Welcome to the Eater Awards 2023, our annual showcase of the best new restaurants of the year.
This was a blockbuster year for dining out in Boston. Many months were marked by one highly anticipated opening after another. Long-awaited restaurants finally got their day in the sun (hello, Comfort Kitchen!). Nia Grace turned the Seaport into a place worth battling traffic for fried chicken and waffles, catfish, and johnny cakes, all set to the joyful tempo of nightly live bands. The award-winning team behind some of Boston’s best bars opened another showstopper, Birds of Paradise, in Brighton’s Charles River Speedway. A son took over his mother’s bakery in Quincy and transformed it into Rubato, the best new place to eat in the city this year.
For the Eater Awards, eligible restaurants have typically opened between September 1, 2022 to September 1, 2023. (The range was a little more expansive this year, as Eater Boston skipped last year’s awards cycle.) These spots on this list have very good food and drink; but, most importantly, they are showing just how ambitious Boston’s dining scene can be — and this city is better for it.
Without further ado, here are our picks for the Eater Awards 2023.
Rubato: Best New Restaurant
At Rubato, chef Laurence Louie and co-owner and partner Rary Rastifa have created a daytime cafe modeled after a cha chaan teng, or Hong Kong-style diner. The restaurant was born out of an ending: Louie’s mother, Joyce Chan, who is also a musician, owned the bakery Contempo in the same space for decades and was ready to give it up if Louie didn’t want to take over. When Louie agreed to take it, he reinterpreted the space in a way that both paid homage to Contempo — a neon sign bearing the former bakery’s name hangs in the restaurant — while also allowing himself to put his own spin on the menu. Hit items include the crispy fried chicken sandwiched on a bolo bao, and savory bowls of ji cheung fun, or jiggly steamed rice rolls, served with add-ons like melt-in-your-mouth cubes of beef brisket. The name itself, Rubato, is a musical term meaning to change pace — an apt metaphor for what Louie and Rastifa have accomplished.
Grace by Nia: Best Night Out
When people ask Grace by Nia owner Nia Grace why she opened a glamorous restaurant and live music venue in the Seaport — a fast-growing neighborhood where Black business owners have been historically underrepresented — she often counters with this: why not? She saw an opportunity amidst the blur of steakhouse chains. In response, seemingly the entire city made its way to the Seaport this year to see what all the buzz was about at Grace by Nia.
Grace is building on what she started at Darryl’s, the jazz and Southern comfort food spot on the edge of Roxbury and the South End where, one night, you might catch an open mic with Berklee music students, and the next, see a performance from a Grammy-winning artist. The same formula has been translated onto a much larger stage at Grace by Nia, where diners settle into nightly live music acts while feasting on dishes like oxtails and coconut grits, carrot cake chicken and waffles, and fried catfish. Everyone is here to have a good time, and Grace serves that up in spades.
Southern Pines Diner Car: Best New Pop-Up
Picture this: You’re sitting at the bar in Rebel Rebel at Bow Market, savoring a fizzy glass of wine. Your stomach starts to rumble, and the bartender leans in and drops a hint. Go check out the menu at Southern Pines Diner Car across the courtyard.
Chef Matthew Bullock’s background is in fine dining; he previously worked at upscale bistro Forage in Cambridge, while riffing on his own ideas with the occasional Southern-inflected tasting menu pop-up. These days, the Boston native is funneling that expertise into a handful of really outstanding sandwiches at Southern Pines Diner Car — a nod to his grandmother’s hometown of Southern Pines, North Carolina. The Mighty Mushroom Melt involves mincing and cooking down mushrooms until the funghi are nearly spreadable, then topping with layers of gooey swiss cheese, hot honey, and a heaping pile of coleslaw. Beware of the Rouxgroux — fun sandwich names are crucial, according to Bullock — ties together Cajun barbecue-spiced chicken thigh with pickled jalapenos, coleslaw, and American cheese. Sturdy, plush slices of challah from Hi-Rise Bread Company in Cambridge hold each creation together. It’s the kind of sandwich engineering that would be a fool’s errand to try at home. Lucky for Boston, the pop-up is open and serving up stacks of sandwiches most days at Bow Market.
Birds of Paradise: Best New Bar
The fourth time is (still) the charm for the band of Boston bar pros behind the award-winning Blossom Bar, Ivory Pearl, and Baldwin Bar out in Woburn. Their newest creation, Birds of Paradise — designed by Ran Duan and managed by creative leads Will Isaza and James Sutter — wants to give its patrons the travel bug, even if actual travel is not in the cards. The drinks here make you do a double-take: The Big Apple in Lil’ Jalisco is a carbonated mix of tequila and apple cordial that could easily be mistaken for fizzy, tart champagne. The team’s take on a martini (the Pare de Sufrir) soars with tomatillo, soursop, génépy (a herbal liquor), and orange bitters. The bar has also been a gathering point throughout the year for top visiting talent to stop by, including the world-renowned team behind New York City’s Double Chicken Please. When it comes to representing the best of Boston’s bar scene, Birds of Paradise delivers.
Comfort Kitchen: The Game Changer
One of the industry’s most highly anticipated newcomers in 2023 was one of its first openings of the year. When Comfort Kitchen opened its doors in Upham’s Corner in January, it was a long time coming: Chef and partner Kwasi Kwaa and managing partner Biplaw Rai spent nearly a decade dreaming up the idea, orchestrating pop-ups around town, and then bringing it all together with partners Rita Ferreira and Nyacko Pearl Perry.
When the doors swung open, diners flocked to the restaurant for a taste of the African diaspora in dishes like jerk-roasted duck legs with rice and peas and pikliz, a Haitian pickled vegetable relish; and a za’atar brown butter trout, served whole in its crunchy, crackling skin. The cocktail menu, led by bar director Kyisha Davenport and bar manager Danameche Terron, sings alongside the food. This all takes place in a former public restroom that also doubles as a daytime cafe, as the team is proud to offer the local community a coffee shop that isn’t a Dunkin’.
Restaurants aren’t only places to be well-fed; they are a lens by which to examine a city’s culture. From this perspective, Comfort Kitchen signifies that Boston is a hub of innovation — its dining scene included.