Eating Suburbia

Reasonable wait times. Affordable prices. Plenty of parking. And yet dining outside the city limits still seems unthinkable for some urban foodies. The stigma seems especially unfair when you consider that some of the region's best chefs are working their magic in suburban kitchens.

So we set off to scour the large and small towns around Boston—from Haverhill to Quincy, Lynn to Cape Cod—to uncover their most delicious destinations, places where culinary innovation and professionalism are thriving, thank you very much. So if you thought the only great restaurants were in the city … think again.

The North

From Haverhill to Lynn, Winchester out to Gloucester, the northern ’burbs are luring some of Boston’s best chefs. And while the atmosphere may be more about scenery than scene, the food is buzz-worthy.

1 | Catch Growing up, chef Chris Parsons had no idea where Winchester was. The water baby spent his summers on Cape Cod fly-fishing and playing on the beach. Even when working in landlocked Colorado and later back East at Rialto and Flour Bakery, Parsons always knew that his place would be all about seafood. But when he and his wife, Megan, scouted oceanfront towns for the perfect location, all they found was Winchester—which, for you city folk, is nowhere near the water. Despite the location, Parsons turns out beautiful seafood-centric dishes such as pan-seared scallops wearing braised shortrib–ravioli hats and grilled calamari atop yellow wax beans and roasted potatoes. And while Winchester will never boast ocean views, Catch makes coastal living seem a little more accessible. 34 Church St., Winchester, 781-729-1040.

2 | Sã•vour Kitchen Located in an office park, Sã•vour Kitchen belies its humble appearance with fresh, expertly crafted food. The year-old restaurant boasts made-from-scratch scones in the morning, homemade soups and salads for lunch, and early dinner options such as scallops and crab cakes. Chef-owner Matthew Morello, former chef de cuisine at Spire, picks up ingredients daily, often starting as early as 3 a.m. “The food is to the point,” he says adding that the best meals have great flavors, without a big production. Which is just what he delivers. 63 Park St., Andover, 978-749-9071.

3 | Cassis Bistro Français Tucked on a side street just off Andover’s chic main drag, Cassis is a bistro that understands its moniker. The fare smacks of Burgundy in winter and releases more Provençal flavor in warmer months. Opened by husband-and-wife team David and Michelle Rossetto, Cassis dishes up French staples such as Provençal-style sautéed calamari with black olive-tomato concassé and a pan-roasted cod with caramelized onion-port wine sauce. In a town growing more chic by the minute, this bistro proves that classics never go out of style. 16 Post Office Ave., Andover, 978-474-8788,

4 | Evenfall Rarely is artistic expression displayed in the restaurants of our culturally rich city as well as it is up north at Evenfall. This gem, far from any major art museum, sends out dishes that look as if they were pulled from a gallery wall. Each plate is rich in texture, color, and, more important, flavor. The venison au poivre is a lesson in abstraction while “Duck x 4” (four styles on one plate) could pass for a Dutch still life. Fine art never tasted so good. 8 Knipe Rd., Haverhill, 978-521-7550.

5 | Red Rock Bistro Overlooking a long stretch of Swampscott Beach, this relaxed dining room feels as if it could be perched on a Caribbean bluff. Clapboard walls and soaring windows offer a fine oceanfront view, while lively patrons gathered around the aqua-lit bar to nosh on grilled pizzas and martinis mean the place always feels like a party. With a takeaway counter for fried clams and shakes and a surfside patio for sunset cocktails, Red Rock has the makings of an all-out beachside stop. 141 Humphrey St., Swampscott, 781-595-1414.

6 | Finz The waterfront teems with classic seafood restaurants, but Finz on Salem Harbor puts a modern spin on the New England standard. Purple walls are accented by porthole-like glasswork, and comfy couches are perfect for lounging while nibbling on a menu of tasty seafood and well-chosen wines. On weeknights, a large, square bar area fills with locals waiting to dine on thick tuna steaks marinated in hoisin sauce and sautéed shrimp over gnocchi. And in warm weather, there’s no better patio to slurp down wasabi-Stoli oysters and frosty beers. 76 Wharf St., Salem, 978-744-8485.

7 | Soma Soma is all the buzz in Beverly. Its newest chef, Nick Speros, a former sous chef at Radius, has brought an inspired blend of Italian, French, and Greek styles resulting in delicacies such as a beet and bean salad laced with skordalia (garlic, olive oil, and vinegar), a trio of Mediterranean spreads including red pepper–feta, olive, and chickpea, and a lot of elegant seafood. With a sleek, polished dining room and Speros at the helm, we can see what all the buzz is about. 256 Cabot St., Beverly, 978-524-0033.

8 | Cala’s Manchester-by-the-Sea’s newest joint has the spunk of a little sister looking to impress the older kids. In the center of town surrounded by fine-dining options, Cala’s shouts out with a boisterous atmosphere, a young staff, and a menu packed with ambitious ingredients. Like its (older) sister Alchemy, in Gloucester, Cala’s appeals to the masses; there are pizzas, sandwiches, and salads along with grown-up dishes, such as lobster over sweet corn risotto, all reasonably priced. It’s by no means gourmet, but still a terrific place to please a crowd. 7 Beach St., Manchester-by-the-Sea, 978-525-3304.

9 | Duckworth’s Bistrot Ken Duckworth learned his trade under the watchful eye of Jacky Robert, the revered chef of Maison Robert. When that institution closed its doors in 2004, he migrated north to open Duckworth’s Bistrot, a tiny dining room tucked among waterside cottages where he could employ his French training and, conveniently, his wife, Nicole, as pastry chef. In this casual bistro, the pair have created dishes of which even Monsieur Robert would approve. Even better, each comes in half and full portions, an option that lets diners sample a little of everything. Having tasted the mushroom soup drizzled with olive oil, the game hen served over creamy potatoes, and a bite of banana cake, we recommend taking full advantage of the options. 197 E. Main St., Gloucester, 978-282-4426.

ONE TO WATCH | Oxford Street Grill Lowell Gray’s new Lynn restaurant, Oxford Street Grill, not only changed his life—he gave up owning a successful Internet service provider to open a fine-dining restaurant—but it also awakened a city decidedly lacking in gourmet options. Chef David Fitzgerald, who trained at Olives and served as head chef at Mezé, incorporates traditional German and Central European flavors into new recipes: The signature wursts are served with three kinds of sauerkraut, including one laced with sesame, cabernet vinegar, and mustard. 191 Oxford St., Lynn, 781-593-3111.

The South

We scoured the large and small towns of Boston’s South Shore—from the ethnic diversity of Quincy to the preppy, sleepy cusp of Cape Cod—to uncover its most delicious destinations.

1 | Fuji 1546 For all its fresh seafood, the South Shore has lagged behind the rest of the world in one crucial area: sushi. Well, no longer. Fuji 1546 opened its doors last year, and area raw-fish lovers haven’t looked back. The urbane, colorful room sends out maki and sashimi of a quality on par with Boston’s better sushi bars—gems including uzaku (eel and cucumber with rice vinegar) and tender, spicy scallops. There are very good cooked Japanese dishes, too, from udon with shrimp tempura to lime-soy filet mignon. And with the friendly staff, free WiFi, and groovy tunes, the bar area is a great hangout, until you’re feeling hungry again. 1546 Hancock St., Quincy, 617-770-1546.

2 | Sintra Classic Portuguese is so plentiful in New England, many of us rarely think to ask anything else of the cuisine. Not so chef Brian Jenkins, the Plymouth native who opened Sintra (named after the town in Portugal where he honeymooned) with a menu pushing the culinary boundaries of Iberia. The stylishly minimalist room is packed with diners digging into pan-roasted monkfish with black beluga lentils and a squid and snap pea stir-fry, or big bowls of fisherman’s stew with fennel and saffron. Toss in a selection from the compact but thoughtful selection of wines, and your classic cataplana cravings will be fully sated. 906 Washington St., Braintree, 781-848-1151.

3 | The Snug In Ireland, the “snug” is the coziest part of a pub. But when a place is as welcoming as this restaurant, it only makes sense that the word apply to the entire room. Owners Ellen and Ed Brown usher guests into the charming, mahogany-trimmed pub for live Irish music, hearty staples such as shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, and (thanks to a state-of-the-art European draft system) a perfect pint of Guinness. Then there’s the essential element: conviviality. That, as any of the friendly regulars will happily tell you, the Snug has in spades. 116 North St., Hingham, 781-749-9774.

4 | Tosca Named for Puccini’s celebrated opera, Tosca has become a classic of its own. Open for 13 years, it’s still the most sophisticated setting around, with the most impeccable service. And under current chef Kevin Long, it nails every angle of refined dining. From the airy, exposed-brick dining room bustling with meticulous servers to the exceptional wine list and roster of modern Italian dishes (the hand-formed orecchiette with sausage, corn, and baby tomatoes is a masterpiece of clean-flavored simplicity), Tosca hits all the right notes. 14 North St., Hingham, 781-740-0080.

5 | Bridgeman’s Bridgeman’s jumps with the energy of a sleek city spot. The room’s popular bar keeps the bustle up on one side, while the dining area centers on a glass-enclosed kitchen helmed by chef Paul Wahlberg. Yes, yes, he’s Mark’s brother. But the man’s got chops in his own right: After stints at the Charles Hotel and the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, he’s now turning out remarkably fresh Italian. There are smoky-flavored salads of grilled calamari with roasted onions and warm fennel; delicate pastas like cavatelli with pancetta; and cod with almond-tomato butter. Between such lovelies and the swift, helpful staff, it’s little wonder Wahlberg has become his own kind of local celebrity. 145 Nantasket Ave., Hull, 781-925-6336.

6 | La Dalat Nantasket Beach locals jealously guard what they consider this hidden gem, which can be counted on for consistently excellent, intensely flavored Vietnamese dishes. (The menu crosses over into Japanese specialties, too.) The room, filled with Asian art and iridescent fish tanks, swells nightly with families and couples drawn by the spicy lemongrass chicken and addictive salmon hot pot. 181 Nantasket Ave., Hull, 781-925-4587.

7 | Saporito’s Florence Club Café From the outside, this place looks like nothing more than a beach shack. But inside, coastal New England meets Tuscany head-on: The lovely, narrow, candlelit dining room is lined with white beadboard booths overhung with grapevines, while the kitchen’s traditional Northern Italian dishes are interlaced with subtle innovations. Case in point: A plate of plump pan-roasted scallops over Sardinian couscous gets a meaty jolt from wild mushrooms and a sharp herb jus. Saporito’s is proof that sometimes big flavors come in small packages. 11 Rockland Cir., Hull, 781-925-3023.

8 | Bia Bistro Bia’s success is about maintaining balance: Chef Brian Houlihan mans the stoves while his wife, Tristen, keeps the front of the house in order. The claret-walled dining room hints at elegance but still manages to feel downright cozy, and the service is personal without ever imposing. As for his pan-Mediterranean menu (think southern France by way of Liguria), Houlihan pulls off a culinary balancing act and then some, yielding such specialties as citrus-glazed duck with confit and cassis jus and an herb-roasted monkfish paired with a saffron-laced mussel chowder. And the wines? They make a perfect match. 35 S. Main St., Cohasset Village, 781-383-0464.

9 | Petit Paris Bistro Tout Scituate can be found in this humble 30-seat boîte. Owned by French-born chef Norbert Bouhana, the intimate room is filled with stained glass and French-country touches—the perfect setting to tuck into commendable old-school dishes such as chicken aux olives and a rich canard à l’orange. Bouhana’s hand is especially sure with sauces, giving extra layers of flavor and complexity to his citron salmon and filet mignon in red wine sauce. Finish it off with one of his silky crème brûlées, and you might just leave sighing, “We’ll always have Scituate Harbor.” 95 Front St., Scituate Harbor, 781-545-6092.

10 | French Memories Let the butter-yellow building that houses this pretty seaside bakery be your first clue to what makes the pastries here so exceptional. Paris-trained baker Bruno Biagianti uses butter to delectable effect in his cake-like almond croissants and tiny fruit tarts. His elegant chocolate-caramel mousse cakes could go head-to-head with almost any in the City of Light, and his breads (the country loaf in particular) are snapped up by devotees who make daily pilgrimages. As for the service—it’s almost as sunny as the room itself. 459 Washington Street, Duxbury, 781-934-9020.

ONE TO WATCH | Feng Shui Opened in the fall, this sprawling den of mixed Asian cuisines is earning raves for its traditional Cantonese, contemporary Japanese (including a light-as-a-feather tempura), and snazzy, creative sushi bar. There are still some kinks in the service. But with food this good, you can bet we’ll stop back. 380 Chief Justice Cushing Hwy. (Rte. 3A), Cohasset, 781-383-3328.

The West

We sampled everything from authentic ethnic to chichi continental cuisine from Arlington to Newton, Needham, and southborough—and found something delicious for everyone.

1 | Masala Art If having your own personal Indian chef seems out of reach, think again. Each night, exec chef Sunil Soni treats up to 12 guests at his Spice Bar to a customized feast. First, smell the pungent spices—cardamom, mace flower, and fenugreek. Then, depending on what strikes your fancy, Soni will whip up dishes that might include haddock with Indian “barbecue” sauce or the surprisingly scrumptious curried lobster with strawberries and grapes. The experience, Soni says, is the only one of its kind in the country. We have a hunch it will catch on. 990 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-449-4050.

2 | Sweet Basil One advantage of the ’burbs is that you rarely have to wait for a table. So we figured there must be a good reason people line up at Sweet Basil. In fact, there are three: 1) The enormous portions. One entrée easily feeds two. 2) The low prices. Nothing tops $20. And, 3) The service. Hungry while you wait? Dave, the owner, will fix something to tide you over. Oh, and it’s BYOB. How sweet it is. 942 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9600.

3 | Blue Ginger Sometimes we just take for granted that Blue Ginger, Ming Tsai’s nationally acclaimed fusion bistro, is just around the corner. And that Ming just about invented five-star food in an unstuffy atmosphere. And that no matter what they have in Manhattan, you simply cannot get a decent sake-miso marinated butterfish. But when we taste his food—the tea-smoked salmon carpaccio, the Thai mussels with kaffir lime leaf and papaya, and, of course, that butterfish—our awe and appreciation come rushing back. So rush over. You’ll be glad you did. 583 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-283-5790.

4 | C. K. Shanghai With warm wood banquettes and bright yellow walls, C. K. Shanghai could easily pass for a continental bistro. But it’s chef C. K. Sau’s spicy Chinese cuisine that entices diners. The usuals—crispy sesame chicken and sweet-and-sour pork—impress, but we adore the house specialties: a crispy sweet-and-sour sea bass, scallops stir-fried with pungent black pepper sauce, and shredded beef served with greaseless scallion pancakes. Whatever you choose, the food arrives fast, hot, and delicious. 15–17 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-237-7500.

5 | Kouzina If the definitive test of a chef’s talent is whether his mother approves, then chef-owner Nelson Cognac makes the grade. Every week he carefully prepares his mom’s favorite recipes, and, he says, “I haven’t had any complaints so far.” A French-trained chef, Cognac puts the same care into the Greek-inspired offerings at his cozy 40-seat bistro. Otherworldly dishes such as the crispy calamari, grilled porterhouse lamb chops with spanakopita and tzatziki, and a lamb moussaka have helped Cognac singlehandedly put Waban on the culinary map. 1649 Beacon St., Waban, 617-558-7677.

6 | Il Capriccio Some oenophiles enroll in wine courses; the clever ones just make a reservation at Il Capriccio. Jeannie Rogers, co-owner and sommelier, works the floor, impressing, educating, and surprising grateful diners with her vast knowledge of hard-to-find Italian wines, many priced well under $50. The bonus? You pair them with chef Rich Barron’s equally tempting food: clam-stuffed calamari, an authentic salumi plate, and pillowy gnocchi that stand up to a decadent short-rib ragu. No wonder Il Capriccio is celebrating its 25th anniversary. 888 Main St., Waltham, 781-894-2234.

7 | Flora When Bob and Mary Jo Sargent opened Flora in a renovated bank, no one was more surprised—or thrilled—than the locals. And Flora’s instant success proved that the ’burbs were indeed already civilized. But it’s Flora’s staying power that is the testament to Sargent’s talent: The homey ginger squash soup with cranberry maple butter, crisp cod cakes with spicy, tomato caper sauce, and outrageously flavorful game hen with olives and dates show that some things just get better with age. 190 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-641-1664.

8 | Thai Moon Paul Dexter had never even tasted Thai food when he met Yuphin Poonthong 12 years ago. But after eight years of marriage, Dexter is an expert. While Poonthong runs the kitchen, Dexter guides locals to crispy yellow noodles, garlic chicken, and authentic spicy chili fish. The bright flavors and fresh vegetables are more than you’d expect from an unassuming suburban joint. You’ll be over the moon. 663 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-646-3334.

9 | Lumière Giving the customers what they want is the golden rule of any successful restaurant. And Lumière’s Michael Leviton does just that, whipping up ethereal versions of suburban standards in an elegant dining room with flawless service. But this master of French cuisine is equally committed to innovative dishes. And his more adventurous clientele are rewarded with a parade of refined flavors, which on a recent visit included a flaky local hake dressed in a toasted nut crust with a vibrant paprika sauce and a zesty grapefruit sorbet served with a salad of exotic citrus. Trust in him and you’ll witness firsthand how brightly Lumière shines. 1293 Washington St., West Newton, 617-244-9199.

10 | Ariadne Christos Tsardounis named Ariadne after the Greek heroine who was betrayed by the man she loved. But the myth that comes closer to capturing the modern-day gestalt is that of the Sirens who lured sailors with their irresistible song. Here, the call is Tsardounis’s masterful interpretations of Mediterranean cuisine: refreshing tuna tartare with crab, velvety lobster bisque, and swordfish au poivre. Add in an excellent and varied wine list, a stylish dining room, and great desserts, and your destiny—a great meal—is quickly sealed. 344 Walnut St., Newtonville, 617-332-4653.

11 | Le Soir In the graceful, earth-toned dining room at Le Soir, chef Mark Allen (formerly of the Ritz) turns out classic continental dishes: his signature lobster and fennel profiteroles with whipped dill cream, and, our favorite, a hearty rabbit potpie sealed with golden-brown puff pastry. Allen’s portions are more generous than inside the city limits, and his staff is equally knowledgeable and refined. Which, after all, is the ultimate pairing. 51 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, 617-965-3100.

ONE TO WATCH | Tomasso Trattoria Small plates abound at first-time-owners Tom and Mary Prince’s homey Southborough trattoria: fennel and cumin-flavored chickpea fries, rustic smoked sausage, and a minty ziti puttanesca. A year after the restaurant opened, some dishes still need refinement. But it’s only a matter of time before tutto va bene at Tomasso. 154 Turnpike Rd. (Rte. 9), Southborough, 508-481-8484.