Who isn't a sucker for greatest-hits collections? With all of the must-haves and none of the duds, Viola comes on like a Time Life champ. The spacious boutique in the Shoppes at Hamilton Crossing (recently joined by a sibling store in Concord) wraps up the best of Barneys and Louis, putting Anya Hindmarch bags and Loeffler Randall footwear within reach of suburban stylistas. Word to the wise: Owner Lisa Cancelli is big on locking in local exclusivity, so those who have their eye on a particular pair of Barton Perreira sunglasses or a Leigh & Luca wearable-art scarf are advised to snap it up, or else risk the drive of shame to a big-city department store. 15 Walnut Rd., South Hamilton, MA 1982, .
The indie music ethic in this town is so snobbish, it's almost considered blasphemy if you like a song on the radio. But thanks to Davis Square's Disc Diggers, located in the epicenter of cool, this attitude has been dispensed with, and buying CDs has become a pleasure again. You may not know all the obscure music on the overstuffed shelves, but the inventory is so extensive that you'll find a Bon Jovi album right next to the Backstreet Boys and Built to Spill. Prices are low, staffers know just about everything, and the body art on some of the customers is as entertaining as the music. 401 Highland Ave., Somerville, MA discdiggers.com/.
Dogs and people express their devotion to each other in ways the recipient probably wishes they wouldn't: jumping up and piddling with joy (dogs); making gifts of pup-sized Sox jerseys (people). A trip to the groomer's might fall into that latter category, too—strangers! clippers! yikes!—but not at DogSpa. Rescued from closing in 2006 and thoroughly overhauled by a longtime customer, this previous Best of Boston winner mixes state-of-the-art equipment like an air-purification system and massaging-jet baths with good old TLC. And since there's tons of doggy accessories here, four-legged friends can emerge not only clean and sweet-smelling, but also togged out like Big Papi. 45 Enon St., Beverly, MA 1915, .
In a neighborhood brimming with worthy bistros (Ten Tables, Arbor) and watering holes (Milky Way, Doyle's), finding the best among them seems impossible. Until you've tasted brunch at Centre Street. No other place draws such a salad of local characters—yups, students, families, and artists. The food and art are local, too, and the tunes are just loud enough to inspire but not preclude conversation. The servers are so friendly, they feel like buddies who just happen to be fetching you fluffy banana pancakes with farm-fresh blueberries. And that's the best kind of friend there is. 669A Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA centrestreetcafejp.com.
The Coolidge, with its impressive lineup of indie features, gives film bluffs a place to call home. Adding to the charm: a new art-deco inspired marquee, a throwback to the picture houses of old. With a stellar schedule of surprise hits (Monsoon Wedding) and midnight movie series ("80s Midnite Movie Explosion," "We Love John Cusack!"), the nonprofit theater gets extra kudos for supporting local filmmakers and creative programming. This year's special guest appearances have been attention-getting, too: The Indepenent's Janeane Garofalo and Jerry Stiller, director John Sayles, and the controversial Tammy Faye Bakker Mesner. Now, that's what we call entertainment. 290 Harvard St., Brookline, MA coolidge.org/.
After a few years of flirtation with more-is-more sashimi decadence, we've come back around to sushi that's simple, delicate, and pure. No gold-flaked lacquer, please. And hold the foie gras sauce, while you're at it. We prefer to actually taste how fresh the fish is. This is Oishii's enduring formula: seafood, allowed to shine beneath only the most carefully chosen sauces. But that doesn't mean the presentations aren't artful: Crowned with just a garnish here or a flower there, each piece gleams like a jewel, a tribute to minimalism. 612 Hammond St., Boston, MA 2118, oishiiboston.com.
Then again, not everyone can build himself up to the point that he won't get sand kicked in his face. Beckner's bodyguard service provides both personal security and discreet protection at large gatherings. "There are some people, especially in smaller entrepreneurial companies, who are the brains of the whole operation," Beckner explains. "They can't be replaced." So Beckner offers a staff of black-belt-level martial-arts experts who also know CPR, First Aid, and the proper handling of weapons. Beckner's service is not cheap, so if cost counts, you're probably better off with general workouts and karate classes elsewhere. Needham, MA
"Own your slurp" is the mantra at Moe Kuroki’s tiny ramen bar: It means belly up to the counter, enjoy your soup, and worry about those stains on your shirt later. But it also applies to Kuroki’s personal journey: The self-taught cook from Fukuoka, Japan, began tinkering with traditional tonkotsu recipes during a particularly strong bout of homesickness. In 2014, she started slinging bowls of tender pork belly and chewy homemade noodles at pop-ups across the city. Now she’s sharing her love for the art of ramen at her new brick-and-mortar, where a layered, rich, fully vegan-style bowl stands out in a sea of fresh noodles on the scene. 1 3/4 Broad St., Boston, MA 02109, oisaramen.com.
Anna's doesn't serve the biggest burritos in town, and purists might—might—argue that some of its ingredients (particularly the carnitas) trail those prepared by its competitors. But Anna's burritos are, without question, the best put together. And as any hardcore burrito enthusiast knows, structural integrity is the true standard by which a burrito should be judged. The quick-working craftsmen who staff this busy local chain's assembly lines start by steaming each tortilla individually—a step often skipped by other shops—then pile on carefully calibrated scoops of freshly prepared fillings. At the final station, burrito-rolling is elevated to its rightful status among the culinary arts, ensuring that everything holds together until the last blissful bite. 1412 Beacon St., Brookline, MA annastaqueria.com/.
In the overflowing box marked 'Good Idea at the Time,' you'll find, along with DIY plumbing and getting bangs, plenty of gift-buying impulses gone wrong. Pewter-starfish-napkin-holder wrong. What you won't find is anything bought at the rigorously tasteful Trove. A visit could begin and end with the Czech-inspired Artel glassware and John Derian collage creations, but that would leave out Sonya Ooten's crocheted gold earrings and other handcrafted jewelry; décor gems like vintage shagreen lamps and carved jade bowls; and objets d'art sufficiently eclectic (as in, antique Chinese silk earmuffs) to appeal to virtually any recipient. No matter what you choose, it'll be unforgettable—and unregrettable. 542 Boston Post Rd., Weston, MA 2493, .
When the in-laws come to town for a visit, send them straight to Fifteen Beacon, a hotel so classically elegant (and subtly opulent) they'll never want to leave. The staff at this Beacon Hill hotel makes service an art form, so every customer feels like royalty. (The hotel even provides personalized business cards with guests' fax and phone numbers to drop around town, as well as complimentary chauffeur service in a Mercedes-Benz sedan.) Rooms are decorated in rich earth tones with plenty of luxe accents (leather ottomans, working fireplaces) and are loaded with all the goodies you need, from Pevonia bath products to well-stocked minibars. Room service comes from the Federalist, the restaurant downstairs, which means you can leave not only the hospitality, but also the cooking, to the hotel's accommodating staff. 15 Beacon St., Boston, MA xvbeacon.com/.
Seems that lately almost every home accessories shop is big on minimalism—in presentation and selection, anyway. (Price is another matter.) Shoppers who are tired of wandering through spartan stores with items and price tags that belong in the Museum of Modern Art can take refuge at Koo de Kir, where the stock is fresh and edgy, yet approachable in both style and cost. Phonetically named for the French phrase coup de coeur, which means "a strike to the heart," Koo endears itself to those searching for such stylish, of-the-moment accents as magnetic spice racks and sheepskin runners. Need help getting your dwelling up to speed? Take advantage of Koo's free design consultations, at the able hands of the store's interior designers. 34 Charles St., Boston, MA koodekir.com/.
Ten Tables? Too refined. Doyle's? Too political. As much as we like those places, a neighborhood restaurant should, above all, represent its character—and characters. Which is why Centre Street Café is the definitive J.P. choice. The surreal, high-voltage wall art and diverse clientele set the scene for low-key cool. The servers—most of them willing and able to advise on everything from the dessert selection to John Kerry's prospects in the presidential primary—are genuinely witty. But it's the equally unpretentious and eclectic food that really sets the lock: fragrant and heaping bowls of saffron-laced shrimp, scallops, and cod; meaty crab cakes; and a killer brunch that seems to pull in everyone living within a two-mile radius. 669 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA centrestreetcafejp.com/.
As department stores and other competitors were busy freaking out over the downturn—buying less, discounting mor—Serenella owner Leslee Shupe Korff made some minor but pointed adjustments. These days, even as her Newbury boutique shows $1,000 Cavalli dresses and $600 Alexandra Neel stilettos, it has equally attention-grabbing numbers from more-affordable lines like GarpArt and Stella McCartney for Adidas. A cast of design-darling exclusivesThakoon, Massimo Alba, Sophie Thealletmeans that if you do choose to invest in those $3,900 silver sequined shorts, odds are good that unless you live next door to a Brazilian supermodel, youll be the only one on the block wearing them. 134 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 2116, serenella.com.
When blu opened at Sports Club/LA last winter, many eyed the restaurant with suspicion. Would the brightly colored, Cali-inspired glass-walled dining room work in Boston? Would the menu be filled with bland, flavorless health club fare? The answers: yes and no—in that order. And it's all thanks to Dante deMagistris, the 27-year-old Belmont native who has won the hearts and stomachs of Bostonians with his culinary style (honed under Michael Schlow during their stint together at Café Louis and flourishing under blu co-owner and culinary legend Michela Larson). Even fitness-phobes clamor over deMagistris's fresh seasonal dishes. His "Out of the blu" appetizer, a presentation of assorted sashimis served on brightly colored glass plates, is a work of art, while entrées like steamed wild striped bass or potato gnocchi (made from deMagistris's grandmother's recipe) show the promise of a chef on the rise. Sports Club/LA, 4 Avery St., Boston, MA blurestaurant.com/.