KEY TO TYPICAL ENTREE PRICES
$$10 OR LESS
$$$11 to $15
$$$$16 to $25
$$$$$26 and up
Mooncusser Fish House / $$$$ At Mooncusser Fish House, elegant food is served on beautiful china, brought to cloth-covered tables by courteous servers. Much of the restaurant’s success derives from the simple-yet-not-so-simple thing of a good piece of fish cooked well. It’s a classic city restaurant. To see the aesthetic in one plate, order the smoked scallop terrine, a bipartite slice with a jouncy texture, the bottom half flecked with chives, the top embedded with chunks of scallop. It’s served with house-made crackers sweetly pricked with fork tines — their hominess feels like a mark of care. 304 Stuart Street, Boston, 617-917-5193, mooncusserfishhouse.com — Devra First
Faialense Sport Club / $$ Each Friday night, the Faialense Sport Club draws a crowd. (Call ahead for reservations.) There is some concern that, by the time we are seated, the kitchen will have run out of octopus. But we are in luck — a charred tendril curls across a thick white plate, draped with a strip of roasted red pepper and nestled beside boiled potatoes in a pool of olive oil. It’s simple, just right. There’s also salt cod with chickpeas; small, whole grilled dorada (sea bream); thick steaks with fries. I see someone eating seafood stew and think: next time. There’s flan for dessert, and better espresso than you’ll find at many local coffee shops. It’s a feast for far less than a fortune. 1121 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-868-5030 — D.F.
Pokeworks / $$ Pokeworks offers a taste of Hawaii in a fast-casual setting — raw, cubed salmon and tuna served atop rice, kale noodles, or greens, or in burrito form. You can get creative, with add-ons such as organic tofu and blanched kale. Try the poke bowls: tubs of organic brown or sushi rice topped with your choice of ahi or albacore tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallops, chicken or tofu. Add mix-ins — think edamame, seaweed, and orange slices — and sauce, then top your creation with avocado, pickled ginger, wasabi, green onions, on and on. Not confident in your ability to customize? Choose from signature bowls, such as Spicy Ahi, with green and sweet onions, or Sweet Ginger Chicken, topped with spicy ginger sauce. 1440 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-441-2999, pokeworks.com — Kara Baskin
Casa B / $$$ Alberto Cabre and his wife, Angelina Jockovich, opened Casa B, a tapas restaurant and cocktail bar, in 2011. Cabre draws inspiration from the spicy Spanish Caribbean cuisine of Puerto Rico and the Atlantic coast of Colombia. Among the platitos, a favorite was calabaza asada: grilled butternut squash with crispy shallots in a spicy honey sauce. The squash was crisp outside and warm and chewy inside, with the glaze adding zing. Equally fabulous was an unusual small plate of spicy organic wild mushrooms served on grilled sweet-potato slices. The menu includes a half-dozen platos, or large plates, which range from yucca gnocchi to Puerto Rican plantain mash stuffed with garlic shrimp. 253 Washington Street, Somerville, 617-764-2180, casabrestaurant.com — Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart
Celeste / $$$ Peruvian chef JuanMa Calderon runs Celeste, a Union Square eatery with an open kitchen and a busy little bar. Dishes that make Celeste stand out include the ceviche, spicy potato terrine with tuna salad or shrimp, big plates of tenderloin beef stir-fried with tomato and onion, lamb stew swirled with cilantro and canary beans, and boiled potatoes covered with creamy huancaina sauce, made with aji amarillo, a mild, slightly fruity yellow chili pepper. 21 Bow Street, Somerville, 617-616-5319, celesteunionsquare.com — K.B.
NORTH OF THE CITY
Angelica’s / $$$ At Angelica’s, you might be too full to eat before your meal arrives. A synchronized concert of wait staff delivers delicious starters, all complimentary: a golf ball-sized corn fritter dusted with powdered sugar and maraschino cherry juice; a meaty fried chicken wing; crackers and homemade bean dip. The piece de resistance was a golden popover served warm. The Americana menu features many classic beef, seafood, and chicken dishes. 49 South Main Street (Route 114), Middleton, 978-750-4900, angelicasmiddleton.com — Kathy Shiels Tully
Baity Restaurant / $$ You’ll find Egyptian-style home cooking at Baity. Offerings range from dishes familiar to Americans — grape leaves, baba ganoush, lamb and chicken kebob wraps — to a variations of traditional dishes such as hawawshi and fateer. For the hawawshi, ground meat and other fillings are stuffed into pita bread dough and baked. Or opt for the fateer, a kind of savory pastry with ingredients tucked between layers of flaky dough. 84 Spring Street, Medford, 781-391-9000, facebook.com/BaityMedford — Stephanie Schorow
Counter Kitchen & Bar / $$$ Located in The Hotel Salem, Counter Kitchen & Bar is a fun, funky spot that’s ideal for a post-work drink, a quick bite, or a full meal. “We’re calling it a modern take on a lunch counter,” says head chef Justin Perdue. The Counter doesn’t have an extensive menu, which is intentional, says the chef, so he can perfect his offerings and change items based on the seasons. 209 Essex Street, Salem, 978-451-4818, countersalem.com — Brion O’Connor
Sichuan Gourmet / $$ Tucked into an unprepossessing stretch of retail is some of the purest, spiciest Sichuan food you’ll find in these parts. My go-to takeout order includes Cheng Du spicy dumplings and Sichuan wontons with spicy chile sauce. Owner Zhong Li opened the first Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica in 2002. Now he maintains a mini-empire, with his newest branch in Burlington. His signature dishes (“Sichuan Delicacies”) are an electric mix of chiles, bean paste, and garlic, savory red oil pooling at the bottom of every bowl, best sopped up with boiled white rice. 91 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, 781-221-7288, laosichuan.com — K.B.
SOUTH OF THE CITY
The Atlantic Bistro / $$$$ Chef and owner Chris Thibeault brings a touch of French flair to The Atlantic Bistro. The offerings are few, but diverse, delicious, and locally sourced. Virtually everything is made from scratch, to order. The French cassoulet consisted of white beans, Toulouse sausage, confit duck leg, and bacon lardon, and was a rich, decadent dish and abundant enough for leftovers. The duck was perfectly crispy outside and moist within, all of it fall-off-the-bone tender. 167 Spring Street, Marion, 774-553-5314, theatlanticbistro.com — Paul E. Kandarian
Gyro & Kebab House / $$$ On the Automile is Gyro & Kebab House, where Levent Akyol makes the Turkish food of his homeland with his wife, Valentina (she’s from Siberia). Order at the counter and your meal comes to the table, warm homemade bread first, with a bottle of spicy red pepper sauce and a mild yogurt sauce. They make the dough for their lahmacun, which they call “Turkish-style pizza.” These big rounds are really nothing like pizza — they have so much flavor and no cheese, but instead ground lamb mixed with finely chopped peppers. 1275 Boston Providence Turnpike (Route 1), Norwood, 781-352-2277, gyrokebabhouse.com — Sheryl Julian
Shaking Crab / $$$ A New England-Asian take on the Cajun seafood boil so popular in the South, Shaking Crab’s main offering is steamed shellfish drenched in one of four sauces and served peel-and-eat style. Sit at a table full of bags of shrimp, lobster, crawfish, mussels, crab, or another crustacean, don a bib and plastic gloves, peel (or crack) your food, and eat it with your hands. 18 Cottage Avenue, Quincy, 617-481-0054, shakingcrabquincy.com — Joan Wilder
WEST OF THE CITY
Captain’s Table & Take Away / $$$ The restaurant beside Captain Marden’s Seafoods, Captain’s Table & Take Away, does simple fish better than I’ve had it anywhere. Haddock with a buttery crumb topping is one of the many things done well. The fish is juicy and flakes with the touch of a fork, cooked just to the point of doneness and not a second longer. 279 Linden Street, Wellesley, 781-235-0860, captainmardens.com — S.J.
Jana Grill and Bakery / $$ This restaurant blends the food traditions of Lebanese and Armenian cultures with those of the broader Mediterranean. Flatbreads are the place to start — and the Ajarian khachapuri is comforting and sublime. The airy bread dough is shaped into an oblong reminiscent of a boat, filled with egg, mozzarella cheese, herbs, and spices, then baked to brown the cheese and set the egg white while maintaining its wobbly yellow yolk. Jana’s custom-built charcoal oven imparts a unique taste to kebabs and other menu items. 2 Watertown Street, Watertown; 617-420-5555, janagrill.com — Rachel Lebeaux