The real meat of a truly great steakhouse is just that: its meat. And while the opulent Oak Room may look too delicate to deliver on such a carnivorous front, this year it left the competition begging for scraps. Witness the splendidly marbled bone-in rib-eye, juicy to its sweet core. And the pliant slab of aged New York strip under a voluptuous horseradish sauce. Sides and seafood, too, are much more than standard: thick spears of tender asparagus, chilled artichokes with thick and fresh lobster tail, and sharp-flavored calamari salad. Service is thoughtful, informed, and perfectly timed, and the epic wine list is packed with impressive (mostly French and American) choices. Why haven't we mentioned the room's flat-out stunning décor by now? Because with credentials like this, it shouldn't matter. Saying the Oak Room isn't a real steakhouse is as silly as saying a beautiful woman can't be smart. Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave., Boston, MA .
A place needs more than good sangria and jamn to qualify as a genuine tapas joint: It must also be a lively gathering spot, not one that's empty by 11 p.m. Toro has one of the most reliably bustling late-night scenes in the cityimpromptu dance parties have been known to break out around the barand a calendar peppered with fun events, like last spring's Calotada (Spring Onion Festival) and an annual party to mark the running of the bulls. Just as important, chef Jamie Bissonnette strikes precisely the right balance between beloved Spanish recipes (griddled garlic shrimp, chickpeas with chorizo) and adventurous ones (head cheese with pickled ramps, crispy pork belly with snails). Need a hit of liquid courage before you'll try the smoked beef tongue? That's what the sangria's for. 1704 Washington St., Boston, MA 2118, toro-restaurant.com.
From the outside, this sprawling liquor store looks like any other rundown rendezvous for drunken booze-hounds. Inside, however, you'll find one of the finest selections of vintage wine in New England. It's for the latter that we just can't seem to get enough of this store. Laid out in neatly labeled rows are bottles of liquid gold that may cost you more than a month's rent. But no matter: Even if you're not a millionaire collector, the knowledgeable staff will help you find a reasonable red to go with the venison stew that's bubbling at home. Especially strong: Rhone, Burgundy, and Bordeaux selections. Expand your vino repertoire at the Mart's regular tastings or by clicking through their encyclopedic Web site. And don't miss the bargain basement (which is exactly what it sounds like); it can be a treasure trove if you hit it at the right moment. 1354 Commonwealth Avenue, Allston, MA blmwine.com/.
Well into the Kindle era, Boston still hits out of its weight class when it comes to bookselling, and we treat big-name authors like visiting royalty. The Booksmith is where our memoirists, like Andre Dubus III and Gail Caldwell, and our suspense gurus, from Hank Phillipi Ryan to Joseph Finder, come to tell their tales. It’s where Atlantic columnist James Parker throws a celebration of his literary magazine the Pilgrim—the one produced 10 times per year by the city’s homeless population. And it’s where Barney Frank turns up to talk baseball. In sum, it’s the kind of place you keep going back to, because you never know what they’re going to think of next. 279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 2446, brooklinebooksmith.com.
Most people don't give stationery a second thought. Then they get engaged and suddenly need an expert opinion on a forest's worth of papers—invitations, save-the-date cards, programs, thank-you notes. Dalton-based Crane, manufacturer of the most classic and elegant wedding stationery collections on the finest-quality paper, makes sense of it all. For tastes that veer toward the modern, there's a newer line of invites that don't follow the classic models. An experienced staff helps you find exactly the right paper and style to fit your budget, and even occasionally eschews tradition by letting you in on a little secret: You don't need that expensive second envelope nowadays. (Our saleswoman whispered that it was used to keep the invitation clean back when mail was carried on horseback.) Prudential Center, Boston, MA crane.com.
Chef-owner Allan Rodriguez, a native of Sonora, serves up mostly family recipes at this color-splashed South End spot, which translates to flavorful (and authentic) Mexican fare with a sophisticated touch. Chilaquiles, carne asada, tamales, tacos—they're all here, and they're all outstanding. The spicy red sangria, meanwhile, promises to cure whatever ails you. 472 Shawmut Ave., Boston, MA elcentroboston.com.
Upgrading to a new neighborhood or swapping your city digs for a spot in the ’burbs? The efficient team at Seven—armed with protective stretch film, blankets, and pads—makes sure the least stressful part of your move is actually moving things. sevenmoving.com.
They say the proof is in the pudding, or, in this case, the carburetor: Paul Levin is the guy to fix your car. With a vast knowledge of foreign and domestic autos, plus a wicked sense of humor, Levin puts you to task with a thorough Q&A session while narrowing down a diagnosis for your ailing vehicle. Sensitive to tight budgets, he won't take you for a ride. Levin is also completely accommodating. He even offered to look through our car receipts to check the quality and pricing of repair work done in the past. 90 Windom Street, Allston, MA .
When Anna Israel, the owner of WellFit, explains why acupuncture works, she’s not speaking in the abstract: Her own health woes led her to the traditional Chinese practice and a slew of other natural healing techniques. She knows that listening carefully to what ails you—from pain to infertility—is almost as important as the treatment itself. Whether it’s her easy-going demeanor or those magical needles, we guarantee you’ll leave feeling like a better version of yourself. 376 Boylston St., Boston, MA 02116, wellfitstudio.com.
No matter what ails your pet, no matter what kind of pet you have, no matter what time of day or night—the folks at Angell are ready and willing to assist you. Veterinary residents come from all over the country to do their residencies at this extraordinary animal hospital. There is even an avian/exotic pet specialist on staff. You can also adopt a pet at the MSPCA shelter in the same building. 350 South Huntington Avenue, Jamaica Plain, MA .
Bob the Chef's South End soul food temple offers a straightforward menu of southern foods that comfort, such as buttery collard greens, spicy black-eyed peas, and falling-off-the-bone ribs. And the "glorifried" chicken, prepared barbecued, simply baked, or expertly fried, can cure whatever ails you. Balancing the menu is a jumping roster of live jazz performances and the "all-you-can-eat Sunday Jazz and Gospel Brunch," featuring top-notch homemade biscuits. No wonder we keep coming back to Bob's. 604 Columbus Avenue, Boston, MA .
There’s no wine list or fancy raw bar at this laid-back local institution—just bottomless cups of joe from Nantucket Island Coffee Roasters and heaping platters of granola-and-banana pancakes to cure whatever ails you. Still hankering for a little hair of the dog? The BYOB eatery can serve up a virgin bloody mary ($5) for your mixing pleasure. 7 S. Water St., Nantucket, MA 2554, fogisland.com.
Dorchester's Anh Hong is the real McCoy. Try the chicken pho ga, guaranteed to cure what ails you, the hearty grilled-pork rice plates, and standout dishes like vermicelli with beef, and jellyfish and shrimp salad. And if you want to dazzle the stubborn carnivores in your party, order the house specialty: a seven-course beef tasting. 291 Adams St., Dorchester, MA 2122, .
Part of the first fleet of food trucks to hit Boston streets in 2011, Pennypacker’s has grown to include a small Somerville restaurant, a selection of online-ordered prepared meals, and a forthcoming stall at High Street Place food hall, opening this fall. But its signature porchetta sandwich—slow-roasted pork marinated in garlic and rosemary, and tarted up with a zippy mostarda—remains a must-try, as do detours like fried-chicken sammies topped with slaw and herb vin. 514C Medford St., Somerville, MA pennypackersfinefoods.com.
Finally, a visual-arts writer who can talk about meaning without waxing pedantic. Wherever it appears, in the Globe or in Art New England, the skillful prose of this former WBUR arts critic brings the visual arts to life.