For more than 30 years, Casablanca restaurant has been the canteen of choice for Cambridge's smart set when they dine en masse. The reason for its success: An inviting bar with plenty of by-the-glass wine choices, an expertly prepared yet casual Mediterranean menu courtesy of chef Ana Sortun (don't miss creamy chick pea soup, the tangy short rib appetizer, or the filet of cod wrapped in bacon), and the whopping laughter of owner Sari Abul-Jubein providing the perfect soundtrack to the fun. Groups of any size are encouraged to make themselves right at home. 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, MA casablanca-restaurant.com.
Those smug Concord so-and-sos. It's not enough they've got bragging rights on historic charm and sterling schools; they also get La Provence and its viands par excellence coming and going. Located opposite the commuter rail station, this longtime French bakery-café sees commuters off to work with spiraling golden croissants and buttery brioches, while in the evening it sends them home with herbes de Provence rotisserie chickens and tender salmon in champagne sauce. Top dessert pick? The jaw-droppingly rich gateau Concorde. Talk about having your cake! 105 Thoreau St., Concord, MA 1742, .
There's no shortage of great pizza in this town, but the place we always come back to is the original North End home of Pizzeria Regina. Ignore the outposts at Faneuil Hall and in the suburbs, and get in the (often long) line at the corner of Thacher and Endicott streets for a slice or two. The wait is worth it. First, the basics: a thin crust that's simultaneously crisp and chewy, slathered with tangy tomato sauce and cheese. Then there are traditional pizza house enhancements such as meatballs (juicy bursts of seasoned meat), sausage, or any fresh vegetables. Last, there's the homemade flavored olive oil—a secret mix we're pretty sure contains hot peppers, herbs, and garlic—meant to be doused liberally on every slice. 11 Thacher St., Boston, MA pizzeriaregina.com/.
Formaggio is the cheese shop that puts all others to shame. Whether it's a rustic sheep's milk cheese from Vermont or a bleu de Termignon made only by an old woman in France from her herd of nine cows, owner Ihsan Gurdai finds the world's best and rarest cheeses and brings them home to Boston. Shopping can be a slow process, since the staff spends a lot of time dispensing thinly sliced samples. There's a method to the madness: A customer who tastes the rich overtones of real Parmigiano-Reggiano from the red cows of Parma will never go back to the powdery stuff in the green can. 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, MA formaggiokitchen.com/.
Brix is so different in look and concept from its competitors, people often mistake it for an expensive boutique. Don't be fooled: Co-owners Carri Wroblewski and Klaudia Mally have created a wonderful source for delicious everyday wines, with so many au courant varieties priced around $10.99, it's like a Target for oenophiles. Best of all, Brix procures special orders without demanding the purchase of a whole case, but rather just three bottles. That alone puts most of the other wine shops in this town to shame. 1248 Washington St., Boston, MA brixwineshop.com/.
In a neighborhood where pearls and cufflinks are considered casual accessories, it's refreshing to find the unpretentious Paramount. Sure, bluebloods fill the restaurant, but the fare is deliciously unassuming. At night, the kitchen serves such favorites as delicate herb-infused pastas and tender burgers, while in the morning the home-style stacks of buttery blueberry pancakes and fluffy egg omeletes are de rigueur. Regulars pack this tiny place like congregants at church on Sunday (and trust us, you will need a prayer to get a table on busy nights), but after a taste, you'll be among the converted. 44 Charles St., Boston, MA paramountboston.com/.
A sandwich is only as good as the bread that holds it together, and this mini-chain (the other location is in Concord) takes the prize for bread that's a perfect canvas for inch-thick masterpieces. Sourdough, seven-grain, rye, rosemary garlic, and pepper jack are just some the bases for the savory curry chicken salad with pecans and grapes, or smoked turkey, avocado, and carrot sandwiches. As the well-trained staff will tell you, bread selections rotate according to the day of the week, so if you're hankering for a construction of ham, Swiss cheese, caramelized onion, and apple slices on olive bread, make sure to swing by on either a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday. At $5.50 each, these sandwiches could become a serious habit. 288 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA slowrise.com/.
More than a century of know-how emanates from this suburban institution, founded by Michael Swartz's immigrant grandparents in 1890 and eventually passed down the line to him. While the old-time architecture was destroyed in a fire 38 years ago, the old-time 'real hardware' attitude hasn't changed (you'll be hard-pressed to find a teakettle here, for instance). Our local DIY expert reports that Swartz has 10 times the number of tools found at other stores, plus products that others dropped decades ago. Also earning high marks are the paint department's mix masters and, out back, a roomy parking lot for the load-it-up, haul-it-home contingent. 353 Watertown St., Newton, MA 2458, .
With its shabby-chic dining room (mismatched old chairs, vintage ephemera), the Biltmore makes weekend mornings feel like brunch at Grandma's. An indulgent grandma, that is. Yours probably didn't serve Cap'n Crunch-coated French toast drizzled with warm vanilla icing, or whole-wheat flatbread topped with fresh mozzarella, local tomatoes, basil, pancetta, and sunny-side-up eggs. The sausage-infused biscuit "fritters" with house-made apple-butter dipping sauce, meanwhile, are hearty enough to inspire a post-meal nap. 1205 Chestnut St., Newton, MA 2464, thebiltmoregrill.com.
This fairly upscale bar, club, and restaurant is still the staple of Boston's South End gay scene, despite its consistently overpriced food. Still, you don't come here to eat. You come to be seen, drink with friends, and flirt with the many single men and women who flock here, especially on Thursday nights. The crowded back room and video bar is where most of the action is (no, not that kind of action), and it's a great place to meet new people—or bump into exes you hoped you've never, ever see again. 209 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA clubcafe.com/.
It seems like practically everyone—from your tattoo guy to your vet—is wielding needles filled with muscle-paralyzing toxins. But while we may be obsessing over our deepening between-brow craters, the injection frenzy has made us just a tad wary of the whole business. Enter Julie Cahill-Hollingsworth, an MGH nurse practitioner, whose Copley Square office is a respite from the madness. With little fanfare, she administers a dose, billing by the unit, not by the procedure. In the past, she’s had an open schedule, which made it easy to book. But now the secret’s out. 535 Boylston St., Boston, MA 2116, sasskin.com.
Some pedicures are utilitarianfile, buff, polish, and out the door in 30 minutes or less. Bliss’s glam foot treatments are anything but. Want to watch your favorite show (headphones provided) while a technician buffs your calluses? Zone out with a fashion mag during your calf massage? Or just polish off a few mini brownies as your polish is applied? Done, done, and done. The spa’s heavenly scented scrubs and lotions, meanwhile, make pedicures here a delightfully sensoryand, yes, positively blissfulexperience. 100 Stuart St., Boston, MA 2116, blissworld.com/spa/locations/massachusetts/bliss-boston.
There's not a hoe or shovel in sight, but this charming assortment of gurgling fountains, small statuary, painted birdhouses, baskets, and other bric-a-brac is sure to win the heart of every gardener. 106 Charles Street, Boston, MA .
With its hardwood floors and terrestrial aromas of peat and pine, this Cambridge company feels more like an old-time Vermont general store than a busy urban garden and hardware center. It should: Masse has been delving out seeds, hoes, and sage gardening advice since 1888. 249 Walden Street, Cambridge, MA interiorpainter.com/masse.
Getting a weekly manicure is one of life’s little luxuries, and this local chainlet has the process down to a scienceliterally. The salon’s "Clean Lab" uses hospital-grade sterilization techniques to make sure your polish job doesn’t come with a side of someone else’s germs. Of course, manicures are also an art, and technicians here are experts in shaping, filing, and polishing nails to perfection. And with add-ons like an extended massage and warm-oil and paraffin treatments, your experience can be as luxeor as simpleas you’d like. 296 Newbury St., Boston; and other locations, miniluxe.com.