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A round silver tray sits on a wooden table in front of a brick wall. On the tray, there are three small bowls — one white, one pink, one red — each holding a different Thai chile paste. Some vegetables and chunks of crispy pork belly are also on the tray.
Nam prik platter at Mahaniyom — three traditional Thai chile pastes with crispy pork belly and veggies for dipping
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

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Boston’s Exciting Newcomers of 2020: Mahaniyom, Tambo 22, and More

Local food writers reflect on the new restaurants and pop-ups that thrilled them this year

As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2020 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. (Keep an eye on the Year in Eater archive page for subsequent posts in this series.)

Of course, the survey questions look a little different this year, but we wanted to continue the tradition as a way to highlight some of the restaurants that have been there for us during this extraordinarily difficult year as we look ahead to better times in 2021.

Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts by joining our Facebook group.

Up next: What newcomer on the scene — restaurant, pop-up, delivery-only food business, etc. — really excited you this year?


MC Slim JB, restaurant critic at Boston.com (currently on pandemic hiatus):

“I was lunching a couple of times a week in January and February at Việt Citron in Burlington, a little Vietnamese restaurant that is just superb. Fantastic banh mi and pho! Umami Omakase in North Cambridge floored me with a series of terrific set-menu meals in early 2020; that was my last published review for Boston.com before the world went to shit.

I was also enjoying Woods Hill Pier 4 in (of all places) the Seaport. I had just completed my review of it for Boston.com right before the lockdown, but I asked my editor not to run it. It seemed pointless to document a pricey dining experience at a restaurant no one could visit and might be very different if and when it eventually fully reopened. I now wonder how the professional food-writing landscape will change post-pandemic — if I will ever get to complete that review.”

MC encourages readers to consider donating to Community Servings, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston, and community fridge programs in your neighborhood.


Erin Kuschner, food writer for Boston.com:

Yeanie Bach and Phi Pham opened a one-two punch this year in the form of Bánh Mì Oi in West Roxbury and Phinista Café in the Fenway, where I’ve picked up plenty of banh mi and Vietnamese coffee between the two of them. Mahaniyom in Brookline was one of the last places I ate indoors before everything shut down, and I’ve since ordered from them multiple times — the had yai fried chicken is excellent. And before we knew what the rest of the year would bring, Cósmica opened in the South End and I was blown away by the tacos, the cochinita pibil, everything.”

Erin encourages readers to consider donating to Boston Black Hospitality Coalition and Project Restore Us.


Marc Hurwitz, founder of Boston’s Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk, food writer for Dig Boston and NBC Boston/NECN:

“Newcomb Cafe in Braintree really impresses with its freshly made breakfast plates, and it resides within Montilio’s so you can get baked goods and pastries while you’re there. By the way, these are the same folks who ran Newcomb’s Breakfast and Lunch in Weymouth, which burned in a fire earlier this year.”

Marc encourages readers to consider donating to Arlington Eats and Haley House.


Joel Ang, staff writer for The Infatuation:

“I really enjoyed both Gray’s Hall and Tambo 22 — the latter was my pick for most exciting restaurant of the year. Sadly, both spots will be closed for winter hibernation.”

Joel encourages readers to consider donating to Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center.


J.Q. Louise, lifestyle blogger behind JQLouise.com and food editor at DIG Boston:

“The fact that there were lots of newcomers on the restaurant scene this year continues to speak to the resilience of everyone in this industry. My favorite new restaurant on the scene is the speakeasy concept by the team at Troquet; Offsuit is the hidden gem that we could use more of in Boston. And during a time of social-distancing, they have done an amazing job at keeping their small space intimate and cozy, while still putting safety first.”

J.Q. encourages readers to consider donating to Project Restore Us.


Eric Twardzik, freelance writer and contributor to the Food Lens, Boston.com, DIG Boston, and Resy:

“I caught Mimi’s Chūka Diner each time they popped up at Black Lamb (and left with a few dozen frozen dumplings for later use). Their focus on chūka ryori — basically, Chinese food as it is cooked in Japan — is distinctly novel but comfortingly familiar. My fingers are crossed for a Mimi’s brick-and-mortar in 2021.”

Eric encourages readers to consider donating to the Greg Hill Foundation and the Greater Boston Food Bank.


Samer Khudairi, contributor to Eater Boston, Dig Boston, and more:

“I’m excited to see restaurants open during this time, like Ivory Pearl, from the Baldwin Bar team. I am also excited to see places that were expected to open brick-and-mortar continue as pop-ups, such as Hot Chix, who are operating out of Pagu on Tuesdays.”

Samer encourages readers to consider donating to MassUndocuFund.


Nathan Tavares, freelance writer and culture writer for WBUR:

“I’m loving Sekali, the Malaysian and Southeast Asian pop-up started by Derrick Teh, which really took off during quarantine. I’ve been putting his chili crisp on everything — toast, French fries, you name it. I’m also on a big Mac Bar kick, the new pop-up from Stillwater. Especially with the cold weather, sometimes you just need to dive into a big takeout container of noodles and gooey cheese, and the Thanksgiving mac is amazing, especially because of the cranberry sauce.”

Nathan encourages readers to consider donating to Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston and your local community fridges.


Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:

“It’s been heartening to see so many businesses finding ways to open — and even thrive — during this turbulent time, and there have been a lot of recent openings that have caught my eye. Shortly before everything shut down, I was obsessing over Brookline’s new Thai spot, Mahaniyom, and it looks like they’ve been both increasing in popularity and adding some fun new menu items in recent months. I’m very much looking forward to getting back there when it’s safe to do so. (It’s sadly not really in my delivery/takeout radius.)

Ivory Pearl and Atlántico were both on my personal most-anticipated list for 2020, and I’m looking forward to finally trying them in 2021; I didn’t bother in 2020 because (a) both menus seemed better suited for dining onsite, and my household stuck with takeout/delivery all year, and (b) many of the menu highlights were incompatible with my pregnancy-related dietary restrictions. Bring on the booze and raw seafood in 2021!

Other newcomers I’m particularly into: La Saison Bakery in Cambridge (try the sourdough bread, try the cookies, try the brownies); Hen Chicken Rice in Somerville (I’m a big fan of the ‘do one thing and do it well’ ethos here); and Lionheart Confections (I’ve been fan-girling over pastry chef Kate Holowchik’s creations for years, and I’m thrilled to see her growing her own business, popping up around town with insanely good doughnuts).”

Rachel encourages readers to consider donating to Project Bread and a community fridge in your neighborhood.

Ivory Pearl

1704 Beacon Street, , MA 02445 (617) 487-5297 Visit Website

Viet Citron

47 Middlesex Turnpike, , MA 01803 (781) 739-3655 Visit Website

Umami

202 38th Street, , PA 15201 (412) 224-2354 Visit Website

Gray's Hall

615 East Broadway, , MA 02127 (617) 269-1001 Visit Website

Tambo 22

22 Adams Street, , MA 02150 (617) 466-9422 Visit Website

Hot Chix

1220 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02139 Visit Website

BANH MI OI

1759 Centre Street, , MA 02132 (617) 325-0946 Visit Website

Troquet

107 South Street, Boston, MA 02111 (617) 695-9463 Visit Website

Cósmica

40 Berkeley Street, , MA 02116 (617) 313-7878 Visit Website

Woods Hill Pier 4

300 Pier Four Boulevard, , MA 02210 (617) 981-4577 Visit Website

Mahaniyom

236 Washington Street, , MA 02445 (617) 487-5986 Visit Website

La Saison Bakery

407 Concord Avenue, , MA 02138 (617) 547-0009 Visit Website

Phinista Cafe

96 Peterborough Street, , MA 02215 (617) 262-7700 Visit Website

Stillwater

120 Kingston Street, , MA 02111 (617) 936-3079 Visit Website

Atlántico

600 Harrison Avenue, , MA 02118 (857) 233-2898 Visit Website

Hen Chicken Rice

24 Union Square, , MA 02143 (617) 764-1285 Visit Website
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