Boston is full of buzzworthy chefs, from critical darlings to reality show alums. But some toques toil away in their kitchens without necessarily cooking up cover stories and TV deals. In other words, they let their food speak for itself. Here are a few of our favorite chefs doing delicious work you need to discover.
Chris Willis at Pammy's
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of our picks for the most underrated restaurants around Boston is also home to one of the region's best under-the-radar chefs. Chef Chris Willis (pictured at page top), who runs the restaurant alongside his wife, its namesake, grew up on a fourth-generation farm in rural Sherborn, Massachusetts. But he honed his skills in some urbane hot spots: from Harvard Square's late, great Rialto to NYC's pasta palace Sfoglia. The result: nuanced flavors that wow in a neighborhood trattoria as warm and hospitable as the toque in its kitchen.
Signature dish: The extruded pastas are a specialty, and we love the nodi marini with guanciale, broccoli rabe, poached egg and bottarga.
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-945-1761
Courtesy of BISq
Alex Saenz at BISq
On one hand, it's slightly unfair to call Saenz "under the radar," because the chef has certainly attained a fairly stellar reputation among industry peers and in-the-know foodie types. On the other, his name recognition is still growing among more casual Boston-area diners, and Saenz, previously chef de cuisine at Puritan & Company, definitely deserves added attention for his work at the Cambridge sibling to Somerville's Bergamot. In a dining scene overloaded with New American small plates, Saenz offers some of the biggest, boldest, most innovative and well-executed ideas.
Signature dish: Bone marrow risotto flecked with Parmesan and purple bean salsa verde has been one of his best (and most beautiful) recent creations.
1071 Cambridge St., Cambridge; 617-714-3693
Courtesy of Metropolis Cafe
Dolly Bourommavong at Metropolis Cafe
Everyone appreciates the talent it takes to launch an awesome new hot spot. But it takes a whole other set of skills (and rarely earns the same attention) to keep a legacy restaurant feeling vital, relevant and exciting. So shout-out to Bourommavong, chef de cuisine at Metropolis Cafe, opened in 1995 as the first eatery in the Aquitaine Group, which today has one of the city's most powerful portfolios. This intimate, eclectic outfit helped launch a restaurant revolution in the then-gritty South End, and Bourommavong, formerly of fine-dining spots like Sel de la Terre and L’Espalier, keeps pushing things forward with fascinating, Mediterranean-inflected flavor.
Signature dish: Veal scallopini sautéed with capers, brown butter and cauliflower leek gratin is a standout.
584 Tremont St.; 617-247-2931
Courtesy of Giulia
Brian Gianpoalo at Giulia
Ushering a restaurant through its opening throes is no small task. So when chef Michael Pagliarini turned his attention to his high-profile new Italian eatery Benedetto last year, he needed to know his acclaimed firstborn, Giulia, was in great hands. Luckily, he had chef de cuisine Brian Gianpoalo, now helming Giulia to similarly spectacular effect. Gianpoalo has worked with Pagliarini since their days at star chef Michael Schlow's late Via Matta, and showcases innovative, hyper-seasonal menus comprised of ingredients from Westport's Ivory Silo Farms. Giulia is the farm's sole restaurant customer, and you'll even find Gianpoalo personally milling his grain there.
Signature dish: The pastas are legendary, and we're especially feeling the duck confit tortelli with sugo di fegatini and black truffles.
1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-441-2800
Courtesy of Explorateur
Jacob Mendros at Explorateur
He's still in his twenties, but Mendros has a big gig as the chef at Explorateur, the latest offering from Big Night Entertainment Group — the team behind hot spots like Red Lantern and Empire, to name a few. Mendros does marvelous things for the group's first all-day affair: Explorateur, which opened last year right by Boston Common, is a classy European-style cafe that seamlessly transitions from breakfast to lunch to dinner service, and Mendros makes every menu simultaneously inventive and people-pleasing. Going forward, he plans to get a bit more ambitious, he says, now that the still-new restaurant is getting into an established groove.
Signature dish: The pappardelle Bolognese with ricotta and cured egg yolks has emerged as one of the most popular dinner plates.
186 Tremont St.; 617-766-3179
Courtesy of Our Fathers
Jameson Poll at Our Fathers
It's been open for less than two months, but the buzz is already strong for Our Fathers in Allston, the latest concept from the group behind the Franklin Restaurants and Tasty Burger brand. The multifaceted operation, part takeout-deli and part full-service restaurant, is a super-rare option for modern Israeli cuisine in the Boston area, and chef de cuisine Jameson Poll is pushing things in new and interesting directions by marrying traditional ideas with experience gleaned at high-end spots like NYC's The Breslin and Tom Colicchio's Craft. His deft use of spices like urfa, nigella and izak is a glorious, gourmet gift to behold.
Signature dish: We're shook by the shakshuka, a spectacular skillet of red pepper–tomato sauce with feta, served with stewed egg or poached cod.
197 N. Harvard St., Allston; 617-303-0101
Courtesy of ArtScience
Carolina Curtin at ArtScience
A huge name like Barbara Lynch casts a pretty big shadow, but Curtin, formerly chef de partie at the Beard winner's luxe Menton, is stepping firmly into the spotlight on her own. Curtin, who also opened the fabulous wine bar haley.henry, recently relocated to the rebranded ArtScience by Kendall Square, a restaurant whose founder, Harvard engineer David Edwards, is famed for exploring intersections of food, art and science. So far so great, plus she seems to be bringing a bit more eclectic flair to what was more strongly French-based culinary.
Signature dish: Hamachi ceviche with Seville orange soda, passion fruit and hibiscus is one of Curtin's recently successful epicurean experiments.
650 E. Kendall St., Cambridge; 857-999-2193
Courtesy of Scott Gardner/Bambara
David Bazirgan at Bambara
Bazirgan built quite a bit of buzz for himself on the West Coast, where he helmed San Francisco's Fifth Floor and Dirty Habit. But he's actually a native New Englander, and even served as chef de cuisine at star restaurateur Barbara Lynch's flagship No.9 Park back in the early aughts. After his Pacific-side stint he returned to the Hub in 2016, where he reinvented Bambara inside Cambridge's Hotel Marlowe, culling influences from his Armenian heritage, Mediterranean-inflected bistro fare and a bold bicoastal sensibility that makes the menus feel more eclectic and energized. He deserves more kudos from the hometown crowd.
Signature dish: Bazirgan is known for his standout choereg, or Armenian Easter bread, sprinkled with za’atar and served with whipped honey butter.
25 Edwin H. Land Blvd., Cambridge; 617-868-4444
Courtesy of Prairie Fire
Brendan Joy at Prairie Fire
Joy's food is full of life. He's another chef with a strong reputation in the industry and among food scene followers, largely due to his work at Milton's superb Steel & Rye. Now that he's also helming its new sibling in Brookline, Prairie Fire, we're hoping his name recognition among more casual diners starts to carry beyond the 'burbs. Joy builds marvelous menus around micro-seasons (something honed during a former chef de cuisine role at Cambridge's fab farm-to-table Bondir), and at Prairie Fire, where much of the cooking revolves around a centerpiece wood-fired oven, he's turning up the heat on his already-exceptional talents.
Signature dish: Prairie Fire's pizzas are excellent, and we're partial to the fennel sausage–topped pie with San Marzano tomatoes, provolone and fresh ricotta.
242 Harvard St., Brookline; 617-396-8199