To wrap up the year, Eater Boston polled both local journalists and readers of this site to get their thoughts on the past year in dining: the good, the bad, and the most exciting things to come in 2024. The results have been collected in the following series of posts. (Check out the full archive here.)
Below, we ask: What was your best restaurant meal of 2023?
The scallion pancake cheeseburger at Mei Mei Dumpling Factory in South Boston comes to mind for my favorite dish of 2023. What a burger! It tastes like nostalgia. Think back to the first time you had a good fast-food cheeseburger. It reminds me of eating White Castle as a kid.
— Darryl C. Murphy, host of WBUR’s daily news and culture podcast, The Common
I absolutely love the okra, the duck, the drinks, and the overall atmosphere at Comfort Kitchen.
da LaPosta was a delightful surprise to me. This spot opened fairly quietly, at least to me, in late-2021 but launched a new bar program this summer, which full disclosure, they invited me to come check out. The tomato water martini I had on a September visit still lives rent-free in my head. I also loved the off-menu fried dough (gnocco fritto) with speck and truffles, and of course, the wood-fired pizza.
Bess’s Cafe is my top takeout, for thick, handmade dumplings that travel well, chewy noodles, and my absolute favorite fried chicken bao buns.
My husband Tom and I found ourselves in Lowell one day. Some locals suggested Red Rose Restaurant in the Little Cambodia neighborhood of the town not far from writer Jack Keruaoc’s birthplace. We tried a number of Cambodian classics, including their take on the beef loc lac which was delicious! The fried whole fish was a stunner, too; it was accompanied by an assortment of fresh vegetables and a tamarind-based sauce, which was slightly sweet and deeply savory. The restaurant has been there for a few decades, feeding the small-but-growing Cambodian and Southeast Asian communities in Lowell.
This one is a toughie because I ate a lot of amazing food in 2023. I’d have to say a solo dinner I had at Bar Futo in Portland takes the cake. I ate there back in August, and I’m still thinking about the crispy tofu that’s topped with schmaltz and served in a bowl of dashi. I’d drive back there just to drink that dashi again. They have a bunch of fun grilled skewers, too, like one that’s based on a Big Mac, and Japanese shaved ice with wild toppings for dessert.
Several of the best restaurant meals I had this past year were at Comfort Kitchen in Uphams Corner. I like the place on every level: The food is delicious. The staff is kind and funny and welcoming. The ideas behind it — the menu traces the African diaspora and maritime spice trading routes — are intellectually satisfying and just very beautifully human. And I’m happy to see the neighborhood shine.
— Devra First, restaurant critic for the Boston Globe
The tacos from Yo!Boca!Taco! in Wayland, which is literally inside of a gas station. Having spent my whole life in Massachusetts, I never realized tacos could be so good. Shout out to Ingrid for bringing the cooking skills from El Salvador and KC for bringing his music taste from the ‘90s.
— Matt Shearer, reporter for WBZ NewsRadio
Locally, Cubist Circle in Weymouth is shockingly great (I say shockingly because no one seems to know about the place), serving some of the best Chinese food I’ve had in years. The dan dan noodles, Sichuan beef dry pot, and wontons in chili oil made for a meal for the ages a few months ago, and the people there are so nice (and the restaurant is very mellow and quiet).
Just a bit outside of the area, Cafe El Camino in Plaistow, NH (just over the border from Haverhill) is a Puerto Rican restaurant hidden away in a little strip mall in the middle of nowhere, and everything — the sweet and savory empanadas, chile rellenos, arroz con gandules, and truly remarkable mofongo with beech mushrooms — made us wonder how much better known this place might be if it were located in or near Boston.
Choosing a best meal might be too challenging, but in terms of a liquid diet the Nocino Manhattan at Chattermark Distillers stands out. They replace vermouth with their sweet and nutty house-made nocino making a warm and unexpected twist on the classic cocktail.
I’m gonna (slightly) sidestep narrowing this down, and list out five of the meals that continue to live in my head months after I wiped these plates clean: The za’atar brown butter trout at Comfort Kitchen. The beef brisket ji cheung fun at Rubato. The tahini pizza with roasted grapes and ricotta at Si Cara. The fall-apart beef cheeks slow cooked with prunes and red wine at Bar Vlaha. And, the taleggio cappelletti with aged balsamic at Tonino.
— Erika Adams, Eater Boston editor
I can never choose just one! I celebrated some special occasions with splurge-y, over-the-top tasting menus this year, with mind-blowing results. O Ya and Nightshade Noodle Bar were particularly memorable. But when I think back to the best meals of the year, I also think of the less extravagant but fantastic spots I returned to again and again. It’s hard to be a regular in this line of work, so if there are any restaurants I did manage to go to more than once, that’s usually a good sign! Moonshine 152 is one of my frontrunners; I can’t get enough of chef Asia Mei’s fun comfort food twists and wonderful hospitality.
— Rachel Leah Blumenthal, Boston Magazine food editor
Over 80 people took part in Eater Boston’s dining survey this year (thank you, all!). Below, find a sampling of reader favorites for the best restaurant meal this year, and check out this post on Eater Boston’s Instagram account for many more responses.
- Ciao! in Chelsea — a gluttonous feast for two that started with fettuccine with black truffle butter, progressed to the salsiccia and funghi pizzas, and finished with their delicious nutella pizza for dessert. The server sort of made fun of us but we took a lot home! This is some of the best Neapolitan pizza anywhere, and the pasta is beautifully done as well.
- Juliet — Can’t stop going to their lovely new(ish) bar for moules frites and that bread and aioli! The vibes are perfect every time.
- Bread and spreads and crispy fried oyster mushrooms and lamb chops at Bar Vlaha
- Dinner at Robert Harris’ new Season to Taste in Cambridge
- Mooncusser, Spring 2023. It was the first time I had eaten at Mooncusser since chef Carl Dooley took over the kitchen and I sat there and reveled in it and literally swooned. I had missed his incredibly talented, exciting, adventurous cooking (Table at Season To Taste, Craigie On Main) and I was so glad to be reunited with him and with his extraordinary seasonally inspired dishes. Queue up the song “Reunited and it feels so good!”
- Mushroom pizza and prosciutto and melon from Si Cara
- Spicy miso ramen from Little Big Diner
- Lamb meatballs at Thistle and Leek
- Mahimahi at Gustazo in Cambridge
- Everything from Field and Vine
- Boat noodle soup at DakZen
- Boonnoon Market
- Nightshade Noodle Bar