Boston is full of long-standing legends that deserve every bit of praise. And there are certainly some heavily hyped newcomers who live up to expectations. But then there are spots that toil a bit more quietly and, despite positive reception by in-the-know industry followers, still deserve love from the general public. Here are a few of our picks from the last year of openings. Have any to add? Let us know in the comments.
It's not just another taqueria. Neither run-of-the-mill nor preciously "artisanal," Chilacates ups the ante the old-fashioned way: by using fresh, high-quality ingredients and vibrant flavor. This Jamaica Plain Mexican is a must-visit when you're craving awesome reasonably priced tacos, burritos and torta — though since there are only about 10 seats inside, you may need to opt for takeout.
Must-Try: We love the hearty torta ($8.50), which can be filled anything from chicken tinga to beef tongue, then packed with avocado and jalapeño mayo.
224 Amory St., Jamaica Plain; 617-522-6000
Things that are hot in Boston right now: Eastern Mediterranean cuisine and stuff in bowls. The best of both worlds is found at this under-the-radar fast-casual from chef-owner Renita Mendonca (who passed through the kitchen of The French Laundry). She brings Greek, Turkish, Israeli and other coastal cuisines to largely residential Brighton, employing a "build-a-meal" approach that incorporates a foundation (rice bowl, salad bowl or pita pocket), choices of protein (from falafel fritters to grilled Moroccan chicken) and toppings like yogurt-mint sauce and raisin-carrot salad.
Must-Try: There are endless tasty permutations if you take the DIY approach. Otherwise opt for composed apps and desserts — like the delish date cake ($4) with labneh.
160 Chestnut Hill Ave., Brighton; 617-515-0010
Last summer the team behind Fairsted Kitchen opened this Southern-inflected joint that fills two niches: a need for dining options near the Jackson Square side of Jamaica Plain and a void for Lowcountry cuisine (lighter, brighter Southern style that stands apart from the deep-fried-everything stuff). Frogmore has been admirably chugging along ever since — even scoring a full liquor license this month — so, here's hoping even more locals drop by for bar manager Alex Homans' crafty cocktails.
Must-Try: The grilled rib-eye ($27) is pretty spectacular — and not just because everything tastes better with pimento cheese butter.
365 Centre St., Jamaica Plain; 857-203-9462
This classy entry to Southie is all seafood and charcuterie. The Maiden is quietly serving up an extensive selection of raw-bar eats, cheese, locally sourced salumi and terrines — plus cordial-based cocktails and wine amid whitewashed brick walls and communal tables.
Must-Try: The selection of local oysters taste just as good when they're roasted ($16) with uni butter, piquillos and bread crumbs. Take our word for it.
28 W. Broadway, South Boston; 617-315-7829
Even though it took over a fairly famous space — the former home of the long-running foodie favorite UpStairs on the Square — this Cambridge newcomer didn't come with fireworks and fanfare. Its demure, but delightful, modern European menu serves locally sourced ingredients over two floors, including a sophisticated, mid-century-inspired lounge with terrific tipples.
Must-Try: Inventive and awe-inspiring is the duck breast ($34) with a parsnip and white chocolate purée, almonds, pears and coffee sauce.
Pelekasis at Wink & Nod
With so much new Greek cuisine in Boston, it can be hard to decide which newcomer to try first. But with all due respect to local legends like Michael Schlow (the man behind Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar) and Jody Adams (who just opened her first fast-casual, Saloniki), Hell's Kitchen alum Brendan Pelley proves he's one to watch at Pelekasis. This pop-up now has temporary residency at Wink & Nod and deserves more spotlight for modernizing classic ideas with flourish and, most importantly, flavor.
Must-Try: One of the more traditional items is the One Hundred Layer Spanakopita ($12), a take on Pelley's mom's recipe. It layers of spinach, feta, phyllo dough, leeks and scallion; it's cut, and each slab is seared in butter before serving.
3 Appleton St.; 617-482-0117
Chef Tim Wiechmann (T.W. Food, Bronwyn) is one of the area's most accomplished chefs. But beyond that, he deserves credit for bringing a really unique idea to lunchtime diners: a Balkan sandwich shop serving kolache (a form of sweet or savory stuffed pastries), burek (long rolls of stuffed phyllo dough) and other otherwise hard-to-find foods in the region. That his chef-driven finesse translates so successfully into a fast-casual joint is pretty impressive.
Must-Try: Start your Balkan journey with the eponymous Playska ($8.99). It's Wiechmann's take on the pljeskavica, the Balkan answer to a burger: a beef-and-pork patty is set in pogacha bread, then topped with ajvar (a red pepper relish) and a cream cheese–based rémoulade laden with chopped bacon and dill, plus red onion and pickled cucumber.
243 Hampshire St., Cambridge; 617-864-0170
It's a stylish, New American eatery spinning an inventive assortment of small, medium and large plates, plus a creative cocktail program — all in a stylish space with a neo-Victorian, steampunk aesthetic. Not only does it lend some hipness to the neighborhood's pub-drenched landscape, but it's also a new brunch destination: Sunday service runs from 11 AM–3 PM.
Must-Try: Have your group slice into the 3 Little Pigs Flatbread ($16), topped with prosciutto, ham, pancetta and radicchio with a gorgonzola crème. Three words: oink, oink, oink.
81 L St., South Boston; 617-765-8836
He didn't quite make it to final round on the current season of Top Chef, but — like fellow Boston contestant Karen Akunowicz (Myers + Chang) — Carl Dooley did quite a fine job. Yet even with such free publicity, his Cambridge restaurant opened somewhat quietly. We suppose that's true to its concept, which puts the emphasis fully on the food: every night offers a regularly changing four-course tasting menu (with optional beverage pairings) that marries contemporary French technique with local ingredients and global influence.
2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-871-9468
Even if you've never grabbed a vegan taco from its food truck, this brick-and-mortar location is worth attending for awesome meatless Mexican. In an area that wants for veggie-friendly eats, even carnivores seek this spot out. (The only bummer: our recent 30 Under 30 honoree Evie Noël, whose Sabertooth Vegan Bakery was based out of the spot, recently announced she's moving to California for a new job at an animal sanctuary. We'll miss you — and your cupcakes.)
Must-Try: We love the Sriracha BBQ jackfruit taco ($4 each) with a smoked black-eyed pea spread and cilantro-cabbage slaw. FYI: not only is it vegan, it's also gluten-free.
711 Broadway, Somerville; 617-764-0683