Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2015: Favorite Restaurants & My Top 50

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2015. I have already posted my Top Wine lists, Favorite Wine Related Items Favorite Spirits, Cocktails & Drink Related Items. Yesterday, I posted my Favorite Restaurant Dishes of 2015 and now I want to address my Favorite Restaurants of the past year as well as my Top 50 Restaurants.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find a few Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled a little bit this past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more Restaurant reviews, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Top Restaurant Experience: Though I enjoyed some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience took place at Tasting Counter in Somerville. Chef Peter Ungár opened his restaurant in July, which I had eagerly awaited, and it has received many well-deserved raves from other reviewers too. The cuisine is inventive, appealing and absolutely delicious. The setting is cool and intimate, a twenty-seat counter where you can also watch the chef and kitchen staff preparing your food. I consulted on their Sake program & they now possess the largest Sake menu of any non-Asian restaurant in the Boston area. I highly recommend you check out Tasting Counter and expect that in 2016, Chef Peter Ungár's name will be on everyone's tongue

Favorite New Restaurant: So many interesting restaurants opened this year, so this wasn't the easiest decision to make. But, Ciao! Pizza & Pasta, which I reviewed Quality Food In A Small Package and An Update, is deserving for multiple reasons. First, its food, including wood-fired pizzas, house-made pasta, and paninis, are high-end quality and quite tasty, but at very reasonable prices. It is a small place, mostly takeout but with a handful of chairs at a counter, yet it doesn't skimp on anything. And it is located in Chelsea, enhancing their neighborhood, and could be the start to a culinary surge in Chelsea. It hasn't received much press yet but I'm sure you'll be hearing much more about in 2016. Get there now and find out why it earns my highest recommendation.

Favorite Bar Restaurant: Beneath Davis Square in Somerville, you'll find Saloon, a killer whiskey bar that also has an excellent food menu. Duck Wings to Lamb Merguez Sausage, Chicken Fried Rabbit Leg to Short Rib Pot Pie, and much more. It is elevated comfort food, perfect accompaniments to cocktails and whiskey. The menu changes on a regular basis so you can try new dishes all the time. And with over 120 Whiskies on their list, you'll need to fill your belly with some of their delicious food to soak up all that compelling alcohol.

Favorite Suburban, High-End Italian: Though it has only been open about a month, Osteria Posto in Waltham has already made its mark as an Italian steakhouse. From killer appetizers like Sweetbreads Marsala and Burrata, to delicious pasta like Agnolotti Dal Plin atop Goat Bolognese and Mafaldine, there is much Italian to enjoy. And their Steaks, like the tender Cap Steak, will also satisfy your more carnivorous cravings. Top notch service, an excellent cocktail & wine program, and an elegant ambiance, will all combine to make your dining experience memorable. It's open for lunch and dinner so make the trek to Waltham.

Favorite Suburban, Mid-Level Italian: Another compelling new restaurant this year, located in Burlington, is Osteria Nino. Reasonably priced, this Roman-inspired restaurant offers an ever-changing menu of scrumptious pasta dishes, delicious pizzas, hearty sandwiches, and much more. Enjoy dishes like Cacio e Pepe, Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu, and Bacon Pizza. With an all-Italian wine list, there are many interesting choices available, and their bar also produces some tasty cocktails. I lunch here on a regular basis and it remains consistently good. With all the new restaurants in Burlington, this is one that should be at the top of your list.

Favorite New Sandwich Restaurant: Though they have an extensive  breakfast and lunch menu, the specialty at Tasty On The Hill, located in Medford, is the Francesinha, a traditional Portuguese sandwich, especially in the Porto region. They serve six variations and I've enjoyed three of them so far. These are hearty sandwiches, topped by a tangy, savory tomato-based sauce and served with house-cut French fries. The Traditional is a meat-lovers fantasy, made with five different meats, from steak to bacon. If you want less meat, go for the Bacalhau, which only has salt cod. They even have a Vegetarian option. These sandwiches are unique in the Boston area and I highly recommend you try one.

Favorite New Inman Square Restaurant: As a long-time fan of Bergamot, I was excited when their sister restaurant, BISq, opened in Inman Square. Chef Dan Bazzinotti is creating some inventive and delicious food, including a roast leg of lamb which was silky tender and bursting with flavor. The restaurant also has a fascinating wine list, a cool cocktail program, and will satisfy your thirst, no matter what your taste. It is small and intimate, with a casual and fun atmosphere, and you need to visit to enjoy a compelling culinary experience.

Favorite New Burger Joint: New to WoburnWuBurger will also be opening a second location in Inman Square in the near future. The Woburn location is reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner and they offer excellent burgers, reasonably priced and fully customizable. You can get one or two patties, with your choice of toppings, or you can try one of their other sandwiches or hotdogs. Get a side of Waffle Fries or a cup of meat Chili, and then end your meal with Richardson's ice cream. Fast, casual, and inexpensive, this is a great place for lunch or dinner.

Favorite Hotel Restaurant: Hotel restaurants sometimes are seen as lesser places, and that reputation is partially deserved, but there are a number of exceptions, such as Chopps American Bar & Grill at the Burlington Marriot. The menu is diverse, the dishes are prepared well, and their drinks program is excellent. Enjoy a thick steak or silky tuna, a dry-aged burger or a meat-covered pizza. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Chopps has you covered and it will show that hotel restaurants can produce culinary wonders.

Favorite New Maine Restaurant: The Velveteen Habit is a fine dining tavern, having taken over the old Arrows space. It impressed me, from its excellent cocktail program to its tasty & well-made cuisine, from its intriguing wine list to its impeccable service. Their dedication to providing much of their own produce from their garden and their reliance on many local purveyors is admirable. Portland is well known for its excellent restaurants but you don't have to drive that far. Instead, take a shorter drive to The Velveteen Habit and experience their cuisine & drinks program. You won't be disappointed.

Favorite New Maine Restaurant Neighborhood: Kittery, Maine is most known for its outlets, but it needs to be better known for its intriguing Foreside neighborhood which is becoming an interesting culinary destination, just across the river from Portsmouth. Enjoy Ramen and Pork Buns at Anju Noodle Bar, buy locally sourced meats at MEat Butcher Shop, and savor the light and flaky Crullers at Lil's Cafe. There are other restaurants in this neighborhood you can experience too and you should spend some time exploring this up and coming area.

Favorite Connecticut Restaurant: Miya's Sushia sustainable sushi restaurant in New Haven, Connecticut, remains my favorite spot. You can feel good about the food, which is both sustainable and nutritious. You won't be disappointed with all the tastes and flavors within each compelling dish. Make sure to save room for dessert too, at least a single bit worth of room for its Seven Deadly Sushi. It remains a very affordable restaurant and will continue to be so. Chef Bun Lai deserves every accolade and rave he has received and it garners my highest recommendation.

The Passionate Foodie's Top 50 Restaurants
In addition to the Favorites listed above, I've compiled a list of my own Top 50 Restaurants, those Massachusetts places where I'm sure to always have a delicious meal, whether a casual breakfast or a high-end French dinner. These are the places I seem to recommend the most to others, including some places where I dine on a regular basis. Many of these places have been listed on prior Favorite Lists, some for multiple years, and are all worthy of recognition and recommendation. This is not a list of the "Best" restaurants, but my own personal favorites and you can find my reviews of these spots on my blog.

The Beehive
Dumpling Cafe
Island Creek Oyster Bar
Myers & Chang

Alden & Harlow
Craigie on Main
Flat Patties
Puritan & Co.
T.W. Food

Ciao! Pizza & Pasta

Clam Box


The Painted Burro
Tasting Counter

Fusion Taste
Taste of Siam
Three Amigos

Osteria Posto

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

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