Best Restaurant Meals in Greater Boston, 2023
From exciting newcomers to the classics, here are the Greater Boston restaurants we loved in 2023.
The restaurant habits of a food editor can look a little weird sometimes, and 2023 was no exception for me. There was that afternoon chowder crawl—I highly recommend not doing this in one fell swoop—while doing research for our annual Best of Boston awards. There were a couple months when I’m pretty sure I ate nothing but steak tips while working on a feature on the uniquely New England dish’s origins. There were the occasional double-dinner nights when I just had to check out a couple more spots. There was a day when I judged roughly 30 heirloom tomatoes, ended up walking away with a whole watermelon, and proceeded to lug that watermelon approximately 10 miles around Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and Medford on foot because there were a few restaurants, bakeries, and shops I had already planned to check out on my trek home, in the name of research, and I was not going to let that juicy watermelon stop me.
All of which is to say I enjoyed some truly outstanding food in 2023. As the year draws to a close, I wanted to share some of my 2023 favorites with you, from the super-splurge-y special-occasion spots to that time I desperately tried to be discreet ripping into giant, messy bags of barbecue delivery while watching fairly quiet live music inside a distillery that welcomed outside food but no one else seemed to be eating any. It happens.
The best of the best.
These are the meals that I’m still thinking about months later—a mix of restaurants new and old (and one pop-up supper club!) that reinforced my excitement for Greater Boston dining scene this year.
I have a soft spot for any restaurant playlist (or Doctor Who episode) that includes Boney M.’s “Rasputin,” but that’s only one reason why my first visit to the Eaves, tucked away in Somerville’s Bow Market, was one of the most memorable meals of my year. One thing that makes a restaurant so successful—at least in my eyes—is that it’s transportive, and the Eaves excels at this, whisking you away from a tiny former storage space into an energetic Vietnam bar, with subtle callbacks to New England. Take advantage of the taster-sized cocktails for variety, and be sure to order the duck gyoza if available.
1 Bow Market Way (Bow Market), Union Square, Somerville, instagram.com/midnight_eaves.
I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in Greek cuisine, but even a novice will sit down for a meal at Brookline newcomer Bar Vlaha and realize this isn’t the typical menu we usually see at Greek restaurants around here. This is a celebratory take on the rustic cuisine of the nomadic Vlach people—think freshwater fish, clay pot-braised dishes, and mushrooms. I know I’m not alone in obsessing over the manitaria—light-as-air, crispy fried oyster mushrooms topped with an herby parsley spread. Creative cocktails like a tzatziki milk punch or the tropical Yucatan Yiayia add fun at this outstanding destination from the Krasi crew.
1653 Beacon St., Washington Square, Brookline, 617-906-8556, barvlaha.com.
Nightshade Noodle Bar
Hop in the car and head to Lynn for this one: Nightshade Noodle Bar would be worth the drive even if it were a few states away. Your meal will be a tasting-menu-driven journey of epic proportions, whether you opt for seven courses, 21 (!!), or something in between. (You might not even see those namesake noodles for a few courses.) The high-technique, seafood-heavy cuisine draws inspiration and flavors from France and Vietnam; the space feels like a moody jungle with plenty of greenery; the cocktails are lovely. If someone asks for an adventurous, no-holds-barred, special-occasion recommendation, this is always my first response.
73 Exchange St., Lynn, 781-780-9470, nightshadenoodlebar.com.
If there’s Thai food, I’m there. (I own way too many Thai cookbooks.) So when the pop-up supper club Gaaeng showed up on my radar a while back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the beautiful dishes its team posted on social media, dishes unlike any I’d tried. The stars finally aligned for me to attend, cozying up with about a dozen strangers in a Greater Boston apartment, where we dined together—free of utensils—off a table laid with banana leaves. There’s no greater sense of community than sharing a meal, and life stories, like this. It’s even better when the food is incredible, from pomelo and crab paste salad to grilled sticky rice with cured pork and egg to Isan-style (spicy!) grilled whole fish. Keep a close eye on Gaaeng’s Instagram account for the latest menu and event announcements; you’ll have to be quick to reserve a coveted spot.
Greater Boston, instagram.com/gaaeng.bos.
Plans for Comfort Kitchen were first announced in 2019—a vision for a thrilling renovation of a historic comfort station in the Dorchester neighborhood of Upham’s Corner, showcasing flavors of the African diaspora. A few years of successful pop-ups followed while the team waited for the new space to be complete, and it finally opened in early 2023, quickly snapping up accolades both local and national. Counter-service café by day, reservations-required dinner at night, Comfort Kitchen hits the right notes at any hour. I love the daytime pastries and Nepali milk tea, while dinner entrees like the yassa chicken and potato curry cakes have been on my mind all year.
611 Columbia Rd., Dorchester, Boston, 617-329-6910, comfortkitchenbos.com.
I treated myself to an extravagant omakase feast for my birthday this year and was delighted to find that O Ya is still as extraordinary as ever. I love the hints of familiarity; there are several showstopping dishes that haven’t left the menu since my first meal there over a decade ago. There’s the kumamato oyster with watermelon pearls that starts off the meal, for example, or the foie gras with chocolate balsamic kabayaki near the end. But that’s not to say O Ya is stuck in the past; there’s plenty new to discover, too, and flawless service to hold your hand throughout 20-something courses of wonder. This one is a splurge, for sure—but a worthy one, if you’re a sushi lover.
9 East St., Leather District, Downtown Boston, 617-654-9900, o-ya.restaurant.
Field & Vine
This Somerville spot is purely delightful. I’m running out of ways to describe how pretty it is and have probably uttered some combination of the words “woodland,” “fairytale,” and “magic” too many times—but that’s what it looks like! Oh, and the food. The food is perfection. This is farm-to-table in the best way: local, seasonal ingredients with unexpected, global pops up flavor. Beef tartare with “lots of herbs” and nuoc cham aioli? Yep. Sweet potato with lime labneh and almond salsa macha? Sure thing. The condiments get particularly creative here, letting the best produce, seafoods, and meats of the season truly shine. If only they’d bottle up that grilled strawberry Buffalo sauce.
9 Sanborn Ct., Union Square, Somerville, 617-718-2333, fieldandvinesomerville.com.
New and Notable
Early visits to these newbies were very promising.
A lot of restaurants opened this year, spanning a wide variety of genres. Here are a few I fell in love with quickly—and if you don’t see your favorite newbie here, it probably means I just haven’t had a chance to give it a fair shot yet. My early-2024 to-eat list is already jam-packed, and the year hasn’t even started.
Lehrhaus, DW French, Gufo
Mac and cheese kugel, French onion soup, garlicky head-on shrimp—oh my! This trio of attention-grabbing 2023 openings are hitting the right notes just a few months (or weeks) into their tenures.
First, there’s Lehrhaus, which bills itself as a “Jewish tavern and house of learning.” On the culinary side, that means a kosher, pescetarian menu that plays with global flavors from the Jewish diaspora. It goes beyond what a lot of us Jewish kids in the Northeast with Ashkenazic roots grew up on, and it’s a lot of fun regardless of your heritage. And don’t miss the cocktails! As for DW French, from Mida’s chef and owner Douglass Williams, you’ll leave full of cheese and carbs and happiness; try the buttery escargots, the elegant trout almondine, and the flawless crème brûlée. And Gufo, from the SRV team: My kid loved running around the bocce court; I loved eating my weight in pasta and those tasty aforementioned shrimp. The snack platter was particularly satisfying—especially the eggplant caponata—and I am rarely enthusiastic about eggplant.
Grumble grumble, out-of-town chains, grumble grumble. Look, we all would love more locally owned, indie spots…but the occasional import from elsewhere can be a hit. New York’s Borrachito—a taqueria-in-the-front, hidden-cocktail-bar-in-the-back that opened in the Seaport this year—has my undying love, thanks to the cheesy, super-savory short rib and bone marrow birria quesadilla I devoured there this fall.
70 Pier 4 Blvd., Suite 270, Seaport District, Boston, borrachito.com.
Zhi Wei Cafe, Somenya, Sugidama Soba & Izakaya
Who doesn’t love noodles, especially in colder weather? Greater Boston got some great new noodle options this year, including Zhi Wei Cafe in the Leather District. The Downtown Boston spot specializes in hearty Lanzhou beef noodle soup from northwestern China, which features silky noodles in a delicate broth spiked with just the right amount of chili oil, thinly sliced beef, daikon, and cilantro.
We’ve also got a soba double-feature: Somenya opened in Chinatown late this year, featuring big bowls of the chewy buckwheat noodles; and Somerville’s Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, which has been around for a few years, just relocated into a more prominent Davis Square address. At Somenya, order the spicy beef soba with shaved ribeye and tempura flakes; end with the nutty buckwheat ice cream. At Sugidama my pick is the pork kimchi hot soba, with the kimchi adding a bit of funk and heat.
Zhi Wei Cafe, 104 South St., Leather District, Downtown Boston, zhiweicafe.com; Somenya, 23 Hudson St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-993-3368; Sugidama Soba & Izakaya, 234 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-764-5770, sugidamasoba.com.
Tasting menus and such.
In the course of researching our annual Top 50 Restaurants list (and, sure, celebrating some birthdays, anniversaries, and the like), I indulged in a fair amount of special-occasion-worthy dining. I included a few stunners in the All-Stars section above, such as Nightshade Noodle Bar and O Ya; here are some additional fantastic places for fancy nights out.
The Splurge-y Tasting Menus
Lenox Sophia, Umami Omakase, Farmacia
Whether eclectic modern American, sushi, or cocktails strike your fancy, there’s a Boston-area tasting menu for it. Lenox Sophia is self-described as “casual dining”—and, sure, it feels a little casual in the tiny South Boston space, almost like you’re in chef-owner Shi Mei’s kitchen instead of a restaurant (especially if you get a counter seat, which I recommend!). But make no mistake: this BYOB, tasting-menu-only spot is worthy of your special occasion. The five-course menu, either omnivore or vegetarian, delights with unexpected flavors and textures, from the cloud-like chickpea panisse to a “gobsmacking” king trumpet mushroom dish.
As for Umami Omakase, our 2023 Best of Boston winner for sushi, prepare for 18 courses of magic (and optional sake pairings), from a velvety seafood chawanmushi to intricately garnished sashimi. For the cocktail connoisseur? Book your ticket a few months in advance for the intimate North End bar Farmacia, with an ever-changing themed cocktail tasting menu. Please, I implore you: Eat ahead of time. There are light snacks included in the tasting—emphasis on light. But if you happen to leave a bit intoxicated and stumble into the Daily Catch around the corner for a giant skillet of garlicky squid ink linguine? I’ve been there and won’t judge you one bit.
Lenox Sophia, 87 A St., South Boston, 617-597-2170, lenoxsophia.com; Umami Omakase, 2372 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, 617-868-2121, umamiomakase.com; Farmacia, 5 North Sq., North End, Boston, farmacianorthend.com.
Tasting Menu or À La Carte
Talulla, Urban Hearth, Juliet
Some of Greater Boston’s excellent high-end restaurants offer tasting menus as well as à la carte menus. In Cambridge’s quiet Huron Village, Talulla, for instance, always has a five-course tasting menu with optional wine pairings available, but the regular menu is equally enticing. The strawberry gazpacho from a late spring menu still lingers in my mind, with smoked almond complementing the sweetness of the berry, not to mention the tender beef teres major (a cut I’d never encountered before) topped with zingy chimichurri.
Also in Cambridge, Urban Hearth beckons with a popular chef’s counter tasting menu I haven’t tried yet, but the à la carte dishes I ate in August have me counting the days until my next meal there. Koji-marinated duck breast with a swoosh of wild blackberry barbecue sauce was particularly memorable, as was the fluffy buttermilk biscuit with smoked maple miso butter. And Juliet, blossoming in its new Somerville space: In September, the “Mavericks” menu impressed, drawing inspiration from Northern California and the Bay Area with, among other dishes, a clear soup packed with concentrated tomato flavor, mussels and calamari, and toasted bits of rice.
Talulla, 377 Walden St., Huron Village, Cambridge, 617-714-5584, talullacambridge.com; Urban Hearth, 2263 Massachusetts Ave., North Cambridge, 617-682-7295, urbanhearth.net; Juliet, 263 Washington St., Union Square, Somerville, 617-718-0262, julietsomerville.com.
Other Date-Night Ideas
Ivory Pearl, Select Oyster Bar, Moona
Ivory Pearl, a swanky-but-fun Brookline seafood joint from the cocktail experts behind Blossom Bar and Baldwin Bar, is dripping with caviar and creative fish dishes. I’m particularly into the tuna steak frites, fired up with a ssamjang butter sauce. Heading more into the realm of Mediterranean-inspired seafood, Select Oyster Bar is a Back Bay classic for high-end dining. (My most recent visit was a solo power lunch, in which I overestimated my appetite and failed to finish a giant, delicious bouillabaisse, but it’s also great for date nights.)
And then there’s Inman Square’s romantic hideaway, Moona, which I returned to this year after a regrettably long absence, spurred first by steak tips research (Moona makes some of the best in town!) and then again to dig into flavorful Eastern Mediterranean small plates like feta fritters with orange blossom honey and crispy coconut shrimp with mango ginger chutney.
Ivory Pearl, 1704 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-487-5297, ivorypearlbar.com; Select Oyster Bar, 50 Gloucester St., Back Bay, Boston, 857-239-8064, selectboston.com; Moona, 243 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge, 617-945-7448, moonarestaurant.com.
Here’s the Beef
Steak tips, fancy steakhouses, and more.
Don’t ask about my cholesterol, but I ate quite a bit of red meat this year. (Here’s to a veggie-filled 2024!) There was the steak tips research, but there were also special-occasion steakhouse meals and other beefy experiences.
Just the Tips
You can jump to my steak tip guide for the full rundown on Greater Boston’s best tips. But I’ll give a shoutout to NewBridge Cafe here—probably my favorite of the old-school spots. It’s got hot cherry peppers, casual neighborhood-institution vibes, everything you’d want from a classic New England steak tip joint.
NewBridge Cafe, 650 Washington Ave., Chelsea, 617-884-0134, newbridgecafe.com.
Grill 23 & Bar, Rare Steakhouse
Because somehow I didn’t get enough meat during the steak tip months, I celebrated my anniversary at Grill 23 & Bar with the 100-day-aged ribeye (and, of course, the famous coconut cake). I also dined at the opulent Rare Steakhouse at Encore Boston Harbor this year, an over-the-top meal that involved a tiny chair to hold my purse, a baked Alaska set on fire tableside, and an impossibly tender domestic wagyu NY strip.
Grill 23 & Bar, 161 Berkeley St., Back Bay, 617-542-2255, grill23.com; Rare Steakhouse, 1 Broadway (Encore Boston Harbor), Everett, 857-770-3300, encorebostonharbor.com/dining-and-nightlife/dining/rare-steakhouse.
And the Cow’s Name Was…
Matsunori Handroll Bar
Speaking of wagyu, Matsunori Handroll Bar debuted in Audubon Circle this year, featuring sushi and A5 wagyu. The latter was served simply during my meal, wrapped in seaweed (handroll-style) and garnished with truffle salt. Right as I was about to take a bite, I was shown a certificate of authenticity, which included the cow’s name, Manami. (I ate it anyway.)
Matsunori Handroll Bar, 900 Beacon St., Audubon Circle/Fenway, Boston, 857-305-3993, matsu-nori.com.
Seven Courses of Beef
Phở Hòa and Ánh Hồng
The Vietnamese meal of bò 7 món showcases beef in seven courses, and the Dorchester collaboration between Phở Hòa and Ánh Hồng is the place to enjoy it locally. I found a butter-grilled, lemongrass-and-sesame-marinated eye of round steak to be particularly memorable, but there’s lots to love among the seven dishes. It’s relatively affordable, too, at around $50 per couple (and a generous amount of food).
Phở Hòa and Ánh Hồng, 1370 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, 617-287-9746, phohoarestaurant.com.
Oldies but Goodies
Some of these mainstays were new to me and I finally visited this year; some are old favorites. They’ve been doing their thing for years—decades, in some cases—and there’s a reason.
Pho Pasteur, Kaju Tofu House, Anchovies
Phở Pasteur, a bustling Vietnamese restaurant perfectly positioned for pre-theater dinner, has been going strong in Chinatown since 1991. I recommend the canh chua cá bông lau, a hot and sour soup with pineapple, tomatoes, and your choice of catfish or salmon. Over in Allston, Korean restaurant Kaju Tofu House will warm your soul with over a dozen types of its signature tofu soup, featuring a rich beef bone broth. Get one of the combos to try a small tofu soup and something else, like bulgogi (my pick), grilled eel, or spicy chicken. In the South End, Anchovies awaits with friendly neighborhood vibes and giant portions of chicken parm—not to mention giant martinis.
Phở Pasteur, 682 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston, 617-482-7467, phopasteurboston.net; Kaju Tofu House, 56 Harvard Ave., Allston, Boston, 617-208-8540; Anchovies, 433 Columbus Ave., South End, Boston, 617-266-5088.
Beyond the City
Moldova Restaurant, Habesha, Spoke Wine Bar
In Newton, Moldova Restaurant’s name helpfully tells you what cuisine to expect…but what is the cuisine of Moldova, exactly? You’ll want to start with the plump pork or potato-and-cheese dumplings before digging into hearty entrees like wine-braised lamb or beef and pork sausages with cabbage salad. Don’t miss the wine list, heavy on selections from, you guessed it, Moldova. While this is the only Moldovan restaurant in Greater Boston, Ethiopian cuisine is a little easier to find around these parts, and one spot in particular landed on my radar this year, the Malden favorite Habesha. Enjoy the spongy, tangy bread—injera—which functions as both plate and utensil for scoops of flavorful meats and vegetables.
Also north of the city, Spoke Wine Bar in Somerville continues to be one of my favorite destinations. This romantic little Davis Square bar has some killer food coming out of its tiny kitchen, and you need to try the sunchoke doughnuts.
Moldova Restaurant, 344 Watertown St., Newton, 617-916-5245, tastemoldova.com; Habesha, 535 Main St., Malden, 781-399-0868, habeshamalden.com; Spoke Wine Bar, 89 Holland St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-718-9463, spokewinebar.com.
Takeout and Delivery
Pit Stop Barbecue, Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe, Café Sushi
Mattapan icon Pit Stop Barbecue doesn’t really have seating and has pretty limited hours, so it’s been daunting trying to trek over there from my home in Medford. Finally, one day, I found myself hanging out within delivery range and leapt at the chance to not-so-gracefully devour a massive container of pulled pork, mac and cheese, candied yams, and cornbread. Equally messy, I ordered from one of my all-time favorites, Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe, this year. There’s no way to politely eat those long, thick, chewy noodles—smothered in garlic and chili pepper—but they’ll cure what ails you. And let’s not forget Café Sushi! It’s very good; you should try it.
Pit Stop Barbecue, 888 Morton St. A, Mattapan, Boston; Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe, 466 Main St., Woburn, 781-938-6888, genescafewoburn.com; Café Sushi, 1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-492-0434, cafesushicambridge.com.
I went to these spots embarrassingly often.
It’s hard to be a regular in this line of work—most of my dining out, by necessity, focuses on places I haven’t been. But occasionally I have the chance to return to a favorite spot, whether cozying up at a Somerville sushi bar for my go-to torched salmon belly or ordering Detroit-style pizza again…and again…from Charlestown.
Moonshine 152, Ebi Sushi
I think I went to Moonshine 152 more than anywhere else this year. How could I resist this South Boston hotspot, full of fusion-y comfort food and chef-owner Asia Mei’s sparkling hospitality? If you haven’t yet indulged in the Ron Swanson Brunch-Inspired Chipotle Pulled Pork Scallion Pancake Quesadilla (whew!), consider 2024 your year. Another regular spot this year? Ebi Sushi, a longtime love in my old neighborhood of Union Square. Torched salmon belly for the win.
I Can’t Believe How Often I Ordered Delivery from…
I’m an equal-opportunity pizza-eater when it comes to styles. I’ll often opt for Neapolitan or New Haven, sure, but I can’t resist a good South Shore bar pizza once in a while, or, apparently, Detroit-style pizza quite frequently. Johnny Pomodoro showed up at my door a lot this year, comforting me with cheesy slabs topped with pepperoni and a drizzle of honey. The house chili crisp and pesto are great extras, and the jumbo chocolate chip cookies are sneakily good.
Johnny Pomodoro, 297 Main St., Charlestown, Boston, 617-337-5505, johnnypomodoro.com.
Dakzen, Boonnoon Market, Crying Thaiger, Mahaniyom
As mentioned above, I probably eat more Thai food than anything else, and I continued to visit some old favorites as much as possible in 2023. Get the khao soi (with crispy pork belly!) or fiery tom yum noodle soup at Dakzen; the ua lao, spicy satay noodles, and orange rosemary Thai tea at Boonnoon Market (and browse the market shelves for goodies to take home); the crying wings and pad see ew at Crying Thaiger; and the nang kai tod (crispy chicken skin) and green papaya pad thai at Mahaniyom (and don’t miss the outstanding bathroom).
Dakzen, 195 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville, 617-718-1759, dakzen.net; BoonNoon Market, 161 Massachusetts Ave., Arlington, 781-316-0059, boonnoonmarket.com; Crying Thaiger, 114 Ferry St., Malden, 781-480-1243, cryingthaigerma.com; Mahaniyom, 236 Washington Street, Brookline, 617-487-5986, mahaniyomboston.com.
Some not-too-fancy faves, great for midday eating.
From sandwiches to birria tacos to roti, here are some of the low-key spots I loved this year, particularly as a middle-of-the-workday escape.
Bánh Mì Ok, Pinoy Kabayan
I occasionally hole up at the downtown Workbar, which overlooks Bánh Mì Ok—making it a logical (and delicious!) lunch choice. Share some crispy egg rolls with an officemate, and then dig into a barbecue pork (my pick), grilled beef, or vegan bánh mì. Newcomer Pinoy Kabayan is also a fast favorite, and a rarity in Greater Boston—one of just a few Filipino restaurants. Enjoy all-day breakfast dishes like the spamsilog (spam, garlic fried rice, and a fried egg) or heartier midday meals like the mechado, a beef and vegetable stew.
Bánh Mì Ok, 44 School St., Downtown Crossing, Boston, 781-378-4022; Pinoy Kabayan, 71 Broad St., Downtown Boston, 617-391-7013, pinoykabayan.com.
Elsewhere in Boston
Peruvian Taste Restaurant, Singh’s Roti Shop
Don’t be dissuaded by Peruvian Taste’s slightly hidden location down an unassuming street near Sullivan Square. Inside, you’ll find a cozy, colorful nook with homey Peruvian and chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) cuisine, from exceptional ceviche to a loaded wonton soup with chicken, quail eggs, and noodles. In Dorchester, find another top lunch pick: Singh’s Roti Shop, home of filling Trinidadian roti (pick your protein, from oxtail to jerk chicken) and irresistible doubles, crispy dough stuffed with sweet-spicy chickpeas. If you haven’t been recently, note that it’s moved to a larger location down the street from the original.
Pizza’s Always Good
Source, the Square Deli
In Harvard Square, Source repeatedly wowed this year with its absolutely-smothered-in-pepperoni pies—I assume the other pizzas there are spectacular, too, but I couldn’t get away from this one, topped with caramelized red onion and vin cotto. In Everett, I’m a Square Deli superfan. At first glance, it’s the type of casual sub shop you’d find in any town, but the naturally leavened pizza (and everything else) is top-notch, made with care and well-sourced ingredients. I acknowledge I have a pepperoni problem, but it’s my pizza of choice here, too, followed closely by the sausage and cherry pepper.
The Birria Tacos and Churro Milkshake of Your Dreams
La Mesa Market
On one of those Square Deli outings, I ran into Old Dirty Boston, who tipped me off to a little market in Chelsea that just so happens to serve ridiculously good birria tacos (and birria burritos, birria ramen, birria pizza…), frozen drinks, and more. Head to La Mesa Market for the birria item of your choice, a milkshake (might I recommend churro?), and some groceries.
La Mesa Market, 416 Crescent Ave., Chelsea, instagram.com/lamesamarket.