These places do not serve many leafy greens. They’re restaurants with lines around the block, no matter what the weather, and they serve heaping mounds of ramen noodles, cinnamon-Danish French toast, juicy pork-filled dumplings, and salty, succulent meats. They all have legions of fans and when your friends go, they’re probably filling your social media feeds with phone shots of their dinners. Even if you don’t know them, plenty of people do. They have a cult following.
Whether it’s a taste of childhood you’re after, a midnight snack, or simple comfort food in times of stress (we were all there last week), we come to these places with a purpose: to satisfy a craving. One is weekend brunch. Sunday morning there are lines stretching out the door of popular spots, and if you think French toast is dull, you’ll find exciting variations you never thought of. Another craving is for Brazilian fare at a churrascaria (barbecue restaurant), where several kinds of succulent meats are cooked rotisserie-style. Ramen is a relatively recent craving. After percolating for years in New York and LA, the craze has finally hit Boston. And all things tapas, which used to mean Spanish food, but now applies to anything chefs decide to make in small portions, a fun and luxurious way to dine. And who doesn’t crave a dog or a burger or outstanding fries or a homemade doughnut now and again? From our newest fast food establishments we expect fresh ingredients and house-made everything. And finally, broth-and meat-filled Chinese dumplings. When all else fails, broth is the most comforting of all foods.
At a time when our city is recovering, we count on our favorite places and the good people who work at them to bring a bit of normalcy, and joy, back into daily life. Let’s eat.
BRUNCHDeluxe Town Diner
627 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown
You’ll wait at least 45 minutes on a weekend, where folks pile into vinyl booths for sweet potato pancakes and other treats. “Make sure you get them with pecans,” Joanna Brownstein, another customer, tells us. According to our waitress, there are “tons” of regulars but, “every shift, I get someone in here for the first time.” The day after the Marathon explosions, she wondered aloud to her manager, “Are they going to come out?” It was a quieter morning than usual, but then the regulars began to show up, “They all came — and then some,” she says.
Trina’s Starlite Lounge
3 Beacon St., Inman Square, Somerville, 617-576-0006
Anyone who has spent time waiting tables knows that serving Sunday brunch can be a miserable shift, and a meal that those in the industry rarely get to enjoy. Trina’s offers brunch for chefs and servers Mondays from noon to 4 p.m. It’s a lively crowd, “about 85 percent industry people,” our server tells us. On holidays, the 9 to 5ers show up for chicken and waffles, creamy corn fritters, and brunch cocktails that pack a punch. Before he opened Trina’s, co-owner Beau Sturm says, “My wife and I were out for brunch and just thought, we should give this back to the industry. We thought, we’ll give it a shot and if it doesn’t work out, maybe we’ll pare back and do it once a month. But it just took off, and we never looked back.”J & M Diner Inc.
969 Concord St., Framingham
When we arrive at J&M, there are a dozen people waiting outside, and a dozen more smushed inside the packed restaurant, waiting for a seat. Jessica Cloutier is here with her husband, John, and two teenage sons. Cloutier, a high-school friend of Karen Fiore, who co-owns the diner with her husband, Jim, raves about the food and says “everyone is just so friendly, and happy to see you, no matter how crowded it gets.” A group of middle-school girls has convinced someone’s mom to bring them after seeing mouthwatering pictures on Instagram. After 40 minutes, we are seated at the counter and inhale lemony eggs Benedict, overstuffed omelets, and Wicked Sinful French toast, large slices of cinnamon-Danish pastry, given the egg treatment, topped with gooey icing, and piled high with fruit and whipped cream. To our horror, we eat every last bite. A very hungry man still waiting for a table is getting a little impatient. “I’ve never been here, but I saw the line and figured it must be good. Is it worth it?,” he asks. Yes, it most certainly is.
BRAZILIAN BARBECUEOasis Restaurant
373 Main St., Medford, 781-396-8337,
At Oasis, you have two options: pay by the pound or go with the popular all-you-can-eat option. You make trips to a salad bar for sweet caramelized plantains and several types of rice and beans. Then, most importantly, to the rotisserie, where a server carves beef, pork, sausage, and chicken. A Haitian-American diner at the next table tells us that this food, especially the rice and beans, reminds her of home. When she comes here, she says, she realizes how popular the place is. “I had no idea my neighborhood was so diverse.” Our waitress, Miria Slaviero, thinks only about 10 percent of the clientele is Brazilian, though many Brazilian families fill the restaurant on Sundays after church. Slaviero tells us about the caipirinha, a limey drink made with cachaca; it’s the perfect way to wash down all that deliciously salty meat.Fogo de Chao
200 Dartmouth St., Boston, 617-585-6300,
Friends in LA were excited when the upscale chain Fogo de Chao opened here in Copley Square. And though the dining room feels corporate, servers bring an endless parade of succulent meat skewers to the table, and the salad bar has huge wheels of Parmesan, smoked salmon, shaved ribbons of prosciutto, and sparkling fresh veggies of all kinds. What it lacks in charm, it makes up for in quality. Be prepared to pay dearly. It’s $48.50 for dinner, about twice the price of most other area churrascaria.
RAMENUni Sashimi Bar
370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, 617-536-7200, www.unisashimibar.com
It started with pop-ups like Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, from the folks at O Ya. Now Uni Sashimi Bar in the Eliot Hotel serves late night bowls of the Japanese noodle soup from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (only Friday and Saturday once college kids head home for the summer). For $10, you order one of three kinds: a traditional bowl with slow-roasted pork shoulder, beef short rib and kimchi, or a vegetarian miso-shoyu. “We do it for fun, it’s not something we really publicize on the website. It’s for the industry and anyone else who wants to come in and have a good time,” says chef Tony Messina.Backbar
9 Sanborn Court, Union Square, Somerville,
If weekend nights after 11 seem like a small window for ramen, Backbar in Somerville serves up exactly 10 bowls of pork-duck-scallop-miso a day, starting at 4 p.m. When they run out, that’s it for the day.Yume Wo Katare
923 Massachusetts Ave., Porter Square, Cambridge, 617-714-4008
This Porter Square spot has the most accommodating hours (5 to 11 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday). It’s cash only, there is one kind of ramen (though you can request garlic or more noodles and fat, at no extra charge, if you dare) and always a line. The porky broth is slick with fat, the large bowl filled to the brim with thick noodles. What this city needs is a ramen lunch truck. Why do night owls get to have all the fun?
SMALL PLATESBlue Dragon
324 A St., Fort Point Channel, Boston, 617-338-8585, www.ming.com
At Ming Tsai’s new Asian-fusion gastro-pub, Blue Dragon, diners give their cell numbers to the hostess, while they explore the hip Fort Point Channel neighborhood. On the night we visited the wait was 2½ hours (no reservations). At dinner, the hostess tells us, “It’s almost always an hour and a half.” Happily, servers are prepared, quick with drinks and recommendations for a hand-held appetizer, like rich braised beef potstickers.Toro
1704 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-536-4300, www.toro-restaurant.com
Eight years after Ken Oringer opened Toro, a tiny tapas spot, the wait on a recent Friday night is over 2 hours (no reservations). Customers don’t seem to mind hanging around for razor clams with lemon, garlic and piquillo peppers, and grilled corn with aioli, esplette pepper, and aged cheese. Our strategy is to rush the bar when the doors open for dinner and enjoy after-work cocktails and tapas at a leisurely pace.Casa B
253 Washington St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-2180, www.casabrestaurant.com
Diners gather at Casa B for Caribbean flavors and Latin flair in a romantic atmosphere. Cozy up on a couch downstairs for refreshing mojitos, and a trio of ceviche scooped up with crispy plantain chips. Happily, you can make a reservation here, which we noted after arriving one Wednesday evening, only to be told every seat was booked for the night. One feature many tapas restaurants share (besides serving shareable plates) is an open kitchen. No matter how crazy and crowded it gets, the cooks always appear to keep their cool.
FAST FOODClover Food Lab
7 Holyoke St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-640-1884, and other locations in Inman Square, Cambridge, and Burlington Mall www.cloverfoodlab.comUnion Square Donuts
16 Bow St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-702-2446Boston Super Dog food truck
46 Newmarket Square, Roxbury (locations vary), 617-481-4600, www.bostonsuperdog.com
Gleeful tweets from the new Chestnut Hill location of Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack had us dreaming of frozen custard and the perfect classic burger. For a lighter take, Clover Food Lab’s fleet of trucks, and their several brick and mortar locations, dole out vegetarian food on the fly. Rosemary fries are a big hit at lunch and during the afternoon snack rush, according to manager Brett Mickael, who tells us they’re made from Prince Edward Island potatoes, cut up and soaked for about 10 minutes before they hit the deep fryer. Rosemary is added for the last 15 seconds to infuse them with earthy flavor.
For your sweet tooth, look out Dunkin’. Apparently customers want homemade doughnuts like their grandmothers made, but in fun new flavors like maple-bacon and hibiscus cherry. The crazy-popular Union Square Donuts in Somerville realized they had to act fast, as they were selling out within hours of their daily opening. After less than two months in business, the shop is moving to a new location down the street so they can amp up production and meet demand for their “Donut Nation,” as they affectionately call loyal customers.
Boston Super Dog (formerly known as Speed Dog) might be the original fast food truck. Two years ago, Gregg Gale traded in his yellow trailer for a truck, switched up the name, but kept his behemoth custom-made hot dog the way it’s been for years. Ketchup, mustard, relish, BBQ sauce, chili sauce, and bean-less chili are all Gale’s own recipes. The counterperson suggests we get it “loaded” with all of the above plus chopped onion. If you’ve never been, consider yourself forewarned: Dress in a poncho and arm yourself with wet wipes. While I was inhaling the super-dog on a sunny sidewalk recently, a passerby stopped me mid-mouthful to ask incredulously, “Where did you get that?”
DUMPLINGSMary Chung Restaurant
464 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-864-1991, www.marychung.comGourmet Dumpling House
52 Beach St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-338-6223, www.gourmetdumpling.comDumpling Cafe
695 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-338-8859,
1360 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-648-8882
Chinese dumplings are perfect little pockets of homemade dough, filled with meat and aromatics, and sometimes, if you are really lucky, the savory broth of xiao long bao. XLB, as their fans like to call them, can be dangerously hot. You must transfer them via chopsticks from the steamer basket to a soup spoon, along with a little black-vinegar dipping sauce, and nibble off a corner of the pouch to let the steam escape, before slurping up the soup and devouring the package. There is a group of people, non-Chinese included, who are fanatical about them, always on the lookout for the perfect XLB. Often dubbed “mini juicy buns” or something similar on menus, they should have thin skins, be slouchy with soup, and contain a flavorful filling of pork/crab/aromatics.
Mary Chung Restaurant serves a delicious rendition only at Sunday dim sum brunch. More than once we have arrived too late in the afternoon at this Central Square spot. In Chinatown, Gourmet Dumpling house seems to have a perpetual line out the door for a crab and pork version. Fans argue online about whether Gourmet Dumpling is as good as nearby Dumpling Cafe. The latest place to get your XLB fix is Szechuan’s Dumpling, which opened earlier this year in Arlington Heights. I took a friend from out of town to try these juicy delights. As we drove away from the restaurant, she stared out the car window and said, wistfully, “I just don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about those dumplings.”
Catherine Smart can be reached at