As is Eater’s annual tradition, we’re closing out 2021 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. (Check the Year in Eater archive page for previous and subsequent posts in this series.)
Readers, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts by joining our Facebook group.
Up first: What were your go-to restaurants (and pop-ups, food businesses, etc.) this year?
“This was another year in which I shunned delivery, took out sparingly, cooked at home steadily — and dined out maniacally the minute the reins came off. I first returned to my South End neighborhood stalwarts: Estragon (so delectable, warmly hospitable, and consistent), Bar Lyon (oh, to again luxuriate in that quenelle de brochet in lobster velouté!), Kava Neo-Taverna (which benefits mightily from an expanded patio), Petit Robert Bistro (always a French fastball down the middle), Shore Leave (which left behind icky vintage tiki-culture tropes but not its great cocktail tradition, and now serves fine sushi), No Relation (our best-value omakase outside of the currently-paused bar at Café Sushi), and Toro (with its swell new back patio).
My range soon expanded to Dumpling Café (my paragon of xiao long bao), Peach Farm (I’d sorely missed its live-tank whole fish, vermicelli with surf clam, off-menu pork chop special and other standbys), Audubon Boston (a superb neighborhood bar, great burger, pretty back patio), Sichuan Gourmet Burlington and Blossom Bar (bringing the wicked mala heat), Ba Lê Bakery (the sine qua non of banh mi), and Celeste (another thimble-sized favorite that new patios helped survive). I was relieved to find sweet little Thai spot Khao Hom in Billerica, so homey and traditional, still going strong. But I regret failing to frequent some beloved places that closed this year. So glad, for instance, that I stopped by Tiger Mama on a whim for maybe its last night of service.
In anticipation of reviewing again for Boston.com*, I also visited a bevy of new/newish places. I’ll note some standouts in parentheses — please take any knocks with a shakedown-cruise grain of salt: Tambo 22 (aji de gallina!), Atlántico (sea urchin on sherry butter toast!), Contessa (squash carpaccio!), Bar Enza (lean tuna carpaccio: hideous but delicious!), Bar Volpe (branzino alla griglia!), Mooncusser (several fabulous tastings, five courses plus amuse-bouches, by the brilliant Carl Dooley!), Cloud & Spirits (not enough insistent flavors, planning a retry with the new chef), Grand Tour (mushrooms béarnaise!), Brasserie (only oohed over the block-shaped frisée salad), Coquette (seared squid!), Krasi (papoutsakia!), Nautilus Pier 4 (unimpressive raw fish quality), the Banks Fish House (shrimp po’ boy!), Purple Shell (the clay pot!), Cósmica (carnitas!), the Comfort Kitchen pop-up at Little Dipper (hake curry!), and Trifecta (the literally gilded but underwhelming Elixir cocktail: tequila, kiwi, lime, coconut, charcoal foam, way too much agave syrup, and oof, a $22 price tag), among others.
*Boston.com paused running restaurant reviews during the lockdown and hasn’t yet restarted them.”
MC encourages readers to consider donating to Haley House, Community Servings, the Greater Boston Food Bank, Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston, and community fridge programs in your neighborhood.
“Before they all reopened (yay!!!), my usual favorite bars including Parlor Sports, the Publick House, and the Brendan Behan Pub continued to beer there for me with a variety of creative stopgap solutions — top-shelf takeout beer from the Phouse, an amazing covered patio behind the Behan. (More on Parlor in another question.)
Shoutout to Stoked Pizza, a takeout favorite of mine which also stepped up this year with outdoor dining at its Brookline spot and a beautiful, brand new bar and restaurant in Harvard Square.
Getting more takeout led me to discover Mario’s Pizzeria in Roxbury, the foldable yet sturdiest slices I’ve ever had in Boston. Love that they deliver to me in JP! In other JP-local shoutouts: Chilacates, Brassica Kitchen + Cafe, and the gem that is the VU, which I moved closer to in 2021.”
Jackie encourages readers to consider donating to World Central Kitchen and your favorite local public radio station.
“Since I wasn’t really reviewing restaurants this year because of the ongoing pandemic, I did have some favorite ‘hangouts’ (outdoor dining and takeout/delivery for the most part), including the Tinker’s Son, a real hidden gem of an Irish pub in Norwell; Brickstone in Arlington, which has fantastic thin-crust pizza; Cal’s Creamery, a new ice cream place in Reading that rivals such places as Kimball’s; and Shovel Town, a brewery in Easton whose outdoor patio is perfect for gatherings with friends.”
Nathan Tavares, freelance writer:
“After a year of some dubious food choices, I’m trying to eat better. I’ve been getting healthy meals delivered by Peabody-based Nutre, which has been a huge help, especially for easy lunches. I’ve also rediscovered the joy of hanging out at your local bar/restaurant hangout and have been heading to Harp & Bard a lot. Their Buffalo chicken pizza is so good. I also hit up Tawakal Halal Café when I can, and I put their hot sauce on everything. Then there’s 50Kitchen (the jambalaya egg rolls are amazing) and Shanti in Dorchester (I could eat their papri chaat every day) that are always in my order history. Plus, tons of coffee from Reign Drink Lab.”
Nathan encourages readers to consider donating to your local community fridges.
“Sally’s Sandwiches for the platonic ideal of the fried chicken Caesar wrap; Formaggio Kitchen for their spicy Italian sandwich; Picco for their charred, criminally slept-on pizza (particularly the Alsatian); and Black Lamb for a burger and the only dirty martini I accept (it helps that it’s infused with black pepper and olive oil.)”
Eric encourages readers to consider donating to the Greg Hill Foundation.
Karen Wilber, freelance writer for Eater Boston:
“I tried to make my way to Blossom Bar’s Chengdu dry hot chicken wings frequently. Other go-tos were Paris Creperie, Isshindo Ramen, and Tasty Mo:Mo. Honorable mentions that have sadly now closed are Allium Market (I so miss their breakfast sandwich) and Highland Fried.”
Karen encourages readers to consider donating to The Massachusetts Bail Fund.
“I feel like this is a sentence I’ve repeated a lot over the last year, but between the pandemic and new parenthood, I rarely dined out in 2021; I don’t think there’s any place I’d consider myself a regular for onsite dining at the moment, much as I’d love to be hopping around visiting all my old favorites. But takeout/delivery, well, there was a lot of that. I moved from Somerville to Medford mid-year; it’s not a huge jump, in terms of miles, but getting used to a whole new neighborhood and what I can walk to or get delivery from has been a fun exploration.
A quick highlight reel of my 2021 go-tos:
- Malden’s District Kitchen and Medford’s Chilli Garden for Chinese — particularly dumplings from District Kitchen and house special chicken with dry pepper from Chilli Garden (or any Sichuan dish, really).
- Pikaichi, which moved from Allston to Medford a few years back, for ramen, and the new Omori Izakaya in Malden for sushi. (I remain a loyal fan of Ebi Sushi in Somerville, too, although I can’t get there as often anymore now that I’m not in the neighborhood.)
- Medford’s Neighborhood Kitchen for a killer fried chicken sandwich.
- Malden’s Saigon NV and Cambridge’s Cicada Coffee Bar for Vietnamese. I always default to the bun dac biet at Saigon NV, although I’ve heard the pho is great, too. Cicada Coffee Bar is simply amazing, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it in one of the other survey questions.
- Malden’s El Mexsal for tacos, especially birria.
- Medford’s Sura BBQ, a Korean barbecue restaurant, for the mashiso chicken — fried rice cakes and popcorn chicken in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. (That’s probably my top comfort food dish of the year.)
- Medford’s Goldilox Bagels for bagels with a side of Boston Chai Party iced chai.
- Somerville’s Dakzen (especially the khao soi and sai ua) and Hen Chicken Rice for Thai. (On the Thai front, I’d definitely be a regular at Brookline’s Mahaniyom if it were closer to me. I’m obsessed.)
- Bob’s Italian in Medford for a sub that’s the best of both worlds: half chicken parm, half meatball. Genius.
- Cambridge’s Silk Road Uyghur Cuisine for lamb-stuffed naan, big plate chicken, and a jar of the house-made chile oil.
- Cambridge’s La Saison for the very best sourdough bread, chocolate cake, and more. I literally walked over eight miles roundtrip in torrential downpours one day to pick up La Saison treats when I had a random day off from work. (Tip: It’s a good idea to check the weather when placing preorders for another day.)
It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better, but I’m hopeful that by late 2022, things are a bit more normal and I’ll actually be dining at restaurants again somewhat regularly. In the meantime, I’m settling in for a winter of more takeout and delivery, for the most part, although I look forward to exploring some heated patios as well.”