Lincoln’s AKA Bistro is an elegant blend – half French, half Japanese. The menu divides its time between the countries. On the French side, you’ll find boeuf en daube, which sounds much more glamorous than beef stew, but thankfully tastes just as comforting. It’s prepared with seasonal vegetables the chefs procure from area farms.
> 145 Lincoln Road, Lincoln, 781-259-9920, akabistrolincoln.com
When this dessert is bad, it’s really bad – dry and heavy. Eastern Standard’s butterscotch bread pudding does not have that problem. The Kenmore Square restaurant’s version is a custardy square surrounded by a pool of salted caramel sauce and topped with praline ice cream. Which puts this dessert over the top.
> 528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617-532-9100, easternstandardboston.com
Boston’s Sweet Cheeks specializes in Southern comfort, and nothing says “welcome” more quickly than a bucket of biscuits. Each bucket comes with four of the tallest, fluffiest ones around, served with honey butter. How does chef Tiffani Faison get them to rise so high? “Slowly,” she says, cutting all the butter in by hand.
> 1381 Boylston Street,Boston, 617-266-1300, sweetcheeksq.com
Petsi Pies is known for rhubarb pies, bourbon chocolate pecan pies, even cupcakes. But baker Renee McLeod also makes mean chicken potpies, with the same great crusts, filled with generous chunks of meat and vegetables. She only prepares a limited quantity, so if you want to be sure of snagging one at her Somerville spot, order in advance. They come in a smaller size that serves one to two, or a large for six to eight. When the growing season kicks into gear, McLeod gets the potatoes and carrots (as well as strawberries, rhubarb, and more) from local farms and farmers’ markets.
> 285 Beacon Street, Somerville, 617-661-7437, petsipies.com
Good chowder is surprisingly hard to come by. It’s so often gloppy or bland. At the Blue Ox in Lynn, chef-owner Matt O’Neil applies fine-dining experience from the likes of Prezza and No. 9 Park to crowd-pleasing dishes. His clam chowder is rich and smoky with applewood bacon.
> 191 Oxford Street, Lynn, 781-780-5722, theblueoxlynn.com
COCONUT CREAM PIE
Where better to find a lovely iteration of coconut cream pie than a Chinese-influenced restaurant? It’s less of a surprise when that restaurant is Boston’s Myers + Chang, co-owned by Joanne Chang of bakery Flour. The version here features a mini shell filled with voluptuous coconut pastry cream and a layer of lime whipped cream. The flavors work perfectly with the restaurant’s Asian dishes.
> 1145 Washington Street, Boston, 617-542-5200, myersandchang.com
During Sunday brunch, Craigie on Main in Cambridge serves a doughnut that would be amazing enough on its own – cakey, yet with a bit of spring, coated in a fine dusting of sugar. But the restaurant serves it with caramel confiture du lait, or caramel milk jam, which makes it one of the best doughnuts around.
> 853 Main Street, Cambridge, 617-497-5511, craigieonmain.com
FRANKS AND BEANS
Trina’s Starlite Lounge’s version of beanie wienies is sort of like campfire food in France – the menu calls it “Southern cassoulet.” By any name, the combination of duck confit, bacon, boudin, black-eyed peas, and smoky tomatoes at this Somerville spot satisfies the stomach.
> 3 Beacon Street, Somerville, 617-576-0006, trinastarlitelounge.com
Monday is the best day of the week, thanks to Highland Kitchen in Somerville. The restaurant’s Fried Chicken and Tiki Mondays kill any incipient school-night blues. The buttermilk fried chicken is crisp, juicy, and generously portioned, served with mashed potatoes and gravy, collards, and a biscuit. Combine with a tiki drink and sail through the week.
> 150 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617-625-1131, highlandkitchen.com
The Clam Box opens for the season each year in mid-February. As you may be able to tell from the long lines, the fried clams are worth waiting all winter for. The shellfish comes from Ipswich whenever possible, so it’s fresh as can be; this seafood shack never uses frozen. The batter is light and just crunchy enough, allowing the sweet, tender clams to shine.
> 246 High Street, Ipswich, 978-356-9707, ipswichma.com/clambox
GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
At Storyville in Boston, chef Louis DiBiccari’s version of green bean casserole is like no other. A creamy and tangy sauce of New Hampshire’s Landaff cheese binds together green beans, cauliflower, and meaty roasted mushrooms. Crisped shallots and fresh herbs stand up to the richness. If you never thought you’d like green bean casserole, think again.
> 90 Exeter Street, Boston, 617-236-1134, storyvilleboston.com
GRILLED CHEESE AND TOMATO SOUP
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a classic pairing. Not timeless, however – the two evoke snowy childhood afternoons. Garden at the Cellar in Cambridge serves a grown-up version with a sandwich of sharp cheddar and Clear Flour pain de mie and soup that actually tastes like tomatoes. “We make 5 gallons of soup every other day,” says sous chef Anthony Palmisano. “People go bananas for it.”
> 991 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-475-0045, gardenatthecellar.com
Hungry Mother’s wonderfully creamy grits evolve with the seasons. When Maine shrimp were available, chef Barry Maiden pureed them with butter and folded that into the mixture, then topped it with fried oysters. Moving into spring, he might pair the grits with sauteed ramps, bacon, and a poached egg. Grits are also served as a side year round at this Cambridge restaurant. Enriched with tasso ham and cheddar, they don’t really need anything else.
> 233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue, Cambridge, 617-499-0090, hungrymothercambridge.com
For a while there, burgers were getting all fancy, with price tags to match. Boston’s Tasty Burger, in a re-purposed gas station marked with a glorious neon sign, does not operate that way. Burgers cost $4 to $7, available with toppings from butter to jalapenos, and showcased on a squishy, sesame-seed bun. As you eat one, you can drink beer, play pool, and listen to the jukebox as late as 2 a.m. Look for Tasty Burger, run by the folks behind the Franklin Cafe and Citizen Public House, to expand this year.
> 1301 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-425-4444, tastyburger.com
ICE CREAM SUNDAE
Cabot’s has been open in Newtonville since 1969, and stepping inside feels like a trip back in time. Although it serves diner classics and breakfast all day, the thing to get is an ice cream sundae, dripping over the edge of a silver dish. Choose from more than 40 flavors and 35 toppings, or go for favorites such as the banana split or good old hot fudge.
> 743 Washington Street, Newtonville, 617-964-9200, cabots.com
MACARONI AND CHEESE
Boston has had a long love affair with Silvertone Bar & Grill’s mac and cheese for a reason. For 9 bucks, you get a serving of gooey, creamy, crumb-topped corkscrew pasta and a side of greens. Tack on $2, and you can get the mac topped with bacon.
> 69 Bromfield Street, Boston, 617-338-7887, silvertonedowntown.com
In the North End, Prezza offers Spaghetti & Meatball Wednesdays. Eat at the bar starting at 5:30 p.m. and you can get handmade tagliatelle with three meatballs for $6. If you’re thirsty, there’s Chianti for $12 per carafe. But that’s not the only way the meatballs are served – just the least pricey. Prezza serves them daily in a dreamy dish that also includes polenta, sausage, ribs, and tomato sauce.
> 24 Fleet Street, Boston, 617-227-1577, prezza.com
The fine meatloaf at the Franklin Cafe in Boston is made with roasted turkey, which means it’s a bit lighter than usual. It’s wonderful on its own, but what really makes the dish is the pairing of flavors. With spiced fig gravy and chive mashed potatoes, it offers a symphony of savory and sweet. It’s not always on the menu, so double-check before you go.
> 278 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, 617-350-0010, franklincafe.com
The Wahlberg brothers’ latest Hingham restaurant specializes in burgers. But the best thing on the menu at Wahlburgers may be the “adult frappes” – milkshakes made even more decadent by the addition of booze. They come in flavors such as gingerbread (vanilla malt ice cream with rum, vanilla vodka, ginger syrup, and crumbled gingersnaps) and mud pie (coffee ice cream with Kahlua, chocolate liqueur, vanilla vodka, and Oreos). But the diehard Funky Bunch aficionado will go for the strawberry, banana liqueur, and vodka concoction called Funky Monkey.
> 19 Shipyard Drive, Hingham, 781-749-2110, wahlburgers.com
Chef Josh Sherman became known for his bison Bolognese when he cooked at Washington Square Tavern. Now he’s at the Abbey, a quintessential neighborhood restaurant in Brookline, and this signature dish came along with him. It’s not a classic Bolognese, but more of a meat sauce tossed with fresh linguine and Romano cheese. The ground bison is hearty and spicy, and the sauce has a sweetness from red peppers and parsnips, along with tomato paste, carrots, and onions.
> 1657 Beacon Street, Brookline, 617-730-8040, abbeyrestaurant.com
Bondir in Cambridge serves one very extraordinary sauerbraten, or German pot roast, made with Wagyu beef. First it spends about a month in a brine of juniper and warm spices. Next it’s braised in apple cider, white wine, ginger, and more for 12 to 14 hours. When it’s done, chef Jason Bond chills it, then cooks it again in the jus until the meat starts to caramelize and the sauce thickens. It’s absurdly tender. As the season turns, Bond plans to serve it with the likes of roasted wild onions and wild green garlic, green peas in rose hip preserves, and wilted yukina savoy, a tatsoi-esque green.
> 279A Broadway, Cambridge, 617-661-0009, bondircambridge.com
Barbecue might be the ultimate American comfort food, meat cooked low and slow, infused with smoky flavor. Blue Ribbon Bar-B-Q’s pulled pork sandwich is hard to beat. Pork shoulder is smoked for 14 hours and then seasoned with a North Carolina-style vinegar-based sauce. It’s piled on a soft roll, which soaks up the juices.
> 908 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 781-648-7427, and 1375 Washington Street, West Newton, 617-332-2583, blueribbonbbq.com
The version at Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End is justifiably famed, but it shouldn’t get all the roast chicken love. At Rendezvous in Cambridge, chef Steve Johnson features a fine version on his Sunday prix fixe menu (comfortably priced at $38 for three courses) and a la carte ($23). It’s rubbed with Moroccan spices, served right now with parsley root, sauteed mustard greens, and preserved lemon. Moving into warmer weather, it might be accompanied by a ragout of spring-dug parsnips, hakurei turnips, fiddleheads, green garlic, and French breakfast radishes, then sprinkled with chives grown in the restaurant’s rooftop garden. Start your meal with a cheese plate or salad and end with the lemon-buttermilk pudding with huckleberry sauce and you have the perfect Sunday night supper.
> 502 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-576-1900, rendezvouscentralsquare.com
STEAK AND POTATOES
For those times when you’re feeling a bit anemic, Aquitaine Chestnut Hill has you covered. The French restaurant serves a mean steak frites. Slices of chewy yet tender hanger steak share a plate with golden fries, watercress and shallot salad, truffle vinaigrette, and beefy jus. With a glass of good red wine, your meal is complete.
> 11 Boylston Street (Route 9), Chestnut Hill, 617-734-8400, aquitainebis.com
Half the bars in town serve wings, but Buff’s Pub in Newton is an undisputed master of the form. This is a known fact among wings fanatics, who make pilgrimages for meaty, juicy, crispy-on-the-outside chicken in flavors such as barbecue, spicy teriyaki, and chipotle. The hands-down favorites, though, are the sweet-spicy honey hot and the classic Buffalo (available in mild, medium, hot, and extra hot). Cash only.
> 317 Washington Street, Newton, 617-332-9134, buffspubofnewton.com