243 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-764-3053, mejudavis.com
This subtle surprise in Somerville’s Davis Square is probably the only place in the neighborhood to sip soju, a vodka-like low-alcohol Korean liquor that bartenders ingeniously mix with ginger beer or aloe vera liqueur. Unusual elixirs like the Korean pear smash — a bracing concoction of Korean pear juice and bourbon — is the stuff that second dates are made of. Not sure about a dish (like mandoo soup) or drink? Patient staff happily explain.
AMULETO MEXICAN TABLE
484 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-893-1389, amuletorestaurant.com
Amuleto is modern and free of Mexican-restaurant cliche. There’s no mariachi soundtrack, no shtick, just a menu that explores regional cuisine and riffs gently on tradition, with dishes like cauliflower ceviche, octopus tostadas, and salmon al pastor, plus a focus on mescal at the bar. Amuleto also, quietly, happens to be gluten-free.
BABBO PIZZERIA E ENOTECA
11 Fan Pier Boulevard, South Boston, 617-421-4466, babbopizzeria.com
Celebrity chef Mario Batali made a splash in the Seaport with this 8,700-square-foot restaurant serving Italian small plates, pizza, and pasta. The surprise isn’t that Babbo is good. It’s that the prices are so reasonable for the neighborhood. Feast on Sicilian cauliflower and chopped salad, handmade sausages and calamari, meatball pizza with pickled chilies, garlicky clam pies, and tagliatelle al ragu. For dessert: gelato sundaes and more. Everyone leaves happy.
THE BACKROOM AT MOODY’S
468 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-216-8732, moodyswaltham.com
Chef Joshua Smith, known for his charcuterie at Moody’s Delicatessen Provisions, delighted fans and followers when he opened adjacent restaurant The Backroom. The acclaimed meats are here, of course, from bourbon bacon to fig and foie pate. But there are also stellar meatballs; bacon-laden wedge salads; flatbreads piled with Wagyu burnt ends, pimento cheese, and slaw; slow-roasted porchetta; and more. The Backroom isn’t fancy. It’s just really, really good.
THE BALDWIN BAR
2 Alfred Street, Woburn, 781-935-8488, thebaldwinbar.com
Spice fiends head to Woburn’s Sichuan Garden II for fish fillets soaked in chili oil and cucumber spears awash in garlic. And part of the allure is The Baldwin Bar, its craft cocktail lair run by master mixologist Ran Duan. Embrace all sins in this regal upstairs library lounge: Think ox meat splashed with chili vinaigrette and signature dry hot chicken wings designed for boisterous sharing, towering vats of punch, mint juleps crowned with freshly shaved ice — tell a dapper bartender your fancy and the potion will appear almost instantly.
BANYAN BAR + REFUGE
553 Tremont Street, Boston, 617-556-4211, banyanboston.com
In the space that was long Hamersley’s Bistro, Banyan is a restaurant for today. It serves small plates informed by the flavors of Asia, the drinks (Kirin slushies, Painkillers on tap) emphasized as much as the food. Chef Phillip Tang, formerly of East by Northeast, offers up daikon fries, pork won tons with jalapenos and smoked tahini, and lobster buns with honey-miso butter. Mourn Hamersley’s famed roast chicken, but then move on, for now we have salt and pepper chicken wings with ginger, lemon grass, and fermented plum hot sauce.
1071 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-714-3693, bisqcambridge.com
Nope, not a soup restaurant. The name is a shortening of “Bergamot Inman Square”; this Cambridge spot is the little sister of nearby Somerville favorite Bergamot. BISq specializes in wine and small plates, with an emphasis on charcuterie. From salmon ceviche with a Peruvian flair to “N’awlins” barbecue shrimp toast, from grilled beef hearts to mushroom carpaccio, from gnocchi with spicy tomato ragu to pomegranate glazed lamb ribs, dishes are thoughtful and flavorful. Wine director Kai Gagnon roams the room, affable and knowledgeable. A night here feels like a mellow party where some of the guests happen to know a lot about food and beverages.
MOMO N’ CURRY
431 Somerville Avenue, Somerville, 617-764-1563, momoncurrysomerville.com
Duck into Momo n’ Curry for a fast, fortifying feast of momos, chewy little Nepalese dumplings stuffed with pungent curiosities like buffalo and goat, bathed in a tart tomato-based sauce. The menu also skips across India with meaty curries and plenty of vegetarian choices. In Somerville’s rapidly gentrifying Union Square, it’s an affordable indulgence.
CHA YEN THAI COOKERY
613 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, 617-393-0031, chayenthaicookery.com
Mostly takeout, made to order, and set within a cluster of Middle Eastern markets in Watertown, Cha Yen Thai (which has a Chinese influence) is a slip of a place that celebrates home cooking. Order galangal soup with coconut milk, green papaya salad with strips of the crunchy fruit, and moist chicken satay.
CHETTINAD INDIAN GRILL
184 Cambridge Street, Burlington, 781-273-0111, chettinadindiangrill.com
Chettinad might be wedged into a drab strip mall in Burlington, but its flavors are vivid. Guests swarm an enormous L-shaped buffet, which showcases South Indian dishes like savory goat curry and mango dal. Freshly prepared dosas arrive tableside, soft and spongy (ideal for dipping into mint chutney); a smattering of Indo-Chinese dishes, like an electrifyingly tangy chili chicken, round out the spread. Dining with kids? A yogurt-based lassi might just appear at your table with a wink.
79 Park Plaza, Boston, 617-422-0008, dorettaboston.com
The space that was Italian restaurant Via Matta has gone Greek. Chef Michael Schlow’s newest concept pays tribute to his wife’s culinary heritage. Many of these dishes would feel at home in the old country: a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, and feta with aromatic oregano; grilled octopus; lamb meatballs; whole fish. Unfussy, clean, and light, they work equally well in modern Boston.
321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, 617-420-1900, branchlinearsenal.com
Restaurateur Garrett Harker draws crowds at Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and Row 34 with high-energy service and unfussy menus. His outing in the suburbs — hence the Branch Line name — maintains that tradition, much to the delight of employees at nearby athenahealth, who pack the Watertown dining room nightly (make reservations or risk heartbreak). It’s worth the trip from farther afield, too, thanks to a groovy all-season patio, bocce court, juicy rotisserie chicken, and unusual beer list.
15 Warren Street, Roxbury, 617-445-1000, dudleycafe.com
Solmon and Rokeya Chowdhury operate the Shanti Indian restaurants in Dorchester and Roslindale and Naga in Cambridge’s Central Square. But they live in Dudley Square, and now they are bringing their brand of hospitality home. Dudley Cafe offers coffee, baked goods, grilled eggplant sandwiches with sambal-miso sauce, rice bowls with beef rendang, potatoes, and green beans, and more. More important, it offers a true neighborhood hangout, with free Wi-Fi and comfortable couches and chairs. Customers conduct business meetings, discuss the issues of the day with friends, and settle in for a hot date with a good novel.
2302 Washington Street, Roxbury, 857-308-3058, dudleydough.org
Eat slices and support economic justice at this new pizzeria and cafe from nonprofit Haley House, which also runs the nearby Haley House Bakery Cafe. What Dudley Dough offers you: muffins and coffee; pizzas on thin whole-wheat crusts (choose between the margherita and the creation of the day); house-made soup; salads. What it brings to employees: above-average wages, profit sharing, and business training. That’s something you can feel good about as you eat curried vegetable or jerk chicken pizza, sip smoothies, and spoon up Toscanini’s Roxbury Puddingstone ice cream for dessert.
179 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, 617-266-8888, dumplingpalaceboston.com
Famished Berklee musicians, canoodling couples, and solo soup-slurpers dig in at this frills-free storefront, sibling to Chinatown’s busy Dumpling Cafe. As the name suggests, dumplings — skillfully assembled in an open kitchen — are the draw. Order the tender xiao long bao, mini juicy buns brimming with minced pork, and no hurry — the kitchen serves until 3 a.m.
FERRY STREET FOOD & DRINK
118 Ferry Street, Malden, 781-321-0265, ferrystreetmalden.com
Tavern in decor, bistro in style, Ferry Street is a popular Malden spot owned by Jason and Shannon Ladd, who met as students at Johnson & Wales. You’re not getting bar food, but rather a superb little crock of chicken liver pate and Texas BBQ-style meatballs. Quirky room, friendly staff, lots of locals.
365 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 857-203-9462, thefrogmore.com
Low-country fare such as Hoppin’ John, she-crab soup, and the namesake Frogmore stew comes to JP, courtesy of the people who run Fairsted Kitchen in Brookline. The cozy dining room features jewel-tone pineapple-patterned wallpaper and mismatched chandeliers, and there is a patio for warmer weather. The restaurant offers weekend brunch, a strong bar program, reasonable prices, and the friendliest staff in town.
243 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, 617-864-0170, playska.com
Tim and Bronwyn Wiechmann have proved they can do fine dining (Cambridge’s T.W. Food) and biergarten chic (Somerville’s Bronwyn). Turns out the couple are also gifted with sandwiches, as evidenced by Playska, their Eastern European sandwich shop in Cambridge’s Inman Square. Their namesake meat sandwich — a succulent pork-and-beef patty laden with ajvar relish, cucumber pickle, and cream cheese remoulade on house-baked lepinje bread — is a majestic trailblazer.
1271 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-670-0507, hojokoboston.com
The Verb Hotel calls itself “Boston’s Best Rock & Roll Hotel” (is there any competition?), and this raucous izakaya — or Japanese tavern — from O Ya owners Tim and Nancy Cushman fits right in. Hip-hop and punk rock play loudly. Godzilla figurines, sumo dolls, lanterns, and Japanese music memorabilia make up the decor. There’s a tabletop Pac-Man game. The food and drink match, too — from weird and wonderful cocktails (Campari bombs, a grasshopper-esque frozen drink incorporating Fernet and miso) to spiffed-up sushi rolls, “funky chicken” ramen, grilled skewers, and other small plates. Hojoko can be serious, too, particularly when it comes to sake.
JOSEPHINE, RESTAURANT PARISIEN
468 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617-375-0699, josephineboston.com
This used to be the first Petit Robert Bistro, which specialized in everyday French fare, but Josephine takes French food as inspiration and runs with it, serving up ornate pretty plates adorned with orchids, lotus chips, and frills of foam. Mussels Indochine features shellfish in a rich red-curry broth, festooned with baby vegetables; braised veal cheeks come with a spicy smoothie shot on the side. It’s not your average French bistro, and that’s a welcome treat.
660 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-945-2576, loyalninecambridge.com
The restaurant from chef-owner Marc Sheehan is named for a secret group of Bostonians who organized protests against the Stamp Act of 1765. History informs the menu, too, reviving Colonial dishes — roasts, lobster with hickory nuts and mead, a savory grain porridge called pondemnast — and breathing new life into them. There is an adjacent cafe, too, for more casual daytime visits.
152 Dorchester Avenue, South Boston, 617-752-4191, moonshine152.com
Southie’s answer to Trina’s Starlite Lounge is open late and serves brunch featuring a weekly Ron Swanson special, named for chef-owner Asia Mei’s favorite TV character. Edamame hummus and jalapeno crab rangoons, “Mama Mei’s” pork noodle soup, Korean barbecue tacos, elegant pork and fish dishes, and burgers and butterscotch pudding all find their way to the table at an unpretentious neighborhood spot.
1 Shepard Street, Cambridge, 617-714-5295, shepardcooks.com
Two of Cambridge’s most abiding culinary talents — Susan Regis (UpStairs on the Square) and Rene Becker (Hi-Rise Bread Company) — joined forces to open Shepard, and the results are lovely. Dishes on the ever-changing menu are beautifully simple, carefully whimsical, and often infused with smoke from live fire. Snack on rye crackers with chamomile ricotta and honey. Enjoy small plates like grilled octopus with chanterelles, smoked eggplant, and juniper. Or feast on soupe de poisson, bavette steak with new potato pave, or a half chicken so juicy and crisp-skinned you’ll think about it months later.
19 Third Avenue, Burlington, 781-272-1600, osterianino.com
The Lyons Group, known for flashy Boston destinations like Scampo and Towne, has branched into the burbs at this cozy Italian restaurant in Burlington’s Third Avenue complex. At night, there are nice renditions of pizza and pasta, but the real reason to visit is lunch, when swarms of corporate types feast on exceptional panini, like the pork with balsamic fig and fresh mozzarella.
91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617-714-3206, parsniprestaurant.com
Ascend the stairs at this Cambridge spot and find yourself in a cozy lounge area, with mod shelving behind the bar and what might be the most gorgeous array of glassware in town. The luxe surroundings match chef Peter Quinion’s classy food — a rectangle of cumin-scented creme brulee with an arching composition of multihued roasted cauliflower; seared tuna with delicata squash, clementine, and ginger; dark chocolate cremeux with parsnip and maple ice cream. And the service is exceptional.
67 Crafts Street, Newton, 617-244-4005
This Newton sandwich shop has luscious po’ boys, of course — titanic baguettes piled with shrimp, catfish, or oysters, ringed with spicy remoulade. There are only 15 seats, but you’ll want to linger to chat, because owner Eric Cormier is plenty spicy himself, bantering with customers about everything from car repair to parenting. He might even slip you some crisp, skinny onion rings for the road.
PURE COLD PRESS
326 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617-487-8948, purecoldpress.com
This vegan-friendly Zen emporium from the family behind Brookline’s Rami’s takes the juicing craze a step farther. Sure, it serves plenty of cold-pressed juices, but there are also healthy plates that transcend ho-hum acai bowls and yogurt. Line up cafeteria style and choose from husky grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches, fresh pastas, and an artfully arranged salad bar that would make Martha Stewart swoon.
SELECT OYSTER BAR
50 Gloucester Street, Boston, 857-239-8064, selectoyster.com
This restaurant, located in a Back Bay brownstone, comes from chef Michael Serpa. He previously worked at Neptune Oyster, so it’s no surprise to find plateaus of sparklingly fresh seafood and creative raw fish dishes (halibut crudo with pickled pumpkin), along with the likes of prawns a la plancha, octopus with tomatillo and chimichurri, Gloucester swordfish with rose harissa and cucumber raita, and simple Greek taverna-style whole roasted sea bream.
RINA’S PIZZERIA CAFE
371 Hanover Street, Boston, 617-456-5700, rinasnorthend.com
Nick Varano is known for his splashy Strega restaurants, where big personalities do big deals. His Rina’s breaks the mold: The narrow North End cafe has a handful of stools, a concise menu, and a downright quaint window display featuring authentic Neapolitan pies and grilled veggies. Opt for a massive triangle of pizza — pleasingly thin and just the right amount of sweet — and take it to go. For $3, it’s one of the neighborhood’s best deals.
661 Assembly Row, Somerville, 617-616-5561, river-bar.com
Chef Patrick Gilmartin, known for his college-snacks-gone-wild at the Staff Meal food truck, fortifies Assembly Row shoppers with curiosities like corned beef and cabbage dumplings and fried chicken sandwiches with cucumber kimchi. This is food best enjoyed a bit tipsy; luckily, there’s a patio replete with couches and fire pits (drink enough and you’ll swear you’re in Aspen), whose bar, affably tended, serves potent mixtures like absinthe frappes.
84 Commonwealth Avenue, Concord, 978-212-3585, saltboxkitchen.com
Saltbox Kitchen — helmed by farmer Ben Elliott, who has worked with Barbara Lynch — is a bright, bustling addition to Concord’s ascendant foodscape. Tuck into seasonal plates like roasted squash sandwiches or escarole salads. A to-go case lets busy customers enjoy delicacies like cured salmon tartine in the comfort of home, and a kids’ menu has sophisticated treats like a “bento box” with veggies plucked from Elliott’s nearby Saltbox Farm.
1 Bow Street, Cambridge, 617-945-1460, santouka-usa.com
A branch of a popular chain from Hokkaido, Harvard Square’s Santouka specializes in Japanese noodle soup — specifically, in tonkotsu broth, made from pork bones. Families, students, and people speaking an array of languages sip tea from delicate china cups and slurp broth with chewy, fine noodles, pieces of tender pork, and pink-swirled slices of fish paste. It leaves you sated, not stuffed.
259 Worcester Street, Natick, 508-653-8000, shaanxigourmet.com
Tired of kung pao chicken and spring rolls? Head to Natick for a true adventure: Shaanxi specializes in fiery Northern Chinese cuisine from Xi’an, a region known for strappy hand-pulled noodles swimming in feverish chili oil. Experiment with cuttlefish offset with pickled peppers, pig’s ears, stir-fried periwinkle meat, and roasted eel, all of which bring a touch of the true East to Metrowest.
STRIP BY STREGA
64 Arlington Street, Boston, 617-456-5300, stripbystregaboston.com
There is enough female skin on display at STRIP by Strega that the name seems to reference both a cut of steak and the removal of clothing. But that is missing the real double-entendre. This is Vegas in Boston, baby. One of the newest installments in restaurateur Nick Varano’s growing empire, STRIP could feel more like a club than a restaurant but for one thing: The food is really good. That includes showy seafood platters (dry ice!), a fine pork chop Milanese, and fun desserts (that change seasonally) like whiskey cotton candy with house-made “Oreos” and Pop Rocks.
73 Ames Street, Cambridge, 617-374-0700, studyrestaurant.com
Where ingredients that sound like strangers get to know one another on the plate: oyster with foie gras and mango; chicken with romaine, anchovy, and licorice; oxtail with plum and blue cheese. At Study, food seems alchemized more than cooked. It’s supported by great house-made bread, a dessert cart, and an enticing wine list. The Cambridge restaurant’s logo, a test tube with a plant growing out of it, perfectly encapsulates the experimental, organic aesthetic.
TAHAZA HUMMUS KITCHEN
One Canal Park, Cambridge, 857-259-6960, tahaza.com
The industrial-stark Tahaza in Cambridge is serving meals in a bowl (welcome to the latest trend). You move along a cafeteria line and pick what you want; all bowls come with very good hummus and proteins like lamb and shredded chicken. And everything is compostable. After your meal, your job is to figure out what goes in which receptacle.
14 Tyler Street, Somerville, 617-299-6362, tastingcounter.com
Chef Peter Ungar, who has worked at Aujourd’hui and French Michelin-starred restaurants such as Le Grand Vefour, opened this 20-seat spot inside a Somerville brewery, serving one multi-course tasting menu each night. Buy tickets in advance online, beverage pairings and tip included, and show up for a meal of surprises. You might find anything from custard made with kelp, black truffle, and sea urchin to hand-rolled seaweed pasta in bonito broth to dry-aged sirloin cap with red curry.
503 Medford Street, Somerville, 617-764-0222
Tasty Mo:Mo better be good: At this counter-service storefront in Somerville’s Magoun Square, orders take 15 minutes plus, and there’s nowhere to wait save for a couple of cramped stools. But all is forgiven once you dig in. Snacky, savory Nepalese dumplings are the specialty; adventurers should order them splashed with tantalizing chili sauce, blindingly fiery yet sweet enough to soldier on, indigestion be damned. They’re prepped to order in an open kitchen, where the action will make you forget there isn’t anywhere to sit.
120 Kingston Street, Boston, 617-993-0750, townsmanboston.com
Chef Matt Jennings, who gained national fame with Providence restaurant Farmstead, returns to his Boston roots. Townsman spins New England tradition into something modern and bright, offering the likes of fried dumplings with maple and ricotta, clam chowder sprinkled with chips of dehydrated squid ink, and braised pork shank with pumpkin polenta. The swank brasserie has a bar-lounge area, a crudo bar, and a dining room decorated in shades of cream and persimmon.
WOODS HILL TABLE
24 Commonwealth Avenue, Concord, 978-369-6300, woodshilltable.com
The farm-to-table philosophy isn’t a talking point for this restaurant. It is the reason it exists. Owner Kristin Canty, a Concord native and the director/producer of documentary Farmageddon, purchased a New Hampshire farm to supply Woods Hill Table with meat and dairy. Local fields and waters provide the raw material for the dishes. The world provides the flavors. You’ll find tuna tartare with harissa, roasted beets with tahini and puffed quinoa, monkfish a la plancha with cabbage, potato cream, and cider jus, and more.
WHOLE HEART PROVISIONS
487 Cambridge Street, Allston, 617-202-5041, wholeheartprovisions.com
In this Allston spot owned by Rebecca Arnold (who worked at Sarma and Alden & Harlow) and James DiSabatino, who started neighboring Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, you’ll find more meals in a bowl, these with lots of spices. Request a signature bowl or invent your own. “Viet style” includes blistered green beans and spicy peanut dressing; “miso style” has roasted broccoli, edamame, and shaved Brussels sprouts. It’s all plant- and grain-based, appealing, fast, and delicious.
22 West Broadway, South Boston, 617-752-4206, wordenhall.com
Headed by executive chef Tim McQuinn, this restaurant, located across from the Broadway T stop, does many things — from deep-dish pies and deli sandwiches to upscale bistro fare — and does them all well. You’ll find crisp and creamy polenta fries, smoked lamb ribs, grilled swordfish, and perfectly cooked beef with a flavorful crust. There are more than three dozen beers on tap, and even more kinds of whiskey.
2 Winter Place, Boston, 617-267-0047, yvonnesboston.com
For more than 130 years, this was Locke-Ober, where power brokers rubbed elbows over steak dinners. Now it is Yvonne’s, featuring small plates and a sexy atmosphere. It is — once again — the place to be. With food from culinary director Tom Berry and executive chef Juan Pedrosa, it is the rare establishment that successfully bridges bar, restaurant, and club. Well-made cocktails, meaty platters designed for sharing, and boozy takes on classic ice cream treats are among the attractions.
BOSTON’S TACO SCENE GETS BIGGER AND BETTER
21 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617-354-9944, felipestaqueria.com
The menu at relocated Felipe’s in Cambridge is vast, as is the new dining room, which is twice the size of the old space. Most everything is excellent, particularly deftly rolled burritos enhanced by fillings like chipotle onions and delicately battered shrimp.
> La Victoria Taqueria
12 Medford Street, Arlington, 781-859-5503, victoriataqueria.com
Folks in Arlington crowd this new outpost of a Beverly favorite for tangy fish tacos on supple tortillas, tortas on squishy telera bread, and sturdy chips mercifully free of grease. Counter service is swift, prices are gentle, and their chile de arbol sauce is a thick, spicy delight.
> Lone Star Taco Bar
635 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 857-285-6179, lonestar-boston.com
Go for the gooey chili con queso, sweet grilled corn, and an all-day brunch spotlighting Cambridge’s finest version of huevos rancheros, swimming in a sauce that will banish all nocturnal sins.
> Mi Pueblito
964 Saratoga Street, East Boston, mipueblitoorientheight.com
The friendly folks behind East Boston’s Mi Pueblito now have a second spot in Orient Heights, where families pack in for Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran standards like pupusas, beef tripe soup, and sizzling platters of chilaquiles crowned with a fried egg.
> Taco Party
711 Broadway, Somerville, 617-764-0683, tacopartytruck.com
Even avowed carnivores appreciate the creative vegetarian tacos at Taco Party, a food truck-turned-storefront in Somerville that successfully pairs unusual items like barbecued jackfruit with black-eyed pea spread. Bonus: cases of funky-flavored vegan doughnuts from Sabertooth Bakery.
TWO NEW SHOPS THAT ELEVATE COFFEE TO AN ART
> Gracenote Coffee Roasters
108 Lincoln Street, Boston, gracenotecoffee.com
This downtown hit is a collaboration between Central Massachusetts roaster Patrick Barter and Alessandro Bellino, who used to run the Coffee Trike outside South Station. Fans line up for espresso, coffee, and nitro cold brew pulled by an expert staff, plus pastries from local favorites like Townsman and Forge Baking Company.
> Ogawa Coffee
10 Milk Street, Boston, 617-780-7139, ogawacoffeeusa.com