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From area restaurants, 13 dishes to be thankful for in 2013

Boston, MA - 10/09/13 - Spicy Miso Ramen with thin noodles at Inaka in Allston, for Dining Out Ramen spots - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Lifestyle/Food, Reporter: Devra First, Topic: 16dining, LOID: 6.2.1550883982.The Boston Globe

Each year has its memorable meals, but this one brought an embarrassment of riches. So many fine restaurants debuted in the Boston area; so many stalwarts demonstrated why they keep customers coming in. This makes it harder than ever to narrow down a list of highlights. Additions keep rolling in, from restaurants so new they haven’t yet been reviewed: Fairsted Kitchen’s lamb ribs with spicy vinegar fish sauce and Sarma’s pumpkin fritters, just to name two. Here are some of the many dishes that stood out, everything from simple, well-made salads to cleverly reimagined classics: 13 dishes I was thankful for in 2013.

Somerville, MA -- 08/21/13 -- Jenna, Ananda(cq), 6 months, and Derek (cq) Smith look at the menu at the bar at A4 Pizza in Somerville, Massachusetts on August 21, 2013. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

A4 Pizza

What could be better than playing Donkey Kong and drinking Lambrusco in a tiny bar that looks like a hipster’s basement? Eating really great pizza while doing so. Somerville’s A4 Pizza makes this possible. Dough is made from a starter that’s more than a decade old, blasted in the wood-fired oven after a long fermentation period. My favorite pie was topped with mushrooms, gremolata, and egg. 445 Somerville Ave., Union Square, Somerville, 617-764-4190, www.areafour.com.


duck breast with beets and scallions as served at Asta on Mass. Ave. in Boston. JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE (Living/Arts, johnston)JOSH REYNOLDS FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE/Globe Freelance


Among many great restaurants that opened this year, Asta was a highlight, passionate, fun, and delicious. Chef Alex Crabb serves nothing but tasting menus at his Back Bay spot; one night the five-course version presented scallops in an entirely new way. Crabb sliced into the round, unfurling it like a roll of tape. He served it seared, with pickled blueberries and farro cooked in beet juice and beer. The dish tasted as striking as it looked. Pictured, duck breast with beets and scallions. 47 Massachusetts Ave., Back Bay, Boston, 617-585-9575, www.astaboston.com.

A Wurst Platter served with sauerkraut and potatoes with a Giant Haus Bretzel with roasted appel mustard and Weihenstephaner Dunkel Hefe-Weissbier at Bronwyn in Union Square.. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Lifestyle, First)Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance


T.W. Food chef Tim Wiechmann takes a new direction with second restaurant Bronwyn , serving dishes from Germany and Central Europe — schnitzel, sauerbraten, spatzle. He makes sausages to swoon for. I loved the warmly spiced currywurst and the weisswurst, bright with lemon. Perfect with a giant pretzel and a mug of German beer. 255 Washington St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-776-9900, www.bronwynrestaurant.com.


Cambridge, MA 8/30/2013 A sashimi plate (omakase) filled with tobiuo (flying fish), suzuki miso-zuke (miso-marinated local sea bass), hirame (local fluke), smoked sake (hoji-cha smoked salmon, machias, maine) and salmon ore with pickled local corn served at Cafe Sushi on Friday August 30, 2013. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff) Topic: 04dinpic Reporter: Devra FirstMatthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Globe Staff

Cafe Sushi

Cafe Sushi looks like your average sushi spot, dishing up California rolls and teriyaki. It can serve that purpose, but it’s so much more, as you find out when you sit at the bar and order “omakase.” This means “I leave it up to you.” Chef Seizi Imura and crew create exquisite bite after exquisite bite. Highlights of a recent meal included glorious tea-smoked salmon from Machias, Maine, and squid tentacles with pickled cucumbers, topped by a fried whiting head. Imura knows when to pile on and when to pull back: One of the most satisfying courses was a quiet, palate-cleansing cup of broth made from sea bream bones. 1105 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square, Cambridge, 617-492-0434, www.cafesushicambridge.com.

Newton, MA - 11/08/13 - Dining Out: Review of Cook restaurant in Newton. Photo of: Kale Salad. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Lifestyle, Reporter: Devra First, Topic: 13Dining Out, LOID: 6.2.2431495940.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff


Who would have predicted raw kale salad would become ubiquitous on restaurant menus? The version at Cook , a neighborhoody Newtonville restaurant from chef Paul Turano (Tryst), is particularly good. Kale and Brussels sprouts are sliced thin, tossed with hazelnuts, Parmesan cheese, and verjus, pressed from unripened grapes. The result is wonderfully balanced, tart and earthy and rich. Kale salad (picutred) may be everywhere, but you’ll be back for this one. 825 Washington St., Newtonville, 617-964-2665, www.cooknewton.com.

BOSTON, MA , 7 / 30 / 13: Chef Yan Wang ( cq) with hand pulled noodles.....Quick Bite, featuring Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe in Downtown Crossing.A the line out the door, the outside and inside of the restaurant, the scene in the restaurant (people waiting, ordering, eating, etc.), and the food. The hand-pulled noodles, but also whatever else comes out that you are able to shoot. ( David L Ryan/Globe Staff Photo ) SECTION: ARTS TOPIC 11quickbitepicDavid L Ryan/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe

Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe is the second branch of a Chelmsford restaurant with a cult following. Chef-owner Gene Wu serves dishes from his native Xi’an — namely hand-pulled noodles, thick, chewy, rustic hanks that come topped with either chile oil, cilantro, and raw garlic or cumin-laced lamb. They are truly excellent, best eaten immediately in the small, no-frills restaurant where Wu stretches and slaps them into shape. 86 Bedford St., Downtown Crossing, Boston, 617-482-1888, www.genescafe.com.


Boston, MA 10/31/13 Grill 23. 100 day aged ribeye. Lane Turner/Globe Staff; Reporter:Devra First ; Section: FOOD; Slug: 06dinpicLane Turner/Globe Staff

Grill 23

This year, Grill 23 turns 30. The restaurant looks a bit worn at the edges, but the steaks are aging very well. To wit, an 18-ounce rib-eye aged (pictured) for 100 days. It is tender with deep, rich flavor, and the kitchen cooks it properly to order. The crust is crisp and just thick enough, sprinkled with plenty of salt. It’s the finest steak I ate all year. 161 Berkeley St., Boston, 617-542-2255, www.grill23.com.

Boston, MA - 10/09/13 - Spicy Miso Ramen with thin noodles at Inaka in Allston, for Dining Out Ramen spots - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Lifestyle/Food, Reporter: Devra First, Topic: 16dining, LOID: 6.2.1550883982.Barry Chin/Globe Staff


No more standing in line, slurping late at night, or clicking for tickets to a pop-up restaurant: Good ramen is easier than ever to find. Inaka is one of the newest and best bets in town for a bowl of the Japanese noodle soup. There are several variations, but it’s the spicy miso that won me over, with its rich, savory, warming broth. 72 Brighton Ave., Allston, 617-562-1668.

Somerville, MA 111613 Sirloin brochette with grilled avocado from Kirkland Tap and Trotter in Somerville, Saturday, November 16 2013. (Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda) section: Lifestyle slug: 20din reporter: Devra FirstWendy Maeda/Globe Staff/Wendy Maeda

The Kirkland Tap & Trotter

Many dishes stand out at The Kirkland Tap & Trotter , the new restaurant from Craigie on Main chef Tony Maws: a giant, juicy pork chop; skewered steak tips with grilled avocado (pictured); house-made spaghetti with pumpkin, brown butter, and chicken liver I’d be happy to eat once a week. But the most compelling might be the grilled salmon head, the meat lush beneath crisp, charred skin, making the most of what some might consider scraps. Waste not, want. 425 Washington St., Somerville, 857-259-6585, www.kirklandtapandtrotter.com.


Diners eat beside the chalkboard menu wall at Mei Mei restaurant in the Fenway. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (First, Arts, Lifestyle) **Quick Bite**Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Mei Mei Street Kitchen Street Kitchen

is one of the finest local food trucks, serving up dumplings and Double Awesomes (essentially an egg sandwich on scallion pancakes). A salad of chewy barley with miso-honey dressing, pickled cranberries, scallions, cilantro, and peanut brittle was wonderful, and wonderfully weird, a trippy combination of flavors and textures that, against odds, worked. It made me excited to see what they would produce at their brick-and-mortar restaurant, just opened in the Fenway. The restaurant is at 506 Park Drive, Boston, 857-250-4959. To find the truck, go to www.meimeiboston.com.

BOSTON, MA - 20/09/13: Spumoni Sundae, with layers of expresso hot chocolate, vanilla and pistachio gelatos, amaranto cherries, whipped cream, and garnished with crushed pistachios, is a favorite of sisters Carla and Christine Pallotta, owners and founders of Nebo, a modern restaurant featuring classic Italian recipes in the downtown waterfront Boston area. 25dinpic/lifestyle (Juliette Lynch for The Boston Globe)Juliette Lynch for The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance


Italian restaurant Nebo relocated from the edge of the North End to the center of the city, right on the Greenway. Pasta, pizza, and other classics are here. More unexpected is an ice cream sundae (pictured), reinvented with an Italian accent: pistachio and vanilla gelato, espresso-spiked fudge, dark, syrupy cherries, billows of whipped cream, and a sprinkle of pistachios. It’s just grown-up enough. 520 Atlantic Ave., Boston, 617-723-6326. www.neborestaurant.com.

Dining out review on North, a restaurant in Providence, R.I., Friday, July 12, 2013. Seen here is the Green Chow Mein Ver2.0 with garlic, cilantro, mint, almond, and coconut. Gretchen Ertl for the Boston GlobeGretchen Ertl for the Boston Globe


One of my favorite restaurants this year was North , located in Providence and worth the drive. Dishes mess with expectations, slicing apart and recombining Asian and other flavors with boldness, humor, and intelligence. For example, the green chow mein ver2.0 (pictured) — fried noodles piled high, tossed with a pesto of almonds and cilantro, tangled together with coconut, garlic, holy basil, and mint. It merges the comforting qualities of standard-issue chow mein with the freshness of a Southeast Asian salad. 3 Luongo Memorial Square, Providence, 401-421-1100, www.foodbynorth.com.


Brookline, MA -- 08/15/13 -- Sous Chef Craig Hutchinson (left) and Executive Chef Tim Maslow (right) work in the open kitchen on a busy Thursday evening at Ribelle restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts on August 15, 2013. (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe/Globe Freelance


Chef Tim Maslow, formerly of New York’s Momofuku restaurants, turned his father’s Watertown sandwich shop, Strip-T’s, into an unlikely foodie destination. This year he opened his own joint, Ribelle , on a corner in Brookline formerly occupied by an Indian bistro. The name means “rebel” in Italian, and the food here certainly breaks the mold. One standout is the lamb tartare, a composition of mild raw meat, egg, sunflower seeds and sprouts, crisped pieces of mint, radishes, and sunchokes. It’s a completely addictive combination of tastes and textures. 1665 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-232-2322, www.ribellebkline.com.

Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.