As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2019 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.
Keep an eye on the Year in Eater landing page for other stories in this series, rolling out over the next several days.
Up next: What were the top restaurant newcomers of 2019? (See the 2018 responses here.)
MC Slim JB, restaurant critic at Boston.com:
“I reviewed most of these for The Improper or Boston.com: Orfano, Chalawan, Ilona, Peregrine, Fox & the Knife, Five Spices House Cambridge, No Relation, Table by Jen Royle (though I went in its early days, before it could serve wine), and Tanám (I particularly liked the Wednesday night Kamayan dinners, the most traditional of its three formats.)”
Erin Kuschner, food writer for Boston.com:
“I was pretty excited about the range of this year’s newcomers! If you were craving a phenomenal bowl of pasta, Orfano, Fox & the Knife, and Tony & Elaine’s all nailed it. A great burger? I ate knockout versions at The Emory, The Quiet Few, and Black Lamb. For Vietnamese food, both Ban Toi in Dorchester and Nightshade Noodle Bar in Lynn offered very different, but very excellent experiences. Jamaica Mi Hungry is one of my new go-to spots, and serves really, really good jerk chicken and coconut shrimp. And Tanám stood out for bringing both fantastic Filipino food and a very unique dining experience to Somerville.”
“My personal faves among new restaurants were probably Horse Thieves Tavern in Dedham, which actually does inventive takes on comfort food rather than just saying they do; Avenue Kitchen and Bar in Somerville’s Ball Square, which has Detroit-style pizza (and thank God there aren’t more places that serve it because I’d be 500 pounds); and A&B Burgers by North Station/TD Garden, which, by the way, is an incredibly hot area for dining right now and will probably only get hotter over the coming months.”
“The Italian food gods were generous this year, providing a trio of distinctly different but wonderful restaurants. Tony & Elaine’s became a favorite for weeknight outings with friends, when its simple but well-executed red sauce fare, generous wine pours, and just-ironic-enough decor and soundtrack were always appreciated. Fox & the Knife upended expectations with its delicious focus on Modenese cuisine, and its cocktail program proved that you can make a damned good, original take on a Negroni with just a cordials license. And Orfano resurrected the glamour of old-school fancy Italian — waiters in white jackets, martini carts, comically large pepper mills — while serving dishes that were instantly recognizable by name yet fresh and exciting in their execution.
On a non-Italian note, I love Black Lamb for taking what I refer to as ‘John Cheever food’ — deviled eggs, steak tartare, wedge salads, baked oysters — and making it cool again. Their dirty martini, made with an olive oil and black pepper-infused vodka, was easily my favorite savory drink of the year.”
“Lots of great openings this year. Some of my favorites were: The Emory, Stillwater, Peregrine, Mariel, Woods Hill, FRANK, Life Alive (Boylston Street), Rochambeau, and the Oyster Club. The Emory is exactly what Beacon Hill needed, a funky, cool, new-school barroom with great food. Stillwater is my new go-to comfort food haven. A glass of wine and some snacks at the bar at Peregrine is a dream come true. Drinks at Mariel are a special occasion all on their own. Woods Hill feels different from the other high-end restaurants in the Seaport and that’s a good thing. FRANK is a well-deserved refresh for Frank McClelland; I covered his closing of L’Espalier for the Herald last year, and while it was certainly the end of an era, it was clear after dining at FRANK that he’s just getting started. The Back Bay needed Life Alive; their inventive dishes bring vegan to where it should be: real ingredients, no faux ‘burgers,’ just real flavor. Rochambeau is exactly what it should be, a French brasserie. No fuss, just classic dishes done well. I can see the potential for the Oyster Club; with their location behind the Heritage on the Garden they have a huge opportunity to create a lively patio for that neighborhood in 2020, the brunch menu just needs to be amped up. ”
“It’s rare that I am truly blown away by a meal at an Italian restaurant since that is the food I grew up on, made by my mom and grandmother. That’s why I was so surprised by Fox & the Knife. Everything I tasted there was amazing. Classic yet modern at the same time and the vibe was exactly what I look for in a restaurant. We also had a great meal at Ilona, and I am really happy to welcome something new and interesting to our neighborhood. There used to be only one restaurant menu that read like a table of contents from one of my books (looking at you, Little Donkey), but thanks to Longfellow Bar, there are now two (I mean, crab rangoon nachos? Cotechino pigs in blankets? Come on!) and I have to shout out my best friend Guy Fieri and the trashcan nachos at Guy Fieri’s Tequila Cocina.”
“Mariel certainly belongs at the top of this list. Going there is a real experience, from the gorgeous and immersive décor to the dramatic presentation of the cocktails and food. I’ve only had a few of the dishes on the menu, but I still dream about the fufú gnocchi — I will be back soon!
Dana Hatic, former Eater Boston associate editor:
“Chalawan crashed onto the scene late this year, but its selection of Southeast Asian dishes is well worth several visits. Tanám also carved out a beautiful place for itself in Bow Market, and I would include Kendall’s Shy Bird, South Boston’s Fox & the Knife, the South End’s Ilona, and Fenway’s Orfano on the list of top newcomers. Also of note for its rebirth: Tawakal in East Boston.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor:
“My favorite newcomers this year are largely reflected in our list of finalists for the 2019 Restaurant of the Year award: Chalawan, Fox & the Knife, Gustazo, Tanám, and Tawakal Halal Cafe (which technically opened in 2018, but it was late enough in the year that it was eligible for our awards this year).
Another newcomer joined Chalawan in serving excellent Southeast Asian food this year — Mae Asian Eatery in Cambridge. I was able to return to each of them several times over the course of the year and look forward to many more visits in 2020.
Also on my list of new favorites: Goldilox Bagels in Medford.”