KEY TO TYPICAL ENTREE PRICES
$ $10 OR LESS
$$ $11 TO $15
$$$ $16 TO $25
$$$$ $26 AND UP
Pokeworks / $$ Pokeworks offers a taste of Hawaii in a fast-casual setting — raw, cubed salmon and tuna served atop rice, kale noodles, or greens, or in burrito form. You can get creative, with add-ons such as organic tofu and blanched kale. Try the poke bowls: tubs of organic brown or sushi rice topped with your choice of ahi or albacore tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallops, chicken, or tofu. Add mix-ins — think edamame, seaweed, and orange slices — and sauce, then top your creation with avocado, pickled ginger, wasabi, green onions, on and on. Not confident in your ability to customize? Choose from signature bowls, such as Spicy Ahi, with green and sweet onions, or Sweet Ginger Chicken, topped with spicy ginger sauce. 1440 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-441-2999, pokeworks.com — Kara Baskin
Democracy Brewing / $$$ The worker-owned brewpub looks like a cross between a church, a train station, and a barroom, filled with woodwork, stained glass, arched ceilings, and nooks for nestling in. Chef Ben Waxler (The Haven) serves up beer cheese nachos and pretzels, pizza bagels, burgers, and hand pies. There are also entrees such as chorizo-stuffed chicken and Portuguese fish stew. For dessert, pe rhaps a stout float or a deep-fried Fluffernutter. Beers include the Suffragette Pale Ale, Fighting 54th Saison, Consummate Rioter IPA, and 1919 Strike Stout. 35 Temple Place, Boston, 857-263-8604, democracybrewing.com — Devra First
Little Dipper / $$$ The third in the Jamaica Plain restaurant constellation that includes Tres Gatos and Casa Verde, Little Dipper is decorated with aqua paint and sparkly black vinyl upholstery. Beneath a fleet of more than 40 brightly hued rockets, JP brunchers tuck into poached eggs and sip mimosas. At brunch, Apollo acai bowls, “Saturn’s Double Stack” of buttermilk pancakes, huevos rancheros, house-made doughnuts (a Centre Street Cafe staple), and more. Breakfast features a similar but slightly smaller lineup. At lunch, you’re likely to find galactic burgers, assorted salads, a rice bowl, and the Courier flatbread, topped with chickpea patties, greens, herbed yogurt, and tomato-cucumber relish. 669 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, 617-524-9217, littledipperjp.com — D.F.
Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe / $-$$ For a quick midday meal, sandwiches are served swiftly and amiably at Cardullo’s. Menus are printed on the wall. No whimsical chalkboards or cutesy fonts, just straightforward information for the busy worker: salads, vegetarian and hot sandwiches, wraps, and custom creations with nods to Harvard Square — Cardullo’s old neighborhood — such as the Hearty Harvard (choice of meat with coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing on a baguette) or the Radcliffe (pate, fig spread, and Dijon mustard on a baguette). They serve a dignified breakfast, too: Opt for speck and egg on a bagel or ham, brie, and apples on a croissant. Don’t see what you want? They’ll adapt. 99 Seaport Boulevard, Boston, 617-326-8655, cardullos.com — K.B.
Chickadee / $$$$ Friends run into one another at the L-shaped bar and others gather at high-tops in a warmly lighted, open space of black, white, and wood, the kitchen visible at the back. The restaurant’s menu is inspired by the Mediterranean. At lunch that means dips and salads, pita sandwiches and main courses like chicken meatballs with smoked almond, grape, jicama, and mint. At dinner, you might find sour cream and onion doughnuts with caviar and creme fraiche, spiced lamb tartare with kohlrabi tzatziki, bigoli with littleneck clams and green harissa, or dry-aged sirloin with fattoush, black plum, halloumi, and tomatillo. Dessert brings blueberry trifle, tahini affogato, and more. 21 Dry Dock Avenue, Boston, 617-531-5591, chickadeerestaurant.com — D.F.
Dakzen / $ Order at the counter, snag a stool, and slurp Bangkok-style street food in Dakzen, a loose translation of the Thai phrase to “chow down.” Order bowls, filled with noodle or rice dishes, mostly the owner’s grandfather’s recipes. Boat noodles are a specialty in this Davis Square spot. Choose among rice, egg, or flat noodles in a pungent swirl of meatballs, pork rinds, bean sprouts, water spinach (known as morning glory), and beef or pork, topped with cilantro or scallions. Pad kee mow, spicy stir-fried flat noodles mixed with baby corn and red pepper, is spiked with bundles of peppercorns — bite into one, and your mouth will be numb for hours. 195 Elm Street, Somerville, 617-718-1759, dakzen.com — K.B.
Bar Mezzana / $$$$ The “coastal Italian” restaurant specializes in raw-fish dishes along with handmade pasta. There’s a separate crudo menu, and all the way at the bottom is a $30 crudo tasting featuring the chef’s choice of six different fish. (Crudo selections change from night to night.) First came yellowtail with grapefruit oil and Fresno chile, then rich salmon with a counterpoint of salsa verde. And lubina, a European sea bass, with shiso and avocado. The next plate brought spot prawn with horseradish and celery. Next striped bass with “flavors of ceviche.” And finally, a coda: hiramasa with grapefruit, chile, and a tangle of radish and shiso. 360 Harrison Avenue, Boston, 617-530-1770, barmezzana.com — D.F.
NORTH OF THE CITY
Fusilli’s Cucina / $$$ The casual Italian eatery is a welcome throwback. Enter through draped curtains and you’ll find a dining room of dark wood and comfy dark red booths. A bowl of marinara sauce — made from owner Michael Palmer’s grandmother’s recipe — arrives at the table with soft scali bread (local from Colarusso’s Bakery) and butter. Fruita d’mare was an impressive platter of fresh briny scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels bathed in a bold fra diavolo sauce over al dente spaghetti. 107 Main Street (Route 28), Reading, 781-944-7267, fusilliscucina.com — Naomi Kooker
The Stones Common House & Kitchen / $$$ Open, airy, bright, and modern best describes the 120-seat restaurant. The menu changes frequently, but you will always find the standard crowd pleasers — hamburgers, veggie burgers, glazed chicken wings, fried calamari, and grilled fish tacos, plus a long list of beer and wine. However, the chef also orchestrates dishes from locally sourced food, such as a pork pate appetizer, roasted carrot salad, and homemade ricotta nettle gnocchi. 380 Main Street, Stoneham, 781-435-1344, thestonescommonhouse.com — Kathy Shiels Tully
The Roasted Granola Cafe / $ At this Arlington Heights cafe, the food will make you tingle with virtue and vitality. Yogurt bowls, granola, and baked goods are served inside the charmingly hodgepodge Art Lounge, a drop-in studio. By day, nibble granola; by night, paint seascapes and vases of lilies. The “Classic Creation” — a bowl of blueberry, raspberry, and frozen banana puree mixed with dates and almond milk — is topped with granola, honey, Technicolor-blue berries, and bananas sliced like miniature suns. Those of us with less willpower can nibble house-baked blueberry muffins or apricot bars. 1346 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 339-223-0062, roastedgranola.com — K.B.
SOUTH OF THE CITY
El Sarape / $$$ Whenever I’ve asked for the cilantro sauce recipe at El Sarape’s, all I’ve gotten is a smile. Co-owner Javier Adame learned it from his mother growing up in Saltillo, Mexico. The kitchen is good at all the standards you’d expect — tacos, burritos, fajitas, enchiladas — but also turns out unique dishes. The carnitas appetizer is a bowl of tender pork bites marinated in a rich, smoky orange chipotle sauce that can double as an additional dip, and the pollo y arroz (chicken and rice soup) has a lovely, light broth. I’m almost always after the pescado cilantro — a filet of white fish sauced with the aforementioned cilantro sauce. 5 Commercial Street, Braintree, 781-843-8005, elsarape.com — Joan Wilder
The Oysterman / $$$ Outfitted in reclaimed wood, a marble bar, black leather banquettes, industrial metal chairs, and a stainless steel raw bar, The Oysterman is big on comfort foods. But when you want to be good, its raw bar, hummus, salads, and grilled fish are nice options. The Oysterman’s fish and chips do its Irish owner proud and the popular Buffalo cauliflower converted my cauliflower-hating friend, with its florets deep-fried in a Buffalo-seasoned batter. As I bite into a fried oyster, my mood lifts. The plate of cornmeal-coated oysters set atop pink pickled onions, green lettuce, lime wedges, and dots of an orange aioli sends a message: Someone cares in the kitchen. 30 Railroad Avenue, Duxbury, 781-934-2900, anchorandoysterman.com — J.W.
Towneship / $$$$ The space, carved out of a former Swedish church, is wide open yet intimate, with cathedral ceilings and mezzanine seating overlooking the main dining area. The menu is small but diverse, and changes with the seasons. Charred turkey wings are easily the best wings we’ve ever had no matter the bird. If you love chowder, the seafood potage just might make you forget any other. Monkfish loin, a main dish, has ample, thick chunks of tender monkfish, kale, white beans, little neck clams, and chorizo broth, the latter poured into the dish as you are served. 140 Main Street, North Easton, 508-894-2700, towneshipne.com — Paul E. Kandarian
West of the City
Ani Catering & Cafe / $$ Food is made fresh daily at Ani, which specializes in Armenian and Middle Eastern food. The chicken in the spit-roasted chicken shawarma is rolled in a house-made spice mixture created by owner John Janessian: cumin, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon. This is not your late-night college gyro. The meat doesn’t need any accompaniments, but I have a scoop of hummus, suggested by Janessian’s son. I dunk my chicken into it, and although I’ve always detested hummus, I’m in love. The restaurant caters, and visiting in person still feels like a secret. It shouldn’t be. Bring cash (they prefer it). 687 Belmont Street, Belmont, 617-484-6161, anicateringandcafe.com — K.B.
El Rincon de Moody’s / $$ The tacqueria, an offshoot of Moody’s Delicatessen & Provisions in Waltham, serves a limited menu of tacos and barbecue. You can order a house margarita, pleasantly lime-y, or a Long Distance Runner, with Lillet, yellow Chartreuse, lime, and grapefruit soda. Carnitas, with Berkshire pork shoulder and tomatilla sauce, are deliciously smoky. Barbacoa begins with shanks that are so massive, they take 16 hours to slow cook over fire and in an oven. This is meat candy with a smoky chile sauce, radishes, lime, and cilantro. A drippy, three-bite wonder. On the barbecue menu, baked beans have the pleasing taste of smoked pork in the pot, and coleslaw is bathed in a creamy dressing. 456 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-693-9191, elrincondemoodys.com — Sheryl Julian
Saltbox Kitchen / $$$ Located 6 miles from Saltbox Farm, the restaurant, where prepared foods are sold by the pound, is busy, but cooks are replenishing platters with food made on the premises throughout lunch so you never feel like you’re getting the dregs. Or, order a sandwich like a Reuben with mustard slaw or deviled eggs from the farm’s flock. At dinner, the menu might offer scallops with braised greens, steak with tomato escabeche, or zucchini pasta with sunflower-seed pesto. Roasted cauliflower in a sherry vinaigrette with raisins is flecked with chopped kale, and roasted eggplant is garnished with pickled red onion and an exceptionally creamy goat cheese. 84 Commonwealth Avenue, Concord, 978-610-6020, saltboxkitchen.com — S.J.