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Boston's 10 Hottest Restaurants

By Scott Kearnan
July 14, 2014
Photo by: Joel Benjamin

What makes a restaurant "hot"? That's highly subjective. Great food and drinks, an enticing atmosphere, strong service and the allure of newness all play a part. Following a number of recent high-profile openings, it was tough to choose 10 local restaurants for the latest update of our "Hottest Restaurants" series. The allure of some recent mainstays still hasn't worn off, but some new kids on the block are already serving up the right stuff. 

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    Brass Union

    Why It's Hot: Part American tavern, part game lounge for competitive cocktailing, Brass Union is housed in a historic building that was once Somerville police headquarters (pictured at top). Now visitors get arrested by American eats from Chez Henri alum Jonathan Kopacz, plus a host of diverting games, from tabletop Pac-Man to shuffleboard, oversized Jenga to cornhole on the patio. 

    Must-Order: Lobster pappardelle is a winner: a bowl filled with chunks of grilled lobster in beurre blanc with roasted tomato and English peas. But cute factor alone requires us to mention the Pac-Man Lemon Cake seen here, a Pac-Man shaped wedge gobbling fresh berries.

    Insider Tip: Served with an Argentinean twist, Brass Union's choripán recently made our list of the 8 Best Hot Dogs in Boston.

    70 Union Sq., Somerville; 617-623-9211

  • Lulu's Allston

    Why It's Hot: Chef Sarah Wade greets guests at this neighborhood eatery with a funky, eclectic mix that puts chef-driven spins on comfort classics, including some that tweak junk food to impressive effect. The place starts to buzz around 7 PM, as twenty- and thirtysomething professionals who work Downtown file back to their 'hood and fill white banquettes and bar stools in a pop-art-inspired gastropub space. 

    Must-Order: We love the Smokin' Blonde Beer Cheese Soup ($6), a perfectly balanced blend of smoked Gouda and IPA. Beer cheese soup is hard to get right. And the Wild Game Frito Chili Pie, a bowl of Fritos snack chips loaded with a deftly seasoned chili of wild boar and buffalo, recently made our list of must-try Gourmet Junk Food. For more ideas on what to order and expect, check out our Lulu's Cheat Sheet.

    Insider Tip: The place just launched brunch service (as in, over the weekend). Get all the details and scope the menu ("white trash hash," anyone?) here

    421 Cambridge St., Allston; 617-787-1117

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    La Brasa

    Why It's Hot: At this lodgelike new Somerville eatery, live-fire cooking is the common denominator linking international cuisine from L'Espalier alum chef Daniel Bojorquez. Anticipation was high before opening, and clearly caught the attention of national food-scene followers. It only opened in April, but already made a national Food & Wine feature on 8 Amazing New Grill Restaurants

    Must-Order: Spice up your life with za'atar roasted lamb saddle ($20) with curry couscous, apricots and mint. For more ideas, check out our Cheat Sheet.

    Insider Tip: At some restaurants, coffee is an afterthought. Not here; they tapped java expert Judson McCrae (the man behind the coffee program at Hi-Rise Bread Company) to curate an attention-grabbing roster of beans.

    124 Broadway, Somerville; 617-764-1412

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    Liquid Art House

    Why It's Hot: This ambitious project combines an art gallery with a high-end restaurant. Globe-trotting cuisine from Asana alum chef Rachel Klein and a street-art-themed opening installation have been luring a crowd of well-heeled visitors since doors opened last month. It remains to be seen if the lofty concept has legs, but right now it's enjoying plenty of curious foot traffic. 

    Must-Order: Rotisserie meats is an area of emphasis, including Green Circle Chickens ($22), known for their exceptional flavor. These D'Artagnan chickens are raised on a strict diet of scraps from restaurants like Per Se and Gramercy Tavern.

    Insider Tip: The art won't be the only thing for sale here. Klein tells us that a more robust retail element, which could involve everything from art to dishware, is on the horizon. 

    100 Arlington St.; 617-457-8130

  • Photo by: Michael Young

    Pastoral

    Why It's Hot: Newly added to the thriving Fort Point restaurant scene is Pastoral, featuring countryside-inspired and peasant-style dishes (mainly small plates and wood-fired pizzas) from chef-owner Todd Winer, a former executive chef at several Todd English restaurants. The airy space — with roll-up garage doors, industrial-meets-artsy vibe and bar replete with plenty of creative beer cocktails — has made it a crowd-pleaser so far. 

    Must-Order: We could sing the praises of several pizzas for days — but we're still too preoccupied with memories of one spectacular garlic-knot starter ($7.50). Check out a Cheat Sheet with more must-try dishes here

    Insider Tip: A small market-style annex in the restaurant offers packaged take-home versions of Winer's homemade pastas, sauces and more — including a "pizza kit" to help you replicate his pies.

    345 Congress St.; 617-345-0005

  • Merrill & Co.

    Why It's Hot: Buoyed by a cool cocktail program from 30 Under 30 honoree Kevin Mabry, this seafood-centric, modern diner-style spot has breathed new life into its nook of the South End since opening in March. It's funky and boisterous, with a nice new patio for alfresco enjoyment. 

    Must-Order: Cast-iron mussels ($18) in a red curry and ginger broth are a sight to behold — and heavenly to taste.

    Insider Tip: A special "Sunday Menu" (11 AM-11 PM) is limited, but includes some comfort classics not on the regular offerings, like an "oyster roast" and hot dogs. 

    1 Appleton St.; 617-728-0728

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    Roxy's Gourmet Grilled Cheese

    Why It's Hot: Because food-truck nerds have been waiting (what seems like) forever for a brick-and-mortar location of the grilled cheese purveyor. It's fresh off the griddle — doors opened barely two weeks ago — and we're stuck on it like gooey cheese on warm, buttery bread. 

    Must-Order: The classic Mighty Rib Melt ($7) of fontina, BBQ-braised beef and caramelized onions is on our bucket list of 30 Things You Must Eat & Drink This Summer. Check!

    Insider Tip: This physical location has added thin-patty burgers to its menu, including Justin's Burger ($7.50, pictured), covered with pimento cheese, caramelized onion, bacon and Grillo's pickles. You can scope the space and more menu items with our First Look here

    485 Cambridge St., Allston

  • Photo by: Michael Young

    State Park

    Why It's Hot: They're still packing them in at this subterranean Kendall Square haunt, where the team behind Hungry Mother combines pitch-perfect Southern cooking with the hipster-whimsy sensibility of an urban dive bar.

    Must-Order: We could drown and die happy in a bowl of Memphis BBQ Spaghetti ($11), a flavorful combo of smoked pork shoulder, pasta and a 50/50 mix of housemade marinara and barbecue sauce. One of the Best Thing We Ate This Year (So Far), it was inspired by a similar dish served at Interstate Barbecue in Memphis.

    Insider Tip: Larger parties can reserve the communal table in the semiprivate Paddock Room, named after the now-closed Paddock Restaurant in Somerville's Winter Hill, a notorious dive bar that was a favorite haunt of Whitey Bulger. Much of the barroom bric-a-brac that adorns State Park came from there.

    1 Kendall Sq., Cambridge; 617-848-4355

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    Trophy Room

    Why It's Hot: When 30-year-old gay sports bar Fritz closed, it was uncertain whether locals would accept that landmark's replacement: a more elevated, American brasserie concept that pays homage to the former inhabitant (athletic team trophies are prominently displayed) while broadening its ambitions. So far: yes. The glossy newcomer is attracting diners and buzzing evening barflies, with a still-strong gay contingent increasingly joined by trendy young couples of all stripes.

    Must-Order: We're loving chef Evan Campbell's Drunken Mussels ($10.25), steamed in a house lager and infused with aromatics and lemon zest. You can find more in our Cheat Sheet here

    Insider Tip: The new addition of a wall of street-facing retractable windows is lovely; the upcoming addition of patio seats will be even better. 

    26 Chandler St.; 617-482-3450

  • Alden & Harlow

    Why It's Hot: Nearly six months after opening, chef Michael Scelfo's (relative) newcomer in Harvard Square is still going strong, thanks in part to a contingent of industry devotees who have been preaching the gospel of this rustic-Americana restaurant. Scelfo's pretty good at self-promotion too; we "heart" the regular Instagram updates of this Must-Follow Social Media Food Star

    Must-Order: #NoFilter necessary to capture the gorgeous smoked Moosabec farm mussels ($13) heaped on a parsley crostino with tarragon and a luscious aïoli.

    Insider Tip: The off-menu "secret burger," an 8-oz. patty with weekly rotating toppings, is already becoming a thing of legend. 

    40 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-864-2100

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Places Mentioned

State Park Restaurant

American • Cambridge

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Alden & Harlow

New American • Cambridge

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Merrill & Co.

American • South End

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Pastoral

Pizza • Seaport District

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
La Brasa

Somerville

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Trophy Room

American • South End

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Liquid Art House

Bay Village

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Food- Decor- Service- CostI
 
 
 
Lulu's Allston

American • Allston

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Brass Union

American • Somerville

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
 
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