As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2018 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, or hop into our Facebook group to discuss — we’ll post a thread for each survey question.
Keep an eye on the Year in Eater archive page for other stories in this series.
Up first: What were your top restaurant standbys of 2018? (See the 2017 responses here.)
“The reconnaissance and research required for my biweekly restaurant reviews for The Improper Bostonian don’t leave much time for discretionary dining. But when I did take the occasional night off from professional eating, I found myself at a few favorite hangouts, including J.J. Foley’s Café in the South End (my local for nearly 20 years), Island Creek Oyster Bar and the Hawthorne in Kenmore Square (for Sox pre- and post-gaming), Bar Mezzana in the South End (great Italian fare, especially the crudos, and the neighborhood’s best cocktails, now tied with their new kid sister Shore Leave), Estragon in the South End (great romantic atmosphere, fabulous Madrid-style tapas), Dumpling Café in Chinatown (it has my favorite soup dumplings in town), Sichuan Gourmet (for numbing-hot, traditional Sichuan fare), and Khao Hom Thai in Billerica (superb traditional Northern and Southern Thai).
But my number-one-with-a-bullet standby was Erbaluce in Bay Village, which does Piemontese Italian, a rarity in the US. I’ve often called it my favorite fine-dining restaurant in Boston, so was gutted to learn it is closing on New Year’s Eve, effectively a victim of gentrification. I’ve been packing in more dinners than usual there since, and will get some more before year-end. I know Chuck and Joan will land somewhere soon, but goddamn it, that was the worst dining news of the year to me.”
Jacqueline Cain, deputy food editor at Boston magazine:
“Exodus Bagels in Jamaica Plain became my go-to breakfast spot this year, though if you want their Everywhere bagel on the weekend (essentially an Everything bagel but with seeds on all sides) you have to get there early. Sometimes I make it, sometimes I don’t, but I love everything that comes out of their kitchen. Whenever I need a sweet treat, I find the nearest Flour and order the carrot cake. And the Brendan Behan Pub is my favorite watering hole. Their beer selection is great, and the music is on point every single time.”
“My apartment overlooks the Chinatown gate, meaning that neighborhood figures in to my weekly rotation in an outsize way. I am not complaining. This year I racked up double-digit loyalty points at Dumpling Cafe (pork soup dumplings, sizzling Sichuan-style flounder), 5 Spices House (mala anything, cumin lamb), Shojo (shadowless fries and the stupidly good stir-fried greens, of all things), China Gourmet, Great Taste Bakery, and New Shanghai. In my household, we treat Kaze, the shabu shabu joint on the corner of Essex and Harrison, less like a restaurant choice than a daily dining-mode option (“Hey, babe, you want delivery, Kaze, leftovers...?”). Once upon a time my go-to order was prime ribeye–meat bouillon–rice plus one à la carte supplement. Lately, I’ve been on a short-rib kick, plus a side of one of the homemade shrimp or fish pastes, which, when splatted down into the gurgling cauldron, immediately turn into dumpling-ish blobs that soak up the concentrated tallow-beaded broth in a super-satisfying way.
On date-night rotation: Bar Mezzana, Erbaluce, Terra, Cafe Sushi, the Butcher Shop, Branch Line, Grill 23. For impressing visiting foodies: Waypoint, Myers & Chang, O Ya, Uni, Little Donkey, Select Oyster Bar, Tiger Mama, Bisq, Saltie Girl. On delivery speed-dial: Cafe Jaffa (lamb-beef shawarma salad with house-made green zhoug!), Tiger Mama, Sweet Cheeks, Sumiao, Dumpling Cafe, Mamaleh’s, Little Donkey, Coppa, Pho Pasteur, Ruckus, Area Four.”
“I can’t get away from Chinatown. The wild flavors at Gene’s Flatbread continue to turn pedestrian weekday lunches into special events. (I stick to the hand-pulled noodles in spring and summer and slurp the house noodle soup all fall and winter long.) Gourmet Dumpling House and Shojo continue to be my go-to spots for group dinners or friend visits. This year I began spending more time at Dumpling Cafe (I found their soup dumplings to be slightly more manageable) and finally discovered the wonders of Wai Wai as well.
Outside of that neighborhood, I spent countless mornings at Tatte, where ever-new pastries and specials staved off potential breakfast fatigue. Select Oyster Bar was a favorite destination for date nights: I think I had their whole-roasted, “taverna style” sea bream on all but one visit. 13 years in, Toro continues to be amazing, and my girlfriend and I make a beeline for it when we’re hungry early enough to get in. And whenever I felt indulgent, I’d make it over to Drink for one of their near-perfect burgers and a Vesper.”
“As always, it’s tough to do repeat visits to dining and drinking spots when you’re trying to review so many places, but I did find myself going to Cagney’s in Quincy quite often (in part because they do whiskey flights and have chicken tenders smothered in cheddar cheese and bacon), and I also got to Santarpio’s in East Boston several times for their old-school pizza and Newbridge Cafe in Chelsea for their steak tips and absurdly huge steak fries/potato wedges. As for takeout, Qingdao Garden in Cambridge and the Restaurant in Woburn were a couple that I hit a number of times for their Chinese fare and Greek food, respectively.”
“Pammy’s: If I had a restaurant, I’d want it to feel exactly like Pammy’s. In fact, I have to actively encourage myself to go get drinks and dinner at places that aren’t just Pammy’s. I’m working on it.
Cafe Sushi: Great sushi doesn’t have to be pretentious, and Cafe Sushi figured that out. Their lunch bento box is my favorite way to treat myself at the end of a particularly rough week — it’s a ton of fresh seafood, dumplings, and miso soup for less than $15.”
“Since opening a couple years ago, Pagu has become a go-to whenever I’m craving that blend of east and west. I said it in my book, Boston Food Crawls, and I’ll say it again, ‘If you have one meal to eat in Cambridge, it must be at Pagu.’ Sitting at the bar at No. 9 Park with a plate of steak frites is always a cozy way to spend a winter’s night. Gourmet Dumpling House is one of my absolute favorite places in town: Consistent, mouth-watering dishes are exactly why I head there after a long day. And finally, Carmelina’s belly-warming Italian cuisine truly soothes the soul any day of the week.”
Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to the Boston Globe and more:
“Brassica Kitchen & Cafe, Eventide Oyster Co., Waypoint, Alden & Harlow, Pammy’s, Commonwealth, Mamaleh’s, Smoke Shop BBQ, Little Big Diner, Chilacates, Sichuan Gourmet House, Woodman’s of Essex, Flour.”
“I don’t want to see how much money I spent between Deep Ellum, Lone Star, Habanero, S&I Thai, and Coreanos in 2018. My appetite is happy to have so much good food in Allston; my bank account is not.”
“Due to the nature of the job, I don’t end up having time/appetite/budget to turn too many full-service restaurants into standbys, so my list is casual and close to home. I joke that I find myself at Somerville’s Bow Market daily, and that’s not far from the truth: I spend a fair amount of mornings drinking tea, eating pastries (from Salem’s excellent A&J King!), and using wifi at Remnant Brewing; I’d happily eat ‘nada dogs at Buenas and pizza and roast beef sandwiches at Hot Box on a near-daily basis; and I’m currently writing this on a champagne hangover from Rebel Rebel, the amazing little wine bar I’ve visited the past two nights in a row.
Outside of Bow but still in Union Square, Capone Foods is probably my most frequent lunch choice for the sandwich of the day (hint: Tuesday is meatball day); I also get to Ebi for sushi as often as I can, and Casa B for cocktails.
Outside of Union Square, my heart belongs to Thai newcomer Dakzen. I get cravings for it every day and generally manage to get there a few times a month. I also make it to Yume Ga Arukara for udon whenever I’m willing to wait in the epic line. And I’ll throw in a shoutout for my go-to cheap pizza spot, too: Newtowne Grille.”