Boston’s chefs have a long history of inventiveness. Beantown invented Boston Baked Beans, the Boston Cream Pie, the Parker House Roll, and coined the term “scrod” for a type of fish. But if these foods strike you as, well, a little commonplace, you’ll be happy to know that Boston is very much an epicurean’s delight with more than enough top-notch restaurants to excite the most jaded of haut palates.
The town’s finest establishments are mostly French-inspired and are spread through the South End and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This Francophile leaning is not surprising given that Julia Child, who taught Americans how to cook French, lived in Massachusetts for most of her life—and her famed television series of the 1960s originated at Boston’s public television station, WGBH.
Hanover Street, in Boston’s famed North End, is literally nothing but restaurants and pastry shops: serving food from all regions of Italy to suit every budget. Boston also has its own Chinatown, near the South End. Newbury Street, meanwhile, can be hit or miss: but there’s plenty to chose from and half the fun of dining out there is simply walking from one restaurant to the next. If you’re easily overwhelmed by choices, the editors of RECORD offer the following suggestions.
A mistral is a type of cold, dry wind that blows through the south of France, but there’s nothing cold about the atmosphere or food of Mistral—and the only dry things you’ll find are whites in the restaurant’s acclaimed selection of more than 400 wines. In an elegant South End space, chef Jamie Mammano serves up his unique take on Mediterranean French cuisine. Popular menu mainstays include the tuna tartar and a thin-crust pizza that’s topped with beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes, and white truffle oil. While Mistral’s dining room is for serious gourmands, its bar is considered the classiest pick-up joint for Boston’s beautiful people.
2. Hamersley’s Bistro
Chef Gordon Hamersley trained with Wolfgang Puck at the legendary Ma Maison in Los Angeles before spending a year in the south of France and then opening his own restaurant, Hamersley’s Bistro, in a cozy space next to the Boston Center for the Arts in 1987. More than two decades later, it’s consistently voted one of Boston’s top restaurants—and it’s easy to see why. The menu changes seasonally and relies on locally grown produce. Hamersley makes a duck confit that’s to die for, as well as a roasted chicken with garlic, lemon, and parsley whose simple ingredient list belies an epicurean masterpiece. But Hamersley is also one of the few French chefs who actually respects vegetarians—the bistro offers a special prix-fixe menu that’s better than any veggie-specialty restaurant could ever hope to imitate.
If Wolfgang Puck begat Gordon Hamersley, then Hamersley begat Jody Adams—who helped Hamersley open his restaurant and was his sous chef until 1994, when she opened her own establishment, Rialto, in the Charles Hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Although you’ll find French and Spanish dishes on the menu at Rialto, Adams’ style relies on fusing New England ingredients with Italian tradition. In practice, that means appetizers such as lobster and bass ravioli in wine pasta with cucumber fondue and caviar, and entrees including juniper brined pork loin and fried bacon bundles with citrus braised fennel. Adams’ dishes are not the only works of art at Rialto: paintings in the dining room are on loan from Newbury Street’s Gallery Naga. Arthur Dion, the gallery’s director, raves: “The food’s superb at Rialto and they respect art and artists so much that we made an exception to our ‘no art in restaurants’ policy.”
4. Lala Rokh
In the Persian language, “Lala Rokh” is a term of endearment that means “tulip cheeks.” In Boston’s Beacon Hill, Lala Rokh is a Persian restaurant whose complex, spice-infused dishes will leave you, at the very least, feeling rosy-cheeked. Prepared by a brother and sister team who own the restaurant, the most-talked about appetizers include a roasted eggplant dish and a lemony soup, while the “Chelo Kabob,” a marinated meat and basmati rice combo, is an entrée not to be missed. The restaurant’s intimate main dining room, bedecked with Persian art and warm lighting, creates an atmosphere that’s every bit as romantic as the food.
5. 29 Newbury Street
With so many restaurants, cafés, and bars shouldering space on Newbury Street, it’s easy to be paralyzed by the choices. Luckily, there’s only one address you need to know when it comes to food: 29 Newbury Street. In warm months, enjoy cocktails on the outdoor patio. If it’s a tad colder, belly up to the bar indoors—or head to the dining room for some of the best seafood in Boston. Regulars come for dishes including the calamari and crispy soft-shell crab, but 29 Newbury’s New American menu guarantees everyone in the dining party will find something to like. While you’re eating, check out the restaurant’s artwork, supplied by Commenos Fine Arts, just a few doors down at No. 9 Newbury.
Reservations are highly recommended for Salts, located near the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts: not only is the food excellent, the dining room is very small. This bistro has been through a few iterations over the years, but the quality of its food—currently New American with a hint of exoticism—has remained consistently high. The menu is seasonal and relies on local produce. Recent gastronomic symphonies included a potage of fava beans with leek fondue, lemon thyme, garlic toast oil, and potato.