Best of Boston 2009

| Boston Magazine |

North End to South Shore, East Boston to MetroWest. We made a lot of stops in our hunt for the finest of everything the Hub has to offer, an annual quest that we took in a whole new direction this year (see "How We Did It"). And now, 12 months, hundreds of miles, and about a gazillion calories later, our Best of Boston journey has finally ended. Yours, however, is just getting started.

BEST OF BOSTON 2009 AWARDS

Dining Winners

Dining: Singular Sensations

Dining: Food Pros

Dining: Cravings

Dining: Bang for Your Buck

Dining: Neighborhood Dining

 

Shopping Winners

Shopping: Singular Sensations

Shopping: Bang for Your Buck

Shopping: Kids’ Stuff

 

Service Winners

Service: Singular Sensations

Service: Hair Pros

Service: Bang for Your Buck

 

Nightlife Winners

Nightlife: Singular Sensations

Nightlife: Pickup Bars

 

Suburbs Winners

North

West

South

 

HOW WE DID IT

Haven’t heard the word "transparency" this year? Good–because that’s what this edition of the Best of Boston is all about. Our team of expert judges selected winners based on months of browsing, buying, primping, gorging, and partying (it’s research, people); as proof, in the pages ahead you’ll find more analysis and evidence of our pavement-pounding than ever before. In another enlightenment-boosting move, we’re calling out both runners-up and previous honorees for the first time. And this year, city limits are no boundary to the best: If a place is outside Boston, but serves up, say, the most blazingly tasty Szechwan in the land (See Best of Boston 2009 Chinese), it earned a place on our honor roll.

Contributors: J. Kenji Alt, Alison Arnett, Matthew Reed Baker, Rachel Baker, Elizabeth Bomze, Jamie Coelho, Annie B. Copps, Geoffrey Gagnon, Donna Garlough, Sascha de Gersdorff, Alyssa Giacobbe, Jolyon Helterman, Brittany Jasnoff, J.L. Johnson, Charles Kelsey, Paul Kix, Rachel Levitt, Wyndham Lewis, Erin Byers Murray, Jeremy Savlen, Jason Schwartz, Francis Storrs, Brigid Sweeney, Amy Traverso

Go on to the next page or click the links above to see the awards…

 

DINING

GENERAL EXCELLENCE: O Ya

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

It’s been two years since chef Tim Cushman’s refined sushi operation made a stealth entrance onto the scene, gradually picking up buzz until being “discovered” by gobsmacked foodies whose praise launched it to the national stage. Now, even as O Ya’s new-kid glow has faded (and despite its stunning price point), the wait list remains impressively long. And we’ll tell you why: Visit after visit, the hypnotic beauty of the food, seemingly simple but layered with clear flavors (white soy and yuzu glazing a sweet scallop, Thai basil and Szechwan pepper on sweet-salty eel), never fails to catch jaded palates off-guard—and has even been known to make some diners blush with delight.

RUNNERS-UP: Craigie on Main, Clio, Hamersley’s Bistro:

LAST YEAR: O Ya

 

AL FRESCO: B&G Oysters

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

When summer finally arrives in Boston, every restaurant with a patch of sidewalk scurries to put out a few wrought iron tables and hang its “al fresco” shingle. Sure, we’ll take every ray of sun we can get, but our kudos in this category is reserved for spots with expansive, more thoughtful outdoor spaces. While Oleana’s courtyard has long been a standout, there’s just something wildly appealing and Secret Garden–like about the sunken back patio at the South End’s B&G. Almost primitive in design, with seemingly rogue vines gripping the stone walls, it feels the way a real outdoor eatery should: comfortable and slightly magical, a lovely aesthetic backdrop to the splendor on the plate.

RUNNERS-UP: Oleana, Hamersley’s Bistro

LAST YEAR: Oleana

 

BAKERY, BREAD: Clear Flour

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

Flour, water, yeast, salt. Four lowlier ingredients are hard to imagine—as are the heights to which they can rise in the hands of master bakers like Clear Flour’s husband-and-wife owners, Abe Faber and Christy Timon. Now in its third decade, their family shop turns out character-rich, deeply authentic European-style breads (pungent vollkornbrot, grassy sourdough) for Oleana, Toro, and other leading restaurants, as well as for a devoted walk-in clientele. Clinching the win is Clear Flour’s metro location, which puts all this yeasty goodness within easy reach of carb-starved Bostonians.

RUNNERS-UP: B&R Artisan Bread, Iggy’s

LAST YEAR: B&R Artisan Bread

 

BAKERY, SWEETS: Sofra

One Belmont St., Cambridge, 617-661-3161, sofrabakery.com

Trailing orange blossom syrup and rose petal sugar, Ana Sortun’s year-old bakery-café comes on like a Salome of sweets, beguiling the cupcake-and-cookie crowd with such Middle Eastern–inspired delicacies as Egyptian bread pudding and Syrian shortbread with rhubarb-rose jam. To pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, our oversugared palates owe thanks for a much-needed dose of spice.

RUNNERS-UP: Flour, Canto 6

LAST YEAR: Flour

 

BAR MENU: Sel de la Terre

774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-8800, seldelaterre.com

To go along with its spanking-new digs, the Back Bay outpost of this country-French standby has installed a smart but casual downstairs café with a menu to match. We’re partial to the za’atar-crusted wings and the two-handed burger with smoky bacon and Vermont cheddar (made positively gut-busting by a foie gras torchon), but since nothing tops $20, everything goes down easy.

RUNNER-UP: Garden at the Cellar

LAST YEAR: Blu

 

BARBECUE: M&M Ribs

200 Hampden St., Boston, 617-306-0788

Over the past year, the mouthwatering aromas wafting from this rig near the corner of Hampden and Norfolk may as well have been smoke signals, announcing an upset was brewing in 2009. Indeed, this category’s long-reigning suburban champ has seen its eponymous blue ribbon go instead to a gritty city underdog, literally a truck stationed in a Roxbury sandlot. The former’s superior burnt brisket ends aside, recent visits found that its poultry had chickened out a bit on smoke flavor. By contrast, the succulent chicken, slow-grilled ribs, and tangy, faintly fiery sauce served up by M&M’s near-legendary pit master, “Big Moe,” stayed right on cue.

RUNNERS-UP: Blue Ribbon BBQ, Pit Stop Barbeque

LAST YEAR: Blue Ribbon BBQ

 

BREAKFAST: The Friendly Toast

One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-621-1200, thefriendlytoast.net

“Friendly Toast is coming!” “OMG! Friendly Toast!” Judging by the way local foodies were whipping themselves into a frenzy online, you’d think it was the second coming. But unless one finds salvation in pumpkin pancakes, pecan–caramelized banana waffles, and assorted scrambles, Benedicts, and omelets, the new outpost of this beloved Portsmouth, New Hampshire, institution is merely a really, really, really good place to have breakfast. The décor is retro and funky—all fifties dinette sets and Esso ads—and the food is a fresher, slightly fancier variation on diner classics, with homemade breads and sauces. The rapture? Maybe not. Divine? You bet.

RUNNER-UP: Deluxe Town Diner

LAST YEAR: Clio

 

BRUNCH: Toro

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

A truly great brunch must hit four marks: a tasty and varied menu, a strong bar, a relaxed atmosphere, and outdoor seating. Over the past year, South End tapas joint Toro boosted its performance on the food-and-beverage front (it had already aced the chill mood and the patio), adding a selection of tapas and pinchos—tortilla Espanola, yellowfin crudo, etc.—to its regular lineup of vanilla-bourbon-banana French toast and huevos rancheros. It also hired bar manager Courtney Bissonnette (hubby is chef Jamie) to jazz up the cocktails. By so doing, Toro has cracked, poached, and scrambled its more conventional challengers.

RUNNERS-UP: Gaslight, Henrietta’s Table

LAST YEAR: Eastern Standard

 

BUTCHER: Savenor’s

92 Kirkland St., Cambridge, 617-576-6328, savenorsmarket.com

Boston has become a bona fide haven for conscientious carnivores, what with Whole Foods boasting displays packed with New England meats and Lionette’s Market touting pork from central Massachusetts and Vermont. Still, only Savenor’s hits it right on the snout, with its reasonable (for the quality) prices and wide selection, which includes grass-fed Vermont beef and lamb for the leave-tiny-footprints contingent, plus generously marbled wagyu and sweet wild boar bacon for the occasional indulgence. Call ahead to its Cambridge flagship or its smaller shop on Beacon Hill, and they’ll prep almost anything you’d want to roast or grill—from a trimmed crown roast to a trussed and ready-to-stuff whole goose.

RUNNER-UP: Lionette’s Market

2007 WINNER: Savenor’s

 

CHEESE SHOP: Formaggio Kitchen

244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750, formaggiokitchen.com

When the French knighted owner Ihsan Gurdal, it became official: Formaggio is cheese nobility. The Cambridge store (with sister shops in the South End and New York) carries 300-plus varieties, representing nearly every region and technique, from Switzerland’s Försterkäse to Massachusetts’ own Carlisle Chabichou.

RUNNER-UP: Boston Cheese Cellar

2007 WINNER: Formaggio Kitchen

 

CHINESE: FuLoon

375 Main St., Malden, 781-388-3338, fuloon-restaurant.com

Chinese eateries have long been stuck between a wok and a hard place: hew to the Americanized hit parade, or risk alienating the crowds craving kung pao. Thankfully, a coup is afoot, with renegade restaurateurs positing fiery Szechwan as a sexier alternative to Cantonese lite. Fragrant camphor-smoked duck, velvety beef braised in mouth-numbing neon-orange peppercorn oil—all safely segregated, menuwise, from more broadly palatable fare. The newly chili-head-friendly New Shanghai wins points for Chinatown proximity and the addictive chung qing spicy chicken. Yet we’re irresistibly drawn to Malden for FuLoon’s haunting home-style bean curd, the entire “Wok Baked” series, and the bottomless pitchers of soothing H20.

RUNNER-UP: New Shanghai

LAST YEAR: Mary Chung

 

CHOCOLATIER: Beacon Hill Chocolates

92B Pinckney St., Boston, 617-725-1900, beaconhillchocolates.com

As Boston’s artisanal confectioners trend toward ever-weirder flavor combinations (poblano pepper truffles, bonbons oozing with olive oil), Beacon Hill Chocolates has us falling back in love with the classics: fillings like salted caramel and hazelnut praline delivered in beautifully tempered shells. The competition can just eat their quirky-candy hearts out.

RUNNER-UP: ChocoLee

LAST YEAR: ChocoLee

 

COFFEEHOUSE: Crema Café

27 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-876-2700, cremacambridge.com

By virtue of its excellence-obsessed baristas and premium roasters (Terroir, Barismo), our city is pouring itself a righteous coffee reputation that gives new meaning to the nickname “Beantown.” Coffee nerds adore the top-quality espresso drinks pulled at the tiny Taste Coffee House (Newtonville) and the crowded Simon’s Coffee Shop (Cambridge); however, only Harvard Square java den Crema has the full-service offerings impressive enough to take this year’s title. To wit: stellar brew (they serve French press!), abundant seating inside and out, made-from-scratch food, and an inspiring independent spirit.

RUNNERS-UP: Taste Coffee House, Simon’s Coffee Shop
LAST YEAR: Diesel Café

 

FARMER’S MARKET: Belmont

1:30–7 p.m. Thursdays through 10/29, Belmont Center, belmontfarmersmarket.org

Picking the best farmers’ market is like trying to pick the best heirloom tomato. What’s not to love in any of the forms and flavors they take? All typically have lovely selections of just-plucked fruits, veggies, and herbs; however, the Belmont agricultural get-together earns bonus points (and a loyal following of chefs) for the bumper crop of other regional goodies it has on hand. Stock up on Bay State–bred pork, lamb, beef, and chicken; raw honey from local hives; handmade mozzarella from Somerville’s Fiore di Nonno; brownies baked fresh at Malden-based Geoff & Drew’s; and gelato from Belmont’s own Angelato—and you’ll find that dullsville weekly supermarket run looking downright superfluous.

RUNNERS-UP: Union Square, Lexington

LAST YEAR: N/A

 

FISH MARKET: New Deal

622 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-8227, newdealfishmarket.com

When trying to lay your hands on the freshest catch in Boston, you could get up at 4 a.m., pull on rubber boots, and clump along to the fish pier to haggle with salty characters. Or you could sleep in until a decent hour, then do what the city’s smartest cooks do: head to this venerable storefront in East Cambridge, where owner Carl Fantasia makes buying and preparing seafood a breeze, even for novices. He’ll not only steer you to the tastiest specimens in the display case, but also point out which Portuguese olive oil will bring out the best in those bright-eyed sardines, and supply the nori needed to turn that sushi-grade tuna into hand-rolled maki.

RUNNER-UP: Wulf’s Fish Market

LAST YEAR: New Deal


FRENCH: Clio

Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-864-1991, cliorestaurant.com

Ever since L’Espalier shed its homey brownstone for the aseptic Mandarin hotel complex last year, the Franco-frontrunner has struggled to recapture the magic, leaving the field wide open for numerous worthy rivals. Buckets of beurre into testing, we narrowed our list to Clio, Salts, and Sensing (a gem, after a sloppy opening), all of which are seriously reenergizing this oft-stodgy category. In the end, though, Clio rose to the top. Now that his mini empire (Toro, La Verdad, Uni, KO Prime) is running smoothly, chef Ken Oringer has refocused on his flagship, turning out the kind of startling gastro-invention—e.g., scallop-shingled cod with yuzu-pea purée—we first fell in love with.

RUNNERS-UP: Salts, Sensing

LAST YEAR: L’Espalier

 

HAMBURGER: Radius

8 High St., Boston, 617-426-1234, radiusrestaurant.com

Burger slinging has come a long way from the Bartley’s-Sully’s turf wars of yore. Now a groundswell of ground-beef mania has chefs experimenting with custom meat blends, artisanal bunwork, and umami-boosting hocus-pocus. Along divergent paths, Middlesex (smoky bacon, griddled pickle, ciabatta) and KO Prime (foie gras, yuzu aioli, toasted-interior bulkie) raised mundane chuck to dizzying heights. But Radius (aged cheddar, lemon-horseradish mayo, housemade milk bun) tops them all with a mountain of crispy frizzled onions—which, as it turns out, is a little-known shortcut to gastro-enlightenment.

RUNNERS-UP: KO Prime, Middlesex

LAST YEAR: Mr. Bartley’s

 

INDIAN: Tamarind Bay

75 Winthrop St., Cambridge, 617-491-4552, tamarind-bay.com

There’s plenty of tasty Indian food around town—witness the lines of hungry grad students at Cambridge’s Punjabi Dhaba, for one. But Harvard Square’s Tamarind Bay Bistro (along with its newer sibling, the seafood-oriented Coastal Indian Kitchen in Brookline) is in a class of its own because it treats Indian cuisine as, well, an actual cuisine. Here you’ll find regional distinctions more precise than "northern" and "southern," and taste the kinds of dishes, like butter chicken curry and the exceptional vegetable biryani, in which individual flavors sing out clearly, instead of fading into a haze of spice.

RUNNER-UP: Punjabi Dhaba

LAST YEAR: Tamarind Bay

 

ITALIAN: Rialto

Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050, rialto-restaurant.com

Like a Verdian lothario, this town’s upscale Italian has a knack for breaking hearts. Leave a place transported by its pillowy gnocchi, and you can bet your Bolognese it’ll be dense as lead when you go back for more. Spending more while testing this category than for French and Steakhouse combined, we mourned the fall of every contender, with consistency issues (Bina), new-project distraction (Dante), service glitches (Sorellina), and failure to inspire (everyone else). Sorry for the lame valentine, Rialto, but we’ve got baggage. Just say your roast duck will remain tender and your stellar pastas will stay true, and we’ll break this serial-monogamy habit once and for all.

RUNNERS-UP: Erbaluce, Via Matta

LAST YEAR: Dante

 

KID-FRIENDLY: Summer Shack

149 Alewife Brook Pkwy., Cambridge, 617-520-9500, summershackrestaurant.com

Talk about knowing your audience. With its giant bucket of crayons on the hostess stand and army of highchairs standing at the ready, this seafood favorite not only welcomes tots with open arms—there’s even a balloon sculptor and free sundaes on Sunday evenings—but it also serves the grownups in tow some very respectable chow (think ceviche and wood-grilled lobster). The latter accommodation, in fact, nudged the Summer Shack ahead of perennial pick Full Moon, which, while wonderful for its party vibe and fully stocked play area, keeps the food on the so-simple-you-could’ve-made-it-at-home side.

RUNNERS-UP: Full Moon, Aura

LAST YEAR: Eastern Standard

 

LOCAVORE: Craigie on Main

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

Tony Maws isn’t one of those chefs who tries to make it look easy. In his new Central Square digs, the open kitchen takes center stage, providing an unobstructed view of exactly how that (Vermont organic) lamb three ways and (Maine dayboat) halibut get onto the plate. Maws even spells out his principles on the Craigie website, including "First we find the ingredients, then we create the menu"—which means that every day he’s sourcing what’s local, in season, and, for the most part, organic. By degrees, Maws takes it further than anyone else in town, and his work is your reward.

RUNNERS-UP: Persephone, T. W. Food, Beacon Hill Bistro

LAST YEAR: N/A

 

MEXICAN: Olé

11 Springfield St., Cambridge, 617-492-4495, olegrill.com

In the quest for great Mexican, of which Boston has little (relative to, say, El Paso or San Diego), much recent praise has been heaped on the champions of "authentic" cuisine, and on pre-Hispanic recipes like cuitlacoche crêpes. But you know what? Sometimes we don’t want to munch fried grasshoppers. Sometimes we want enchiladas with damn good rice and beans. And so we’ve rediscovered our love for Olé, where chef Erwin Ramos serves mole and pozole as authentic as any out there, but isn’t too proud to serve chiles rellenos and shrimp tacos, too. (By the way: The latter, stuffed with pickled cabbage and gently fried camarones, are worth their weight in Spanish gold.)

RUNNER-UP: Angela’s Café

LAST YEAR: Tu y Yo

 

PIZZA: Picco

513 Tremont St., Boston, 617-927-0066, piccorestaurant.com

Previous years have seen this contest split into mini categories like "Best Thin Crust" and "Best Toppings." But it’s time to set aside compiled-ish things and commit to a single, superlative winner: namely, Picco, for combining the chewy-crisp crust of Santarpio’s with the fresh (okay, "gourmet") toppings that have earned Emma’s such a devoted following. It’s the best of both worlds on a 14-inch disk of dough, and you won’t find its match in the city.

RUNNER-UP: Emma’s

LAST YEAR: N/A

 

PUB GRUB: Matt Murphy’s

14 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-0188, mattmurphyspub.com

Aside from a bounty of cheap burgers and greasy fries, this year’s tour of pub grub options turned up a surprising lack of substantial (read: tummy-filling) dishes. Except, that is, at Matt Murphy’s, where the farmhouse plate’s country-style pâté is the size of a small brick and the soup arrives in a bowl as big as your head. Besides which, the food is outstanding. Try the tender, relish-slathered lamb sirloin sandwich or the piping-hot, supercrispy fish and chips, wrapped in newspaper—they’re more than enough to make you forgive Matt Murphy’s for not serving burgers.

RUNNERS-UP: Bukowski’s Tavern, Deep Ellum

LAST YEAR: Bukowski’s Tavern

 

RESTAURANT DEBUT: Sportello

348 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com

It’s a puzzle, how Barbara Lynch can manage to launch four restaurants, a bar, and two retail operations, all in different genres, while preserving the quality and essential Lynchness of each. And so we come to her most casual spot, Sportello, a minimalist midprice Italian diner—only here, the line cooks sling hiramasa crudo, chicken with dates and pine nuts, and mustard leaf agnolotti. It’s a testament to the power of the gnocchi alone that the place is bouncing, despite the surrounding Fort Point Channel neighborhood’s still-delayed gentrification. No other startup exhibited so much polish out of the gate, or such a pitch-perfect sense of the way we’re eating now.

RUNNERS-UP: Bina Osteria, Sensing

LAST YEAR: L’Andana

 

ROMANTIC: Oleana

134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com

Lovebirds find a year-round habitat in Oleana, which beckons with a lush hidden garden in summer months and a cozy fireplace when the snow flies, as well as a menu of eastern Mediterranean sumptuousness that sets the mood no matter what the season. Chef Ana Sortun does contemporary riffs on moussaka, kibbeh, bisteeya, and other exotica that beg to be shared (bonus for vegetarian couples: a tasting menu that marries sophisticated spice with produce from Sortun’s family farm). Should the evening’s canoodling lead to something more permanent, Oleana’s private-party setup and Sortun’s inventive menu planning make for a truly unforgettable wedding feast.

RUNNERS-UP: Pigalle, Troquet

LAST YEAR: UpStairs on the Square

 

SEAFOOD: Neptune Oyster

63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com

Though we Bostonians are awash in seafood, there’s shockingly little variety among those serving it to us. There are the clam shacks (Morse Fish Company, No Name), the executive favorites (Legal, Turner, Skipjack’s, et. al), and the amusement parks (Barking Crab, Kingfish Hall). Only two restaurants truly cater to foodies—the South End’s B&G Oysters and the North End’s Neptune Oyster—and we love ‘em both. This year Neptune can credit its edge over B&G to a slightly less formal vibe (shared tables, dishtowel napkins) that feels right for the times. That, and the fact that we spent the winter polishing off glorious scallops, ceviche, and cioppino here, and left happy every time.

RUNNER-UP: B&G Oysters

LAST YEAR: B&G Oysters

 

SPANISH: Toro

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

A place needs more than good sangria and jamón to qualify as a genuine tapas joint: It must also be a lively gathering spot, not one that’s empty by 11 p.m. Toro has one of the most reliably bustling late-night scenes in the city—impromptu dance parties have been known to break out around the bar—and a calendar peppered with fun events, like last spring’s Calçotada (Spring Onion Festival) and an annual party to mark the running of the bulls. Just as important, chef Jamie Bissonnette strikes precisely the right balance between beloved Spanish recipes (griddled garlic shrimp, chickpeas with chorizo) and adventurous ones (head cheese with pickled ramps, crispy pork belly with snails). Need a hit of liquid courage before you’ll try the smoked beef tongue? That’s what the sangria’s for.

RUNNER-UP: Estragon

LAST YEAR: Toro

 

STEAKHOUSE: Abe & Louie’s

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

It’s the oldest story in the book: Man tours steakhouses, steakhouses run gamut, man eliminates fading relics, lesser chains, and "modern" meateries where the flourishes outshine the beef. And by the final page, Abe & Louie’s and Grill 23 once again have emerged as the heroes of our tale. In terms of overall atmosphere, it’s a draw (lively merriment versus relaxed elegance), but Abe & Louie’s cuts are a touch more flavorful, the wine list a tad kinder to our bottom line, and the non-steak options—like the addictive crab cakes—a little nearer to perfection. After all, in a showdown this sizzling, victory is measured by degrees.

RUNNERS-UP: Grill 23

LAST YEAR: Grill 23

 

SUSHI BAR: Uni

Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com

O Ya may have the most incomparable raw-fish dinner in town, but the reality of its special-occasion status is that we tend to reserve it for exactly that: a special occasion. Chef Ken Oringer’s sashimi bar, Uni, on the other hand, presents haute touches with such nonchalance that we feel no guilt about stopping in on a Tuesday night for a cilantro-and-cumin-laced plate of tuna tataki with foie gras and strawberries, or for slivers of firm, fresh Japanese octopus in tangy soy, ginger, and hot oil. Which we do happily, and often.

RUNNER-UP: Oishii

2007 WINNER: O Ya

 

THAI: S&I to Go

168a Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-254-8488, si-togo.com

Notwithstanding the beef tendon fire pot at Montien (still the hottest soup around, in both senses of the word), this unassuming Allston 12-seater is your first-class ticket to Bangkok. The Thai-language menu is filled with enough mild-mannered fare to sate even the most uninitiated of palates, while devotees can delight in rare finds like crispy double-fried catfish laced with whole sprigs of fresh peppercorns and volcanic som tums flavored with raw salted crab.

RUNNERS-UP: Montien, Rod Dee

LAST YEAR: Brown Sugar Café

 

WINE LIST: Legal Sea Foods–Park Plaza

26 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-426-4444, legalseafoods.com

Red wine with meat, white wine with fish—whoa, not so fast! Wine director Sandy Block has compiled 40 pages (because 41 would just be silly) of bottles selected in blind tastings for menu compatibility, resulting in the ideal muscadet for those oysters and the right sangiovese for that spicy cioppino. Some three dozen vintages are available by the glass, and there are five tasting flights (three priced under $10) that change from one visit to the next. The inventory at last year’s ace, Troquet, is still worthy, but at the end of the day the options and value are at Legal.

RUNNERS-UP: Rendezvous, Via Matta

LAST YEAR: Troquet

 

WINE SHOP: Wine Bottega

341 Hanover St., Boston, 617-227-6607, thewinebottega.com

Considering all the foot traffic on Hanover Street, new owner Kerri Platt could be making a dandy profit selling straw-wrapped chianti and chardonnay butter bombs. Nothing doing: Her discerning palate has transformed the Wine Bottega into a jewelry box of hidden gems and more-familiar varietals that do well by our wallet—and in the process has stolen the spotlight from perennial favorite Bauer Wines.

RUNNERS-UP: Bauer Wines, Bin Ends, Brix

LAST YEAR: Bauer Wines

 

Go Back to Best of Boston 2009 Landing Page 

SINGULAR SENSATIONS

DESTINATION FOR A SUNDAY BACCHANAL: STELLA

Brunch here means towering bloody marys and impudently strong mimosas, which, when paired with the thumping playlist, can turn early birds into party animals. 1525 Washington St., Boston, 617-247-7747, bostonstella.com.

 

PLACE TO FORGET YOU’RE AN UPTIGHT YANKEE: HUNGRY MOTHER

Nothing knocks the starch out of a New Englander like boiled Virginia peanuts, grits with ham and cheese, and—ah, yes—16-year-old bourbon. 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com.

 

REASON TO SPILL ON THAT OUTFIT YOU NEVER LIKED ANYWAY: PERSEPHONE

Dribbling during dinner provides the perfect excuse to troll the designer threads (tops by Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, dresses by McQ) at in-house boutique Achilles. 283 Summer St., Boston, 617-695-2257, achilles-project.com.

 

PIT STOP FOR VEGAN FOOD WITH ATTITUDE: RAWBERT’S ORGANIC CAFE

This cozy eatery is worth the drive for flavor-packed nacho platters, portobello-and-walnut "meetballs," and raw apple and pecan pies (you’ll never miss the oven). 294 Cabot St., Beverly, 978-922-0004, organicgardencafe.com.

 

URBAN STAND-IN FOR A COUNTRY STORE: CITY FEED & SUPPLY

At the flagship of this farmstand/gourmet grocery, load up on homey staples like cardamom-ginger gelato and organic ramps while listening to the locals jawboning over fair-trade French roast. 672 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-1700, cityfeedandsupply.com.

 

Go Back to Best of Boston 2009 Landing Page

FOOD PROS

Put all the city’s restaurant champs together in one kitchen, and what do you get? The recipe for one very happy meal.

Photo by Conor Doherty

CHEF: Barbara Lynch

Not content merely to launch the city’s best new restaurant [page 104] and upscale bar [page 121] while keeping No. 9 Park, B&G Oysters, and the Butcher Shop running on all cylinders, Lynch is now planning a fine-dining concept in Fort Point. Her ambition, like her excellence, knows no bounds. Barbara Lynch Gruppo, 617-742-9991, barbaralynch.com.

RUNNERS-UP: Tony Maws (Craigie on Main), Gabriel Bremer (Salts)

LAST YEAR: Tony Maws

MIXOLOGIST: Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli

With a cocktail menu rooted in the classics and an obsession with quality ingredients matched only by that of his boss, Craigie on Main chef Tony Maws, this Eastern Standard alum performs quietly on a one-man stage. Trust us, he puts on a show you don’t want to miss. 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com.

RUNNERS-UP: John Gertsen (Drink), Jackson Cannon (Eastern Standard)

LAST YEAR: John Gertsen

HOST: Rachel Miller Munzer

Hungry Mother has become one of the Hub’s hottest tables not just for its smart take on Dixieland fare, but also for its southern hospitality. Credit the latter to Miller Munzer’s knack for making patrons feel they’re in their own private dining room, even when the place is packed (and heck, when isn’t it?). 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com.

RUNNERS-UP: Michela Larson (Rocca), Kerri Foley (Pigalle)

LAST YEAR: Michela Larson

UP-AND-COMING CHEF: Gérard Barbin

Deputized by superchef Guy Martin to run swish French eatery Sensing, this young import has shown all the technique and discipline required by haute cuisine, along with more than a little invention. With Barbin folding more local seafood and cheeses into his repertoire, he’s become our favorite French connection. 3 Battery Wharf, Boston, 617-994-9001, sensingrestaurant.com.

RUNNER-UP: Barry Maiden (Hungry Mother) (Radius)

LAST YEAR: Tim Wiechmann (T. W. Food)

PASTRY CHEF: Maura Kilpatrick

Three years in a row? Really? Yet after scarfing down the fig and almond serpentines and ridiculously good chocolate cookies at Sofra, the bakery/mezze bar that Kilpatrick opened last year with chef Ana Sortun, we once again have to tip our hat—and loosen our belt. One Belmont St., Cambridge, 617-661-3161, sofrabakery.com.

RUNNER-UP: Shane Gray (Mistral)

LAST YEAR: Maura Kilpatrick

SOMMELIER: Alex DeWinter

Where others might lean on "steak wines" like big California cabs (yawn), Grill 23′s DeWinter is likely to suggest a Paolo Bea Rosso 2000, from the little Umbrian town of Sagrantino, for your bone-in filet—he’s just that excited about the unsung heroes in his cache of some 1,500 labels. Odds are, you will be, too. 161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, grill23.com.

RUNNER-UP: Cat Silirie (Barbara Lynch Gruppo)

LAST YEAR: Geoffrey Fallon (Les Zygomates)

 

Go Back to Best of Boston 2009 Landing Page 

CRAVINGS

When you can’t fight temptation anymore (and really, what’s the point?), here’s where to go for the treat you need to have. Right. Now.

Photos by Tim Llewellyn

 

FRENCH FRIES, Radius

Yes, you’ll want fries with—or without—that burger [Best of Boston 2009 Hamburger]. With one genius exception (minced fines herbes), chef Michael Schlow imposes none of his fancy French roots on these golden über-tubers. And thankfully, he’s not stingy with the salt. 8 High St., Boston, 617-426-1234, radiusrestaurant.com.

 

ICE CREAM, Toscanini’s

This sweet spot’s rotating cast of ultracreamy flavors ranges from worldly (burnt caramel, bananas foster) to otherworldly (mango chili, sage) and everything in between, providing thrills for ice cream traditionalists and adventurists alike. 899 Main St., Cambridge, 617-491-5877, tosci.com.

 

HOT DOGS, Speed’s

At $7, Speed’s may seem pricey. In truth, we’d cheerfully pay twice that for this humongous all-beef dog with cider tang, slathered in barbecue sauce and served (if desired) with chili, mustard, onions, and relish on a toasted-just-right bun. 42 Newmarket Sq., Roxbury, 617-839-0102, bostonspeeddog.com.

 

LOBSTER ROLLS, Neptune Oyster

Cold with mayo, or hot with butter? Neptune ends the great lobster roll debate by excelling at both. The constant is perfectly firm, sweet lobster piled into a large brioche roll, with a particularly generous percentage of tail meat. 63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.

 

FRIED CLAMS, B&G Oysters

The accompanying paper towel is merely decorative, considering B&G’s semolina-dusted Ipswich bellies shed virtually no grease from their crisp nooks and crannies (which justifies double-dunking them in the addictive house tartar sauce). 550 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0550, bandgoysters.com.

 

FRUIT PIES, Petsi Pies

Only the most flavorful morsels of perfectly ripe, sweet fruits make the cut for Renee McLeod’s blueberry, mixed berry, and tart cherry crumb desserts. We’re pie-eyed with love. 285 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-661-7437; 31 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0801, petsipies.com.

 

DOUGHNUTS, Kane’s Donuts

Fluffy, not too sweet, never greasy—these were the criteria by which old-school favorite Kane’s earned its nod. Stars include the fluffy honey-dipped and the insanely moist buttercrunch cake, dubbed by one taster as "the best I’ve ever had." 120 Lincoln Ave., Saugus, 781-233-8499, kanesdonuts.com.

 

BURRITOS, Cantina La Mexicana

Surging past a field of (alas) generally bland contenders, the recently renamed Union Square taqueria packs its "burro" with grilled veggies and savory charred pork, distributes those goodies evenly, and mercifully eases up on the rice padding. 247 Washington St., Somerville, 617-776-5232, lataqueria.us.

 

CANNOLI, Modern Pastry

The North End’s bakeries are famous for long lines and cannoli, but the latter doesn’t always justify the former. Among far too many soggy pretenders, this crisp shell filled with silky-smooth ricotta cream is unquestionably worth the wait. 257 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-3783, modernpastry.com.

 

Go Back to Best of Boston 2009 Landing Page 

BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

AL FRESCO: Sophia’s Grotto

22R Birch St., Roslindale, 617-323-4595, sophiasgrotto.com

In a mere four years this precocious trattoria has grown up into an authentic Old World beauty, its cloistered brick courtyard now mature with ornamental trees and grasses and a massive climbing hydrangea. Prices, though, have barely changed at all, with big bowls of pastas and other Italian standbys averaging about $15. With the patio’s bee lights twinkling overhead and a glass of sweetly chilled Grechetto in hand, you’ll find Roman holidays don’t come any cheaper than this.

FRENCH: Gaslight

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

Among the numerous suitors vying for our affections in this category, it’s the South End phenom Gaslight that’s romanced us best. The booming brasserie gets the vintage Parisian accents exactly right, and serves up skillfully swizzled cocktails and well-executed bistro fare (classics like choucroute garni and onion soup gratinée, plus stunning fruits de mer platters) at a price guaranteed to bring out the bon vivant in any Bostonian.

ITALIAN: Il Casale

50 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-209-4942, ilcasalebelmont.com

When dining at Il Casale, don’t be surprised if your companions—having mopped the last bit of tangy, rich marinara from their plates—start hatching a plan to move to the suburbs. Who wouldn’t want to get closer to food like this? Dante de Magistris’s newest venture is not only stylish and affordable, with most entrées under $20, but it also does full justice to the Italian home cooking that inspired it: rustic minestra, feathery gnocchi, seriously good meatballs.

ROMANTIC: Ten Tables

597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-8810; 5 Craigie Cir., Cambridge, 617-576-5444; tentables.net

Talk about spreading the love. This year the team at Ten Tables expanded across the Charles, giving Hub cuddlers the choice of intimacy (the tiny J.P. original) or intrigue (the new Cambridge location, full of cozy dark nooks). Both locations feature upscale comfort dishes, like house-made pasta and skillet roasted Giannone chicken, for under $25. Chef David Punch also does a nightly $45 prix fixe, ostensibly for customers with other things on their minds than menu decisions.

SUSHI: Douzo

131 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-859-8885, douzosushi.com

Like laser eye surgery and brake repairs, raw fish is something we’re loath to cheap out on. Rather than risk gastric distress—or merely off-tasting nigiri—we get our budget-sushi fix at the Back Bay’s Douzo, where the ambiance is polished and the sashimi as glistening-fresh as it is at the astronomically pricey joints. Ample space at the bar means it’s a cinch to belly up for a quick lunch, while the scores of tables means there’s no silly reservation policy standing between you and your maki.

Go Back to Best of Boston 2009 Landing Page

Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2009/07/best-of-boston-2009/