First Bite: New Suburban Restaurants Around Boston to Try Right Now
Il Casale Cucina Campana
For the sequel to his popular Belmont restaurant, chef Dante de Magistris is taking diners south—to the Campania region of Italy, that is, where his family is originally from. While the Lexington menu bears some resemblance to that of its Belmont sibling (freshly made tagliatelle and tufoli, a variety of sfizi, or “little bites”), it’s a bit more playful, offering Neopolitan street food such as pizzetta fritta ($12), fried dough topped with tomato sauce and flanked by slices of spicy soppressata and provolone cheese. Spinach-and-artichoke lasagna verde ($18), served bubbling hot in an individual casserole dish, is brightened by herbs snipped tableside, while a lovely seafood acqua pazza ($27) is accented by ribbons of zucchini and briny capers. The dishes all emerge from an open kitchen framed by an ornate blue tile mosaic. During the warmer months, try them from a seat in the semi-private courtyard. —Brittany Jasnoff
1727 Massachusetts Ave., Lexington, 781-538-5846, ilcasalelexington.com.
What was once a Hanover Street sandwich-and-salad shop was reimagined this past spring as a dinner-only tapas-style restaurant. Situated just down the road from its original location, Volle Nolle now offers an eclectic menu from chef Sebastian Martinez that’s ideal for sharing: salt-sprinkled roasted radishes over a pool of honey butter ($7); a flap-steak-and-tomatillo taco ($6); and buttery hot ricotta dip dotted with fresh blue crab ($16). The beverage list features a variety of cordials and digestifs, plus the genius “Bantam Sparkler,” which combines Bantam Wunderkind cider with sweet vermouth over ice. Owner Torri Crowell’s thoughtful service, meanwhile, makes this neighborhood gem stand out in a sea of red-sauce joints. —Leah Mennies
351 Hanover St., Boston, 617-523-0003, vollenolle.com.
The patty melt used to be a rare sandwich species in the Boston area, limited to diners and the occasional upscale tavern. Now it has found a permanent home (and a quirky namesake) at this new Medford venture from former Franklin Café chef de cuisine Nicholas Dowling and restaurateur Adam Gazzola. Featuring house-baked olive oil brioche, grass-fed beef patties, and toppings like avocado mayo, Havarti, and marinated tomatoes (the “Californian,” $6.25), Dowling’s melts are deliberately petite, making it possible to snack on a couple while still leaving room for comfort fare like razor-clam chowder topped with shards of Old Bay potato chips ($8), and cherry-wood-smoked, fall-apart lamb ribs with pickled shallots ($15). The clever wraparound shelf lining the cozy, red-splashed space is the perfect place to rest a craft beer and a slider. —Caroline Hatano
454 High St., Medford, 781-214-4440, snappypattys.com.
At Needham’s Sweet Basil, chef Dave Becker is known for his funky riffs on Italian classics. For his newest spot, Wellesley’s Juniper, he applies his creativity to eastern-Mediterranean fare. Standouts on the cross-cultural menu include tangy smoked-eggplant baba ganoush ($6/$11); charred octopus accompanied by spicy apple-jicama slaw ($13); pork tenderloin with pomegranate barbecue sauce and fluffy garbanzo hush puppies ($27); and lamb Bolognese tossed with saffron-infused pappardelle ($24). Add to that a creative cocktail program (try the Helsinki, $11, a refreshing blend of vodka, crème de violette, lavender, lemon, and soda) and a fun bar menu (lamb burgers, $15, falafel in homemade pita, $14), and Juniper is already a warm gathering place that could fast become a destination. —B.J.
13 Central St., Wellesley, 781-446-6950, juniperwellesley.com.