With the lifting of restrictions, this week Massachusetts restaurants begin the return to pre-COVID standards of operation. Although some businesses will maintain select or all safety measures, masks are no longer required, and there are no mandated limits on capacity, group size, or time spent at the table.
Diners are beginning the return, too. Some are ready to rip off the face coverings and dance on the bar until closing; others want to continue with masks and outdoor meals or takeout for now. This period of time will be a negotiation, as everyone figures out what feels right for them as consumers, staffers, and business owners, and how to make that work. But with patience, communication, and respect, we can all have fun again — eating in restaurants together, one of society’s most pleasurable communal experiences.
Here are some places to go that capture the sheer joy of dining out. Most have patios, for those staying outdoors. Wherever you eat, reservations are recommended.
5 Corners Kitchen
For a first meal out in a while, it is hard to beat a classic neighborhood bistro. After hibernating from November to March, 5 Corners Kitchen in Marblehead is back. Chef Barry Edelman has wrestled with adversity before: In 2011, a year after the restaurant first opened, a fire destroyed the place. He reopened a bigger and better version in 2012. Edelman runs the restaurant with wife Begüm, serving the kind of satisfying dishes you want to eat again and again: silky chicken liver mousse, skate meuniere, pitch-perfect steak frites. Although the menu leans French, it weaves in a Caesar salad here, a rigatoni Bolognese there. House-made sausage, such as kielbasa with spaetzle, is always worth ordering. Starting June 5, Saturday brunch is back. Come here, drink wine, eat well, leave happy.
Also try: Bar Lyon, chef-owner Jamie Mammano’s South End salute to Lyonnaise cuisine.
Thanks to the cocktail kits from this Brookline Chinese restaurant, customers drank well during the pandemic and restaurateur Ran Duan (Baldwin Bar, Ivory Pearl) kept staff employed. Now we can enjoy Blossom Bar’s tropical cocktails in person again, too. Duan’s parents opened the restaurant as Sichuan Garden in 1997, and two decades later the award-winning bartender revamped it as a craft-cocktail destination serving Sichuan dishes alongside General Tso’s chicken and beef with broccoli. The menu pleases everyone, and it’s a wonderfully festive place to eat with friends and family: Kids can tuck into chicken fingers and fried rice while adults inhale chile-spiked fish stew and Broken Spanish cocktails, made with tequila, avocado, and coconut, rimmed in powdered grasshoppers.
Also try: Shojo, for mapo tofu-topped duck fat fries, kimchi fried rice, and killer cocktails in Chinatown, where restaurateur Brian Moy’s family has operated dim sum palace China Pearl for 60 years.
Blossom Bar, 295 Washington St., Brookline, 617-734-1870, www.blossombarbrookline.com. Shojo, 9A Tyler St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-482-8887, www.shojoboston.com.
It’s date night! Where to? How about this charming and delightful spot for small plates featuring Latin and Caribbean flavors and ingredients? It’s run by husband-wife team Alberto Cabre and Angelina Jockovich, who were architects and caterers before they opened this restaurant in Somerville’s Union Square nearly a decade ago. Dishes such as bolitas de queso (Puerto Rican cheese fritters), shrimp stuffed with yuca and wrapped in bacon, and carne mechada (Puerto Rican-style pot roast with yuca gnocchi) are perfect for sharing; you’ll also find cocktails and a good selection of sherry and rum.
Also try: Celeste, an intimate Peruvian nook in the same neighborhood, serving ceviche, pisco sours, and more.
Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen
“The intersection of friends, food, and music,” as the Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen website says. In other words, all that we have been missing. Owner Nia Grace, a cofounder of the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, serves up cornbread baskets, Old Bay crab cakes, Cajun-roasted salmon, and “Bob’s Glorified Catfish” (a tribute to predecessor Bob the Chef’s) with all the sides — plus a full roster of cocktails, brunch, and an entertainment schedule that’s currently being updated. Come for the Southern comfort food, stay for the festive vibes.
Also try: Clube Desportivo Faialense, a Portuguese social club in Inman Square that hosts the most convivial, reasonably priced Friday-night dinners. Codfish cakes and grilled octopus keep coming to the table, and caipirinhas and vinho verde flow. It’s a party. Make sure to call ahead for reservations.
Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen, 604 Columbus Ave., South End, Boston, 617-536-1100, www.dcbkboston.com. Clube Desportivo Faialense, 1121 Cambridge St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-868-5030.
The Friendly Toast
This summer, we are going to brunch so hard. And where better to do so than brunch spot extraordinaire the Friendly Toast, with locations in Back Bay, Burlington, and beyond. Come for loaded avocado toast, many variations on the themes of eggs Benedict and omelets, waffles piled high with berries, and more. A lot more. Bloody Mary or mimosa flight? Yes please.
Also try: The Farmer’s Daughter, the longtime Easton brunch favorite from chef-owner Chandra Gouldrup that now has a new location in Sudbury, too.
The Friendly Toast, 35 Stanhope St., Back Bay, Boston, 617-456-7849; Burlington Mall, 75 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, 781-272-9777; www.thefriendlytoast.com. The Farmer’s Daughter, 122 North Main St., North Easton, 508-297-0286; 534F Boston Post Road, Sudbury, 978-261-5832, www.thefarmersdaughtereaston.com.
Every bar has its own personality, its own distinct flavor, but hospitality is always at the root. The Haven, an affable Scottish pub and restaurant in Jamaica Plain, is a perfect perch for socializing, watching football, and talking to friendly strangers over burgers, haggis, and a few pints of Belhaven or a wee dram of single malt Scotch.
Also try: Craigie on Main’s Bar Next Door, for a totally different, equally welcome version of burgers and hospitality. It’s the walk-in sibling to outdoor dining space Craigie Next Door, where reservations are required.
A pretty perfect neighborhood restaurant, serving excellent handmade pasta and more. South End residents know to meet here for gnocchi cacio e pepe, bucatini alla amatriciana, and Negronis, but the restaurant’s reputation is spreading. Chef-owner Douglass Williams, a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2020, is opening a branch in Newton, as well.
Also try: Fox & the Knife, chef Karen Akunowicz’s South Boston enoteca, where taleggio focaccia, tagliatelle Bolognese, chicken under a brick, and spritz cocktails reign supreme. She plans another in the neighborhood, Bar Volpe, for later this year.
This classic North End oyster bar is one of Boston’s most beloved restaurants, for so many reasons: the lobster rolls (hot or cold? hot or cold?), the daily specials — and oh yeah, the oysters! This past year, we haven’t eaten nearly enough oysters. As always, get here early; the tiny spot doesn’t take reservations and fills up fast.
Also try: Select Oyster Bar, the tiny Back Bay restaurant that specializes in raw bar, crudo dishes, and other seafood showstoppers.
A beautiful and delicious nine-course tasting menu, prepared right in front of you by chef Peter Ungár and team, then presented and explained. You can’t really do this at home, although Somerville’s Tasting Counter sort of figured out a way with its online cooking classes. But maybe you’ve had enough cooking for now? The restaurant awaits.
Also try: Asta, where chef Alex Crabb serves serious tasting menus and a quirky sense of humor in an intimate Back Bay setting.
Hei La Moon
Takeout dim sum in the park, consumed from Styrofoam containers on blankets spaced 6 feet apart, was fun for a while. But it wasn’t the same as eating in a restaurant with a big, noisy group, choosing dishes from the carts rolling by, passing plates of dumplings, and pouring one another hot tea. In Chinatown, Hei La Moon is a dim sum classic that was hit hard during the pandemic. Now is a good time to support it in delicious style.
Also try: Winsor Dim Sum House, a Quincy spot for all your favorite dim sum dishes.
Hei La Moon, 88 Beach St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-338-8813. Winsor Dim Sum House, 706 Hancock St., Quincy, 617-481-5383, www.winsordimsumhouse.com.