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Boston's Biggest Openings of 2013

By Scott Kearnan
December 17, 2013

It was a great year for new restaurant openings in Boston. From spin-offs by established chefs to new ventures from up-and-comers, there are dozens of new entries that got us excited about the state of dining and drinking in the Hub. It was tough to pin down a dozen that rose above the rest, but here's what we consider to be the 12 biggest openings of the year.

  • Blue Dragon

    Star chef Ming Tsai sparkles at Blue Dragon, the Asian gastropub he opened in February. Trading the primness of Wellesley (suburban home to his higher-end Blue Ginger) for the urban hip of Fort Point, Blue Dragon adopts a fun nightlife vibe as the sun goes down. But plates like Indonesian curried lamb shepherd's pie, escargot with Thai-style compound butter, and Vietnamese chicken wings with spicy caramel glaze are what keep Dragon's crowds roaring with approval (617-338-8585).

  • Photo by: Logan Jayne Billingham

    Asta

    It's easy to overlook openings from the early part of the year, and by unveiling at the end of January, Asta just makes the cut. But boy, has it carved itself a niche. Working in the tasting-menu-only format, L'Espalier alum chef Alex Crabb manages to serve up utterly unique and complex dishes from his open kitchen. And in an industry full of PR machines, we love the DIY vibe - a barely marked location, a quiet online presence - that offers an added cool factor (617-585-9575).

  • Tavern Road

    The brothers DiBiccari (that's chef-owners Louis and Michael) are popular guys in the restaurant industry. So it's no surprise that Tavern Road has become a favorite last-call stop for restaurant-world scenesters, and those that love them, since opening in February. (The impressive cocktail program under No. 9 Park alum Ryan McGrale also helps.) The modern New England cuisine is refined but not precious (think sautéed skate wing and porchetta with pears). And like most of Boston's emerging chef stars, the DiBiccari brothers take their food seriously but not themselves. Bonus points: the next-door spin-off, TR Street Foods, focused on gourmet grab-and-go (617-790-0808). 

  • Boston Chops

    On the surface, there's nothing innovative about another steakhouse in Boston. But chef-owner Chris Coombs did something different with Boston Chops. He traded the classic Yankee vibe associated with Brahmin-era chop houses for a contemporary approach that honors modern Boston and fits in with the trendy South End restaurant landscape (don't forget, the opening party involved shirtless cowboys and a mechanical bull). And the menu isn't exactly meat-and-potatoes traditionalism, either. Conventional cuts are complemented by the lesser-used, like crispy oxtail croquettes with red-pepper mostarda; brined, braised and grilled tongue; and braised beef cheeks (617-227-5011).

  • Bronwyn

    Tim Weichmann's inspired and impressive new Somerville entry has a lot of heart. We're not referring to the big wooden ticker that hangs on one wall - hand-built, as were many of the decor pieces, by its chef-owner - but the passion for the Bavarian-style cuisine, from housemade wurst to spaetzle and schnitzel. It landed alongside Blue Dragon on Esquire's list of the best new restaurants in the country, and we're inclined to agree (617-776-9900). 

  • Ribelle

    Ribelle represents some of the best of Boston's young talent. Tattooed chef Tim Maslow was one of our 30 Under 30 honorees last year for his work at Strip-T's, and this year we gave a nod to pastry chef Jake Novick-Finder. But it's not just the talent that makes Ribelle stand out - it's the sensibility. The restaurant is refined but relaxed, full of boisterous crowds who can enjoy each other's company without losing sight of the sophistication in Maslow's menu, which includes a standout lamb tartare. It earned Ribelle a rare four-star rave from Boston Globe critic Devra First, previously reserved for Barbara Lynch's Menton (617-232-2322).

  • Sarma

    Ana Sortun has been wowing us with her Turkish-Mediterranean restaurant Oleana for years now. (In 2013, it was third highest-rated restaurant in the city by surveyors.) So expectations were high for her new concept in Somerville for a meyhane - a traditional Turkish saloon. All early indications suggest that the spot, opened in October, will go on to a similar legacy. Shareable small plates like jerky with date molasses, lamb kofte sliders and squid saganaki share space with a killer cocktail list that includes the Hippodrome, La Favorite Rhum with mastic, sage and lime (617-764-4464).

  • Mei Mei Kitchen

    As much as we love stumbling upon one of our favorite food trucks, it's nice to know a brick-and-mortar outpost exists when nothing else can satisfy. Bostonians were thrilled that the mobile Mei Mei Street Kitchen opened its new restaurant space, simply Mei Mei Kitchen, not far from Fenway. Now we know where to go anytime we need a fix of the famous Super Awesome (scallion-pancake sandwich with greens pesto, Vermont cheddar and two slow-poached-then-fried eggs) or hearty rice porridge, pictured (857-250-4959).

  • Ostra

    Everything that chef-owner Jamie Mammano's Columbus Hospitality Group touches turns to gold: Mistral, Sorellina, Mooo... and more. But Ostra is more like a pearl, an elegant new Mediterranean-Italian that opened in late November about a block from Boston Common. Its menu devotes much real estate to unadulterated New England shellfish, as well as creatively composed raw and slightly cooked plates. And though you'll often find executive chef Mitchell Randall down in Boston's Seaport hand-selecting fresh local catch, he says that Ostra will really focus on fish from European waters, like branzino and turbot (617-421-1200).

  • Row 34

    With the hat trick of Eastern Standard, Island Creed Oyster Bar and The Hawthorne, restaurateur Garrett Harker turned a block of Kenmore Square into a dining and drinking destination. Now this stripped-back "workingman's oyster bar" extends his dominion to the new developments of Fort Point. The approach is frill-free refinement, with a killer raw bar and craft beer selection and creative bites like lettuce cups filled with crispy oysters and pickled veggies (617-553-5900).

  • Kirkland Tap & Trotter

    Considering that Craigie on Main is a local institution, food lovers were on high alert when word came down that chef Tony Maws would open a Somerville restaurant this year. And what a space it is: a place where hipsters, high-minded food lovers, and high-minded food-loving hipsters casually commingle over simple plates (what Maws describes as fare he'd cook for family and friends) that focus on quality and perfect cooking over a lot of pretense (857-259-6585).

  • Commonwealth

    Former Fenway Park exec chef (and Around the World in 80 Plates contestant) Steve "Nookie" Postal is beloved by local industry insiders. So there were smiles - and watchful eyes - when we learned that he was hard at work opening two separate restaurants. His market-slash-American spot Commonwealth is the first to open its doors in Kendall Square, serving hearty fare like Vermont quail, roasted half-chicken and pork chop. Next up: Steinbones, his Jewish-inspired barbecue place, something to look forward to in 2014. 

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Places Mentioned

Blue Dragon

Asian • South Boston

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Tavern Road

American • Seaport District

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Bronwyn

European • Somerville

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Boston Chops

Steakhouse • South End

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