Welcome to 2014. Some people head into the year resolved to eat healthier. Some vow to seek out new experiences. Others are simply too hung over to make sweeping life decisions. Whatever one’s outlook, a new year calls for meals with a fresh perspective. Here is a selection of restaurants at which to seek that out, whether for cleaner, lighter fare; flavors less encountered; or an inspired twist on a familiar cuisine.
At this Allston cafe, the food is tasty, generously portioned, and reasonably priced. It also may be the best place in town for a vegan to find a legitimate approximation of a meatball sub. Cauliflower po’boys, giant salads, and a decadent weekend brunch keep everyone happy — even carnivores who are simply trying to cut back. Doubters need only try the Root burger, a thick patty of black beans and quinoa topped with lettuce, tomato, onion rings, and a garlic-spiked, aioli-like spread. It’s served with herbed fries. For a more cleansing experience, try one of Root’s freshly made juices, such as the Beetnik (beet, orange, and fennel) or the Green (cucumber, kale, green apple, and lime). 487 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-208-6091, www.rootboston.com.
Pictured, the Root burger and hush puppies at Root.
ALSO TRY: Life Alive, serving tofu-and-vegetable bowls, healthy salads, juices and smoothies, and other vegetarian fare. (Also has branches in Lowell and Salem.) 765 Massachusetts Ave., Central Square, Cambridge, 617-354-5433, www.lifealive.com.
East by Northeast
Although Chinese New Year doesn’t come until the end of the month, there’s no reason the tradition of eating long noodles for a long life can’t be put into practice now. Skip greasy takeout. At East by Northeast, chef Phillip Tang (T.W. Food, Hungry Mother) serves modern Chinese food made with local ingredients. His thick-cut wheat noodles are glorious, served in spicy beef broth with braised beef shank or with pork ragout. 1128 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-876-0286, www.exnecambridge.com.
Pictured, thick cut noodles at East by Northeast.
ALSO TRY: Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe, where Xi’an native Gene Wu makes top-notch hand-pulled noodles served with chili oil, cilantro, and drifts of raw garlic or cumin-laced lamb. (Also has a branch in Chelmsford.) 86 Bedford St., Downtown Crossing, Boston, 617-482-1888, www.genescafe.com.
This Afghan restaurant is a Cambridge staple for a reason. Yes, there’s the fireplace. But there’s also the food — savory and sweet, spiked with spices, accompanied by fluffy piles of rice and flatbread pulled from the wood-burning oven. It’s one of the best places in town for vegetarians and meat eaters to share a meal; neither leaves feeling shortchanged. Don’t miss the kaddo, baked pumpkin with yogurt sauce. Lamb dishes are also particularly good. 143 First St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-492-4646, www.helmandrestaurant.com.
Pictured, Helmand’s kaddo & banjan challow.
ALSO TRY: Ariana, for Afghan food on the other side of the river. 129 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-208-8072, www.arianarestaurantboston.com.
At this Italian restaurant, the ever-changing menu is inspired by the food of Piemonte and the creativity of Charles Draghi. He is one of the city’s most mindful chefs, with an eye for detail, craft, and focused flavor. He steers clear of butter and cream, and you will never miss them; from the handmade pasta to the rack of wild boar, dishes are driven by herbs, spices, and infusions. 69 Church St., Bay Village, Boston. 617-426-6969, www.erbaluce-boston.com.
Pictured, wild boar at Erbaluce.
ALSO TRY: Coppa, an enoteca where flavors are combined in a mind-bendingly delicious fashion, with an emphasis on trotters and tails. 253 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, 617-391-0902, www.coppaboston.com.
Puritan & Company
Chef Will Gilson updates New England fare, making the most of local ingredients. The food is anything but stodgy. Think salt-roasted pear salad with Vermont goat cheese or johnnycake topped with soft-boiled egg, roasted shrimp, and sea urchin aioli. Puritan is also one of the best places in town to preserve that New Year’s Eve feeling with swank canapes — gougeres, local oysters, swordfish pastrami, and more. 1166 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-615-6195, www.puritancambridge.com.
Pictured, swordfish pastrami from Puritan & Co.
ALSO TRY: Vee Vee, where creative American dishes are made from regionally sourced produce, meat, and seafood. The menu is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. 763 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-522-0145, www.veeveejp.com.
For those who may be feeling a bit tender today, few things are more restorative than steaming hot pot, a Q specialty. Slide fresh ingredients such as rib eye, fish paste, vegetables, and noodles into bubbling broth until they are just cooked, then ladle out and slurp. The quality of the broth is key, and Q’s are excellent. There’s an herbal version to cure what ails you, black-bone chicken or Mongolian veggie to soothe your stomach, and spicy kimchi and crazy mala broths to help you sweat it out. 660 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston, 857-350-3968, www.thequsa.com.
Pictured, a hot pot at Q Restaurant.
ALSO TRY: Kaju Tofu House, which specializes in sundubu jigae, Korean soft-tofu soup. Make it spicy. You’ll feel better right quick. 58 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-208-8540, and 57 JFK St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-864-6868.
Stylish, sweet, romantic, and fun — Casa B is the perfect date-night restaurant. It feels located somewhere between Barcelona and a tropical island, with small plates built around Latin and Caribbean flavors. Ceviche, salt cod fritters with cilantro aioli, meatballs with a guava-based sauce, and pisco sours offer a welcome hit of brightness and warmth in the midst of winter. 253 Washington St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-2180, www.casabrestaurant.com.
Pictured, the dining upstairs at Casa B.
ALSO TRY: Orinoco, a Venezuelan restaurant featuring arepas, salads stocked with hearts of palm and bacon-wrapped dates, beef with rice and beans, and more. 477 Shawmut Ave., South End, Boston, 617-369-7075; 22 Harvard St., Brookline Village, Brookline, 617-232-9505; and 56 JFK St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-354-6900, www.orinocokitchen.com.