Monday, December 30, 2019

2019: Favorite Restaurants & Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite restaurants and food-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2019. I've already posted my Top Wine lists, my Favorite Croatian Wines and Dining Experiences, and my Top Ten Favorite Restaurant Dishes. Now, I want to address my Favorite Restaurants & Food-Related Items of the past year.

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants and food items I've experienced and/or posted about over the 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.

Favorite Nepali/Himalayan Restaurant: Opening in December 2018, Mitho Restaurant, in Winchester, impressed me from the start, offering intriguing and delicious cuisine. From Momos (dumplings) to Chicken Chhoila, the menu offers a wide variety of dishes from Nepali and Himalayan cuisines. Some of the dishes may seem familiar from other cuisines, but they have a unique spice palette which will intrigue and delight your palate. Dishes are also rated based on their spicy heat level, from 1 to 10. Everything is fresh and tasty, and they have an ample selection of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free dishes. Be adventurous and dine out here.

Favorite Lunch Spot: If I lived in Boston, I'd probably be stopping by Cusser's Roast Beef & Seafood at least once a week for one of their Roast Beef sandwiches. Living north of Boston, there are plenty of good roast beef sandwich joints, but Cusser's serves one of the best. Plus, I enjoy their onion rings, Mooncusser chowder, Fish & Chips, and Whoopie Pies! They are only open for lunch, from Monday to Friday, but it is well worth stopping by during the week to sample their excellent sandwiches and seafood.

Favorite Comfort Food Restaurant: Located near Inman Square in Cambridge, BISq primarily serves a variety of small plates for sharing, including some compelling comfort food such as their famed Fried Chicken and Ricotta Cavatelli. Both are scrumptious dishes, prepared well, and will satisfy your belly and soul. During the winter, they are both great choices. BISq also has an excellent wine list so you can order a glass, or a bottle, to pair with your dishes. I'll also note that with some advance notice, they can prepare a whole animal dinner for you and your guests.

Favorite Seafood Restaurant: Boston's restaurant options for seafood have increased greatly in quality during the last ten years. This year though, I have to give special kudos to Mooncusser Fish House. Their Tasting of Local Fishes is a multi-course seafood bonanza, each dish offering fresh seafood in a creative and tasty presentation. Some of the best seafood I've enjoyed in the Boston+ area. I also highly recommend you ordering the wine pairing for this dinner as well, as their choice of wines were excellent.

Favorite Suburban Italian Seafood Restaurant: I eagerly awaited the opening of Tonno in Wakefield, Chef Anthony Caturano's second location of this Italian seafood restaurant. And it didn't disappoint in the least. Great Italian food, home-made pastas, compelling seafood, and so much more. There are options for almost all food preferences, and all of the dishes will please. They also offer a number of specials during the week, including some inexpensive bar specials. I've recommended this spot to a number of friends, and all have loved this restaurant.

Favorite Georgian Food: Georgian cuisine is rare to find in the Boston+ area, but it can be found if you know where to look. Jana Grill, in Watertown, primarily serves Armenian fare, but also serve a few Georgian dishes, including Ajarian Khachapuri, Georgian cheese bread. The Khachapuri is wonderful, cooked perfectly, and full of cheesy delights, and topped by an over easy egg with a gooey yolk. I still need to get to Jana Grill some Wednesday night to try their Khinkali, Georgian dumplings.

Favorite Middle Eastern Restaurant: Located in an unassuming building on Squire Road in Revere,  which you might drive by without a single glance, Aladdins Grill offers delicious Mediterranean & Middle Eastern dishes. Hummus, Falafel, Kebabs, Shwarma, and much more can be found here, generally all prepared in-house. Everything has so much flavor, tastes fresh, and there's always an ample supply of warm pita bread. Service is excellent too and more people need to know about this culinary treasure.

Favorite Lunch Buffet: There's few spots anywhere where you can get all-you-can eat pizza, ziti, garlic bread, and dessert pizza for only $8, except Prince Pizzeria on Route 1 in Saugus. I've been a fan of this restaurant since I was a young child and I still dine there regularly. This is one of the best deals in the area, and their pizza is their own unique style, unable to fit into the various existing pizza categorizations.

Favorite Vegetarian Fare: I know, this seems like an odd category for me, but I was thoroughly impressed with Koshari Mama at the Stoneham Farmer's Market, though they now have a brick-and-mortar shop in Bow Market in Somerville. Koshari, an Egyptian street food, is a hearty vegetarian/vegan dish composed of rice, lentils, pasta, and chickpeas, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and fried onions. It presents a delicious blend of flavors and textures, from the softer macaroni to the crunchy fried onions pieces. It had a certain nuttiness to it, as well as a nice spicy flavor from the hot sauce. They serve other vegetarian dishes as well, and based on their Koshari, I suspect they are delicious as well.

Favorite Second Location of a Restaurant: Greco, which initially opened on Newbury Street, serving Greek gyros and loukoumades, is one of my favorite spots. This year, they opened a second, and larger, location in the Seaport. The spacious new location has some new menu items, and also serves Greek wine and beer. A Lamb Gyro with a Greek red wine is such a delicious combination. They are planning to open more locations of Greco as well, spreading Greek passion through the Boston area.

Favorite New Chinese Restaurant: Though this is also a second location, the original being in Boston's Chinatown, I've never dined at the original spot. Spicy World joins a host of other excellent Asian restaurants in Malden, and it offers Sichuan Skewer Pot, better known in China as Málàtàng, which roughly translates as "spicy numbing." This compelling dish is basically a large bowl of savory soup/broth and you select from a wide variety of skewers of meats, seafood and vegetables (at only $1/skewer) to top the broth. They rate the broth on a spiciness on a scale of 1-5, and even 2 is very, very hot! Their other Chinese dishes are quite good as well.

Favorite Restaurant ReturnThe Porch; Southern Farm & Juke Joint closed its Wakefield location in June 2018, finally reopening in Medford in July 2019. It went from a tiny, 20-seater to a spacious 250-seater with a large bar, stage for musical acts, pool tables, and more. Their menu of Southern cuisine has expanded, though it still contains many of the items from their Wakefield spot, and overall, the food at the new location is even better than it used to be. Fried chicken, ribs, brisket, cheese grits, deviled eggs, corn hush puppies and more will please your palate. Plus, with a full bar, you can get some tasty cocktails as well.

Favorite Off-The-Beaten Path Restaurant: Groton, in northwestern Middlesex County, isn't well known for its restaurants, except for Gibbet Hill Grill. However, there's another restaurant in Groton which is worthy of your attention, Forge & Vine. With a homey vibe, an open kitchen, and a large bar, it's a fine spot for casual dining. Its seasonal menu has plenty of options, from small plates to larger entrees, with lots of comfort food options. Oysters to Flatbreads, Potato Crusted Cod to Wood-Grilled Ribeye, Ribs to Mussels. Plus, they have a fascinating group of natural wines on their wine list which should intrigue any wine geek.

Favorite Breakfast Restaurant, Massachusetts: A new restaurant this year, Nick & Andys, in Danvers, is killing it with their breakfast menu, from their home-made muffins to their Cinnamon Swirl French Toast, from their hearty Hash Stack to Chicken & Waffles. A homey vibe, good prices, nice service, and delicious food, all combine to make this a fine breakfast destination. They serve a good lunch as well, where you can get sandwiches like the Monte Cristo, but breakfast is the most compelling.

Favorite Breakfast Restaurant, New Hampshire: Katie's Kitchen is a cozy little spot in Wolfeboro that serves delicious, home-made and extremely inexpensive breakfast dishes. For example, you can order 3 Eggs, Toast & Home Fries for only about $2.20. What a deal! Their Cinnamon Rolls are amazing, fresh and hot from the oven, and its hard just to eat one. This is a spot for locals, as well as those who in the know, who understand the treasure of this spot.

Favorite Pan-Asian Restaurant, New Hampshire: East of Suez, which has been around in Wolfeboro since 1967, serves Asian dishes from a variety of different cuisines, from Japanese to Filipino. The various dishes are tasty, well balanced and possess a nice depth of flavor. Manila Polo Club Chowder, Philippine Lumpia, Sichuan Giant Dumplings, Bulgoki Steak and plenty more. It is also BYOB, so you can bring your own wine or beer to accompany the delicious dishes. If you travel to the area, you definitely should make plans to dine there.

Favorite Culinary School: NECAT is a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills an important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It is such a worthy school, helping to transform lives, and it really touches my heart. It helps individuals while also helping the community, and I continue to try to raise awareness of NECAT so that its good work can continue and even expand. For example, check out NECAT's 2018 Accomplishments

Favorite Food Trade Event: Once again, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and you can read some of my latest articles about the show such as An Overview of the Seafood Expo, Increasing America's Seafood Consumption, and Eating OgusokumushiThe Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2020. Hope to see you there too.

Favorite Cookbook: The Mei Mei restaurant is well known for their Double Awesome, a sandwich made with a scallion pancake and stuffed with two oozy eggs, Vermont cheddar, and local greens pesto. The owners have now published their first cookbook, Double Awesome, with over 100 recipes for Asian dishes with their own creative twists. Most of the recipes are easy to make, and I'm sure everyone will find plenty of recipe to appeal to their preferences. The cookbook also has a strong emphasis on sustainability and the use of local ingredients, both admirable values. This cookbook belongs on your bookshelf.

Favorite Food History Article: This year, I'm especially proud of my article, The First Restaurants in Boston's Chinatown, comprising a five-part series. I conducted extensive research and was surprised and enlightened by some of the information I found. The article began with a question, what was the first restaurant in Chinatown, and expanded into so much more. In addition, the article is also a work in progress, as I've continued my research, with plans to expand the article in the near future. This year, I wrote a number of historical articles about food and drink, breaking new ground, and I'll continue to do so in 2020.

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

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