From South End indie-Indian fusion to hipster Jewish deli in Kendall, presenting our road-tested, thoroughly vetted, highly subjective guide to the 25 new tables most deserving of reserving right now.
Craving even more? Dig into the rest of our 2016 Top New Restaurants feature.
Edited by Jolyon Helterman
Photographs by Nina Gallant
With additional reporting by Elizabeth Bomze, Jacqueline Cain, and Brittany Jasnoff
3710 Washington St., Jamaica Plain, 617-477-4519, brassicakitchen.com.
When Jeremy Kean and Philip Kruta burst onto the scene in 2013 with their North End pop-up, Whisk, even jaded food snobs were wowed by the fresh energy they brought to the chef’s-tasting genre. Brassica Kitchen + Café, Keane and Kruta’s long-sought permanent home, so far lacks that sparkle. It’s partly the whiplash of a high/low menu that bounces from excellent fried chicken to out-there seaweed tagliatelle to head-scratchingly straightforward duck à l’orange. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump. Maybe they’re simply stretched thin serving daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And yet. If you’d seen these guys play a few seasons back, you’d be sneaking them in as a wildcard, too.
Scouting Notes: See above.
58 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown, 617-923-0227, hometastema.com.
After a long run on Cantonese-lite, our collective appetite for Chinese food has been trending west—particularly when it comes to noodles. Ying and Kai Chen’s Home Taste is the latest local outpost to peddle Xi’an- and Shaanxi-style gems like chewy, ragged hand-pulled noodles stir-fried with slices of wok-smoky cumin lamb; slippery “cold skin” ribbons punctuated with spongy wheat-gluten cubes bathed in a glowing-red-chili-oil vinaigrette; and tangles of bouncy strands topped with ragu-like pork and fried-bean-paste sauce.
Scouting Notes: Oppressive décor; stick with takeout or delivery.
One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-577-7427, thesmokeshopbbq.com.
Frankly, the oak-and-cherry-wood-smoked meats at this stylish new ’cue joint haven’t hit their stride. A ribbon-decorated vet of the competition-barbecue circuit, Andy Husbands has to be wringing his hands over brisket texture that toggles between all-but-rendered, fat-laced perfection and chalky desiccation. The good news: The menu packs enough stunners to keep fans coming in. The fried chicken is solid, the southern sides are masterful, and a roster of “New Style City Q” sandwiches includes brisket dressed with Korean-style vinaigrette, kimchi, and gochujang ranch. Meaning, we’re rooting for a textural turnaround in the fourth quarter.
Scouting Notes: Brown-booze depth to make bourbon snobs weep.
315 Shawmut Ave., Boston, 617-356-1100, kavaneotaverna.com.
With our starting Greek quarterback (Brendan Pelley’s shuttered pop-up, Pelekasis) indefinitely benched, we’ve tried subbing in a host of first-string hopefuls from an almost comically deep roster of new Hellenic contenders. Our current favorite: this cozy Shawmut Avenue taverna, where we’ve taken to drowning our sorrows in a glass or two of minerally assyrtiko in between bites of straightforward yet reliably satisfying small plates (mezedakia) and entrées. Highlights include crispy, honey-soaked psiti (salty baked-feta bites) and smoky, grill-charred, oregano-perfumed sea bass drizzled with olive oil and a bracing squeeze of lemon.
Scouting Notes: Noise-phobes beware. Extra points for framed photos of Greek celebs.
3 Appleton St., Boston, 617-482-0117, winkandnod.com.
Gita Kantrow’s Nepali–New England cooking would be a welcome addition to any city’s dining scene, but feels particularly inspired in Boston, where we’ve long been stuck in a tikka masala rut. Most impressively, the self-taught Nepal (by way of Lincoln) native makes fusion fare feel sharp and fun, not gimmicky. Masala fries marry crisp spuds with farmer’s cheese and spicy chutney, while butter chicken comes glossed with a gorgeously spiced sauce as luxe as its name suggests. Kudos to Wink & Nod for another solid pick. We’ll be rooting for her.
Scouting Notes: Perfect basmati: leggy, graceful grains. Cocktail program is bush league. Front-of-house is friendly but fumbles.
318 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-730-8100, gankoramen.com.
It’s hidden in the middle of the musty Coolidge Corner Arcade building. It offers only three regular menu items, plus a sesame cucumber salad. But trust us: Ganko Ittetsu will make your (ahem) super-bowl dreams a reality. Chef Ken Iwaoka’s devotion to Sapporo-style ramen—wherein ingredients get caramelized in the wok before hitting the bowl—shows in every spoonful of umami-rich broth, in every creamy five-minute egg. Whether you opt for the shoyu, the miso, or the spicy tan tan, you’ll want to request a splash of black-garlic oil, which adds a pungent allium kick.
Scouting Notes: Five-yard penalty for beer and cider only. Extra points for Berkshire pork sourcing.
69 Kilmarnock St., Boston, 617-421-4470, tapestry.restaurant.
As Fenway-side Boylston morphs into Specialists Row—offering focused culinary explorations of Southeast Asian, izakaya, and more—undecided diners get the shaft. If only there were some safe haven, hidden a few steps off the main drag, where ecumenical foodies could embrace their fusion-curious tendencies. Here wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas would mingle openly with Peruvian roasted potatoes. Sichuan bouillabaisse would canoodle with vadouvan-spiced cauliflower pierogies. To pull it off, you’d want chef-owners with serious pedigree (i.e., Meghann Ward and Kevin Walsh, from Coppa and Clio, respectively). Plus an inconspicuous name to keep purists from peeking in. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like Tapestry.
Scouting Notes: The confusing dual-concept gambit, the casual Expo Kitchen versus the more-formal Club Room, feels like fertile ground for offside fouls.
321 Arsenal St., Watertown, 617-420-1900, branchlinearsenal.com.
More-delicate palates have decried Branch Line’s heavy hand with smoke. Poor dears. For the rest of us, the live-fire-themed Watertown restaurant—from hospitality kingpins Andrew Holden and Garrett Harker—hits all the right notes. The thick-plumed fog perfumes everything it touches, from crisp-skinned branzino to mahogany-brown rotisserie chicken. But for serious char-heads, the holy grail is a smoldering lovely known as garlic grilled squid, which arrives at the table doused in a smoky condiment made by plunging hot embers from the wood-fired grill into olive oil. In other words: what every one of those obscure sour beers was born to wash down.
Scouting Notes: Two points for patio-side bocce court. Minus one for being closed on Sunday, our usual bocce day.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2 Winter Place, Boston, 617-267-0047, yvonnesboston.com.
Theatricality is the name of the game at this opulent revamp of the old Locke-Ober, but don’t let the glitter fool you. The tightly executed food by Tom Berry and Juan Pedrosa is what sparkles brightest, as evidenced by the anchovy-butter-slathered bavette steak with bone-marrow toast, best enjoyed from a banquette bathed in the moody light of a massive chandelier. On-trend small plates like roasted-sunchoke hummus mingle with luscious remixes of old classics. To wit: briny baked oysters are given the lobster-Savannah treatment.
Scouting Notes: Crowded bar can be daunting, but worth it for such precision/invention. Will the new Godfrey Hotel venture overstretch personnel?
360 Harrison Ave., Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com.
Longtime Barbara Lynch Gruppo lieutenant Colin Lynch (no relation) struck out on his own with a sexy, subway-tiled coastal Italian restaurant in the South End’s Ink Block development. Evidence of Lynch’s pedigree is apparent across the menu, from the elegant haute crudo—slender langoustines with mounds of caviar; fat slices of yellowtail with grapefruit oil and chilies—to the lovely lineup of lightly spiked spritzes. Order the above, and all you’d need is a crostini or two, topped with smoked bluefish or hazelnut-studded beef tartare, to make a graze-worthy meal.
Scouting Notes: Modish design details are crisp and on point, right down to the pops of orange in servers’ aprons.
9 Sanborn Ct., Somerville, 617-718-2333, heatsomerville.com.
We’ve long crushed on Journeyman, our go-to for those times when a tweezer-y, nine-course tasting in deepest Somerville—requiring advance-purchase $115 tickets—is just what the doctor ordered. Jokes aside (it’s truly special), the new Heat, presided over by co-chef Tru Lang, is better positioned to make our regular rotation. Less theme night than permanent pop-up—it replaces Journeyman Monday through Wednesday—the à la carte concept is casual in all the right places, especially in its embrace of live fire’s incendiary charms. Ember-burnished root vegetables get tossed with ash dust. Duck-kimchi skewers sizzle and hiss their way to a handsome char. All of that plus the same world-class cocktails from Backbar, the sister drink specialist next door.
Scouting Notes: Whole chicken. Roasted to order. With gobs of ramp butter.
505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1008, littledonkeybos.com.
Leave it to veteran sluggers Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette to bring it home with a menu that reads like a culinary hallucination, from matzo-ball ramen and chow fun with escargot to halibut biryani and Thai chili–mango curd sandwiched between Ritz crackers. The most out-there specimen of all? A tiered seafood plateau—with ever-changing neo-raw-bar delicacies like razor clams with jicama and crunchy pepitas, and live uni with dashi and yuzu—that doesn’t feel witheringly throwback in 2016.
Scouting Notes: Well-staffed bar turns out balanced, vivid cocktails. Servers have tons to remember; sometimes they don’t. Make reservations, or plan on extended tailgating.
One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, 617-958-3354, mamalehs.com.
The wandering is over. Thanks to the squad behind State Park, Boston finally has legit deli, complete with a takeout case and Dr. Brown’s black cherry soda. Everything, from the smoked fish and meats to the phosphates and egg creams, is as real deal as what you’d get on the Lower East Side, but modernized and often more refined. House lox is satiny, not saline; liver is more mousseline than chopped; fressing (Yiddish for pigging…er, eating with gusto) is optional. Traditionalists will have to contend with a new-school, hipster vibe—this is Kendall, after all—but are welcome to nosh and pass judgment from sunup to sundown.
Scouting Notes: Best deli prospect north of the Bronx. Lactart could be 2017 beverage MVP. Matzo-ball handling (more schmaltz?) still unreliable.
1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-2300, waypointharvard.com.
The theme-y coastal concept of Michael Scelfo’s latest venture—barely a week old when we dropped anchor—might seem self-satirizing if the food weren’t already so freaking good. There are nautical nods: crusty bread dyed with squid ink, and tallow-fried peanuts strewn with crispy anchovies. And then there are deep plunges: smoked head-on shrimp, candy-sweet king crab perched atop satiny brown-butter aioli, and garlicky clam pizza that pays homage to Frank Pepe’s signature pie. Those who prefer turf over surf might go for large-format delights like roasted Maine lamb shoulder with pickled lemon. But, yeah, there’s fish (anchovy) in that one, too.
Scouting Notes: Killer house-made hot sauce, bread basket worth paying for, save room for croissant doughnuts. Impressive absinthe-roster depth. Frenetic early-season service.
569 Columbus Ave., Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com.
The name’s short for Serene Republic of Venice, but there’s nothing tranquil about the vivid flavors of Michael Lombardi and Kevin O’Donnell’s Venetian fare, which hits the palate with all the precision and layering of a Gabrieli sonata. Deep-fried Castelvetrano olives burst with perfumey fennel sausage and molten montasio cheese. Preserved lemon rings out like a trumpet obbligato over the dark, rumbling cello notes of unctuous squid-ink risotto. Even the quieter moments—Wagyu crudo deepened with cocoa nibs and nutty sunchoke purée—have the intensity of a brass choir mustering its most convincing pianissimo.
Scouting Notes: Desserts could use a special-teams coach.
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com.
It’s the oldest story in the book: city falls for chef, chef courts other city, other city gets the magic while we get stuck with phoned-in BS. Hooray, exceptions. That Ken Oringer can open a spiffy Toro in New York—plus another in Bangkok—and still find time to keep Toro 1 and Coppa purring, launch a Central Square gunner (see number 5), and transform Uni from a 23-seat sashimi counter into a quadruple-size izakaya flagship is a testament to his energy, chops, and commitment to nurturing deputizable talent (see Uni executive chef Tony Messina). Also, to dreamy dishes like king crab yakitori slathered with black-lime butter, and fatty-tuna nigiri with uni powder and truffles.
Scouting Notes: Overlong menu means inevitable strikes, including a Momofuku crib or two (crispy broccoli with puffed rice).
See more from our 2016 Top New Restaurants feature.
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