During COVID, expanded hours and new sidewalk seating helped us rediscover the revelatory lobster rolls at Cusser’s, the street-level takeout window chef Carolyn Johnson built into the side of Mooncusser Fish House and Moon Bar. Red-wine butter sauce dresses juicy meat on the decadent hot version; tantalizing tarragon mayo, meanwhile, is used for the heavenly cold one. Either way, the perfectly griddled potato bun is a curbside craving all on its own. 304 Stuart St., Boston, MA 02116, cussersboston.com.
Dave Lindsey’s secret ingredient? Joy. He says he never makes ice cream unless he’s in a happy mood—and you can taste the love in his Somerville scoop shop’s luscious yet light custard-based creations, which rotate among 100-plus flavors, from honey-roasted fig to a spin on Caprese made with tomato, basil, and balsamic. The ice cream is also stocked by gourmet markets and newly served by Earl of Sandwich on Boston Common, bringing many more much-needed smiles to the Hub. 415 Medford St., Somerville, MA 02143, tippingcowicecream.com.
When Peter Ungár’s 20-seat Somerville restaurant temporarily shuttered back in March, he knew transitioning to ordinary takeout service couldn’t possibly re-create his restaurant’s expo-kitchen intimacy. So instead he launched TC@Home, a unique, interactive alternative. Over two hours, the chef remotely guides online “guests” through assembling multicourse meals using the provided components. By the time you’ve put the finishing touches on the King crab risotto and almond cake with seaweed caramel, you’ll agree: This is officially the coolest online dinner party around. 14 Tyler St., Somerville, MA 02143, tastingcounter.com.
Cassie Piuma, Sarma
Lest the consistency of her craft be taken for granted, let’s get it down in ink: Piuma is no mere protégé of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine icon Ana Sortun, her Sarma co-owner—rather, she’s an equal powerhouse. See: all the exciting meze-inspired surprises (scallop dolmades, anyone?) now appearing family-style on Sarma’s temporary patio, as well as every takeout box of finger-lickin’ sesame fried chicken she’s packed for us this year. Listen up, James Beard. 249 Pearl St., Somerville, MA 02145, sarmarestaurant.com.
Andrew Brady, Field & Vine
If you’ve been lucky enough to discover chef/co-owner Andrew Brady’s secret garden of vibrantly flavored, veggie-heavy cookery, hidden behind an unmarked green door in a Union Square alley, you know he’s a star who deserves more exposure. Exuding cool, mellow confidence in the kitchen, Brady makes the most of seasonal bounties: Marinated purple beets are gorgeously plated on a green bed of ramp yogurt; mint-flecked mussels escabeche sing on sourdough brushed with curry aioli. In a wide field of talent, he’s growing in the right direction—and thriving. 9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, MA 02143, fieldandvinesomerville.com.
Tawakal Halal Cafe
From-scratch sambusa wrappers stuffed and fried to a hot, flaky crisp, followed by tangled piles of spaghetti sauced with a velvety stew of fragrantly spiced braised goat: Such soul-warming Somali comfort food certainly takes the edge off these anxiety-ridden times. Bonus points for bottles of signature hot sauce available for enlivening humdrum home cooking with East African herbs. 389 Maverick St., Boston, MA 02128, tawakalfoods.co.
Yellow Door Taqueria
The Lower Mills location of this taqueria fave, owned by rocker Ken Casey, dropkicked it out of the park by offering its fresh-made-tortilla tacos, aioli-slathered roasted corn, watermelon margarita kits, and scoops from Ice Creamsmith next door—all in a single, minimal-contact stop. Also convenient: its “text-a-taco” initiative, which lets you gift grub to hungry workers at nearby Carney Hospital. 2297 Dorchester Ave., Boston, MA 02124, yellowdoortaqueria.com.
Omakase translates—very roughly—to “entrusting the chef to create a special meal of sequential bites from a perch mere inches from your face,” and Uni was always one of our favorite spots to partake. In the meantime, whatever Akira Sugimoto’s super-luxe 8-, 12-, and 16-piece nigiri boxes to go lack in off-the-cuff serendipity, they more than make up for in jewel-like exquisiteness. 370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 02215, uni-boston.com.
Ali’s Roti Restaurant
Some takeout involves such a comically deconstructed mess of packaged components it feels like a Blue Apron–themed episode of Punk’d. This Trinidadian shop’s standard-bearer rotis, by contrast, tuck an entire meal—curried chickpeas; cabbage; the stewed oxtail, chicken, or goat—into a single, efficient, house-made wrap. Discard the bag, dig in, and give yourself (and the recycling bin) a night off. 1188 Blue Hill Ave., Mattapan, MA 02126, .
Neither rain, nor heat, nor pandemic will keep a Bostonian from a great lobster roll. Given the zealous following for this fast-casual clam shack moderne’s distinctive iteration—served on a fluffy steamed bao—it only makes sense that it would be a centerpiece of Eventide’s takeout game, a comprehensive program that also includes unshucked oysters and the heavenly fried-fish sandwich. 1321 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02215, eventideoysterco.com.
A popular fixture for years, this neighborhood eatery received even more attention after the protests in June galvanized Bostonians to rally around Black-owned businesses. We’ll gladly wait in those long lines to score such superlative Ethiopian cuisine—especially the silky, spiced-butter-amped stews nestled atop tangy, crêpe-like injera. 389 Centre St., Boston, MA 02130, bluenileincjp.com.
Pastry Love, Joanne Chang
Just before self-isolation drove all of us into home-baker mode, the sugar-speckled sage behind Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café empire released her latest tome (and with it, scored her most recent James Beard Award nomination). Its 125 recipes, accompanied by brief journal-like backstories, cover everything from caramel popcorn cookies to s’mores pie to orange-almond pudding cake. Each helped us experiment beyond simple sourdough and, during socially distant times, felt like a loving hug from a local dining legend. flourbakery.com/books.
Fox & the Knife
The restaurant industry reeled when Governor Charlie Baker banned on-site dining in March. Top Chef alum Karen Akunowicz, though, rolled with the punches like a champ. Somehow, she successfully translated her sophisticated Italian menu items—such as saffron-bedecked spaghetti with clams—into takeout and delivery. She also slyly launched Fox Pasta to sell house-made spinach mafaldine and other varieties by the pound, plus sauces by the pint. And she quickly readied her patio for devouring personal pizzas and frosé once outdoor dining was allowed again. Adaptability, thy name is Akunowicz. 28 W. Broadway, South Boston, MA 02127, foxandtheknife.com.
We’re forever hooked on this superlative supplier of all things local seafood, whose fresh catch from small-boat New England fishermen frequently lands at the city’s best restaurants. Its vendor stall inside downtown’s Boston Public Market (plus BPM’s upcoming Logan Airport emporium) also sells grab-and-go options such as lobster rolls and poke bowls. But even while COVID has kept us from going inside, local delivery and convenient curbside pickup from Red’s HQ on Boston Fish Pier is picking up the slack. 100 Hanover St., Boston, MA 02108, redsbest.com.
At a time when every supermarket trip is an unwelcome adventure and food shortages have proved we can’t rely on factory farms, it’s been a godsend to get Walden Local’s monthly, home-delivered meat shares featuring Northeast-farm-raised pork, lamb, beef, and chicken. The quality? Unimpeachable. And once it’s safe, we can’t wait to revisit the South End shop for butchery demonstrations and small-group workshops that let us (literally) see how the sausage gets made. 316 Shawmut Ave., Boston, MA 01862, waldenlocalmeat.com/butcher-shop.
Safe Supply at Bow Market
Smart, streamlined, safe food shopping? We’re sold! This ongoing series of open-air markets allows you to reserve a socially distanced place in line ahead of time, then proceed to tables of mask- and glove-wearing vendors who handle and bag your selections, from Picnic & Pantry’s kitchen staples and specialty groceries to prepared spinach-and-cheese layered phyllo from Koshari Mama, a mother-daughter maker of Egyptian cuisine. One Bow Market Way, Somerville, MA 02143, bowmarketsomerville.com.
Stephanie Cmar, “My Shitty Little Kitchen”
She just missed the top slot on the recently wrapped season of Top Chef All Stars, but finalist Stephanie Cmar, an alum of Barbara Lynch’s fine-dining jewel No. 9 Park, is still winning over fans on the (even smaller) small screen. Launched during the citywide shutdown, her hilariously titled how-to Instagram series serves big helpings of deadpan, self-deprecating humor. America’s Test Kitchen it’s not—but it’s even more fun to watch Cmar whip up gnocchi or bagels in her cramped South End pad. instagram.com/_myshittylittlekitchen.
Bright colors, deep flavors, and lush textures define the drinks at beverage guru Ran Duan’s superlative cocktail bar—and his reformulated recipes to go. Each just-add-booze bottle of Craft Blossom Mixers, designed for COVID-era pickup or delivery, provides for five tropics-invoking libations (think: the vibrantly violet “Halo Halo” shaken with purple ube, coconut, and citrus). You can even order flower garnishes, flamingo-topped swizzle sticks, and drinkware in shapes like a pineapple grenade. 295 Washington St., Brookline, MA 02445, blossombarbrookline.com.
If your next Netflix Party with friends involves a few too many quarantinis, take note: There’s no better hangover cure than Sally’s superbly gooey egg-and-cheese sandwich, served on an airy-soft bulkie roll. Still hungry? Come lunchtime, this new sibling to the Gallows gastropub and Blackbird Doughnuts offers intoxicating flavor combos such as sliced mojo pork and ham, spicy pickles, and garlicky pesto on a sesame-speckled torta roll; or a tender housemade falafel burger topped with tangy lemon-olive spread. 492 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02116, sallyssandwiches.com.
Quarantined herbivores rejoiced when vegan chef Graham Boswell replaced his beloved meze pop-up’s brewery appearances and ticketed dinners with convenient home-delivery service in March.He’s proven that he still has everything it takes to enliven animal-free cooking—namely, rich and creamy nut-based sauces to fill fluffy flatbreads, no cheese required; and the confidence to get creative with the Eastern Mediterranean pantry he learned as a line cook under Oleana’s spice queen, chef Ana Sortun. littleburgveg.com.
Idle Hands Craft Ales
Since Idle Hands arrived early into the Boston area’s craft-brewery explosion in 2011, times have certainly changed: Plenty of other makers have joined the game, and you can now find a juicy, locally made IPA on every corner. But founder Chris Tkach continues to set the pace by adding trendier brews, such as the Kill Your Idles sour beer series, to a lineup distinguished by exemplary European styles. His flagship hop bomb Four Seam, meanwhile, is still one of the best hazy IPAs around. 89 Commercial St., Malden, MA 02148, idlehandscraftales.com/site.
It’s not just sharing beers with friends that we miss while Massachusetts bars are closed. We also pine for the days of splitting bar pies, that South Shore munchie made for pairing with pitchers of cold suds. Luckily, Somerville’s Hot Box, a takeout window tucked into open-air Bow Market, keeps the tradition alive nearby, dispensing gobble-worthy wheels of sauce, artisanal toppings (including wild-harvested mushrooms from Martha’s Vineyard), and cheese melted right to the electric-oven-crisped edge. One Bow Market Way, Somerville, MA 02143, eathotbox.com.
Woods Hill Pier 4
Years after the Seaport building boom started, we finally have a restaurant patio worthy of the water’s-edge views: Restaurateur Kristin Canty’s splashy, sprawling, 92-seat terrace, where Miami swing meets New England ka-ching! There, the indoor/outdoor bar slings thirst-quenching cocktails infused with local ingredients—think foraged lavender or honey from Canty’s own beehives—that perfectly complement chef Charlie Foster’s day-to-night patio menu of farm-to-fork fare: say, lobster popovers or a Cubano sandwich made with ham from Woods Hill Farm in New Hampshire. 300 Pier Four Blvd., Boston, MA 02210, woodshillpier4.com.
Off Their Plate
Frontline healthcare workers are overwhelmed during the COVID-19 pandemic—that’s why Harvard Medical student Natalie Guo came up with the idea for Off Their Plate, a program that cooks meals for hospital staffers and gets laid-off restaurant employees back on the job. Since launching locally with partners Tracy Chang (chef-owner of Pagu) and star restaurateur Ken Oringer, the initiative has raised $6 million, fed thousands across nine cities, and partnered with World Central Kitchen, celebrity chef-philanthropist José Andrés’s global nonprofit. Sounds like a pretty full plate, actually. offtheirplate.org.
The Urban Grape
Husband-and-wife team TJ and Hadley Douglas wrote the book (literally) on Progressive Shelving, their innovative, palate-broadening system that organizes wines by body rather than region or grape. The shop’s whole culture, really, is forward-thinking—see: its Clink Progressively education series, which hosted a virtual Juneteenth panel about issues facing Black winemakers, or its new Wine Studies Award for Students of Color, which will send ambitious oenophiles through wine school and connect them to paid internships. 303 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA 02116, theurbangrape.com.
Claudiane Philippe, @nailthecocktail
In the beforetimes, Philippe used her Instagram blog to hype Boston bars and booze brands—and show off her always-on-point manicures. Since the city’s first Black Lives Matter protest of 2020, though, her platform has also reminded us to #SayTheirNames with a compelling photo series of original drink recipes dedicated to Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice, and others lost. The poignant project importantly helps Philippe’s 35,000-plus followers get educated about systemic racism, even as she continues sharing top-shelf cocktails we can actually handle making at home. instagram.com/nailthecocktail.
Recreo Coffee & Roasterie
Any java can wake us up in the morning—but Recreo’s also help us sleep at night. Though much coffee production is notorious for labor exploitation, this hyper-responsible West Roxbury café sources its single-origin beans from co-owner Miriam Morales’s family farm in Nicaragua, which uplifts area workers and their children with free lodging, schooling, and healthcare. Not only is this a coffee shop with a conscience, but Recreo’s rich, full-bodied espresso is so good, the team even won the chance to set up a high-traffic takeaway counter right inside Boston City Hall. 1876 Centre St., West Roxbury, MA 02132, elrecreoestatecoffee.com.
Haley House Bakery Café
After closing for a year to retool, this nonprofit bakery and “social enterprise” returns to Nubian Square with new African and Caribbean influences on the menu—try the house-baked chapati flatbread wrapped around Haitian pikliz—and an even stronger equity-minded mission. In addition to providing job opportunities to marginalized community members, the café now employs “open book management,” a format that helps staff learn, stem to stern, how a business really works. 12 Dade St., Roxbury, MA 02119, haleyhouse.org/hhbc.
M&M BBQ at Dorchester Brewing Company
Barbecue and beer are a perfect pairing, so it makes sense that third-generation pitmaster Geovanni Lambert would open his first brick-and-mortar restaurant inside Dorchester Brewing Company. The counter-service operation dishes out M & M’s famous ribs—the original recipe Lambert’s grandparents launched with a food truck in 1982—as well as smoked chicken and beer-hall-inspired munchies such as the smoked-cheese-and-brisket-loaded “Dumpster Fries.” Devour them on the brewery’s cool new rooftop patio, or grab them curbside (along with cans of, say, Clapp’s Cream Ale) to bring to your own socially distanced lawn party. 1250 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, MA 02125, mandmribs.com.
Go back in time at this kitschy restaurant on Route 1, where pupu platters and scorpion bowls are served in a large parking lot turned car hop, with space for live music and drive-in movies—a trendy throwback phenomenon while cinemas are closed. The Wong family, which has owned the iconic spot since—you guessed it, the 1950s—also offers classic mai tai mixers to go, but Kowloon’s outdoor tiki-bar tables are the place to be during this extraordinary summer. 948 Broadway, Saugus, MA 01906, kowloonrestaurant.com.
Things We Can’t Wait to Eat Again
The Kobe cap steak at Grill 23: We’re jonesing for the primal pleasures of a deep-charred steak crust that doesn’t involve sweating bullets over a home grill. The charred avocado nigiri at Café Sushi: Precise applications of lemon, salt, truffle oil, and fire-breathing blowtorch yield a showstopper too delicate for takeout travel. The quail kebobs at at Oleana: Ana Sortun’s elegantly boned-out game-bird skewers taste best in the urban paradise of Oleana’s gorgeous garden. The double-pork ramen at Yume Wo Katare: We miss waiting for hot bowlfuls of garlicky, pork-fat-drenched noodle soup at this intimate eatery, where the camaraderie in line is part of the fun. The “Royal Chocolate Cake for Two, Kween” at Orfano: The indulgence is available in sensible slices for the social-distancing era, but you can’t top the hedonistic joy of double-teaming an entire cake with a close friend.
Dine Out and Give Back
It's the perfect equation: Good food plus a great cause means everybody wins. The Place: Pammy's The Order: Chef Chris Willis’s artisanal breads (rustic Pugliese, please!), available for $20 a loaf. The Cause: Half the bread-loaf proceeds benefit a weekly-changing charity supporting BIPOC communities, like the American Civil Liberties Union. aclu.org The Place: Trina's Starlite Lounge The Order: Chill out during a socially distant summer with the frozen whiskey smash ($12). It gets a hit of crème de cacao alongside the standard lemon and mint. The Cause: Two bucks per drink—made with booze from a Black-female-run Tennessee distillery named for Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved man who taught Jack Daniels whiskey making in the 1850s—goes to Black Lives Matter Boston. blacklivesmatterboston.org The Place: The Picnic Grove at Cambridge Crossing The Order: Take your pick! At this two-month-long al fresco pop-up, chef Will Gilson will preview multiple menu highlights from the Lexington, his restaurant/café/rooftop bar juggernaut that is slated to open in September. The Cause: A portion of all July and August proceeds goes to Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a food-rescue organization marking its 10th year of service. lovinspoonfulsinc.org