The 50 Best Restaurants 2009

THE LIST

1. O Ya

Score: 98.33 High: Herald A; Phoenix **** (out of 4); Boston 5 (out of 5)
Low: Globe *** (out of 4)
Hey, the computer doesn’t lie. As predictable as O Ya’s first-place finish is, it’s also wholly deserved. Housed in a narrow, rustic firehouse, its 40-seat tavern-style dining room is the unlikely setting for some of the best Japanese cuisine in the country. Every last dish is a showstopper, from a heady matsutake mushroom broth brightened with yuzu zest and fragrant rosemary to a swath of raw hamachi laid over a boule of seasoned rice, lightly torched, spritzed with truffle oil, and finished with a dollop of spicy banana pepper mousse. The prices will make the flushest foodie blanch, but, well, you only live once.
ORDER THIS: That banana pepper mousse dish.

 

2. L’Espalier

Score: 92.72* High: Herald A; Globe ****
Low: Yelp  **** 1/2 (out of 5) Our score: 4.5
When Frank McClelland moved his team out of a charming but cramped townhouse on Gloucester Street and into the glossy Mandarin Oriental (complete with custom dream kitchen), his fans offered only conditional support. How could this Boylston Street behemoth preserve the charm of the original? Well, it couldn’t, exactly. Much as we hate to echo the naysayers, we have to agree something’s been lost in translation. The beautifully plated food, however, is still glorious, and the cheese service still matchless.
ORDER THIS: Thai-spiced Colorado rack of lamb.

 

3. No. 9 Park

Score: 90.55 High: Herald **** (out of 4)**
Low: Globe ***  Our score: 4.5

Barbara Lynch is on a roll these days, with the much-hailed openings of Sportello and Drink, her new lunch counter and cocktail lounge, respectively, in Fort Point. But her flagship restaurant remains a jewel, a tribute to the power of pitch-perfect service, ace cooking, and a superlative wine program, not to mention a lovely view of the Common (provided you’ve avoided the stuffy back room and grabbed a prime table near the front). Lynch has a sure hand with pasta—particularly stuffed pastas like ravioli—and she’s no slouch with meat and fish, searing a halibut filet to a golden crust while leaving the inside fork-tender.

ORDER THIS: Easy: the famous prune-stuffed gnocchi (see why it’s considered the Best Dish).

 

4. Uni

Score: 84.623 High: Herald ****
Low: Yelp **** (out of 5) Our score: 4.5

 

Ken Oringer’s ode to raw fish features some of the most skillfully prepared (and most addictive) pristine gems in town.

ORDER THIS: Spicy bigeye toro tataki with seared foie gras, poire d’Anjou, and rhubarb coulis.

 

5. Clio

Score: 83.94 High: Herald ****
Low: Yelp & Chowhound **** (out of 5)
Our score: 4.25

Ken Oringer cooks some of the city’s most technically sophisticated food at his marquee property. Just look at how he deconstructs a Muscovy duck to preserve the crisp skin, succulent breast, and fatty thigh; how he lacquers foie gras with honey, cinnamon, and buttermilk. He’s an ardent collector of exotic ingredients—from Hokkaido squash to gooseneck barnacles to goat’s-milk butter—and one of Boston’s few remaining students of molecular gastronomy. This love of novelty may read like so much razzle–dazzle to some, but across the board, you’ll find great examples of a skillful, sexy, and inspired fusion cuisine.

ORDER THIS: The lacquered foie gras. For vegetarians, the chocolate “croustillant.”

6. Aujourd’hui* This restaurant has been closed

Score: 83.89 High: Herald A
Low: Boston 4.25

 

Tucked as it is among the ballrooms at the Four Seasons, Aujourd’hui is easy to overlook, or to dismiss as merely another fancy hotel restaurant. Don’t. Chef
William Kovel brings an impressive personal style (part farm-to-table earnestness, part high French technique) to the storied room, making him just the chef for this restaurant at this time. His training at London’s Orrery boosted his chops for turning out perfect chops, roasts, and racks, like the magnificent cumin-scented Vermont organic lamb with eggplant caviar and cranberry beans. There are few better places in town to indulge in a chef’s-whim tasting menu.

ORDER THIS: Rack of wild boar with Alsatian sausage and mustard spaetzle.

 

7. Radius

Score: 82.34 High: Globe & Herald ****
Low: Chowhound *** Our score: 4

 

Michael Schlow came to town determined to inject Boston’s dining scene with a little glamour. Not just glamour, mind you—he also raised the bar on a class of artier, more conceptual…oh, all right, more New York–y cooking. Ten years later, Radius continues to create leading-edge menus: sweet scallops studded with bacon and served with hazelnut purée, Muscat grapes, and roasted parsley root; or thick-cut rib-eye trimmed like a filet mignon, but (thanks to the generous marbling) so much more flavorful, and just as tender.

ORDER THIS: Slow-roasted rib-eye, accompanied by potatoes “Robuchon,” pearl onions, and red wine sauce.

 

8. Hungry Mother

Score: 81.24 High: Phoenix ****
Low: Chowhound **** Our score: 4.25

 

Hungry Mother instantly became a sleeper hit when it opened last spring. Few restaurants manage to feel as personal, welcoming, or fresh. Chef Barry Maiden is cooking a kind of fusion cuisine that this city hasn’t seen before: specifically, one that’s part southern comfort, part French polish. And whoo-wee does it work, as embodied by dishes like tender bourbon-braised pork shoulder; light, crisp cornmeal-crusted catfish; the creamiest shrimp and grits; and down-home corn bread served with a little crock of sorghum butter.

ORDER THIS: Shrimp and grits.

 

9. Hamersley’s Bistro

Score: 79.96 High: Herald ****
Low: Boston 4

 

The French places in Boston mostly fall into two camps: hyper-nouvelle establishments and unapologetically casual brasseries. Somewhere in between (matching the former’s level of cooking, but without the fussy plating), Hamersley’s is an authentic bistro of the sort you’d find in France—not Paris, but farther south, in Provence, where lavender, honey, mint, and garlic define the gutsier regional palate. Two decades after Gordon Hamersley opened shop in a desolate South End, the neighborhood has grown up into a trendy mecca, and his restaurant has remained relevant by ignoring the revolution completely. Devoid of Kobe this or yuzu that, the menu remains a paean to rustic comfort food.

ORDER THIS: Roast chicken with garlic and lemon.

 

10. Oleana

Score: 75.91 High: Phantom 91 (out of 100)
Low: Globe ***; Herald *** Our score: 4.25

 

Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick have been raking in the kudos for their new Middle Eastern bakery-café, Sofra, but big sister Oleana should not go forgotten in the rush to praise the baby. All the national attention it’s received underscores one key fact: Sortun has created a style of food that you won’t find anywhere else in this country. Traditional dishes from Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Egypt, remade by a French-trained American, form a unique cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean. What if you substitute braised rabbit for the lamb in shawarma, or augment the olive oil in hummus with butter? You get something delicious, made even better by the freshest ingredients. Sortun’s husband runs Siena Farms, which supplies produce to the restaurant in season.

ORDER THIS: Warm buttered hummus with basturma and tomato.

ADVERTISMENT

  • Anonymous

    just go have dinner – don't try to impress everyone with your bad usage of "BIG" words

  • F

    just go have dinner – stop trying to impress us
    with your BAD usage of what you think are BIG words

  • Anonymous
  • Kaitie

    Why are there so many places listed here that have closed within the last year? Without even an asterisk noting that they are no longer open? This is misleading to people who don’t follow the Boston food scene closely.

  • Jamie

    Duly Noted. We just made the adjustments on the 2009 version. The latest issue on newsstands (January), has the 2010 Best Restaurants feature, Where to Eat Now
    http://www.bostonmagazine.com/restaurants/articles/where_to_eat_now/