clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
A pile of thin rice noodles garnished with dill and bits of fish sits in a small cast iron pan on a wooden counter. A wine glass is visible in the back.
Monkfish with turmeric, dill, and vermicelli at Cicada Coffee Bar.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal/Eater

Filed under:

The Best Boston Meals of 2021: Cicada Coffee Bar, Giulia, Comfort Kitchen, and More

Local food writers rave about the best meals they ate in 2021

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.

Previously, 2021 restaurant standbys. Now: What was your best local restaurant meal of 2021?


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

“I relished a May five-course dinner served outdoors at the lovely, bucolic Smolak Farms in North Andover, prepared by the gifted Evan Hennessey of Stages at One Washington in Dover, NH (which is worth the trip). Also ranking high was a pair of Fenway Franks with mustard at my lone Sox game of the season, a great night out at the lyric little bandbox with a best bud and some beers.

But the standout of my year was a family-style tasting menu at Giulia near Porter Square: 15 dishes (a steal at $95) with a dozen friends that have dined together every November for decades — a streak that COVID broke in 2020. It was a misty-eyed and jubilant reunion, and the cocktails, food, wine, and service were spectacular. That chicken liver crostini, the octopus and razor clams in parsley sauce, four exquisite fresh pastas, a deep-flavored sirloin with chicories, dark chocolate budino with caffe latte gelato, on and on and on — damn! (No surprise at Giulia, a rare repeat venue for this dinner.) Even so, we’d have been as ecstatic to meet over pizza and wings. The main thing was the communion of a cherished tradition renewed, breaking bread with dear ones again: so much missed! That’s what Friendsgiving is all about, Charlie Brown.”

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:

“More love for my neighborhood: Thrilled that Comfort Kitchen took up residence in JP this past year (thanks, Little Dipper!). I enjoyed several memorable meals from Comfort Kitchen in 2021 — jerk jackfruit, buttery jollof couscous, super fresh salads, Berbere-style lamb — so many delicious dishes. Looking forward to their 2022 opening in Dorchester.”

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:

“Interestingly enough, it was a meal I had on January 2! I had a meal for the ages that day at Cafe Barada in Cambridge, including incredible takes on hummus, tabbouleh, mujederra, baba ghannouj, and stuffed grape leaves. At the time, I thought that this might be the best meal of 2021 and it still appears that way.”

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


Nathan Tavares, freelance writer:

“I’ve really missed lazy brunches where you hang out with friends and just eat whatever you want, and have fallen in love with brunch at 224 Boston. Once you get the short rib poutine, there’s no going back. I tend to go savory for brunch, but the sourdough French toast is just the right amount of sweet, with citrusy orange compote and bacon to balance things out. The mimosa flights are really fun, too.”

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:

“No Relation. The 14-course omakase is the type of thing you dream of splurging on for years, and still delivers after all the build-up. And after years of social distancing, experiencing a meal in an intimate, nine-seat dining room was a treat.”

Eric encourages readers to consider donating to the Greg Hill Foundation.


Karen Wilber, freelance writer for Eater Boston:

“I had been meaning to make it to Muqueca for a few months, and finally one fall evening presented the perfect opportunity to have dinner on their adorable outdoor patio. I ordered their signature dish, moqueca, which is a Brazilian seafood stew, and chose to have it prepared bahia style, which is with green pepper, dende oil, and coconut milk. I also decided to opt for fish, mussels, and shrimp so I’d know which option I’d like best for the future since there’s also the option for just fish, just shrimp, etc. What I learned is I want it all and I’ll forever be getting the combination option. It was the most flavorful, cozy, and overall delightful meal I’ve had this year.”

Karen encourages readers to consider donating to The Massachusetts Bail Fund.


Rachel Leah Blumenthal, editor of Eater Boston:

“Honestly, any meal that I spent at an actual restaurant eating from an actual plate rather than from a takeout container at my dining room table felt like the best meal of the year. I had some kid-free, date-night stunners at old and new favorites like Celeste, Oleana, and the Comfort Kitchen pop-up at Little Dipper; pleasant weekday lunch dates at Mahaniyom and Atlantico; fun, casual outings with the whole family at Brewer’s Fork and Semolina Kitchen.

The 2021 meal that stands out most in my mind, though, is a recent dinner at Cicada Coffee Bar, the Vietnamese cafe in Cambridge’s Central Square. I’ve written about Cicada for our 2021 awards, for the local picks list alongside Eater’s best new restaurants, and in various other stories and roundups this year, so I don’t know what else to say that I haven’t already said, but if you haven’t gone for the recently launched dinner service yet, make it a priority for 2022 once you feel comfortable eating indoors or when the weather allows seating in the beautiful back garden. The spicy lemongrass duck tartare and the oxtail pho were among the best things I ate all year, and the excellent natural wines — try one of the orange selections — didn’t hurt. It’s an intimate space, buzzing with energy, and I’ll be shocked if it’s not one of the toughest dinner reservations to land next year.”

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

Comfort Kitchen

611 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, MA 02125 Visit Website

Cicada Coffee Bar

106 Prospect Street, , MA 02139 Visit Website

No Relation

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

Muqueca Restaurant

1008 Cambridge Street, , MA 02141 (617) 354-3296 Visit Website

Celeste

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

Semolina Kitchen & Bar

572 Boston Ave., Medford, MA 02155 (781) 219-3871 Visit Website

Giulia (Cambridge)

1682 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) 441-2800 Visit Website

Oleana

134 Hampshire Street, , MA 02139 (617) 661-0505 Visit Website

Mahaniyom

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

Brewer's Fork

7 Moulton Street, , MA 02129 (617) 337-5703 Visit Website

224 Boston St

224 Boston Street, , MA 02125

Atlántico

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

The Best Meals of 2016, From Short Rib to Charred Avocado

Year in Eater

The Saddest Restaurant Closures of 2016 Include Spoke Wine Bar, Johnny D’s, and Rubin’s Delicatessen

Year in Eater

The Biggest Surprises of 2016 Include the Still-Growing Restaurant and Craft Beer Bubbles

View all stories in Year in Eater

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Boston newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter.