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Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

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Boston’s Top Restaurant Newcomers of 2017: Pagu, Cafe du Pays, and More

Local food writers share their thoughts on the year

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As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2017 by surveying local food writers (including our own staff and contributors) on various restaurant-related topics, and we’re publishing their responses in these final days of the year. Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts in the comment section below.

Keep an eye on the Year in Eater archive page for other stories in this series.

Today’s next question: What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2017? (See the 2016 responses here.)

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MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:

A dish at Pammy’s
Sarah Storrer/Eater

“I wrote full reviews of each of my favorites in The Improper, so read those for details, but my top picks include Pagu (a staggering one/two punch of Japanese and Spanish), Pammy's (groovy sort-of Italian fare, super-charming space), Cafe du Pays (a novel, beguiling New England gloss on the cuisine of Quebec), Les Sablons (ritzy Continental in a lovely Harvard Square space from the Island Creek/Row 34 folks), Cultivar (Mary Dumont’s brilliant, gorgeously-sourced New American near Government Center), and Field & Vine (simple-seeming but sophisticated farm-to-table in Union Square, Somerville).

One place I didn’t review and wish I had was Sei Bar in Wakefield, which does a more traditional, superior version of Hunanese cuisine vs. the more Westernized, fancier place I did review, Cambridge’s Sumiao Hunan. Eventide was a late arrival that I really enjoyed — I laughed when the Globe’s we-ate-the-whole-menu piece came out a few days after friends and I had done the same thing — despite the Fenway outpost’s weird, fast-casual-ish setup.”

Marc Hurwitz, founder of Boston's Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk, restaurant critic for Dig Boston, and more:

Overhead view of a square white plate covered with steamed, pleated dumplings
Pan-seared pork and chive dumplings at Bess’s Cafe
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

“Two come to mind right off the bat — and they're almost within sight of each other. Bess's Cafe on Cypress Street (just outside of Brookline Village) is my kind of place, with outstanding takes on Chinese fare including dumplings, dan dan noodles, and crispy chicken noodle soup, while Chiharu, which is near the corner of Route 9 and Cypress Street, offers tremendous sushi along with ramen that, while not quite at the level of Ganko (more on this [in a later survey question]), is pretty damn good.”

Jenna Pelletier, food editor of Boston Magazine:

Fried chicken katsu sandwich at Eventide Fenway
Fried chicken katsu sandwich at Eventide Fenway
Sarah Storrer/Eater

Cafe du Pays, Eventide Fenway, Ruckus, Pammy's, and all of the other restaurants included in our Top New Restaurants feature!”

Jacqueline Cain, associate food editor of Boston Magazine:

Overhead shot of a bowl of ramen with a creamy pale yellow broth, chile oil, soft boiled egg, seaweed, scallions, and crispy pork
Guchi’s Midnight Ramen at Pagu
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

“I love Pagu. I had many excellent cocktails there in 2017, and squid ink oyster bao and bowls of ramen. And late-night barstool dance parties to ‘Passionfruit.’ Speaking of ramen...Ruckus is so good. I'm a big fan of the new short rib udon bowl and the Dope Yolk. I deeply wish Field & Vine opened slightly before I moved away from Union Square — two meals I've been there for were fantastic. Drinks-wise, Bully Boy's cocktail bar is a true gem, and I love the Trillium Garden and its winter redux at the Roslindale substation.”

Catherine Smart, contributor to the Boston Globe and cast member of Milk Street TV:

Close up of a taco topped with pickled onions; two plates with tacos in the background
Tacos at Yellow Door Taqueria
Cayden Grooms

Les Sablons. I'm confident Julia Child would have been a regular, so it's where I'll take anyone I want to impress. It kind of defies all the current trends of casual, and shareable, and rough-hewn, and I love them for it. I think there's room for some modern-yet-old-school elegance in this town. At least I hope there is.

Yellow Door Taqueria. I was not expecting to love a spot with fancied-up tacos and frozen margaritas, but Yellow Door does it right. Take the charming Mattapan trolley and enjoy all of the house-made tortillas and mezcal cocktails.

Mulan in Cambridge is back with Taiwanese food and better than ever! Try the delicate fish soup — from the menu that's written in all Chinese characters — and the braised pork shin in brown sauce.”

Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to the Boston Globe and more:

Duck at Café du Pays
Duck at Cafe du Pays
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Cafe du Pays for me. Meat pie, bitter endive salad, and a cold beer in a soulful little setting like that is all I need.”

Dan Whalen, blogger at The Food in my Beard and author of upcoming cookbook Tots!:

Chocolate and passion fruit custard at Cultivar
Chocolate and passion fruit custard at Cultivar
Rachel Leah Blumenthal for Eater

“A few of my best meals this year were on the patio at Cultivar trying course after course of mind blowing dishes.

I write about mashups on my blog, and the blending of Japanese and Spanish flavors at Pagu are inspiring.

I haven't been upstairs to the dining room yet, but the bar at Mooncusser has a great vibe and amazing snacks and drinks.

My fiance and I are ramen addicts and are both obsessed with the modern takes and casual atmosphere at Ruckus.”

Dana Hatic, associate editor of Eater Boston:

Black campanelle pasta with chunks of lobster on an earthy, white-speckled plate
Squid ink campanelle with lobster arrabiata at Prairie Fire
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston

Prairie Fire (squid ink pasta), Field & Vine.”

Alex Wilking, contributor to Eater Boston:

Two bastilla pastries leaning against each other in a dark cast iron serving skillet.
Chicken bastilla at Moona
Brian Samuels/Moona

Moona was my favorite opening this year. But I’ve had a number of fantastic meals at other places too, including a killer burger at Publico and heaps of charred veggies at Prairie Fire.”

Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:

loco moco at momi nonmi
Loco moco at Momi Nonmi
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

“Most of my top picks for the newcomers of the year are mentioned above and/or reflected in our recent class of Eater Awards winners and nominees. I was especially impressed by Cafe du Pays and Pagu this year; they each brought something unique to the local dining scene. In fact, Cambridge had a really strong showing overall. In addition to Cafe du Pays and Pagu, Moona, Momi Nonmi, and Pammy’s made truly excellent debuts in 2017.

Other exciting new spots include Cultivar, North Square Oyster (I’d like to drink vats of the French onion soup), Mida (I’m sad I didn’t make it to an all-you-can-eat pasta night there this year, but the regular meal I had was outstanding), and Field & Vine.

And in a year of fast-casual openings, there were way too many out-of-town chains coming in, some better than others, but fortunately there were also some fantastic local spots holding down the fort: Manoa Poke Shop (in my opinion, the best of the approximately one million poke places that are now open in the Boston area), Bess’s Cafe (those scallion pancake rolls), and Ruckus (flavor-packed bowls of noodles and more). Technically an out-of-towner but local enough, Eventide Fenway swooped in as a fast-casual-ish version of Portland’s acclaimed Eventide Oyster Co., and I’m overjoyed to have those brown butter lobster rolls closer to home. (But seriously, if you can, take the time to spend a weekend or two in Portland, eating your way through the city. It’s incredible.)

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