suckling pig and kimchi.

    9 Tyler St., Boston (617-423-7888) shojoboston.com
  • Bakery

    Tatte

    This Brookline favorite recently welcomed three Cambridge siblings, but there are no growing pains here. Bouquets of chocolate roses bloom behind the counter, plum and pecan tarts bedeck charming antique shelves, and a sweet, buttery scent suffuses the air. This is the actualization of every dream you’ve had of Paris, where the pastries are as good as they are gorgeous, and there’s nothing that a slice of cherry clafoutis can’t solve. It’s really no coincidence that Tatte’s croissants are shaped like smiles.

    1003 Beacon St., Brookline (617-232-2200); additional locations in Cambridge; tattebakery.com
  • Banh Mì

    Blue Dragon

    Prime time for scoring the best bánh mì in town is from 2 to 5 pm at Blue Dragon. That’s when the afternoon menu focuses on Vietnamese sandwiches and the crowds at this hot spot thin out. A stroke of luck, because you’ll want to be sitting down as you devour one of Ming Tsai’s leviathans. Crusty Iggy’s bread encases pickled, julienned veg, a generous schmear of pâté and plentiful proteins, like roast pork and peppery shrimp. Our current favorite is the slow-roasted lamb with mango and cucumber yogurt.

    324 A St., Boston (617-338-8585) ming.com/blue-dragon
  • Barbecue

    Sweet Cheeks

    Skeptics wondered why Tiffani Faison, first famed as an early Top Chef contestant, would choose to feature notoriously difficult American slow-smoke barbecue at her debut restaurant, but we’re very glad she did. Sweet Cheeks turns out terrific versions of the Texas-style ’cue, especially brisket and sausages, and great sides, including heavenly biscuits, really fine BBQ beans and (oddly enough) broccoli casserole, in a noisy, appropriately casual setting in the Fenway. The fine beer list surely doesn’t hurt.

    1381 Boylston St., Boston (617-266-1300) sweetcheeksq.com
  • Bartender

    Katie Emmerson at the Hawthorne

    “Sitting at Katie’s bar is one of life’s great joys,” says fellow bartender Tyler Wang of Audubon Boston, and we heartily concur. The willowy beauty who serves as bar manager of the Hawthorne not only stewards one of the best-regarded craft cocktail teams in the city, in one of its coolest spaces—an unmarked pair of rooms tucked under the Hotel Commonwealth’s lobby—but is herself a witty beacon of hospitality with dazzling technical chops behind the bar.

    Hotel Commonwealth, 500A Comm. Ave., Boston (617-532-9150) thehawthornebar.com
  • Best-Kept Secret

    Union Square Donuts Delivers on Thursdays and Fridays

    This is how legends are born. Step 1: Email Union Square Donuts by 1 pm to place your order for next-day delivery. Step 2: On Thursday or Friday, donuts are dispatched to your office. Step 3: With extreme urgency, announce to your co-workers that you must discuss this week’s deliverable. Open the box and boom: You have become the Office Hero, the one who brought maple-bacon and sea-salted bourbon caramel to the people.

    16 Bow St., Somerville (617-209-2257) unionsquaredonuts.com
  • Biscuits

    Treats on Washington

    Friends since their days at the Culinary Institute of America, owners Dana Briley and Jessica Brown turn out a panoply of willpower-crushing delights—sticky buns topped with toasted pecans, craquelins glistening with an orange-blossom glaze—but perhaps none so tempting as their fluffy biscuits. With soft, doughy interiors and lightly browned edges, they come in pleasing permutations like sweet cinnamon-and-sugar, cheesy cheddar-jalapeno, and icing-capped lemon-poppy seed. (Don’t make this hard: Just buy one of each.)

    379 Washington St., Boston (617-202-5837) treatsboston.com
  • Fornax
    Photo Credit: Holly Rike

    Bread

    Fornax

    Family-owned and -operated by Kim and Chris Fallon, Fornax bakes heavenly breads (fitting, since it’s named for the Roman goddess of ovens). Although they’re best known for their perfect boules, they also offer more than a dozen other artisanal loaves. Favorites include Irish soda bread, packed with plump dark and golden raisins, and their rosemary batard—think of it as a baguette’s stunted, wider cousin—with freshly chopped herbs and a crackly cornmeal crust.

    27 Corinth St., Boston (617-325-8852) fornaxbread.com
  • Breakfast

    Trident Booksellers & Cafe

    Here, breakfast is an all-day, every-day affair, and we certainly wish we could start (or end) each day with a freshly-squeezed juice blend alongside an apple-brie omelet, potato chuckwagon or Trident’s crowning glory: the zesty, lemon-ricotta stuffed French toast, drizzled with blueberry sauce. Its griddle-kissed challah is as thick as the novel you can pluck from the shelves while you wait—leisurely reading counterside with a Viennese espresso, or at a cozy table gazing out the windows overlooking Newbury Street.

    338 Newbury St., Boston (617-267-8688) tridentbookscafe.com
  • Brunch

    Mistral

    Brunch is the most important portmanteau of the day, and Mistral has all the classics, perfected to a platonic ideal. Take your standard yogurt and granola, elevated with panna cotta, almonds and mango glacé. An egg-white frittata bubbles beneath tiny globes of oven-cured tomatoes, each one bursting once it hits your tongue. And Valrhona hot chocolate may be the only thing better than a bloody on Sunday, with its voluminous cloud of housemade marshmallow floating in your cup.

    223 Columbus Ave., Boston (617-867-9300) mistralbistro.com
  • Burger

    Craigie on Main

    In an utterly done-to-death category, the bar at Tony Maws’ celebrated nose-to-tail bistro still serves the ne plus ultra of local burgers. Its magic is based on an exquisite, umami-packed beef blend (including marrow, suet and dehydrated miso powder) and an unusual preparation (steamed in a CVap oven, charred on a plancha). Line up early before the daily ration runs out, and go in late summer, the only time of year when local tomatoes are good enough to be included.

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

    Anna’s Taqueria

    Oh, Anna’s—it’s almost unfair. Once again, their Mission-style missiles reign supreme. Rigorous cross-sectional analysis confirms their composition’s supremacy: a blissful equilibrium of rice, beans and brawn, like saucy carnitas or spicy slow-cooked chicken. Bounding all that goodness is a steamed, stretchy tortilla, rolled into a taut torpedo and snugly sheathed in foil. This savvy structure ensures that fillings stay put, so every morsel lands right in the tank instead of your shirt.

    242 Cambridge St., Boston (617-227-8822); additional locations in Brookline, Cambridge and Somerville; annastaqueria.com
  • Butcher Shop

    M.F. Dulock Pasture-Raised Meats

    An antidote to the industrial food system that divorces consumers from the farms whose wares fill our larders, Dulock is a compact artisanal wonder. Its pasture-raised animals are sourced from nearby farms, its tools and workspaces for aging and butchering laid out in plain view. The fruits of its craft and care fill its display case with immaculate and flavorful cuts, grinds and sausages of beef, pork, lamb, goat and chicken. It’s the more delicious, respectful, sustainable meat market.

    201A Highland Ave., Somerville (617-666-1970) mfdulock.com
  • Cheese

    Formaggio Kitchen

    Other than its South End iteration, no place in Boston can approach this veteran Huron Village cheesemonger for the globe-trotting breadth of its small-producer selection and the level of staff knowledge and commitment to educating customers on the joys of cheese. It’s also a stunning gourmet grocer with fantastic imported charcuterie, salumi, breads, spices, wine and beer. It’s tough to wander out of this place without a small bag of costly, delicious treasures.

    244 Huron Ave., Cambridge (617-354-4750) formaggiokitchen.com
  • Chinese

    Peach Farm

    This subterranean spot specializes in the bounty beneath the waves. Clams bathed in bean sauce are a rich, palate-expanding opener. If you ask for fish, you’ll first be invited to meet it, proffered tableside in a bucket for your approval. And if there’s one dish that single-handedly illustrates the prowess of this peach, it’s the Cantonese-style lobster with scallions. Lavishly glazed in a sumptuous, vibrant heap, it’s the kind of treasure you could only hope to find under the sea.

    4 Tyler St., Boston (617-482-3332) peachfarmboston.com
  • Clam Chowder

    B&G Oysters

    A Barbara Lynch establishment doesn’t cut any corners, and that’s especially true in the case of B&G’s intricately crafted New England clam chowder, in which onions, celery, and leeks have sweetly steeped. White wine has been reduced, Yukon Golds have yielded to cream and milk, and savory bacon lardons bob alongside tender Topneck clams. The resulting robust potage is balanced with puff pastry croutons—cayenne-covered, they provide perfect quick hits of heat and crunch. You might add a final dash of salt with tears of joy.

    550 Tremont St., Boston (617-423-0550) bandgoysters.com
  • Coffee Shop

    Thinking Cup

    Coffee lovers who have graduated from pedestrian Dunks and Starbucks can choose from a growing range of small, independently owned Boston cafes, none better than this mini chain with three in-town locations. One of a handful of local outlets for coffees from legendary Oregon sourcer and roaster Stumptown, Thinking Cup offers superb renditions of drip, espresso and pour-over coffees, does proper teas and an amazing hot chocolate and offers a creditable selection of pastries and sandwiches.

    165 Tremont St., Boston (617-482-5555); 236 Hanover St., Boston (857-233-5277); 85 Newbury St., Boston (617-247-3333); thinkingcup.com
  • Comeback

    Delux Cafe

    Civilians and restaurant industry workers alike were dismayed by the January closing of this tiny, long-lived South End institution, a rare almost-dive in a largely gentrified neighborhood. But in May, hallelujahs resounded at the news that two former servers had bought and reopened Delux, having refurbished its barstools and updated its closet-sized kitchen. To the relief of all, its very nice (and nicely priced) drinks, decent food and quirky decor—yes, including the beloved Elvis shrine—remain intact.

    100 Chandler St., Boston (617-338-5258)
  • Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions
    Photo Credit: Katie Noble

    Deli

    Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions

    A few bright spots have recently emerged out of the murk that was Boston’s delicatessen scene, none more exciting than this newcomer that cures, smokes and handcrafts its own dazzling charcuterie, salumi, sausages and more. Beyond its awe-inspiring retail wares, Moody’s offers a counter-service menu of spectacular sandwiches, including corned beef, roast beef, pastrami and a gut-busting pork-belly bánh mì. It’s a little bit of heaven—the closest Boston gets to legendary urban delis like Katz’s and Schwartz’s.

    468 Moody St., Waltham (781-216-8732) moodyswaltham.com
  • Dessert

    Clio

    Ken Oringer founded his restaurant empire and garnered early fame with Clio’s meticulously plated, occasionally avant-garde French-influenced fare. Dinner here is a tough act to follow, yet pastry chef Monica Glass nonetheless draws gasps from patrons with her gorgeous, almost abstract desserts. For instance, it’s impossible not to be awed by her chocolate-themed Les Bois, which features a complex forest of organic shapes and textures edging a large, mostly empty plate—and that’s before you taste it.

    The Eliot Hotel, 370A Comm. Ave., Boston (617-536-7200) cliorestaurant.com
  • Dim Sum

    Winsor Dim Sum Cafe

    When you think “dim sum,” you may imagine a vast yet crowded room where a flurry of hands fly as food carts wheel by. At Winsor, you won’t witness such theatrics; the space is small, and a checklist menu replaces rolling trays. But you will find excellent, high-value eats, like paper-thin, translucent dumplings chock-full of pork and peanuts, pillowy orbs of custard buns, patties of pan-fried turnip cake to dip in occult XO sauce, and comforting bowls of warm congee. This is what food-as-theater should be.

    10 Tyler St., Boston (617-338-1688) winsordimsumcafe.com
  • Diner

    My Diner

    With its recent influx of young professionals and condos, the Lower End of Southie is starting to feel a little like the South End East. But the less-shiny old Southie lives on in the atmosphere of survivors like My Diner, which offers the same huge, hearty, cheap breakfasts it has for decades. A popular specialty is fresh-roasted turkey, including a turkey hash that just might ease the pain of the passing of Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe.

    98 A St., Boston (617-268-9889) astreetmydiner.com
  • Dinner With a View

    Sam’s at Louis

    The Seaport draws throngs of suburbanites and conventioneers to its many new restaurants, most boasting lovely water vistas and swank dining rooms. But despite the coveted views, the food and drinks along Seaport and Northern Avenues don’t always thrill us. Standing out from this touristy pack, perched above pricey, ultrachic clothier Louis, Sam’s offers modern New American fare and cocktails that actually live up to its stunning patio and 270-degree panorama of Boston Harbor and the waterfront.

    60 Northern Ave., Boston (617-295-0191) samsatlouis.com
  • Ethiopian

    Lucy Ethiopian Cafe

    Every scroll of Lucy’s injera tells a story. One night, it’s written in fiery berbere sauce; on another, it’s inked in the ruddy stain of red lentils. You can choose your own adventure by topping its spongy surface with your pick of veggie combos, or mountainous helpings of tibs—a stewy, hearty mix of beef and greens. Either way, finish with some peanut tea, a frothy elixir of milk and honey that makes for a very satisfying denouement.

    334 Mass. Ave., Boston (617-536-0415)
  • Fugu Truck
    Photo Credit: Nathan Ma

    Food Truck

    Fugu Truck

    Food trucks quickly became ubiquitous in Boston, and now treat streams of hungry urban workers to delicious quick-serve lunches—without the crummy-fast-food guilt. It’s one legacy of which former Mayor Tom Menino deserves to be proud. Among a lot of worthy competition, the bright-aquamarine Fugu Truck, adorned with a cartoon version of its delicious, poisonous namesake, thrills the lunchtime crowd with fresh, nice-priced renditions of Asian street food, notably ramen, bibimbap and pork-belly buns that would impress David Chang.

  • French

    Bistro du Midi

    We suggest taking your time at this Provençal palace. So allow that bottle of Bourgogne to breathe. Claim an order of the 60-minute roasted chicken, with ricotta and pine nuts stuffed beneath its skin. While that’s sizzling, whet your whistle with spoonfuls of seasonal white asparagus soup, slightly smoky and poured over succulent escargots. And for dessert, allow 25 minutes for gravity-defying soufflés, or luxuriate in every candied crumb of raspberry-filled beignets, ideal for dunking in white chocolate sauce.

    272 Boylston St., Boston (617-426-7878) bistrodumidi.com
  • Gastropub

    Kirkland Tap & Trotter

    For his second restaurant, Tony Maws traded Craigie’s haute technique and white tablecloths for a wood-fired grill and a neighborhood vibe. The result? Instant success for little sib KT&T, filled to the rafters with merry revelers feasting on curry-rubbed lamb ribs and smoked fish rillettes, washing them down with Ommegang, Victory ale and Schlitz. The music isn’t up too high: It’s just a chorus of folks enjoying themselves. Those bringing appetites bigger than their budgets can partake in the nightly changing neighborhood menu, with three courses for $35.

    425 Washington St., Somerville (857-259-6585) kirklandtapandtrotter.com
  • Greek

    Esperia Grill

    The unprepossessing exterior of this Brighton Center storefront gives way to a surprisingly bounteous and fresh buffet assortment within, from classic cold and hot Greek meze (hummus, saganaki, keftedes) to avgolemono soup, Greek salads, rotisserie chicken and kabobs of beef and lamb. We’re especially partial to its amazing pork gyros (popular in Greece, little-seen in the States), grilled to a crisp edge and sliced off the vertical rotisserie into beautifully chewy pita with thick, garlicky tzatziki.

    344 Washington St., Boston (617-254-8337) esperiagrill.com
  • Hidden Gem

    Gene’s Chinese Flatbread

    This modest downtown storefront is Boston’s only outlet for Shaanxi cuisine. Stick to dishes numbered 1 to 10 on its short menu: flatbread sandwiches, soups, stews and noodle dishes with pork, beef or lamb. It’s hearty, savory food—add some brick-toned hot sauce for heat—made with great care for short money. The No. 9, cumin lamb topping noodles hand-pulled to order like so much taffy, might be the single most delicious plate of affordable comfort in the city.

    86 Bedford St., Boston (617-482-1888) genescafe.com
  • Hot Dog

    Que Padre Taqueria y Mas

    After observing a moment of silence for the late Gregg “Boston Super Dog” Gale, we offer a paean to an elaborate, unique wienie preparation from another humble purveyor. At this teensy East Boston taqueria, chef/owner Victor Duran plates a Sonoran-style hot dog: a bacon-wrapped frankfurter in a closed-end, split-top bun, nestling atop pinto beans, tomatoes and diced raw onions, topped with squiggles of mayo, yellow mustard and jalapeno sauce. It’s all of four bucks, and it’s fantastic.

    386 Chelsea St., Boston (617-418-7278) facebook.com/quepadretaqueriaymas
  • FoMu
    Photo Credit: Holly Rike

    Ice Cream

    FoMu

    Alternative, small-batch ice creams are booming, and we can’t get enough of FoMu—as in “faux-moo,” a deliciously and deceptively dairy-free treat. Creators Deena Jalal and Hin Tang use coconut as a base, sweetening it with organic agave and unrefined cane sugar. It’s 100 percent vegan, kosher and from-scratch straight from Watertown, so you can scoop this stuff guiltlessly. The only trouble is choosing between flavors like a hot-meets-cold mango habanero, Bing-filled cherry amaretto or silky, always in-season avocado.

    481 Cambridge St., Boston (617-903-3276); 617 Centre St., Boston (617-553-2299); fomuicecream.com
  • Indian

    India Quality

    While we’re grateful that Boston’s traditional sub-continental restaurants offer more regional variety than ever—nice to see you, Indo-Chinese—this unimposing, long-running Kenmore Square venue continues to deliver the old-school goods: a comprehensive menu of familiar Punjabi and Mughal standards leavened with very good breads and the odd vindaloo or two. What keeps us coming back are its consistency, bargain-priced set-menu thalis, a nicer-than-usual selection of Indian and Western desserts and, above all, the sweet-natured hospitality of its veteran hosts.

    484 Comm. Ave., Boston (617-267-4499) indiaquality.com
  • Italian

    Prezza

    In the turn-’em-and-burn-’em North End, few restaurants offer amenities like a full bar, reservations or dessert. Prezza offers all of these, plus sleek atmosphere, polished service and a serious Italian wine list. Chef/owner Anthony Caturano’s cooking grew from his family roots in Abruzzo, evident in beautiful handmade pastas as well as terrific wood-fire steaks and chops. The sum of these parts is a modern, refined Northern Italian restaurant for locals who don’t want to be treated like tourists.

    24 Fleet St., Boston (617-227-1577) prezza.com
  • O Ya
    Photo Credit: Jillian Medugno

    Japanese

    O Ya

    Rumor has it that Tim Cushman may open another O Ya in New York. Lucky them if so, but we’ll still have the Ladder District original, where we first discovered omakase—setting the bar for every grand tasting since. Melt-in-your-mouth wagyu and arctic char are as memorable as flourishes like watermelon pearls and umami-rich foie gras ponzu. Seventeen courses of superior knife skills and imaginative composition—this isn’t dinner. It’s a banquet.

    9 East St., Boston (617-654-9900) oyarestaurantboston.com
  • Lobster Roll

    Belle Isle Seafood

    The closest real clam shack to Boston is outside the city limits, just over the bridge that connects Eastie to Winthrop. The relentlessly humble Belle Isle has a fine retail seafood counter and serves impeccably fresh local fish and shellfish—grilled, baked or fried—along with shore-food classics like chowder, stuffies and fried clam rolls. Its lobster roll is canonical (cold, barely mayo-dressed), huge and brimming with tail, claw and knuckle meat, putting more conveniently located tourist joints to shame.

    1 South Main St., Winthrop (617-567-1619) belleisleseafood.com
  • Mexican

    El Centro

    Need a date-night option that’s more sophisticated than a taqueria, but can’t abide the gringo cliches of Boston’s upscale Mex places? The South End’s El Centro offers a third way: It’s intimate and pretty, pours the right beverages (wine and sangria, Mexican beers, tequila and margaritas), and best of all, serves up a more traditional and refined take on Mexican cuisine, including specialties from chef/owner Allan Rodriguez’ native Sonora. Nobody wants to go home smelling like sizzling fajitas, anyway.

    472 Shawmut Ave., Boston (617-262-5708); additional locations in Brookline and Belmont; elcentroboston.com
  • Middle Eastern

    Sarma

    The menu provides a helpful glossary of potentially unfamiliar terms, but the appeal of Sarma’s exceptional meze—hot dates stuffed with goat cheese and dusted with harissa, a fava bean pâté of the richest, smoothest texture—requires no explanation. They draw droves to this quiet corner of Somerville, where rising star Cassie Piuma fearlessly seasons each dish with spices like cumin, saffron and za’atar. Sip a glass of effervescent Txakolina wine to keep your taste buds sharp between bites, and be sure to save some room for Greek frozen yogurt with toppings like Turkish coffee brownie.

    249 Pearl St., Somerville (617-764-4464) sarmarestaurant.com
  • Lone Star Taco Bar
    Photo Credit: Jillian Medugno

    Neighborhoods: Allston/Brighton

    Lone Star Taco Bar

    It’s a late night at Lone Star: Urban coyotes are saddled up at the bar, and some men with fresh ink on their arms order a round of Micheladas. Your neighbor is chowing down on beef barbacoa, and its smoky scent is hitting you like a barbecue in July. So lasso a salt-rimmed margarita—the El Diablo will put a little hair on your chest with its jalapeno and habanero. Then rob a freight train of a taco, say, the grilled avocado, loaded up with a slab of griddled queso like a melting brick of gold.

    479 Cambridge St., Boston (617-782-8226) lonestar-boston.com
  • Neighborhoods: Back Bay

    The Salty Pig

    The Back Bay has plenty of tony white-tablecloth joints for affluent tourists and businesspeople with expense accounts, but where’s a hardworking local supposed to get a decent meal? This funky, multilevel gastropub is the answer. The Pig boasts a great selection of porky housemade charcuterie, some strong cheeses, fine wood-fired pizzas, a few hearty pastas and entrees, well-chosen wines by the glass and a terrific beer selection. It’s a relaxed, affordable godsend in a sometimes stuffy, pricey neighborhood.

    130 Dartmouth St., Boston (617-536-6200) thesaltypig.com
  • Neighborhoods: Beacon Hill

    The Paramount

    Open every day that ends in “y,” for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Paramount has been around since 1937, yet there will still be a line out the door this weekend—with folks waiting however long it takes for giant malted Belgian waffles and pulpy, freshly squeezed orange juice. By night, candles flicker on the tables, and the Beacon Hillers who flock in face the hardest decision they’ll have to make all day: choosing between those prized tenderloin tips and the evening’s special. Good thing they can come back tomorrow.

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

    Fairsted Kitchen

    Adding to a suddenly-very-interesting Brookline restaurant scene, Fairsted Kitchen leads with its heart, which is to say, places an extraordinary emphasis on making customers feel loved and appreciated through assiduous hospitality. The kitchen follows the share-everything model and draws delectably from American nose-to-tail cookery, the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. A very strong cocktail, wine and beer program, late hours, weekend brunch and a terrific patio complete the picture of an exceptionally charming, useful neighborhood place.

    1704 Beacon St., Brookline (617-396-8752) fairstedkitchen.com
  • Neighborhoods: Central Square

    Central Kitchen

    In Cambridge’s ever-changing nucleus of a neighborhood, there’s still a special draw to Central Kitchen, a seven-nights-a-week stalwart where low-key, dimly lit environs complement unfussy bistro-style fare. A colossal cluster of mussels is topped with a teepee of thinly hand-cut fries, advantageously positioned for broth-dipping. And the tuna tartare will take you back to that grade-school lesson on layers of soil—only in this case, it’s edible strata of awesome in its rows of tapenade, pristine tuna and crumbly hard-boiled egg.

    567 Mass. Ave., Cambridge (617-491-5599) enormous.tv/central
  • Neighborhoods: Charlestown

    Navy Yard Bistro

    Someone once told us that Bostonians are cold and unfriendly. They’ve obviously never spent an evening at the Navy Yard, where regulars are warmly remembered and first-timers feel instantly at home. A friendly staff is the source of this welcoming vibe, further enkindled by hits-the-spot staples—buttermilk-fried oysters with crispy nuggets of andouille, ginger-sake salmon that will flake away on your fork. After you reluctantly finish your last glass of delicious housemade sangria, you can stroll the shipyard’s piers to take in spectacular views of downtown.

    1 1st Ave., Boston (617-242-0036) navyyardbistro.com
  • Neighborhoods: Davis Square

    Posto

    In its cozy, roaring space, Posto is first and foremost a (literally) certified maker of Neapolitan-style pizzas, and they are lovely, bubbly, thin-crusted wonders. But the kitchen’s gifts extend much further, turning out great, simple antipasti, pretty plates of pasta and elegant meat and seafood entrees. When your neighborhood is as diverse as Davis, with its students, hipsters, professionals and families, it takes a menu as multifaceted as Posto’s to be the neighborhood Italian restaurant for all of them.

    187 Elm St., Somerville (617-625-0600) postoboston.com
  • Neighborhoods: Dorchester

    Tavolo

    Variety may be the spice of life. But when you’re in Dot and it’s dinnertime, it’s difficult to want to go anywhere other than Tavolo. First, it’s dependable. Trademark meatballs with a hint of fennel take homemade spaghetti to new heights. And it’s almost too easy to polish off the antipasto, a pleasantly crowded party of roasted red pepper, mozzarella and prosciutto. Above all, its ambience is laid-back and fun—the kind of place you could bring anyone, so long as they’re hungry.

    1918 Dorchester Ave., Boston (617-822-1918) tavolopizza.com
  • Neighborhoods: Downtown Crossing/FiDi

    Marliave

    Chef/owner Scott Herritt rescued the crumbling wreck of a senescent downtown dining institution, removing a hundred years’ worth of renovations to restore its handsome 19th-century looks. His menu features a good raw bar, classics from American, French and Italian cooking, and a few well–executed throwbacks (like superb rarebits). With two cozy bars and a sunny, secluded patio, Marliave now functions as a versatile, crowd-pleasing hangout for tourists, nearby office and government workers and locals from the increasingly residential neighborhood.

    10 Bosworth St., Boston (617-422-0004) marliave.com
  • Neighborhoods: East Boston

    Rino’s Place

    As a rare vestige of Italian-American Eastie, Boston’s original landing pad for Italian immigrants, Rino’s embodies the virtues of many popular North End restaurants: giant plates of red-sauce fare with heaps of housemade pasta on the side. But the cognoscenti know the real gold here is in chef/owner Anthony DiCenso’s daily specials drawn from more traditional Italian cuisine, like a stunning osso bucco Milanese on saffron risotto. Little wonder the lines are three hours long on weekends.

    258 Saratoga St., Boston (617-567-7412) rinosplace.com
  • Neighborhoods: Fenway/Kenmore

    Audubon Boston

    Audubon Circle—long beloved by pre- and post-game Sox fans, BU students and Brookline neighbors— recently changed hands to become Audubon Boston. In: the management team behind Silvertone and Trina’s/Parlor Sports, bringing a tighter focus on craft cocktails and hospitality. Preserved: the great little patio, a solid menu of casual American fare and the room’s uncluttered look. Out: the notoriously hazardous Pointy Table of Death. It’s a welcome refresh, if not quite a reboot.

    838 Beacon St., Boston (617-421-1910) audubonboston.com
  • Neighborhoods: Fort Point

    Pastoral

    Todd Winer’s maiden solo voyage emphasizes fine Neapolitan-style pizzas from a gorgeous wood-fired oven, superb housemade pastas and a very good cocktail, wine and beer program. Comfortably set in a raucous, rawboned former warehouse, it complements an increasingly magnetic cluster of restaurants and bars, including Drink, Tavern Road, Row 34 and Blue Dragon. In so doing, it has helped cement Fort Point’s growing distinction as food-nerd central.

    345 Congress St., Boston (617-345-0005) pastoralfortpoint.com
  • Nebo
    Photo Credit: Jillian Medugno

    Neighborhoods: Greenway

    Nebo

    Last summer, sisters Carla and Christine Pallotta moved their beloved bambino from one end of the Greenway to the other. Installed in their stylish new digs on Atlantic Avenue, they’ve maintained everything good about the North End original: rustic hand-cranked pastas, their famous zucchini lasagna and more than a dozen antipasti to indulge every possible craving—say, creamy burrata with salty speck, or grilled lemon spritzed over golden calamari. Expanded drink and dessert offerings have only sweetened the recipe. 

    520 Atlantic Ave., Boston (617-723-6326) neborestaurant.com
  • Neighborhoods: Harvard Square

    Harvest

    Harvest has always had a sense of refinement, with its linens and its private terrace shaded by linden trees. But it’s the understated sense of play that we love most. Scituate scallops pop in a vividly verdant pea puree; a ruby streak of vinaigrette blazes beside a woozy poached farm egg. These are lively, flirtatious dishes, and, in large part, they’re made from local ingredients: Recently, tendrilled lettuce came from Apple Street Farms in Essex, and a crèmeux dessert featured chocolate from Somerville’s Taza and sea salt sourced from nearby waters.

    44 Brattle St., Cambridge (617-868-2255) harvestcambridge.com
  • Neighborhoods: Inman Square

    Puritan & Co.

    Not a single detail has been overlooked. Oven-warm Parker House rolls land with sea salt-speckled butter. Ask for a recommendation from the funky, thoughtful wine list and you’ll discover little-known stunners like bright Sicilian Occhipintis. Crudites showcase handsome veggies, like carrots recently pulled from the dirt, pure as a scene from Peter Rabbit. And seasonal suppers—be it short ribs or Muscovy duck—are so beautifully and precisely plated, you may be tempted to ask chef/owner Will Gilson if he’s going to art school on the side. This is where style meets substance, from start to finish.

    1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge (617-615-6195) puritancambridge.com
  • Neighborhoods: Jamaica Plain

    Tres Gatos

    The aptly named Tres Gatos is a triple threat. In the record shop and bookstore at the back, you can hang with vinyl versions of Hank Williams and Etta James, or browse for your next beach read. And by the kitchen, high-tops are primed for perching over pinchos and tapas. The bocadillo is outstanding, flaunting a juicy, griddle-seared lamb patty and a homemade roll that’s flecked with freshly ground pepper.

    470 Centre St., Boston (617-477-4851) tresgatosjp.com
  • Commonwealth
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Neighborhoods: Kendall Square

    Commonwealth

    Once you venture outside steak house territory, it’s pretty gutsy to let your proteins stand alone and encourage guests to choose sides of starch and veggies. But Steve “Nookie” Postal has every reason to feel confident in his restaurant/market’s build-your-own-dinner program. Mains are cooked to perfection: Red snapper and flat iron steak are never at war with excess ingredients or drowning in sauce. They are just mindfully, lovingly, expertly prepared. Simplicity done so well is uncommon indeed.

    11 Broad Canal Way, Cambridge (617-945-7030) commonwealthcambridge.com
  • Neighborhoods: Newton

    Lumière

    If you do nothing else today, look up directions to Lumière. Then commit them to memory. French for “light,” it gives humanely raised bounty a chance to shine—maybe it’s a Barnegat scallop varnished with smoked paprika sauce, or mustard-crusted Chatham bluefish. Chef/owner Michael Leviton was championing all things seasonal and sustainable long before it was the rage, so the carte du jour is always an enticing surprise.

    1293 Washington St., Newton (617-244-9199) lumiererestaurant.com
  • Neptune Oyster
    Photo Credit: Chelsea Kyle

    Neighborhoods: North End

    Neptune Oyster

    Neptune recalls the Yogi Berra crack “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” But the fact is everybody goes there, and often, because, despite its lack of an Italian accent, it’s still the best reason to visit the North End. Further, with its nonpareil raw bar, chowder, crudi, lobster rolls, cooked seafood dishes and seafood-friendly wines, and despite a slew of hot new competitors, Neptune remains one of the best New England seafood joints in the entire city.

    63 Salem St., Boston (617-742-3474) neptuneoyster.com
  • Neighborhoods: Porter Square

    Giulia

    Another veteran chef goes solo and achieves awe-inspiring results. Michael Pagliarini opened his rustic-looking Italian restaurant to quick acclaim, and anyone who has sampled his nightly assortment of handcrafted pastas knows why. The chef emphasizes traditional preparations, as in orecchiette with extraordinary housemade pork sausage, but adds the occasional of-the-moment frisson, like whey-braised rabbit on emmer farro casarecce. And he has wisely brought along hits from past gigs, like a superb vegetable antipasto. The net effect is a lovely, homey, heart-warming affair.

    1682 Mass. Ave., Cambridge (617-441-2800) giuliarestaurant.com
  • Neighborhoods: Seaport

    Legal Harborside

    Part of the cachet of this waterfront phenom is that it’s three restaurants in one, with each floor catering to a different mood. Yet consistently satisfying vittles are served from the roof-deck down. The roof itself is retractable, so you can bask in the sun with sushi and a pitcher of sangria, watching planes fly into Logan across the water. More upscale is the second floor, where shrimp cocktail chills in an elegant igloo. And the first floor is comfortably casual, serving a stellar crabmeat salad and throwback odes, like the Portuguese seafood stew from the original Legal’s in Inman Square.

    270 Northern Ave., Boston (617-477-2900) legalseafoods.com
  • Neighborhoods: South Boston

    Cafe Porto Bello

    Southie has many glossy new hangouts catering to its booming millennial population; the other Southie, of locals who grew up in the houses they still live in, favors this overlooked gem. Porto Bello features the kind of unfussy Italian-American fare that our grandparents loved: good pizza, groaning plates of pasta, veal and chicken parm. The room, like the wine list, is small and modest, the service sassy and unpretentious. It’s an echo of an older, tighter-knit South Boston.

    672 E. Broadway, Boston (617-269-7680) cafeportobello.net
  • Neighborhoods: South End

    Merrill & Co.

    The newest hot spot from the jm Curley team boasts diner-esque trappings and the vibe of a raucous neighborhood tavern. Its kitchen focuses on refined bar snacks, interesting vegetables dishes, New England seafood and raw-bar offerings; the friendly staff serves it up with studied casualness. With its  strong cocktail program, geek-worthy beers, approachable wines and sherries, bevy of shareable plates, great patio and scads of bar and communal seating, Merrill represents a distillation of this moment in dining.

    1 Appleton St., Boston (617-728-0728) merrillandcoboston.com
  • Neighborhoods: Theater District

    Ostra

    In a neighborhood that knows plenty about dramatic entrances, Ostra has made quite the splash. Its setting is immaculate: Whole fish repose on an ice bed flanking a polished open kitchen, and horseshoe crab-imprinted chargers anchor tables in the white-columned dining room. The equally gorgeous (and totally delicious) seafood is served Mediterranean-style—the branzino is baked in salt, the sea bream anointed with extra-virgin olive oil. As piano music drifts from the lounge, you get the sense that you’re dining on some distant shore, where it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find a pearl in your oyster.

    1 Charles St. South, Boston (617-421-1200) ostraboston.com
  • Bronwyn
    Photo Credit: Katie Noble

    Neighborhoods: Union Square

    Bronwyn

    Tim Wiechmann plugged a large hole in Boston’s collection of world cuisines when he opened this creative but respectful tribute to German, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovakian, Czech, Polish and Alpine Italian fare. Beautiful breads, dumplings and noodles vie with roasts, cutlets and heaps of delectable housemade sausages to recreate the heft and heartiness of Mitteleuropean foods. The great beer selection (and beer garden in which to enjoy it) and regional wines are no surprise—the arty cocktail program is.   

    255 Washington St., Somerville (617-776-9900) bronwynrestaurant.com
  • Modern Pastry
    Photo Credit: Holly Rike

    Pastry

    Modern Pastry

    There’s nothing better on a hot summer night than a stroll down Hanover Street, following your nose into Modern Pastry for a creamy, cool dessert. Plain and chocolate-dipped cannoli are made to order, piped with fresh, mild ricotta, for results that are delicate, never soggy. If you prefer a nightcap, reach for a spongy, rum-soaked baba. And their handmade, crispy shells filled with custardy “lobster tail cream” blow rivals out of the water.

    257 Hanover St., Boston (617-523-3783); 20 Salem St., Medford (781-396-3618); modernpastry.com
  • Pho

    Pho Le Vietnamese Cuisine

    In the Land of Noodle Soups, pho is surely queen, if not king. Its status derives from wondrous flavors and textures (aromatic broth, slurpable noodles, pungent fresh herbs, savory meats, crunchy sprouts, fiery chilies, bracing lime juice) and mystical morning-after restorative powers. Among Dorchester’s many fine pho joints, Le stands out for its limpid, light, easy-on-the-MSG broths, sparkling yet humble dining room, and terrific dishes like duck salad and Vietnamese crêpes for when your crowd wants more than soup.

    1356 Dorchester Ave., Boston (617-506-6294)
  • Pizza

    Picco

    This is the crust that aficionados live for. A two-day cold fermentation is the secret behind the dense yet airy dough, which is fired till it’s dotted with dark, bubbly blisters. It’s an optimal vehicle for fully loaded toppings, like the irresistible Alsatian’s sweet-meets-smoky bed of caramelized onions and bacon niblets. Picco also churns its own ice cream, so you can pair your pie with an “adult” ice cream soda, a raspberry Lambic poured over housemade vanilla.

    513 Tremont St., Boston (617-927-0066) piccorestaurant.com
  • Place to Go When Money is No Object

    L’Espalier

    Sturgeon caviar. Truffles. King salmon. L’Espalier’s fare is what you’d find if rainbows ended in plates instead of pots of gold. Even its cheeses have resplendent names, like Fleur de Maquis—“Flower of the Brambles”—an herb-encrusted round made from Corsican sheep’s milk. Sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Boylston Street, finishing a prix-fixe feast capped with petit fours like vanilla-rosewater marshmallows, you’ll realize it’s possible to feel like royalty—even if it’s just for one night.

    774 Boylston St., Boston (617-262-3023) lespalier.com
  • Pop-Up

    The Future of Junk Food

    Indie chefs Samuel Monsour and Mark O’Leary have impressive resumes (including gigs at jm Curley and O Ya) and a wicked sense of humor. One of their cleverest recent projects is this pop-up series, which constructs simulacra of horrible mass-market crap from utterly delicious ingredients, such as a sandwich that echoes a McDonald’s Filet-o-Fish by layering a Peekytoe crab patty and sea urchin in a squid-ink bun. It’s mind-bending food, even if you don’t get their subtle points about eating sustainably and responsibly.

    futureofjunkfood.com
  • Raw Bar

    Row 34

    This Fort Point hot spot has seafood down cold, expertly slicing, shucking, smoking and curing. It offers a stacked selection of shellfish, but let’s talk about its namesake, the latest bivalve on the block. Harvested by the Island Creek Oysters team, the Row 34 is raised on crates that never touch the floor of Duxbury Bay. Refreshing as a cool clip of wind in August, they have a faintly nutty finish. Get a dozen to properly sample sauces like the frisky chili-cilantro mignonette. And, while you’re at it, tack on an order of fluke crudo or snapper ceviche, in which you’ll always find an exquisite balance of sprightly acids and fish.

    383 Congress St., Boston (617-553-5900) row34.com
  • Stephi’s in Southie
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Salads

    Stephi’s in Southie

    Often relegated to bit parts in appetizer sections, salads enjoy a starring role at Stephi’s. This third outpost of the Stephanie’s on Newbury empire has clearly hit its sweet spot with enormous, attractive, protein-laden entrees, like a pile of mandolined crunchy vegetables topped with grilled shrimp. They’re a boon for locals looking for a healthy but satisfying dinner, perhaps after a session at the nearby Handle Bar or South Boston Yoga. It’s a wonder more restaurants don’t follow suit.

    130 Dorchester Ave., Boston (617-345-5495) stephisinsouthie.com
  • Sandwich

    Cutty’s

    This tiny Brookline Village storefront had lines out the door even before omnipresent food-TV celebrity Guy Fieri showcased it on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. It’s an even tougher ticket now, but worth the wait for its beautiful, artfully crafted sandwiches. Choosing a highlight from the dud-free menu is tough, but we’ll nominate one for our lacto-vegetarian friends: meltingly tender Swiss chard and crispy shallots with saffron yogurt on excellent ciabatta—a fiercely flavored, slightly messy, truly original sandwich.

    284 Washington St., Brookline (617-505-1844) cuttyfoods.com
  • Seafood

    Island Creek Oyster Bar

    So much of ICOB’s success has depended on adherence to its founding principle: Know your oyster farmers, clam diggers and fishermen. Because their sources have been personally vetted, the quality of those connections can be tasted in every dish—whether it’s Mrs. Bennett’s decadent seafood casserole, named for Island Creek Oysters founder Skip’s mom, or grilled lobster atop buttery roe noodles, featuring crustaceans culled by chef/co-owner Jeremy Sewall’s cousin. With general manager Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli heading up the hospitality side, you’ll feel like family too. 

    Hotel Commonwealth, 500 Comm. Ave., Boston (617-532-5300) islandcreekoysterbar.com
  • Theresa Paopao at Ribelle
    Photo Credit: Katie Noble

    Sommelier

    Theresa Paopao at Ribelle

    Tim Maslow’s acclaimed, wildly creative Italian restaurant has a secret weapon in its sommelier, recruited from his days at Momofuku. Paopao is on a mission to inveigle customers down unlikely paths, like exploring the terra incognita of Austrian reds (Blaufränkisch grape, anyone?), or wheedling Sideways fans into giving California merlots another go. Our favorite Paopao gambit: listing by-the-glass options only with evocative descriptions of each wine’s style, not its vintner or varietal. That’s a trust fall every Ribelle customer should willingly take.

    1665 Beacon St., Brookline (617-232-2322) ribellebkline.com
  • Southern

    Hungry Mother

    Everything here is warm and rustic: Water is poured into Mason jars, the bathroom walls are papered with pages from cookbooks and grassy whorls of fiddleheads curlicue around entrees, incarnating springtime. The menu changes daily, but you’ll always be invited south, with mainstays like sorghum-buttered cornbread and cocktails stirred with a bevy of bourbons.

    233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge (617-499-0090) hungrymothercambridge.com
  • Spanish

    Toro

    Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer took Toro to Manhattan last year, gambling that one of Boston’s most successful restaurants could woo New Yorkers notoriously averse to carpetbaggers. Surprise: Toro V2.0 is a flaming success, but hasn’t diffused the South End original’s winning formula of swoony Barcelona-inspired tapas, great wines and cocktails, and service that somehow maintains its aplomb amid a never-abating throng. Please, please check out Toro NYC soon; we’d love just a little more room to squeeze in at the bar here.

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

    Grill 23

    Grill 23 is still the boss of beef. It’s always had excellent timing—tenderizing rib-eyes with a 100-day age, or pulling lavishly marbled 10-ounce Kobe caps from the flames just as they begin to blush, so every medallion is evenly crimson. And in honor of its 30th birthday, the Grill wisely invested in its future, unveiling a major renovation of its downstairs bar, where small plates are wallet-friendly and cask-strength single-malt flights can be sipped by the big picture windows.

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

    Cafe Sushi

    Its facade is unremarkably ordinary, its name straightforward, if not generic. You don’t go here to be seen. You come for low-profile delicacies, like diaphanous amberjack sashimi, briny, billowy uni that will blow your mind, ambrosial ankimo (a luscious monkfish liver) and artfully constructed five-piece samplers of the freshest fish in season. Try to score a seat at the sushi bar so you can freely admire the chefs as they compose these game-changing creations.

    1105 Mass. Ave., Cambridge (617-492-0434) cafesushicambridge.com
  • Thai

    Thai North

    Boston’s best Southern Thai restaurants like S&I and Dok Bua are sometimes wary of letting non-Thai customers order the same fiery, funky dishes their Bangkok expat clientele loves. By contrast, this sweet little storefront specializes in Northern cuisine and is happy to have its customers explore. Skip the ordinary Southern menu here and go for the blackboard menu’s Northern dishes like nam prik ong, duck larb and “dressing wings.” It’s a beautiful, delicious, strange new world.

    433 Faneuil St., Boston (617-254-2025) thainorthbrighton.com
  • Tenoch Mexican
    Photo Credit: Nicole Popma

    Torta

    Tenoch Mexican

    On most Mexican menus, burritos and tacos hog the spotlight while tortas, complicated sandwiches served on crusty telera rolls, lurk meekly in the corner. Tenoch pushes its tortas to center stage, where they absolutely shine. Layered with smoky-hot chipotle mayo, pickled onions, avocado and melty queso Oaxaca, any of Tenoch’s meat options are terrific, but the standout is the campechana, a hefty combination of carnitas (braised, crisped pork shoulder), chorizo and beans. You may never bother with a burrito again.

    3 Lewis St., Boston (617-248-9537) tenochmexican.com
  • Unwelcome Trend

    Earsplitting noise in dining rooms

    Almost every new restaurant in Boston now debuts with punishing noise levels. We understand the business justification for it: Quiet feels old and dead; liveliness equals good times! Plus, noise discourages table camping and enables more profit-driving table turns. But when your customers and staff go home hoarse after screaming all night, you’ve turned liveliness into hearing damage. Let’s agree to a healthier noise maximum—say, quieter than a leaf blower. WE SAID, QUIETER THAN A LEAF BLOWER!

  • Root
    Photo Credit: Jillian Medugno

    Vegetarian/Vegan

    Root

    Sitting on Allston’s Vegetarian Row, Root serves an appealing combination of vibrant fresh juice drinks, sandwiches, salads and sides—all vegan, though you might not notice from the menu or signage. A sunny little counter-service storefront with youthful trappings (like a wall of bicycle wheels), Root turns out superb fries, a killer sweet-potato quesadilla, terrific liege waffles (at brunch) and maybe the best veggie burger in Boston. It’s that rare vegan place that will please your omnivore friends, too.

    487 Cambridge St., Boston (617-208-6091) rootboston.com
  • Welcome Trend

    Shareable plates

    Multicourse service based on individually plated appetizers, entrees and desserts had a good run of a hundred-plus years, but who wants to eat that way now? More Boston chefs are creating menus based on a variety of plate sizes, all meant for sharing. This is especially welcome at venues like Best New Restaurant winner Alden & Harlow, with a chef whose inventiveness and skill cries for broader sampling. Yes, we’ll have a bite of this, that, that, that, that and that.

  • Wings

    Clerys

    Your order arrives with welcome fixings of carrot and celery sticks, as well as homemade blue cheese. But lo, these aren’t your everyday Buffalo wings. Call it Clerys’ ABCs of finger-lickin’ good: Their wings are Air-dried, Baked and then served extra Crispy, slathered in sauce. Unlike deep-fried buckets of grease, these red-hot wings burst with juice once you pierce the skin. This is premium poultry.

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

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