Best Restaurants in Boston

Our annual list of the top 50 restaurants in town that make Boston a true dining destination.

— 31. —

Oleana

Once the default answer (along with—sob!—Hamersley’s Bistro) to the question “Where should I eat in Boston?” chef Ana Sortun’s Cambridge landmark seemed in years past to have lost its focus. Recently, however, the Middle Eastern-Mediterranean restaurant has returned to form, with alluringly spiced dishes like moussaka with tahini and crisp Brussels sprouts; and kohlrabi pancakes topped with peppery labne. Such dishes are best enjoyed, when the weather allows, in an outdoor garden that is as enchanting as the food.

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

best restaurants in boston 2017

Ostra’s paella wouldn’t be out of place in the Valencian countryside. / Photograph by Kristin Teig for ‘Restaurant Review: Ostra’

— 32. —

Ostra

This isn’t seafood for a day by the water—this is seafood for a celebration. Three-pound lobsters, Osetra caviar, and bottles of bubbly float around the dining room of chef-owner Jamie Mammano’s opulent restaurant, where the prices are high and the quality of the fish—like the simply but smartly prepared salmon, sea bream, and yellowfin tuna—is even higher. The rich, chorizo-spiked paella, packed with all manner of sea creatures, is a must-order.

One Charles St. S., Boston, 617-421-1200, ostraboston.com.

— 33. —

O Ya

Dinner at Tim and Nancy Cushman’s downtown sashimi bar is still the most fun you can have while parting with a full week’s salary. Ingredients are impeccable (see: primo wild spot prawns, tubes of lobster leg meat painstakingly pried from the shell), techniques are labor-intensive, and combinations are as imaginative—sesame-chicken-skin nigiri with schmaltz powder; squid-ink soba noodles tangled with torched squid and uni consommé—as they are transporting to eat. Setting the experience apart is the way that it’s all presented: in a small, welcoming space where you wouldn’t be out of place in jeans, with light touches (Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” on the speakers; the Comic Sans font on the menu) that proudly defy cool-kid convention.

9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900, o-ya.restaurant.

— 34. —

Puritan & Company

When chef Will Gilson first opened his farmhouse-chic ­Inman Square restaurant, with its blue patterned banquettes, wood-paneled walls, and vintage furniture as décor, he introduced the Boston area to a thoroughly modern interpretation of traditional New England cookery. This means plates like lamb belly glazed with old-school Moxie, pan-seared local catch, and one of the most elegant bowls of clam chowder in town. A petite oyster-and-charcuterie bar and complimentary bar pies on Thursday nights make Puritan equal parts destination and neighborhood hang.

1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-615-6195, puritancambridge.com.

best restaurants in boston 2017

Photograph by David Salafia for ‘Restaurant Review: Row 34’

— 35. —

Row 34

The second outing from the team behind Island Creek Oyster Bar has become the area’s must-visit seafood destination, thanks in part to beer director Suzanne Hays’s beer list with hyperlocal brews like the hard-to-come-by Trillium, and unusual sours from Italy and Belgium. But chef John Tubolino’s smoked-and-cured fish board, whole-roasted fish of the day, or a pitch-perfect bottle of Riesling are also worthy draws.

383 Congress St., Boston, 617-553-5900, row34.com.

— 36. —

Sarma

This loud, colorful Somerville meze bar is anything but traditional—here, the creamy hummus recalls a seven-layer dip, while juicy lamb köfte gets tucked into cute sliders. These Mediterranean–Americana hybrids are the creations of chef Cassie Piuma, who spent more than a decade in Oleana’s kitchen with Ana Sortun, now her partner at Sarma. Come with a group—you’ll want to try everything on the small-plates menu.

249 Pearl St., Somerville, 617-764-4464, sarmarestaurant.com.

best restaurants in boston 2017

Select Oyster Bar. / Photograph by Jared Kuzia for ‘Best of Boston 2015’

— 37. —

Select Oyster Bar

Like Neptune Oyster, where chef Michael Serpa toiled for years, Select is a tiny fish in a heavily trafficked pond. Off tourist-friendly Newbury Street, diners descend into a tiny, borderline-twee space decorated in a nautical mélange of Jacques Cousteau and Steve Zissou. Since reservations are limited to parties of six or more during peak hours, wait times can be endless—a cruel depravation considering Serpa’s skills with all manner of raw fruits de mer. Armed with some of the East Coast’s most pristine seafood, Serpa breathes new life into crudos, ceviche, and tartares: paper-thin slices of halibut are garnished with pickled pumpkin and espelette, and hamachi is laced with a snappy dressing of ginger and Warren pear. Entrées such as Serpa’s thick Gloucester swordfish steak stippled with rose harissa and cucumber raita are informed by the same clean, never-mundane conception and execution. The only challenge? Making it through the door to experience them.

50 Gloucester St., Boston, 857-239-8064, selectboston.com.

best restaurants in boston 2017

Shepard. / Photograph by Nina Gallant for ‘Light My Fire’

— 38. —

Shepard

At first blush, nothing about this very Cantabrigian newcomer—created by Rene Becker, of Hi-Rise Bread Company, and James Beard Award winner Susan Regis, of UpStairs on the Square—reads flashy or ostentatious. Its French-by-way-of-New-England spirit is built on earthy fare and primal cuts of meat cooked over an open hearth. But when Regis combines her technical precision with just the right amount of whimsy, her reinvented classics are unmatched. Take the fra diavolo. You’ve seen it before, but never like this, with a house-made, beet-stained cappellacci tossed with smoky red sauce, candy-striped beets, and generous hunks of lobster. The tomato salad’s fat heirloom slices gain an unexpected crunch from house-popped heritage corn. A whisper-light, smooth ricotta is imbued with chamomile and honey, an alluring combination that somehow works well outside the teapot. The beautiful fare, not to mention the pragmatic pegboard visible from the open kitchen, makes us feel like we’ve stumbled into a Julia Child dinner party, complete with tables heaped with hearty, soul-nourishing plates.

One Shepard St., Cambridge, 617-714-5295, shepardcooks.com.

— 39. —

Shojo

If anyone could launch a thoroughly modern incarnation of a Chinatown restaurant, it’s cousins Brendan and Brian Moy, who grew up in the family that owns upstairs dim sum mainstay China Pearl. The installation of former O Ya and JM Curley chef Mark O’Leary has brought inspired plates like five-spice-butter-fried chicken with puffy Hong Kong–style waffles, and the late-night-only, Sapporo-braised ma po hot dog. Handpainted murals and cocktails showcasing unusual infusions (Thai-chili- and oolong-tea-infused vodkas, anyone?) make the atmosphere feel as vibrant as the food.

9A Tyler St., Boston, 617-423-7888, shojoboston.com.

— 40. —

Sichuan Garden II

Many a great Sichuan eatery in this area lacks proper stiff drinks to chase those pork-filled wontons with chili oil and fiery ma po tofu. Not so at this yellow manor off Route 128, where wunderkind bartender Ran Duan has opened up a hip tiki lounge, the Baldwin, within his parents’ traditional Sichuan restaurant. The menu is the same no matter where you sit, so order the above—plus a hulking platter of Chongqing chicken wings with maple-sriracha sauce—before perusing the beverage selection, which includes an entire mai tai menu and some of the most creative cocktails around.

2 Alfred St., Woburn, 781-935-8488, sichuangardenrestaurant.com.