MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian: "Friends envy me my restaurant-reviewing gig, not understanding that continually having to research the next new place crimps the time I have to devote to established places I already know and love. Here are a few I managed to get back to repeatedly in spite of that:
- Café Porto Bello, City Point, the kind of modest, old-school, red-sauce Italian place your grandparents would love, with a welcome bit of Old Southie sass in the service. Pro tip: upgrade to the house-made pasta.
- J.J. Foley’s Café in the South End, a nonpareil family-run Irish-American tavern with a palpable hundred-plus years of history. Puts the city’s countless dull fake-Irish bars to shame and disgrace.
- The Franklin Southie, a more modern neighborhood joint with a genuinely loveable bartending crew. I mourn its imminent passing, though I’m hopeful for its successor, Moonshine 152, from first-time chef/owner Asia Mei. Her cooking at Sam’s at Louis Boston was about the only thing I’ve ever liked about the Seaport.
- Gene’s Chinese Flatbread, DTX and Woburn Center, lonely local outposts of Shaanxi cuisine, with its emphasis on hearty wheat-based foods like astonishing hand-pulled noodles and mind-blowing accents of garlic, chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. Soulful, satisfying and cheap: a food nerd’s dream.
- Dumpling Café, Chinatown. I’d go just for the best soup dumplings in Greater Boston, but its long menu of Taiwanese fare is consistently rewarding and a great bargain.
- Moody’s Delicatessen, Waltham. The one new place on my list. It plugs a giant hole in our scene with astonishing Jewish deli meats like brilliant pastrami and corned beef, but offers so much more, drawing on French, Italian, Spanish, German and other notable traditions of cold cuts, sausages, and pâtés. If the Food Dork Gods are just, Moody’s expanded wholesale operation will mean you can buy their singular artisanry from your local market soon.
- The Hawthorne, Kenmore Square. Absolutely brilliant craft bartending on both the technical and hospitality sides of the coin, in a lovely, dimly-lit, hiding-in-plain-sight setting. The short menu of bar snacks is very nice, too. Long, slow kowtow to its sublimely talented bar manager Katie Emmerson, who decamped to L.A. late this year."
BosGuy, blogger: "When in doubt Row 34 never fails to impress and was high on my list of suggestions, but if you need a table in a pinch, I suggest the bar at Stella. The friendly bar staff can usually get you a seat fairly quickly during the week, the food is consistently good, and who doesn't love their Italian menu full of pastas, flatbreads, and cocktails?"
Luke O'Neil, freelance writer: "People often ask me what the best restaurant or bar is, figuring since I write about them I must know, but the problem is every chance I get to go out for dinner, it always has to be a new place that's just opened. And even if I really end up liking it, I don't get as many chances to go back because there's always another new place to check out the next time. Life is cruel. I think my most frequented restaurant this year was Cha Yen Thai Cookery in Watertown, mostly for takeout. It's really under the radar, but opened this year I believe. One of the best meals I can remember from the year was at the Barrel House in Beverly, a place I would return to a lot more often if it were closer, as well as Sichuan Garden out in Woburn, but that's probably no secret to Eater readers. Shojo continues to be, somehow, a still underrated treasure.
As usual, the only bars I found myself returning to over and over for cocktails on my own personal time were the ones in Harvard and Central — not because they're necessarily the best, although they're certainly very good, but because they're the best and the most convenient for me to get to: Alden & Harlow, Park, Green Street, and Brick & Mortar. I found myself back at State Park more than a few times as well, and Highball Lounge near Park Street is a very good addition to the drinking scene, if only because it's not quite like all of the other places that opened in the last couple years."
Marian White, staff writer at BostInno: "For after-work drinks, my go-to is Trade. Great cocktails, a rotating seasonal menu and a convenient location near my office and the T...can’t beat that. I also hop over to Sportello and Tavern Road quite a bit."
Marc H., founder of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk: "When I wasn't reviewing restaurants, I spent a good amount of time at O'Sullivan's in Somerville (still love their burgers after all these years), Joe Sent Me in Cambridge (mellow spot with a great jukebox, decent beers, and good food), Santarpio's in East Boston (been pigging out on their pizzas since I was a kid), and both Sichuan Gardens (in Brookline and Woburn). I also pretended to have a beer or two at Armsby Abbey in Worcester every week, but in reality I only got there a couple of times."
Damien Smith, community manager for Yelp Boston: "I could build a house with the Bon Me boxes I've collected. Dave's Fresh Pasta and Tenoch Taqueria are supreme sandwich purveyors. The Painted Burro puts out a terrific brunch; Giulia and Alden & Harlow own my night game."
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston: "Although it has been far too long since my last visit, I always consider Highland Kitchen my main standby. I lived 10 minutes away in one direction for a couple of years, and I've spent the last couple years 10 minutes away in the other direction. The burger is outstanding, and I'm a sucker for their house-made, scotch bonnet-infused ginger beer, either on its own or in a dark and stormy. I also frequent Backbar, particularly during "Genius Hour" from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., when there's free WiFi. What better way to finish up the last bit of work for the day than with a cocktail?"