The Hot List

These Buzzworthy Boston Restaurants Are Worth the Hype

Dining in Beantown is cucumber cool.

14 min read
6/17/2022
MIDA

Boston may be a petite city, but its dining power cannot be denied. Some of the city’s buzziest restaurants — restaurants that are challenging to get into regardless of who you know — are the ones with staying power. Here is a roundup of the most noteworthy restaurants that deliver on Caviar, from newcomers to fan favorites. Don’t worry about a reservation; you can have it all, from home.

Toro

Seventeen years in, you’d think that Toro — the tapas-style restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chefs Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer — would be beyond the buzz stage, but this restaurant remains as noteworthy as ever. The menu boasts Spanish stalwarts like pan con tomate and patatas bravas, but dig a little deeper for hidden gems like the Ghost King Thai Fried Chicken Sandwich, featuring spicy fried chicken tamed by cooling avocado ranch and som tum, tangy green papaya salad.

Grotto

Now celebrating its 21st year, Beacon Hill’s Grotto offers upscale Italian cuisine to a well-heeled crowd. Although the menu offers the classics (chicken Parmigiano, mushroom risotto, and spaghetti and meatballs with the restaurant’s homemade sauce), there are some surprises, like the Wellington, beef tenderloin and wild mushrooms wrapped together in pastry, baked, and served with a picture-perfect red wine sauce.

Saltie Girl

Dedicated to the riches of the sea, Saltie Girl in Boston’s Back Bay, is a fish lover’s dream in a fish lover’s city. Kathy Sidell’s menu is slim, focusing on local classics — don’t skip the fried Ipswich clams, and, of course, the Gloucester lobster roll. There are some less-traditional offerings on hand, too, like the snow crab toast served with avocado, pistachios, and stracciatella — mozzarella that has been soaked in sweet cream and practically melts in the mouth. Like the freshest seafood, it tastes exactly of where it comes from.

Shy Bird

In Cambridge’s Kendall Square, find this modest-but-zeitgeisty restaurant dedicated to the fine art of cooking the perfect rotisserie bird. Shy Bird isn’t shy about perfection, it turns out, and this all-day café excels at cooking chicken and drawing a crowd. It goes without saying that the whole bird is the required order here. You can add on sauces, too, such as chipotle barbecue, honey mustard, and pecorino ranch. But thin and crisp french fries, seasoned with rosemary and black pepper, are the perfect accoutrement to chicken, it turns out, as is the restaurant’s ESPCO warm pretzel, which comes with its own side of honey mustard.

Troquet on South

Once one of the Back Bay’s most notable French spots (it opened in 2002), Troquet relocated in 2017 to a larger space. But the restaurant continues its tradition of French with a twist — and a cheeky one at that. Classic French items include the Lyonnaise salad, with a soft-poached quail egg, bacon lardons, and Dijon vinaigrette; Hudson Valley foie gras on toasted brioche with green strawberry jam; and a charcuterie platter. But you can also order the playful — and delicious — Boston Speed Dog, a half-pound all-beef hot dog topped with chili sauce, onions, sweet relish, and mustard.

Artu

This classic North End Italian restaurant has been going strong for 30 incredible years, and yet reservations are just as hard to come by now as they were decades ago. Housemade pastas may be the key to the restaurant’s longstanding popularity (the spaghetti carbonara is a delight every single time), although the large and meandering menu provides something for everyone: pizzas, classic Italian American meat and vegetable entrées, and even homemade cannoli.

The Elephant Walk

Originally opened in 1991 in Somerville, The Elephant Walk has served Cambodian-French fusion to hungry Bostonians from its South End location since 2014. Crispy pork dumplings with jicama and wild lime leaves, traditional Khmer noodle soup, and the vegan seared tofu and grilled vegetables served in a ginger curry are all necessary orders.

La Voile

Occupying a spot on what is perhaps Boston’s toniest street — Newbury Street, that is — La Voile has been serving Bostonians Gallic cuisine since way back in 2005, with no sign of slowing. Where else can you find an entire delivery category dedicated entirely to foie gras (served both in terrine and seared form)? Pro tip: Order them both. The menu here is divinely French, from the flawless escargots in garlic and parsley butter to the Dover sole meunière seared in hazelnut butter, capers, and lemon. La Voile proves that classic is always in style.

Aquitaine

The restaurant row on Tremont Street began, in many ways, with Seth Woods’ 1998 debut of Aquitaine, the premier bistro of Boston’s South End. Over two decades later, the restaurant is still going strong, serving classics like the iconic truffle burger, made with dry-aged beef, cheddar cheese, sweet onion, and truffle sauce. For dessert? The Tahitian vanilla crème brûlée is hard — if not impossible — to resist.

Bar ’Cino

Newport, Rhode Island, import Bar ’Cino opened in Brookline in 2020, and they brought their signature Providence-style grilled pizzas with them. But there’s more than just pizza to enjoy at this casual, vibe-y spot. Delight in the appetizer of slightly spicy baked clams, which arrives in a savory broth of butter, white wine, tomatoes, and chiles. The grilled Margherita pizza, with fontina, olive oil, Parmesan, scallions, and basil is a must, but order the risotto, too: it comes with peas, shrimp, lemon, and bright, fresh arugula, and is made with Carnaroli rice, known as the king of Italian rices.

Hojoko

Tim and Nancy Cushman are responsible for a host of buzzy Boston restaurants, including the mercilessly upscale O Ya. Hojoko, which opened in 2015 in the Fenway neighborhood, is a casual Japanese tavern serving everything from ramen to sushi to kimchi fried rice. The Funky Chicken Ramen, made with a 48-hour chicken broth, soy egg, and robata-grilled chicken, is a small masterpiece, as is the shockingly good Wagyu cheeseburger: a chuck and short rib blend topped with American cheese, dashi pickles, red onion, and special sauce, served with fries. And don’t discount the humble kimchi fried rice, made with tiger shrimp, Nueske’s bacon, a fried egg, nori, scallion-ginger oil, and gochujang.

Coppa

Now celebrating its 12th birthday, Coppa took on Neapolitan-style pizza even before it was Beantown cool. Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette’s South End Italian restaurant, known for its pies, is a Boston must. Eleven-inch pizzas offer a charred, chewy crust and diverse toppings; the ’nduja, with the traditional spicy Calabrian pork sausage, roasted eggplant, mozzarella, ricotta, and oregano is a standout pie. The restaurant extends beyond pizza, too, with decadent and exceptionally executed items like the gemelli with braised rabbit, Swiss chard, green olives, orange, Parmesan, and shishito sugo.

Myers + Chang

Power couple Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang are the names behind Myers + Chang, the 15-year-old Asian-inspired South End restaurant. Myers + Chang is relentlessly popular, but then, who wouldn’t clamor for black pepper surf-and-turf noodles, spicy stir-fried wheat noodles served with beef, shrimp, bell peppers, peanuts, and cilantro? It’s equally hard to pass up the grilled sweet summer corn with Sriracha butter, the spicy Taiwanese fried chicken thigh with kohlrabi slaw, and the shoyu tuna and spicy salmon poke.

MIDA

Opened in 2016 under the capable hands of so-called pasta wizard (and member of the 2020 class of Food and Wine Best New Chefs) Douglass Williams, this South End restaurant may be one of the hardest reservations to score in all of Boston. The pasta, of course, remains of premium importance. The lemony classic carbonara is a must, as is the spaccatelli al pesto, made spicy and savory with the addition of Calabrian chiles.

Harvest

Since 1975, Harvest has been a welcome presence in Harvard Square, offering what was, at the time, the city’s first whiff of farm-to-table cuisine. Snagging a table in 2022 is just as hard as it was half a century ago, and that’s because of the restaurant’s peerless dishes, like their savory composed salad of strawberries and rhubarb (Harry’s berries, compressed rhubarb, labneh, cardamom tahini, and curried almonds), Prime hanger steak with herb fries, swordfish pastrami served with a carrot mustard and bread-and-butter pickles, and a broad selection of New England-produced cheeses.

Buttonwood

Ever since Buttonwood opened its Newton Highlands doors in 2018, it has remained one of the Boston area’s most sought-after dining reservations. The restaurant, which is part of the same group as two other popular Newton Centre establishments (The Sycamore and Little Big Diner), specializes in rustic, rib-sticking food like cast-iron cornbread with honey-Tabasco butter, a grilled pork rib chop with ricotta-roasted garlic polenta, and a compelling roasted half Crystal Valley chicken with stewed beans and braised kale.

Citrus & Salt

The West Coast vibe doesn’t come early or often to Boston, but Citrus & Salt, which opened in 2017, is a welcome — and popular — exception. Chef Jason Santos’ Baja concept has a loyal fan base that has made this restaurant a buzzy downtown institution, with its grilled street corn (topped, cheekily, with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), pulled pork carnitas crunchy tacos with lime-cabbage slaw and, to finish, Dole Whip — a take on the proprietary soft serve made famous by Disney Parks.

FuGaKyu Japanese Cuisine

This cavernous Japanese restaurant, located in Brookline, opened in 1998 and continues to draw regulars year in and year out. The restaurant boasts a long and diverse menu, which includes maki rolls and nigiri (it’s hard to pass up the foie gras nigiri: pan-seared foie, spicy daikon, scallion, sesame, and ponzu), noodles, cooked and raw entrées, and even fried dishes like katsu. For dessert, pursue decadence with the apple harumaki, a deep-fried spring roll filled with apple and served with a mango sauce and ice cream.

Vialé

Vialé had a reputation to live up to when it opened in 2015 in Cambridge’s Central Square, where stalwart Rendezvous once lived. The new concept — Italian, with a focus on an exceptional bar program — won guests over quickly and formidably. Over half a decade later, Vialé’s buzz has hardly worn off. The pillow-soft gnocchi, cloaked in a rosemary-flecked wild boar Bolognese, may be just one reason why. Another: duck croquettes, served with an aioli made with guanciale.

Legal Sea Foods Copley Place

Opened in 1950 by the Berkowitz family in Cambridge’s Inman Square, Legal Sea Foods is a Massachusetts institution. It is shocking to see how busy these restaurants are all these years later — until you consider how good the seafood is. The signature crab cake, made with lump crabmeat and served with a seasonal salad, is always a winner. But there may be no better delivery in all of Boston than the steamed Gulf of Maine lobster, which is served with a choice of two sides.

Lolita Fort Point

Tacos, tortas, and margaritas are the point at this Mexican eatery that expanded from an original Back Bay footprint in 2017. Given the fact that Lolita’s popularity outgrew its original brick-and-mortar space, it should come as no surprise that this restaurant continues to draw long lines. Who can resist the hot queso dip, after all, with its Oaxaca, Jack, and cheddar cheeses, green chiles, cilantro, and taco spice? Margaritas are available for delivery, too, if you’re 21 or older. The spicy cucumber version, made with serrano-infused tequila, lime, cucumber, and a house orange liqueur, is a winner.

Shojo

Innovative Chinese cuisine is the name of the game at Shojo, Brian Moy’s restaurant that is so popular that it has just recently opened a third location, in Cambridge. But at the original location — Boston’s Chinatown — which is celebrating a decade of good restaurant fortune, diners can enjoy such delights as the Wu Tang Tiger-Style Ribs with Thai basil, chile oil, peanuts, and lime; duck fat fries, served with a Sriracha aioli; and the Far East Baja-Style Fish Tacos, a fusion dish combining the best of Mexico (pico de gallo, corn tortillas) and Southeast Asia (kaffir lime, for instance).

Black Lamb

Boston’s South End welcomed the Black Lamb in 2019, an American Brasserie with a dedicated following. The flavors here are clean and straightforward: A raw bar with tuna poke and shrimp ceviche is exactly what a warm day requires. Burgers are the brasserie’s pride and joy, and the lamb version is the required order, with its cloak of whipped feta, Calabrian chile, and pickled onion. For the grand finale, the restaurant offers an American classic: a slice of cheesecake, of course, but made with an amaretti crust.

Little Donkey

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette may be the unofficial culinary kings of Boston, and it’s not hard to see why. With a portfolio of restaurants that spans cultures and techniques, the duo has made it their business to bring excellent food to Beantown. In 2016 they added Little Donkey in Cambridge’s Central Square neighborhood to their roster, a chef-driven restaurant serving small plates. The internationally driven menu means you can order unstoppably delicious items like the manti, or Istanbul meat ravioli, topped with a garlic, sour cream, and red pepper butter. The vegetarian empanada is filled with Impossible chorizo and mushrooms and served alongside a charred tomato salsa. And definitely try the East-meets-West barbecue, the grilled kalbi: a Korean-cut beef short rib with an Alabama white sauce and spicy pickles.

Tony & Elaine’s

Although it may feel as old as many of the other red-sauce joints in the North End, Tony & Elaine’s has only graced the ’hood with its presence since 2019. And yet, you’d be as lucky to get a table there as you would at Giacomo’s, or any other desirable Hanover haunt. Do order the spaghetti and meatballs, and the garlic bread, too. And add the lasagna, made with the restaurant’s Sunday sauce, as well as the short ribs, meatballs, sausage, Parmesan, and mozzarella — all worth sharing with the table.

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Hannah Selinger

Use the code SPOTLIGHT10 for $10 off your first order of $30 or more.