Where to Eat Now 2010

Your guide to the perfect dining spots for every occasion. Plus: What to order, where to sit, and how to get in on the best weeknight deals in town.

Old Faithfuls

Our tried-and-true picks for whatever your mood.

The Fine-Dining Fail-Safe
Clio. Among all chef Ken Oringer’s ventures, this Eliot Hotel stalwart stands apart as his temple of haute cuisine. Famous leopard-print carpet aside, the elegant décor (tawny walls, creamy trim, sparkling crystal) is an appropriately muted backdrop for the fabulous food. Dishes like licorice-roasted Muscovy duck with candied pomelo and stinging nettle soup perfumed with bergamot make for a foodie’s paradise, and one well worth the price of admission. Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, cliorestaurant.com.

The Mixed-Drink Mecca
Gargoyles on the Square.
Perched midway between a neighborhood dive and an upscale bar, Gargoyles channels the best of each genre (low-key vibe, high-quality cocktails) without the drawbacks (sticky floors, haughty mixologists). You won’t find martinis better—or much bigger—than the ones they serve here, and there’s lots to love on the specialty-drink side, too, like the vanilla-flavored mule kick known as the Davis Square Trolley. Need more variety? Catch the creative tasting flights—espresso martinis, sake, scotch. 219 Elm St., Somerville, 617-776-5300, gargoylesrestaurant.com.

The Cozy Standby
A dimly lit burrow carved into the first floor of a rowhouse on a quiet Cambridge block, Salts fills up quickly—not just with patrons savvy enough to have reserved their spot, but also with the delectable aromas of chef Gabriel Bremer’s contemporary French fare. The simple, linen-draped tables are close enough for diners to ogle each other’s meals (beef tenderloin with a Meyer lemon–carrot purée, roast duck glazed with lavender honey), but the flickering candlelight and solicitous service make everyone feel they’re in their own little world. 798 Main St., Cambridge, 617-876-8444, saltsrestaurant.com.

The Exotic Oasis
In the hands of a lesser chef, a menu incorporating the flavors of Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt, and half a dozen other far-flung countries might come off like a culinary Babel. But Ana Sortun’s fluency in Eastern Mediterranean cuisines—showcased at her intimate Cambridge restaurant and in her cookbook, Spice—makes for magical, not muddled, combinations. Whether it’s lamb steak with Turkish seasonings and fava bean moussaka or a plate of meltingly tender tamarind-glazed beef short ribs, nothing gets lost in translation. 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com.

The Family-Dining Fave
Southern roadhouse meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse at this Davis Square barbecue joint, whose funky painted décor (dancing bones, pirate ships) and big plates of barbecue delight grownups and kids alike. There are bars on both levels, but beer nuts tend to head to the cavelike downstairs, while families camp out on the quieter top floor to enjoy an array of wonderfully messy treats like corn fritters and fried catfish strips. Feed your little carnivores from the $4.95 kids’ menu, or just go the lazy route: The “easy-order dinners” for four or six come fully loaded with meats, sauces, and sides (plus, thankfully, hand wipes). 55 Chester St., Somerville, 617-628-2200, redbones.com.

The Good-Time Go-To
East Coast Grill.
When it’s not packing ’em in on the strength of its big grilled flavors, this Inman Square joint brings out the party crowd with a full roster of events, like the Southern Food Smackdown (and has the Facebook photos to prove it). The calendar’s highlight is Hell Night, returning this month, which features a menu of fiery food for hordes of patrons hungry for punishment—and then very thirsty for a bucket of cold beer. 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-6568, eastcoastgrill.net.