Blame it on the lazy-Sunday-ness of the bocce, the youthful intensity of the beer program, or the location outside city limits. But we don't think Branch Line gets enough credit for its eye-popping wine list. Co-owner Andrew Holden and wine director Charlie Gaeta delight in the variegated expressions of French terroir: high-toned wild-cherry elegance, deep limestone litanies, Corsican floral bombs—all of which, turns out, go well with rotisserie chicken. Anyhow, here's some credit. Correction, June 26, 11 a.m.: In the July issue of Boston, we misstated the job titles of Holden (co-owner along with Garrett Harker) and Gaeta (wine director). We regret the error. 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, MA 02472, branchlinearsenal.com.
If you’ve never had a night out end with a hazily remembered jaunt to this Faneuil Hall spot, you haven’t done after-hours in Boston right. Amid the bustle of the seven-night-a-week party—a blend of college kids, off-the-clock restaurant staff, and coworkers from downtown office buildings—the generously spiked scorpion bowls offer liquid courage in no short supply. The $1 chicken-teriyaki-on-a-stick, served (how else?) from a tin-foil-wrapped bucket, is tastier than you’d think. Sure, you may have to wait hours for your turn at the mike, but if you’re in the mood to get "Born to Run" off your chest, there’s no better place than the Kong. 65 Chatham St., Boston, MA 02109, hongkongboston.com.
Well into the Kindle era, Boston still hits out of its weight class when it comes to bookselling, and we treat big-name authors like visiting royalty. The Booksmith is where our memoirists, like Andre Dubus III and Gail Caldwell, and our suspense gurus, from Hank Phillipi Ryan to Joseph Finder, come to tell their tales. It’s where Atlantic columnist James Parker throws a celebration of his literary magazine the Pilgrimthe one produced 10 times per year by the city’s homeless population. And it’s where Barney Frank turns up to talk baseball. In sum, it’s the kind of place you keep going back to, because you never know what they’re going to think of next. 279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 2446, brooklinebooksmith.com.
For those who think great Irish food is an oxymoron, we say, Get thee to Matt Murphy's. True, there's been a recent explosion of Celtic fare in Boston, but Matt Murphy's owns this category. The pub feels as authentic as a Guinness in Dublin, including mismatched tables and chairs, an itty-bitty bathroom squeezed into the back of the kitchen, and a display of rubber fisherman's boots. Of course, the beer selection is noteworthy (choice offerings: Franziskaner Weissbier, Bellhaven Scottish Ale), but the food is even better. The egg-salad sandwich with hand-cut smoked bacon is amazing, and so huge you need to split it with a date. And don't miss the crispy cod and chips, which comes wrapped in the Irish Times, the Irish sausage and beans, and the rich shepherds pie. 14 Harvard Street, Brookline, MA mattmurphyspub.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.
American men count on their counterparts in the Mother Country, Great Britain, to do two things: support the White House's military policies and show the rest of us how to dress. Here in Boston, guys who seek to effect the casual cool of The Naked Chef's Jamie Oliver (as opposed to, say, the dandyish look of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw) can browse the racks at Allston Beat, which turns in the best local imitation of a fashionable-but-affordable High Street boutique. This Newbury Street shop, once better known for peddling over-the-top clubwear, now stocks a more understated inventory that leans heavily towards jeans by Levis, G-Star, and Earl, retro-inspired button-downs by Ben Sherman, and Fred Perry warmups. The back of the store is devoted to shelves lined with old-school trainers (sorry—sneakers) that you're not likely to find at Foot Locker. 348 Newbury St., Boston, MA .
We're suckers for any patch of down-home coastal life dropped smack in the heart of downtown Boston. But, even if we weren't, the Barking Crab would still be the best catch in its category. Cheap, straightforward seafood—fragrant steamers, crab legs so big they're architectural structures, and cod that flakes in moist, white chunks—is the draw. Don't expect to write home about the service: This place is on island time. But, somehow, the meal, the kitschy breeze-blown fishing nets on the walls, the salty air, the creaky wooden floorboards, and the ice-cold beer evoke the kind of sunburned day that loosens our standards—and our belts—a little. And isn't that, after all, the very definition of clam shack chic? 88 Sleeper St., Boston, MA barkingcrab.com/.
A real pint of Guinness takes time to pour. So while you're waiting at the bar in this old Cambridge haunt, take a gander at the great menu (with standbys like steak and roasted fish, all under $10) or a soccer game broadcast from Europe. Or just kick back and listen to one of the surprisingly talented musical acts that show up nightly. The crowd—a mix of intellectuals and down-and-outers, young and old, casual drinkers and straight-up drunks—makes for good people watching. Not a Guinness fan? The bar serves 20 different beers and all the usual boozes. And if you're in the mood for a smoke, go ahead and light up (at least until October 1, when Cambridge bans smoking, too)—you're not in Boston anymore. 912 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA ploughandstars.com.
Merely stepping inside this Dominican restaurant's tropical-hued interior is enough to banish all thoughts of dreary New England weather. Tuck into a platter of tostones, and the illusion is complete. 160 Blue Hill Ave., Roxbury, MA 02125, merenguerestaurant.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
If ever there was a feel-good pill for these challenging times, chef Tony Maws's cooking at Craigie Street Bistrot is it. Troubles fall away as soon as you set foot in this subterranean restaurant and its cozy dining room, a warmly decorated space that oozes with "aw shucks, c'mon in" charm. (Maws's mother even works the door, making everyone feel instantly at home.) Former sous-chef to Ken Oringer at Clio, Maws has made Craigie Street a stage for showcasing his training in Boston and a previous stint in France. The menu, which features five appetizers, five entrées, and five desserts nightly, seduces diners with casual French country flavors: roasted breast of Muscovy duck, herb-crusted monkfish, marinated skirt steak, and classic crème caramel. Each dish perfectly captures the ingredients, all market fresh and seasonal. If you must choose only one reason to love Tony Maws and his little bistro, it's the price: The three-course prix fixe is only $29.99, a cost anyone can swallow. 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA craigieonmain.com/.
Anatomy of a Winner: We all shed tears when our favorite impetuous primate and his long-suffering companion, the man with the yellow hat, lost their Harvard Square home in 2011. Luckily, the world's only Curious George store reopened in the same location last year, with an expanded focus and a brand-new interior. Besides the original books by Margret and H. A. Rey, here are some of the things we love about the shop. 1. Stroller valet means there's nary a carriage in sight and more room for playing and browsing. 2. Small visitors can curl up with a book in the popular reading nook. 3. Stuffed versions of the iconic monkey range from eight to thirty-six inches. 4. Local playthings, like this "Pirates of Boston" puzzle from Marblehead's Mud Puddle Toys, are on offer. 5. Exclusive T-shirts emblazoned with the shop's namesake and friends are designed in-house. 6. Trying out the display toys—like these bright Crocodile Creek balls—is encouraged. One JFK St., Cambridge, MA thecuriousgeorgestore.com.
You won't find any California rolls at chef Ken Oringer's new sashimi bar, Uni. What you will find is the most unbelievably fresh raw fish this side of Tokyo, prepared in the most imaginative ways we've ever seen. We consider the fact that there are even any competitors in the sashimi category a giant leap forward for Boston, a town that until recently had few decent sushi restaurants, which is why this year we created an entirely new category to separate the brave (those who relish the delicate flavor of uncooked fish) from the beginners (those who prefer their fish in a maki roll). Oringer's menu at the intimate Uni varies depending on what has been flown in that day (sometimes live—Oringer loves to prepare his own fresh eel), which he serves straight up or in delicately balanced preparations like the decadent uni spoon, a mouthful of sea urchin, quail egg, osetra caviar, and chives, or the mirugai (giant clam) sashimi with wasabi leaves and red pickled onion. And with a creative drink menu (the subtly spicy "enter the dragon" is not to be missed) and extensive sake selection, we expect that Uni will continue making experts out of those beginners. At Clio, Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA unisashimibar.com/.
When blu opened at Sports Club/LA last winter, many eyed the restaurant with suspicion. Would the brightly colored, Cali-inspired glass-walled dining room work in Boston? Would the menu be filled with bland, flavorless health club fare? The answers: yes and no—in that order. And it's all thanks to Dante deMagistris, the 27-year-old Belmont native who has won the hearts and stomachs of Bostonians with his culinary style (honed under Michael Schlow during their stint together at Café Louis and flourishing under blu co-owner and culinary legend Michela Larson). Even fitness-phobes clamor over deMagistris's fresh seasonal dishes. His "Out of the blu" appetizer, a presentation of assorted sashimis served on brightly colored glass plates, is a work of art, while entrées like steamed wild striped bass or potato gnocchi (made from deMagistris's grandmother's recipe) show the promise of a chef on the rise. Sports Club/LA, 4 Avery St., Boston, MA blurestaurant.com/.