Best of Boston 2009: Neighborhood Dining

| Boston Magazine |

NEIGHBORHOOD DINING

Genteel bistros, greasy spoons, insidery haunts, and good-time hubs with one thing in common: They make visitors feel like regulars, and regulars feel like family.

ALLSTON/BRIGHTON: Deep Ellum

477 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-2337, deepellum-boston.com

Mention "Allston/Brighton," and the average Bostonian’s nose hoists a few degrees skyward, as if avoiding the odor of a thousand musty futons. That’s fine by locals, whose dual neighborhood’s rep as a student slum keeps interlopers at bay; thus, the crowds remain fairly tolerable at this rare grownup watering hole, where the cocktails hail from yesteryear, the food from down south, and the tap list from a beer geek’s fever dream.

RUNNER-UP: Carlo’s Cucina Italiana

BACK BAY: Parish Café

361 Boylston St., Boston, 617-247-4777, parishcafe.com

This perpetually crowded spot sits comfortably at the top of the Boylston bar heap, an elevation earned by its killer sandwich list—a sort of gastronomic group project showcasing recipes from Ming Tsai, Susan Regis, and similarly revered local chefs—and a prime location mere steps from the Public Garden. Winning a seat on the patio makes neophytes feel lucky; the good-natured bustle and sophisticated grub make Back Bay regulars feel right at home.

RUNNERS-UP: Sonsie, La Voile

BEACON HILL: The Paramount

44 Charles St., Boston, 617-720-1152, paramountboston.com

Tourists and other Charles Street newcomers worship the stand-in-line-for-it breakfast, yet as good as those banana pancakes are, it’s the candlelit dinner service that makes the Paramount beloved by true Beacon Hill denizens. Exceptional no-nonsense fare like sirloin steak tips and chicken marsala goes down as smoothly as the amiable vibe. In a neighborhood with an appetite for tradition, the 77-year-old Paramount sends all comers away satisfied.

RUNNER-UP: 75 Chestnut

BROOKLINE: Washington Square Tavern

714 Washington St., Brookline, 617-232-8989, washingtonsquaretavern.com

In Europe, the luckiest of travelers lost on some tiny rue or strasse will happen upon the bar their guidebooks forgot: barely marked, yet packed with locals eating, drinking, and socializing with gusto. Such a find is the Washington Square Tavern, whose book-lined walls and scattered Orientals suggest a boozy study and whose menu suggests an upscale boîte, an irresistible combination for largely literate, well-off Brookline (and the odd wayward traveler).

RUNNER-UP: Matt Murphy’s

CENTRAL SQUARE: Garden at the Cellar

991 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, 617-230-5880, gardenatthecellar.com

Even with the throngs of outsiders vying for a seat in this cozy, brick-walled gastropub, it still feels very much like an insider hangout, thanks to the regulars chewing on dinner and local gossip at the bar. Chef Will Gilson has mastered the kind of ingredient-driven, French-accented comfort food—e.g., chicken and rosemary flatbread or steak frites with garlic spinach and parsnip purée—that would earn any neighborhood some serious bragging rights.

RUNNERS-UP: River Gods, Central Kitchen

CHARLESTOWN: Warren Tavern

2 Pleasant St., Charlestown, 617-241-8142, warrentavern.com

No self-respecting Townie goes to this older-than-God tavern for the food. You go for the beer, the too-loud music, and the chance to see your cousin, your neighbor, your accountant, and your handyman getting a little sloppy over a fifth round of Sam Adams—sometimes all at the same table. Have a couple of cold ones, and the fish and chips will seem like four-star cuisine.

RUNNER-UP: Ironside Grill

DAVIS SQUARE: Gargoyles on the Square

219 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-5300, gargoylesrestaurant.com

Visiting Gargoyles only on date night (yes, the lighting flatters; true, the velvet cascades) is like eating oysters only to boost your mojo. Both should be enjoyed, and often, on their own merits—nooky prospects be damned. Wash away the workday with a silky but strong cocktail (we love the summer-in-a-glass Backyard), and refuel for tomorrow with chef Jason Santos’s seasonally inspired fare. And, if you must, flirt at the dish sitting at the next table.

RUNNER-UP: Orleans

DORCHESTER: Ashmont Grill

555 Talbot Ave., Dorchester, 617-825-4300, ashmontgrill.com

While every place on this page gets kudos for channeling neighborhood vibe, credit veteran chef Chris Douglass with being nervy enough to actually create one. Opened in 2005 in less-than-humming Peabody Square, his approachably stylish bistro now draws foodies from near and far with superbly executed, kindly priced ($20, tops) comfort food. And with the recent success of his pasta-centric Tavolo right down the block, Douglass seems primed for a hat trick.

RUNNER-UP: 224 Boston Street

HARVARD SQUARE: Temple Bar

1688 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-5055, templebarcambridge.com

A dark, cozy eatery well away from the heart of the square, Temple Bar is nothing like its raucous Dublin namesake (think Cancún goes to Ireland), a fact that suits its typical clientele just fine. Off-duty Harvard dons, hipster scholars, young families, and mellow girls’-night-out groups file in for the ever reliable Angus burgers and crisped-to-perfection rosemary frites, while bromances are conducted at the bar over pancetta mac ‘n’ cheese and truffled flatbreads.

RUNNERS-UP: Daedalus, Chez Henri

INMAN SQUARE: Tupelo

1193 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-868-0004, tupelo02139.com

Fun as it is to play hooky from the world at a cool, insidery haunt, at some point you need to get along home, culinarily speaking. And ringing that get-your-butt-in-here-for-supper bell with both hands is Tupelo, a southern joint that sets the table with soulful family recipes and heavenly desserts (brown-butter pecan pie!). Most Inman folks weren’t raised on this kind of food, but judging by the way they’ve been packing into Tupelo since its April debut, maybe their kids will be.

RUNNER-UP: East Coast Grill

JAMAICA PLAIN: Dogwood Café

3712 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-7997, dogwoodcafe.com

Dogwood devotees will recall that ominous day a few years ago when their comfy hangout was shuttered by a fire next door. How would they get their beer-fueled unwinding after trudging out of the Forest Hills T each night? Who would feed them such scrumptious wood-fired pizzas and blueberry pie? Where could they take toddlers to dinner and meet tipplers for brunch, and always bump into J.P. characters they never knew they knew? All good questions that, given the Dogwood’s reopening soon after, thankfully have never needed an answer.

RUNNERS-UP: Bella Luna, Centre Street Café

KENMORE/FENWAY: Audubon Circle

838 Beacon St., Boston, 617-421-1910, auduboncircle.us

Done up in modern-looking wood panels and slate surfaces, this Kenmore Square favorite exudes a cool, relaxed air—even on a recent game-night visit (and despite its general proximity to BU hordes). Created by the pros who went on to open pizza specialist Cambridge 1 and cheeky pub Tory Row, it’s an ideal meet-up for friends seeking a weeknight fix of cold microbrews and juicy Kobe hot dogs, or stellar grilled hanger steak and a reasonably priced bottle of vino on a quiet, early Saturday evening.

RUNNER-UP: Trattoria Toscana

NORTH END: Pomodoro

319 Hanover St., Boston, 617-367-4348, pomodoroboston.com

Although bookended by Giacomo’s and the Daily Catch, both teeming with out-of towners, Pomodoro remains curiously tourist-resistant. That’s a good thing: more antipasto for us! The entrées, like the veal scaloppine with sweet onion-balsamic sauce, are better quality than those found throughout the rest of the North End, and are priced at $24 or less. With just nine teensy tables and an economical wine list, Pomodoro’s perfect for a no-frills, no-fuss night out.

RUNNER-UP: Marco

SOUTH BOSTON: St. Alphonzo’s Kitchen

87 A St., South Boston, 617-269-2233, stalphonzoskitchen.com

In the gap between Southie’s working-class past and emerging condo-class future, St. Alphonzo’s stands as a small marvel of a bridge: authentic but not staid, polished but not pretentious. Owned by Silvertone alums Natasha and Peter Irving, who live nearby and obviously pride themselves on feeding their neighbors well, it plates up top-notch sandwiches (the Cuban’s a standout) and affordable pastas, meat, and fish that embody home cooking in the best sense. The pocket-sized space is rarely packed, which means patrons can relax and actually hear themselves think—probably, about how soon they can come back.

RUNNER-UP: Franklin Southie

SOUTH END: Franklin Café

278 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-350-0010, franklincafe.com

Just because a restaurant’s in the South End doesn’t mean it’s a South Ender’s restaurant (ahem, Stephi’s on Tremont). This place, however, is the real deal. The soul of Boston’s now-crowded foodie enclave since opening 12 years ago, the Franklin fills with almost all regulars craving their specific comfort food—in our case, the garlic-grilled calamari and cornmeal-crusted catfish, with a glass of grüner, please!—every night of the week. And it doesn’t hurt that the kitchen keeps on serving those calamari, and the rest of the menu, until 1:30 a.m.

RUNNERS-UP: Gaslight, Metropolis Café

UNION SQUARE: The Independent

75 Union Sq., Somerville, 617-440-6022, theindo.com

To those living in eternally up-and-coming Somerville: You may not have solved the public transportation quandary that is Union Square but, boy, are you lucky from a pub-hub perspective. Outfitted in the classy dark-wood stylings of a more upscale joint, the Independent is smartly cleaved into one room for drinkers, one for diners—and manages to do right by both groups. Expect well-executed, moderately priced cuisine, like the béchamel, cheddar, provolone, and Parmesan macaroni and cheese, as well as innovative drink offerings (such as the Sub Rosa: campari, lillet rouge, grapefruit-tarragon vodka, and soda water) that tickle more-alcohol-focused palates.

[sidebar]RUNNER-UP: Cantina La Mexicana

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