The 50 Best Restaurants 2012
Our annual list of Boston's top restaurants. Check out all of our 50 Best Restaurants 2012 coverage.
Where can you find world-class cuisine in Boston today? Just about anywhere you look, from boisterous downtown establishments to quirky neighborhood bistros. Quite simply, we have more quality options than ever before. That’s great news, of course, but it’s also complicated the age-old question: Where should we go for dinner tonight? Which is why we’ve spent the past six months in search of this city’s most spectacular dining experiences. Here, we present our findings, Boston’s very best restaurants.
(Only restaurantsÂ opened by the end of 2011 were included in this list.Â For some restaurants, we have included expanded content online that did not appear in print.)
House-made charcuterie at Bergamot in Somerville. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)
80 THOREAU Concord
WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Carolyn Johnsonâ€™s unexpected pairingsâ€”butter-crisped gnocchi accented with smoky eggplant purĂ©e; juicy grilled sirloin flanked by sweet honeyed beetsâ€”make dining at this sophisticated Concord spot a refined adventure. WHAT TO ORDER: Fluke crudo with pickled rhubarb; chocolate panna cotta with pretzels, peanut butter, and beer ice cream. INSIDER TIP: The four-person, bar-style chefâ€™s counter puts you close to the action in the kitchen. 80 Thoreau, 80 Thoreau St., Concord, 978-318-0008, 80thoreau.com.
AREA FOUR Kendall Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Co-owners Michael Krupp and Michael Leviton (the chef) have perfected the art of the casual, local-leaning eatery. Gourmet pizzas with toppings like Gorgonzola and peppered walnuts anchor the menu, but there are also upscale dishes you wonâ€™t find at the corner joint, including creamy smoked fish and a cooling Thai squid salad. WHAT TO ORDER: Smoked local fish (changes daily); garlic knots with pecorino and gremolata; the kitchen-sink salad. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant will now deliver pizza (via website DiningIn) to your home. Area Four, 500 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-758-4444, areafour.com.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Bergamot may look like the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, but appearances can be deceiving. Sophistication abounds here: a dash of rooibos syrup rounding out a cocktail, a hint of smoke in a creamy cauliflower soup, and a bar-only grilled cheese constructed of buttery brioche thatâ€™s been stuffed with lobster, gooey cheddar, and scallions. WHAT TO ORDER: Local lamb, three ways; house-made charcuterie (pictured above). INSIDER TIP: The all-hours prix fixe is one of the areaâ€™s best deals: For $39, you get any appetizer, entrĂ©e, and dessert from the regular menu. Bergamot, 118 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-576-7700, bergamotrestaurant.com.
BISTRO DU MIDI Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Robert Siscaâ€™s elegant, seafood-heavy ProvenĂ§al fareâ€”scallops slivered into fresh crudo; saffron-scented bouillabaisseâ€”and peerless service make this restaurant stand out from the crowd of French bistros that rely on butter-laden sauces and side orders of frites. WHAT TO ORDER: Seasonal crudo; seared duck with gnocchi. INSIDER TIP: The all-day cafĂ© menu offers refined yet casual French-inspired sandwiches, salads, and snacks. Bistro du Midi, 272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com.
BLUE GINGER Wellesley
WHY IT’S GREAT: Ming Tsai could have his name splashed all over New York and Vegas by now (like, ahem, a certain Olives chef), but instead heâ€™s continued to focus on ensuring that his Wellesley restaurant remains one of the areaâ€™s finest, with signature dishes like foie-gras shumai and sake-miso-marinated sablefish that remain classic, rather than clichĂ©d. WHAT TO ORDER: Tuna poke; garlicâ€“black pepper lobster with lemongrass fried rice. INSIDER TIP: Tsai catalogs each dishâ€™s ingredients on his menu, helping guests avoid plates that may trigger food allergies. Blue Ginger, 583 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-283-5790, ming.com/blue-ginger.
A Few of Jason Bond of Bondir’s Favorite Things (Photo byÂ Bruce Peterson)
BONDIR Kendall Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Jason Bond specializes in high-style fare with a dose of quirkâ€”much of it owing to the unusual ingredients he sources.Â Surrounded in the tiny, warmly-lit dining room, though, you’ll feel right at home no matter what you order. (Oven-roasted crickets? Absolutely.) WHAT TO ORDER: Any of the soups, spice-poached beet salad, chocolate-lemongrass pana cotta. INSIDER TIP: Most dishes on the menu are available as half portions, which makes it easy to try much of the menu in a single evening. Take a closer look at Jason Bond’s favorite things. Bondir, 279A Broadway, Cambridge, 617-661-0009, bondircambridge.com.
THE BUTCHER SHOP South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: This wine bar pairs the heart of a steakhouse (choice rib-eyes, racks of lamb) with the soul of a Barbara Lynch restaurant. That means silky pĂ˘tĂ©s, hearty pastas, and desserts begging for a glass of carefully chosen moscato. WHAT TO ORDER: The charcuterie platter; steak tartare. INSIDER TIP: The deli case in back features all manner of cured and fresh meats to go. The ButcherÂ Shop, 552 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-4800, thebutchershopboston.com.
Catalyst in Kendall Square. (Photo byÂ Anthony Tieuli)
CATALYST Kendall Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Will Kovelâ€™s industrial-chic Kendall Square bistro is a study in informal elegance. Whether youâ€™re in the mood for delicate upscale fare like seared scallops and Taleggio-ravioli-topped tournedos of beefâ€”or just a really great bacon cheeseburgerâ€”youâ€™ll feel perfectly at home here. WHAT TO ORDER: Yellowfin tartare with wonton chips; scallops with lobster-bisque emulsion; cavatelli with chicken oysters, bacon, and black truffle. INSIDER TIP: Ask about the prix-fixe menu option when booking in advance. Catalyst, 300 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-576-3000, catalystrestaurant.com.
WHY IT’S GREAT: At Ceia, chef Patrick Soucy draws on the cuisines of Portugal, Italy, France, and Spain to create an eclectic genre thatâ€™s all his own. Spicy morcilla with San Marzano tomatoes over crostini, and porcini-studded lamb polpetti with a splash of madeira wine are just a couple of examples of his inspired fusion. WHAT TO ORDER: The Manchego-and-prosciutto-topped Kobe burger; rib-eye with truffle fries and barbera-mushroom sauce. INSIDER TIP: On Tuesdays, Ceia offers a three-course meal paired with wines for just $38. Ceia, 25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8112, ceia-newburyport.com.
A Peek Into Clio’s Toolkit (Photo byÂ Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)
CLIO Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: Itâ€™s not enough here to serve the butteriest seared foie gras, earthiest escargot, and most tender buttermilk-braised chicken. A variety of molecular powders and extracts keep the dishes as texturally and visually intriguing as they are delicious. WHAT TO ORDER: Foie gras laquee; fresh dug beet salad; chocolate coulant. INSIDER TIP: Take the fine-dining experience a step more casual by ordering from an abridged menu at the barâ€”all while enjoying bar manager Todd Maul’s avant-garde cocktails. Peek into Clio’s toolkit. Clio, 370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com.
Eastern Standard: By the Numbers (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)
COPPA South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: This South End enoteca is both rollicking and intimate, offering some of the cityâ€™s best pastas (crafted with ingredients like smoked pancetta or briny squid ink), pizzas (topped with fried calamari rings and spicy house-made sausage), and two-bite seasonal antipasti. WHAT TO ORDER: Salt cod baccalĂ ; linguine nero; bone-marrow pizza. INSIDER TIP: Try a few different half portions of pasta for a sampler effect. Coppa, 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com.
CRAIGIE ON MAIN Central Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Way before snout-to-tail cooking became de rigueur, Tony Maws was working everything from pig brains to trotters into his haute yet homey dishes. Arrays of glacĂ©ed vegetables and texture-rich pastas welcome non-carnivores, too. WHAT TO ORDER: Grilled Spanish octopus; crispy fried pig tails. INSIDER TIP: The legendary bar-only burger is available in the dining room during brunch. CraigieÂ on Main, 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com.
DEUXAVE Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: With a dark-wood-and-glass interior, technique-driven plates like the crackly-skinned duck with foie-stuffed prunes, and playful desserts (see: deconstructed PB?&?J), an evening here is the ultimate in Back Bay swank. WHAT TO ORDER: Spiced duck breast; crispy wild mushrooms; gnocchi with lobster. INSIDER TIP: On a cold night, try the nine-hour French onion soup, which, despite its name, actually takes three days to make. Deuxave, 371 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-517-5915, deuxave.com.
EAST BY NORTHEAST Inman Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Phillip Tangâ€™s New England-meets-modern-Chinese concept translates to an abundance of bold, bright dishes infused with the best of the seasons. WHAT TO ORDER: Kohlrabi-and-carrot salad; pork buns; scallion pancakes; the dayâ€™s specials. INSIDER TIP: The flavorful house sodas will excite non-imbibers, and act as great mixers for the rest of us. East byÂ Northeast, 1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-0286, exnecambridge.com.
EASTERN STANDARD Kenmore Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: This brasserie simply excels at everything, from expert charcuterie to porky mac â€™nâ€™ cheese to, best of all, agenda-setting cocktails produced in astonishing consistency and volume. WHAT TO ORDER: Moules provencal; grilled flatbread with camembert; frisee aux lardon salad. INSIDER TIP: The late night menu is packed with snack-friendly bites like salt cod arancini, shrimp tacos, and brisket hash. Learn more about Eastern Standard: By the Numbers. EasternÂ Standard, 528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100, easternstandardboston.com.
The soaring dining room at the Back Bay steakhouse Grill 23. (Photo by Bob O’Connor)
ERBALUCE Bay Village
WHY IT’S GREAT: Thoughtful details set Charles Draghiâ€™s preparations apart in a city overrun with upscale Italian: the crisped skin on the bluefish (â€śpotato chips from the sea,â€ť says the server); the cinnamon dust on an amuse-bouche of white-bean purĂ©e; the violet extract in the meringue atop a chocolate-and-cherry mousse. WHAT TO ORDER: Razor clams with fennel and leeks; pappardelle with wild-boar ragu. INSIDER TIP: On the first Sunday of each month, Draghi leads an Italian-themed wine class. Erbaluce, 69 Church St., Boston, 617-426-6969, erbaluce-boston.com.
THE GALLOWS South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: A restaurant with â€śLe Boones Farmâ€ť spelled out on the wine list obviously doesnâ€™t take itself too seriously. Then again, this buzzing gastropub doesnâ€™t have toâ€”its fun, thoughtful dishes (locavore bacon-ranch wedge salad, anyone?) and informed service speak volumes about the quality here. WHAT TO ORDER: Classic poutine; the â€śLongshoremanâ€ť platter. INSIDER TIP: For dessert, try a cone of off-menu soft-serveâ€”all you have to do is ask for it. The Gallows, 1395 Washington St., Boston, 617-425-0200, thegallowsboston.com.
GRILL 23 Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: When the occasion calls for a top-notch steak, thereâ€™s no place better to celebrate than at this sophisticated spot, where youâ€™ll find a superior 100-day-aged rib-eyeâ€”among other well-marbled cutsâ€”and stiff, icy martinis perfect for toasting the evening. WHAT TO ORDER: Tuna tartare; skirt-steakÂ frites; dry-aged New York strip; mashed potatoes. INSIDER TIP: On Sundays and Mondays, the restaurant offers a list of popular wines for $23 a bottle. Grill 23, 161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, grill23.com.
Grilled quail with roasted figs at Hamersley’s in South End. (Photo byÂ Anthony Tieuli)
HAMERSLEY’S BISTRO South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: In this era of small plates, Gordon Hamersley continues to celebrate the singular entrĂ©e, such as beautifully balanced grilled quail with roasted figs (pictured above), expertly seared fish, and, of course, his iconic roast chicken. WHAT TO ORDER: Duck confit; spicy halibut with bacon-braised greens; chocolate-hazelnut cheesecake. INSIDER TIP: An impressive selection of wines by the half bottle offers more flexibility for smaller parties. Hamersleyâ€™sÂ Bistro, 553 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-2700, hamersleysbistro.com.
HARVEST Harvard Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: It would be easy for this institution to rest on its laurels. After all, it helped launch the careers of culinary bigwigs like Barbara Lynch and Lydia Shire. But nearly 40 years on, tucking into a tenderloin with black truffleâ€“farro risotto on the linden-shaded patio remains a singular thrill. WHAT TO ORDER: Tagliatelle with roasted cauliflower and piquillo-pepper coulis; Taza chocolate crĂ©meux with salted caramel. INSIDER TIP: Executive pastry chef Brian Mercury collects his own sea salt from Ogunquit, Maineâ€”find it sprinkled on the crĂ©meux. Harvest, 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-2255, harvestcambridge.com.
Journeyman’s Tasting of Carrots (Photo by Bruce Peterson)
HELMAND East Cambridge
WHY IT’S GREAT: This Cambridge mainstay has barely changed in nearly two decadesâ€”and thatâ€™s exactly why we go. Itâ€™s comforting to know that, on every visit, the bubbly flatbreads will be pulled out of the clay oven and slid into a basket alongside cool cilantro and yogurt sauces; the plates of spiced rice will be fluffy and fragrant; and the service will be as polished as ever. WHAT TO ORDER: Lamb lawand; baked pumpkin; aushak ravioli; cardamom-and-pineapple cake. INSIDER TIP: The vegetarian â€śspecialâ€ť entrĂ©e is a great way to try four different vegetable preparations. Helmand, 143 1st St., Cambridge, 617-492-4646, helmandrestaurant.com.
HUNGRY MOTHER Kendall Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: This city has been adding southern-inspired restaurants so quickly that a visitor could be forgiven for thinking that weâ€™re famous for hush puppies rather than lobster rolls. But Virginia native Barry Maidenâ€™s eateryâ€”which began serving boiled peanuts and pecan-crusted wild catfish long before it was coolâ€”is still the best southern-fried game in town. WHAT TO ORDER: Skillet cornbread with sorghum butter; smoked-beef-tongue toast; wild catfish with pecans; any seasonal dessert. INSIDER TIP: Dine before 6 p.m., and youâ€™re eligible for discounted Kendall Square theater tickets, which your server will deliver with the bill. Hungry Mother, 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com.
IL CASALE Belmont
WHY IT’S GREAT: Dante de Magistrisâ€™s restaurant, housed in a converted firehouse, offers rustic Italian that ranges from exactly what you had in mind (mounds of house-made pasta and lemony fried calamari made using the chefâ€™s nonnaâ€™s recipes) to what youâ€™d never before imagined (fresh tomatoes presented in a savory bread pudding, or fried chickpeas atop oil-cured tuna). WHAT TO ORDER: Homemade gnocchi; scamorza-stuffed arancini. INSIDER TIP: If youâ€™re dining with a large party, order a four- or five-course family-style tasting menu. Il Casale, 50 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-209-4942, ilcasalebelmont.com.
ISLAND CREEK OYSTER BAR Kenmore Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: ICOB is, quite frankly, the seafood destination weâ€™ve always neededâ€”a place to which we can confidently send, well, just about everyone, whether theyâ€™re in the mood for a basket of fried clams or crisp-skinned halibut. Catch and raw-bar selections change daily based on whatâ€™s fresh, so your seafood wonâ€™t have traveled farther than your guests. WHAT TO ORDER: Fried oyster sliders; lobster roe noodles with short ribs; raw bar. INSIDER TIP: Enhanced with rosemary and honey, ICOBâ€™s biscuits are some of the best in the area. Island CreekÂ Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.
WHY IT’S GREAT: Some of the most inventive, elegant cuisine in Boston is coming fromâ€¦ a back alley in Somerville. Descriptions on the prix-fixe menus (choose five or seven courses, omnivore or vegetarian, with or without wine pairings) are intentionally vague, so co-owners and chefs Tse Wei Lim and Diana Kudajarova can surprise and delight food geeks with tomato water ribbons, local pork belly paired with sunflower pesto and Parmesan foam, and deconstructed peach cobbler with shiso ice cream. WHAT TO ORDER: The frequently-changing prix-fixe menus. Off-peak diners can score four courses for $40 after 8:30 p.m., Sundays through Wednesdays. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant now offers a rotating selection of European cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen before dessertâ€”a pungent Belgian Charmoix was a recent standout. Take a closer look at Journeyman’s tasting of carrots. Journeyman, 9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, 617-718-2333, journeymanrestaurant.com.
Five Great New England Cheeses at L’EspalierÂ (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)
WHY IT’S GREAT: With plush chairs, dramatic wine-barrel chandeliers, and service to rival any downtown restaurantâ€™s, this luxe spot offers chef Jamie Mammanoâ€™s characteristically bold Italian fareâ€”umami-rich veal meatballs with pappardelle; house-made sausage with wood-roasted peppersâ€”sans I-95 traffic. WHAT TO ORDER: Wood-grilled rib-eye; chicken Milanese. INSIDER TIP: The restaurantâ€™s private dining roomâ€”complete with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace and barâ€”can host up to 70 for dinner. Lâ€™Andana, 86 Cambridge St., Burlington, 781-270-0100, landanagrill.com.
L’ESPALIER Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: What you see on the menuâ€”succulent poached oysters, foie gras and truffle-sauced chickenâ€”is but a fraction of the luxury that you’re in for at this Back Bay stalwart. Each meal here begins with a parade of petite amuse bouchesâ€”a postage stamp-sized ceviche taco, perhaps, or cloud-like warm cheese gougeresâ€”that surprise, delight, and merely tease at what’s to come. WHAT TO ORDER: Warm Wellfleet oyster with faux gnocchi; beef ribeye with bone marrow custard; mint chocolate souffle. INSIDER TIP: In addition to cheeses, L’Espalier also holds court when it comes to teaâ€”and on Sundays, in-house tea sommelier Cynthia Gold leads “fantasty tea” tastings for $50 per person. Check out five great New England cheeses at L’Espalier. Lâ€™Espalier, 774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-3023, lespalier.com.
LA CAMPANIA Waltham
WHY IT’S GREAT: The rustic pots and pans, candles, and abundance of fresh-cut flowers will entice those seeking romance. Southern Italianâ€“style pizzas, plates of hand-cut pasta, and wood-grilled meats, meanwhile, ensure that the cuisine is as sumptuous as the surroundings. WHAT TO ORDER: The fig, duck confit, Gorgonzola, and fontina pizza. INSIDER TIP: You can reserve a seat on the charming patio if you call the day of your visit. La Campania, 504 Main St., Waltham, 781-894-4280, lacampania.com.
LA MORRA Brookline Village
WHY IT’S GREAT: The flight of stairs at Jen and Josh Ziskinâ€™s neighborhood treasure may be steep, but youâ€™ll be rewarded with the ideal backdropâ€”exposed brick walls, rustic wooden seatsâ€”for an Italian feast of earthy Tuscan meatballs and smoky wood-fired bruschetta. WHAT TO ORDER: Fried sage leaves; porcini-and-prosciutto meatballs; panna cotta. INSIDER TIP: Gluten-free pastas are available upon request. La Morra, 48 Boylston St., Brookline, 617-739-0007, lamorra.com.
WHY IT’S GREAT: The menu at chef Michael Levitonâ€™s cozy restaurant features diligently sourced ingredients that shine in a sophisticated lineup of elegantly presented bistro-style dishes: silky vegetable soups, crisp roast chicken, and some wonderfully creative desserts. WHAT TO ORDER: Crystal Valley Farm chicken; the chocolate soufflĂ© cake. INSIDER TIP: After a brief hiatus, LumiĂ¨reâ€™s popular prix-fixe menu has returned, with three courses for $45 Sunday through Thursday. LumiĂ¨re, 1293 Washington St., Newton, 617-244-9199, lumiererestaurant.com.
MENTON Fort Point
WHY IT’S GREAT: Barbara Lynch and her meticulously trained staff make you and your guests the stars of the show. The breathtaking dishesâ€”from amuse-bouches of buttery croissants and savory macarons to entrĂ©es like spiced lamb with beads of soft eggplant â€ścaviarâ€ťâ€”are delivered with service so seamless that your food seems to simply appear on the table. WHAT TO ORDER: Faroe Islands salmon; seasonal veloutĂ©. INSIDER TIP: Tours can be arranged of the stunning 3,500-square-foot kitchen. Menton, 354 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com.
MEYERS + CHANG South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: Joanne Chang and Christopher Myersâ€™s Washington Street mainstay has the attitude of a comfort-food dinerâ€”one that just happens to serve dishes inspired by Thai, Chinese, and Korean favorites. That means that instead of chicken noodle, youâ€™re in for delicious meatball-enhanced hot-and-sour soup, and rather than a sloppy joe, you get Korean bulgogi sandwiches. WHAT TO ORDER: Pork-and-chive dumplings; papaya slaw; Genmai fried rice; tea-smoked ribs; Tigerâ€™s Tears salad. INSIDER TIP: Mondays and Tuesdays are date nights, with a set menu of five dishes for $40 per couple. Myers + Chang, 1145 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com.
NEPTUNE OYSTER North End
WHY IT’S GREAT: The lines always seem to last longer than the meal at this tiny seafood destination, but patience yields rewards, in the form of expertly selected bivalves and crispy johnnycakes topped with smoked trout and caviar. WHAT TO ORDER: Oysters on the half shell; grilled whole bronzini; â€śNeptunes on Piggyback.â€ť INSIDER TIP: The weekly lobster spaghettini special is reason enough to eat here on Mondays. Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
NO. 9 PARK Beacon Hill
WHY IT’S GREAT: Barbara Lynchâ€™s flagship restaurant may not project the kind of over-the-top excess youâ€™ll find at its extravagant sibling Menton, but her original has its own opulent charms, including an elegant list of apĂ©ritifs and luxe pastas: tender prune-stuffed gnocchi with minuscule seared foie-gras slices, and lemony disks of corzetti with toasted bread crumbs. WHAT TO ORDER: Lamb saddle with Medjool dates; chocolate pain de GĂŞnes; the cheese cart. INSIDER TIP: The bar offers a more gently priced menu, with the same â€ślet us dote on youâ€ť service. No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., Boston, 617-742-9991, no9park.com.
O YA Chinatown
WHY IT’S GREAT: Each bite from Tim Cushmanâ€™s elaborate contemporary-Japanese menuâ€”every painstakingly calibrated micro sea bean or watermelon pearl that garnishes the fresh slices of sashimi and nigiriâ€”warrants a moment of silent appreciation. So, then: Shhhh. WHAT TO ORDER: Hamachi with banana pepper mousse; Onsen egg wtih dashi; shiso tempura with grilled lobster. INSIDER TIP: Get a lesson in sake along with your meal with a flight of hand-chosen varieties for $60. Take a closer look at the $175-per-person omasake at O Ya. O Ya, 9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900, oyarestaurantboston.com.
At Oishii in South End, hamachi comes to the table smoking. (Photo byÂ Anthony Tieuli)
OISHII South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: This dark, gilded restaurant was designed for a glitzy night out, with impeccable sushi and sashimi preparations injected with a dose of dazzle: Wagyu served in a sizzling rock, hamachi that comes to the table smoking (pictured above), and slices of fish served in a neon-lit ice cube. WHAT TO ORDER: Broiled edamame; Japanese-yam-tempura maki. INSIDER TIP: The lunchtime-only â€śKaisekiâ€ť special is a spectacular deal, offering a platter of close to a dozen preparations for a mere $20. Oishii, 1166 Washington St., Boston, 617-482-8868, oishiiboston.com.
OLEANA Inman Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Falafel and hummus arenâ€™t often associated with fine dining, but in the hands of chef Ana Sortun, they become something both sophisticated and sublime. And since Sortunâ€™s husband is Siena Farmsâ€™ Chris Kurth, she has access to some of the best produce around. WHAT TO ORDER: Tamarind-glazed beef with purĂ©ed eggplant and pine nuts; trout spanakopita. INSIDER TIP: Combine small plates like crisp fattoush andwhipped feta for a tapas-style feast. Oleana, 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.
RIALTO Harvard Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Jody Adams never tires of Italy, and neither do we, since sheâ€™s always showcasing a different region on her menu. Sheâ€™s also skilled when it comes to New Englandâ€“style classics like smoky grilled clams with andouille, and GruyĂ¨re-topped fishermanâ€™s stew. WHAT TO ORDER: Slow-roasted Long Island duck; any of the pastas. INSIDER TIP: The restaurantâ€™s new bar menu features adventurous plates like sausage-stuffed pig trotter and lardo with bagna cauda. Rialto, One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050, rialto-restaurant.com.
Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square. (Photo by Bob O’Connor)
RUSSELL HOUSE TAVERN Harvard Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: In the two and a half years since it opened, Russell House has evolved into the dining hub of Harvard Square. Now the rest of the city is catching on, thanks to the casual yet edgy plates (lamb-belly toast, smoked pig-tail pierogi) and excellent craft cocktails. WHAT TO ORDER: Melted cambozola cheese with mushrooms and caramelized onions; fried pig-head cake with maple aioli; braised-beef-tongue meatballs. INSIDER TIP: Ask for the â€śsecretâ€ť burger, an off-menu creation with weekly changing toppings like marmalade and sriracha butter. RussellÂ House Tavern, 14 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, 617-500-3055, russellhousecambridge.com.
SALTS Central Square
WHY IT’S GREAT: Gabriel Bremerâ€™s bistro is the epitome of approachable luxury. The service is fawning without being pretentious, and the technically advanced dishesâ€”slow-poached eggs on farro risotto, gazpacho with olive-oil powderâ€”wow without confounding. WHAT TO ORDER: Atlantic halibut; roast duck for two. INSIDER TIP: The tasting menu showcases the more avant-garde side of Bremerâ€™s bistro cooking. Salts, 798 Main St., Cambridge, 617-876-8444, saltsrestaurant.com.
Scampo in Beacon Hill. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)
SCAMPO Beacon Hill
WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Lydia Shire doesnâ€™t shy away from bold combinations. Who else would put out a menu featuring lamb-tartare-topped pita and pork-crackling-laced spaghetti? The dining experience at this globally influenced Italian restaurant, meanwhile, is just as exciting as the food. WHAT TO ORDER: Selections from the mozzarella bar; pork chops with risotto. INSIDER TIP: A variety of pizzasâ€”including Shireâ€™s signature lobster pieâ€”are available until midnight Thursday through Saturday. Scampo, 215 Charles St., Boston, 617-536-2100, scampoboston.com.
SORELLINA Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: Yes, this swanky Italian eatery attracts its share of trust-funders and executives. But the truth is, every diner here gets the star treatment: Servers are quick with wine suggestions, de-crumb the table after the meal, and deliver truffles even when you beg off dessert. WHAT TO ORDER: Maccheroncelli with Wagyu meatballs; Cornish game hen with whipped potatoes; octopus with squid-ink couscous. INSIDER TIP: Live within two miles of the restaurant? The gratis car service can take you home from dinner between the hours of 6:30 and 11:30 p.m. Sorellina, One Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-412-4600, sorellinaboston.com.
WHY IT’S GREAT: This relative newcomer has already become a fixture on the scene thanks to inspired combinations like the spicy charred romaine salad topped with rich oxtail and chili vinaigrette. The flawless service makes it easy to forget that the whole thing is going down in a tiny Watertown storefront. WHAT TO ORDER: Wings with Moxie sauce; any vegetable side; the doughnut. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant offers a wide variety of flavored sodas from microbreweries both home and abroad. Strip-Tâ€™s, 93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330, stripts.com.
TEN TABLES J.P. Jamaica Plain
WHY IT’S GREAT: There are now locations in both Cambridge and Provincetown, but we still find ourselves returning to the Centre Street original, a quaint spot where Sean Callahan has mastered seasonal bistro fare. WHAT TO ORDER: Adobo-rubbed hanger steak with farro; house-made charcuterie. INSIDER TIP: The adjoining TTJP Bar has daily specials that you canâ€™t get across the river. Ten Tables J.P., 597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-8810, tentables.net.
Pimientos de PadrĂłnÂ at Toro in South End. (Photo byÂ Anthony Tieuli)
TORO South End
WHY IT’S GREAT: The grilled corn is well known for a reason. But if you skip it, just this once, youâ€™ll make room for all of the other treasures on the menuâ€”fat marrow bones with oxtail marmalade crostini, blistery pimientos de PadrĂłn (pictured above), tender blood-orange-glazed sweetbreadsâ€”that have made this raucus, tiny spot a local institution. WHAT TO ORDER: Bone marrow with oxtail marmalade; uni bocadillo; any of the paellas. INSIDER TIP: Make dinner a party by requesting sparkling Cava straight from a porron (weâ€™ll let you be surprised). Toro, 1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com.
Uni in Back Bay. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)
TRADE Financial District
WHY IT’S GREAT: Jody Adamsâ€™s long-awaited second restaurant has become a hip, forever-bustling fixture of the downtown scene. The crowds arenâ€™t there just to be seen, thoughâ€”thereâ€™s also the allure of the shareable flatbreads, bold vegetable dishes, and hearty plates like rigatoni with spicy lamb-sausage ragu. WHAT TO ORDER: Pomegranate-glazed eggplant; whole roast trout. INSIDER TIP: Request a seat by the kitchen bar for a front-row view of the roaring wood-fired oven. Trade, 540 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617-451-1234, trade-boston.com.
TRES GATOS Jamaica Plain
WHY IT’S GREAT: A tapas place can only be as good as its tortilla espaĂ±ola, and here the egg-and-potato frittata becomes a creamy masterpiece after a dunk in garlicky pimentĂłn aioli. So yes, Tres Gatos is skilled with the classics, but it also shines with less-conventional plates like lamb bocadillo with shallots, and bavette steak with smoked eggplant. WHAT TO ORDER: Confit chicken thighs; tortilla espaĂ±ola; patatas bravas; gambas all i pebre.Â INSIDER TIP: The restaurant recently began serving weekend brunch. Tres Gatos, 470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4851, tresgatosjp.com.
T.W. FOOD Huron Village
WHY IT’S GREAT: While Tim Wiechmannâ€™s seasonally driven dishes make for fantastic plates Ă la carte, the nightly prix-fixe menusâ€”which feature duck-liver mousse, hearty homemade pasta, and a great sundae for under $50â€”are also a delicious (and value-driven) option. WHAT TO ORDER: Any of the pastas; soft-scrambled farm egg;â€śscotch and cigarsâ€ť beignets with tobacco ice cream. INSIDER TIP: On Tuesdays, Wiechmannâ€™s prix fixes are an even better value, offering themed four-course meals (with wine) for $55. T.W. Food, 377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745, twfoodrestaurant.com.
UNI Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: Ken Oringerâ€™s sushi temple has always been the place for an exotic piece of fish or feather-light tempura. But thanks to the spaceâ€™s recent redesignâ€”wood paneling, leather banquettes, and sleek flooringâ€”itâ€™s become an all-hours hangout that oh, by the way, serves some of the best sashimi around. WHAT TO ORDER: Shishito peppers with bonito; the sashimi sampler. INSIDER TIP: After 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, thereâ€™s a special menu available featuring ramen noodle bowls and petite ice cream sandwiches. Uni, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, unisashimibar.com.
VIA MATTA Back Bay
WHY IT’S GREAT: The defining dish on Michael Schlowâ€™s Italian menu is the thick, savory pasta Bolognese. Donâ€™t agree? Okay, perhaps itâ€™s the buttery chocolate-shortbread â€śMascarporeosâ€ť cookie sandwiches. Why argue? Go ahead and order both, along with a few glasses of wine from a magnificent list that spans Italy. WHAT TO ORDER: The crispy meatballs; veal with asparagus, morels, and a fried egg; Mascarporeos. INSIDER TIP: Pizza, sandwiches, and other small bites are served in the cafĂ© until 1 a.m. Via Matta, 79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-422-0008, viamattarestaurant.com. Â Â Check out all of our coverage for 50 Best Restaurants 2012. Â Correction 10/30/2012, 11 p.m.: Â In the original version (and in print), the story states that Area Four now delivers. This has been corrected to state that the restaurant now delivers via the website DiningIn.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/2012/10/50-best-restaurants-2012/