Gushing is not usually our style, but in the case of William George's smart Newbury Street salon, we can't help but go on. Men and women alike will feel comfortable here, because each stylist establishes trust before attempting any 'do. The unintimidating decor is part of the appeal: blond wood floors, exposed brick walls, and brushed steel furniture provide a pleasing backdrop. Plus, the price range for various services, $16-$175 (haircuts $30-$60), is reasonable, which means that you can and should come often for some low-key pampering. 168 Newbury Street, Boston, MA jamesjosephsalon.com/.
As you enter this charming little bakery tucked away on a Brookline side street, the aroma of warm bread hits you like a baguette to the head. While none of theartisans on our short list produced a loaf we didn'tenjoy, Clear Flour's inventory bested the rest in both texture and flavor. The "rustic Italian," with a crisp outer layer yielding to a chewy, airy interior, is the perfect landing pad for a schmear of triple-creme cheese; the aforementioned baguette, an excellent companion for high-quality olive oil. And the rustic Italian rolls with fire-roasted tomatoes? They need no accompaniment whatsoever. 178 Thorndike St., Brookline, MA 2446, clearflourbread.com.
In the South End, there are tons of fantastic bistros offering crisp glasses of wine and a charcuterie board to match. But when we want fireworks, we head to this funky diner, where quasi-traditional Asian dishes like tea-smoked spareribs and fried rice coexist with why-hasn't-anyone-thought-of-this-before eats like Korean barbecue sloppy joes and the (brunch only) fried-egg-and-soy-glazed-bacon banh mi. And unfortunately for our waistline, we frequently find ourselves face down in (usually two) orders of Joanne Chang's crazy-juicy pork-and-chive dumplings. 1145 Washington St., Boston, MA 2118, myersandchang.com.
How we grieved when Alon Munzer and Rachel Miller Munzer shuttered their popular Rachel's Kitchen last year. The Bay Village café (now reopened under new ownership) was our go-to for morning coffee and midday lobster rolls, served hot with drawn butter and chives. But as they say, when one bistro closes, another one opens, and the couple's new Kendall Square eatery was worth the wait. Chef-partner Barry Maiden plates up inspired French-southern dishes in a space that has the same congenial air that won Rachel's its many loyalists. 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, MA 2141, hungrymothercambridge.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, .
Boston has no shortage of excellent small music venues, but T.T.'s just keeps edging out the competition. Perhaps it's because former Clash guitarist Mick Jones chose this Central Square nook to showcase his new group last April. Or because it features a healthy mix of worthy local bands and visiting punk veterans like New Model Army and Jesse Malin. Or because some weekends DJ Chris Ewen busts out our favorite '80s New Wave classics. Whatever. It's cramped, it's sticky, it's totally authentic—and it's unbeatable. 10 Brookline St., Cambridge, MA 2139, ttthebears.com.
In the four years since Michael Schlow moved to Boston, he has become not just a major figure on the local culinary scene, but on the national ones as well. So when he left Cafe Louis to plan his own place, foodies eagerly awaited his next move. The impeccably designed Radius more than survived the attendant hype to become the restaurant sensation of the year. Offering a distinctive counterpoint to Boston's culinary old guard, Schlow's strength is his understanding of flavors and texture. To that end, he finds the finest ingredients and uses his mastery of technique to treat them with the utmost respect. His pork confit is memorable, meltingly soft and sweet, made in a classic confit technique of cooking the meat in its own fat, which, paradoxically, heightens the flavors without making the confit fatty. As for his striped bass, Corby Kummer wrote that "the impeccable conception, execution, and presentation would be hard to find in any arrondissement [in Paris.]" With food like that, he added, "I'll fight for a table wherever [he's] cooking." 8 High St., Boston, MA .
Like moths to a flame. That's how we're drawn to Michael and Jill Leviton's extraordinary Newton restaurant, Lumière. The couple's recipe for refined simplicity and excellent service starts with the crisp, white-on-white tones of the dining room, tempered with warm-hued upholstery you can't help but run your hands over. But the main ingredient is chef Michael Leviton's cuisine. His menu is mostly French in inspiration, though he dips into other parts of the Mediterranean, and occasionally into Asia, for plates that are minimalist in design and void of fussiness, yet bright and bold in flavor. He lets the principal ingredient anchor a dish like pan-seared, pristine sea scallops, then surprises us with rich and sweet truffled foie gras butter or a taste of caramelized fennel. He also keeps a watchful eye on everything from the homemade bread to the desserts. The cherry on top is the calm, efficient, confident, thorough, and knowledgeable service. We wish there were more restaurants like Lumière on this side of the city limits. 1293 Washington St., Newton, MA lumiererestaurant.com.
Anatomy of a Winner: Imagine raiding the closet of a well-dressed uncle, whose discarded college wardrobe has only grown more stylish with age. That, in essence, is what it's like to shop at Bobby from Boston, where owner Bobby Garnett offers an endless collection of smart articles. 1. Garnett bought several of these circa-late-'70s-to-early-'80s bow ties new from a factory. 2. Old briefcases and luggage are sourced from flea markets and antiques shows near and far. Some are for sale, while others are repurposed as display cases. 3. When Garnett moved into his South End space, the floors were painted blue. Sanding and cleaning revealed the beautiful hardwood beneath. 4. Like most of his merchandise, Garnett's shirt selection is a mix of used, vintage acquisitions and "dead stock"—pieces he bought from other stores or factories when they didn't sell. He'll even get the occasional Christmas present, left sitting in its box for years. 5. Display cases around the store house smaller items, like wallets, cigar boxes, handkerchiefs, and tie pins. This case dates to the 1920s. 19 Thayer St., Boston, MA .
Since a world-class education calls for plenty of high-caliber peering and scrutinizing, we weren't surprised to find our winner within a tome's throw of Harvard and MIT. Expanded last year to a second location, the doctor-owned Harvard Square Eye Care has been honing the vision of area academics for more than 40 years. Employees are notably agile when it comes to untangling insurance plans, and a full lab at the Porter Square shop means speedy turnaround on orders. Scouting trips to Europe keep the frame selection ultrafashionable, from the industrial cool of Germany's Axel S. to the French flair of Lafont. Even nonbrainiacs will appreciate the ever-so-smart-looking results. 19 Dunster St., Cambridge, MA 2138, harvardsquareeyecare.com.
Unless they're dead (or dyed), we welcome almost any flowers that come our way—which is why it takes an outstanding florist to go beyond pretty, and deliver pretty damn amazing. Winston earns points for reliably gorgeous arrangements, but just as with designer clothing, if we can tell where it came from we're already bored. Ilex is the go-to for exotic numbers, yet its over-the-top approach can feel, well, too over-the-top. By contrast, Twig composes innovative, cleanly artistic bouquets, all fresh enough to last a week. A DIY option accommodates buyers on a carnation budget, while a home decorating service will thrill those who dream of a bed of roses. 558 Tremont St., Boston, MA 2114, twigboston.com.
When summer finally arrives in Boston, every restaurant with a patch of sidewalk scurries to put out a few wrought iron tables and hang its 'al fresco' shingle. Sure, we'll take every ray of sun we can get, but our kudos in this category is reserved for spots with expansive, more thoughtful outdoor spaces. While Oleana's courtyard has long been a standout, there's just something wildly appealing and Secret Garden-like about the sunken back patio at the South End's B&G. Almost primitive in design, with seemingly rogue vines gripping the stone walls, it feels the way a real outdoor eatery should: comfortable and slightly magical, a lovely aesthetic backdrop to the splendor on the plate. 550 Tremont St., Boston, MA 2116, bandgoysters.com.
In the quest for great Mexican, of which Boston has little (relative to, say, El Paso or San Diego), much recent praise has been heaped on the champions of 'authentic' cuisine, and on pre-Hispanic recipes like cuitlacoche crepes. But you know what? Sometimes we don't want to munch fried grasshoppers. Sometimes we want enchiladas with damn good rice and beans. And so we've rediscovered our love for Olé, where chef Erwin Ramos serves mole and pozole as authentic as any out there, but isn't too proud to serve chiles rellenos and shrimp tacos, too. (By the way: The latter, stuffed with pickled cabbage and gently fried camarones, are worth their weight in Spanish gold.) 11 Springfield St., Cambridge, MA 2139, olegrill.com.
It's not the easy parking or the sexy and refined décor that makes Ariadne our favorite newcomer—but those things help. Shimmering floor-to-ceiling raw-silk curtains in earthy tones of sage and wheat, candles that glow inside alabaster holders, crystal-accented light fixtures, and luxuriously upholstered half-moon banquettes are telling harbingers of the experience that awaits inside this Newton restaurant. The food, like the design, is refreshingly simple but prepared with passion and talent. Chef and owner Christos Tsardounis prefers seasonal and local ingredients for his Mediterranean-tinged menu, with offerings such as simple grilled squid. No fuss here, but the execution is flawless—as is the crisp-skinned roasted organic chicken served with a rich morel mushroom, fava bean, and creamy fingerling potato sauté and finished with a pan jus glaze. The full bar is also a welcome pleasure, and the wine list includes half bottles such as Billecart Salmon brut rosé and a few new names from around the globe. 344 Walnut St., Newton, MA .
A tightly focused inventory is all well and good for precision shoppers. For hapless procrastinators—the other 99 percent of us—less focus and more serendipity goes a long way, especially when we're floundering about for a special-occasion gift. Among Abodeon's inspired jumble (whimsical Japanese bowls, vintage Mexican silver bracelets), there is something to delight any friend, coworker, or in-law. Plus, it's near impossible to leave without picking up an extra trinket (see our own growing herd of ceramic piggy banks), which means the next time a last-minute hostess gift is required, it won't be a dusty bottle of zin snagged on a Route 6 pit stop. 1731 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 2138, abodeon.com.