ALL STAR PIZZA BAR: 1238 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-547-0836, allstarpizzabar.com Kosta and Johnny Diamantopoulos, the brothers who have owned Inman Square’s All Star Sandwich Bar since 2008, opened this pizza parlor across the street in April. Among the best of its odd yet delightful pies is Ms. Piggy’s Fig, a whirlwind of blended cheeses, Black Mission figs, prosciutto di Parma,vincotto, and toasted pistachio gremolata.
AMSTERDAM FALAFELSHOP: 248 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-764-3334, falafelshop.com This Washington, D.C., pita purveyor’s fans rejoiced when it opened a branch in Davis Square. Why? The chickpea spheres are perfectly seasoned, crisp outside, and cooked through. And the fabulous toppings bar means everyone can make the sandwich exactly to his or her liking. Opt for a simple salad with tahini or go all in with pickled beets, chickpea salads, hot sauce, baba ganoush, and much more.
BACKBAR: 9 Sanborn Court, Somerville, 617-718-0249, backbarunion.com Adjacent to its sister restaurant, Journeyman, backbar has the feeling of a speak-easy or a secret clubhouse. To reach it, head down an unglamorous, brightly lighted hallway, and into the hip room. Order from the ever-changing chalkboard menu — perhaps some spicy caramel popcorn, bread and butter, or a charcuterie platter from chef-owners Diana Kudajarova and Tse Wei Lim.
Everything on the menu pairs well with drinks crafted by a team of all-star bartenders. This place is one secret worth sharing. Pictured: Spicy caramel corn
A charcuterie platter at Backbar.
BELLY WINE BAR: 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-494-0968, bellywinebar.com Here, the people behind the Blue Room and Central Bottle try to pass a passion for wine along to patrons. A quirky list of unusual varietals focuses on specific regions and producers and presents selections under headings such as “binders full of women” (the work of female winemakers, of course). To fuel the fun, chef Robert Grant serves a selection of charcuterie and salumi geared toward the hungry carnivore.
Bartender Ryan Connelly pours a cocktail at Belly Wine Bar.
CASA B: 253 Washington Street, Somerville, 617-764-2180, casabrestaurant.com The work of two architects turned caterers, the restaurant is stylish and sparkling, with a poppy-red and white interior — modern and romantic at once, it could be the year’s best date spot.
The Union Square restaurant applies Latin and Caribbean flavors to the concept of tapas, yielding bright-tasting dishes like seviche, shrimp filled with yuca and wrapped in bacon, and meatballs in guava sauce. Pisco sours and caipirinhas are tremendous, too.
A selection at Casa B in Somerville.
A merengon of passion fruit with raspberry sauce at Casa B.
A chocolate falling down cake at Casa B.
ECCO PIZZERIA: 1147 Commonwealth Avenue, Allston, 617-903-4324, eccopizzeria.com Owner Stephen Silverman describes his whole-grain organic crust as “somewhere between Rome and New York.” One fetching pie comes with eggs cracked on top; the Bianca is sauceless with Asiago, prosciutto, and dressed arugula. Dessert pizzas might be sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or with chocolate-hazelnut spread. Ask for a scoop of ice cream to top it off.
FARMSTEAD TABLE: 71 Union Street, Newton, 617-928-6000, farmsteadtable.com A rustic-chic space — white walls, wood tables, and spring-green chairs — that’s sweet but spare enough not to be precious.
And it boasts a menu featuring dishes that are comfortable and clean, the sort of food people want to eat with regularity. Think well-made salads, steamed clams with broth, roast chicken, and a great burger. The wonderful spelt bread and s’mores tart, made by chef-owner Chad Burns’s wife and partner, Sharon, complete the meal. Now if only there were more than those 48 seats.
The Roast Free-Range Chicken served at Farmstead Table.
The Roast Autumn Squash entree served at Farmstead Table.
The Count Neck Clams appetizer served at Farmstead Table.
The Rabbit Rillettes appetizer served at Farmstead Table. The dish consists of rabbit rillettes on olive oil toast, warm maple bacon, and an onion vinaigrette.
The Grilled Grass-Fed Burger entree at Farmstead Table.
GEORGE HOWELL COFFEE: 311 Walnut Street, Newtonville, 617-332-6886, terroircoffee.com A latte from George Howell Coffee Cafe in Newtonville.
J.M. CURLEY: 21 Temple Place, Boston, 617-338-5333, jmcurleyboston.com Named for charming scoundrel James Michael Curley, this Downtown Crossing hangout has achieved some notoriety for its cheeky house rules, such as: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s date, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor his grub, nor his cocktail, his barstool, space, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.” But its food should be taken seriously, from snacks such as fried pickles and deviled eggs (pictured) to frequently changing specials to — perhaps above all — a perfect grilled burger. Add in bubble hockey, desserts that resemble Dairy Queen Blizzards, and a strong bar program, and you’ve got an instant neighborhood hit.
A selection at J.M. Curley.
A burger selection at J.M. Curley.
Bacon peanut brittle at J.M. Curley.
KITCHEN: 560 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-695-1250, kitchenbostonmass.com History repeats itself at this South End restaurant from Scott Herritt, the chef behind Grotto and Marliave. This Kitchen revives dishes of yore, from mock turtle soup (a more elegant cousin of beef stew) to lobster thermidor to the decadent tournedos Rossini. The menu lists the date each dish was conceived.
Cocktails echo the nostalgic theme, as does the music, all on vinyl (although “Thriller” won’t feel vintage to some). This trip in the way-back machine would seem like a gimmick if the past didn’t taste so good today.
NIX’S MATE: Hilton Boston Downtown/Financial District, 89 Broad Street, 617-348-1234, nixsmate.com How does a Hilton stand out from its corporate brethren? Open an unusually pretty restaurant with reclaimed wood and attractive lighting. Then hire a real-deal chef like David Nevins, formerly of Olives and Neptune Oyster. There’s plenty here that out-of-towners love to order, like clam chowder and fried cod with chips. But there are also wild and delicious riffs such as lamb tonnato, a grilled chop with tuna sauce, and fried Maine lobster in caramel sauce. The creativity is welcome for travelers and locals alike. Pictured: Lamb Tonnato
Nix’s Mate in the Financial District.
OAK LONG BAR + KITCHEN: The Fairmont Copley Plaza, 138 St. James Avenue, Boston, 617-585-7222, oaklongbarkitchen.com Even as Locke-Ober closed this year, the Fairmont Copley Plaza’s Oak Room found a way to reinvent itself. Oak Long Bar + Kitchen respects tradition, maintaining architectural elements while updating the decor. The food, too, has been modernized, with salads, pasta dishes, and roast chicken from the hearth oven served alongside classics like oysters Rockefeller. This isn’t the Oak Room anymore, but it’s awfully lively all the same. Pictured: a tagliatelle with lobster dish.
A bone-out rib-eye dish from the Oak Long Bar + Kitchen.
Roasted chicken on a hot plate dish from Oak Long Bar + Kitchen.
THE PAINTED BURRO: 219 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-776-0005, thepaintedburro.com The Painted Burro is more Latin American than classic Mexican, though grilled fish and meat and moles — all made with really fresh ingredients — fill the menu here, at the former home of Gargoyles in Davis Square. Try the house-infused cucumber tequila margarita, the coolest, smoothest tequila concoction in a glass. And don’t miss the tortilla chips. Seriously. Who knew they could be so good? Pictured: Short Rib Barbacoa--Archer Angus beef, poblano and Oaxaca cheese grits, and red wine Mexican cola mole with peas and carrots.
Mexican street corn on the cob with roasted garlic mayo, cotija cheese, and cayenne at The Painted Burro in Davis Square.
Flan topped with strawberries at The Painted Burro.
SALOON: 255 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-628-4444, saloondavis.com Bringing a splash of 1920s glamour to pub-filled Davis Square, Saloon’s bartenders wear suspenders and ties, while waitresses sport jazzy cocktail dresses. Food is also unusual. Where else in the neighborhood might you find duet of rabbit or Cornish game hen? Potent beverages arrive in vintage glassware. Here, just a staircase away from the world above — and directly below sister restaurant Foundry on Elm — cocktailing remains a special occasion.
SEPAL: Longwood Galleria, 350 Longwood Avenue, Boston, 617-277-3500, sepalrestaurant.com A standout at Sepal’s third and newest location is the crispy falafel sandwich, a toasted pita rolled around salad, homemade hummus, and chickpea rounds green with fresh herbs.
YAKITORI ZAI: 315 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, 857-350-4450, yakitorizai.com Proving there’s much more to Japanese food than sushi, Yakitori Zai focuses on skewers of grilled chicken and other ingredients, cooked over charcoal imported from Japan. In addition to chicken breast, chicken meatballs, and other familiar preparations, Yakitori Zai grills tails and cartilage, beautiful seafood and vegetables, and rice balls brushed with soy. This is the rare Japanese restaurant that feels like one you might actually find across the Pacific.
YUME WO KATARE: 1923 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-714-4008, yumewokatare.com A ramen chef from Japan opened Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge’s Porter Square. The name means “tell me your dreams,” yet the line here often stretches nightmarishly down the block (it’s only open 6 p.m. to 11). If your dream is a fine bowl of ramen, you’ll need luck and good timing to achieve it.
Pork ramen at Yume Wo Katare.
Patrons line up outside Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Blackbird Savory Pies: blackbirdpiecompany.com (for a list of retail locations) The Carolina-style barbecue pork pie from this new wholesaler, Blackbird Pie Company, is like having an entire cookout under one crust — tender pork with mustard greens, sweet potatoes, and apples.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Blue Ribbon Barbecue Trailer: 262 Second Avenue, Needham, blueribbonbbq.com/trailer This trailer, usually parked near an industrial park in Needham, came equipped with an onboard smoker that turned out a fantastic burnt ends sandwich (those are crispy brisket bits) in sauce on a plain white bun. They plan to reopen in March.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Corn & Co: Burlington Mall, near the food court, 781-221-7100, cornandco.com Popcorn goes gourmet in the Burlington Mall with lots of unexpected concoctions, such as the excellent dill pickle and marshmallow. And with this new snackery’s emphasis on custom combos, you can order them in the same bag.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Georgetown Cupcake: 83 Newbury Street, Boston, 617-927-2250, georgetowncupcake.com Washington, D.C.’s superstar cupcakery has finally migrated north to Boston, bringing a luscious Red Velvet cupcake topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting and a charming red-fondant heart.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Lone Star Taco Bar: 479 Cambridge Street, Allston, 617-782-8226, lonestar-boston.com The no-frills menu of tacos, nachos, and chili is paired with a thoughtful list of tequila and mescal here, but a tongue-tingling Dallas spicy beef taco is the star. Topped with longhorn cheese on handmade tortillas, it is a $4 meal unto itself.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Ocean Ave Pops: oceanavepops.com Ocean Ave Pops earned a following on the Greenway this summer, and they can still be found at indoor winter markets. Track them down and try the watermelon-blueberry-basil. You can thank us later.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Q’S Nuts and Other Cravings: 349 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617-764-3741, qsnuts.com Q’s Nuts has sold treats to specialty retailers for years, but this year opened its own shop outside Davis Square. Taste the tropics in the chocolate coconut almonds, roasted with dark Belgium chocolate plus toasted and raw coconut.
SINGULAR STANDOUTS > Tatte Bakery & Cafe: 318 Third Street, Cambridge, 617-354-4200, tattecookies.com A must-have at the Brookline favorite’s new Kendall location is the pistachio croissant, made extra decadent with an additional round of butter folded in, house-prepared pistachio paste, and toasted pistachios.