Top New Restaurants in Boston 2016: The List

Our annual list of where to eat right now, from bistros to barbecue joints.
best new restaurants 2016 boston yvonne's

Crispy tuna fregola at Yvonne’s. / Photograph by Anthony Tieuli for ‘Dining Out’

8. Yvonne’s

2 Winter Place, Boston, 617-267-0047, yvonnesboston.com.

Theatricality is the name of the game at this opulent revamp of the old Locke-Ober, but don’t let the glitter fool you. The tightly executed food by Tom Berry and Juan Pedrosa is what sparkles brightest, as evidenced by the anchovy-butter-slathered bavette steak with bone-marrow toast, best enjoyed from a banquette bathed in the moody light of a massive chandelier. On-trend small plates like roasted-sunchoke hummus mingle with luscious remixes of old classics. To wit: briny baked oysters are given the lobster-Savannah treatment.

Scouting Notes: Crowded bar can be daunting, but worth it for such precision/invention. Will the new Godfrey Hotel venture overstretch personnel?

7. Bar Mezzana

360 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com.

Longtime Barbara Lynch Gruppo lieutenant Colin Lynch (no relation) struck out on his own with a sexy, subway-tiled coastal Italian restaurant in the South End’s Ink Block development. Evidence of Lynch’s pedigree is apparent across the menu, from the elegant haute crudo—slender langoustines with mounds of caviar; fat slices of yellowtail with grapefruit oil and chilies—to the lovely lineup of lightly spiked spritzes. Order the above, and all you’d need is a crostini or two, topped with smoked bluefish or hazelnut-studded beef tartare, to make a graze-worthy meal.

Scouting Notes: Modish design details are crisp and on point, right down to the pops of orange in servers’ aprons.

best new restaurants boston heat at journeyman

Chef Tru Lang preps for Heat dinner service inside Journeyman’s live-fire kitchen. / Photograph by Nina Gallant

6. Heat at Journeyman

9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, 617-718-2333, heatsomerville.com.

We’ve long crushed on Journeyman, our go-to for those times when a tweezer-y, nine-course tasting in deepest Somerville—requiring advance-purchase $115 tickets—is just what the doctor ordered. Jokes aside (it’s truly special), the new Heat, presided over by co-chef Tru Lang, is better positioned to make our regular rotation. Less theme night than permanent pop-up—it replaces Journeyman Monday through Wednesday—the à la carte concept is casual in all the right places, especially in its embrace of live fire’s incendiary charms. Ember-burnished root vegetables get tossed with ash dust. Duck-kimchi skewers sizzle and hiss their way to a handsome char. All of that plus the same world-class cocktails from Backbar, the sister drink specialist next door.

Scouting Notes: Whole chicken. Roasted to order. With gobs of ramp butter.

5. Little Donkey

505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1008, littledonkeybos.com.

Leave it to veteran sluggers Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette to bring it home with a menu that reads like a culinary hallucination, from matzo-ball ramen and chow fun with escargot to halibut biryani and Thai chili–mango curd sandwiched between Ritz crackers. The most out-there specimen of all? A tiered seafood plateau—with ever-changing neo-raw-bar delicacies like razor clams with jicama and crunchy pepitas, and live uni with dashi and yuzu—that doesn’t feel witheringly throwback in 2016.

Scouting Notes: Well-staffed bar turns out balanced, vivid cocktails. Servers have tons to remember; sometimes they don’t. Make reservations, or plan on extended tailgating.

best new restaurants boston mamaleh's

Mameleh’s goes long on house-crafted refreshers for the designated driver (plus a few for the destined-to-be-driven). Which flavor is for you? / Photographs by Nina Gallant

4. Mamaleh’s

One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-958-3354, mamalehs.com.

The wandering is over. Thanks to the squad behind State Park, Boston finally has legit deli, complete with a takeout case and Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda. Everything, from the smoked fish and meats to the phosphates and egg creams, is as real deal as what you’d get on the Lower East Side, but modernized and often more refined. House lox is satiny, not saline; liver is more mousseline than chopped; fressing (Yiddish for pigging…er, eating with gusto) is optional. Traditionalists will have to contend with a new-school, hipster vibe—this is Kendall, after all—but are welcome to nosh and pass judgment from sunup to sundown.

Scouting Notes: Best deli prospect north of the Bronx. Lactart could be 2017 beverage MVP. Matzo-ball handling (more schmaltz?) still unreliable.

3. Waypoint

1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.

The theme-y coastal concept of Michael Scelfo’s latest venture—barely a week old when we dropped anchor—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.

Scouting Notes: Killer house-made hot sauce, bread basket worth paying for, save room for croissant doughnuts. Impressive absinthe-roster depth. Frenetic early-season service.

best new restaurants boston srv aperitivi cicchetti

Aperitivi and cicchetti from SRV, the South End’s new Venetian-style bacaro. / Photograph by Nina Gallant

2. SRV

569 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com.

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.

Scouting Notes: Desserts could use a special-teams coach.

best new restaurants boston uni omakase

Scenes from the omakase chef’s-tasting menu at Uni. / Photographs by Nina Gallant

1. Uni

370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.

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.

Scouting Notes: Overlong menu means inevitable strikes, including a Momofuku crib or two (crispy broccoli with puffed rice).

 

See more from our 2016 Top New Restaurants feature.