First Bite: The New Bella Luna and Milky Way

When news that Bella Luna restaurant and its downstairs bar/bowling alley, Milky Way Lounge & Lanes, would be leaving its long-held spot on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain, you could practically hear the sobs of hipsters, MassArt students, and Latin Night regulars across town. (Word is, an enormous rent increase was to blame.) For a few months, it seemed that the area’s best cheap-eats, funky-casual spot would be gone for good.

But the restaurant’s owners worked out a plan B, and this spring, the business happily relocated to JP’s up-and-coming Brewery Loft complex on Amory Street, which also houses the lovely Ula Cafe.

One thing lost in the move was the candlepin bowling (sniff), but nearly every other element of the quirky nightspot has survived. And one could argue that the new Bella Luna is better than ever before. The new digs boast the same colorful décor as the old spot, from the red walls and boho pendant lights to the plastic dinnerware adorned with kids’ drawings. But since it’s a new build-out, it feels far more inviting and cohesive than the ragtag former space. The bar (the Milky Way part) sits in the middle of the restaurant instead of on a separate floor, making for good mingling between the drinking and dining crowds.

Chef Jake Zachow, who came on board before the move, has retained menu staples like thin-crust pizzas, burgers, and the infamous “Not Your Mama’s Meatballs,” as well as the $13 to $19 entree prices. But there’s also more creative fare, like a seasonal salad of spring asparagus, pear, and fennel ($9), and an entree of flame-grilled salmon with spring pea and honey risotto ($16). Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. The Lunar Eclipse salad ($11) of crisp greens, shaved veggies, and fried calamari is delightfully hearty, dressed with a bright citrus vinaigrette, but the gummy ricotta gnocchi with bland sausage and limp broccolini is a bummer.

Then again, at $8 for a half-portion of pasta, it’s tough to complain. And in reality, no one comes to Bella Luna looking for haute cuisine. Even after the move, the place continues to offer JP denizens affordable dining, strong drinks, solid takeout, live music, plenty of vegetarian/vegan options, and a family-friendly vibe. In other words, it’s still what the neighborhood craves.

Bella Luna Restaurant & Milky Way Lounge, 284 Amory Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-3740,