by Jenna Pelletier | October 22, 2017 5:45 am
11 Dorchester St., South Boston, 617-622-5700, publicoboston.com.
Southie hangout or chic tropical lounge? You may find yourself asking that question as you nibble on tobiko-topped ceviche served with crisp plantain chips in the vine-draped atrium, open year round. Given that Publico would attract a well-heeled afterwork crowd on the merits of that open-air bar alone, the menu from chef Keenan Langlois is surprisingly strong, combining Latin-leaning flavors with street-food tropes in unexpected ways (see the crunchy tacos filled with rib-eye tartare).
THE SAUCY SOPHISTICATE
608 Main St., Cambridge, 617-714-4995, sulmonacambridge.com.
“Chicken Parm” and “hip Cambridge restaurant” aren’t typically uttered in the same sentence, but in the case of Sulmona, it’s not an oxymoron. The unapologetically red-sauce-forward restaurant slings upgraded renditions of Italian classics—rigatoni amatriciana, succulent lamb skewers with grilled lemon, and, yes, the aforementioned pollo parmigiano, here crowned with a hefty slice of fresh mozzarella. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find moments of creativity on chef Delio Susi’s menu: a pizza special on the night we visited showcased peach, Calabrian chilies, and duck confit nestled atop creamy béchamel—a balanced harmony of sweet, spicy, savory goodness.
160 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-266-1122, buttermilkbourbon.com.
It’s a perpetual party at this New Orleans–flavored spot from chef Jason Santos, where pitchers of hurricanes flow freely under the blue glow of the Voodoo Lounge. Just order up the warm honey-glazed biscuits (served with smoked cinnamon butter and pimiento cheese spread, naturally); the juicy, crisp buttermilk-fried chicken thighs; and the fluffiest beignets north of Bourbon Street, and let the good times roll.
264 Newbury St., Boston, 617-266-0707, purocevichebar.com.
First they brought us the stellar Kava Neo-Taverna just as Greek cuisine was starting to crest in Boston. Now, with their new Latin-tinged raw bar, these under-the-radar restaurateurs are once again proving they have a knack for nailing how we want to eat now. Find fresh red snapper awash in ají amarillo–amped passion-fruit juice in one tiradito; chili-laced sea bass cooled down by silky coconut milk and cilantro in another. For the diners who eschew raw seafood—there must be some among the tourists and shoppers on Newbury Street—there are bites such as smoked chicken anticuchos (skewers) doused in a garlicky chimichurri you’ll want a spoon to finish.
2297 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 857-267-4201, yellowdoortaqueria.com.
Yellow Door’s tacos won’t necessarily sway critics who argue that Boston lacks “authentic” Mexican fare. But with their bold flavors and vibrant colors, these Mexi-Cali morsels bring something new to the scene. Twenty-seven-year-old chef Colton Coburn-Wood, who formerly cooked at Ken Oringer’s La Verdad and Hamersley’s Bistro (since closed), combines crispy pork belly with fluffy goat cheese, roasted beets, and prickly-pear jam; salty papas con chorizo with a sunny fried quail egg; and the ubiquitous “catch of the day” with chili-infused crispy batter and calabaza (squash) purée. The eclectic shabby-chic décor from HGTV star Taniya Nayak only adds to the spot’s one-of-a-kind feel, making it well worth the trek to Lower Mills.
THE FOOD LOVER’S BAR
50 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-714-5226, theautomaticbar.com.
Strong, straightforward drinks, such as a gin martini dirtied with lemon-thyme brine, are the main draw at this retro-styled, vinyl-record-spinning cocktail joint. But co-owners Chris Schlesinger (the original East Coast Grill) and Dave Cagle (B-Side Lounge) have been around long enough to know that the accompanying food should never be an afterthought. Their salty, spicy, snackable menu is the perfect complement to an evening of imbibing, with never-boring fare such as plantain chips doused in a Doritos-inspired spice blend; noodles with crispy Chinese sausage, pine nuts, and ginger; and a Cubano inspired by the late neighborhood favorite Chez Henri.
NOT-SO-FLASHY FINE DINING
304 Stuart St., Boston, 617-917-5193, mooncusserfishhouse.com.
From bar programs to bathroom wallpaper, these days some restaurants seem to be obsessing about everything but the food. It’s quite the opposite inside this third-floor Back Bay space, where the über-minimalist white-table-clothed ambiance keeps the attention right where it should be—on chef Carolyn Johnson’s refined cuisine. The 80 Thoreau team’s first city project takes an elegant approach to the seafood category Bostonians love so much, with dishes such as lobster-stuffed skate and caviar-topped monkfish bourride. Even the U-shaped Moon Bar downstairs (serving up a more-casual menu but with the same stark look) boasts high-test touches, including Loire sparklers by the glass and a must-order Mars bar–like frozen dessert that’s topped with warm chocolate upon arrival.
MAUI MEETS CAMBERVILLE
300 Beacon St., Somerville, 617-945-1042, manoa.fish.
Schools of poke shops have swum into town recently, but the Manoa experience feels less like just another fast-casual fish joint than it does a funky roadside snack shack with really tasty food and a finger on the local pulse. There’s pristine fish, of course, much of which comes from up and down the Northeast corridor (don’t miss the velvety Maine hiramasa bathed in citrus and coconut). But there’s also Kalua pork with bark as thick as Texas brisket, batter-fried chicken thighs, and fresh juices that taste like they’re straight from the tropics.
THE EURO ESCAPE
560 Tremont St., Boston, 857-233-5941, frenchieboston.com.
Every neighborhood in Paris has a Frenchie: an overachiever all-day café that will serve you beyond-solid renditions of a dozen or so classics. With thoughtfully chosen by-the-glass wines. Even if you show up famished at 3 p.m. Highlights of the menu at this cozy subterranean gem include escargot toast on grilled country bread lavished with garlicky snail butter, the requisite steak frites, and generously portioned small-plate takes on boeuf bourguignon and “drumstick coq au vin.” Here’s hoping the neo-French craze ushers in like-minded spots in every Greater Boston arrondissement. (Until then, the South End’s the lucky one.)
THE CUT-ABOVE COUNTER
Prudential Center, Boston, 617-807-7300, eataly.com/boston.
The power of unfussy food is alive and well at this Mario Batali–Barbara Lynch seafood counter nestled inside Eataly Boston. Here, the two culinary pros (along with the complex’s executive chef, Jason Neve) abide by the ethos that the best thing you can do with super-fresh New England catch is, well, not too much. The result is basic in the best way possible—perfectly golden fritto misto, sea scallop crudo dressed with little more than peppery olive oil and fresh apricot, and al dente tagliatelle ribbons swimming alongside cubes of sustainably caught bluefin tuna.
270 Third St., Cambridge, 617-945-0907, sumiaohunan.com.
Remember when Sichuan cuisine broke through the Hub’s largely Cantonese-American monotony, one numbing-hot bowl of mapo tofu at a time? Well, Kendall Square’s Sumiao is now blazing a trail of its own, this one marked by the distinctively Hunan mash-up of fermentation, heat, vinegar, and wok hei smoke. It might be the only local outpost where you can tuck into regional gems like thin-sliced pork belly spiked with fresh green chilies; translucent sticky-rice shumai seasoned with shiitakes and cracklings; and wrinkly garlicky-sauced green beans and purple eggplant—and it is certainly the only place to do so from a spacious patio or an electric-blue barstool.
NEW-GUARD NORTH END
5 North Sq., Boston, 617-829-4975, northsquareoyster.com.
With this modern, seafood-focused destination, second-generation North End restaurateur Nick Frattaroli and executive chef Douglas Rodrigues (a Clio and Liquid Art House alum) are bringing something fresh to the area’s pasta-packed streets. Rodrigues’s raw selections, in particular, typify his fine-dining background: think salmon crudo slicked with Chinese hot mustard and adorned with raspberries, and tuna poke dusted with foie gras powder. He’s even given neighborhood classics like Bolognese an upgrade—here, it’s beefed up with oxtail and parsnip and topped with sweet, succulent lobster.
DOUGH WITH A SHOW
242 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-396-8199, prairiefirebrookline.com.
Pizza-making…as dinner theater? It’s a reality at this Brookline hot spot, where pizzaiolos toss pies loaded with charred greens and fennel sausage into the wood-fired oven that takes center stage behind the bustling bar. But the real star at Prairie Fire—the latest from the team behind Milton’s acclaimed Steel & Rye—is the tightly edited list of intricate house-made pastas: strands of earthy spinach bigoli tossed with duck ragu and an egg yolk; lemon gemelli laced with zucchini, arugula pesto, and smoked potatoes. The candlelit tables and lively neighborhood vibe, meanwhile, are the perfect formula for a night out on the town with the kiddos, a blind date, or any occasion in between.
243 Hampshire St., Cambridge, 617-945-7448, moonarestaurant.com.
Fragrant orange-blossom water. Smoky-hot harissa. Intensely citrusy preserved lemons. At Mohamad El Zein and Radouan Ouassaidi’s Inman Square mezze spot, everything on the menu revolves around the bold flavors of the Arabic pantry, or mouneh. In collaboration with chef Rory Lee, the duo, who hail from Lebanon and Morocco, respectively, apply the region’s red-hot-right-now culinary color palette in transportive ways. Highlights include sweet-savory phyllo-wrapped chicken bastilla (an Arabic chicken pie of sorts); taklia potatoes swimming in a rich lemon-garlic sauce; and charred grape leaves that get a zing from the tart currants hidden inside.
THE LOCAL KNOCKOUT
782 Tremont St., Boston, 617-936-3490, midaboston.com.
Neighborhood restaurants are a funny genre, beloved as much for their consistency, price point, and proximity as their culinary ambition. Then there are the next-level down-the-blockers that elevate the game so high they make other enclaves envious. Case in point: Mida, the cozy South End overachiever where everything is better than it needs to be. There’s the four-star service and wine-geek-friendly bottle list, the all-you-can-eat-pasta Mondays, and, of course, owner Douglass Williams’s finesse with Italian-ish comfort food, from striped-bass crudo with olives and crispy potato to garlic-butter-slathered focaccia dreamy enough to, you know, troll your average Back Bay resident.
THE TECHNICOLOR TRIP
505 Washington St., Boston, 617-266-0102, rukarestobar.com
This Peruvian-Japanese spot in the Godfrey Hotel boasts bright, photogenic flourishes all around. In the rainbow-hued, Incan-fantasyland-themed dining room. In the splashy cocktail program with accoutrements like smoldering cedar rose garnishes and alligator drink pitchers. And, of course, in the stacked menu of showoff-y dishes such as Wagyu maki served over flames, octopus lomo saltado plated to resemble a mountain, and long-bone short rib garnished with waves of watermelon radishes. Fortunately, the Latin-accented sushi rolls, bold anticuchos, or skewers, and dramatic desserts (try the fish-shaped waffle with banana brulée, prickly pear sorbet, and spicy peanut brittle) taste just as good as they look on camera. Not that we’d expect anything less from this team, which is also behind the equally over-the-top Yvonne’s.
321 A St., Boston, 857-284-7742, oakandrowan.com.
Some restaurants feel hatched by a trend lab. And then there are quirkfests like Nancy Batista-Caswell’s first Boston venture, which exuberantly meanders from low to high, now to nostalgia, soulful locavore to persnickety artiste. That randomness is its charm: a highly personal pastiche that might include salmon crudo shaped like a wreath, edgy lamb-shishito pasta, rib-eye with creamed onions, and homey buttermilk-date cake, followed by an elaborately plated cheese course straight out of some Thomas Keller biopic. It’s a risky gambit, but O+R has several key ingredients: a kitchen (chef Justin Shoults and pastry whiz Brian Mercury) with the chops to land dish after dish. And the graciously unique brand of hospitality that Batista-Caswell perfected at Newburyport stalwarts Ceia and Brine, which, as it turns out, works just as well in Fort Point.
THE NEW MOM-AND-POP
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, pammyscambridge.com
This neighborhood-y hang from husband-and-wife team Chris and Pam Willis—he’s in the kitchen and she’s the namesake smile at the host stand most nights—exudes the energy and intimacy of a great dinner party, with affable front-of-the-house staff manning the glamorous, expertly antiqued dining room; a buzzing communal table; and finely tuned cocktails from seasoned barman Moe Isaza. It all sets the stage for Chris’s beautifully restrained, Italian-influenced cooking, which lets top-quality ingredients and textbook technique shine in dishes such as beets with cherries and goat cheese, braised octopus with polenta cubes, and brick-cooked chicken with endive and olives. Score one of the coveted tables by the restaurant’s fragrant wood-burning fireplace, and you’ll want to cozy up with your pals all night long.
2 Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-268-6800, lscambridge.com
Just in case you’ve missed the recent increase in beret sightings: There’s a French resurgence afoot in Boston and beyond, as diners once again embrace the charms of Escoffier-era cuisine. Restaurant kingpin Garrett Harker and chef Jeremy Sewall’s genteel Harvard Square bistro specializes in conscientious transcriptions of the Gallic hit parade gently nudged into the 21st century, from Parisian-style gnocchi built with tangy goat butter to roasted monkfish amped up with green curry. On-the-pulse wine and cocktail lineups by sommelier Lauren Daddona and barman extraordinaire Jackson Cannon, too, feel unmistakably 2017. But then there are the pleasures that feel simply timeless: think half-shell bivalves tended to by oyster farmer and partner Skip Bennett, garnished with nothing but a squeeze of lemon and a flinty Loire white.
THE MODERN MASH-UP
310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com.
There are restaurants that bill themselves as “chef-driven,” and then there’s next-level Pagu, where Tracy Chang has created a dining experience that reads like a page out of her culinary diary. While the chef’s blend of Japanese and Spanish cuisines might seem disparate at first blush, it makes perfect sense once you get to know the ambitious mind behind the line. Noodle bowls and pillowy pork belly bao reference Chang’s role cofounding the pop-up Guchi’s Midnight Ramen; an innovative black-sesame tofu dessert recalls her time in the kitchen at O Ya; and pan con tomate was inspired by her days in Spain, where she worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Pagu recently started serving breakfast, so head in for an airy croissant (Chang also studied patisserie in Paris), pull out your laptop, and sit tight until sake-and-sherry hour rolls around.
THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE
One Bennett St., Cambridge, 617-661-5050, benedettocambridge.com.
From the 12-foot pasta table at the back of Benedetto’s elegant, white-tableclothed dining room, chef Michael Pagliarini turns
out pasta dressed to impress: sheets of al dente fazzoletti deepened with meaty foraged mushrooms; ribbons of pappardelle fortified with smoked rabbit sugo and prosciutto. But it’s not all about the carbs at this Charles Hotel stunner, the sister spot to Porter Square favorite Giulia. From the polished secondi to the whimsically artful desserts from pastry chef Renae Connolly—recent hits include the warm hazelnut-praline bomboloni with palate-cleansing passion-fruit sorbet, and a peach crostata with citrus-semolina crust and creamy plum gelato—a meal here is the embodiment of the Hub’s Italian-restaurant revival.
5 Tyler St., Boston, 857-305-3129, ruckusboston.com.
Just when we thought Boston had reached peak ramen, our enthusiasm for the form has been reawakened at this new hip-hop-blasting, Murakami-decorated Chinatown noodle den from the owners of Shōjō and Best Little Restaurant. Here, chef Mike Stark is serving up the stuff of our quick-service dreams: springy house-made noodles luxuriating in deeply flavorful broths ranging from miso to paitan to shoyu, coupled with upgraded toppings such as braised togarashi-spiced lamb and crisp fried chicken skin. Taking a cue from the fast-casual customization model, you can also soup up your bowl with add-ons such as a whipped-pork-fat “umami bomb,” soy eggs, and tofu skin. But unlike many fast-casual spots, staffers will deliver food directly to your seat, and even clear your (sleek, black-lacquered) tray for you. Now that’s what we call slurping with style.
Ames Hotel, One Court St., Boston, 617-979-8203, cultivarboston.com.
After more than two decades as a chef, Mary Dumont finally owns her own restaurant, and she’s using it to turn out some seriously impressive flora-forward fare. While her new Ames Hotel spot certainly isn’t vegetarian (see: the house-made lamb sausage and rabbit mortadella agnolotti), plants are most definitely the star of the show, both on the plate and in the greenery-bedecked dining room. For proof, look no further than the foraged nettles brightening house-made pasta with hearty lamb sugo; the garland of greens cutting through creamy burrata with brown-butter bread crumbs; and the rooibos tea leaves lending a subtle smokiness to duck breast. And with the installation of a freight-container farm on the restaurant’s urban patio finally complete, we can’t wait to see what the chef comes up with now that her inspiration is just a pick away.
THE CHAMPION OF THE CHAR
Prudential Center, Boston, 617-807-7307, terra.eataly.com.
When we first learned that an upscale, Mario Batali–branded “Italian grill” was opening—in the Prudential Center mall, no less—we weren’t optimistic. Boy, was our spidey sense off. With Lawrence-born Dan Bazzinotti running the show, Eataly Boston’s signature restaurant has been nothing short of a smash hit, thanks to a simple, two-pronged philosophy: Strip down recipes to their essentials so that ingredient quality shines through, and give just about everything the kiss of the smoldering oak-wood fire, from the charry pork-sausage skewers to the smoked native corn in the handmade ricotta ravioli. In fact, the components of almost every dish can be purchased at Eataly’s downstairs kiosks. All of which goes to show the wisdom of keeping your local talent close, and your imported goods even closer.
233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge, 617-314-7297, cafedupays.com.
Open since July, the latest from the State Park–Mamaleh’s crew offers a snacking-friendly roster of French-Canadian fare that’s already as dreamy as Justin Trudeau. Lightly fried artichokes get tossed with herbs, then gussied up with luscious foie butter. Flawless poutine features authentic curds and fries so preternaturally crisp they defy gravy-wilting physics. The Québecois affinity for game and fish shines bright, with updated riffs on traditional fare like hearty tourtière (meat pie), fluke with juniper salt, and tender swaths of rosy, huckleberry-dotted venison. Oh, yeah…and it’s in the space once occupied by the group’s beloved Hungry Mother, so frankly, we shouldn’t be surprised it’s a winner.
See more from our 2017 Top New Restaurants feature.
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