The 50 Best Restaurants 2009

It's a simple question: "Where should we go for dinner?" Yet ask it and brace for a cacophony of opinions, as every magazine, newspaper, and user-generated-review website vies to serve as your gastronomic guru. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a way to pull it all together, to herd that surfeit of recommendations into one single, convenient, yet statistically meaningful index? To have a Metacritic, of sorts, for local grub? We thought so, too. Presenting the ultimate ranking of Hub dining, as determined by every major dining expert and amateur critic out there.

Additional reporting by Olga Belogolova and Alyson Sheppard

Photograph by Bob O’Connor

A Veritable Smorgasbord of Opinion

Welcome to the post-authority world. Or, as we prefer to think of it, the diffused-authority world.

As the Web has created new distribution channels for information, professional restaurant critics have lost their exclusive claim to the soapbox. Now everyone’s a critic, with bandwidth to broadcast.

All that noise can get disorienting, because every critic also has his or her own methods and biases. The paid professionals adhere to journalistic standards and know a thing or two about their subject, yet they only visit their targets a few times—and sometimes they just don’t like cod cheeks, no matter how exquisitely prepared. At the other extreme, survey-based reviews like Zagat and user-review chat boards like Yelp opt for the more-is-more approach. A noble pursuit, but as history sometimes reminds us, making decisions by polling the masses can be a fraught proposition. (For more on the predilections of local gastro-judges, including our own, see “There’s Just No Pleasing Some People.”)

With that in mind, we undertook the ambitious task of wading through all the raw data for you. What we’ve come up with is an unprecedented ranking of the top 50 restaurants in the city, as collectively judged by the Globe, the Herald, the Phoenix, Zagat, Yelp, the Phantom Gourmet, and select posters from the Boston board on Chowhound. And, of course, ourselves, in the persons of food editor Amy Traverso and features editor Jolyon Helterman (a Cook’s Illustrated alum), with help from our critic, Corby Kummer. We reviewed the reviews, standardized the scores, and, using a little statistical wizardry (see “How We Did It“), calculated a hierarchy of culinary excellence.

In the interest of transparency, one last note of explanation: When running the numbers, we weighted our own scores twice as heavily as the other sources’. Why? It’s our magazine, for one, and we naturally trust our own taste and expertise more than anyone else’s. More important: We did it because our verdicts were in almost all cases the most recent. Restaurants evolve (or devolve) faster than critics can review them, so over the past two months we sent out our judges to check up on the field. That way, we could ensure that the scores that mattered most were also the most up-to-date.

Now, back to that question on the previous spread: Where should you go for dinner? Read on.

Correction: Due to a transcription error, the print version of the dining package incorrectly ranked Back Bay sashimi bar Uni. Factoring the correct score into our statistical analysis, Uni moves up from 14th place to 4th place. The revised rankings appear in this online version.