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 2/18/20): Gray’s Hall and Bar ’Cino.
Gray’s Hall promotes itself as a wine bar, and there’s certainly a lot of good wine here (no surprise considering that the same team owns the wine and cheese store next door). But the small plates - put together by a former Tasting Counter chef - are stellar and the real reason you should visit. Almost everything is under $20, large enough for sharing, and really tasty - an impressive feat given the kitchen is smaller than Gisele’s accessories closet. We recommend the mussel toast, smoked salmon pâté, and eggplant milanese. The charcuterie platter is one of the best we’ve had in recent memory, which is more than we can say of Brady’s 2019 season.
Grilled Rhode Island-style pizza, made famous by one particular restaurant in the ’80s, is a unique feature on the menu at Bar ’Cino. It’s not the Rhode Island pizza we’re used to (which is cold and has no cheese - basically the anti-pizza), but it’s actually very good. If you’re in the mood for pizza, but want something on the lighter side, there’s probably no better pie. There are also some quality cocktails here, like the chocolate margarita or one with lemonade and Laphroaig. Unlike Pauly D, this spot has greatly improved our impression of our southern neighbors.
Woods Hill is a relative rarity in the Seaport. It’s neither a restaurant with multiple neon signs, nor a fast-casual chain filled with every single lawyer in the city from 11am-1pm and absolutely no one else at any other time. What it is, is a farm-to-table restaurant that really deserves that title, since it’s named after the New Hampshire farm where the owners source a lot of the food. Not everything on the menu is a hit - the peppercorn crusted swordfish is seemingly made with an entire mill’s worth of pepper - but other dishes, like the whelk with coconut lobster broth, make Woods Hill more than just a place with a great view (though it’s definitely got a great view).
Ittoku is best enjoyed with at least four other people. Order sake cocktails, make everyone pick two to three dishes, and spend the next few hours having more fun inside of a windowless mall restaurant than you have any right to. This izakaya used to be in Allston, but it moved across the river and expanded its menu. It still has great noodle dishes, a selection of robata grill stuff we love and, thankfully, Allston prices. Now it’s one of our favorite places in Porter Square, which is quietly becoming one of the best food neighborhoods in the city (scroll down and check out a few of Ittoku’s neighbors, Chalawan and Gustazo).
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.