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Boston’s Top Restaurant Newcomers of 2016: Little Donkey, Mamaleh’s, Waypoint, and More

Local food writers share their thoughts on the year

Little Donkey
| Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

As is Eater tradition, we close out the year by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we publish their responses throughout the final week of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Today’s first question: What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2016?


MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:

“For me, as I imagine for many of us, 2016 was a carbuncle of a year. A world on fire, the passing of many beloved cultural icons, the election, watching family members and friends die or struggle with heartbreak, illness or unemployment: All prompted me to seek solace in good food and drink. That made the past twelve or so months’ welter of great openings in Boston an estimable, necessary salve.

Kreplach at Mamaleh’s
Kreplach at Mamaleh’s
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

Those newcomers ranged from fantastic watering holes with excellent drinks and food (Casa Verde, The Automatic, Ruka), sublime regional Italians (SRV, Fat Hen, Bar Mezzana), a welcome Greek renaissance (Kava, Brendan Pelley in his short-term perch at Wink & Nod and now at Doretta), dazzling Asian entrants (BLR by Shojo, Sichuan Gourmet Burlington, Little Big Diner, Tiger Mama, the reinvented UNI, Ganko Ittetsu Ramen, Pabu), a couple of lovely wine bars (The Maiden, haley.henry with its novel focus on luxury tinned seafood), superb pizza makers (the Stoked brick-and-mortar, Area Four South End, Ciao! in Chelsea, Arlington’s Commune Kitchen), and worthy new spots from familiar and upcoming local stars (Waypoint, Juliet, Little Donkey, Branch Line).

But I took special pleasure in the opening of Mamaleh’s, a smashing traditional Jewish deli from the team behind State Park. Boston hasn’t had exceptional, house-made Ashkenazi soul food in living memory: Its revival was painfully overdue. Dining here was one of the best balms I found for 2016’s many surreal anxieties and lacerations of the spirit. I don’t doubt I’ll find more reasons to seek its hearty, delectable comforts in 2017.”


Marc Hurwitz of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk:

“A big welcome back to the Alumni, a legendary bar pizza spot that closed in Quincy in 2013 but has been reborn in Weymouth. And another welcome back to the wonderful Villa Mexico, which lost its home in Beacon Hill awhile ago but has returned to a nice little space in downtown Boston. The Brook Kitchen & Tap in Holbrook has really impressed since it opened a few weeks ago, and it's nice to see a gastropubby place come to a town with few dining options. Finally, more of a ‘late last year’ pick since it opened toward the end of 2015, but Kimchi Kitchen in Cambridge's Inman Square is the real deal, with outstanding Korean dishes of all kinds, and the price is right.”


Jenny Johnson, co-host of Dining Playbook on NESN:

Benedetto, Kava Neo-Taverna, Ruka, Smoke Shop.”


Jacqueline Cain, associate food editor at Boston magazine:

Pizza at Tapestry
Pizza at Tapestry
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

“I love Carl Dooley’s vibrant, balanced cooking at The Table at Season to Taste, I love the slightly odd and totally solid little beer list, I even love the pacing, and I’m not always up for multi-course meals. Stoked is the best pizza, and now they have the best bar, too. I have loved every dish I have eaten by Meghann Ward and Kevin Walsh of Tapestry (and the gas fireplaces on the Club Room side).

Notch Brewing is the ideal beer hall. Every bar should play interesting music, loudly. Tasting Counter is an amazing experience, but one I cannot indulge in very often. Late Night at Tasting Counter, on the other hand, is super fun, delicious, and helping me achieve my goal of becoming a wine person. Loving the very new addition of Longfellows Coffee and Lamplighter Brewing Co. and their beautiful shared space.

Also, I just need to shout out the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. That was a well-run, well-curated festival that I hope returns to Boston annually.”


Alex Wilking, food and drink contributor for Boston magazine:

“I was thrilled with the addition of The Smoke Shop and Mamaleh’s to the Kendall area. Both have such quality food and make that tight-knit block a restaurant haven. Coreanos in Allston is absurdly good, too. It might be the best Korean fusion I’ve ever had.”


Dan Whalen, food blogger and cookbook author:

“There were so many openings it’s impossible to keep up, but for me, I love Little Donkey. Toro and Coppa are my favorite restaurants in the city, so I was very excited to have a Jamie and Ken establishment on my side of the river. I have been a few times so far, and the food has always been great and gotten better with each visit. The burger is like crack to me. It’s the exact combination of high and low that I love to eat at restaurants and recreate in my own recipes.”


Rachel Cossar, food blogger and host of the new video series Curate the Plate:

“So many!! Waypoint (yea-ya!!). Little Donkey. Juliet. (But like... Waypoint!!)”


Look inside some of the top newcomers of the year. Article continues below.


Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to The Boston Globe, First We Feast, and Lucky Peach:

Waypoint, Michael Scelfo's latest, speaks to me hard. Bambara, where David Bazirgan landed after returning from SF, is a place to go to experience Armenian-influenced flavors and dishes that feel new and awesome. Tiger Mama had barely opened by the time the 2015 survey was done, so I would include it here for sure. Little Big Diner is still an underappreciated gem in Newton Centre. Mamaleh's is delicious. There have been so many other good openings (SRV, Bar Mezzana, Smoke Shop BBQ, The Table, Fat Hen, Little Donkey, Haley.Henry Wine Bar, Juliet) this year that I haven't even had enough time to visit yet, regrettably. While Doretta Taverna isn't new, Brendan Pelley is a newcomer there, and I think that team is going to play at a high level for a long time.”


Luke O’Neil, writer-at-large for Esquire and freelancer for various publications and websites, sometimes in the food and drink realm:

“I am excited about The Automatic, in part because it feels like an actual bar and not a restaurant. We need more bars that let themselves be bars. And Waypoint has been quite good. The bar upstairs at Parsnip should be way more of a thing than it is.”


Korsha Wilson, creator of A Hungry Society and food writer for various publications and websites, including Eater Boston:

Mamaleh’s and Eataly took over my Instagram feed for days after they opened, so I would say those two.”


Emily Phares, writer and illustrator for various publications and websites, including Eater Boston:

Little Donkey made a big splash in Central — it's packed every time I go. The other night I got there at 5:02, literally two minutes after they opened, and the bar was full. Waypoint, just down the street, is another great newcomer; the food is excellent, and they have a nice, low-key bar as well. And last but not least, SRV. It's beautifully designed and has a great atmosphere, not to mention incredible food.”


Dana Hatic, Eater Boston associate editor:

“In terms of buzz, Eataly generated some serious hype, and some people weren't even able to get in the doors on opening day. I'd also say Bar Mezzana is making a name for itself in the South End, along with the new Area Four, while Jody Adams' new place Porto amped up the Greek food-loving crowd.”


Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor:

“What a year for new restaurants — probably my favorite batch of new openings in recent memory. I’m sure I’ll cover it more in another one or two of these survey questions, but Juliet is one of my favorite new spots of the year (and probably the word that shows up on my credit card statement more frequently than anything else). It was our 2016 Restaurant of the Year for many reasons.

Spicy grilled octopus at Benedetto
Spicy grilled octopus at Benedetto
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

It was a great year for Italian food. I fell in love hard with the dark and cozy Fat Hen in East Somerville, connected to one of my older favorites, La Brasa; Bar Mezzana wins the award for Restaurant That Would Surely Bankrupt Me If It Were in My Neighborhood, thanks to its excellent crudo and pasta, two of my favorite categories of food, not to mention its fun bar scene; and SRV offers up one of the best-value tasting menus in town. On the brand new side, I’ve already been wowed by Mida in the South End and Giulia sibling Benedetto in Harvard Square; I can’t wait to revisit those in the coming year. I’m cautiously optimistic about Eataly based on a pre-opening press tour but will reserve judgment until I’ve made some normal visits...which won’t happen until the crazy crowds die down. A few months from now, perhaps? A few years?

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m just a tad obsessed with pizza, and 2016 was a good year on that front as well thanks to the new Area Four in the South End, Stoked’s brick-and-mortar in Brookline, Waypoint in Harvard Square, Tapestry in Fenway, and the frequent Rabottini’s Pizza pop-up at Bagelsaurus. I strongly suspect, based on photographs and recommendations from trusted pizza connoisseurs, that I’ll love a few other newbies as well that I haven’t had a chance to visit yet: Ciao in Chelsea, Commune Kitchen in Arlington, Sillari’s Pizza in Malden, and SuperFine in Manchester-by-the-Sea. Here’s to a 2017 filled with pizza adventures.

Other new obsessions in 2016: Little Donkey (spicy poke, lobster fra diavolo, manti, energetic vibe); Mamaleh’s (kreplach, sandwiches, boozy milkshakes, cheerful hospitality); Smoke Shop (finally, another great barbecue option in the area); The Automatic (so much fun, and check out those throwback cocktails — Sex on the Beach! Mudslides!); Little Big Diner (tiny space, big flavors); The Table at Season to Taste (reasonably priced and delicious tasting menu from a supremely nice and talented chef); Uni 2.0 (the rebirth was successful); Saloniki (so excited that Fenway’s excellent fast-casual Greek is expanding to Cambridge next month); Brassica (quirky, creating tasting menu and more); Moona (perfect new date-night spot in Inman Square, though I was sad to see Playska vacate that space so quickly); Cornish Pasty Co. (Cornwall’s giant, filling response to an empanada).

Banh mi at Little Donkey
Banh mi at Little Donkey
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Can’t forget all the great new taprooms that opened this year; a couple of personal favorites are Lamplighter Brewing Co. in Cambridge (and its cafe, Longfellows) and Winter Hill Brewing in Somerville, which is also doing the cafe-by-day/brewery-by-night thing (a perfect combo).

And finally, honorable mentions to a couple of excellent spots that opened in late 2015. I may have mentioned them in last year’s survey, when they were brand new, but due to the timing of their openings, they were eligible for this year’s Eater Awards, so they’re currently fresh in my mind: Tiger Mama (so many flavors and colors and check out that disco ball elephant) and Branch Line (one version of heaven is surely made of sugar snap pea salad, rotisserie chicken and drippings, and a menu full of sour and funky beers.)”

The Maiden

28 W Broadway, Boston, MA 02127

Mamaleh's Delicatessen

One Kendall Square, Building 300, Cambridge, MA 02139 Visit Website

Saloniki (Fenway)

4 Kilmarnock St, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 266-0001 Visit Website

Stoked Pizza

1632 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446 (617) 982-3473

KAVA neo-taverna

315 Shawmut Avenue, , MA 02118 (617) 356-1100 Visit Website

Uni Boston

370A Commonwealth Avenue, , MA 02215 (617) 536-7200 Visit Website

Ganko Ittetsu Ramen

318 Harvard Street, , MA 02446 (617) 730-8100 Visit Website

RUKA

505 Washington Street, , MA 02111 (617) 266-0102 Visit Website

Lamplighter Brewing Co.

284 Broadway, , MA 02139 (617) 945-0450 Visit Website

Brassica Kitchen + Cafe

3710 Washington Street, , MA 02130 (617) 477-4519 Visit Website

Porto

Ring Road, , MA 02199 (617) 536-1234 Visit Website

Villa Mexico Cafe

121 Water St., Boston, MA (617) 957-0725 Visit Website

The Smoke Shop (Cambridge)

1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA 02139 (617) 577-7427 Visit Website

Doretta Taverna

79 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116 Visit Website

PABU

1 Franklin St., Boston, MA 02108 Visit Website

The Table at Season to Taste

2447 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140 617-871-9468 Visit Website

Kimchi Kitchen

847 Cambridge Street, , MA 02141 (617) 714-3232 Visit Website

Cornish Pasty Co.

51A Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115 (857) 250-4497 Visit Website

The Automatic

50 Hampshire Street, , MA 02139 (617) 714-5226 Visit Website

Notch Brewery & Tap Room

283R Derby Street, , MA 01970 (978) 412-7674 Visit Website

Juliet

21 Union Square, , MA 02143 (617) 718-0958 Visit Website

haley.henry

45 Province Street, , MA 02108 (617) 208-6000 Visit Website

Moona

243 Hampshire Street, , MA 02139 (617) 945-7448 Visit Website

Tasting Counter

14 Tyler Street, , MA 02143 (617) 299-6362 Visit Website

Parsnip

91 Winthrop St., Cambridge, MA 02138 617-714-3206 Visit Website

Eataly

800 Boylston St., Boston, MA Visit Website

Ciao! Pizza and Pasta

59 Williams Street, , MA 02150 (617) 286-9346 Visit Website

Commune Kitchen

203 Broadway, Arlington, MA 02474 (781) 777-2597 Visit Website

SRV

569 Columbus Avenue, , MA 02118 (617) 536-9500 Visit Website

Winter Hill Brewing Company

328 Broadway, , MA 02145 (617) 718-2337 Visit Website

Area Four Boston

264 East Berkeley Street, , MA 02118 (857) 317-4805 Visit Website

Tiger Mama

1363 Boylston Street, , MA 02215 (617) 425-6262 Visit Website

Bambara

25 Edwin H Land Boulevard, , MA 02141 (617) 868-4444 Visit Website

Fat Hen

3140 Maybank Highway, , SC 29455 (843) 559-9090 Visit Website

Little Big Diner

1247 Centre St., Newton, MA 02459

Casa Verde

711 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 (617) 477-9977

Tapestry

69 Kilmarnock Street, , MA 02215 (617) 421-4470 Visit Website

Wink & Nod

3 Appleton St, Boston, MA 02116 617-482-0117 Visit Website

The Best Little Restaurant

13 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111 Visit Website

Alumni

836 Washington St, Weymouth, MA 02189 (781) 340-0836 Visit Website

The Brook Kitchen & Tap (Holbrook)

200 S Franklin St, Holbrook, MA 02343 (781) 767-BKAT Visit Website

Benedetto

1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 617-661-5050 Visit Website

Little Donkey

505 Massachusetts Avenue, , MA 02139 (617) 945-1008 Visit Website

Bar Mezzana

360 Harrison Avenue, , MA 02118 (617) 530-1770 Visit Website

MIDA

782 Tremont Street, , MA 02118 (617) 936-3490 Visit Website

Waypoint

1030 Massachusetts Avenue, , MA 02138 (617) 864-2300 Visit Website

Coreanos

7500 Almeda Road, , TX 77054 (281) 728-3751 Visit Website

Branch Line

321 Arsenal Street, , MA 02472 (617) 420-1900 Visit Website
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