KEY TO TYPICAL ENTREE PRICES
$ $10 OR LESS
$$ $11 TO $15
$$$ $16 TO $25
$$$$ $26 AND UP
Nahita / $$$$ Nahita brings together the flavors of Peru, Turkey, Japan, and Mexico in a sumptuous space. Check out the ceviche, sashimi, tacos, and pricey steaks, along with craft cocktails. The vibe here is jungle sophisticate. Try the shareable small plates like shishito peppers or baby artichokes with dried miso, Parmesan, and truffle-yuzu dressing. Or sashimi and its Peruvian cousin, tiradito. Tacos (zucchini blossom, spicy crab, duck carnitas) are served in little wood boxes. Other memorable dishes include a Peruvian-Chinese steamed whole fish. 100 Arlington Street, Boston, 617-457-8130, nahitarestaurant.com — Devra First
Dumpling Daughter / $$ and Vester / $ Dumpling Daughter and Vester are a fast-casual Chinese restaurant and an adjacent Danish-inspired cafe in Kendall Square. The concepts may not seem related, but the people are: Nadia Liu Spelman runs Dumpling Daughter, the second branch of her Weston restaurant, and sister Nicole Liu operates Vester. At Dumpling Daughter, order at the counter and take a number. On the menu are dumplings, of course, filled with pork, vegetables, and more. And steamed buns and snacks such as sticky rice in bamboo leaf and wings glazed in spicy honey and soy sauce. At Vester: all-day breakfast, including pastries, egg and cheese on brioche, and avocado toast. Come for the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwiches, kale salad, and specials such as smorrebrod, the Danish open-faced sandwich. 73 Ames Street, Cambridge, 617-577-8886, dumplingdaughter.com; 617-577-8665, vestercafe.com — D.F.
Pagu / $$$ At Pagu in Central Square, the menu throws a net around Spain, Japan, Taiwan, and of-the-moment American food culture and pulls it comfortably snug. You might order jamón ibérico, the ham made from acorn-fed Spanish pigs. Or beautiful bluefin tartare, local catch layered with avocado, olives, and celery and flavored with Japanese citrus: ponzu and yuzu kosho. And so the cultural mashup begins. Each dish is more eye-catching than the last. What makes these visual acrobatics so delightful is that they’re not just stunts. The food tastes very good. 310 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com — D.F.
Saloniki / $ The Harvard Square location of Greek fast-casual restaurant Saloniki has a larger menu than its siblings in the Fenway and Central Square: daily breakfast, Greek pastries, and a big roster of sandwiches, plates, and small meze. Get a pita stuffed with pomegranate-glazed eggplant, honey-garlic braised pork shoulder, or lemon-oregano grilled chicken, drizzled with interesting sauces: red pepper sesame, garlic yogurt, spicy “secret” house honey. The full cocktail menu is stocked with light Mediterranean-style drinks like the Santorini Spritz, made with Roots Rakomelo (an Aegean honey liqueur), Aperol, lime, and sparking rosé. 24 Dunster Street, Cambridge, 617-945-5877, salonikigreek.com — Kara Baskin
The Table at Season to Taste / $$$$ You can order single dishes at the wine bar, but to experience the full specialness of the place, it is best to go for the tasting menu. Four courses (with a few surprises) and $99 per person, it changes every six weeks or so. There is no tipping here. There are two choices for each course. You and your date can order everything and share. The general structure of the meal is: raw thing, pasta, fish or meat course (a vegetarian menu is available, too), dessert. To begin, one of you might have beef carpaccio with kimchi, pear, pine nuts, and egg yolk in a sesame-soy dressing (possibly the best thing I’ve eaten in this still-young year). A recent third course features local halibut, perfectly cooked, with Swiss chard, couscous, preserved lemon, and the herby green sauce chermoula. Across the table: duck leg a l’orange with blood orange, pomegranate, pistachio, and fennel salad. 2447 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-871-9468, cambridgetable.com — D.F.
El Pelón Taquería/ $ Jim Hoben opened El Pelón in 1998 because he lived nearby, and there weren’t many choices in the area. The menu was basic — tacos, burritos — but his cooks were passionate. Today, El Pelón still feels like an unassuming little neighborhood restaurant: a handful of wobbly tables, framed customer photos, a small walk-up counter, the original menu with some additions. Hoben says he expanded his menu over the years to keep regular customers intrigued. What I like are the plantains. They are warm and starchy, with a sugary, caramelized glaze. Not fancy, but delicious. 92 Peterborough Street, 617-262-9090, elpelon.com — K.B.
Kamakura / $$$$ Hoist chopsticks at Kamakura, a multi-floor oasis. You’ll savor pricey, precious twinkles of sushi and bento boxes framed by magical views of the Custom House and other romantic downtown rooftops that soften any awkward business lunch. (The best views are from the upper-level Kumo lounge.) At dinner, there’s a multi-course tasting menu of small bites: seasoned black cod sashimi, smoked tuna, sake ice cream. At lunch, indulge with a bento lunch in various combinations. 150 State Street, Boston, 617-377-4588, kamakuraboston.com — K.B.
Fuku / $ Fuku is an all-the-rage poultry parlor from Momofuku founder David Chang and his team. Most people get sandwiches served on squishy potato rolls. You can make your own creation, with toppings including neon-yellow spicy cheese sauce, knockout sauce (a tangy Thousand Island-like condiment), spicy cucumbers, and carrot slaw. Loaded fries are splotched with that yellow cheese, ranch, a shower of scallions — and bacon, if you please. Volcano fries are mountainous, fortified with fried chicken, cheese, ranch, and, yes, bacon. Healthier eaters can get spinach or kale salad, with or without griddled chicken bites or thighs. 43 Northern Avenue, Boston, (617) 221-5102, eatfuku.com — K.B.
Mortadella Head / $$ Mortadella Head in Davis Square serves up lavishly accessorized sandwiches, fries, and rectangular Roman-style pizzas. Top your pizza with sauerkraut, French fries, scrambled eggs, honey — “go wild,” the menu suggests. Or choose from more than 25 signature sandwiches on breads from Winter Hill Bakery. There are also many varieties of fries, from Disco (mozzarella, gravy) to Mayflower (turkey, fried stuffing, cranberry sauce). 20 College Avenue, Somerville, 617-996-6680, mortadellahead.com — K.B.
Bar Lyon / $$$ Bar Lyon is a chic cafe in the style of France’s gastronomic capital. It offers an updated take on traditional Lyonnaise cuisine, including terrine en croûte with an intense jellied aspic tucked between tender crust and coarse country pâté; a proper salade Lyonnaise, with frisée, chunky cubes of bacon, nuggets of roast potato, and a perfect poached egg in a piquant, vinegary dressing; and a silky omelette, billed as “baveuse” (literally “slobbery”) enriched with triple-crême cheese. 1750 Washington Street, Boston, 617-904-4020, barlyon.com — Sheryl Julian
Shore Leave / $$ Descend into a vast room with a Trader Vic’s vibe and jungle-themed wallpaper. There’s a long bar, and plenty of little warrens for seating; groups of friends nibble on spicy peanuts and pork belly bao while sipping drinks garnished with pineapple. Small plates draw on the cuisines of Asia: green mango salad, cool raw scallop kinilaw with coconut and onion, chicken wings spiked with tongue-tingling sansho pepper, dan dan wontons, scallion pancakes with king crab dip. 11 William E. Mullins Way, Boston, 617-530-1775, shoreleaveboston.com — D.F.
Alcove / $$$ Where else near North Station can you eat charred avocado with harissa aioli, bigoli with braised duck, and pan-seared sea bream with golden quinoa while sipping a riff on a Sazerac? (You can also get a cheeseburger and a beer.) The menu lands between New England and the Mediterranean: raw bar and charcuterie; small plates such as crab cocktail, octopus with potatoes and black olives, and pickled eggs with vegetables from Sparrow Arc Farm in Maine; house-made pasta, roast chicken, and bouillabaisse; olive oil semifreddo and apple galette. 50 Lovejoy Wharf, 617-248-0050, alcoveboston.com — D.F.
NORTH OF THE CITY
GoGo on the Ocean / $ Winthrop native Roseann Jaworski loves to cook, and she puts her passion to work at GoGo on the Ocean. Re-creations of classic Italian dishes — fresh pasta, arancini, red sauce — all come from recipes stored in her memory. The 40-seat indoor section of the restaurant has an “under the sea” vibe. April through October, there’s a heated 60-seat alfresco dining area overlooking the Crystal Cove marina and the Boston skyline. 561 Shirley Street, Winthrop, 617-846-8866, gogoontheocean.vpweb.com — Kathy Shiels Tully
Nappi’s / $$$ Nappi’s began as a butcher shop and Italian market and slowly transformed into a sandwich shop. About six years ago, it became a full-service restaurant, featuring traditional Italian entrees and appetizers. There’s no formal dinner menu (though there’s a printed lunch menu). Instead, helpful waitresses recite what’s up, and customers choose. Nappi’s accepts cash only and does not serve liquor; customers can bring their own. 370 Salem Street, Medford, 781-391-7900, nappirestaurant.com — Stephanie Schorow
Three Cod Tavern / $ The reputation of a seafood restaurant rests on its fish, and the Three Cod Tavern passes with flying colors. Like the restaurant itself, many of the dishes borrow their names from Marblehead history. You can order the Spirit of ’76 Scallops and Glover by Land & Sea, a surf-and-turf entree named for local Revolutionary War hero John Glover. The seafood here is nothing fancy but highly satisfying all the same. 141 Pleasant Street, Marblehead, 781-639-3263, threecodtavern.com — Coco McCabe and Doug Stewart
Trina’s Starlite Lounge / $ Restaurant veterans Josh Childs, Suzanne Maitland, and Beau Sturm brought their concept of a hip, retro pub to Amesbury’s historic downtown, opening their second Trina’s Starlite Lounge (the first is in Somerville). The menu represents Maitland’s commitment to “comfort grub.” Staples include fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and a half-dozen hot dog options. 37 Main Street, Amesbury; 978-792-5746; trinastarlitelounge.com/amesbury — Brion O’Connor
SOUTH OF THE CITY
5 South Main / $$$ After a nine-year stint as executive chef of Hingham’s upscale Tosca, chef-owner Brian Hennebury is now at work in the small open kitchen of 5 South Main. His Bolognese says ciao. The dinner portion is a big bowl of al dente rigatoni in a clingy ragu, topped with dollops of whipped ricotta. Even better is his cacio e pepe, the deceptively simple cheese-and-pepper dish sometimes used to measure a chef’s skills. 5 South Main Street, Cohasset, 781-383-3555, 5southmain.com — Joan Wilder
Steel & Rye/ $$$$ Steel & Rye is in Lower Falls, on the Dorchester border. Originally built as the garage for a DeSoto dealership, the space is operatic in scale. The menu is small: snacks, apps, pizzas, mains, and a few sides. For the most part, the dishes are elaborate. Confit duck wings with Jamaican jerk sauce pop with the pungent flavors of freshly ground spices. The pizzas are great: Our Margherita is perfectly charred and bubbled. 95 Eliot Street, Milton, 617-690-2787, steelandrye.com — J.W.
WEST OF THE CITY
Balani / $$$ Go to Balani for small plates, snacks, dumplings, pizzas, and jazzy entrees. Find tempting nibbles and mains with flashy flavors from around the globe. Chickpea fries with paprika-sumac mayo and grated manchego, called panisses in Provence, are long, slender rectangles, crisp outside and creamy inside. The burger is griddled, smashed, and slipped into a house-made potato bun with crisp pork belly, cheddar, and Thousand Island dressing. Also on the menu: pulled short-rib stir-fry with homemade spaghetti, crispy adobe fried chicken, and grilled octopus over fava beans. 469 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-472-2805, balaniwaltham.com — S.J.
Green Leaf Vegetarian & Vegan Restaurant / $ Vegans in the suburbs west of Boston have a refreshed dining spot in Green Leaf. It has an extensive menu with offerings for both vegetarians and vegans, although most entrees are prepared for vegans. Salad options have been increased; the appetizers are plentiful. All of the soups are vegan and gluten-free, including the sea-vegetable soup, which uses the edible seaweeds dulse, kelp, wakame, and kombu, along with a variety of flavoring vegetables and ginger. The vegan black bean and sweet potato enchiladas were deliciously spicy, cleverly enveloped in a thin layer of zucchini. 62 Water Street, Framingham, 508-309-3009, greenleafveg.com — Mary MacDonald
The James / $$$ While you’re waiting for a table, watch the chefs in the open kitchen or peruse the cookbook shelf. Don’t miss the soda bread or the short rib and ale pie. The James also serves one of the best Scotch eggs I’ve ever had, runny-yolked, encased in lamb sausage. There’s a satisfying burger draped in Irish cheddar, and a bowl of mussels in garlicky broth spiked with Belgian beer, served with slabs of grilled bread. All of this pub fare is well prepared with fresh, local ingredients, balanced flavors, and a careful hand. 1027 Great Plain Avenue, Needham, 781-455-8800, thejamespub.com — D.F.
Peter’s Greek Kitchen / $$ Peter’s Greek Kitchen delivers superior homemade tzatziki: strained Greek yogurt whipped with olive oik, garlic, cucumber slivers, and dill. Melitzanosalata mashes roasted eggplant with tomato, olive oil, and spices; dolmades, or vegetarian grape leaves rolled and stuffed with rice and herbs, burst with flavor. Salads, subs, and pasta dishes all make appearances, and the pizzas, perhaps surprisingly, are not Greek-style, but thinner-crust Italian, with dough hand-tossed each day. 1056 Main Street, Waltham, 781-891-7677, petersgreekkitchen.com — Rachel Lebeaux