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Duck mooshu at BLR by Shojo
Duck mooshu at BLR by Shojo
BLR by Shojo/Facebook

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The Biggest Dining Surprises of 2018: A Large-Format Feast, a Lack of Good Tacos, and More

Here’s what local food writers were not expecting this year

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 page for other stories in this series.

Up next: What were the biggest dining surprises of 2018? (See the 2017 responses here.)

MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for The Improper Bostonian:

“My biggest surprise was unwelcome: the two hard, consecutive blows to my solar plexus that were the sudden deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold. I admired Bourdain for his sharp, sardonic prose and flinty-eyed truth-telling as a writer. J. Gold was my food-writing pole star, someone I idolized and aspired to emulate: the lyrical, Pulitzer-winning prose, the meticulous research, the profound grasp of a thousand traditional foodways. I feel their loss that much more dramatically in a year where the voices of the shittiest, most awful people seemed to be the loudest in our culture.”

Jolyon Helterman, contributing editor/food writer at Boston magazine:

“So I’m home alone, browsing online restaurant menus, generally minding my own business, when I happen upon the home page of BLR by Shojo, the third mod-Asian jewel in the Shojo-Ruckus group crown. BOOM! Big pop-up screen announcing the brand-new group dining menu. With 48 hours’ notice, it says, chef Mike Stark and crew will cook up enough platters of thoroughly modern large-format delights — make-your-own pig’s head bao with kimchi, chilis, smoked barbecue sauce, soy-braised mushrooms, and shaved daikon; kung pao cauliflower with scallions and peanuts; Peking duck with cast-iron sesame pancakes, seasonal veg, and plum sauce; deep-fried whole black bass lettuce wraps with mala oil, herbs, and vermicelli; Dungeness crabs with Malaysian curry sauce; dry-aged rib roast with hoisin au jus and roasted Okinawan sweet potatoes naughtied up with whipped five-spice butter and sea salt — to feed you and a small village. In December, I finally gathered a quorum of 10 friends and we tore through the duck and the Dungeness crab like starved animals (with discerning palates). It was terrific, and a terrific time. I’ve been wondering forever why Boston hasn’t embraced the large-format concept the way New York, San Francisco, and L.A. have — when the terrific Belly Wine Bar was still around in Kendall, it specialized in family-style feasts of the pig, duck, and lamb variety, and it makes me very, very happy that BLR is taking on the mantle.”

Eric Twardzik, contributor to The Food Lens,, and more:

“It’s easy to be cynical and see a sweeping tide of out-of-town chains washing over the city, but I’m happy to see homegrown fast-casual spots like Tatte and Saloniki hold their own and grow, while others like Whole Heart Provisions branched into second locations.”

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

“That there wasn’t a total crash or bubble bursting, considering the lack of workers, the increasing rents, and the sheer number of restaurants (and empty seats) all over the area.”

Sam Hiersteiner, contributor to the Boston Globe and more:

“We are still waiting for really good tacos.”

Dana Hatic, associate editor of Eater Boston:

“I think it was Dakzen coming in and making such a name for itself in Greater Boston. It had a quiet opening but very quickly made itself unskippable. Celeste too — making waves in Union Square.”

Terrence B. Doyle, reporter for Eater Boston:

“I discovered I really don’t like taleggio.”

Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:

“Nothing struck me as too surprising this year, but I suppose I had a few pleasant surprises when restaurants I expected to be good turned out to be even better than I’d hoped. Bar Lyon, for one: Of course it was going to be good; the team behind it (Mistral, etc.) has been solid for many years. I don’t often crave French food in the way that I want to eat Italian or Thai or Japanese every single day, so in planning a trip to Bar Lyon, I figured it’d be good, but I wasn’t craving it. And then I was blown away by how much I loved it. If I lived in the neighborhood, you’d find me at that bar with a glass of wine and a bowl of French onion soup weekly.

Hot Box at Bow Market, too: Sure, I already loved the idea up front. North Shore-style roast beef sandwiches? South Shore-style bar pizza? Sign me right up. (I grew up in Sharon, sort of inland of the South Shore, so my childhood was filled with pizzas from Town Spa in Stoughton. And — take that, regional rivalries — we even had some great roast beef in the southeastern part of the state, too. RIP Mur-Mac’s.) I knew it’d be good, but those first bites of pizza and roast beef knocked me over with a wave of nostalgia...and dare I say, Hot Box may have even improved upon some of those nostalgic foods? Don’t @ me.”

Overhead view of a pepperoni pizza in the style of Massachusetts’ South Shore-style bar pizza, with a barely-there, lacy, charred edge and bubbly brown cheese spots
Pepperoni pizza from Hot Box
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater Boston


One Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139 617 494 0968 Visit Website


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

Whole Heart Provisions (Allston)

487 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02135 Visit Website

Bar Lyon

1750 Washington Street, , MA 02118 (617) 904-4020 Visit Website


21 Bow Street, , MA 02143 (617) 616-5319 Visit Website

Hot Box

1 Bow Market Way, , MA 02143 (617) 284-9600 Visit Website


9A Tyler Street, , MA 02111 (617) 482-8887 Visit Website

Tatte Bakery & Cafe (Brookline)

1003 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446 (617) 577-1111 Visit Website

Ruckus Noodles

5 Tyler St., Boston, MA 02111

Bow Market

1 Bow Market Way, , MA 02143 Visit Website


195 Elm Street, , MA 02144 (617) 718-1759 Visit Website