Where to Eat. Right Now.

A comprehensive, taxonomic, easy-reference field guide to dining out in Greater Boston, featuring: six full-color plates, 11 spruced-up street snacks, one headless annotated lamb, and 50 forward-leaning, rigorously vetted, utterly on-the-pulse restaurants worth a top spot on your feeding schedule.

It’s a benign hazard of the job, getting hit up constantly for restaurant leads. Where should I go to find date-friendly soul food in the South End? To take my aunt for worthy Italian 45 minutes north of the city? To send my postman for affordable seafood in Cambridgeport? All of these, yes, have been real questions—with real, reasonably straightforward answers.

However, there’s one recurring query that always puts us on our toes: Where should I be eating right now? Right now, you see, is a much harder place to pinpoint than the clean, Euclidean intersection of place, situation, and cuisine. Is it an opulent fine-dining experience? Not usually, unless there’s some occasion requiring a no-holds-barred celebration. The brand-spanking-newest opening in town, then? No, as a general rule we prefer giving newbies the time and space to settle into a groove. And as fond as we are of the city’s timeless steakhouses, bistros, and brasseries, perennial simply isn’t the same as right-this-very-second.

Was it possible, we wondered, to pin down this elusive concept of culinary “nowness”? To find out, we strategically gorged our way through town in preparation for what, in the end, would be a fairly unorthodox spin on our annual restaurant spectacular: Rather than the usual straight-up ranking of the city’s best eateries, we focused instead on the 50 spots that truly nailed this modern, forward-leaning, trend-curious spirit. (As we soon figured out, however, the two lists would have had quite an impressive overlap.)

Like 19th-century naturalists observing sparrows or wildflowers in their native habitat, we dutifully recorded observations from the field right down to the tiniest detail, paying special attention to the minutiae that made an eatery feel not just in vogue and cutting-edge but—and this is key—effortlessly of-the-moment. And wouldn’t you know it: The more data we collected, the more we realized we were cataloging not just what we eat and where we eat but how we eat right now. All told, what we ended up with amounts to a user’s manual—a veritable Modern Gastronome’s Field Guide to Dining Out. So that’s how we decided to present it. For the full list, check out our quick-and-dirty roster of the 50 restaurants that, in late 2013, answer the urgent question: Where should I eat right now?

—Edited by Leah Mennies, Photographs by Bruce Peterson


Where to Eat. Right Now. The List

Here, in list form, our compendium of where you should be eating right this very moment.


The Vegetable Superstar

We’ve all seen a shift away from the rigid tripartite menu structure toward modular plates meant to be shared. The unexpected winner in this scenario? The veggie order.


The Regional Redux

Long relegated to gimmicky-tourist-food status, fading New England standards are getting a new lease on life.


(Re)consider the Oyster

We turn our attention to “on the half shell” variants.


The Migratory Noodle

Untethered in recent years from the conventions of Italian cookery, the modern pasta dish has become a culinary wanderer of sorts.


The Indoor Street Snack

Let the record show: Forks are overrated, anyway.


The Nose-to-Tail Newcomer

Cut by cut, we drill down on a wealth of empirical evidence pointing to lamb’s citywide domination.


The Evolved Oasis

The city’s older, rarified destinations are attracting the modern diner in new ways—most notably through their amped-up bar areas.


The Cocktail Crossover

A taxonomical breakdown of some of the finest drinks in the city.