Magazine

13 restaurant dishes that rule this town

Move over Bristol Burger. RIP Hamersley’s chicken. These are Boston’s new classics.

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

Neptune Oyster’s patrons choose the warm buttered version of the lobster roll over the cold mayo 4 to 1.

LOBSTER ROLL

Neptune Oyster

When was the last time a lobster dish grew so beloved so quickly? (Maybe not since Jasper White first started pan-roasting it.) At tiny Neptune Oyster in the North End, I like my lobster roll hot with butter. Maybe you like it cold with mayo. We can agree to disagree about temperature and condiments, but everyone knows this as one of the very best around. It is little more than a toasted bun — brioche from Iggy’s, not the traditional top-loader from Pepperidge Farm — overflowing with fresh, sweet meat.  In other words, it’s exactly what it should be. 63 Salem Street, Boston, 617-742-3474, neptuneoyster.com

SECRET BURGER

Alden & Harlow

Open secret is more like it, because it’s right there on the menu. And good thing, too, because this is knowledge that should be shared. The standard toppings on Alden & Harlow’s sandwich are great — shredded lettuce, pickles, salted onions, a special sauce, and a crisp wafer of Cabot cheddar. But this is a burger that really is about the burger, one of the most flavorful, juicy, decadent patties in town. Top chefs who put the time into creating the best burger they possibly can pay the price for years to come: No matter what else they put on the menu, it is always the thing people come back for. 40 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617-864-2100, aldenharlow.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

Lucy Engelman

O Ya’s dish uses 100 percent purebred Kumamotos, once nearly extinct in their native Japan, flown in from Washington state.

FRIED KUMAMOTO OYSTER

O Ya

Advertisement

Fried oysters are everywhere, but this is something special — one of the most talked-about dishes at one of the most talked-about restaurants. O Ya, in the Leather District, gained a national profile with its modern, refined take on the izakaya experience, with chef Tim Cushman winning a James Beard Award in 2012. For this dish, a sweet Kumamoto oyster is fried in golden batter, nestled in sushi rice wrapped in seaweed, anointed with aioli flavored with the Japanese citrus-chili paste yuzu kosho, and crowned with a jet-black froth of squid ink bubbles. It looks like food from outer space and tastes like heaven. 9 East Street, Boston, 617-654-9900, oyarestaurantboston.com

TAGLIATELLE BOLOGNESE

Sportello

The prune gnocchi served by Barbara Lynch at upscale restaurant No. 9 Park have long been considered among the best things to eat in Boston. Tagliatelle Bolognese, the go-to dish at the chef’s casual Italian diner Sportello, in Fort Point, is deserving of a different kind of adoration. It’s a rich mix of pork, veal, and lamb, simmered with aromatics and enriched with butter and cream. But it’s the addition of chicken livers that makes the flavor so deep and distinctive. 348 Congress Street, Boston, 617-737-1234, sportelloboston.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

STICKY BUN

Flour Bakery + Cafe

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

This pastry gained widespread fame when Joanne Chang made it on Food Network’s Throwdown With Bobby Flay and outbaked the host. It gains a deeper, more personal kind of fame the moment a sticky-bun lover first takes a bite: the brioche dough is so tender, the caramel so dark and sweet and sticky, the pecans the perfect punctuation to the sugar. In a universe of sub-par sticky buns, this one never disappoints. 1595 Washington Street, Boston, 617-267-4300, and other locations; flourbakery.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

Flour shops go through more than 200 pounds of butter a week for their sticky buns.

RAMEN

Yume Wo Katare

The lines are long and the bowls are brimming at this Porter Square storefront, which specializes in one food and one food only: ramen. Specifically, jiro-style ramen, the porkiest, heartiest take on the popular noodle soup. Fatty, meaty broth, brawny handmade noodles, and thick slabs of tender meat join together in savory harmony. A sinus-clearing dose of garlic cuts through the richness. Finish the bowl and the staff yells out: “Perfect!” That’s what everyone waiting in line thinks about the stuff, too. 1923 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-714-4008, yumewokatare.com

EGG IN A JAR

West Bridge

West Bridge opened in 2012, and right away everyone was talking about this dish: rich potato puree, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, slow-cooked duck eggs, and crispy artichoke and duck skin, all layered together in a Mason jar, like a wonderfully savory parfait. Mix everything together and each bite provides a synthesis of flavors and textures. For a while there, everyone was serving everything from drinks to dessert in jars. Trends move on, but great dishes stand the test of time. 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-945-0221, westbridgerestaurant.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

Lucy Engelman

“I should have called this place Cutty’s Roast Beef,” co-owner Charles Kelsey has said.

ROAST BEEF 1000

Cutty’s

Advertisement

Kelly’s roast beef, made the same way since 1951, might be the standard-bearer in these parts — the Classic Classic, as it were. But when Brookline sandwich shop Cutty’s opened in 2010, it shook up the scene. Its Roast Beef 1000 features delicately draped ultra-thin slices of meat on buttery brioche, with horseradish-spiked Thousand Island dressing, sharp cheddar, and crisp fried shallots. No wonder it’s a runaway bestseller. 284 Washington Street, Brookline, 617-505-1844, cuttyfoods.com

DOUBLE AWESOME

Mei Mei

Mei Mei is recognized for its wildly creative take on Chinese food, made with local ingredients. Of course the team of siblings behind the food truck and the restaurant in Audubon Circle would become best known not for boundary busters such as kung pao chicken dip or green curry with halloumi cheese, but an egg sandwich. The Double Awesome isn’t just any egg sandwich, though. It’s a brilliant idea: runny eggs folded into scallion pancakes with a pesto of local greens, cheddar, and the option of bacon, ham, or turkey. It’s part Chinatown, part greasy spoon. Mei Mei, 506 Park Drive, Boston, 857-250-4959, and Mei Mei Street Kitchen, meimeiboston.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

“Two slow-poached and then fried eggs? Twice the awesome!” co-owner Margaret “Mei” Li thought when she created the dish.

CHICKPEA FRITTER

Clover

It’s the sandwich that first made the reputation of the growing food truck and restaurant empire and, at one point, accounted for 60 percent of sales. Why the cult-like following? The sandwich is simple and well made: house-made falafel-esque rounds with tomato-cucumber salad, pickles, pickled cabbage, carrots, red onions, hummus, and tahini on a whole-wheat pita. It’s a fine thing to be able to get a healthy sandwich anywhere from Alewife to Watertown, and now you can get one any time: The new Clover HFI in Central Square is open 24 hours a day. 496 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, and other locations; cloverfoodlab.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

SPICY COCONUT CURRIED GOAT STEW

Highland Kitchen

At everybody’s favorite neighborhood restaurant in Somerville, this is an identity-defining dish, alongside the likes of gumbo and catfish po’ boys. It is a version of a stew chef-owner Mark Romano made years ago, working at Green Street in Cambridge. Served with jasmine rice, it is soul-warmingly spicy, chock-full of tender goat meat, with a lingering richness from the coconut. And it proves that neighborhood restaurants can win hearts and minds while going beyond the basics. 150 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617-625-1131, highlandkitchen.com

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

MAIZ ASADO CON ALIOLI Y QUESO COTIJA

Toro

Going to Toro and not ordering the grilled corn would be wrong, like a trip to McDonald’s without fries or Fenway Park without a frank. It’s simply part of the experience. But what is Mexican street corn — grilled, slathered in garlic mayo and cotija cheese, dusted with espelette pepper, and juiced with lime — doing at a Spanish tapas bar in the South End? Getting eaten by anyone who can get his hands on it, that’s what. 1704 Washington Street, Boston, 617-536-4300, toro-restaurant.com/boston

Photograph by Dave Bradley; STYLING BY ALISA NEELY FOR ANCHOR ARTISTS

The single-night record for grilled corn orders at Toro is 96.

BAKED ALASKA

Oleana

Chef Ana Sortun is justly famed for her Cambridge restaurant Oleana, which celebrates local produce and the flavors of Turkey, the Middle East, and beyond. But if there’s one dish that can never leave the menu, it might just be executive pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick’s baked Alaska. Frothy, toasted peaks of meringue cloak coconut ice cream and passion-fruit caramel. The retro dessert — it’s hot! it’s cold! — has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance on area menus. For some, it’s a party trick. At Oleana, it’s pure magic. 134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, 617-661-0505, oleanarestaurant.com

More coverage:

- At the Backroom, just food. Really good food.

- Dining out reviews

Devra First is the Globe’s restaurant critic. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst. Send comments tomagazine@globe.com.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.