We resisted loving the Spa at the Mandarin. One, it's a chain. Two, it's in a hotel. But our opposition began to waver as soon as we hit the locker rooms, presented here as immaculate, fully stocked, beautifully designed 'guest lounges.' Then there were the one-of-a-kind amenities—a crystal steam room that evokes Space Mountain (in a good way), a Vichy shower with color therapy—and a full menu of excellent pedis, massages, and body treatments. Factor in a staff so exquisitely attentive we almost forgot we were not, in fact, itinerant European royals, and, needless to say, we surrendered. 776 Boylston St., Boston, MA 2199, mandarinoriental.com.
Restaurants get made over more often than Ashlee Simpson. But the new incarnation of 53 South is more about-face than facelift. The eatery has moved to snazzier, red-walled digs in an old Pizza Hut and dramatically overhauled its menu, swapping staid French fare for brave global dishes that are better than ever. Our perfect meal: wasabi-crusted tuna with cardamom sticky rice and soy ginger beurre blanc, lemon-rosemary chicken with roasted-garlic corn flan, and lavender crème brûlée. Oh. And a bottle expertly paired by the fine sommelier. 42 Washington St., Norwell, MA 2061, .
Even discounting the countless plastic-Paddy pubs that have sprouted all over Boston, our city boasts a wealth of genuine Celtic hangouts. But for all their fiddling, their crowds, and their shepherd's pies, these places overlook a pub's true function: to be a pleasant place to drink. The Brendan Behan is dark, wooden, and lovingly worn. There's no food, meaning no obnoxious "dining-only" seating, and the Irish barkeeps pull a slow, well-constructed Guinness. Aside from the odd band or book reading, conversation is what draws the clientele—which is neither undergraduate nor overpaid. 378A Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA brendanbehanpub.com/.
The increasingly popular sit-down service is good, too (especially for Saturday and Sunday brunch), but it's the takeout that sets this Newton Highlands institution apart. The friendly staff will wrap up anything to go, from a cup of coffee to a multicourse gourmet dinner for as many guests as you can gather. Big orders like those require one day's notice, but Baker's Best makes it easy with a quiet catering office and a convenient check-off menu. There are also freezers full of ready-to-cook meal components in the main store, from hors d'oeuvres to entrées. And that food—it really is the best. 27 Lincoln St., Newton Highlands, MA bakersbestcatering.com/.
This has become a crowded category, thanks to a rack of new barbecue joints around town and in the suburbs. But we're going back to basics. Redbones, the funky, down-home joint in Davis Square, is the granddaddy of Boston barbecue, thanks to its efficient waitstaff, not to mention the biggest helpings of chicken, ribs, pork, and fish you've ever seen. Fortifying side dishes include succotash, hushpuppies, collard greens, corn fritters, and our favorite: Redbones' signature black beans and dirty rice. The homey bar has 24 great beers on tap. 55 Chester Street, Somerville, MA redbones.com.
An old-fashioned newshound with a tattoo of two Colt 45s on his forearm and a penchant for chewing tobacco in the newsroom, Macero has been at the forefront of just about every major sports-business story in town. He spent weeks throwing cold water all over the Pats' threatened move to Hartford, then broke the story behind Kraft's return. He's also been all over the Fenway deal, breaking the news that the Sox have more in mind than building just a ballpark—think mallpark—and that they probably want as much as $200 million of our tax dollars to do it.
"French with a Cuban twist" is how chef/owner Paul O'Connell describes his Cambridge eatery. We say twist away, especially if that means more Cuban sandwiches (pork three ways, cornichon cheese and vegetables grilled into a melty, crunchy, stick-to-your-ribs meal), conch fritters, and chorizo sausage with scallion mashed potatoes. Chez Henri's small, narrow bar fills quickly with local neighborhood intelligentsia, who'd rather play a pick-up game of backgammon than watch "Must See TV." On any given night, a regular cast of characters informally gathers to socialize or quietly enjoy a periodista—just one of the notorious Chez Henry speciality drinks. For all the casual camaraderie in the bar, the dining room beckons with floor-to-ceiling windows that remind diners of Paris. It's in here that the menu gets more serious, with thoughtful nods to the French classics ad tasty inventive offerings like duck tamales. Note: You simply can't beat the steak frites anywhere in town. 1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, MA chezhenri.com.
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
Some say Tim and Nancy Cushman's first restaurant hasn't changed much in the decade since it opened, and they're right: Night after night, sushi chefs labor over the same truffle-oil-finished hamachi with banana pepper and gold-leaf-kissed onsen eggs that they served years ago. But the funky-meets-refined izakaya is still our go-to for blowout bites of toro, foie, and Wagyu, not to mention above-and-beyond service (did you know that you can request stain remover at the host stand?). Happy 10th birthday, O Ya—here's to many more years of unbridled decadence. 9 East St., Boston, MA 02111, o-ya.restaurant.
Editor's Note, July 13, 1 p.m.: Ames Street—which merged with its neighbor Study for a combined concept called "Study at Ames" in late June, after press time for our Best of Boston issue—closed July 12.
After creating a top-tier nightlife enclave at Somerville’s Backbar, Sam Treadway and team are now schooling the country’s smartest city in cocktail-making. Here, they offer an ever-changing matrix organized by liquor, breaking down off-center sips (purple-cabbage gin, anyone?) to make even foreign flavors feel approachable. 73 Ames St., Cambridge, MA 02142, amesstreetdeli.com.
Even the pets are well dressed: On our last trip to this Southie consignment boutique, we spotted the Chihuahua mascot, Olive, rocking a fierce faux-fur vest. Humans will fare even better. What this tiny store lacks in square footage, it makes up for in seriously stylish duds at steep discounts, from vintage Yves Saint Laurent frocks to nearly new Jimmy Choos. Act fast when you see something you like on Covet’s Instagram account, lest another eagle-eyed buyer snap it up. 395 W. Broadway, Boston, MA 02127, covetboston.com.
When Tim Maslow arrived in Boston from New York a few years ago to overhaul his father’s Watertown café, he made waves with his brash flavors and witty presentationsso much so that local food fiends fretted that his success might take him back to the Big Apple. Then came the August 2013 debut of the modern-Italian Ribelle, with its dry-aged meats, hand-rolled pastas, and clever panelle sliders. In short? It seems Maslow is in it for the long hauland our dining scene is all the better for it. Strip-T's, 93 School St., Watertown; Ribelle, 1665 Beacon St., Brookline, stripts.com.
Don't fret the closure of Shu Uemura's beloved Newbury Street boutique (our former fave). Just head for A Matter of Face in the North End. Unlike some bigger cosmetics chains—where selection is vast, but service is often lacking—owner and makeup artist Paula Tierney is hands-on, helping shoppers choose colors and formulations from a stellar lineup of hard-to-find brands like Julie Hewett and Paula Dorf. Consultations on skin health by experts from Darphin, Caudalie, and others will help you maintain a smooth complexion—the perfect canvas for those playful cosmetics. 425 Hanover St., Boston, MA 2113, amatterofface.com.
Despite recent hubbub over Salem's retail revival, the miles-walked-to-treasures-found ratio at the Tannery—an old leather mill packed with more than 40 shops and services—remains the most enticing on the North Shore. It boasts two previous Best of Boston winners, Shanti Salon and luxe homegoods shop Wishbasket, as well as two of our favorite kinds of independents: bookstore (Jabberwocky Books) and toy store (Eureka). Summer has the added lure of the local farmers' market; during the holidays, the Tannery has a lock on one-stop gift shopping. 75 Water St., Newburyport, MA 1950, tannerymarketplace.com.
It has what a good sporting store should—which is to say, everything—but what sets City Sports apart is customer satisfaction. When we asked a sales associate which kind of catcher's mitt our nephew would need for his first season of Little League, we were impressed by the quick, unfazed response: He doesn't need a catcher's mitt. Better to get him a normal, cheaper glove. Kids that age don't throw hard anyway. If we'd actually had a nephew (some liberties were taken with the truth for research purposes), that's exactly what we would have done. 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, MA 2138, citysports.com.