This was a great year for openings — I found something to love about nearly every place I reviewed this year, as well as a lot of others I sampled but didn’t get to review. But a few places that stood out in a very strong freshman class:
- Yvonne's: This DTX hotspot in the old Locke-Ober space managed to preserve some echoes of its predecessor’s Brahmin refinement, fusing it with a modern, nightclubby glamour. The eclectic menu is quite nice, but you’ll pay handsomely for it; flatbreads and large-format plates are the best deals. I was gratified that the cocktail program is truly excellent, a welcome surprise in a town where velvet-rope feigned exclusivity usually signifies insultingly middlebrow drinks.
- Hojoko: Speaking of loud, kicky fun, this kitschy neo-Japanese tavern with rock-and-roll trappings in the Fenway’s Verb Hotel wowed me with terrific versions of sushi and sashimi, skewers grilled over charcoal, ramen, and more. But I also love its bar program, which combines craft seriousness, proper 1930s-vintage Tiki, and goofy dating-bar frozen drinks. That poolside patio is going to sizzle come summer.
- BISq: I’m a big fan of Bergamot, the big brother of this Inman Square newcomer, but it’s also nice to enjoy this crew’s hospitality and outstanding wines in a less-formal setting. Great housemade charcuterie and a charming, intimate little bar in the back are other huge assets.
- Loyal Nine: For all of Boston’s storied Revolutionary-War history, nobody ever took a serious, historical run at the cuisine of our Colonial forebears until this East Cambridge newcomer. No mere academic exercise, Loyal Nine offers beguiling novelty in ancient cookery, a necessary focus on local ingredients, and a great cocktail program. The fine adjacent fourth-wave coffee shop and railroad-trackside patio are other worthy draws.
- Ganko Ittetsu Ramen: This Coolidge Corner ramen-ya does three Sapporo-style bowls of ramen with a care and delicacy worthy of the great food-nerd film touchstone Tampopo. A great soul-restorer for a mere ten bucks, especially the house specialty of miso ramen. Get an extra egg, pork, and noodles if you’re starving.
- Chilacates: This tiny, mostly-takeout Jamaica Plain taquería serves up some of my favorite traditional Mexican tacos. A little pricier than my Eastie standbys, but worth it for a lot of loving, handmade care, notably in tacos al pastor sliced off a proper trompo and served on housemade tortillas. The tortas are amazing, too.
- Select Oyster Bar: Longtime Neptune Oyster exec chef Michael Serpa finally opened his own place in Back Bay, and it quickly vaulted to the first ranks of Boston’s New England seafood restaurants. Great raw bar, fine cooked dishes, and a serious wine program in a compact setting make this a jewel in a Back Bay neighborhood overrun with touristy mediocrities.
- Lone Star Taco Bar in Cambridge pretty much blew me away with their incredible tacos, sublime Sonoran dogs, and freshly-made margaritas.
- Internal Matter in Boston's Fort Point also greatly impressed with its comfort food and beer (I know, always with the beer), and it's about as hidden a place as you'll find — so hidden that we walked by it twice before finally finding the door to the place, then realizing it was the wrong door.
- Hojoko is certainly notable and a lot of fun.
- Yvonne’s I would go to all the time if it were closer to my home.
- I like Committee; it’s different than a lot of other openings we’ve seen around here of late, and the cocktails are thoughtful and well-made, despite it being the type of space where you wouldn’t expect that.
Kerry J. Byrne, food writer for the Boston Herald:
- Yvonne's in the former Locke-Ober space knocked it out of the park with one of the most beautiful restaurants not just in Boston, but in the entire country. Creative food. Great cocktails. Sexy vibe. The public has responded in force: It's generating an insane amount of revenue out of the gate. Will Yvonne's make it over the long haul? We'll see!
- I really dig the charcuterie at BISq in Cambridge — as good as any in town — but not sure it's developed the following yet it deserves.
- The Townshend in Quincy is a small space on the cusp of big things. Best new cocktail bar in Boston.
- Finally, The Backroom at Moody's Delicatessen in Waltham is, in a word, AWESOME. The kind of place I've been dreaming about for years: world-class sausage and charcuterie representing a wide range of global styles and flavors, plus great beer and spectacular wine list. Got a chance to see the inner workings up close this year. Owner Josh Smith is an intense genius.
Sam Hiersteiner, food writer for Lucky Peach, First We Feast, Art of Eating, and other publications:
- Branch Line: I was more pleasantly surprised by this place than any other new opening I visited in 2015. The beer list, salads, and crispy potatoes are enough for a visit by themselves, and then you add beautiful rotisserie meats. And it's affordable!?
- Townsman: A perfect case study of how the food world gives very little breathing room for chefs to get in a groove at high-profile new restaurants. Why wouldn't it take the better part of a year for an ambitious new place to really start humming? I had great meals at Townsman, and I think it's going to have the same kind of staying power and following that Matt Jennings had in Providence.
- Sichuan Gourmet House: Ok, so not a new opening, but a new location...and one that delivers to my house. If it wasn't hazardous to my health, I'd eat the dry chicken with capsicum, cumin lamb, and pork dumplings in spicy oil on a weekly basis.
- Tiger Mama: I had somewhat low-ish expectations of this place, because it seemed too kitschy and clean to serve the kind of fiery, funky Asian food I like, but I was wrong. My mouth is watering thinking about the nam phrik noom, the crab fried rice, and the inventive papaya salad.
- Hojoko: I haven't seen another Asian restaurant in America that so openly flaunts the delightful weirdness of offal, which is right down my alley.
- Chilacates: Best tacos and burritos I've found in town. Chicken tinga please!
- Select Oyster Bar: I love how Michael Serpa doesn't f*ck with seafood too much, but he does have an international view about what brings out the best of fresh fish.
BosGuy, LGBT Blogger (with a lot of South End restaurant coverage):
- Although it technically opened in late December 2014, I feel like I should give The Elephant Walk a shout-out because most people did not visit the restaurant until 2015. Consistently delicious, The Elephant Walk offers a unique cuisine at a surprisingly affordable price point for the neighborhood.
- Babbo Pizzeria in the Seaport serves great Italian food, but it won't be a great restaurant until its service improves.
- Doretta Taverna, Michael Schlow's upscale Greek restaurant that replaced Via Matta in the Back Bay, is worth trying.
- Yvonne's in Downtown Crossing has brought life back to the former home of Locke-Ober.
Chris Hughes at Boston Magazine was kind enough to let me help out with the 25 Best New Restaurants in Boston piece, so I got the chance to eat at and chat with other writers about some great new spots. I love Chef Chang’s on Back Bay for Northern Chinese specialities in a super cozy atmosphere; Shepard for all the charred goodness coming out of that open fireplace, the inventive pastas and of course their expertly baked bread smeared with that wonderfully tangy cultured butter; and Santouka, which used to be my first stop after arriving in LAX every time I visit my sister in LA. Now I can have a big bowl of what I think is the best ramen around anytime I want!
Dana Hatic, Eater Boston associate editor:
As far as buzz goes, Tiger Mama definitely rounded out a year of great newcomers.
- I loved East by Northeast so much and was devastated when it closed earlier this year, but I was happy to see most of the same team at Banyan in the South End.
- Playska, Brewer’s Fork, and Branch Line were all top newcomers for me as well this year.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor:
What a busy year for restaurant openings! Some of my top picks:
- Yvonne's: This one is so interesting to me because it's not a place that, at face value, I'd consider to be "my scene" (in that I'm not a dressed-to-impress finance bro who frequents downtown establishments after work), but it transcends its location and easily built-in clientele to successfully attract food and drink enthusiasts from all over. Everything is great, but Kate Holowchik's desserts, especially the boozy ones, are particularly magical.
- Banyan: Like Katie Chudy wrote above, I was also so sad to say goodbye to East by Northeast (and I was in there drinking and snacking until the last possible moment), but it was great to see the restaurant's chef/owner Phil Tang and his sous chef Tom Griffin head over to Banyan together this year. Cool space, fun menu, good people. (It's owned by The Gallows team.)
- Branch Line: I fell in love with this new Watertown restaurant the second I saw the immense number of sour beers on the menu, and the excellent food sealed the deal. I will probably cry the day the snap pea salad disappears from the menu. (And yes, the $2 side of rotisserie drippings for bread dipping is 100% necessary.)
- Hojoko and Tiger Mama: Lucky Fenway got not one but two noisy, fun Asian restaurants this year, with Hojoko drawing inspiration from Japanese izakayas and Tiger Mama playing with flavors of Southeast Asia. Go with a big group to maximize spending and tasting.
- BISq, Loyal Nine, Kimchi Kitchen, Lone Star Taco Bar (Cambridge): I've always loved my Union Square location, and now it's getting even better with the build-up of nearby East Cambridge and the edge of Inman Square. I love these four new places so much. Try the shrimp toast and lamb ribs at BISq, any seafood dish or baked good at Loyal Nine, dduk-bokki at Kimchi Kitchen, and tacos (of course) or spicy corn pancakes (on the brunch menu) at Lone Star.
- Shepard: Really beautiful, very seasonal food.
- Cinderella's: I haven't eaten here, but I can say that the revamped Cinderella's is one of the most fun bars in town.
- Pepe Bocca: OK, this opened in the last week of December 2014, but I'm going to count it. This Italian specialty shop in Davis Square has a great selection of products and prepared foods. Try the pizza.