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Five restaurants worth getting a baby sitter for over the holiday break

Steal away for a couple of hours. You’ve earned it.

Ali Tokhi, owner of The Helmand in Cambridge, waits on a table ahead of the Friday night dinner rush at his restaurant.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day always feels like a free-floating, amorphous blob. Nobody expects you to respond to messages or to brush your hair. Cold pizza is an acceptable breakfast. Time stands still. Assuming you aren’t dealing with one of the 308 respiratory infections going around (my husband just got COVID and is banished to the basement), consider slipping away for a couple of hours. Maybe you even have in-laws in town who won’t mind baby-sitting. Here’s where to make your money and your time count.

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Cocktails: Birds of Paradise

This is the type of cocktail bar where you can try on a new identity for an hour or two: The whole premise is the golden age of air travel (not to Disney with screaming children), with drinks from around the world, straight out of a Jacqueline Susann novel, or James Bond. Owner Ran Duan runs The Baldwin Bar in Woburn, which started as a quirky mansion, Sichuan Garden, serving approachable Chinese food run by his opera-singing dad (really). Duan spun it into a tiki den known for drinks that sizzle, smoke, foam, and froth — complete with the best pickled vegetables in town. On any given weekend, you’ll see Uber-loads of suburbanites disembarking at its doors for a night out. The brand-new Birds of Paradise is smaller and sleeker, with an air of mystery and intrigue, plus a menu of sushi and cheese, which you probably won’t find aboard Spirit Air. 525 Western Ave. #12, Brighton. www.birdsofparadisebar.com

Coconut scallop crudo at Pescador in Kenmore Square.Steve Hill

Glamour: Pescador


Pescador just opened in the old Island Creek Oyster Bar space next door to what was once Eastern Standard. (Don’t worry: Eastern Standard is returning, a few blocks away!) It has a splashy New York feel (the owners run Blue Ribbon in New York City) — and the global seafood menu is intriguing: grilled octopus, crudo of all kinds, chilled seafood goblets, and lobster pizza with bechamel sauce if you’re going all out. There are also tons of tequila cocktails, for those who, like me, have reached the age where only clear liquor will do. 498 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-532-1050, www.pescadorkenmore.com


Low-key date night: Tonino

I’m dying to cross the mighty Charles to try Tonino, a new enoteca in Jamaica Plain. It’s basically an ideal neighborhood spot with megawatt talent: Claire Makely comes from O Ya (swankiest sushi in town), Hojoko (alterna-sushi at the Verb Hotel), and The Koji Club (a new sake bar, also at the Charles River Speedway, which is quickly becoming a culinary destination — who knew?). Partner Luke Fetbroth used to work at Sarma (Globe five stars!). The duo runs it with longtime JP restaurateurs David Doyle and Mari Pérez-Alers (Tres Gatos). Not parenthetical: the food! Little plates of olives and anchovies, cute wedges of hot honey and ricotta pizza, and endless glasses of orange wine. It’s the perfect two-hour escape. 669A Centre St., Jamaica Plain. 617-524-9217, www.toninojp.com

Tomato and camembert at Shirley in Davis Square.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

One really good sandwich: Shirley

If you can disappear for a bit at lunchtime, please try Shirley in Davis Square. Their sandwiches are like eating a warm hug. Bread is made from scratch with local Elmendorf flour, and fixins are super-seasonal: maple roasted butternut squash, woodsy shiitake mushrooms, juicy apples slicing through an herbaceous chicken salad. Portions are generous: One gooey sandwich will feed two people, and perhaps lull you into a nice afternoon nap. 22A College Ave., Somerville. shirleyeatmoresunshine.square.site


A tried-and-true classic: The Helmand

When I called Afghani restaurant The Helmand recently to confirm their hours, a laughing voice on the other end replied: “Ah, we are always open.” Yes: In a rapidly changing East Cambridge, the Helmand has endured for 28 years. Walk in and you feel like you’re in someone’s living room: couches, throw rugs, an exposed roaring oven, sunny yellow walls, knick-knacks scattered here and there. The food is just as comforting: The cashmere-soft, leek-filled ravioli, perfumed with mint and swimming in a creamy yogurt sauce, is as soothing as wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket while watching “White Lotus.” It’s one of those dishes you dream about. So is the pallow rice: an amber-hued, cinnamon-and-nutmeg-scented base for many of the rich, slow-cooked meats, aromatic and familiar all at once. Service is proper but toasty — you get the sense that everyone has been here for years (and they probably have). This is a nostalgic, un-hyped slice of old Cambridge, worth prioritizing. 143 First St., Cambridge. 617-492-4646, www.thehelmandcambridge.com

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her @kcbaskin.