As 2021 draws to a close, we dug through our data to see what you spent time reading this year — which news stories caught your eye, which maps hopefully helped you eat well, which guides fueled your wanderlust.
The numbers show a couple clear signs: Pandemic-related information — updates on regulations, challenges, and closures — depressingly remains as important and relevant as it was in 2020. But there’s a lot of hope on the horizon, too. Despite everything, a large number of restaurants did manage to open this year, and you wanted to hear about them, from a cell phone-free wine and dessert bar in Cambridge to a French restaurant in the South End to Italian in South Boston.
News on big out-of-town chefs and restaurant groups coming to Boston grabbed a lot of your attention — Guy Fieri, Major Food Group, and, narrowly missing the top 10, Gordon Ramsay — but you cared a lot about independent, local folks as well, including a decades-old barbecue joint in Mattapan.
And you’re really into lobster rolls, Italian food, outdoor dining, and Chinatown.
Here’s a look back at 2021 through the lens of Eater Boston’s most-read news stories, local and travel maps and guides, and features.
COVID-related news obviously continued to dominate the landscape this year, but stories on out-of-town chefs and restaurants coming to Boston also generated a lot of interest, as well as updates on restaurant openings around the city.
- What Are Massachusetts’s COVID-19 Rules for Restaurants and Bars Right Now?: It’s perhaps no surprise that the most-read news of the year was an oft-updated explainer on Massachusetts’s ever-changing COVID-related guidelines for the restaurant industry. There was a lull in new regulations for the second half of the year, but coming up at the end of December, Boston announced a proof-of-vaccination mandate for indoor dining (starting in January 2022), with more communities likely following suit. Early 2022 might end up looking like a repeat of early 2021, but here’s hoping it does not.
- A Running List of Spring 2021 Restaurant Reopenings: Winter 2020-2021 was marked by numerous restaurants temporarily closing for the season, citing COVID-related challenges — staffing issues, lack of outdoor dining space, and much more. Fortunately many reopened after winter. This winter, quite a few restaurants have announced brief closures after COVID exposure or positive tests on staff, but it doesn’t look like there will be a repeat of last year’s temporary but long-term closures.
- Guy Fieri Is Operating Ghost Kitchens Out of a Handful of Boston Area Bertucci’s: Actually, quite a few “ghost kitchens” have been operating out of local Bertucci’s this year. And Fieri’s been in the local news a bit for other reasons, too, including a new downtown Boston restaurant that opened in December in the former Explorateur space.
- Capacity Caps Will Be Removed for Massachusetts Restaurants on March 1: Remember the early days of 2021, a blur of phases and steps of reopening plans? March 1 marked an easing of the capacity cap on indoor dining, which had previously been 40 percent — and before that, 25 percent.
- Contessa, a Glitzy Rooftop Restaurant, Will Open by the Public Garden in June / Swanky Rooftop Restaurant Contessa Debuts on Newbury Street: As it gets harder and harder for local, independent restaurants to survive, major out-of-town restaurant groups — like New York-based Major Food Group — have been swooping in with big-budget projects. Contessa is pretty, and reservations are hard to come by, but don’t forget that Boston has quite a few excellent Italian restaurants owned and operated by locals, too.
- Over 70 Restaurants Have Opened Around Boston in Fall 2021: This running list of fall restaurant openings included details on a Parisian cafe in Back Bay, a pho spot in Allston, ramen in the West End, southern Italian in South Boston, and much more.
- Eastern Standard, the Hawthorne, and Island Creek Oyster Bar All Close for Good: Restaurant industry folks and local diners are still mourning the loss of this iconic Kenmore Square trio. Such a bummer.
- Japan’s Menya Jiro Ramen Chain Opens First Boston-Area Location: Boston loves ramen and is always happy to accept yet another addition to the scene. This location is in Harvard Square; it’s also coming to Boston’s Seaport District and Dedham.
- It Was the Summer of Seafood Towers in Boston: Here’s the rundown on all the restaurants that opened in the Boston-area dining scene in summer 2021, serving everything from lobster Rockefeller and vegan pizza to northern Italian cuisine and fancy tiramisu.
- Some Boston-Area Restaurants and Music Venues Are Requiring Proof of Vaccination: In the absence of statewide COVID mandates, cities, towns, and businesses can make their own rules as omicron variant cases are on the rise. Some businesses began requiring proof of vaccination over the summer; now, Boston and some nearby communities will be requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining starting in the new year.
Maps and Guides (Boston and Nearby)
- The 38 Essential Restaurants in Boston: Updated each season, the Eater 38 is meant to answer any question that begins, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” It spans multiple cuisines, costs, and neighborhoods in and near Boston, offering restaurant recommendations for every occasion.
- The Hottest New Restaurants in Boston: Updated each month, the Eater Heatmap features a dozen buzzy new restaurants in and around the city that are exciting eager diners.
- Where to Eat in Boston’s North End: The best bakeries, pizzerias, and restaurants in the Hub’s Little Italy.
- The Eater Boston Outdoor Dining Guide for 2021: Patio maps and updates, beer garden news, and more — Bostonians are always hungry for outdoor dining news, and going into another COVID winter, outdoor dining will continue to be important. Stay tuned for 2022 updates on heated patios and other pertinent info.
- 26 Iconic Dishes Around Boston: Get to know the city and surrounding area with these essential eats, from cannoli to fried clams to Cream of Wheat (yes, really).
- 25 Outstanding Boston-Area Sushi Restaurants: From simple perfection to mountains of gold flakes and truffles.
- Where to Eat in Boston’s Chinatown: The neighborhood’s best restaurants for dumplings and dim sum and noodles and sushi and so much more.
- Where to Eat Italian Food in Boston: It’s not all about the North End (but okay, sure, there’s a lot of good Italian food in the North End).
- Where to Eat Lobster Rolls in Boston: The northeast is lousy with lobster rolls — here’s where to find a good one in the Hub.
- Where to Dine on Rooftops in and Around Boston: Don’t just get outside — get up high and take in all the views Boston has to offer.
Maps and Guides (New England Travel Beyond Boston)
- New England Doughnuts Worth the Drive: Day-tripping from Boston? Grab some doughnuts at one (or more) of these excellent shops.
- How to Eat and Drink in Portland, Maine, Like a Restaurant Industry Pro: Croque-monsieur croissants, late-night lobster grilled cheese, platters of barbecue, omakase, and more. This guide was written pre-COVID (remember 2019?), but Bostonians always get excited about travel to Portland, an incredible food city and a fairly short drive away.
- Where (and What) to Eat Outdoors in Portland, Maine: More Portland! From patios at cafes and breweries and izakayas to the sands of nearby beaches, Vacationland’s biggest city boasts a number of excellent al fresco dining options.
- How to Make the Most of a Quick, Off-Season Trip to Portland, Maine: One more for Portland, with a cold-weather angle.
- How to Spend a Food-Filled Day in Mystic, Connecticut: The waterfront town is less than two hours from Boston by train, and cacio e pepe sourdough doughnuts await.
- A Taste of New Haven’s East Rock Neighborhood: Get to the Connecticut city in as little as two hours from Boston by train, and find plenty to eat in the East Rock neighborhood just a mile from the station.
- Four Maine Winter Adventures That End With Good Beer: Sneak away from Boston for a weekend full of winter sports, holiday shopping, and a few excellent pints.
- What to Eat and Drink During an Off-Season Weekend in Provincetown: Even in the colder months, the seaside spot sings with warming schnitzel and perfect desserts.
- How to Eat and Drink in Maine — Beyond Portland — Like a Restaurant Industry Pro: Ployes, sauerkraut, an old-school salad bar, and more.
- Where to Pick Apples and More in Massachusetts Before the Season Ends: Here are 15 Massachusetts farms that offer pick-your-own apples, pumpkins, and more, not to mention a variety of other family-friendly fall activities.
Inside looks at new restaurants, a deep dive into a pizza style, personal essays, and more.
- Boston’s Detroit-Style Pizza Obsession Is Ramping Up: Where (and why) to eat the thick, spongy, rectangular pizza in and around the city.
- Babka, Burekas, and Breads: Bakey Has Arrived in Boston: Steps from Boston Common, Danish-Israeli baker Uri Scheft is serving his famous chocolate babka and lots more.
- Bonjour to Brasserie, Bringing French Fare Back to a Familiar Space: The first restaurant from the new SoWa Dining Group opens in the former space of Gaslight.
- Nautilus Pier 4 Pulls Into the Seaport With Global Tapas and Futuristic Nautical Design: An inside look at the new Boston sibling of a pair of popular Nantucket restaurants.
- For Pit Stop Barbecue, Southern Comfort Has Always Been Top Priority: The Mattapan restaurant has remained true to its roots for over three decades.
- Leave Your Phone at Home to Enjoy Zuzu’s Petals, Cambridge’s New Wine and Dessert Bar: The cellphone-free zone, dripping with rich chocolate mousse and fine wines, is a place for “the person who’s obsessed with food.”
- “There’s Been a Lot of Depression Over the Last Year”: For Boston’s LGBTQ nightlife and restaurant industry workers, economic precarity only represents part of the devastation brought on by COVID-19.
- Coquette Brings French-Inspired Cuisine to Boston’s Seaport, Dressed in Pastels and Mischief: Here’s a closer look at the menu from the new Yvonne’s and Mariel sibling, playing with influences from Basque Country and beyond.
- The Noodles King: There is never anything good to eat in hospitals. So when my father was being treated for cancer, I turned to a bowl of noodles for some comfort.
- The Teenage Wasteland of Cumberland Farms: As a teenager in the ’90s, there was no better way to “look cool” than by casually drinking coffee. For me, that meant iced coffee from Cumberland Farms.
Want to keep up with the latest Boston restaurant news in the new year? Subscribe to our newsletter below for several dispatches a week with the newest headlines, and catch us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can also join our Facebook group — 7,000 members and counting — to give and get restaurant recommendations.
Do you know of news that should be on our radar? Are you a writer looking to pitch a story? Are you desperately figuring out where to eat for dinner and need help navigating our maps and guides? Send tips, pitches, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.