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 .
Its serendipitous location—just a bulkie roll's throw from where drunk-grub mecca Buzzy's Roast Beef once stood—is one reason why Scampo gets our late-night bucks. More important, it's also steps from fellow Liberty Hotel denizens Clink and Alibi, whose hormone-charged bar scenes can overwhelm even the most dedicated carouser. When it's time to retreat, follow the scent of garlic down to Lydia Shire's Italian-inspired eatery for crusty pizzas, fresh-baked flatbreads, burrata BLTs, and other starchy, cheese-laden hangover preventives, all served till 11 (and pizzas till midnight). And for those not ready to cash it in yet, Scampo's potent cocktails will keep that buzz going. 215 Charles St., Boston, MA 2114, scampoboston.com.
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.
The past year has brought a lot of new life, and drama, to the local salon scene. There was Bradley & Diegel and Patrice Vinci and Kent Newton, to name a few startups, as well as the launch of Mizu, which pulled off both the largest staff poaching and most bumping opening party in recent memory. Thing is, we don't want to feel like guinea pigs as a new salon works out its kinks. And the puppy-mill approach (rows and rows of stylists) favored at some more established spots isn't our bag, either. So we go with the tried and true and still terrific: Mario Russo's salon inside Louis, where the staff is intuitive, services are always up to snuff, and we never get lost in the shuffle. 60 Northern Ave., Boston, MA 02210, mariorusso.com.
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.
Given the weather, there's seldom much call in New England for ceiling fans. Even so, the whirring hum beneath the Oak Bar's carved mahogany ceiling adds a touch of airiness to a room that might otherwise seem stodgy. In fact, the Fairmont Copley Plaza's bar strikes a perfect pitch between opulence and ease. The marble on the walls and generously apportioned martinis are the best kinds of throwbacks to a more civilized age. But the scene stays lively with the help of energetic jazz bands, a chatty and helpful staff, and a menu rife with inside jokes. The signature dirty martini, for example, is named after the Charles River, though we can't imagine our current teetotaling governor diving into one anytime soon. Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Ave., Boston, MA oaklongbarkitchen.com/.
There is something to be said for dependability. In Steve Johnson's case, it's knowing that every time you visit his restaurant, you'll be served a meal that is simply outstanding. Johnson's food is neither overwrought nor overly ambitious—it's honest and easygoing, just like him. As a founding member of Chefs Collaborative and chairman of the Boston chapter, he continues to be one of the guiding forces in Boston's restaurant scene, serving as a mentor and inspiration in the industry. But most important, since he bought the place five years ago from pal Chris Schlesinger, the Blue Room has flourished—so much so that this year the James Beard Foundation recognized Johnson with a prestigious nomination for chef in the Northeast. So whether it's his morel mushroom lasagna, sautéed halibut with fennel and fava, or our favorite appetizer, "one perfect cheese" served with fruit and dried almonds, we'll keep coming back for more. Johnson is just that good. One Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA theblueroom.net/.
We're pleased to report that South End Formaggio is a chip off the block of its sister cheese shop, Cambridge's legendary Formaggio Kitchen. While the latter is permanently etched into our Hall of Fame, the new South End branch is equally deserving. Unlike F.K., the shopping experience here is totally urban. Owner Valerie Gurdal stocks the same superlative collection of exotic cheeses (everything from Spanish cabrales to Scottish cheddar to Vermont goat), but she's also got imported beers and wines (check out the sparkling Shiraz from Australia), high-end condiments (don't miss the lavender honey), and even a candy counter. There's nothing like competing with yourself. 268 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, MA southendformaggio.com.
We like our dance clubs sexy, and nothing's sexier than beautiful, sweaty couples twisting to Latin-flavored conga beats. Sophia's, which has that and more, is a sure-fire fun night on the town. Diners clamor for tables to sample tapas and sangria; on the dance floor, after the free beginner salsa and merengue lessons, the Saturday-night crowds burst into full-fledged dance marathons. The multilevel club also offers a choice of music, with live bands playing endless salsa on the first floor and DJs on the second and third floors spinning the hottest Latin hip-hop. For mellower folk, the roof deck provides an incredible—and romantic—view of Boston's skyline. Looking to meet someone? Come solo and you will. 1270 Boylston St., Boston, MA .
Dyke Night impresario Kristen Porter comes up a winner either way, as the only worthy contenders here are Second Saturdays (at bouncin' Fenway nightclub Machine) and Menage à Trois, a.k.a. Fourth Fridays (at J.P.'s Milky Way), both dance events that she masterminded and that feature her stellar roster of female DJs. Though Machine's got by far the bigger crowd and the pole dancing (oh, the hotness), the indie-cool Milky Way's got our heart. Maybe it's the lounge's factory-chic new digs at the Brewery Complex. Or that the small space makes things more friendly and intimate. Or maybe it's just the irony of having all this gynomite going off next to a towering defunct smokestack. 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 2130, milkywayjp.com.
Editor’s Note, July 1, 2 p.m.: After our 2016 Best of Boston issue was published in print and online, reports surfaced that Po Boy has closed, future unknown. Calls to the restaurant have gone unanswered.
It’s not just the Mardi Gras beads or the TV tuned to French Quarter street performers. Eric Cormier’s tiny, chatty Newtonville shop—with its three nicked booths and the scent of fried seafood hanging heavy in the air—feels like something ripped right out of Elysian Fields. More important, Cormier’s take on New Orleans’ ubiquitous sandwich, the po’ boy, is a faithful facsimile, a crusty baguette layered with tangy rémoulade and Captain Marden’s–sourced catfish and oysters. 67 Crafts St., Newton, MA 02458, .
We’ve been there countless times: We want one last cuddle with Fido before leaving for vacation, but instead he wriggles out of our hands like an eager camper, more than ready to sniff butts and play with his buddies. These are the moments when pet parenting can be slightly heartbreaking (My puppy! He’s all grown up!). When Urban Hound is hosting him for the weekend, however, that goodbye is a little easier to handle: The luxury accommodations at the pet hotel and daycare facility—which features two indoor play parks and 1,000 square feet of outdoor space—are matched only by the fantastic trainers and staff, who are more than qualified to play in loco petrentis. 129 Malden St., Boston, MA 2118, urbanhounds.com.
Ever since L'Espalier shed its homey brownstone for the aseptic Mandarin hotel complex last year, the Franco-frontrunner has struggled to recapture the magic, leaving the field wide open for numerous worthy rivals. Buckets of beurre into testing, we narrowed our list to Clio, Salts, and Sensing (a gem, after a sloppy opening), all of which are seriously reenergizing this oft-stodgy category. In the end, though, Clio rose to the top. Now that his mini empire (Toro, La Verdad, Uni, KO Prime) is running smoothly, chef Ken Oringer has refocused on his flagship, turning out the kind of startling gastro-invention—e.g., scallop-shingled cod with yuzu-pea purée—we first fell in love with. 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA 2215, cliorestaurant.com.
Editor's Note, June 30, 2 p.m.: After our 2016 Best of Boston issue was published in print and online, No. 8 Kitchen & Spirits shared this week on social media that the restaurant has closed indefinitely. You can read their full note on Facebook.
It’s the sort of joint every neighborhood wants, and Amesbury has it, in a rugged-industrial former mill space along the town’s increasingly busy Main Street. Chef Nicholas Bond’s open kitchen sends out shareable small plates inspired by and sourced from New England: lobster doughnuts, cornbread with pork-belly butter, local cheese and charcuterie. And when the weather warms up, he takes his party under the stars, offering tented dinners at nearby Colby Farm. 37 Main St., Amesbury, MA 01913, no8kitchen.com.