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.

o ya

At Boston’s best restaurant, the restrained décor belies the elaborate Japanese cuisine. (Photograph by Bob O’Connor)

1. O Ya

Score: 98.33
High: Herald A; Phoenix **** (out of 4); Boston 5 (out of 5)
Low: Globe *** (out of 4)

Hey, the computer doesn’t lie. As predictable as O Ya’s first-place finish is, it’s also wholly deserved. Housed in a narrow, rustic firehouse, its 40-seat tavern-style dining room is the unlikely setting for some of the best Japanese cuisine in the country. Every last dish is a showstopper, from a heady matsutake mushroom broth brightened with yuzu zest and fragrant rosemary to a swath of raw hamachi laid over a boule of seasoned rice, lightly torched, spritzed with truffle oil, and finished with a dollop of spicy banana pepper mousse. The prices will make the flushest foodie blanch, but, well, you only live once.

ORDER THIS: That banana pepper mousse dish.


L’Espalier’s swanky new digs have a different vibe than that of its old townhouse space, but the food is as outstanding as ever. (Photograph by Bob O’Connor)

2. L’Espalier

Score: 92.72*
High: Herald A; Globe **** Low: Yelp  **** 1/2 (out of 5)
Our score: 4.5

When Frank McClelland moved his team out of a charming but cramped townhouse on Gloucester Street and into the glossy Mandarin Oriental (complete with custom dream kitchen), his fans offered only conditional support. How could this Boylston Street behemoth preserve the charm of the original? Well, it couldn’t, exactly. Much as we hate to echo the naysayers, we have to agree something’s been lost in translation. The beautifully plated food, however, is still glorious, and the cheese service still matchless.

ORDER THIS: Thai-spiced Colorado rack of lamb.

* Most of the available reviews of L’Espalier and Craigie on Main pertain to their former locations. Those scores, properly weighted, were included in our rankings. Both restaurants still have the same chefs and have preserved much of their old menus, and our visits to their current locations confirmed their high standings.

3. No. 9 Park

Score: 90.55
High: Herald **** (out of 4) * Low: Globe ***
Our score: 4.5

Barbara Lynch is on a roll these days, with the much-hailed openings of Sportello and Drink, her new lunch counter and cocktail lounge, respectively, in Fort Point. But her flagship restaurant remains a jewel, a tribute to the power of pitch-perfect service, ace cooking, and a superlative wine program, not to mention a lovely view of the Common (provided you’ve avoided the stuffy back room and grabbed a prime table near the front). Lynch has a sure hand with pasta—particularly stuffed pastas like ravioli—and she’s no slouch with meat and fish, searing a halibut filet to a golden crust while leaving the inside fork-tender.

ORDER THIS: Easy: the famous prune-stuffed gnocchi (see why it’s considered the Best Dish). 

Herald critic Mat Schaffer switched from star ratings to letter grades in 2005.

4. Uni

Score: 84.623
High: Herald **** Low: Yelp **** (out of 5)
Our score: 4.5

Ken Oringer’s ode to raw fish features some of the most skillfully prepared (and most addictive) pristine gems in town.

ORDER THIS: Spicy bigeye toro tataki with seared foie gras, poire d’Anjou, and rhubarb coulis.

5. Clio

Score: 83.94
High: Herald **** Low: Yelp & Chowhound **** (out of 5)
Our score: 4.25

Ken Oringer cooks some of the city’s most technically sophisticated food at his marquee property. Just look at how he deconstructs a Muscovy duck to preserve the crisp skin, succulent breast, and fatty thigh; how he lacquers foie gras with honey, cinnamon, and buttermilk. He’s an ardent collector of exotic ingredients—from Hokkaido squash to gooseneck barnacles to goat’s-milk butter—and one of Boston’s few remaining students of molecular gastronomy. This love of novelty may read like so much razzle–dazzle to some, but across the board, you’ll find great examples of a skillful, sexy, and inspired fusion cuisine.

ORDER THIS: The lacquered foie gras. For vegetarians, the chocolate “croustillant.”

6. Aujourd’hui

Score: 83.89
High: Herald Low: Boston 4.25

Tucked as it is among the ballrooms at the Four Seasons, Aujourd’hui is easy to overlook, or to dismiss as merely another fancy hotel restaurant. Don’t. Chef William Kovel brings an impressive personal style (part farm-to-table earnestness, part high French technique) to the storied room, making him just the chef for this restaurant at this time. His training at London’s Orrery boosted his chops for turning out perfect chops, roasts, and racks, like the magnificent cumin-scented Vermont organic lamb with eggplant caviar and cranberry beans. There are few better places in town to indulge in a chef’s-whim tasting menu.

ORDER THIS: Rack of wild boar with Alsatian sausage and mustard spaetzle.