Where to Eat, Right Now: The List
Here, in list form, our compendium of where you should be eating right this very moment: a carefully vetted mix of the forward-leaning restaurants that have emerged on the scene during the past couple of years and the stalwarts reinventing themselves in fresh ways (eligibility deadline: end of September). For more highlights and details about our selection process, check out the complete 2013 dining guide.
$Â Entrees/larger plates cost less than $15
$$Â Â Entrees/larger plates cost between $15 and $22
$$$Â Â Entrees/larger plates cost between $22 and $30
$$$$Â Â Entrees/larger plates cost $30+
Great for Vegetarians â€˘ Great for Groups â€˘ Great for Cocktails â€˘ Great for Wine â€˘ Great for a Date â€˘ Great for Bar Dining
This Kendall Square spot has the bones of a hip pizza barâ€”behold, Hawaiian pizza and garlic knotsâ€”but also the thoughtful salads and roast chicken youâ€™d expect from an elegant bistro.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 500 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-758-4444, areafour.com.Â
Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant from Asta. Hover/click for details. (Photographs by Bruce Peterson. Food Styling by Rowena Day/Ennis.)
The casual vibe of this tasting-menu-only restaurant belies the serious, avant-garde interpretations of regional farm-to-table cuisine, including whole braised celery with black garlic, and seaweed pasta with mussel foam.
$$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Wine,Â DateÂ |Â 47 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, 617-585-9575, astaboston.com.
BELLY WINE BAR
From the owners of the Blue Room comes a petite, modern vino haven that describes its expertly curated wines in witty parlance, and offers equally clever charcuterie, snacks, and roast meats to pair with them.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar Dining | One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-494-0968, bellywinebar.com.
Keith Poolerâ€™s cozy restaurant takes bistro-style fareâ€”including one of the cityâ€™s best roast chickensâ€”and elevates it with nuance: crisp kale chips atop roasted carrots, say, or orange-calamintha syrup on a beet salad.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 118 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-576-7700, bergamotrestaurant.com.
BISTRO DU MIDI
This ProvenĂ§al eatery specializes in dishes that celebrate the fruits of the sea (bouillabaisse, grilled octopus), but Robert Siscaâ€™s meatier platesâ€”like tender braised lamb neck with goat-cheese polentaâ€”are not to be missed.
$$$ | Great for: Wine,Â DateÂ | 272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com.
Jason Bondâ€™s tiny Cambridge spot is small on seating but huge on farm-to-table creativityâ€”particularly when it comes to the vegetables grown on his own Concord farm.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 279A Broadway, Cambridge, 617-661-0009, bondircambridge.com.
The artful crudo, addictive fried oysters, and expertly cooked slabs of meat make this Newburyport haunt more than your average upscale oyster barâ€”and well worth the trek up 95.
$$$ | Great for:Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8479, brineoyster.com.
At this Union Square tavern, chef Tim Wiechmann creates traditional dishes infused with the flavors of Central Europe and Italy. The result is rustic fare with an upscale, seasonal twist (case in point: crisp pierogies stuffed with autumn squash and apples).
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â DateÂ | 255 Washington St., Somerville, 617-776-9900, bronwynrestaurant.com.
THE BUTCHER SHOP
Barbara Lynchâ€™s wine bar/chophouse hybrid is almost always packed with diners. But no matter: We actually prefer grazing on the house-made pastas and charcuterie, wine in hand, while standing around the large butcher block in the back.
$$$ | Great for:Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 552 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-4800, thebutchershopboston.com.
The counter at this hidden-in-plain-view Cambridge gem is the place for creative takes on nigiri and sashimi, like torched avocado with truffle salt, and tuna with wasabi oil, smoked salt, and shiso.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â DateÂ | 1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-492-0434, cafesushicambridge.com.
The craft cocktails are excellent here, as is the upscale tavern fare, featuring thoughtful extras like the apricot mustard served with grilled sausage, and the crispy chickpeas alongside fried octopus.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â DateÂ | 567 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-491-5599, enormous.tv/central.Â
Ken Oringerâ€™s modern-French flagship remains as relevant as Uni, its sashimi-centric younger sibling. For an enticing mix of both, snag a seat at Clioâ€™s bar.
$$â€“$$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com, unisashimibar.com.
With beef-heart pastrami, bone-marrow pizza, and lamb pasta taking star turns on the menu, thereâ€™s something for every kind of carnivore at this enoteca by Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â WineÂ | 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com.
CRAIGIE ON MAIN
Tony Mawsâ€™s flagship fine-dining spot offers six- and eight-course tasting menus of his inventive locavore fare, but youâ€™ll find less-precious options as well, such as whole roast chicken, or pigâ€™s head, for two.
$$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com.
EAST BY NORTHEAST
Traditional Chinese fare (dumplings, noodles, stuffed mantou) is reimagined around local ingredients, to excellent results.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â DateÂ | 1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-0286, exnecambridge.com.
This rustic Bay Village hideaway serves delicate northern Italian fare with an emphasis on fresh vegetables and herbsâ€”plus a stellar bar menu of gently priced meatballs, composed salads, and house-made cordials.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 69 Church St., Boston, 617-426-6969, erbaluce-boston.com.
New Englandâ€“inspired fare gets the whimsical gastropub treatment, yielding doctored-up poutine, cured-seafood boards, and deluxe wedge salads. A creative cocktail menu, meanwhile, ensures the drinks are fun, too.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â CocktailsÂ | 1395 Washington St., Boston, 617-425-0200, thegallowsboston.com.
The house-made pastas at this cozy Italian spot are the main draw, but Michael Pagliariniâ€™s other simple, elegant preparationsâ€”semolina cakes topped with lardo, tender scallops with corn risottoâ€”shine just as bright.
$$$ | Great for:Â DateÂ | 1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-2800, giuliarestaurant.com.
Six years later, thereâ€™s still a 45-minute weeknight wait for the spicy goat stew and buffalo-fried Brussels sprouts at this buzzy oasis in a relative Somerville food desert.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â CocktailsÂ | 150 Highland Ave., Somerville, 617-625-1131, highlandkitchen.com.
Barry Maiden melds serious French chops with the southern standards he grew up with, resulting in appealing hybrids like Burgundy snails with black-garlic butter and buttermilk biscuits.
$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com.
ISLAND CREEK OYSTER BAR
A must-visit for anyone seeking a proper introduction to local seafood, thanks in no small part to the pristine, briny namesake bivalves served there (especially snackable fried, in slider form).
$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com.
This Downtown Crossing hangout is a rarity: serious about its cooking, yet lighthearted about its mission. Case in point are the bar snacks, which cleverly hide stellar local ingredients in made-over Doritos and wings.
$$ | Great for: CocktailsÂ | 21 Temple Place, Boston, 617-338-5333, jmcurleyboston.com.
Now that this Union Square destination has done away with its tasting-menu options, diners pay $75 for a parade of avant-garde, vegetable-driven plates dreamed up expressly for their meal.
THE KIRKLAND TAP & TROTTER
Tony Mawsâ€™s Somerville newcomer specializes in smoky grilled meatsâ€”the lamb ribs are standoutsâ€”and funkier items like roasted salmon head and spaghetti with chicken-liver-brown-butter sauce.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 425 Washington St., Somerville, 857-259-6585, kirklandtapandtrotter.com.
Experience this Back Bay fixture anew (or on the fly) by dining in the less-formal salon, which offers mini tastings (hors dâ€™oeuvres and two small plates for $20), cheese boards, and a tight selection of Ă la carte entrĂ©es from the dining room.
$$$â€“$$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ |Â 774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-3023, lespalier.com.
MEI MEI STREET KITCHEN
This family-run food truck could go toe to toe with some of the most interesting dining rooms in the area thanks to its highly creative mix of Asian street eats and elegant vegetable-driven fare.
$ | Great for: VegetariansÂ | Go to meimeiboston.com for locations.
At just over three years old, Barbara Lynchâ€™s French-fine-dining mecca keeps getting more excitingâ€”most recently with the installation of Top Chef champ Kristen Kish as chef de cuisine.
$$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â Wine,Â DateÂ |Â 354 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-0099, mentonboston.com.
MYERS & CHANG
Chef Karen Akunowiczâ€™s riffs on Asian cuisine (Korean fish tacos, lamb-belly stir-fry, and tea-smoked pork ribs are but a few favorites) are served rapid-fire-style, for easy sharing.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Groups,Â DateÂ | 1145 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com.
Itâ€™s famously tough to get into, but patience yields sweet rewards: some of the finest raw-bar fare in the city, and terrific cooked dishes, too. Donâ€™t miss the pan-fried johnnycake drenched in honey butter and crowned with smoked trout and caviar.
$$$â€“$$$$ | Great for:Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com.
NO. 9 PARKÂ
With its grand service and impeccable wine list, Barbara Lynchâ€™s legendary original has stood the test of time. A recently added multicourse pasta tasting and expanded bar and cocktail menu, though, keep it feeling fresh.
$$$â€“$$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â Date,Â Bar DiningÂ | 9 Park St., Boston, 617-742-9991, no9park.com.
This Japanese jewel boxâ€™s delicate beet sashimi, salmon nigiri with dashi caramel, and foie gras gyoza are best enjoyed at the counter, which offers a front-row seat to all of the intricate assemblage.
$$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900, oyarestaurantboston.com.Â
Long before high-end street food became trendy, Ana Sortun was serving her enlightened takes on eastern Mediterranean staples like falafel, kebabs, and fried mussels in a welcoming Cambridge dining room (not to mention the stellar garden).
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Groups,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.
Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Burrata from Puritan & Company. Hover/click for details.
PURITAN & COMPANY
Will Gilson honors his own regional heritageâ€”he grew up on an area farmâ€”by serving locally sourced, historical New England cuisine with a creative flair.
$$$ | Great for:Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-615-6195, puritancambridge.com.
Visit this Central Square mainstay on Mondays and youâ€™ll find an inventive tapas menu with bites ranging from dukkah-crusted chicken drumsticks to slow-roasted lamb ribs.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 502 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-1900, rendezvouscentralsquare.com.
Tim Maslow applies his outside-the-box sensibilities to Italian-influenced small plates and pastas at his Washington Square eatery, a follow-up to his groundbreaking menu at Strip-Tâ€™s.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 1665 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-232-2322.
This high-style spot nestled inside the Liberty Hotel offers Lydia Shireâ€™s international take on Italian cuisine, from plantain-and-bacon-topped pizza to grilled Vermont quail with beet gnocchi.
$$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â WineÂ | 215 Charles St., Boston, 617-536-2100, scampoboston.com.
Chinatownâ€™s stylish gastropub features a terrific cocktail list, Asian-spiced charcuterie, and refreshed Chinese-restaurant standards like Peking ravioli.
$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â DateÂ | 9A Tyler St., Boston, 617-423-7888, shojoboston.com.
Flexible dining is the MO of this hip, cozy wine bar, where you can pair expertly selected pours with appetizers and creative dips, or heartier house-made risotto and roasted octopus.
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 89 Holland St., Somerville, 617-718-9463, spokewinebar.com.
Grab a seat at the counter, order a few of Barbara Lynchâ€™s top-notch pastasâ€”chickpea agnolotti, fettuccine with white shrimp and hen-of-the-woods mushroomsâ€”and watch the action in the open kitchen unfold.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â WineÂ | 348 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com.
STEEL & RYE
Chris Parsonsâ€™s Milton restaurant specializes in fresh takes on homey dishes such as roast chicken, meatloaf, and handmade pastasâ€”donâ€™t miss the bucatini with lobster and pork belly.
$$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â DateÂ | 95 Eliot St., Milton, 617-690-2787, steelandrye.com.
Some of the areaâ€™s most exciting foodâ€”grilled potatoes with pumpkin and marrow butter, takoyaki with plum sauceâ€”is being served by Tim Maslow and crew at a scruffy Watertown diner, against a sonic backdrop of slow jams, no less (at least on a recent visit).
$$$ | Great for:Â WineÂ | 93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330, stripts.com.
Tiffani Faisonâ€™s homage to Texas barbecue offers high-quality renditions of smoked brisket, pulled pork, and light-as-air biscuitsâ€”plus masterfully composed salads to pair with them.
$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â CocktailsÂ | 1381 Boylston St., Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com.
Seasonal produce is the star of the vegetable-centric dishes at this tucked-away Newton spot. Carnivores, meanwhile, will appreciate the inventive meat boards for two.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 755 Beacon St., Newton, 617-244-4445, sycamorenewton.com.
The recent joint effort from brothers Louis and Michael DiBiccari has introduced a vibrant mix of Ă la carte sides and mains, serious cocktails, and a casual-bites-driven takeout spot (TR Street Foods) to Fort Point.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â CocktailsÂ | 343 Congress St., Boston, 617-790-0808, tavernroad.com.
TEN TABLES J.P.
The intimate dining room remains a lovely place to tuck into house-made sausages and elegant pastas, but donâ€™t overlook the bar area, which boasts a litany of fun snacks, a great burger, and excellent cocktails from barman Joe ChoiniĂ¨re.
$$â€“$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-8810, tentables.net.
Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnetteâ€™s tapas spot remains a South End fave, thanks to its appealing mix of Spanish classics (tortilla EspaĂ±ola, paella) and quirky one-offs (pork belly with pumpkin and kimchi).
$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Cocktails,Â WineÂ | 1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com.
Jody Adamsâ€™s second restaurant is sleek and scene-y, but thereâ€™s plenty of substance in the interesting dishes (like whole lobster and clams in a Thai-scented broth) and welcoming service.
$$$ | Great for:Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 540 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617-451-1234, trade-boston.com.
With its seriously stacked sherry list, unconventional small plates (grilled lamb tongue, beer-battered golden trout), and location inside a music-and-book store, this J.P. tapas bar is about as cool as it gets.
$$ | Great for:Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | 470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4851, tresgatosjp.com.
Whole chicken for Two from West Bridge. Hover/click for details.
Matthew Gaudetâ€™s Kendall Square tribute to small-plate wizardry turns lowly carrots and cauliflower into masterpieces, yet the more-shareable menu itemsâ€”like braised lamb neckâ€”are winners, too.
$$$ | Great for: Vegetarians,Â Groups,Â Cocktails,Â Wine,Â DateÂ | One Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-945-0221, westbridgerestaurant.com.
Head to this tasting-menu-only Han-over Street pop-up while you still can for excellent bread (four words: black garlicâ€“miso butter), beautiful pastas, and conceptual yet satisfying desserts.
$$$ | Great for: DateÂ | 351 Hanover St., Boston, 617-756-7571, whiskboston.com.
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