Having weathered the lingering aftereffects of the Great Recession, the restaurant scene in the region north of Boston has rebounded and then some.
Local restaurateurs are rolling out new dining concepts and giving old ones a new spin. The best new spots are often packed, whether the lure is cutting-edge sophistication or comfort food like momma made.
It's often said restaurants are most apt to fail in their first two years. We're betting the 11 dining spots noted here — all new in 2016 and taste-tested by our reviewers — have what it takes to stay the course.
As elsewhere, immigrants in the region offer some of the area's most exotic yet affordable dining options. In Medford Square, Sura BBQ Boston gives customers a taste of authentic Korean cuisine. Sura's many combinations of barbecue can involve marinated beef, pork ribs, chicken, squid, octopus, tofu, steamed egg, and vegetables. "Sura" in Korean is a table set for a king, and portion sizes here are indeed regal.
27 Riverside Ave., Medford, 781-391-5606.
Nashua's Taj India features the cooking of northern India. The treats here include fresh-cooked breads like garlic naan and onion kulcha, but the main attractions are spicy marinated tandoori-cooked meats.
As at Sura, a number of dishes are ample enough for a group to share. Taj's mixed grill is chicken tandoori, lamb kabab, chicken tikka masala, and seekh kabab, the whole arrangement brought out on a sizzling hot platter.
47 East Pearl St. Nashua. 603-864-8450, www.tajindia.co.
Another new destination offering authentic foreign cuisine is Casa Vallarta on Route 1 north in Saugus. The Mexican restaurant is a big space with a big menu and, yes, big portions. The kitchen emphasizes dishes popular in western Mexico's Jalisco state. Try the pollo chipotle, which is chicken and fresh vegetables in a special chipotle sauce, or chile verde, a bountiful plate of tender braised pork in a spicy green tomatillo sauce.
114 Broadway (Route 1 north), Saugus. 781-813-3980, casavallarta.org.
Nashville isn't as distant as Guadalajara, but the Southern comfort food being served up at The Porch is exotic in its own right. Chef and co-owner Jonathan Post aims to bring to downtown Wakefield the kind of blue-collar fare he enjoyed as a kid in Tennessee, from meatloaf platters to fried catfish. Even with a culinary education, Post relies on his grandmother's home-tested recipes.
41 Tuttle St., Wakefield, 781-245-4445, www.theporchsouthern.com.
Bar One in Milford, N.H., serves Southern comfort food, too, but with a little more flair. Chef Kimmy Lavoie, a native South Carolinian, serves the popular Dixie staple of fried chicken and waffles, but her waffles are made with sweet potato and brushed with a spicy bourbon-maple glaze. She serves up grits, but she pairs them with shrimp or jalapeno cheddar.
40 Nashua St., Milford, N.H. 603- 249-5327, www.facebook.com/baronenh.
Closer to Boston, Chelsea Station Bar & Lounge has taken over an old brick fire station that was nearly consumed in the great Chelsea fire of 1973. While the high-ceilinged bar serves up craft cocktails, the kitchen produces new American fare like pan-roasted maple-thyme chicken and warm vegetable salads of baby Brussel sprouts, roasted onion, and red quinoa grain.
105 Everett Ave., Chelsea, 617-466-0754, thechelseastation.com.
In good times and bad, Italian restaurants in the region continue to thrive. Of the new spots in the area, three stand out. Andiamo in Chelmsford, following its Newburyport namesake, has a sleek modern interior and open kitchen. It offers goodies like ficchi (fig) pizza, made with balsamic fig jam, prosciutto, broccolini, fresh rosemary, and house-made burrata cheese.
18 Boston Road, Chelmsford, 978-710-7218, andiamo-restaurant.com.
Giacomo's of Melrose , a sister restaurant of the North End landmark, has drawn crowds from the start. Worth the wait — and diners have been known to stand in line for an hour or more — is the penne chicken and shrimp: chewy pasta in a pesto cream sauce with juicy pieces of chicken and fresh shrimp.
454 Main St. 781-620-1191, giacomosblog-boston.blogspot.com.
In Gloucester, Tonno (Italian for tuna) has brought farm-fresh vegetables and house-made pasta to the historic Blackburn Tavern building. The menu abounds with unusual appetizers and raw-fish crudos, including an octopus, potato, and black olive salad and a bluefin tuna crudo with pickled red onion and chive oil.
2 Main St., Gloucester. 978-879-4795, tonnorestaurant.com.
If you have splurging in mind, a pair of new restaurants will indulge your fancy. Swampscott's vast Mission on the Bay — a spinoff of Newburyport's Mission Oak Grill — lets diners take in a spectacular view of downtown Boston across Nahant Bay as they munch on cheesy risotto with scallops and peas. Or Mission's top seller, fried calamari with fried lemon and a fiery citrus-pepper tartar sauce.
141 Humphrey St., Swampscott. 781-691-9277, missiononthebay.com.
At MarketStreet Lynnfield's upscale outdoor mall, the new 300-seat Gaslight Lynnfield is comfy and sophisticated at the same time, with red leather booths and what looks like a wall of wine. Try the duck steak with sour cherry sauce or the Maine lobster risotto with mussels on the side. It's perfect if you're not on a budget (or a diet).
1100 Market St., Lynnfield. 781-334-3433, www.gaslightlynnfield.com