15 Boston restaurant dishes to give thanks for

Lobster roll at Olives in Charlestown.
Lobster roll at Olives in Charlestown.(Tamir Kalifa for The Boston Globe)

This year, Boston restaurants had burger fever, with just about every place in town offering a version of the sandwich. Japanese ramen noodles began to take hold, appearing at pop-up restaurants and on late-night menus. The cocktail craze continued, but new wine bars also appeared on the scene. The Oak Room reinvented itself, while Locke-Ober closed. Kendall Square blossomed, and the already burgeoning South Boston waterfront prepared to explode. The constant amid changes and passing trends? Some really good food. With Thanksgiving upon us, it’s time to reflect on the larger things for which we are grateful. The smaller pleasures are worth remembering, too. Here are 15 dishes I was thankful for this year.


Start out with a sandwich or bowl of falafel balls and add the toppings at Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Davis Square.
Start out with a sandwich or bowl of falafel balls and add the toppings at Amsterdam Falafel Shop in Davis Square.(Joanne Rathe / Globe Staff)

Amsterdam Falafelshop


248 Elm St., Somerville. 617-764-3334.

Long a fan of D.C.’s Amsterdam Falafelshop, I couldn’t have been happier when a branch of the pita purveyor opened in Somerville’s Davis Square. The falafel itself is delicious, cumin-scented, crisp on the outside, and properly cooked on the inside. But it’s the toppings bar that makes this the best falafel sandwich in town, with more than a dozen pickles, sauces, and salads to choose from.

Carne mechada

Casa B

253 Washington St., Somerville. 617-764-2180.

This Latin and Caribbean tapas joint is one of the best date-night restaurants around. The place is stylish and sparkling, modern and romantic. And the food is great. One standout is the carne mechada, a Puerto Rican version of pot roast. The deeply flavored beef stew is served with gnocchi made from yuca, cloaked in brown butter and garnished with sage leaves. It’s a delicious fusion of bistro and Borinquen.

Roast autumn squash

The "Roast Autumn Squash" entree served at Farmstead Table in Newton.
The "Roast Autumn Squash" entree served at Farmstead Table in Newton.(Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)

Farmstead Table

71 Union St., Newton Centre. 617-928-6000.

What a joy to find vegetables so beautifully and simply showcased on a restaurant table. Buttery, velvety roast acorn squash (pictured at right) spills over with kale, Brussels sprouts, and carrots. It is far more satisfying than it has any right to be, each ingredient cooked to its ideal point, a true portrait of the bounty of the season.


Reuben toasts

The Hawthorne

500A Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-532-9150.

Both polished and relaxed, the Hawthorne is one of the best bars in town. It serves great snacks to match. For instance, Reuben toasts, which offer the flavors of the sandwich in a much tinier package: smoky meat, melted cheese, sharp kraut, and a bit of tangy dressing. Perfect with whatever potion the skilled bartenders are shaking up for you.


Burger at JM Curley in Downtown Crossing.
Burger at JM Curley in Downtown Crossing.(Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

JM Curley’s

21 Temple Place, Boston. 617-338-5333.

Located solidly between the fast-food burger and the upscale $20 burger is JM Curley’s just-right burger. A beefy 9-ounce patty on a toasted sesame bun with thin-sliced pickles, caramelized onions, cheddar, and Russian dressing, it isn’t anything fancy. It’s simply really satisfying, what you want when you want a burger.

Lobster Thermidor


560 Tremont St., Boston. 617-695-1250.

History is on the menu at Kitchen, which lists the dates that dishes such as mock turtle soup and

"Lobster Thermidor" at Kitchen in Boston's South End.
"Lobster Thermidor" at Kitchen in Boston's South End.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)

tournedos Rossini were created. Lobster Thermidor may be from 1894, but it certainly doesn’t taste old. It’s a rich casserole of lobster meat, flour-based gnocchi, and spinach, all bound together with cream and cheese, brightened with mustard and topped with breadcrumbs. Decadent and delicious.

Fried Maine lobster caramel

Nix’s Mate

89 Broad St., Boston. 617-348-1234.

When I reviewed this restaurant in the Financial District Hilton hotel, I named this the strangest and most strangely compelling lobster dish of the year. It was only June. With a month to go in 2012, I stand by my assessment. Chef David Nevins batters and fries lobster, then serves the golden nuggets of tail and claw meat in a caramel sauce augmented with cheddar cheese, green onions, and chilies. The flavors swirl into a cosmic, wonderful weirdness that seems inspired equally by Vietnam, New England, and the kingdom of Bong-landia.


Tagliatelle with lobster and short rib

A tagliatelle with lobster dish from the Oak Long Bar + kitchen at the Copley Fairmont Hotel.
A tagliatelle with lobster dish from the Oak Long Bar + kitchen at the Copley Fairmont Hotel.(Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

Oak Long Bar

138 St. James Ave., Boston. 617-585-7222.

I approached this dish with skepticism, as I’ve been fooled by similar surf-turf-and-pasta constructions before. They sound so promising, and then they don’t deliver. This version sings, handmade tagliatelle with sweet, tender pieces of lobster, craggy chunks of beautifully cooked short rib, zucchini, and pecorino.

Mini lobster roll


10 City Square, Charlestown. 617-242-1999.

Todd English’s revived Charlestown restaurant still emphasizes big flavors, but a new focus is small plates. This was a particularly clever and tasty presentation — a perfect little lobster roll served with a jar of rich lobster-corn chowder and potato chips dusted with Old Bay.

Shrimp and grits

Shrimp and grits at M3 in Somerville.
Shrimp and grits at M3 in Somerville. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)


382 Highland Ave., Somerville. 617-718-6666.

This trendy dish has cropped up on menus all over town. Many of the versions disappoint, but not the one at Southern restaurant M3. The luxurious, creamy grits are topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, laced with cheese, and studded with okra. The dish is surprisingly, excellently spicy.


Crispy mussels


59 JFK St., Cambridge. 617-491-9851.

Mussels get the clam shack treatment. Freed from their shells, they are battered and fried into crisp, juicy bites, intermingled with sweet-tart pieces

The crispy mussels starter dish at Park restaurant in Cambridge.
The crispy mussels starter dish at Park restaurant in Cambridge. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)

of preserved lemon, also battered and fried. The mixture is served in an authentic cardboard carton, white with red stripes, with pungent horseradish dipping sauce on the side.

Late-night ramen

Uni Sashimi Bar

370 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. 617-536-7200.

Good ramen has been hard to come by in Boston, but that is beginning to change, thanks in part to Uni’s late-night ramen. Served Thursday through Saturday after 11 p.m., the steaming bowls of Japanese noodle soup come in two flavors. One is more traditional, with roast pork. The other, called umami ramen, features barbecue eel and a rich, intense broth. Both are wonderful.

Crema de platano

A plate of shrimp soup with noodles from Vejigantes in the South End.
A plate of shrimp soup with noodles from Vejigantes in the South End.(Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)


57 West Dedham St., Boston. 617-247-9249.

At this warm little Puerto Rican restaurant in the South End, the most warming thing on the menu is also one of the best: soup. The cream of plantain is comforting yet nuanced; there is a backbone of garlic, plus a pleasant sourness and complexity. It’s just the thing to get you through the Boston winter.

Grilled veal chop

West Bridge

1 Kendall Square, Cambridge. 617-945-0221.

At one of my favorite new restaurants of the year, flavors don’t just coexist, they complement. A veal chop is perfectly grilled, but it is the combination of the meat with bits of dried olive and almond touched with brown sugar, with chard laced with candied orange peel, that makes it mind-blowingly delicious.


Annin dofu

Yakitori Zai

315 Shawmut Ave., Boston. 857-350-4450.

Many dishes make me thankful at this Japanese restaurant one might actually find in Japan. It specializes in skewers of chicken parts and more cooked over charcoal. But it seems fitting to conclude with dessert. At Yakitori Zai, that’s annin dofu. This isn’t tofu but a panna cotta-like custard, made with agar agar rather than gelatin. Wobbly, rich with cream, lightly almond flavored, it is a perfect, cooling end to a meal.

Devra First can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.