Best Restaurants in Boston


Edited by Scott Kearnan
Additional reporting by Jacqueline Cain, Julia Clancy, and Brittany Jasnoff

Photo by Brian Samuels Photography

To everything there is a season—especially in dining. Ingredients shift to reflect what’s fresh. Menus change with the weather. (Goodbye, summer salads. Hello, soups and stews!) And when it comes to our annual list of the 50 top restaurants in Boston, we see a similar evolution: Some star chefs who once helped define the city’s dining scene are no longer, or only sparingly, represented. (Wherefore art thou, Michael Schlow?) Meanwhile, a new generation of culinary innovators—those who cut their teeth working under the old guard—are finally coming into their own.

But don’t get sentimental; this is a great time for local diners, as Boston’s top restaurants embrace the future with the same passion once reserved for celebrating the city’s history. Our number one pick, for instance, places a fine-dining restaurant, where one might expect white tablecloths, alongside a casual brewery; the list rounds out with a contemporary take on traditional communal feasts. And in between? Every spot reflects a unique point of view—a perspective on food that is all its own. Diners want that. We demand it. In 2019, cooking technically good food is no longer enough.

Times are changing and so is Boston. Here are the restaurants setting the pace.

At Tasting Counter, guests get a front-row seat to chef Peter Ungár’s culinary magic. / Photo by Peter van der Warker

— 1. —

Tasting Counter

In 2019, fine dining flourishes, rule-free, wherever it finds itself. Exhibit A: chef Peter Ungár’s ticketed tasting-menu experience inside the same Somerville warehouse as a hipster-packed brewery. And it is an experience—theater, really—to sit at the 20-seat counter, lined with suit jackets and T-shirts alike, and watch the tiny army on the other side tweeze together stunning plates such as octopus with charred strawberry and local beach-rose vinegar. Away from sky-high Boston rents, Ungár has room to experiment—and reveal what unencumbered talent tastes like. Somerville, tastingcounter.com.

— 2. —

Asta

At Asta, chef Alex Crabb also indulges our current obsession with tasting menus—while tossing out some irreverent left turns to keep us on our toes. Here, the procession of plates follows an unexpected, lilting melody: saffron-flecked mussels in salt-cod foam here, a crisp BLT there. The casual vibe, meanwhile, belies the high-end technique Crabb honed at the late L’Espalier—and now shares with guests in his own dining room. Back Bay, astaboston.com.

— 3. —

Uni

Uni evades easy descriptions. Yes, it’s a “sashimi bar,” but that hardly does justice to chef Tony Messina’s jewel-like raw presentations, such as knifejaw with blueberry kombucha. “Japanese-inspired small plates”? Sure—though Wagyu dumplings with cheddar-dashi broth, a heckuva play on a steak-and-cheese, probably weren’t what you were expecting. But that’s the beauty of this modern izakaya: It must be experienced to be understood, and even then, more surprises await each return. Back Bay, uni-boston.com.

Pansotti with goat cheese is among the handmade pastas at SRV, a Venetian-style hot spot in the South End. / Photo by Morgan Ione Yeager

— 4. —

SRV

How to stand out in Boston’s sea of red-sauce Italian joints? Step one: Eschew the Sunday gravy in favor of something completely contemporary. That’s the MO, at least, of this South End stunner, which takes inspiration from Venetian wine bars to churn out super-seasonal plates that make use of the fullest Boot-inspired bounty: smoked mussels and garlic scapes swimming in a pool of corn risotto, say, or fresh tagliatelle that shines tomato-free courtesy of spice-cured speck and arugula. South End, srvboston.com.

— 5. —

O Ya

Harmony is key to the one-bite bliss of O Ya’s unparalleled nigiri—and to the enduring  joy of its hospitality. While the prices suggest “special occasion,” attentive, jeans-clad servers put everyone at ease, whether pouring impromptu sake flights to help us commit to a bottle or marking up the paper menu with their expert recommendations (don’t miss the plump slab of foie gras enhanced by an umami-sweet slick of chocolate kabayaki sauce). Leather District, o-ya.restaurant.

— 6. —

Sarma

In an age when diners plot their orders like battle strikes, breathlessly dissecting online menus before they even arrive at a restaurant, we miss the element of surprise, of evenings that meander in unexpected directions. Hats off to Sarma for its devotion to nightly specials, ordered on a whim from friendly, platter-toting servers who weave among the tables. (Never say no to the sesame fried chicken.) They supplement the regular list of Turkish- and Middle Eastern–inflected meze that continue, quite inventively, to spice up Boston’s dining scene. Somerville, sarmarestaurant.com.

Strewn with leafy planters, flowers, and branch-like sculptures, Field & Vine is a garden of delights tucked down a Union Square alleyway. / Photo courtesy of Field & Vine

Cocktail Mania
Drink up: these days, zero-proof libations get just as much love as
the real thing.
“En La Sombra” at ToroThis month, the South End tapas haven hosts its first annual Clear and Present Dinner, a five-course, nonalcoholic-beverage-paired feast from food-TV star Andrew Zimmern and three other sober chefs. But stop by anytime to try the balanced “En La Sombra” (“In the Shade”), featuring pineapple, ginger, cider vinegar, and soda.

“Tropical Depression” at Hojoko

No need to feel bummed about this rum-free take on a classic Hurricane cocktail: The funky Fenway hangout swirls together bright passionfruit and tart lemon, then rounds it out with a dose of sweet grenadine.

“Tea TimeOut” at Terra

It’s worth taking five to enjoy this thirst-quencher, inspired by a daiquiri and served in a coupe glass typically reserved for cocktails. Expect floral notes of hibiscus tea paired with fruity house-made pomegranate syrup and a pop of lime juice.

— 7. —

Field & Vine

Out: the era of rock-star chefs glowering in headshots over crossed, knife-wielding arms. In: the humble brilliance embodied by this farm-to-table spot, marked by a peace-sign wreath on its door. But while husband-and-wife team Andrew Brady and Sara Markey emanate sweet soulfulness, their menu—divided into “vegetables” (see: grilled squash blossoms stuffed with lemon and ricotta) and “not vegetables” (roast duck with nectarines and black raspberries)—packs a surprising punch. Somerville, fieldandvinesomerville.com.

— 8. —

The Table at Season to Taste

This homey restaurant has become our date-night go-to, and not just because Top Chef alum Carl Dooley inspires wanderlust with his mastery of the world’s spice rack, interpreting Peruvian ceviche with the same prowess as a Kashmiri lamb curry. It’s also thanks to the Table’s intimate approach to service: Everything is perfectly paced and fully relaxed as the evening unfolds in four courses. Feel the spark? We do. Cambridge, cambridgetable.com.

— 9. —

Craigie on Main

Ten years after moving Craigie to Main Street, Tony Maws continues to spearhead a slow-food vision that only gets better with time, steadfast in its French-American ideals yet nimble in approach. His switch to a prix-fixe format is a fine accent to the adjacent COMB, a new bar room hawking the chef’s iconic burger—still available in limited quantities and still every bit worth the hype. Cambridge, craigieonmain.com.

Bar Lyon in the South End is a new standout for soul-satisfying French bouchon fare. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 10. —

Bar Lyon

What’s old is new again, and no place proves it more than this traditional bouchon, the latest from chef Jamie Mammano. No pomp or flash here—just rustic, time-honored French fare, including luscious quenelle de brochet, pike dumplings drunk on lobster velouté. It’s all served with a side of timeless Gallic hospitality, evidenced in the twinkling candlelight, warm service, and convivial bar scene where the “Bon Temps” (that’s a whiskey cocktail) roll. South End, barlyon.com.

Fine Dining or Fast-Casual?
Why can’t it be both?Craigie BurgerMissed out on Tony Maws’s notoriously limited burger at Craigie on Main? Good news: His stall at Fenway’s Time Out Market (pictured) serves three variations at the speed and volume required for a food hall. Must-try: The juicy “Special” burger, topped with Swiss cheese and kimchi-Russian dressing.

Cusser’s

These days, it’s all about the high-low mix. Enter: Cusser’s, which slings lobster rolls and other beach-shack-style favorites from a takeout window beneath its upscale sister restaurant, Mooncusser Fish House—and, soon, inside the West End’s vendor-packed Hub Hall. Must-try: The roast beef sandwich “Thoreau Style,” with pickled red onions and barbecue sauce.

SloPoke

For her ironically named foray into fast-casual—housed inside a Whole Foods Market on Beacon Hill—magenta-haired Fox & the Knife chef Karen Akunowicz trades plates of homemade pasta for bowls of Hawaiian-inspired poke. Must-try: Ahi tuna with sriracha aioli and crispy wheat berries.

— 11. —

Café Sushi

The adage “better with age” doesn’t usually apply to seafood, but it’s certainly true for this 35-year-old sushi bar. In recent years, chef Seizi Imura has updated the interior of his family’s value-driven restaurant, as well as its sake and wine lists. Now a Cambridge strip mall is a favorite place for savvy diners to pair a bottle of naturally produced French grenache blanc with Japanese snapper, delivered fresh that morning. Cambridge, cafesushicambridge.com.

— 12. —

Bar Mezzana

Is there anything chef Colin Lynch can’t do? In the past year alone, he’s launched a tiki bar, a secret sushi counter, and an American brasserie—and yet remarkably, his firstborn is as exceptional as ever. In fact, the coastal Italian eatery’s azure-fringed dining room practically hums with Amalfi cool, as do the peachy house spritzes on the beverage menu. Handmade pasta, meanwhile, is a stellar complement to Lynch’s true calling: daily-changing crudo of all stripes. South End, barmezzana.com.

Singapore chili lobster sets tastebuds aflame at Uni, home to recent James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Messina. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 13. —

Alden & Harlow

At his first Cambridge restaurant, chef Michael Scelfo continues to awe with a more-is-more approach to flavor that feels distinct in the oft-understated American farm-to-table genre. Every dish, in fact, benefits from his bold burnishes: Countnecks beguile in an herbaceous stew of garlicky butter, while late-summer beets and ground cherries usher in fall with a coat of warm berbere spices. Wash it all down with equally daring cocktails, including the “24 Carrot,” bourbon paired with roasted carrot, maple rum, and cumin. Cambridge, aldenharlow.com.

— 14. —

Talulla

At a time when so many of their peers have launched casual concepts, one thirtysomething married couple is carrying the torch for white-linen dining—while making it notably less stiff. Foremost, Talulla is a spectacular showcase for Conor Dennehy’s global menus (see: octopus salad with nori crème fraîche) and Danielle Ayer’s noteworthy wines. But with just 12 seats in a cozy setting, the restaurant is as perfect for a laid-back Tuesday meal as a birthday celebration. Cambridge, talullacambridge.com.

— 15. —

Coppa

A local pioneer in the nose-to-tail movement when it opened 10 years ago, this neighborhood hang still wears Boston’s charcuterie crown. But since one cannot live on cured meat alone, it’s a good thing the enoteca’s other offerings—from flame-scorched pizzas piled with eggplant and grated bottarga to veggie-forward piatti like wood-oven-roasted shishito peppers—are also king. South End, coppaboston.com.

Select Oyster Bar shucks bivalves within a Back Bay brownstone. / Photo by Brian Samuels Photography

— 16. —

Select Oyster Bar

Almost half a decade after it shucked its first oyster, Select’s esteem continues to grow from within a nondescript Back Bay brownstone—a testament to chef Michael Serpa’s willingness to put great food before ego-fueled frills. It also speaks to the toque’s talent for reeling in seafood-seeking locals and tourists alike with a menu of thoughtful, seasonally driven dishes (champagne-poached shrimp, Mediterranean-style whole-roasted sea bream) that let the true star of the plate—the fish—shine. Back Bay, selectboston.com.

— 17. —

Chickadee

Like most new Seaport restaurants, Chickadee looks slick and modern—befitting its nest inside the Boston Design Center. But what really makes it sing is what’s beneath the surface: vibrant Mediterranean-inspired flavors that work in tandem with local ingredients (think: wild-caught striped bass atop lobster and harissa-scented couscous). Smart cocktails—say, a Japanese whiskey tonic with toasted coconut and green apple—reinforce the idea that Chickadee is much more than pretty plumage.
Seaport, chickadeerestaurant.com.

— 18. —

Pammy’s

Near the heart of Central Square, a fireplace-warmed room beats with intangible warmth. This is Pammy’s, where married co-owners Pam and Chris Willis wed the timelessness of an Italian trattoria with a New American ethos that permits giddy riffing: Witness squid ragu over ink-blackened spaghetti with pops of almonds and sweet fried peppers. Add a post-meal affogato at the bar and it’s official—we’re in love. Cambridge, pammyscambridge.com.

Squid-ink-blackened spaghetti is an eye-catcher at Pammy’s, a quaint Cambridge trattoria. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 19. —

Terra

Even when there’s snow on the ground, we’re warmed—inside and out—by the springtime aura that exudes from Eataly Boston’s top-floor restaurant. How could we not be, after taking in the flora draping every corner of the dining room, and the wood-fired grill holding court at the center of it? From there, chef Dan Bazzinotti sends out flame-kissed meat skewers and lamb T-bones augmented with cherry agrodolce—all ready for pairing with ice-cold beers aged on-site in an oak wine barrel. Back Bay, eataly.com/boston.

— 20. —

Oleana

Ana Sortun’s breakout restaurant is, in a word, transportive, from its secret-garden-like patio to the complex dishes that capture the chef-owner’s enthusiasm for Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisines. But after 18 years in the kitchen, Sortun and her pastry chef, Maura Kilpatrick, aren’t content to rest on their laurels, always finding new ways to use a stockpile of exciting spices and churning out on-trend treats like sweet-corn ice cream pops. Cambridge, oleanarestaurant.com.

— 21. —

Grill 23 & Bar

In a dining era full of twee small-plates purveyors, this unabashedly Old Boston steakhouse offers an almost antiquated promise: regal feasts centered around red meat (the 100-day-dry-aged rib-eye remains a crowning achievement), hulking sides like lobster mac  ’n’ cheese, and stiff cocktails showcasing cigar-smoke-infused bourbon. After dinner, enjoy an actual stogie, prepared tableside for puffing outside. Here, the grandest forms of the Good Life live on. Back Bay, grill23.com.

Eclectic, globe-spanning plates at Brassica Kitchen + Café. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 22. —

Brassica Kitchen + Café

You’ll have incredible fun here. Everyone else certainly does, including chefs Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta, who bob behind the kitchen line morning to night with boundless energy, infusing their fine-dining backgrounds with punk-next-door whimsy. The resulting menu bounces everywhere, from fried chicken smothered in maple umeboshi to striper buried under sweet succotash and edible flowers. Play with us, it implores. We’re game. Jamaica Plain, brassicakitchen.com.

— 23. —

Tiger Mama

Over the past eight years, chef-restaurateur Tiffani Faison has transformed the Fenway’s dining landscape with her now four (count ’em!) neighborhood ventures. But it’s at Tiger Mama, an animated Southeast Asian–inspired haven, that her bold voice speaks the loudest. Burn through a flavor riot of vibrantly spiced noodle dishes and the smoked-and-fried duck with chili mayo before cooling down with pastry wiz Dee Steffen Chinn’s knockout coconut sticky rice with mango pudding. Fenway, tigermamaboston.com.

— 24. —

Yvonne’s

Too often, “sexy hot spot” and “great restaurant” find little overlap. But this unapologetically scene-y, rococo resto-lounge—which replaced the most hallowed of Boston dining rooms, Locke-Ober—continues to win us over with a freewheeling menu; service as bright and beguiling as the chandeliers; and plenty of ironic opulence (behold a painting of Bill Murray in military regalia). Downtown, yvonnesboston.com.

The maple-pumpkin tart is a sweet surprise at Yvonne’s. / Photo by Drew Katz

— 25. —

Mooncusser Fish House

An old-school Boston seafooder with white tablecloths, formal service, and conventional coursing on a top-50 list in—gasp!—2019? You betcha. While the vibe at Mooncusser is a throwback, the kitchen’s preparations are anything but. Here, grilled squid is presented in an über-fresh Vietnamese-style salad; bluefish gets a lift from mint and yogurt; and even from-the-land proteins showcase a dash of whimsy. Duck breast with a chestnut waffle, anyone? Back Bay, mooncusserfishhouse.com.

— 26. —

Tres Gatos

“Dining out” feels more like coming home at Tres Gatos, a hip, living-room-like tapas joint where servers will happily toss on whatever vinyl we buy from the restaurant’s adjacent music shop/bookstore. Sure, the Spanish-inspired small plates on the menu—say, seared scallops with salt-cod espuma—well surpass anything we could pull off in our own kitchen, but home is where the heart is, and ours is right here. Jamaica Plain, tresgatosjp.com.

— 27. —

Giulia

Carb lovers, unite! At Giulia, it’s (still) all about the pasta—painstakingly produced in a cozy, brick-lined space that encourages lingering with a glass of something deep and red. Dough aside, Michael Pagliarini also knows his way around small-bite sfizi and hearty meat-and-fish mains (swordfish with caper-studded caponata is a favorite). Savor them all at the chef’s “pasta table,” a wide workspace of white oak repurposed for large groups that’s as memorable as it sounds. Cambridge, giuliarestaurant.com.

A Kamayan feast at Tanám. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 28. —

Toro

Somehow, every night at this tapas joint still carries the buzz of a brand-new opening, as fawning local admirers of chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette sit elbow to elbow with out-of-towners lured by Toro’s now-global presence (outposts exist in New York City, Bangkok, and Dubai). Together, they devour the famed grilled street corn, supple salt-cod croquettes, and more-eclectic tapas—may we suggest the miso-butter-brushed uni bocadillo?—that keep this institution fresh. South End, toro-restaurant.com.

— 29. —

Mida

In just three years on the South End–Roxbury border, chef-owner Douglass Williams has created something that already feels indispensable: fresh and urbane yet emanating the warmth of a neighborhood favorite. But you don’t have to live near Mida to feel like it’s yours: Be lured in by the glow beckoning through the wide street-corner windows and promises of the best focaccia around, and you’ll soon join the regulars returning for perfect negronis and house-made pasta (oh, that Bolognese!) over and over again. South End, midaboston.com.

— 30. —

Bisq

When it comes to TV shows, films, and restaurants, a spinoff rarely surpasses the original. Bisq, the sister restaurant to Somerville’s Bergamot, is the rare exception. Here, the kitchen takes its older sibling’s devotion to traditionally coursed American cuisine in an inventive small-plates direction that’s big on flavor: Witness the fiery fried chicken with Thai bird’s-eye-chili salt, extinguished by a superlative wine list that offers many selections as half-pours, letting us take ’em for a much-appreciated spin. Cambridge, bisqcambridge.com.

Suzuki sea bass sashimi with avocado and spicy cucumber vinaigrette from O Ya. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

— 31. —

Fox & the Knife

Southie’s hottest after-work hang is no longer some Guinness-soaked corner pub—it’s this highly anticipated opening from Top Chef alum Karen Akunowicz. The aperitivo-hour crowds start with sips from the whip-smart amari list, then move on to the house-made pastas informed by Akunowicz’s early-career experience in Emilia-Romagna. They linger into the dinner hour under the glow of the restaurant’s “Stay Foxy” sign, which matches the chef’s signature electric-pink hair—and the vibe of her alluring debut restaurant. South Boston, foxandtheknife.com.

— 32. —

Neptune Oyster

Bostonians can be a fickle bunch: We despise change as much as we demand it. So kudos to Neptune’s new chef, Eric Frier, for charting his own course at this North End seafood icon without touching what’s sacred (read: the legendary lobster roll and johnnycakes). Among his menu upgrades: yellowfin collar for two that gets a briny pop from boquerones, and meaty striped bass with duck confit, artichoke purée, and littlenecks. As for Neptune’s devotion to icy platters of raw-bar delights? Steady as she goes. North End, neptuneoyster.com.

— 33. —

Gustazo

We were regularly braving westbound traffic to reach Gustazo’s Waltham restaurant when word came that a second, larger location was headed to Cambridge. Mercy! Now we have easy access to chef Patricia Estorino’s contemporary Cuban fare and fun, family-table vibe. Best of all, these new digs let us wash down her tapas-style plates—such as grilled lamb chops brightened with mint salsa and nutty romesco—with rum-forward libations dreamed up by local bar genius Sam Treadway. Cambridge, gustazo-cubancafe.com.

Gustazo’s modern spins on Cuban cuisine are an exciting addition to the Cambridge dining scene. / Photo by Jim Brueckner

— 34. —

Whaling in Oklahoma

All eyes were on the next move of Momofuku alum Tim Maslow, best known locally for blowing our collective minds at his short-lived Ribelle before burning out. What we’ve witnessed over the past year is a masterful return to (restrained) form: ego-free expressions of the precise art of Japanese cooking. Deft use of grill smoke and umami fermentations, as well as heavenly house-made noodles, turn deceptively simple izakaya fare into complex revelations. South End, whalinginoklahoma.com.

Please Pass the…
Family-style feasts make every meal feel like a party.For Up to 4: Tomahawk steak at Pammy’sThis charming trattoria’s Italian fare includes off-menu feasts—described tableside by servers—such as a giant bone-in, 45-day-dry-aged Tomahawk steak, paired with sides such as potatoes cortorni, plus house-baked loafs of craggy pugliese.

For Up to 8: Grilled “viper” chop at Yvonne’s

At this swinging spot, groups gather for shareable main courses. Our favorite? A 2-foot-long dish of pork short rib slow-cooked for 24 hours, served with kimchi fried rice and drizzled with a spicy Korean-style sauce. Extra-large cocktails wash it down.

For Up to 10: Kamayan feasts at Tanám

On Wednesday and Sunday nights, Tanám’s sole communal table is loaded with a stunning edible display—from roasted pork belly to shellfish to a sandbar-size mound of rice. Get your Insta shot, then dig in, per kamayan tradition, with your hands.

— 35. —

Bondir

These days, you can’t throw a fork in Boston without hitting a farm-to-table or prix-fixe restaurant. But years before all the cool kids were slinging coursed-out locavore extravaganzas, chef Jason Bond was quietly making it his singular vision at this country-home-inspired Cambridge charmer. Thankfully, the confidence that comes from being ahead of the culinary curve keeps his cooking as fresh as the heirloom veggies plucked from his 2-acre garden. Cambridge, bondircambridge.com.

— 36. —

Deuxave

In an age when even the most esteemed chefs are opening footloose-and-fancy-free fast-casuals, is elegance a lost art? Mais non, says Deuxave toque Christopher Coombs, who proudly traffics in fine modern-French ambiance and cuisine: see his crispy-skinned chicken arranged around painterly strokes of green harissa, or balsamic-brushed foie gras accompanied by a sliver of cherry-and-pistachio cake. The technique: type A. The experience: A-plus. Back Bay, deuxave.com.

— 37. —

Juliet

In a hectic, rushed world, this uncommonly earnest neighborhood café/restaurant fancies every meal as an experience to be savored. That’s why its all-day menus offer multiple entry points, from à la carte Sunday dinners (dubbed Romeo’s at Juliet) to pre-ticketed, prix-fixe “productions” with seasonal themes: currently wild apples. All convey chef Josh Lewin’s technique-driven yet warm cuisine, not to mention co-owner Katrina Jazayeri’s hospitality—and her winsome wine list emphasizing boutique producers. Somerville, julietsomerville.com.

— 38. —

No. 9 Park

Put simply: We’ll always need No. 9 Park. While flashier fine-dining spots hog the spotlight, Barbara Lynch’s flagship in the shadow of the State House’s gold dome is still in a class—emphasis on class—of its own. The menu remains special-occasion-worthy, wisely eschewing trends in favor of the crowd-pleasing consistency epitomized by its signature prune-stuffed gnocchi. The white-tableclothed dining room overlooking the Common, meanwhile, is unabashedly Beacon Hill: refined, familiar, and utterly timeless. Beacon Hill, no9park.com.

— 39. —

Myers + Chang

When Joanne Chang put aside her Harvard degree in applied mathematics to enter the chef life, she probably didn’t think she and restaurateur-husband Christopher Myers would end up inventing an enduring (and oft-copied) formula for funky pan-Asian plates. At Myers + Chang, they still do it best, as evidenced in dishes like wok-charred Japanese udon noodles with black-bean oyster sauce, Indonesian fried rice with pork and pineapple, and a Filipino-inspired take on a blooming onion. South End, myersandchang.com.

Chef John daSilva leads his kitchen team at Chickadee, a high-flying Seaport newcomer. / Photo by Kristin Teig

— 40. —

Celeste

Cofounders JuanMa Calderón (a filmmaker by trade) and Maria Rondeau (an architect) turned their home-based Peruvian pop-up project into a joyful, beautifully idiosyncratic restaurant that earned national attention within its first year. But an inspiring backstory didn’t land Celeste a place on this list—our loyalty comes from sipping piscos alongside sparkling ceviche and ambrosial seco de cordero (lamb stew) in a snug space whose open kitchen and swinging South American soundtrack invite all diners to make themselves at home. Somerville, celesteunionsquare.com.

— 41. —

Sycamore

Who says suburban restaurants can’t keep up with their city brethren? Certainly no one who’s ever visited Sycamore. One of three Newton spots helmed by chef-owner David Punch, it’s packed nightly with both neighborhood types and city dwellers reverse-commuting for killer cocktails and farm-sourced American-bistro fare, such as grilled quail with hazelnut and Mission fig. Here’s hoping that one day, Punch finally brings a knockout like this to Boston. Newton, sycamorenewton.com.

— 42. —

Hojoko

Four years in, the party’s still going strong at this boisterous Fenway-side izakaya from O Ya’s Tim and Nancy Cushman—and thanks to the recent addition of an adjacent vinyl-record lounge, the good times keep getting better. The restaurant’s retro-kitsch, rock ’n’ roll–inspired digs set the stage for no-rules cocktails (cheers to sake bombs and entourage-size punch bowls!) and riffs on Japanese tavern food (crispy calves’ brains with fish-sauce butter, “Funky Chicken” ramen) served till last call, seven nights a week. Fenway, hojokoboston.com.

— 43. —

Little Donkey

The oh-so-typical youngest sibling in Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s restaurant family is bold and unrestrained, channeling its (purposeful) lack of focus into celebrations of freewheeling creativity. The result? A smorgasbord of global small plates that jump from Turkish dumplings to a Mexican-inspired spin on Chinese dandan noodles to a burger topped with foie gras and onion-soup mayo. Impossible to pin down, but full of fun—doesn’t every clan need someone like that? Cambridge, littledonkeybos.com.

A handsome dining room and top chops make Grill 23 & Bar an enduring icon. / Photo by Jared Kuzia

— 44. —

Brewer’s Fork

Sicilian. Neapolitan. Al taglio. Everyone has a different idea of the perfect pizza—until they visit this Charlestown favorite, where the woodfired pies, more rustic Yankee than anything Italian, unite us all in agreement: These rule. (So do the small plates, including tender meatballs roasted in the same oven.) Of course, stellar pizza demands an equally epic beer selection, and Brewer’s is among Boston’s best, offering an assortment of juicy IPAs, assertive lambics, and bourbon-barrel-aged sours. Charlestown, brewersfork.com.

— 45. —

Sweet Cheeks Q

Tiffani Faison’s first restaurant is a great one—the fact that it just so happens to specialize in barbecue is totally beside the point. Arguably Boston’s first real destination restaurant for ’cue, Sweet Cheeks has forced city slickers to respect the Americana art of smoked meats. But just as important to the dining experience, its cocktails, desserts, and vegetarian accoutrements—including a heavenly farm salad with roasted broccoli and minted peas, tossed with lemon buttermilk vinaigrette—are stars in their own right, not afterthoughts. Fenway, sweetcheeksq.com.

— 46. —

Kava Neo-Taverna

When the early-evening sunlight hits Kava’s oversize windows, it feels like maybe, just maybe, you could close your eyes and teleport yourself from the South End to some charming taverna in Athens. A never-ending parade of beautifully executed mezedakia (phyllo-wrapped feta drizzled with honey, fried smelts sprinkled with lemon zest) reinforces that notion. The restaurant’s wide selection of Mediterranean wines, meanwhile, is as light and fresh as a swim in the Aegean. South End, kavaneotaverna.com.

Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Chantal Lambeth

Finger-Food Feast
The snack is back. Chefs Tiffani Faison and Michael Scelfo show why.Fool’s ErrandBites: Tiffani Faison’s self-described “adult snack bar” offers a selection of eccentric hors d’oeuvres, including crispy potato mille feuille with sour cream and caviar.

Drinks: Expect A-plus sippers infused with fortified wines and liqueurs: Say, the botanic “Bellflower,” which comingles gin, strawberry vermouth, and basil oil.

Vibe: A standing-room-only house party that’s equal parts class and sass. The bathroom’s photo of Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg, mid-embrace, says it all.

The Longfellow Bar

Bites: Michael Scelfo’s broad splay of shareable snacks, designed for utensil-free dining, features honey-and-black-truffle-accented pigs in a blanket (pictured, bottom).

Drinks: Here, the creative cocktails don’t shy away from intriguing vegetal notes. (Fennel-infused tequila? Sure!) Low-proof tipples are embraced, too.

Vibe: A cool cocktail klatch that feels like a place for hip humanities professors and Twitter philosophers to drink up and debate podcast recs.

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Chef Ronsky’s

When Ron Suhanosky opened a daytime café in a Chestnut Hill shopping center three years ago, it felt like an odd fit for the James Beard Award–winning toque, founder of the acclaimed Sfoglia restaurants in Nantucket and New York City. Reimagined as a tiny trattoria, though, the new Chef Ronsky’s fully expresses its owner’s many culinary talents, piling upon mismatched dishware his outstanding seasonal pastas (such as spaghetti in strawberry-tomato balsamic sauce) and Italian-inspired specials—are they ever!—like halibut with caper-spiked caponata. Chestnut Hill, chefronskys.com.

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La Morra

Times change. La Morra reflects that in its seasonal approach to northern Italian cuisine (see: cornish hen under a brick with walnut-dill pesto to usher in autumn). But this romantic stalwart has also weathered a fickle industry that favors the buzzy and new—for 16 years now!—thanks to rare, enviable consistency, showcased best in chef Josh Ziskin’s timeless tagliatelle Bolognese. Brookline, lamorra.com.

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Island Creek Oyster Bar

When this restaurant offshoot of a Duxbury oyster farm first dropped anchor, it rapidly accelerated a tide change in Boston seafood: Simple broiled scrod wouldn’t cut it anymore, kehd. One majorly upscaled dining decade later, Island Creek now steams ahead as the compromise between frill-free and overly fussy fish-focused fare—don’t miss the stellar lobster roll with chips and coleslaw and the lobster roe noodles gussied up with braised short rib and mushrooms. Kenmore Square, islandcreekoysterbar.com.

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Tanám

Conversation is at the heart of Tanám—how could it not be, when you’re gathered with strangers around a 10-person table, eating with your hands from a banana leaf piled with steamed lobster and spring rolls during one of chef Ellie Tiglao’s kamayan feasts? Tiglao uses Filipinx cuisine—underrepresented in Boston dining—as an entry point for tableside storytelling about culture and community, part of her larger commitment to food-justice activism. “Narrative cuisine,” she calls it. Here’s what we call it: inspired. Somerville, tanam.co.

Read more about 2019’s best restaurants in Boston.


This list is updated throughout the year to reflect closures and other prominent developments. Please send updates to food editor Scott Kearnan at skearnan@bostonmagazine.com.