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Where to eat

Greater Boston restaurants you should try

A sampling of the area’s best restaurants, from Globe critics.

Chicken liver with bagel chips at Mamaleh’s  in Cambridge.
Chicken liver with bagel chips at Mamaleh’s in Cambridge.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File

KEY TO TYPICAL ENTREE PRICES

$ — $10 OR LESS

$$ — $11 to $15

$$$ — $16 to $25

$$$$ — $26 and up

METRO BOSTON

ALLSTON 

Dumpling Kingdom / $$ Xiao long bao — called “mini juicy buns” here — are the undisputed stars at Dumpling Kingdom. A version with pork and crabmeat arrives as six expertly crafted bundles. That first spurt of steaming broth is indeed delectable, as is the ground pork inside. Mini juicy buns with pork are more robust. With more than a dozen kinds on offer, dumplings alone can make up a meal. But don’t miss the roast duck buns. 137 Harvard Avenue, Allston, 617-562-8888, dumplingkingdomallston.net — Ellen Bhang

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Olitoki / $ Many of the dishes at Korean fusion restaurant Olitoki — like the quesa-kimchi-dilla or the stuffed burrito-rean — can put you into a food coma. But eating here is worth it. Everything from that pressed cheesy quesadilla concoction to the crisp and savory bulgogi beef and cheese egg rolls is well executed and well seasoned. On the “5 dolla munchies” section of the menu is one of our top picks, the vegetarian mandu — deep-fried, kimchi-filled dumplings. 76 Brighton Avenue, Allston, 617-202-5038, olitoki.com — Catherine Smart

BACK BAY 

Top of the Hub / $$$$ The dining room on the 52d floor of the Prudential swarmed with date-night two-tops, families celebrating grandma’s 80th birthday, and other rated-G assemblages. There’s much demand for surf and turf: The steamed lobster and the brick-size filet of beef were flying out of the kitchen at a terrifying rate. And in a city desperate for decent midday joints, Top of the Hub may be the best-kept secret. 800 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-536-1775, topofthehub.net — Rachel Slade

Uni / $$$$ When Ken Oringer closed Clio last year, an expanded Uni took its place. This is exciting and inspiring food — the kind of thing Clio was doing in its heyday. The smoked uni spoon pairs a sturdy section of urchin with a perfect sphere of quail egg yolk and a dollop of caviar. Chiang Mai duck carnitas is a pile of flavorful shredded duck atop scallion pancakes, the richness offset with a bright green papaya salsa. The Eliot Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, 617-536-7200, uni-boston.com — Nestor Ramos

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BROOKLINE 

Stoked Wood Fired Pizza Co. / $ One of the reasons this Washington Square spot can turn out a crust that is completely cooked through — why can’t other places get this right? — is a slowly spinning pizza floor. The chewy, charred pies support top-quality ingredients. On cheese pizza, a light tomato sauce is topped with fresh and aged mozzarella. Smashed meatballs and ricotta takes some of the wonderful appetizer meatballs and adds dollops of ricotta, basil oil, and aged mozzarella. 1632 Beacon Street, Brookline, 617-879-0707, stokedpizzaco.com — Sheryl Julian

CAMBRIDGE 

Forage / $$$$ Though there’s a sign out front, maybe it should be removed. This is a concept that prizes stealth, subtlety, and locally gathered, easily-looked-past ingredients. The rigorous cocktails menu capitalizes royally on the idea of foraged ingredients. The food at Forage rarely transcends, but it’s also never un-good. The bluefish, though expertly cooked, thirsts — as several dishes do — for some, OK more, OK any, liquid. Dessert follows through on the idea of foraged ingredients. 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, 617-576-5444, foragecambridge.com — Ted Weesner

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Mamaleh’s / $$ Part deli, part restaurant, part soda-fountain-with-a-liquor-license, Mamaleh’s — a Jewish delicatessen and restaurant from the team at the adjacent State Park — has a lot going on (including dinner, as of September). Order bagels or bialys with house-cured lox, or treat yourself to silky sable from Brooklyn’s Acme Smoked Fish. Reuben and Rachel sandwiches made with corned beef and pastrami, respectively, taste just right with creamy Russian dressing, Swiss cheese, and snappy sauerkraut or slaw. And you can add the malted brandy Alexander to your boozy-milkshake bucket list.1 Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge, 617-958-3354, mamalehs.com — Catherine Smart

The Smoke Shop / $$$ Chef/pitmaster Andy Husbands eschews barbecue’s trademark filth while hanging onto the traditions that really matter. The dining room may be polished to a sparkle, but the smoker still delivers pile after pile of expertly cooked pork, beef, and sausage. Most nights, the brisket is at least as good as you’ll find around here and usually a far bit better. Pulled pork is moist enough to remind you how often the dish seems to be an afterthought. Fried chicken is a surprise winner. 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-577-7427, thesmokeshopbbq.com — Nestor Ramos

Tom’s BaoBao / $ Bao — fluffy Chinese steamed buns filled here with an array of seasoned meats and vegetables — are an ancient food, being served up in a sleek, ultramodern, white-tiled counter service restaurant. The fist-size bao are the only thing on the menu, so settle in with two or three and you’ve got a filling, very affordable meal. Even if you decide to go luxe and order the lobster, it’s a decadent value. 84 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617-945-0067, tomsbaobao.com — Catherine Smart

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WuBurger / $$ There are plenty of places to get a decent burger in the Boston area. We came to WuBurger in Inman Square for the boozy milkshakes. They are dangerously good. And the burgers? They hit the spot. The WuBurger satisfies — a juicy, medium-well double patty on a soft potato roll, topped simply with lettuce, tomato, American cheese, and WuSauce, an onion-based mayo. The accompanying waffle fries are crisp and delicious. 1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-945-1703, wuburger.com — Catherine Smart

FENWAY

Saloniki / $ From the long lines at this Greek spot, you’d think that Jody Adams and her partners were serving the only healthy fast food in the Fenway area. What Saloniki has that few other places do is food loaded with flavor. The Herc combines braised, lightly sweetened pork, spicy whipped feta, tomatoes, onions, and Greek fries. The Despena features zucchini-feta fritters, which are tender, browned but not crisp, with fries, garlic yogurt, and herb salad. 4 Kilmarnock Street, Boston, 617-266-0001, salonikigreek.com — Sheryl Julian

SOMERVILLE 

Dali / $$$ Dali lays claim to being the Boston area’s first major tapas outpost. It opened in 1989, and 27 years later it continues to thrive. The menu has been untouched for years, yet there’s plenty to satisfy. Everyone loves the Catalan spinach, lightly sauteed, laced with thin-sliced garlic and pine nuts. Ditto for the woodsy mushrooms sauteed with garlic. The gambas al ajillo — shrimp and garlic sauteed in olive oil — features small, bland shrimp. Yet the generous puddle of leftover oil is addictive. 415 Washington Street, Somerville, 617-661-3254, dalirestaurant.com — Ted Weesner

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Juliet / $$$$ Everything at Juliet is like this: little surprises tucked into a dish, familiar tastes you can’t quite pinpoint, a lot of technique that manages not to be show-offy, or even obvious, except that it makes things irresistible. Six stools in the Union Square restaurant are for a la carte walk-ins; other diners reserve for a prix fixe menu. Banh mi at lunch is almost too rich with pork pate, chicken liver mousse, and all the pleasurable heat and crunch of the Vietnamese sandwich. Pay attention or you’ll miss a delightful detail, a little crunch, something aromatic. 257 Washington Street, Somerville, 617-718-0958, julietsomerville.com — Sheryl Julian

Winter Hill Brewing Company / $$ A spot for both breakfast meetings and after-work drinks, Winter Hill Brewing feels, more than anything, like a neighborhood hangout. The menu is short and sweet. In the morning they serve up Iggy’s pastries, egg sandwiches, and coffee brewed as skillfully as the beer. The Cubano may be our favorite of the sandwich offerings. Sides are the real standouts: indulgent mac and cheese, spicy Korean Brussels sprouts, beer-battered fried pickles. 328 Broadway, Somerville, winterhillbrewing.com — Catherine Smart

SOUTH BOSTON

Ocean Prime / $$$$ With about a dozen restaurants nationwide, Ocean Prime offers a menu that transcends location. Point Judith calamari turns out to be a General Tso, kung pao-inspired stir-fry of fried squid, bell pepper, bean sprouts, dried chiles, and candied cashews in sugary glaze. It’s unexpectedly awesome. Seafood, chicken, chops, and steaks receive star treatment. Baked Alaska is gussied up with fresh raspberries and both raspberry and chocolate syrups. It’s a metaphor for the joie de vivre and more-is-more philosophy Ocean Prime embraces. 140 Seaport Boulevard, Boston, 617-670-1345, ocean-prime.com — Mat Schaffer

Outlook Kitchen + Bar / $$$$In her enthusiasm to spread her culinary wings, chef Tatiana Rosana sometimes forgets that ingredients — not invention — should drive a dish, that less is more. The surprise highlight on this Seaport District restaurant’s menu is the tagliatelle pasta. The noodles are tossed with English peas, spinach, cherry tomatoes, and a buttery, soubise-like onion puree, and garnished with a generous grating of Grana Padano.The Envoy Hotel, 70 Sleeper Street, Boston, 617-530-1559, outlookkitchenandbar.com — Mat Schaffer

Sixth Gear Cask & Kitchen / $$$ Sixth Gear is most successful when it sticks to the basics. The kitchen makes a fine burger. We’d readily order that again. Same for the sweet dates with salty bacon and mocha glaze. Huli Huli chicken was a unanimous hit. It’s prepared Hawaiian-style, with a teriyaki chutney made by stewing down an entire pineapple. But the more ambitious the dish, the more things go awry. 81 L Street, South Boston, 617-765-8836, sixthgearboston.com — Sacha Pfeiffer

SOUTH END 

Bar Mezzana / $$$ Nearly everything here is in harmony, a clean and vivid concept from the food to the furnishings. Start with one of several elegant, seasonal cocktails and something from the ever-changing crudo menu, where about a dozen raw fish preparations show off how comfortable the kitchen is pairing intense, deep flavors. As is often the case, main dishes — both on the “primi” pasta menu and the small “secondi” section — pale slightly in comparison to the in-your-face flavors of what came before. Service is friendly but can be slow. 360 Harrison Avenue, Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com — Nestor Ramos

Kava Neo-Taverna / $$$ At Kava, you can dine on a Greek island without leaving Boston. There are no reservations, lines are common, and the wait can stretch up to two hours. But that wait is definitely worth it when you can bliss out on mezedes (small plates) like gigandes, giant lima beans stewed in carrot tomato sauce, or chunks of chewy, grilled octopus, doused with olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of oregano. 315 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, 617-356-1100, kavaneotaverna.com — Mat Schaffer

NORTH OF BOSTON

Magnolia 525 Tavern / $$$Low key and laid back, the 525 Tavern exudes a relaxed pub feel. The classic baked haddock was a big, meaty filet, moist and flavorful. The rib-sticking root beer and soy sauce steak tips were cooked precisely to order (pink, not bloody), and served with fresh asparagus and bacon and cheddar-infused mashed potatoes. The 525 Tavern also has an array of pizzas and sandwiches.12 Lexington Avenue, Gloucester, 978-525-3230, 525magnolia.com — Brion O’Connor

Sichuan Gourmet / $$ Restaurateur Zhong Li includes General Tso’s chicken on his menus, but the cuisine of his native Sichuan is the star of the show. Xiang La fish showcases the kitchen at its best. Chengdu spicy dumplings, pork-filled half-moons, arrive doused with chile oil and a scattering of sesame seeds. A zippy dish of dan dan noodles heaps ground pork, peanuts, and scallions on skinny wheat noodles. 91 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, 781-221-7288, laosichuan.com — Ellen Bhang

Yalla! Mediterranean Grill / $$ Yalla! (“let’s go” in Lebanese) is a labor of love for the Abourgeili family. They make everything from scratch, like hummus, whole milk yogurt, and falafel (a delight, with a very crisp exterior and a soft interior of chickpeas and fava beans). The Yalla Let’s Mezza! plate was a combination of tabbouleh, hummus, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves, falafel, and pita. We also liked the chicken shish kebob. 169 Merrimack Street, Methuen, 978-794-1718, yallagrill.net — Diane Severin

SOUTH OF BOSTON

Lucky Dawg Tavern & Grille / $ A casual spot known for burgers, seafood, and a passion for sports, Lucky Dawg has a busy bar, two small dining rooms, and outdoor patio. We shared a dawg dish of appetizers, including onion rings, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, and boneless buffalo chicken wings. Everything on the dish arrived hot. The super-juicy, perfectly cooked hickory burger came with a sweetish barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and a big pile of napkins. 242 Mattakeesett Street (Route 14), Pembroke, 781-293-3600, luckydawgtavern.com — Ellen Albanese

The Townshend / $$$ With its well-crafted menu, The Townshend provides a level of hospitality that could signal a tipping point for Quincy as a dining destination. The fried oysters are some of the best I’ve found outside of New Orleans. An appetizer of perfectly grilled shrimp arrives on a bed of nutty romesco sauce. The skin on a pair of pan-seared trout fillets is both crispy and savory. 1250 Hancock Street, Quincy, 617-481-9694, thetownshend.com — Janelle Nanos

WEST OF BOSTON

Flank / $$$$ Flank bills itself as a “New American Beefsteak,” a nod to a 19th-century all-male banquet tradition that involved eating large amounts of meat without aid of utensils. The first course of The Banker — the middle tier of three beefsteak options — serves as a pretty good reminder that you’re welcome to use your hands. Every one of the salads contains either meat or dairy, sneaking some butter into the house salad in the form of “tiny brioche.” 74 Tower Road at 1265 Main, Waltham, 781-893-5265, flankwaltham.com — Nestor Ramos

J. Dee Asian Bistro / $$ At J. Dee, they’re making a bunch of popular dishes, mostly Thai, lots of sushi, and other favorites. On the Thai menu, crab Rangoon are very fresh and crisp. Larb kai, the mixture of ground chicken and toasted rice, is one of those dishes that looks like a mound of nothing, but made with enough cilantro, chile, and lime, it’s addictive, as it is here. The house specialty J. Dee roll combines shrimp tempura, tuna, asparagus, salmon, and cream cheese. We try it because we’re wondering what cream cheese is doing there. It’s making the little rolls delicious. 98 Main Street, Watertown, 617-924-1804, jdeeasianbistro.com — Sheryl Julian

Moldova Restaurant / $$ This is rustic peasant fare. A bowl of chicken soup is a remedy for anything that ails you. Whatever else you decide to order, try placinte la tigaie. These are flat, crisp, pan-fried pastry rounds filled with farmer’s cheese (called “cow cheese” on the menu) and fresh herbs, or potatoes, cabbage, cherries, or apples. 344 Watertown Street, Newton, 617-916-5245, tastemoldova.com — Sheryl Julian

True West Brewery / $$ True West operates a from-scratch kitchen. Even the ketchup is homemade. The sweet-tart condiment is excellent with tots, hand-crafted potato nuggets. These pair especially well with an American IPA called Ruckus. A delicious, spicy flatbread with chorizo layers crumbled house-made pork sausage with red sauce, cheddar, and oven-roasted plum tomatoes. 525 Massachusetts Avenue, West Acton, 978-206-1600, brewtruewest.com — Ellen Bhang


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