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Ginormous Shrimp Are Nothing to Balk at From a Sizzling New South End Spot

A local critic offers an early review of Ilona

Bright blue booth seating stretches parallel to a bar with white stools and alcohol bottles lining the rear wall
Ilona in Boston’s South End
Sophie Benzie

Welcome back to Week in Reviews, an occasional round-up of the restaurant reviews recently written by Boston’s food critics at publications such as The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, and Boston.com.

A “Sizzling” Hot Spot in the South End

Longtime Improper Bostonian critic MC Slim JB recently began providing dispatches from new restaurants for Boston.com. Next up: Ilona, which mainly serves food from Georgia (the country, not the state), along with influences from Turkey, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, and Egypt. According to Slim, Ilona blends an indie restaurant feel with neighborhood comfort and a “swinging hot spot,” all in one, not dumbing down the cuisine, but thriving in it.

Among the highlights: a “fabulous” Pepto-pink beet hummus, “terrific” and completely massive grilled shrimp, and a memorable salad with summer tomatoes and cucumbers. There’s also “a superb” pilaf of Puy lentils and toasted rice with spicy fried onions, and Slim “found joy in tender cubes of monkfish” and in a ground lamb dish.

The bar has “potent specialty cocktails,” according to Slim, including an Oaxaca Old Fashioned with mezcal, tequila, and bitters. Overall, Slim writes, “Georgian fare, despite some unique specifics, intersects enough with cuisines you already love to make you not feel lost.”

Ilona has been open for nearly two months, so this is an early look (not a formal review) from Slim and Boston.com. The Boston Globe also recently featured the restaurant in its early-look “Quick Bite” series; Sheryl Julian wrote that the neighborhood restaurant is “a stylish place to drop in, share a plate, hug a friend.”

Meanwhile, a couple early Ilona favorites from the Eater Boston team: adana lamb kebabs, shish barak, haloumi, and bakaliaros.

Tour de Boston

The Dig just dropped a food package that spans a few categories of food in the Boston area, from pizza on Mission Hill to a pho battle pitting Le’s Vietnamese Cuisine in Allston against Pho 99 in Malden. There’s also a look into some of the area’s best bagel options and a taste of Southern comfort at Buttermilk & Bourbon in Back Bay.

Marc Hurwitz also offers insights into Saloniki, a Greek fast-casual restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams and her talented team. Showing off the lighter side of Greek food (you won’t find moussaka or pastitsio on the menu), Saloniki offers a classic tomato and white bean soup and an “old-world village salad” with olives, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and feta, of course. Highlights for Hurwitz include a grilled haloumi appetizer, savory zucchini-feta fritters, and tender lamb meatballs. He also calls attention to a pork shoulder pita with spicy whipped feta and “an utterly sinful” plate of Greek doughnuts.

Eater Boston Saloniki picks: Herc pita with extra secret sauce, local greek yogurt with lemon, and the packaged Amita fruit juices in cherry or peach.

Ilona Brings the Fascinating Flavors of the Caucasus to the South End [Boston.com]
Ilona Coverage on Eater [EBOS]
Saloniki, Cambridge: Greek Fast Food From a James Beard Award Winner [Dig]
Saloniki Coverage on Eater [EBOS]

Saloniki (Central Square)

181 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139 Visit Website

ilona

783 Tremont Street, , MA 02118 (617) 207-7742 Visit Website

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