Best of Boston 2012: Preview

A sneak peek of our 39th annual guide to the best of everything in Boston.

best of boston

What’s up with the economy? Who’s going to be our next senator? Can the Red Sox somehow make the playoffs? There’s just so much that’s up in the air right now. What Boston needs is something it can count on. Which is why we’ve spent the past 12 months eating, shopping, testing, surveying, weighing, measuring, and comparing our way all across the city, the ’burbs, the Cape, and the Islands.

From July 23-27, we’re previewing a select few of the 291 winners featured in our annual Best of Boston issue to tide you over until the full issue drops in print on July 31. Be sure to join the conversation on Twitter: @BostonMagazine, #bestofboston.

Friday, July 26: Shopping


Best Men’s Fitness Clothing
City Sports

Whatever your passion — volleyball, basketball, yoga, even bocce — City Sports has the gear you need, including high-performance pieces from its in-house CS line. Ask one of the sporty employees to help you browse the Gore-Tex jackets, or find cleats or sneakers that’ll let you hit the field, court, or track running. 1035 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-782-5121; and other locations;

Best Gift Store
Gift at the Gardner

Unveiled as part of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s new wing in January, this shop’s jewelry, housewares, books, and children’s items are crafted by artists from all over the world. Plans are also in the works to sell prints of artworks. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 280 The Fenway, Boston, 617-566-1401,

Best Women’s Casual Clothing
Mint Julep

We feel pretty — and fizzy and funny and fine — every time we enter Brooke Garber and Stephanie Nist’s boutiques. They stock the fete-ready dresses we’ve come to expect, plus pieces from favorite brands like Yumi Kim, Myne, and Milly that inject style into our workday and weekend wardrobes, too. The fact that we can build whole outfits here, from foundations (neon Hanky Panky thongs) to finishing touches (flirty JoJo earrings), makes Mint Julep worth toasting. 1302 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-232-3600; 6 Church St., Cambridge, 617-576-6468;

Best Women’s Dressy Clothing

When Debi Greenberg moved Louis from the Back Bay to Fan Pier, skeptics said her chic clientele wouldn’t follow. They did. They come for blazers, sleek bags, and statement jewelry from Marni, Proenza Schouler, and Balenciaga, but also to discover rising style stars from around the world, expertly vetted by Greenberg (British wunderkind Thomas Tait is a recent addition). And for those of us who can’t make daily trips to the waterfront, Louis now has a 200-square-foot accessories store inside the Mandarin Oriental. 60 Northern Ave., Boston, 617-262-6100,

Best Kitchen Appliances
Yale Appliance + Lighting

Shopping for a fridge or stove at a big-box store can be absolutely maddening, with all the appliances displayed like lawn mowers. At Yale, the ceilings are low, the lighting is soft, and each piece seems like a perfect fit for your home. Peep the $16,000 ranges on your own or book a tour at the desk. 296 Freeport St., Dorchester, 617-825-9253,

Thursday, July 25: Arts & Entertainment


Best Jazz Club (Upscale)
The Beehive

One part jazz club, one part restaurant, the Beehive is our go-to spot for a laid-back night out on the town. The stellar list of libations (we’re fans of the champagne cocktails and the “Apparatus,” a Scotch and cognac concoction) and the sophisticated fare are the perfect complement to the musicians onstage. Something to keep in mind: If you want to be at all close to the action, make a reservation — otherwise, you’ll be cooling your heels at the bar. 541 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-0069,

Best Small Music Venue
Brighton Music Hall

Like its predecessor, Harper’s Ferry, Brighton Music Hall is essentially a dive bar with a big stage and cheap drinks — the perfect venue for indie headliners. The 340-person space draws remarkably hot bands, including U.K. soul-folk sensation Michael Kiwanuka, Canadian indie-rock faves Japan-droids, and Brazilian singing star Céu. And unlike at the roomier venues in town, you can get in a round of pool and still make it up to the front in time for the show. 158 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-779-0140,

Best Curator
Lisa Tung, Massachusetts College of Art and Design

The Peabody Essex, the Gardner, and the MFA may have all raised unprecedented funds lately, but this year tireless MassArt curator Lisa Tung proved you don’t need a massive budget to turn out thought-provoking shows and a fine lecture series. Her exceptional connections around the country have enabled Tung to lure big names — and big ideas — to her modest gallery.

Best Reading Series
Harvard Book Store

Plenty of book stores host signings, but for a truly enlightening author event, two venues always vie for our top spot: the Brookline Booksmith and the Harvard Book Store. Both are homey, friendly, and proudly independent. But Harvard wins this year for its muscular lineup: This past spring the store brought to town political heavyweights Paul Krugman and Madeleine Albright, fiction legends Joyce Carol Oates and Peter Carey, and local writers Audrey Schulman and Pablo Medina. 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-661-1515,

Best Theater

With its three venues — the Cutler Majestic, the Paramount Mainstage, and the Jackie Liebergott Black Box — ArtsEmerson certainly dominates the Theater District, but its artistic reach goes far beyond the city. This year, executive director Rob Orchard landed the following: Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, reimagined by Brooklyn company Mabou Mines; a musical about the Shakers called Angel Reapers, co-conceived by Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur grant winners; and The Speaker’s Progress, which used Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as the basis for a satire about the Arab Spring. The organization’s biggest coup, though, was convincing Cambridge’s reclusive John Malkovich to star as a serial killer in The Infernal Comedy.

Wednesday, July 24: Suburbs


Best Restaurant (General Excellence), North

We appreciated the doting service. We marveled at the kitchen’s inventive-ness (e.g., the vegan-friendly dish whipped up for our dining companion). We admired the exposed-brick dining room. But we absolutely worshipped Ceia’s steak frites: a mouth-watering hunk of tenderloin coated with porcini butter and served with sweet-potato steak fries and chef Patrick Soucy’s house-made ketchup. This stuff is so good, he’ll soon be bottling it for household consumption. 25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8112,

Best Wine Shop, South
Bin Ends

This emporium’s selection depends solely on the weekly deals they score from their suppliers, so buy what you love now, because it may soon be gone forever. And attention bargain hunters: Bin Ends’ “six-pack” special (buy six bottles and get as much as 50 percent off) is a steal. 236 Wood Rd., Braintree, 781-817-1212,

Best New Restaurant, South

Too often, South Shore diners are stuck in that wasteland between kid-friendly chains and adult-only, white-tablecloth restaurants. Enter Wahlburgers, the brainchild of chef Paul Wahlberg. From classic double cheeseburgers to creative specialty sandwiches (like the “Thanksgiving,” with ground turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce), this place caters to kids and more-refined palates alike. Of course, the creamy frappes will gratify all generations. 19 Shipyard Dr., Hingham, 781-749-2110,

Best Farm Stand, West
Wilson Farm

Since the 19th century, the sprawling barn at Wilson Farm has proffered more than 100 varieties of the grower’s own fruit, vegetables, herbs, and flowers; fresh-baked breads and pastries; locally made cheeses; and house-made pastas, soups, salads, and more. It’s a one-stop shop in the dead of winter, the height of summer, and any time in between. 10 Pleasant St., Lexington, 781-862-3900,

Best Florist, West
Winston Flowers

There are plenty of ready-made arrangements at this luxe chain’s Wellesley location, but if you desire something one-of-a-kind, the talented in-store designers will whip up a stunner to fit any occasion. There’s also an impressive assortment of versatile vessels and generous selection of perennials, flowering trees, and pothos plants. 31 Central St., Wellesley, 781-237-1214,

Tuesday, July 24: Food


Best Burger

We’re in the midst of a burger craze in this city, which means that patty-to-bun ratios and cheese-melt quality have become as dissected and discussed as Sox ERAs and OBPs. But you know, sometimes we just want a good patty, thank you very much. And that’s exactly what we get at Lineage, plus a toasted brioche bun, grilled onions, and nutty Comté cheese. All told, it’s a beefy masterpiece that doesn’t demand statistical analysis. 242 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-0065,

Best Brasserie
Eastern Standard

Why do we love this place? Well, there’s the exquisitely complex cocktails, the inventive late-night fare (rock shrimp beignets, anyone?), and a stunning grilled cheese sandwich. That it’s all executed with hotel-dining-room efficiency in an opulent French bistro setting makes it a destination for food aficionados, upscale Sox fans, and visiting parents of BU coeds. 528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100,

Best Cheese Shop
Formaggio Kitchen

Not everyone appreciates the olfactory assault that is Formaggio. In fact, we frequently have to check our companions at the curb before heading in to sample this place’s runny gobs of Époisses and Robiola. True fans of the stinky stuff, however, will be blown away by the shop’s countless whole wheels of raw-milk cheddars, marbled blues, and crumbly Parmigianos, aged and tended in Formaggio’s own custom-built cheese cave. 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750,

Best Italian, Casual

One of the biggest misconceptions about Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s South End enoteca is that it’s for hard-core meat eaters only. Sure, the restaurant was named after a cured cut of pig and boasts some of the best meatballs in the city, but it also serves beautiful marinated cauliflower with ricotta salata and crispy shallots, briny squid-ink pasta studded with lobster and olives, and cool glasses of bubbly Lambrusco. With this many options (let’s not forget the fully loaded pizzas), it’s a destination suitable for all. 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-391-0902,

Best Lobster Roll
Island Creek Oyster Bar

There are a few ways to enjoy this new Kenmore Square institution: tucked away in the corner of the dining room by the oyster-shell-lined walls; perched at a high-top in the lounge; or sitting at the raw bar. Wherever we wind up, you’ll find us throwing back bivalves followed by fried-oyster sliders, bowls of shell-free mussels, and champagne cocktails galore. Catch selections change daily (like the Idaho red trout), but look for the halibut. Perfectly seared on the outside and snowwhite and flaky on the inside, it’s like crème brûlée of the sea. 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300,

Monday, July 23: Services


Best Hotel, General Excellence
Mandarin Oriental Boston

There’s something formulaic about high-end hotels these days. Marble vanities + giant flat screens + bazillion-thread-count Frette sheets = the right to charge upward of $500 per night for a room. The Mandarin Oriental, naturally, has all of these luxuries. But the Back Bay hotel also offers more-thoughtful perks, including chilled towels in the gym, rainforest showers, and video-game systems. 776 Boylston St., Boston, 617-535-8888,

Best Colorist, Blonde
Megan Graham at Megan Graham Beauty

We’re so over marathon trips to techno-salon palaces where we’re given just enough attention to warrant an overpriced coloring. Which is why we now place our flaxen tresses squarely in Megan Graham’s hands. She sees the nuances in blondes (we’re so easy to stereotype), painting in high- and lowlights that hint at her former life as an artist. 115 Newbury St., Boston, 617-236-8100,

Best Boutique Gym
Recycle Studio

Lycra-clad fitness freaks flock to Recycle Studio, the South End’s trendy spin-only gym, for its upbeat vibe and killer playlists. And they stay for the tough instructors, who take disciples through a total-body workout with weights that leaves quadriceps and biceps burning. 643A Tremont St., Boston,

Best Bikini Wax
Emily Payne at Bliss

This spa eases the awkwardness of down-there waxing right from the start: Simply point to a style on the chart of nether-region hairdos and sink back onto the padded table. Lead aesthetician Emily Payne softens her all-business bedside manner with a jar of dum-dums, and leaves you bare before you know it. 100 Stuart St., Boston, 617-261-8747,

Best Dog Sitting
Fenway Bark

Oh, the guilt of dropping the dog off at a crummy boarding facility before you embark on a five-star vacation. This baseball-themed complex, complete with a pool and an indoor runaround space, is like a holiday spot of Rover’s own. And for the owner with separation anxiety, there are even “luxury box” rooms with two-way Skype. 88 Black Falcon Ave., Boston, 617-464-4364,

Check back before July 31 for more Best of Boston previews, and look for Boston magazine’s 39th annual Best of Boston issue on newsstands and online starting July 31.