Best Restaurants in Boston 2012

Where can you find world-class cuisine in Boston today? Just about anywhere you look, from boisterous downtown establishments to quirky neighborhood bistros. Quite simply, we have more quality options than ever before. That’s great news, of course, but it’s also complicated the age-old question: Where should we go for dinner tonight? Which is why we’ve spent the past six months in search of this city’s most spectacular dining experiences. Here, we present our findings, Boston’s very best restaurants.

(Only restaurants opened by the end of 2011 were included in this list. For some restaurants, we have included expanded content online that did not appear in print.)

Bergamot boston 50 best restaurants 2012House-made charcuterie at Bergamot in Somerville. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)


80 THOREAU Concord

WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Carolyn Johnson’s unexpected pairings—butter-crisped gnocchi accented with smoky eggplant purée; juicy grilled sirloin flanked by sweet honeyed beets—make dining at this sophisticated Concord spot a refined adventure. WHAT TO ORDER: Fluke crudo with pickled rhubarb; chocolate panna cotta with pretzels, peanut butter, and beer ice cream. INSIDER TIP: The four-person, bar-style chef’s counter puts you close to the action in the kitchen. 80 Thoreau, 80 Thoreau St., Concord, 978-318-0008,

AREA FOUR Kendall Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Co-owners Michael Krupp and Michael Leviton (the chef) have perfected the art of the casual, local-leaning eatery. Gourmet pizzas with toppings like Gorgonzola and peppered walnuts anchor the menu, but there are also upscale dishes you won’t find at the corner joint, including creamy smoked fish and a cooling Thai squid salad. WHAT TO ORDER: Smoked local fish (changes daily); garlic knots with pecorino and gremolata; the kitchen-sink salad. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant will now deliver pizza (via website DiningIn) to your home. Area Four, 500 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-758-4444,

BERGAMOT Somerville

WHY IT’S GREAT: Bergamot may look like the quintessential neighborhood restaurant, but appearances can be deceiving. Sophistication abounds here: a dash of rooibos syrup rounding out a cocktail, a hint of smoke in a creamy cauliflower soup, and a bar-only grilled cheese constructed of buttery brioche that’s been stuffed with lobster, gooey cheddar, and scallions. WHAT TO ORDER: Local lamb, three ways; house-made charcuterie (pictured above). INSIDER TIP: The all-hours prix fixe is one of the area’s best deals: For $39, you get any appetizer, entrée, and dessert from the regular menu. Bergamot, 118 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-576-7700,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Robert Sisca’s elegant, seafood-heavy Provençal fare—scallops slivered into fresh crudo; saffron-scented bouillabaisse—and peerless service make this restaurant stand out from the crowd of French bistros that rely on butter-laden sauces and side orders of frites. WHAT TO ORDER: Seasonal crudo; seared duck with gnocchi. INSIDER TIP: The all-day café menu offers refined yet casual French-inspired sandwiches, salads, and snacks. Bistro du Midi, 272 Boylston St., Boston, 617-426-7878,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Ming Tsai could have his name splashed all over New York and Vegas by now (like, ahem, a certain Olives chef), but instead he’s continued to focus on ensuring that his Wellesley restaurant remains one of the area’s finest, with signature dishes like foie-gras shumai and sake-miso-marinated sablefish that remain classic, rather than clichéd. WHAT TO ORDER: Tuna poke; garlic–black pepper lobster with lemongrass fried rice. INSIDER TIP: Tsai catalogs each dish’s ingredients on his menu, helping guests avoid plates that may trigger food allergies. Blue Ginger, 583 Washington St., Wellesley, 781-283-5790,

Bondir boston 50 best restaurants 2012A Few of Jason Bond of Bondir’s Favorite Things (Photo by Bruce Peterson)

BONDIR Kendall Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Jason Bond specializes in high-style fare with a dose of quirk—much of it owing to the unusual ingredients he sources. Surrounded in the tiny, warmly-lit dining room, though, you’ll feel right at home no matter what you order. (Oven-roasted crickets? Absolutely.) WHAT TO ORDER: Any of the soups, spice-poached beet salad, chocolate-lemongrass pana cotta. INSIDER TIP: Most dishes on the menu are available as half portions, which makes it easy to try much of the menu in a single evening. Take a closer look at Jason Bond’s favorite things. Bondir, 279A Broadway, Cambridge, 617-661-0009,


WHY IT’S GREAT: This wine bar pairs the heart of a steakhouse (choice rib-eyes, racks of lamb) with the soul of a Barbara Lynch restaurant. That means silky pâtés, hearty pastas, and desserts begging for a glass of carefully chosen moscato. WHAT TO ORDER: The charcuterie platter; steak tartare. INSIDER TIP: The deli case in back features all manner of cured and fresh meats to go. The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-4800,

Catalyst boston 50 best restaurants 2012Catalyst in Kendall Square. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)

CATALYST Kendall Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Will Kovel’s industrial-chic Kendall Square bistro is a study in informal elegance. Whether you’re in the mood for delicate upscale fare like seared scallops and Taleggio-ravioli-topped tournedos of beef—or just a really great bacon cheeseburger—you’ll feel perfectly at home here. WHAT TO ORDER: Yellowfin tartare with wonton chips; scallops with lobster-bisque emulsion; cavatelli with chicken oysters, bacon, and black truffle. INSIDER TIP: Ask about the prix-fixe menu option when booking in advance. Catalyst, 300 Technology Sq., Cambridge, 617-576-3000,

CEIA Newburyport

WHY IT’S GREAT: At Ceia, chef Patrick Soucy draws on the cuisines of Portugal, Italy, France, and Spain to create an eclectic genre that’s all his own. Spicy morcilla with San Marzano tomatoes over crostini, and porcini-studded lamb polpetti with a splash of madeira wine are just a couple of examples of his inspired fusion. WHAT TO ORDER: The Manchego-and-prosciutto-topped Kobe burger; rib-eye with truffle fries and barbera-mushroom sauce. INSIDER TIP: On Tuesdays, Ceia offers a three-course meal paired with wines for just $38. Ceia, 25 State St., Newburyport, 978-358-8112,

Clio boston 50 best restaurants 2012A Peek Into Clio’s Toolkit (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)

CLIO Back Bay

WHY IT’S GREAT: It’s not enough here to serve the butteriest seared foie gras, earthiest escargot, and most tender buttermilk-braised chicken. A variety of molecular powders and extracts keep the dishes as texturally and visually intriguing as they are delicious. WHAT TO ORDER: Foie gras laquee; fresh dug beet salad; chocolate coulant. INSIDER TIP: Take the fine-dining experience a step more casual by ordering from an abridged menu at the bar—all while enjoying bar manager Todd Maul’s avant-garde cocktails. Peek into Clio’s toolkit. Clio, 370A Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200,

Eastern Standard boston 50 best restaurants 2012Eastern Standard: By the Numbers (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)


COPPA South End

WHY IT’S GREAT: This South End enoteca is both rollicking and intimate, offering some of the city’s best pastas (crafted with ingredients like smoked pancetta or briny squid ink), pizzas (topped with fried calamari rings and spicy house-made sausage), and two-bite seasonal antipasti. WHAT TO ORDER: Salt cod baccalà; linguine nero; bone-marrow pizza. INSIDER TIP: Try a few different half portions of pasta for a sampler effect. Coppa, 253 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-391-0902,

CRAIGIE ON MAIN Central Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Way before snout-to-tail cooking became de rigueur, Tony Maws was working everything from pig brains to trotters into his haute yet homey dishes. Arrays of glacéed vegetables and texture-rich pastas welcome non-carnivores, too. WHAT TO ORDER: Grilled Spanish octopus; crispy fried pig tails. INSIDER TIP: The legendary bar-only burger is available in the dining room during brunch. Craigie on Main, 853 Main St., Cambridge, 617-497-5511,


WHY IT’S GREAT: With a dark-wood-and-glass interior, technique-driven plates like the crackly-skinned duck with foie-stuffed prunes, and playful desserts (see: deconstructed PB?&?J), an evening here is the ultimate in Back Bay swank. WHAT TO ORDER: Spiced duck breast; crispy wild mushrooms; gnocchi with lobster. INSIDER TIP: On a cold night, try the nine-hour French onion soup, which, despite its name, actually takes three days to make. Deuxave, 371 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-517-5915,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Phillip Tang’s New England-meets-modern-Chinese concept translates to an abundance of bold, bright dishes infused with the best of the seasons. WHAT TO ORDER: Kohlrabi-and-carrot salad; pork buns; scallion pancakes; the day’s specials. INSIDER TIP: The flavorful house sodas will excite non-imbibers, and act as great mixers for the rest of us. East by Northeast, 1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-0286,


WHY IT’S GREAT: This brasserie simply excels at everything, from expert charcuterie to porky mac ’n’ cheese to, best of all, agenda-setting cocktails produced in astonishing consistency and volume. WHAT TO ORDER: Moules provencal; grilled flatbread with camembert; frisee aux lardon salad. INSIDER TIP: The late night menu is packed with snack-friendly bites like salt cod arancini, shrimp tacos, and brisket hash. Learn more about Eastern Standard: By the Numbers. Eastern Standard, 528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-9100,

Grill 23 boston 50 best restaurants 2012The soaring dining room at the Back Bay steakhouse Grill 23. (Photo by Bob O’Connor)


ERBALUCE Bay Village

WHY IT’S GREAT: Thoughtful details set Charles Draghi’s preparations apart in a city overrun with upscale Italian: the crisped skin on the bluefish (“potato chips from the sea,” says the server); the cinnamon dust on an amuse-bouche of white-bean purée; the violet extract in the meringue atop a chocolate-and-cherry mousse. WHAT TO ORDER: Razor clams with fennel and leeks; pappardelle with wild-boar ragu. INSIDER TIP: On the first Sunday of each month, Draghi leads an Italian-themed wine class. Erbaluce, 69 Church St., Boston, 617-426-6969,


WHY IT’S GREAT: A restaurant with “Le Boones Farm” spelled out on the wine list obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously. Then again, this buzzing gastropub doesn’t have to—its fun, thoughtful dishes (locavore bacon-ranch wedge salad, anyone?) and informed service speak volumes about the quality here. WHAT TO ORDER: Classic poutine; the “Longshoreman” platter. INSIDER TIP: For dessert, try a cone of off-menu soft-serve—all you have to do is ask for it. The Gallows, 1395 Washington St., Boston, 617-425-0200,

GRILL 23 Back Bay

WHY IT’S GREAT: When the occasion calls for a top-notch steak, there’s no place better to celebrate than at this sophisticated spot, where you’ll find a superior 100-day-aged rib-eye—among other well-marbled cuts—and stiff, icy martinis perfect for toasting the evening. WHAT TO ORDER: Tuna tartare; skirt-steak frites; dry-aged New York strip; mashed potatoes. INSIDER TIP: On Sundays and Mondays, the restaurant offers a list of popular wines for $23 a bottle. Grill 23, 161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255,

Hamersleys boston 50 best restaurants 2012Grilled quail with roasted figs at Hamersley’s in South End. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)


WHY IT’S GREAT: In this era of small plates, Gordon Hamersley continues to celebrate the singular entrée, such as beautifully balanced grilled quail with roasted figs (pictured above), expertly seared fish, and, of course, his iconic roast chicken. WHAT TO ORDER: Duck confit; spicy halibut with bacon-braised greens; chocolate-hazelnut cheesecake. INSIDER TIP: An impressive selection of wines by the half bottle offers more flexibility for smaller parties. Hamersley’s Bistro, 553 Tremont St., Boston, 617-423-2700,

HARVEST Harvard Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: It would be easy for this institution to rest on its laurels. After all, it helped launch the careers of culinary bigwigs like Barbara Lynch and Lydia Shire. But nearly 40 years on, tucking into a tenderloin with black truffle–farro risotto on the linden-shaded patio remains a singular thrill. WHAT TO ORDER: Tagliatelle with roasted cauliflower and piquillo-pepper coulis; Taza chocolate crémeux with salted caramel. INSIDER TIP: Executive pastry chef Brian Mercury collects his own sea salt from Ogunquit, Maine—find it sprinkled on the crémeux. Harvest, 44 Brattle St., Cambridge, 617-868-2255,

Journeyman boston 50 best restaurants 2012Journeyman’s Tasting of Carrots (Photo by Bruce Peterson)


HELMAND East Cambridge

WHY IT’S GREAT: This Cambridge mainstay has barely changed in nearly two decades—and that’s exactly why we go. It’s comforting to know that, on every visit, the bubbly flatbreads will be pulled out of the clay oven and slid into a basket alongside cool cilantro and yogurt sauces; the plates of spiced rice will be fluffy and fragrant; and the service will be as polished as ever. WHAT TO ORDER: Lamb lawand; baked pumpkin; aushak ravioli; cardamom-and-pineapple cake. INSIDER TIP: The vegetarian “special” entrée is a great way to try four different vegetable preparations. Helmand, 143 1st St., Cambridge, 617-492-4646,

HUNGRY MOTHER Kendall Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: This city has been adding southern-inspired restaurants so quickly that a visitor could be forgiven for thinking that we’re famous for hush puppies rather than lobster rolls. But Virginia native Barry Maiden’s eatery—which began serving boiled peanuts and pecan-crusted wild catfish long before it was cool—is still the best southern-fried game in town. WHAT TO ORDER: Skillet cornbread with sorghum butter; smoked-beef-tongue toast; wild catfish with pecans; any seasonal dessert. INSIDER TIP: Dine before 6 p.m., and you’re eligible for discounted Kendall Square theater tickets, which your server will deliver with the bill. Hungry Mother, 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-499-0090,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Dante de Magistris’s restaurant, housed in a converted firehouse, offers rustic Italian that ranges from exactly what you had in mind (mounds of house-made pasta and lemony fried calamari made using the chef’s nonna’s recipes) to what you’d never before imagined (fresh tomatoes presented in a savory bread pudding, or fried chickpeas atop oil-cured tuna). WHAT TO ORDER: Homemade gnocchi; scamorza-stuffed arancini. INSIDER TIP: If you’re dining with a large party, order a four- or five-course family-style tasting menu. Il Casale, 50 Leonard St., Belmont, 617-209-4942,


WHY IT’S GREAT: ICOB is, quite frankly, the seafood destination we’ve always needed—a place to which we can confidently send, well, just about everyone, whether they’re in the mood for a basket of fried clams or crisp-skinned halibut. Catch and raw-bar selections change daily based on what’s fresh, so your seafood won’t have traveled farther than your guests. WHAT TO ORDER: Fried oyster sliders; lobster roe noodles with short ribs; raw bar. INSIDER TIP: Enhanced with rosemary and honey, ICOB’s biscuits are some of the best in the area. Island Creek Oyster Bar, 500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-532-5300,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Some of the most inventive, elegant cuisine in Boston is coming from… a back alley in Somerville. Descriptions on the prix-fixe menus (choose five or seven courses, omnivore or vegetarian, with or without wine pairings) are intentionally vague, so co-owners and chefs Tse Wei Lim and Diana Kudajarova can surprise and delight food geeks with tomato water ribbons, local pork belly paired with sunflower pesto and Parmesan foam, and deconstructed peach cobbler with shiso ice cream. WHAT TO ORDER: The frequently-changing prix-fixe menus. Off-peak diners can score four courses for $40 after 8:30 p.m., Sundays through Wednesdays. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant now offers a rotating selection of European cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen before dessert—a pungent Belgian Charmoix was a recent standout. Take a closer look at Journeyman’s tasting of carrots. Journeyman, 9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, 617-718-2333,

Lespalier boston 50 best restaurants 2012Five Great New England Cheeses at L’Espalier (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)


L’ANDANA Burlington

WHY IT’S GREAT: With plush chairs, dramatic wine-barrel chandeliers, and service to rival any downtown restaurant’s, this luxe spot offers chef Jamie Mammano’s characteristically bold Italian fare—umami-rich veal meatballs with pappardelle; house-made sausage with wood-roasted peppers—sans I-95 traffic. WHAT TO ORDER: Wood-grilled rib-eye; chicken Milanese. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant’s private dining room—complete with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace and bar—can host up to 70 for dinner. L’Andana, 86 Cambridge St., Burlington, 781-270-0100,


WHY IT’S GREAT: What you see on the menu—succulent poached oysters, foie gras and truffle-sauced chicken—is but a fraction of the luxury that you’re in for at this Back Bay stalwart. Each meal here begins with a parade of petite amuse bouches—a postage stamp-sized ceviche taco, perhaps, or cloud-like warm cheese gougeres—that surprise, delight, and merely tease at what’s to come. WHAT TO ORDER: Warm Wellfleet oyster with faux gnocchi; beef ribeye with bone marrow custard; mint chocolate souffle. INSIDER TIP: In addition to cheeses, L’Espalier also holds court when it comes to tea—and on Sundays, in-house tea sommelier Cynthia Gold leads “fantasty tea” tastings for $50 per person. Check out five great New England cheeses at L’Espalier. L’Espalier, 774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-3023,


WHY IT’S GREAT: The rustic pots and pans, candles, and abundance of fresh-cut flowers will entice those seeking romance. Southern Italian–style pizzas, plates of hand-cut pasta, and wood-grilled meats, meanwhile, ensure that the cuisine is as sumptuous as the surroundings. WHAT TO ORDER: The fig, duck confit, Gorgonzola, and fontina pizza. INSIDER TIP: You can reserve a seat on the charming patio if you call the day of your visit. La Campania, 504 Main St., Waltham, 781-894-4280,

LA MORRA Brookline Village

WHY IT’S GREAT: The flight of stairs at Jen and Josh Ziskin’s neighborhood treasure may be steep, but you’ll be rewarded with the ideal backdrop—exposed brick walls, rustic wooden seats—for an Italian feast of earthy Tuscan meatballs and smoky wood-fired bruschetta. WHAT TO ORDER: Fried sage leaves; porcini-and-prosciutto meatballs; panna cotta. INSIDER TIP: Gluten-free pastas are available upon request. La Morra, 48 Boylston St., Brookline, 617-739-0007,


WHY IT’S GREAT: The menu at chef Michael Leviton’s cozy restaurant features diligently sourced ingredients that shine in a sophisticated lineup of elegantly presented bistro-style dishes: silky vegetable soups, crisp roast chicken, and some wonderfully creative desserts. WHAT TO ORDER: Crystal Valley Farm chicken; the chocolate soufflé cake. INSIDER TIP: After a brief hiatus, Lumière’s popular prix-fixe menu has returned, with three courses for $45 Sunday through Thursday. Lumière, 1293 Washington St., Newton, 617-244-9199,

O Ya boston 50 best restaurants 2012The $175-Per-Person Omasake at O Ya (Photo by Bruce Peterson / Styling by Kara Butterfield)


MENTON Fort Point

WHY IT’S GREAT: Barbara Lynch and her meticulously trained staff make you and your guests the stars of the show. The breathtaking dishes—from amuse-bouches of buttery croissants and savory macarons to entrées like spiced lamb with beads of soft eggplant “caviar”—are delivered with service so seamless that your food seems to simply appear on the table. WHAT TO ORDER: Faroe Islands salmon; seasonal velouté. INSIDER TIP: Tours can be arranged of the stunning 3,500-square-foot kitchen. Menton, 354 Congress St., Boston, 617-737-0099,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Joanne Chang and Christopher Myers’s Washington Street mainstay has the attitude of a comfort-food diner—one that just happens to serve dishes inspired by Thai, Chinese, and Korean favorites. That means that instead of chicken noodle, you’re in for delicious meatball-enhanced hot-and-sour soup, and rather than a sloppy joe, you get Korean bulgogi sandwiches. WHAT TO ORDER: Pork-and-chive dumplings; papaya slaw; Genmai fried rice; tea-smoked ribs; Tiger’s Tears salad. INSIDER TIP: Mondays and Tuesdays are date nights, with a set menu of five dishes for $40 per couple. Myers + Chang, 1145 Washington St., Boston, 617-542-5200,


WHY IT’S GREAT: The lines always seem to last longer than the meal at this tiny seafood destination, but patience yields rewards, in the form of expertly selected bivalves and crispy johnnycakes topped with smoked trout and caviar. WHAT TO ORDER: Oysters on the half shell; grilled whole bronzini; “Neptunes on Piggyback.” INSIDER TIP: The weekly lobster spaghettini special is reason enough to eat here on Mondays. Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem St., Boston, 617-742-3474,

NO. 9 PARK Beacon Hill

WHY IT’S GREAT: Barbara Lynch’s flagship restaurant may not project the kind of over-the-top excess you’ll find at its extravagant sibling Menton, but her original has its own opulent charms, including an elegant list of apéritifs and luxe pastas: tender prune-stuffed gnocchi with minuscule seared foie-gras slices, and lemony disks of corzetti with toasted bread crumbs. WHAT TO ORDER: Lamb saddle with Medjool dates; chocolate pain de Gênes; the cheese cart. INSIDER TIP: The bar offers a more gently priced menu, with the same “let us dote on you” service. No. 9 Park, 9 Park St., Boston, 617-742-9991,

O YA Chinatown

WHY IT’S GREAT: Each bite from Tim Cushman’s elaborate contemporary-Japanese menu—every painstakingly calibrated micro sea bean or watermelon pearl that garnishes the fresh slices of sashimi and nigiri—warrants a moment of silent appreciation. So, then: Shhhh. WHAT TO ORDER: Hamachi with banana pepper mousse; Onsen egg wtih dashi; shiso tempura with grilled lobster. INSIDER TIP: Get a lesson in sake along with your meal with a flight of hand-chosen varieties for $60. Take a closer look at the $175-per-person omasake at O Ya. O Ya, 9 East St., Boston, 617-654-9900,

Oishii boston 50 best restaurants 2012At Oishii in South End, hamachi comes to the table smoking. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)

OISHII South End

WHY IT’S GREAT: This dark, gilded restaurant was designed for a glitzy night out, with impeccable sushi and sashimi preparations injected with a dose of dazzle: Wagyu served in a sizzling rock, hamachi that comes to the table smoking (pictured above), and slices of fish served in a neon-lit ice cube. WHAT TO ORDER: Broiled edamame; Japanese-yam-tempura maki. INSIDER TIP: The lunchtime-only “Kaiseki” special is a spectacular deal, offering a platter of close to a dozen preparations for a mere $20. Oishii, 1166 Washington St., Boston, 617-482-8868,

OLEANA Inman Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Falafel and hummus aren’t often associated with fine dining, but in the hands of chef Ana Sortun, they become something both sophisticated and sublime. And since Sortun’s husband is Siena Farms’ Chris Kurth, she has access to some of the best produce around. WHAT TO ORDER: Tamarind-glazed beef with puréed eggplant and pine nuts; trout spanakopita. INSIDER TIP: Combine small plates like crisp fattoush andwhipped feta for a tapas-style feast. Oleana, 134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-661-0505,

RIALTO Harvard Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Jody Adams never tires of Italy, and neither do we, since she’s always showcasing a different region on her menu. She’s also skilled when it comes to New England–style classics like smoky grilled clams with andouille, and Gruyère-topped fisherman’s stew. WHAT TO ORDER: Slow-roasted Long Island duck; any of the pastas. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant’s new bar menu features adventurous plates like sausage-stuffed pig trotter and lardo with bagna cauda. Rialto, One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050,

Russell House Tavern boston 50 best restaurants 2012Russell House Tavern in Harvard Square. (Photo by Bob O’Connor)


WHY IT’S GREAT: In the two and a half years since it opened, Russell House has evolved into the dining hub of Harvard Square. Now the rest of the city is catching on, thanks to the casual yet edgy plates (lamb-belly toast, smoked pig-tail pierogi) and excellent craft cocktails. WHAT TO ORDER: Melted cambozola cheese with mushrooms and caramelized onions; fried pig-head cake with maple aioli; braised-beef-tongue meatballs. INSIDER TIP: Ask for the “secret” burger, an off-menu creation with weekly changing toppings like marmalade and sriracha butter. Russell House Tavern, 14 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, 617-500-3055,

SALTS Central Square

WHY IT’S GREAT: Gabriel Bremer’s bistro is the epitome of approachable luxury. The service is fawning without being pretentious, and the technically advanced dishes—slow-poached eggs on farro risotto, gazpacho with olive-oil powder—wow without confounding. WHAT TO ORDER: Atlantic halibut; roast duck for two. INSIDER TIP: The tasting menu showcases the more avant-garde side of Bremer’s bistro cooking. Salts, 798 Main St., Cambridge, 617-876-8444,

Scampo boston 50 best restaurants 2012Scampo in Beacon Hill. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)

SCAMPO Beacon Hill

WHY IT’S GREAT: Chef Lydia Shire doesn’t shy away from bold combinations. Who else would put out a menu featuring lamb-tartare-topped pita and pork-crackling-laced spaghetti? The dining experience at this globally influenced Italian restaurant, meanwhile, is just as exciting as the food. WHAT TO ORDER: Selections from the mozzarella bar; pork chops with risotto. INSIDER TIP: A variety of pizzas—including Shire’s signature lobster pie—are available until midnight Thursday through Saturday. Scampo, 215 Charles St., Boston, 617-536-2100,


WHY IT’S GREAT: Yes, this swanky Italian eatery attracts its share of trust-funders and executives. But the truth is, every diner here gets the star treatment: Servers are quick with wine suggestions, de-crumb the table after the meal, and deliver truffles even when you beg off dessert. WHAT TO ORDER: Maccheroncelli with Wagyu meatballs; Cornish game hen with whipped potatoes; octopus with squid-ink couscous. INSIDER TIP: Live within two miles of the restaurant? The gratis car service can take you home from dinner between the hours of 6:30 and 11:30 p.m. Sorellina, One Huntington Ave., Boston, 617-412-4600,

STRIP-T’S Watertown

WHY IT’S GREAT: This relative newcomer has already become a fixture on the scene thanks to inspired combinations like the spicy charred romaine salad topped with rich oxtail and chili vinaigrette. The flawless service makes it easy to forget that the whole thing is going down in a tiny Watertown storefront. WHAT TO ORDER: Wings with Moxie sauce; any vegetable side; the doughnut. INSIDER TIP: The restaurant offers a wide variety of flavored sodas from microbreweries both home and abroad. Strip-T’s, 93 School St., Watertown, 617-923-4330,

TEN TABLES J.P. Jamaica Plain

WHY IT’S GREAT: There are now locations in both Cambridge and Provincetown, but we still find ourselves returning to the Centre Street original, a quaint spot where Sean Callahan has mastered seasonal bistro fare. WHAT TO ORDER: Adobo-rubbed hanger steak with farro; house-made charcuterie. INSIDER TIP: The adjoining TTJP Bar has daily specials that you can’t get across the river. Ten Tables J.P., 597 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-8810,

Toro boston 50 best restaurants 2012Pimientos de Padrón at Toro in South End. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)

TORO South End

WHY IT’S GREAT: The grilled corn is well known for a reason. But if you skip it, just this once, you’ll make room for all of the other treasures on the menu—fat marrow bones with oxtail marmalade crostini, blistery pimientos de Padrón (pictured above), tender blood-orange-glazed sweetbreads—that have made this raucus, tiny spot a local institution. WHAT TO ORDER: Bone marrow with oxtail marmalade; uni bocadillo; any of the paellas. INSIDER TIP: Make dinner a party by requesting sparkling Cava straight from a porron (we’ll let you be surprised). Toro, 1704 Washington St., Boston, 617-536-4300,

Uni boston 50 best restaurants 2012Uni in Back Bay. (Photo by Anthony Tieuli)


TRADE Financial District

WHY IT’S GREAT: Jody Adams’s long-awaited second restaurant has become a hip, forever-bustling fixture of the downtown scene. The crowds aren’t there just to be seen, though—there’s also the allure of the shareable flatbreads, bold vegetable dishes, and hearty plates like rigatoni with spicy lamb-sausage ragu. WHAT TO ORDER: Pomegranate-glazed eggplant; whole roast trout. INSIDER TIP: Request a seat by the kitchen bar for a front-row view of the roaring wood-fired oven. Trade, 540 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617-451-1234,

TRES GATOS Jamaica Plain

WHY IT’S GREAT: A tapas place can only be as good as its tortilla española, and here the egg-and-potato frittata becomes a creamy masterpiece after a dunk in garlicky pimentón aioli. So yes, Tres Gatos is skilled with the classics, but it also shines with less-conventional plates like lamb bocadillo with shallots, and bavette steak with smoked eggplant. WHAT TO ORDER: Confit chicken thighs; tortilla española; patatas bravas; gambas all i pebre.  INSIDER TIP: The restaurant recently began serving weekend brunch. Tres Gatos, 470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4851,

T.W. FOOD Huron Village

WHY IT’S GREAT: While Tim Wiechmann’s seasonally driven dishes make for fantastic plates à la carte, the nightly prix-fixe menus—which feature duck-liver mousse, hearty homemade pasta, and a great sundae for under $50—are also a delicious (and value-driven) option. WHAT TO ORDER: Any of the pastas; soft-scrambled farm egg;“scotch and cigars” beignets with tobacco ice cream. INSIDER TIP: On Tuesdays, Wiechmann’s prix fixes are an even better value, offering themed four-course meals (with wine) for $55. T.W. Food, 377 Walden St., Cambridge, 617-864-4745,

UNI Back Bay

WHY IT’S GREAT: Ken Oringer’s sushi temple has always been the place for an exotic piece of fish or feather-light tempura. But thanks to the space’s recent redesign—wood paneling, leather banquettes, and sleek flooring—it’s become an all-hours hangout that oh, by the way, serves some of the best sashimi around. WHAT TO ORDER: Shishito peppers with bonito; the sashimi sampler. INSIDER TIP: After 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, there’s a special menu available featuring ramen noodle bowls and petite ice cream sandwiches. Uni, 370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200,


WHY IT’S GREAT: The defining dish on Michael Schlow’s Italian menu is the thick, savory pasta Bolognese. Don’t agree? Okay, perhaps it’s the buttery chocolate-shortbread “Mascarporeos” cookie sandwiches. Why argue? Go ahead and order both, along with a few glasses of wine from a magnificent list that spans Italy. WHAT TO ORDER: The crispy meatballs; veal with asparagus, morels, and a fried egg; Mascarporeos. INSIDER TIP: Pizza, sandwiches, and other small bites are served in the café until 1 a.m. Via Matta, 79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-422-0008,     Check out all of our coverage for 50 Best Restaurants 2012.   Correction 10/30/2012, 11 p.m.:  In the original version (and in print), the story states that Area Four now delivers. This has been corrected to state that the restaurant now delivers via the website DiningIn.

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