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Overhead view of five open takeout containers of Sichuan food, including a cilantro and green pepper salad, dry fried chicken, wontons, noodles, and more.
A spread of food from Chilli Garden in Medford.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

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Boston’s 2021 Restaurant Standbys: Chilli Garden, Blossom Bar, 50Kitchen, and More

Local food writers discuss the restaurants and food businesses that kept them going this year, whether for dine-in or takeout and delivery

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?


MC Slim JB, restaurant critic at Boston.com (currently on pandemic hiatus; in the meantime, find him on social media channels as @mcslimjb):

“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.


Jacqueline Cain, freelance writer and editor with The Food Lens, Edible Boston, Boston magazine, America’s Test Kitchen, and more:

“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.


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

“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.”

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


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.


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

“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.


Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:

“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.”

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

Allium Market

1330 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446 Visit Website

KAVA neo-taverna

315 Shawmut Avenue, , MA 02118 (617) 356-1100 Visit Website

Mooncusser Fish House

304 Stuart Street, , MA 02116 (617) 917-5193 Visit Website

Comfort Kitchen

611 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, MA 02125 Visit Website

Parlor Sports

1 Beacon Street, , MA 02143 (617) 576-0231 Visit Website

Saigon NV

381 Main Street, , MA 02148 (781) 397-1473 Visit Website

District Kitchen

2 Florence Street, , MA 02148 (781) 480-3113 Visit Website

Reign Drink Lab

1370 Dorchester Avenue, , MA 02122 (617) 863-7353 Visit Website

Brassica Kitchen + Cafe

3710 Washington Street, , MA 02130 (617) 477-4519 Visit Website

Chilli Garden

41 Riverside Avenue, , MA 02155 (781) 396-8488 Visit Website

Dumpling Cafe

695 Washington Street, , MA 02111 (617) 338-8859 Visit Website

Highland Fried

1271 Cambridge Street, , MA 02139 (617) 714-4662 Visit Website

Black Lamb

571 Tremont Street, , MA 02118 (617) 982-6330 Visit Website

Paris Creperie

278 Harvard Street, , MA 02446 (617) 232-1770 Visit Website

Cicada Coffee Bar

106 Prospect Street, , MA 02139 Visit Website

Bob's Italian Foods

324 Main Street, , MA 02155 (781) 395-0400 Visit Website

Bar Lyon

1750 Washington Street, , MA 02118 (617) 904-4020 Visit Website

Contessa

, , MA 02116 (617) 536-5700 Visit Website

No Relation

11 William E Mullins Way, , MA 02118 (617) 530-1772 Visit Website

Bar Volpe

170 West Broadway, , MA 02127 (617) 865-7100 Visit Website

Tambo 22

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

Brendan Behan Pub

378 Centre Street, , MA 02130 (617) 522-5386 Visit Website

Grand Tour

314 Newbury Street, , MA 02115 (857) 277-0800 Visit Website

The Banks Fish House

406 Stuart Street, , MA 02116 (617) 399-0015 Visit Website

Celeste

21 Bow Street, , MA 02143 (617) 616-5319 Visit Website

Toro

1704 Washington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02118 617.536.4300 Visit Website

Bánh Mì Ba Le

1052 Dorchester Ave, Boston, MA (617) 265-7171

Mario's

347 Chelsea Street, , MA 02128 (617) 567-8608 Visit Website

Stoked Wood Fired Pizza Co.

1632 Beacon Street, , MA 02446 (617) 879-0707 Visit Website

Stoked Pizza Co. (Cambridge)

1611 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 945-0989 Visit Website

Omori Izakaya and Sushi

166 Eastern Avenue, Malden, MA 02148 (781) 321-8600 Visit Website

Peach Farm

4 Tyler Street, , MA 02111 (617) 482-3332 Visit Website

Tiger Mama

1363 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 425-6262 Visit Website

Silk Road Uyghur Cuisine

645 Cambridge Street, , MA 02141 (617) 945-1909 Visit Website

SURA BBQ Boston

27 Riverside Avenue, , MA 02155 (781) 391-5606 Visit Website

Estragon

700 Harrison Ave, , MA 02118 (617) 266-0443 Visit Website

The Publick House

1648 Beacon Street, , MA 02445 (617) 277-2880 Visit Website

Blossom Bar

295 Washington Street, , MA 02445 (617) 734-1870 Visit Website

Isshindo Ramen

1 Brighton Avenue, , MA 02134 (617) 987-0201

Shanti

1111 Dorchester Avenue, , MA 02125 (617) 929-3900 Visit Website

Cósmica

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

50Kitchen

1450 Dorchester Avenue, , MA 02122 (617) 474-2433 Visit Website

Petit Robert Bistro

480 Columbus Avenue, , MA 02118 (617) 867-0600 Visit Website

Picco

513 Tremont Street, , MA 02116 (617) 927-0066 Visit Website

Goldilox Bagels

186 Winthrop Street, , MA 02155 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

Tasty Mo:Mo

508 Medford Street, , MA 02145 (617) 764-0222 Visit Website

Formaggio Kitchen

358 Huron Avenue, , MA 02138 (617) 354-4750 Visit Website

Ebi Sushi

290 Somerville Avenue, , MA 02143 (617) 764-5556 Visit Website

Krasi

48 Gloucester Street, , MA 02115 (617) 536-0230 Visit Website

Coquette

450 Summer Street, , MA 02210 (617) 882-0090 Visit Website

Bar Enza

1 Bennett Street, , MA 02138 (617) 661-5050 Visit Website

Harp & Bard

1090 Dorchester Ave, Boston, MA 02125 (617) 265-2893

Chilacates (Centre Street - JP)

658 Centre Street, , MA 02130 (617) 522-4500 Visit Website

Audubon Boston

838 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02215 (617) 421-1910 Visit Website

Pikaichi

123 Boston Avenue, , MA 02155 (781) 777-2555 Visit Website

DAKZEN

195 Elm Street, , MA 02144 (617) 718-1759 Visit Website

El Mexsal Authentic Latin Food

97 Medford Street, , MA 02148 (781) 605-0821 Visit Website

Hen Chicken Rice

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

Neighborhood Kitchen

84 Spring Street, , MA 02155 (781) 391-9000 Visit Website

Atlántico

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

Shore Leave

11 William E Mullins Way, , MA 02118 (617) 530-1775 Visit Website
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