Best Restaurants in Boston
Our annual list of the top 50 restaurants in town that make Boston a true dining destination.
— 41. —
The name’s short for Serene Republic of Venice, but there’s nothing tranquil about the vivid flavors of Michael Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell’s Venetian fare, which hits the palate with all the precision and layering of a Gabrieli sonata. Deep-fried Castelvetrano olives burst with perfumey fennel sausage and molten montasio cheese. Preserved lemon rings out like a trumpet obbligato over the dark, rumbling cello notes of unctuous squid-ink risotto. Even the quieter moments—Wagyu crudo deepened with cocoa nibs and nutty sunchoke purée—have the intensity of a brass choir mustering its most convincing pianissimo.
569 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com.
— 42. —
This Watertown hang’s Moxie-slicked chicken wings, fried-cauliflower-stuffed sub, and romaine salad crowned with oxtail and a poached egg get their share of accolades. But don’t overlook the magnificent burger, packed with umami from a just-charred-enough chuck, skirt-steak, and beef-cheek patty and a smear of smoked miso; or the smoky miso ramen, a daily lunch special. Bill Nurse took over as executive chef this year in Paul Maslow’s 30-year-old kitchen, and his new menu continues the long tradition of unexpectedly excellent comforts, like chili-rubbed steak frites with a funky kimchi hollandaise, and drunken mussels sauced in Fino sherry with unctuous cubes of Tasso ham.
93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330, stripts.com.
— 43. —
It’s the scent that hits you first: sweet, pungent garlic, mixed with basil and white wine as it meets the pan. After that, it’s the service—warm and friendly, as if you’ve just sat down in someone’s kitchen. Then there’s chef Dave Becker’s Italian-influenced menu: phyllo-wrapped baked Gouda over truffle-vinaigrette-dressed greens; baked ziti with winter squash, goat cheese, and bread crumbs; and rib-eye smothered in provolone fondue, all served in gargantuan portions. When we crave comfort food and a bottle of BYO wine, there’s no place we’d rather be.
942 Great Plain Ave., Needham, 781-444-9600, sweetbasilneedham.com.
— 44. —
Tiffani Faison’s fall-apart ribs, crackly-skinned sausages, and mammoth slabs of brisket are sourced from the highest-quality purveyors. Meat aside, Sweet Cheeks is also the rare barbecue spot that welcomes vegetarian diners, with sublime biscuits and one of the finest salads in town—a crunchy mash-up of farro, candied hazelnuts, Brussels sprouts, grapes, and arugula.
1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com.
— 45. —
This neighborhood favorite may be the kind of place where passersby tap the window to greet friends and family inside, but it also draws diners from far beyond Newton Centre thanks to chefs David Punch and Lydia Reichert. Sweet-potato muhammara with pillowy grilled pita, and suckling-pig confit with bright fennel purée and blood-orange marmalade share menu real estate with those duck, lamb, and pig boards that everyone’s always raving about. It’s also home to the most satisfying vegetarian entrée we’ve ever tried: leek pancakes with local squash and crispy Brussels sprouts.
755 Beacon St., Newton Centre, 617-244-4445, sycamorenewton.com.
— 46. —
To get to Tasting Counter, ticket-holding guests slip through an unassuming side entrance of the Aeronaut Brewing building, in Union Square. Once there, chef Peter Ungár and chef de cuisine Marcos Sanchez—both adorned in tall toques and crisp chef’s whites—shepherd up to 20 guests through nine exhilarating courses: briny urchin-and-kelp custard served in a chiseled eggshell; dry-aged sirloin cap shingled over red curry sauce and burdock-root purée; and a sublime sous vide duck breast marinated in miso and dashi, easily the best piece of fowl we had all year. Considering the slew of spontaneous freebies (duck-liver macarons), generous wine and beer pairings, and personal-chef-like service, Tasting Counter’s price tag (starting at $195 per person) seems like a bargain. And Ungár isn’t finished revolutionizing the tasting menu format. Next year, the chef plans to fully customize his lineups for repeat customers, so they’ll never see the same thing twice. Welcome to fine dining’s new frontier—personalized yet exquisitely prepared, and endlessly surprising.
14 Tyler St., Somerville, 617-299-6362, tastingcounter.com.
— 47. —
This electric South End tapas spot continues to push the boundaries of the Spanish small plate. Menu mainstays like the now-famous aioli-slathered street corn and gambas al ajillo—griddled shrimp in a buttery, chili-scented garlic sauce—are as good as ever, while dishes that stray from the Spanish theme (Thai curried mussels, broccoli with pistachio muhammara) keep us intrigued.
1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com/boston.
— 48. —
This cozy Cambridge bistro has accomplished the impossible: offering forward-thinking dishes (orecchiette with baby octopus and hazelnut–black garlic gremolata; johnnycakes with bacon, ricotta, and beets) in an environment that’s calm, even sweet. De rigueur communal tables, loud music, and mason jars are nowhere to be found—instead, chef Tim Wiechmann’s food is served in a Parisian-style boîte with exposed-brick walls, French-wine-country maps, and attentive servers who happily present amuse-bouches from the kitchen. Add in the city’s most glamorous sundae, topped with bitter-chocolate ganache and chocolate-oat crumble, and you have a spot that’s as exciting as it is underrated.
377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745, twfoodrestaurant.com.
— 49. —
It’s the oldest story in the book: city falls for chef, chef courts other city, other city gets the magic while we get stuck with phoned-in BS. Hooray, exceptions. That Ken Oringer can open a spiffy Toro in New York—plus another in Bangkok—and still find time to keep Toro 1 and Coppa purring, launch a Central Square gunner (see number 5), and transform Uni from a 23-seat sashimi counter into a quadruple-size izakaya flagship is a testament to his energy, chops, and commitment to nurturing deputizable talent (see Uni executive chef Tony Messina). Also, to dreamy dishes like king crab yakitori slathered with black-lime butter, and fatty-tuna nigiri with uni powder and truffles.
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.
— 50. —
The theme-y coastal concept of Michael Scelfo’s latest venture might seem self-satirizing if the food weren’t already so freaking good. There are nautical nods: crusty bread dyed with squid ink, and tallow-fried peanuts strewn with crispy anchovies. And then there are deep plunges: smoked head-on shrimp, candy-sweet king crab perched atop satiny brown-butter aioli, and garlicky clam pizza that pays homage to Frank Pepe’s signature pie. Those who prefer turf over surf might go for large-format delights like roasted Maine lamb shoulder with pickled lemon. But, yeah, there’s fish (anchovy) in that one, too.
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.
This list is updated periodically to reflect closures and other prominent developments. Please send updates to food editor Jenna Pelletier at firstname.lastname@example.org.