Walk your pooch within a block of any Polkadog location, and you’re guaranteed to feel a sharp jerk on the leash pulling you toward the store’s front door. Perhaps Fido can smell the drool-inducing Clam Chowda strips. Maybe he remembers the free snacks generously doled out by pet-loving staffers. Whatever the reason, it’ll be worth the embarrassment of being walked in by your dog, given that you’ll also love browsing the shelves stocked with colorful toys and leashes. Too bad most cats don’t go for walks, because a lot of this is available for felines, too. 256 Shawmut Ave., Boston, MA polkadog.com.
Yes, we’re recommending you see purposely bad art. In its most prominent location, tucked away in the basement of the historical Somerville Theatre, the Museum of Bad Art has the effrontery to proudly display the best of the worst. Does the artist utterly fail to portray any sense of perspective? Are the individuals in the painting a trifle nightmarish, and not in a charming Salvador Dalí way? All find a home at MOBA, which also offers comedic commentary next to its masterpieces. And lucky for repeat visitors, there’s often new bad art to admire. 55 Davis Sq., Somerville, MA 02144, museumofbadart.org.
This neighborhood favorite may be the kind of place where passersby tap the window to greet friends and family inside, but it also draws diners from far beyond Newton Centre thanks to chefs David Punch and Lydia Reichert. Rich sweet-potato muhammara with pillowy grilled pita, and suckling pig confit with bright fennel purée and blood-orange marmalade share menu real estate with those duck, lamb, and pig boards that everyone's always raving about. It's also home to the most satisfying vegetarian entrée we've ever tried: spiced leek pancakes with local squash and crispy Brussels sprouts. 755 Beacon St., Newton Centre, MA 02459, sycamorenewton.com.
After years spent styling models for fashion weeks in New York, Milan, and Paris, Nikki An-Levi brought her skills to Wellesley Hills, where she now delivers city-chic, face-framing cuts in a fresh, polished space. On a recent visit, An-Levi transformed our dried-out curls into a high-volume, shoulder-length 'do with beachy waves, walking us through every snip of the scissors and flip of the hairbrush. That attention to detail—not to mention the weekly training sessions she holds for staff—makes even more sense when you consider her background as lead educator at Bumble and Bumble University in New York. 398 Washington St., Wellesley Hills, MA 02481, theparlorsalonandapothecary.com.
Warning: This is not the type of corner café you can turn into a makeshift office. Instead, the dual-use space, shared with Downtown Crossing’s Graffito SP, caters to serious coffee fiends. Presiding over the Modbar espresso machine are former Coffee Trike barista San Bellino and his team, who dole out the best cortados around using nuanced beans from partner Patrick Barter’s central Massachusetts roastery. That attention to detail also extends to the eats, with cheddar-chive-bacon biscuits and molasses scones prepared daily by Townsman pastry wiz Meghan Thompson. 108 Lincoln St., Boston, MA 02111, gracenotecoffee.com.
Every time the kitchen changes hands at Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer's tiny South End enoteca, we hold our breath. First it was Bissonnette handing over the reins to the talented Meghann Ward; this year marked Ward passing the torch to L'Espalier and Del Posto alum Michael Bergin. And yet somehow, the place never misses a beat. The classic pizzas are still smoky and rich (our new favorite is dotted with spicy globs of 'nduja sausage); the house pastas are still remarkably creative (see: parsley cavatelli with prosciutto-braised escargot); and the vegetable dishes remain some of the town's finest (Brussels sprouts smothered in robiola; roasted cauliflower bathed in bagna cauda). 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, MA 02118, coppaboston.com.
When she immigrated to North America, Jakarta native Retno Pratiwi was hard-pressed to find any Indonesian fare. So she took matters into her own hands. Alongside her husband, Peter Gelling, Pratiwi has become the harbinger of her home country’s aromatic street food, introducing bright and balanced sate lilit, shrimp dumplings, and lemongrass chicken skewers served over turmeric-tinted rice—all of which you’ll be able to enjoy with regularity when Kaki Lima opens its first brick and mortar later this year. kakilimaboston.com.
The reduced production costs of the digital age and the concurrent scouring of record-company vaults have given fledgling artists new opportunities and unearthed many a treasure. But they have also left the shelves of used-CD stores flooded with old Hammer CDs. Not the bins at Looney Tunes. What this store lacks in quantity it makes up for with a collection that could only have been assembled by cognoscenti. The prices are great, and the store holds onto just the right degree of funkiness—old vinyl, posters, and cassettes are everywhere—to make sure you'll find a gem. 1106 Boylston St., Boston, MA .
Newbury Comics is to Nick Hornby as music megastores are to Carson Daly. The trucker hat—wearing kids who staff this eclectic pop culture emporium truly know their stuff, and they're quick to help shoppers navigate the impressive selection of CDs crammed between the movies and kitschy collectibles that crowd the aisles. With new releases often priced at $10 or less, ample shelf space set aside for local artists, and sought-after acts frequently dropping in for appearances, browsing for albums here almost beats downloading them for free on your home computer—and, as an added bonus, doesn't create the same risk of being sued for copyright infringement. 332 Newbury St., Boston, MA newburycomics.com.
E6 owner Elena Frankel has earned her place in beauty heaven by giving Boston a much-needed injection of both high-style cosmetics and low-pressure shopping. Her sunny, well-organized boutique is home to every hot, hard-to-find bottle, tube, and compact a product junkie could ever need, from gorgeous Tarte glosses and Shu Uemura eyelash curlers to Poole eye shadows and the just-revamped Molton Brown line—all minus the attitude-saddled staff of many other makeup counters. 167 Newbury St., Boston, MA .
Except for the rock tunes that blare from the speakers, this little shop of horrors seems right out of a WGBH Mystery! episode, with its Victorian architecture and hundreds of ceramic black cats peering down from the bookcases. A vast library of thrillers, horror stories, and other books lines the shelves. Kate herself tallies the tabs and helps customers navigate her stock, which runs from the common (Stephen King) to the obscure (the "strong women" category). Acknowledged as the regional hub of the craft, Kate's hosts monthly meetings of the Mystery Writers of America, and nationally known authors hold book-signings here. 2211 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA katesmysterybooks.com/.
Just off the road that Norman Rockwell called home, year-old Seven presents itself as an unassuming yellow house that turns out to be far from ordinary inside. On the ground level, where wood floors glow under recessed lighting, the stylists buzz around hair and manicure stations stocked with Pangea Organics and other all-natural products; pedicures take place on suede benches raised above deep tiled tubs. Upstairs, among a handful of spacious treatment rooms, Alex Vinogradov—a former go-to masseur for Kirov ballerinas—works knotted muscles back into shape. 7 South St., Stockbridge, MA 1262, .
Need someone to look after your critters? While you're away, DoggieDay will walk Spot four times a day, clean Fifi's litter box, grab your mail, water your plants, inject your diabetic gerbil with insulin, and taxi Dirk the boa constrictor to the vet—all for a competitive fee. Unlike most services, DoggieDay covers almost all of Greater Boston, and is registered with Pet Sitters International. Future services in the works include dog training at home while you're at work and massage therapy (for your pets, not you). 295 Devonshire St., Boston, MA .
The French are hardly known for their brunches, but don't tell that to the staff of the South End's flagship contemporary Parisian bistro. Besides, after devouring a pressed duck, Gruyère, and tarragon mustard sandwich, you really won't care. Nor will anyone you're brunching with—they'll be too distracted by their own exemplary omelets (the melted leek, cremini mushroom, and goat cheese rendition with caramelized onion home fries is out-and-out terrific), the energy that flows through the room's mahogany and taupe interior, and the view of Tremont Street through the broad front windows. 569 Tremont St., Boston, MA aquitaineboston.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/.