Top New Restaurants in Boston 2016: The List
17. Little Big Diner
1247 Centre St., Newton Centre, 857-404-0068, littlebigdiner.com.
Given the city’s ramen depth, David Punch and Daniel Scott must have realized they’d have to make more than a decent bowl of paitan to draw crowds to Newton Centre. While Little Big Diner’s soup game is solid, it’s the small plates that keep us coming back. The flawless green-papaya salad packs fish-sauce-driven power under a confetti of crunchy toasted garlic; the rice bowls are heaped with primo proteins; and a recent special of chewy, wok-charred rice cakes tossed with spicy pork laap deserves permanent-menu status. Vibe-wise, Little Big’s downtown-urban, David Chang–y sensibility makes it feel as fresh and sharp as anything in the city.
Scouting Notes: “S#@t That’s Hot” Bomb chili sauce is no joke. Sleeper hit: grilled-pineapple-sambal burger.
16. Fat Hen
126 Broadway, Somerville, 617-764-1612, fathenboston.com.
A banner year for Italian restaurants made it harder than ever to get plucked for the majors. What put Michael Bergin’s intimate East Somerville eatery above the fray was its gracious service, nimble modern flavor palette, and a healthy farm-fresh fanaticism nurtured by longtime mentor Frank McClelland—a founding partner of La Brasa, Fat Hen’s boisterous next-door sibling. The 30-seat spot does its best impression of a homespun trattoria, but dishes like rigatoni with rabbit sausage and favas, and wood-roasted lamb saddle with black garlic and caper vinaigrette reveal the chef’s Del Posto and L’Espalier pedigree. Meanwhile, “Nanny’s Stuffed Mushrooms,” using chanterelles and crescenza, aren’t fooling anybody.
Scouting Notes: Points for the well-tuned aperitivo selection. Aggressive al dente moments in the vegetable zone marred preseason play.
344 Watertown St., Newton, 617-916-5245, tastemoldova.com.
Authentic Moldovan is such a rarity around these parts that we’d probably make the trek to Nonantum if the food were half as good. Happily, the home-style knockouts coming out of Artur and Sandra Andronic’s kitchen would wow even the most finicky Chişinău expat. Most notably, the plăcinte la tigaie: flaky, delicately elastic pan-fried pies that cradle savory and sweet fillings. Plus, the most prevalent menu ingredient is sour cherries—an automatic stock booster, in our book.
Scouting Notes: Sarmale—stuffed cabbage and grape leaves—are potential fan favorites. Plenty of bang for your buck.
14. Saltie Girl
281 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-267-0691, saltiegirl.com.
If shelling out serious clams for canned sardines feels a tad Garfield-gone-gourmet, a persuasive argument for the whitefish-hot tinned trend can be found at this jewel box of an eatery, where primo imported seafood gets the charcuterie-board treatment with an array of chewy bread, flavored salts, and citrus. A location just off Newbury Street makes this stylish spot—with chic neon signage, nautical bric-a-brac, and ’grammer-friendly lighting—ideal for a post-shopping-spree bowl of caviar dip, or garlicky clam toast.
Scouting Notes: Small venue is the best showcase yet for the ace restaurateuring talents of Kathy Sidell (Met Club).
Ring Road, Boston, 617-536-1234, porto-boston.com.
Jody Adams may well be trolling us, what with her new Mediterranean restaurant’s buttoned-up, Saks-adjacent address and sanitized-sleek décor. But make no mistake: The food is as on-the-pulse as it gets. Hamachi tartare smolders with charred leek and fiery piri piri. Lobster raviolo with uni-thickened butter sauce is redolent of musky curry leaf. The beverage lineup, too, gets the year right, with cocktail delivery powered by a rolling drink cart.
Scouting Notes: Come warm weather, the sprawling patio is ideal for people-watching.
12. The Table at Season to Taste
2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-871-9468, cambridgetable.com.
A poorly timed foie gras dish ended Carl Dooley’s 2015 Top Chef run. But at the Table—his 20-seat North Cambridge stunner—the creamy classic has all of the nuance you’d expect from a protégé of Tony Maws. Meticulous technique aside, it’s Dooley’s finesse with potent spice and funk that breaks the sleepy prix-fixe-tasting mold, in dishes like smoky scallop posole and merguez sausage lettuce wraps. Not to mention the affable service, often served up with palpable joie de vivre and swagger from the chef himself.
Scouting Notes: Flour power in excellent pastas and desserts; gratis granola bars for the road.
11. Tiger Mama
1363 Boylston St., Boston, 617-425-6262, tigermamaboston.com.
To find dishes like nam prik chili dip, beef rendang, and Isaan-style sour pork sausages once required sleuthing out the secret “authentic” menu at certain restaurants around Allston, Chinatown, and Dorchester. Double props, then, to Tiffani Faison for bringing these legit Southeast Asian dishes to a stretch of Fenway not known for culinary exoticism. We love her gingery, crispy ribs. We love her short-rib crudo and its counterpoint of crunchy/soft, spicy/cool. And we love her commitment to rescuing okra from its slimeball rep, turning the ooze into oohs and aahs.
Scouting Notes: Adding Tim Maslow (Strip T’s, Ribelle) to the dugout amps up star wattage.
10. Haley Henry Wine Bar
45 Province St., Boston, 617-208-6000, haleyhenry.com.
In eyebrow-raising menu sections, this Downtown Crossing gem from Sportello vet Haley Fortier serves up sophisticated bites like tuna crudo with grapefruit and fennel (from the “Oooh Baby I Like It Raw” section); glazed Not Your Grandpa’s Nuts (under “Small Little Dudes”); jarred foie gras (“Fur, Feathers & Udder Things”); and luscious lamb tartare (“Let’s Have a Toast”). To be fair, if our headline-writing staff dabbled in wine barmanship, it might be equally cringe-worthy. But this show’s true headliners are the on-trend tinned seafood—delights like habanero-laced smoked oysters—and smartly curated Old World bottles, any of which they’ll open for a two-glass commitment.
Scouting Notes: Tight play list. Sea-trout roe on rye: Hall of Fame bound?
257 Washington St., Somerville, 617-718-0958, julietsomerville.com.
This Union Square juggernaut from foodie power couple Joshua Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri is everything you could want in a café/bistro/bakery/salumeria/fine-dining spot that offers American breakfast on weekdays, Japanese breakfast on Mondays and Tuesdays, French-ish lunch, and à la carte small plates concurrently with prime-rib night, dollar-oyster night, fish-for-two night, and prix-fixe tasting menus. Taxonomic complexity aside, understated pleasures are best, like flawless whole roasted branzino garnished with a silky-smooth spin on romesco.
Scouting Notes: Strong bread game. Kind service. Softer lighting would send evening ambiance through the roof.