In many ways, 2022 was a year of triumphant returns. To regularly eating out in restaurants, as reservations became hard to score again. To going out for drinks, hot and cold, at debut taprooms, speakeasies, and cafes. To exciting openings, from celebrity spots to neighborhood favorites to places featuring new-to-Boston cuisines. Oyster bars were everywhere, plant-based cuisine continued to put down roots, and diners’ favorite question was back: So, where should we eat tonight?
As always, we take a look back at the year that was. Here are some of the restaurants, dishes, and moments that stood out:
Best sport: Stand aside, World Cup. For diners, the best sport out there in recent months has been playing catchup. There are so many new restaurants to try and old favorites to return to. Have you been to downtown Irish pub The Dubliner, Celeste sibling La Royal, Southie tasting-menu specialist Lenox Sophia, Quincy Hong Kong-style cafe Rubato, Cambridge craft pizza joint Si Cara…? Time to start scheduling meals for 2023.
Opening of the year: PlantPub Fenway. The plant-based pub — a partnership between chef Mary Dumont (Cultivar, Harvest), craft beer guru Pat McAuley (Rewild), and plant-based lifestyle company Matthew Kenney Cuisine — features 250 seats and a whopping 8,000 square feet. It’s a big one symbolically too. A place to eat vegan comfort food and drink beer right by Fenway Park? Not so long ago the idea would have seemed far-fetched, but interest in plant-based dining continues to rise. The Fenway PlantPub is offline until Opening Day 2023, but you can still make like Ben Stiller, John Travolta, and Zendaya and visit the original (smaller) Cambridge branch.
61 Brookline Ave., Fenway, Boston (currently closed); 675 West Kendall St., Cambridge, 617-714-5452; www.plantpub.com
Buzziest debut: While we’re talking celebrities, it’s worth remembering that famed UK chef Gordon Ramsay came to Boston this year with Ramsay’s Kitchen. The chef known for Michelin stars and a barbed tongue served up a menu of crab cakes, beef Wellington, and very British desserts at the Mandarin Oriental in Back Bay, and the reservation book filled. There’s now a second Ramsay’s Kitchen — in Vegas.
774 Boylston St., Back Bay, Boston, 857-289-0771, www.gordonramsayrestaurants.com/en/us/ramsays-kitchen
The “expanding Boston’s culinary horizons” award goes to (tie): Bab Al-Yemen (Kenmore Square) and Yunnan Kitchen (South End). Bab Al-Yemen, claiming the title of first Yemeni restaurant in Boston, serves homey flatbreads from a clay oven; spiced chicken with rice, broth, and chile sauce; stone bowls filled with lamb stew; and other dishes from Yemen, all halal. Meanwhile, Yunnan Kitchen introduces the city to a wide range of Dian, or Yunnan, specialties such as crispy potato pancakes, stir-fried rice cakes, and mushrooms with chile powder. (Some American Chinese restaurant classics are here too.)
Bab Al-Yemen, 468 Commonwealth Ave., Kenmore Square, Boston, 857-250-2943, www.babalyemenboston.com. Yunnan Kitchen, 1721B Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-936-4123, www.yunnankitchensouthend.com.
Best new neighborhood joint: BoonNoon Market in Arlington. Here, Nutthachai “Jeep” Chaojaroenpong (DakZen) serves bright, craveable Thai dishes cooked to order as you browse your way through the store, picking up house-made snacks, herbal remedies, instant Thai noodles, and so much more.
161 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-316-0059, www.boonnoonmarket.com
Best new fancy clam shack: Little Whale Oyster Bar. Chef Michael Serpa (Atlántico, Select Oyster Bar) repurposes the Back Bay space that was bistro Grand Tour for this ode to New England seafood in the not-so-rough. Favorites like chowder, fried clams, and lobster rolls share the stage with elegant crudo dishes, lobster spaghetti, and nicely cooked and plated local fish.
314 Newbury St., Back Bay, Boston, 857-277-0800, www.littlewhaleboston.com
Best new lunch spot: High Street Place. This downtown food hall gets it right for local office workers and tourists alike, featuring food and drink from real-deal local favorites. Start with a drink at craft cocktail bar Daiquiris & Daisies, then move on to oysters at Dive Bar, sushi at Fuji, Jewish deli fare at Mamaleh’s, porchetta sandwiches at Pennypacker’s, doughnuts from Blackbird Doughnuts, and more.
100 High St., Boston, www.highstreetplace.com
Presentation of the year: Faccia a Faccia’s vegetable and fruit platters. Nothing says feel-good luxury like the vegetable antipasti or chilled fruit plate at Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s Newbury Street Italian restaurant. Each features a bounty of fresh, seasonal produce with accompaniments, in a savory or sweet vein. It’s all of the healthful, vibrant fruits and vegetables you want to eat, without any of the peeling or slicing.
278 Newbury St., Back Bay, 857-991-1080, www.facciaafacciaboston.com
Dessert of the year: Gelato at Moëca. Talented pastry chef Renae Connolly’s desserts grace the menu at this Cambridge sister spot to nearby Giulia. They are all good, but the frozen compositions stand out. Don’t miss the gorgeous smoked vanilla mascarpone gelato with spicy caramel popcorn.
1 Shepard St., Cambridge, 617-945-0040, www.moecarestaurant.com
The “breakout beverage” award goes to: sake. This year the Boston area got its first dedicated sake bar in the form of the Koji Club, where knowledgeable proprietor Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale showcases the rice-based drink alongside tasty snacks and maybe even some karaoke. Then Farthest Star Sake, a brewery and taproom, opened in Medfield. Traditional Japanese sake has started to appear in unexpected places — for instance on the menu of new Italian restaurant Tonino in JP. Those in the know compare sake’s current moment to the early years of the craft beer movement. We’ll see whether that bears out, but the domestic market is certainly burgeoning. A report by research group the Insight Partners predicts that the global sake market, valued at more than $9 billion in 2019, will reach $13 billion by 2027.
Best new watering hole (tie): Roundhead Brewing Co. (Hyde Park) and The Wig Shop (Downtown Crossing). Luis Espinoza and Craig Panzer met as JP soccer dads and decided to open a brewery and taproom together. Come to Roundhead for the fresh, seasonal brews, from Peruvian lager Contigo to dragonfruit Berliner Weisse Quantum Reggae; stay for the pizza. At The Wig Shop, a lounge run by the Bina Family Hospitality Group, find fancy finger food alongside a roster of smartly conceived, well-executed cocktails and plenty of Champagne.
Roundhead Brewing Co., 1 Westinghouse Plaza, Hyde Park, 617-360-7070, www.roundheadbrewing.com. The Wig Shop, 27 Temple Place, Downtown Crossing, Boston, 617-338-6333, www.wigshopboston.com.
Most welcome new coffeeshop: Madhouse Cafe. Adjacent to motorcycle maintenance and repair shop Madhouse Motors, this Roxbury cafe came about because owner J. Shia wanted to offer patrons a place to sit and sip while waiting for their bikes to be fixed. Instead the whole neighborhood turned out, for tahini lattes, baklava made by Shia’s mom (they’re Lebanese), and cafe standards. With ochre walls, potted plants, and plentiful outlets, it is both stylish and welcoming.
24 Blue Hill Ave., Roxbury, www.madhousecafe.com
Saddest closures: We’ve said goodbye to many longtime favorites in recent months. S & I Thai in Allston did more to advance true-to-Thailand cuisine in these parts than anyone. Beloved Central Square restaurant Mary Chung will say its farewell Dec. 31: Where will we get our suan la chow show fix? Nearby stalwart for Puerto Rican specialties Izzy’s Restaurant & Sub Shop, open since the ‘80s, shuttered too. As did Somerville’s warm, romantic, and fun Casa B, one of the best date-night spots around. Chinatown lost fan favorite Gourmet Dumpling House; the South End said au revoir to Cafe Madeleine and its excellent French pastries. We will miss them all.
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.