With a stunning Carrara-marble bar along one wall and exposed wood beams and brick all around, this sleek Newburyport spot from the team behind nearby Ceia manages to be both a local hangout and a destination. Chef Justin Shoults's extravagant menu focuses on both land and sea—delicate sea-scallop ceviche with caviar, lime, and grapefruit; prime cuts of beef (the 16-ounce rib-eye is only for the brave…and hungry); and caviar service. Then again, if all you want to do is sit at the bar with a pint, a few pristine oysters, and a steaming bowl of pork-belly-studded clam chowder, that's just fine, too. 25 State St., Newburyport, MA 01950, brineoyster.com.
It could be the regular eruptions of the volcano in the Lava Lounge. Or the Sunday morning brunch, complete with a make-your-own-bloody mary bar. It could be the open kitchen jumping with live fire and young chefs wrangling large pieces of meat and fish. Maybe it's the pulled-pork sandwich with crunchy coleslaw and baked beans. But most likely, it's owner Chris Schlesinger's serious approach to having fun that makes the East Coast Grill a restaurant we're happy to head to—even if only to down a dozen briny, local oysters at the raw bar. 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA eastcoastgrill.net/.
Neither plain nor pretentious, this enchanting and candlelit treasure is a lesson in presenting good food with muted sophistication. Dishes including grilled salmon with tomato-tarragon butter or black-pepper pappardelle with chicken confit, fennel, and spinach, are as warm and agreeable as the earth-tone décor, while the bar menu shines with reasonably priced treats like frog legs with baby broccoli and oyster poboys. The room is cozy enough that finding a table on weekends can be competitive, but locals know the strawberry rhubarb croustada is worth lingering over. Besides, with such a lively bar, the wait is half the fun. 219 Elm St., Somerville, MA .
American Seasons co-owner Orla Murphy LaScola greets patrons with a charming Irish brogue as she seats them on the cool, inviting porch or in the warm, rustic dining room. Wherever they sit, they're in for a treat: Chef-owner Michael LaScola's creations—which include such delights as fried oyster and rare beef salad with mustard greens and orange, and blackberry-anise bomb—are seasonally inspired and beautifully executed. Dine here during a weekend getaway, and you'll soon find yourself studying ferry schedules just to plot your next feast. 80 Centre St., Nantucket Island, MA 2554, americanseasons.com.
The service is knowledgeable, attentive, and friendly. The menu is smart and eclectic. And the kitchen keeps a keen eye out for the fresh ingredients of the season—just as it should. The fried oysters in a cornmeal batter are terrific (and served with a crisp jicama-pepper slaw), and Claremont's signature crab cakes have a wonderful seared crusty exterior encasing juicy, succulent crabmeat. A modest, but sensible wine list. Nothing fancy here—just excellent food, reasonable prices, and a refreshing appreciation of fine cooking—with no pretense. Claremont has become a fixture in the South End because it's the kind of neighborhood place you go back to again and again. We do. 535 Columbus Ave., Boston, MA .
Oysters (from both coasts) are the draw here, especially from 9 to 11:45 p.m. on Thursdays, when they're a buck a shuck. But discerning diners also come for the mix of casual and luxe offerings—clam-and-pork-belly chowder; crudo dressed with charred-lime vinaigrette; prime rib-eye steaks; and even caviar service. The space is cozy, with sleek pendant lights and a long Carrera-marble bar that give it the same cool quotient found at its sister restaurant, Ceia Kitchen + Bar, just across the street. 25 State St., Newburyport, MA brineoyster.com.
When J. B. Blau, owner of Sharky's Cantina, won the island chowder cookoff two years ago, he celebrated by opening a seafood-focused eatery with chef Alex Nagi. Located in the heart of Oak Bluffs, the laid-back spot has been packing 'em in since it opened last summer. The smart menu includes fried oysters, lobster salad with crispy potato cakes, pan-seared scallops, and insanely good fried chowder balls, a.k.a. ChoCos, that are the most decadent taste of the sea you can get. But it's the chowder that'll keep you coming back. The award-winning Martha's Vineyard recipe is light, silky, and packed with quahogs, while the creamy, roux-based New England blend comes spiked with bacon. 9 Oak Bluffs Ave., Martha's Vineyard, MA 2557, mvchowder.com.
You've planned the menu and invited the guests. Now you need the perfect wine to make the dinner party a success. Look no further: Bauer Wines & Spirits buyer Howie Rubin knows his wines, has an encyclopedic knowledge of food, and can direct even the most confused oenophobe to the right bottle. Rubin may not offer as expansive a selection as some shops, but the juice he stocks is superlative, and his advice—unobtrusive but freely offered for the asking—is comforting and practical. He and his well-trained staff can steer you toward the perfect bubbly for caviar, the ideal sauvignon blanc for oysters, or a new shiraz for lamb to suit your menu, taste, and budget. Added bonuses: Cases are sold at a discount of 10 percent and delivery is free. 330 Newbury St., Boston, MA bauerwines.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, .
For a town that prides itself on its seafood, it can be tough to find a seafood restaurant that goes beyond the standard boiled lobsters or watery clam chowder. Enter KingFish Hall, where chef-owner Todd English has designed a menu that delights, with everything from traditional lobster rolls—sweet and tender lobster meat on a buttery, toasted nest of bread with just enough mayo and celery leaves to hold it together—to more complicated dishes, such as miso-marinated cod. There's also the "dancing fish" of the day (herb- and butter-basted fish placed on individual rotating skewers that spin around a circular wood-burning pit) and a daily chilled and briny selection of raw shellfish. As for the chowder, there's the not-so-traditional New England style, thick and delightfully creamy, or the ever-changing daily varieties accompanied by homemade oyster crackers. 188 South Market Building, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston, MA .
Andrea Martin, as the motormouthed mother from Hell in Christopher Durang's Betty's Summer Vacation at the Huntington Theatre, didn't so much give a performance as unleash herself on stage like a hysterical vaudevillian tornado.
The '70s, '80s, and '90s come hysterically alive at the Good Life's Middle School Dance Night, a vodka-fueled monthly party starring resident DJs Damien Paul, Poke Smot, and Death Star. On an average night, you'll find a young professional crowd decked out in glow-in-the-dark jewelry, bobbing to the beat of "Ghetto Supastar." 28 Kingston St., Boston, MA 2111, goodlifebar.com.
In replacing their much-loved UpStairs at the Pudding (some considered it the real institution of Harvard Square), Deborah Hughes and Mary-Catherine Deibel had big shoes to fill—their own. But they've done it, creating an outstanding restaurant that has surpassed the expectations of even their most loyal following. The décor is at once outrageous and glorious—plaid patterns on the walls with animal-print carpeting, jewel-toned upholstery, massive fireplaces, gilded mirrors, and lots of pink. Two menus, in the hands of chefs Susan Regis and Amanda Lydon, offer everything from simple grilled cheese and rich tomato soup to flavorful Kumamoto oysters, roasted lamb, and rabbit. Don't miss the "wedding cake for one" dessert: The portion is large enough to share, but this is a divine indulgence for you and you alone. Via Matta, meanwhile, has had the kind of debut year legends are made of: Mick Jagger commandeered a table not once, but twice in the restaurant's first two months of business. Add to that gushing praise from critics nationwide and you've got, by all accounts, a bona fide success. But is that really a surprise? Schlow and partners Christopher Myers and Esti Benson know how to put on a show, as evidenced by the success of their powerfully stylish Radius. At Via Matta, the gloss is toned down, but the style still shines through, with an elegantly casual dining room, cozy bar, and adjacent café. Then there's the food: perfectly executed traditional Italian fare bursting with flavor, from the simple spaghetti aglio e olio to pan-roasted chicken—all dishes that will make you long for another serving. UpStairs on the Square: 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge; Via Matta: 79 Park Plaza, Boston, MA upstairsonthesquare.com; viamattarestaurant.com.