The meatball is a whimsical, decadent, and delicious vehicle for comfort and flavor. It’s no surprise that versions of it can be found in most cuisines in a wide variety of meat compositions. From braising to baking to frying, many techniques are used, resulting in textures from soft to springy. While it would be nearly impossible to document every version, here are just a few types with particularly good versions available in and around Boston:
- Kofta refers to an international family of meatball and meatloaf dishes, including Turkish kofte, Bulgarian kyufte, Greek keftedes, and many more. Preparations in this expansive group of meatball dishes include steamed meatballs, a meatball that fully encases a hard-boiled egg, and meatballs simmered in curry.
- Albondigas (meatballs in Spanish) can be found on Spanish tapas menus smothered in tomato sauce, as well as in a Mexican soup with vegetables. In the Spanish style, torn bread tends to be used in the meatball mixture, while the Mexican style usually includes uncooked rice.
- Tsukune is a Japanese meatball that is typically made of ground chicken. They’re often cooked skewered on a charcoal grill, but they can also be pan-fried or baked. Egg, panko, or potato starch are commonly used as the binding ingredients. Keep an eye out for this dish at Japanese izakaya restaurants.
The wide world of meatballs also includes Haitian boulette, Swedish meatballs, Filipino bola-bola, and many more. Read on for some of the best meatballs to try in and around Boston.
572 Boston Ave., Medford
Located by Tufts, this sit-down restaurant from the Dave’s Fresh Pasta team pulls out all the stops for its meatballs. The mix of pork, beef, and pancetta makes for a perfectly savory meatball, and the herb ricotta and grilled focaccia complete the dish. Have the meatballs on their own as an appetizer, on a sub, on a pizza, or atop a bowl of pasta (from Dave’s, naturally).
143 First St., Cambridge
This Afghani restaurant in East Cambridge is perhaps best known for its pumpkin dishes, but the Helmand also serves the comforting Afghani meatball and rice dish koufta challow, which is a must-try. The rice is buttery, the meatballs — served in tomato sauce — are tender, and the bread is made fresh in the restaurant’s wood-burning oven. All in all, it’s an incredibly comforting meal.
1370 Dorchester Ave., Boston
One can find Vietnamese meatballs in the popular noodle soup pho bo vien. The meatballs, made of beef, have a springy texture and are flavored with fish sauce, among other ingredients. At Dorchester mainstay Pho Hoa, the pho bo vien is #33 on the menu, or one can request any other pho dish with an added order of beef meatballs.
315 Shawmut Ave., Boston
Keftedes, Greek lamb meatballs, are on the menu at this South End Greek restaurant, which focuses on small plates. Try accompanying the keftedes with phyllo-wrapped feta; salad with grilled haloumi; and a glass of Greek wine. (But be sure to save room for dessert; the restaurant’s Greek yogurt — yiaourti — is essential.)
111 Harvard St., Cambridge
There are many places to find an excellent, classic Italian meatball in Boston, and Amelia’s Trattoria in Cambridge is no exception. The meatballs are oven-roasted and are soft and flavorful with each bite. For a classic pairing, add them to the house-made spaghetti alla chitarra.
51 Massachusetts Ave., Boston
While meatballs are fun on their own, Cornish Pasty Co. — which specializes in Cornish-style meat pies (pasties) — takes favorite ingredients and wraps them in flaky pastry. There’s a beef meatball option as well as a veggie ball: house-made lentil balls with basil, marinara, and fresh mozzarella. The restaurant can make it vegan by substituting a dairy-free mozzarella.
470 Centre St., Jamaica Plain
The albondigas at Tres Gatos are elevated to a new level of decadence with a spicy saffron tomato sauce, and they’re nestled in manchego polenta. Let the decadence continue with an order of chocolate creme Catalan for dessert — and then buy some books and records at the restaurant’s store.
1815 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
Ittoku, a popular izakaya once located in Allston but now in Cambridge, serves ontama tsukune, a fantastically large chicken meatball topped with a soft-boiled egg. The meatball is grilled to perfection, the egg adds a comforting creaminess, and the dish is rounded out with a soy-based sauce and a generous amount of green onions.