Wondering where you should be eating in Boston right now? You’re in the right place. The Infatuation Hit List is your guide to the city’s best new restaurants.
And when we say “best new restaurants,” we mean it. Because we’ve tried every single one of these places - and we’ve also left off countless spots that simply aren’t as worthy of your time and money.
The Hit List is our record of every restaurant that’s opened in the past year that we’d highly recommend you try. This guide is sorted chronologically, so at the top you’ll find our latest entries to this list (the newest spots), and as you keep scrolling you’ll find the places that are on the older side - but are great enough that we still haven’t stopped talking about them.
New to the Hit List (as of 11/22/19): Mariel and Chalawan.
Mariel in Downtown Boston is the type of place that makes your dad say, “Woah, is this Boston or is this Miami!” It doesn’t actually feel like Miami - the faux-weathered murals of Cuban street scenes can only do so much - but it is way flashier than most Boston restaurants. But this place isn’t all big light fixtures and flaming cocktails - the food is actually really good, too. The menu is mostly small plates, a few of which are genuinely excellent, like the Havanese lamb belly and queso frito. It’s open for lunch, too, when the even people who are just popping in between meetings for a cubano will be drinking, because it’s just that type of place.
Chalawan in Porter Square has a giant menu of Southeast Asian food. It’s vegetarian-friendly, it’s filled with things you may not have seen before (like the chicken wrapped in betel leaf), and some of it is downright phenomenal. The seared scallop topped with caramelized duck is one of our favorite new dishes of the year. It’s served in a single spoon, and you’ll probably order another round for dessert. It’s a comfortable place to have a leisurely meal and share a lot of dishes, and, even though they don’t have a full liquor license, they do have a few $7 glasses of wine, which basically makes them humanitarians.
There aren’t a lot of omakase places in Boston. And if you don’t want to spend more than $100, you might as well be looking for a pair of socks that goes great with your Tevas. But now there’s Umami, an omakase-only sushi restaurant in North Cambridge. You have three different menu options, including one that’s 12-courses for just $68. The chef came here from Uni,, one of the best overall restaurants in Boston, but we actually like the omakase better at Umami. You get your share of wagyu beef, truffles, and caviar - especially if you do the $198 or $138 options - and almost everything is in fun, bite-sized nigiri pieces.
The food at Roxanne’s is beside the point...and that’s exactly why this spot made the list. Before Roxanne’s, if you wanted to get a drink in Downtown Boston, you essentially had two options: bars with shamrocks on the walls, or bars that are actually restaurants, where every table comes with silverware and you get dirty looks from the server if you tell them you’re just doing drinks. But Roxanne’s is not a restaurant. It’s a cocktail bar that happens to serve lunch and a small selection of snacks at night. The drinks are all just $10 and the space feels like a members-only club in Tahiti. It’s our favorite new bar in Downtown Boston.
We’re not exactly sure what Shy Bird in Kendall Square is. We guess it’s a counter-service place, but counter-service places don’t usually have full bars where people split bottles of Chardonnay and a roast chicken at 1pm. Whatever it is, though, it’s really good. That rotisserie chicken is their specialty, and it’s pretty close to perfect - moist meat with crispy skin and your choice of dipping sauce (we liked the salsa verde). It’s a good all-around spot that serves three meals a day and serves them quickly. So if you work nearby and need to get back to the lab to finish curing cancer, you can do that (though maybe not after the wine).
You can think of Orfano in the Fenway as an old-timey Italian steakhouse, except for the fact that it’s brand new. The staff all wear bow ties or tuxedo-shirts, there’s a lot of black and gold, and you can order a $26 martini that will be made tableside. Despite all of the high production value, this place doesn’t take itself too seriously - and the result is a lot of fun. But more importantly, it’s also really good. The pasta dishes are excellent and not at all standard. The ribeye has been aged for 35 days, and there are some very good small plates and snacks, like the hand-pulled mozzarella served warm. Orfano is from the same team behind Tiger Mama, Sweet Cheeks, and Fool’s Errand. All of these places are on the same block, so it’s possible they’re preparing to take over a chunk of the city and build a bubble around it, but since the food is so good, we’re cool with it.
Ilona is a Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the South End from the same people behind Kava Neo-Taverna, a nearby Greek restaurant that’s one of our Greatest Hits. When you first look at the menu, you might think it has a lot of similarities to Kava (there’s octopus, halloumi, and a lot of eggplant). But the food here is a little meatier, saucier, and heavier, so you could consider making Ilona your winter spot and Kava your summer spot. Either way, it has just as many dishes that you’ll be thinking about for a long time after the meal, like the eggplant fried in carnival-style fried dough, or the perfectly grilled, garlicky octopus. It’s a crowded place with a lot of people taking pictures of a giant mural of a lady who shampooed with flowers or something, but it’s the fun kind of crowded - especially since, unlike Kava, Ilona has a full liquor license.
A lot of Vietnamese restaurants in Dorchester have menus as long as phone books that include at least 10 different varieties of pho. That’s fine with us - choice is good. But we love that Ban Toi knocks us out with a few really well done dishes. Here, you’ll find a lot of great seafood, noodle soups, and saucy stir-fries, some of which are plated so beautifully they look like they belong in an expensive tasting menu restaurant instead of a place with a stuffed deer head on the wall that you can always walk into for lunch or dinner. The sweet, coconutty sauce that the wild boar and frogs legs are sauteed in is liquid gold, and the short rib noodle soup is fall-of-the-bone tender (literally in this case, as you’ll probably find a bone the size of a cell phone drowning in the broth).
If the city of Boston were challenged to a cook-off with the fate of the entire planet on the line (which, frankly, would be a good way to go out), then all we’d have to do to assemble our line-up of humanity-saving chefs is go to Time Out Market in the Fenway. This place has food stalls connected to a ton of the very best restaurants in the city: Craigie On Main, Saltie Girl, O Ya, Bisq, and The Tasting Counter, just to name a few. It also has a big outdoor space with corn hole and bocce, and two full bars, so you can carry your drinks around while you eat. For all of those reasons, it’s one of the coolest places in the city if you’re at all interested in food. Be warned, though: it’s also very pricey, it’s oriented towards tourists, and some of the stalls merely sell shrunken, fast-food versions of dishes that you’re much better off getting at the actual restaurants. We recommend Craigie Burger (since it’s almost impossible to get the burger at Craigie On Main itself), the nori tacos at Gogo Ya, and Bisq, which serves big, meaty sandwiches. But be wary of Saltie Girl and the Tasting Counter, which are both serving portions that will empty your wallet before filling up your stomach.
If you know someone who still hasn’t grown out of the I-don’t-eat-the-crust phase of life, then change their mind at T&B in Union Square. The crust at this upscale but not overly expensive spot is so good that it’s somehow the star on pizzas topped with things like crudo, lobster, and rum-soaked pineapple. There are two different kinds of pies here and we prefer the thicker, Roman-style ones to the Neapolitan, but both are very good and you’ll get to enjoy them in a fun place that has an excellent cocktail list.
9zaab is a tiny Thai street noodle place in East Cambridge. There might be more people depicted in the life-size mural on the wall than can fit inside the restaurant itself. It doesn’t have a liquor license yet, but what it does have is food that’s so good you might go for lunch and then put on glasses and a fake mustache to go again for dinner. The savory and sweet broth in the beef boat noodle soup will make you sad for other broths that don’t contribute as much to society, and the sweet Chinese sausage in the khao na gai is as good an advertisement for pork as you can find. 9zaab is casual and very affordable, especially since, if you spend $60 or more, you get to spin a Price Is Right-style wheel for the chance to win 15% off your meal.
Zuma is a high-end izakaya in Back Bay that seems to be filled with people who’ve flown first class to Tokyo so many times that they can compare it to Japanese izakayas that are actually in Japan, which is to say that it’s trendy and expensive (it is in the Four Seasons, after all). But the expensive stuff that comes off the robata grill or sushi counter is very worth your money. The prawn and black cod dumplings are outstanding, the rib eye is perfectly cooked, and the sushi, though not as creative as the stuff you’ll find at the best places in town, is made from excellent fish. Come here the next time you need to impress someone who only travels via rideshares on principle and it’ll get the job done.
It’s hard to figure out the best part of Gustazo, a new Porter Square Cuban spot that started in Waltham. When you first get here, you’ll assume that the best part is that it feels like a Latin Grammy’s after-party (which we’ve never been to, but you can imagine how fun those must be). Then you’ll order a drink and think that the best part is the cocktail menu filled with really creative drinks, including one made with cigar-infused aged rum. And then you’ll get to the food and find that you just keep ordering all night long, because there doesn’t seem to be a dud on the entire menu, and some things, like the garbanzo beans with smokey almond sofrito, are as good as any version you’ve ever had. Come here with friends (your fun ones, not the ones you constantly have to defend to other people), get anything on the menu that has pork in it, and have a great time.
We weren’t around back then, but we imagine that, with vinyl on the turntable, lava lamps in the corners, and an abundance of weed, the ’70s were the golden age of hanging out in basements. The Groove, a new cocktail lounge inside of Hojoko, isn’t in a basement (in fact, it’s got wide windows that open up directly onto Boylston), but a ’70s basement is exactly what it feels like in the best way possible. There are cream-colored lamps, overlapping rugs, bead curtains, and yes, a turntable - though sometimes there’s live music. If you’re hungry, there are small bites and snacks to go with the cocktails, like nachos topped with torched hamachi, and you also have the option of ordering off the main Hojoko menu.
We’re still not sick of small, secret restaurants hidden inside other restaurants. If you descend down several flights of stairs in one of hte new ink block buildings in the South End, you’ll eventually get to Shore Leave, a fun tiki bar that opened last fall. And if you keep going past the bathrooms, you’ll then find an unmarked door that leads to No Relation, a 9-seat sushi counter that serves the best new omakase in town. You will need to book here pretty far in advance, and you will need to pay up (it’ll cost you about $100-120 per person, before drinks) but you’ll get about 12 courses of excellent fish, along with one or two interesting non-sushi dishes, like New England miso clam soup.
Normally we don’t like it when neon signs tell us what to do, as the “Stay Foxy” sign above the bar does at Fox & The Knife. But we don’t mind if it comes with food worth driving for (and since the alternative would’ve been “Stay Knifey,” we’ll take it). Southie should be excited for this Italian place with a small, but heavy-hitting menu. You’ll be in good hands with the harissa braised lamb, or tortellini with parsnips and sweet gorgonzola. It also helps that the small, dark dining room with fox murals on the walls is packed and fun just about every night, and the bar is big enough to grab a last-minute Negroni and a bite to eat with a friend.
There’s no silverware at Longfellow, a sleek cocktail bar above Alden & Harlow in Harvard Square. But that’s not because there’s no food, it’s because everything is designed to be eaten with your hands. That’s a tough break for germaphobes, but as long as you’ve got some Purell handy, you’re going to enjoy a lot of things that the term “bar food” doesn’t really do justice for. The deviled eggs are topped with ikura, potato chips, and chives. The pigs in a blanket get black truffle and honey. And the waffle fries come with salsa verde. The cocktails are pretty good, too. There’s even a selection of low-alcohol drinks, so if your goal is to make your way through the entire menu, you at least have a small chance of being able to do it before passing out.
If you want to eat at a great restaurant before everyone else knows its name - or, frankly, before it’s even a real restaurant - head to Tanam, a 10-seat table in Union Square’s Bow Market. On most nights, it’s a ticketed dining experience, so for $90 you’ll feel like you have a personal chef as you make your way through five Filipino-inspired courses, and get the background on each one. For something a little cheaper, Wednesdays are reserved for a giant $70 meal that’s tossed onto a banana leaf-covered table, and Thursday is bar night, where the table is raised and the menu is taken over by snacks and small plates. Either way, you’ll get things like braised oxtail, sweet coconut rice cakes, and lychee and crab brussels sprouts, and you’ll love it. Eventually, Tanam will grow out of the small walk-in closet of a room that it currently occupies, so come here now and say you knew about it way back when.