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The 38 Essential Boston Restaurants, October 2013

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Presenting Boston's updated Eater 38, your answer to any question that begins, "Can you recommend a restaurant?" This highly elite group covers the entire city, spans myriad cuisines, and collectively satisfies all of your restaurant needs. Every few months, we'll be adding pertinent restaurants that were omitted, have newly become eligible (restaurants must be open at least six months), or have stepped up their game.

Your favorite restaurant isn't on the list? There are certainly more than 38 fantastic restaurants around town — and probably about 38 million different opinions — so don't hesitate to rip this list to shreds and say what you'd do differently in the comment section below. Please note that the numbers are not rankings; the list is geographically organized from north to south (roughly).

Added October 2013: Asta, Casa B, L'Espalier, Journeyman, O Ya, Rialto, Shojo Added July 2013: Highland Kitchen, Trina's Starlite Lounge, Oishii, Santarpio's, Dali, Rino's Place, Taranta, Troquet

Added April 2013: Sportello, Lincoln Tavern and Restaurant, Puritan & Company, Chez Henri.

Added January 2013: West Bridge, Taberna de Haro, La Morra.

Added October 2012: The Helmand, jm Curley, Estragon, Tu y Yo, Matt Murphy's, Green Street.

Added July 2012: Bergamot, Casa B, Sweet Cheeks Q, Trade, Radius.

Added April 2012: Trina's Starlite Lounge, Catalyst, Salts, Jasmine Bistro, La Verdad, Dumpling Cafe.

Added January 2012: Harvest, Clio, The Butcher Shop, Eastern Standard, Oishii.

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Highland Kitchen

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A regular haunt of practically everyone who has ever lived in Somerville's Spring Hill or Union Square in the last few years, Highland Kitchen specializes in comfort food, a lively ambiance, and strong cocktails. Try the spicy goat stew and the house-made ginger beer (also spicy), or swing by on a Monday for fried chicken and tiki drink specials.

T.W. Food

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One of the intimate, chef-owned restaurants that have defined Cambridge restaurants in recent years and helped the city rival the best of Boston proper. Also, tobacco ice cream.

One of the most beautiful restaurants in town, Dali is always the right choice for a romantic night out. It's lively, the tapas are delicious and meant to be shared, and it'll make you think you're in Barcelona. It's such a landmark that many Somerville residents call the Washington/Beacon/Kirkland intersection the "Dali Corner."


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This 69-seat restaurant opened in 2010 and has helped pave the way for a new era of Somerville dining. The critics have praised Bergamot's synthesis of relaxed attitude and serious skill. The team behind it reportedly has a new restaurant, Angel's Share, slated for Inman Square.


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Hidden off an alley in Somerville's Union Square, Journeyman recently did away with its menu, which used to simply offer a few different sizes of tastings with dishes that changed weekly. Now, there's no menu at all — pay $75; eat what is served. The focus is on delicate, artful preparations of local ingredients.

Casa B

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This romantic "Spanish Caribbean tapas" spot comes from a couple of architects, so the space is as beautiful as the menu items. You'll feel like you're dining in someone's living room, which makes sense, since owners Alberto Cabré and Angelina Jockovich got their culinary start by throwing elaborate "underground" dinner parties.

Yes, there's amazing Italian food outside of the North End. This Eastie gem has recently received a huge amount of attention thanks to a Food Network appearance, but locals have always known that it's the place to go for huge ravioli and excellent homemade pasta.

Trina's Starlite Lounge

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This cozy Somerville watering hole pairs hot dogs with classy cocktails in a retro lounge. The Monday "industry brunch" leaves diners happily full of chicken and waffles, homemade pop tarts, and Kool Aid du jour.

James Beard winner Jody Adams' Harvard Square flagship has been drawing crowds since opening nearly a decade ago, focusing on regional Italian cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. More recently, Adams opened up a new restaurant, TRADE, near South Station.

East by Northeast

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An intimate, Chinese-inspired small plates restaurant presided over by chef Phillip Tang, ExNE was named one of the "The Top 6 Places to Taste the New Asian Fusion" by Bon Appetit. In-house noodles, dumplings, and bao blow away the competition, of which there is little.

Santarpio's Pizza

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Santarpio's in Eastie is the place to go to shut up your obnoxious New York friends when they claim there's no good pizza in Boston. This classic joint is unassuming and rough around the edges, just the way it should be. Pizzeria Regina may win the classic duel for sheer expansion, but Santarpio's pizza is unmatched.

One of the city's few restaurants with a vegetarian tasting menu, let alone one that diners regularly rave about. Oleana serves omnivores as well, with chef Ana Sortun imparting her well-known Mediterranean accents in dishes like octopus with crispy Brussels sprouts. Sortun and Oleana chef de cuisine Cassie Piuma are days away from opening a new restaurant, Sarma, in Somerville.

Bondir has just blown everyone away, most notably by being named one of the ten Best New Restaurants in America in 2011 by Bon Appetit in addition to racking up about as many local accolades as you can get. It took what a lot of restaurants were already doing - the classed-up, local, rootsy thing - and managed to tighten the screws, add some flourishes, and still make it distinct and feel fresh. A Concord outpost will open up later this fall.

Hungry Mother

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There are other restaurants that do local ingredients, French technique, or Southern recipes, but not under one roof. It's amazing that shrimp and grits can taste this good so far north.

West Bridge

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Since opening in late spring 2012, West Bridge quickly became the darling of Kendall Square, among many existing darlings. The French-inspired menu comes from Aquitaine Bistro alumni chef Matthew Gaudet. Don't miss the egg in a jar.


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A local legend of the prodigal son and former chef de cuisine at Momofuku Ssam Bar, who came home to run dad's diner and put lots of octopus on the menu. The junior Maslow now owns his own spot as well — Ribelle in Brookline.


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Western Mediterranean accents appear on chef-owner Steve Johnson's menu, which is enhanced by a rooftop herb garden (in season). Sit at the bar for the full cocktail experience.

Craigie on Main

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Craigie is known for making simple dishes like roasted chicken extraordinary by using advanced techniques and technology — and for serving dishes that are just plain extraordinary, like a shareable confit and roasted milk-fed pig’s head with spicy pumpkin sambal and boudin noir-hoisin sauce. Owner Tony Maws recently opened up a new, more casual restaurant, The Kirkland Tap & Trotter, on the edge of Somerville and Cambridge.

Neptune Oyster

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The North End is generally known for Italian, which makes it all the more impressive that a seafood restaurant has made its name as one of the neighborhood's best places to eat. The lines are long, but the lobster rolls are beloved. Choose cold with mayo or hot with butter.

jm Curley

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This instant industry-approved classic has helped revitalize Downtown Crossing dining with its small, meaty menu, adult milkshakes, late-night dining and blunt rules for patrons. Executive chef Sam Monsour puts a creative twist on junk food, and diners who want something more upscale can sidle into Bogie's Place, the tiny steakhouse hidden inside.


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Lovely views of the common and proximity to a variety of theaters give Troquet an advantage location-wise, but the food is outstanding as well, and the wine list is deservedly award-winning. Plus, it's probably the only place you'll see servers scooping butter out of a giant basket that is completely full of butter.

Sushi lovers who have not yet embarked on O Ya's grand omakase have not yet lived. And it's not just the seafood — the wagyu beef is so tender that it may bring a tear to your eye. Hidden in the Leather District, this tiny spot has accumulated numerous awards, including a James Beard for chef Tim Cushman.

Shanghai Gate

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Superbly executed Shanghai-style dishes like lion's head meatball and xiao long bao manage to be just as flavorful as their Sichuan counterparts, minus the heat. Considered by many to be the city's best Chinese — and it's nowhere near Chinatown.

Island Creek Oyster Bar

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Island Creek Oyster bar looks more slick than the restaurant you would expect an oyster farm to operate, but it's no less legit. The seafood-centric menu straddles straightforward and fun. The team is opening up a new restaurant, Row 34, in Fort Point later this fall.

Since opening in January, Asta has quietly built up a devoted following for its tasting menu-only format. The mysterious restaurant has a minimal website, little to no marketing or social media presence, and an amazing Zeus painted on the wall, salvaged from the restaurant formerly in the space.


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Going strong since 1978, with a few location moves over the years, L'Espalier is revered for chef/owner Frank McClelland's hybrid of French and New England cuisine, which makes extensive use of local, seasonal ingredients. If money's no object, let him take you on his Tasting Journey, "a unique menu inspired by the seasons of New England crafted for your table." Or stop by for a Cheese Tuesday to eat cheese and sing along to classic hits like "Don't Stop Blue Cheesing."


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Perhaps the only Boston restaurant to serve elaborately prepared sunflower buds, Erbaluce is no stranger to the title of the city's "best Italian restaurant." Chef/owner Charles Draghi changes the menu nightly.

Open just over a year, Shōjō has managed to create a wildly successful Asian fusion menu — in Chinatown, no less — in a time when "Asian fusion" is not always enthusiastically received. Diners will find dishes like a "pot o'kimchi" alongside a charcuterie board. And then there's the duck fat fries with Sriracha aioli.


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The most approachable of Barbara Lynch's local empire, where tagliatelle with bolognese rubs elbows with dishes like strozzapreti with braised rabbit. Lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch are served on a diner-like counter. Doubles as a bakery with early-morning hours, offering delicacies like cronuts and apple cider donuts as weekly specials, depending on the season.

Sweet Cheeks

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Since opening in November 2011, Top Chef star Tiffani Faison's barbecue ode has been nothing short of a smash hit. The biscuits are legendary, and there's now an outdoor beer garden to boot. In a city severely lacking good barbecue, Sweet Cheeks fills the need — and then some.

A regular on Boston pizza A-lists, Picco boasts some of the best value in the South End. Eat the pizza, salad, and/or in-house ice cream and you'll desire no better.

Hamersley's Bistro

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A veteran of the dining scene for over 20 years, this restaurant stakes its reputation partly on its infamous roasted chicken. Over the years it has changed exactly as much as it should. President Obama has been known to eat here.