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Boston's 10 Most Important Restaurant Openings of 2015

These are the newcomers that rocked our dining scene
December 14, 2015
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by Scott Kearnan

Another year, another slew of high-profile openings. But which new restaurant has been the most important and impactful? We've done our best to measure the splash on Boston's dining scene, and here are our picks for top 10 wave-makers. Have other ideas? Tell us in the comments below. 

Edit: This post has been corrected from an earlier version. 

10. Shepard

It's all about food, not fanfare, at this highly anticipated follow-up from James Beard Award winner Susan Regis. This follows the close of Upstairs on the Square in 2013. For Shepard, she teamed with Hi-Rise Bread Company's Rene Becker, as well as young guns like chef de cuisine Peter McKenzie (one of 2013's 30 Under 30 crew) and his wife, pastry consultant Mareena (one of this year's 30 Under 30 crew). The result: homey, uncomplicated seasonal cooking over an open flame, set in a simple room (the former home of Chez Henri) that never distracts from what's for dinner. 

Must-Try: The kitchen seems especially adept with veggies, and we're loving the charred cabbage ($12) with caramelized yogurt.

1 Shepard St., Cambridge; 617-714-5295

9. Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar

Michael Schlow (Alta Strada, Tico) traded one Mediterranean cuisine for another this year. Out went his long-running Italian Via Matta, and in its place arrived Doretta, a Greek restaurant riding a wave of popularity for Eastern Mediterranean around town. The menu emphasizes meze (like simple grilled octopus with sweet onions and capers), with a few larger plates around for good measure, including some beautiful whole fish. Add gallery-worthy art on the walls (courtesy of Schlow's artist-wife, Adrienne) and a bar slinging creative cocktails for fashionable crowds, and you have a star chef's bright return. 

Must-Try: There's much more complex meze on the menu, but sometimes the simplest dishes really shine. The super-fresh and flavorful Village Salad ($10) was one of the 10 Best Things We Ate This Year

79 Park Plaza; 617-422-0008

8. Babbo Pizzeria

Maybe Boston's occasionally turbulent relationship with Todd English left us hesitant to trust again, but the Hub has not always seemed like the most hospitable city to major marquee chefs. (Example: Jean-Georges' late Market, which never gained traction.) We're allergic to the fawning, but perhaps we're at least starting to open our arms again. Last year, Bar Boulud rolled out in the Back Bay. And now Mario Batali's big enoteca made a splash in the Seaport. The moderate prices have been widely welcomed in that neighborhood, and the opening was accompanied by an even bigger (literally) announcement: Batali is bringing his Eataly, a 45,000-sq.-ft., three-floor restaurant and marketplace to the Prudential Center. It's aiming for a late 2016 opening.

Must-Try: It's all about the pizza pies — especially the Guanciale ($14) topped with egg, parmigiano and scallions. 

11 Fan Pier Blvd.; 617-421-4466

7. Banyan Bar + Refuge

We mourned when legendary Hamersley's Bistro closed, then cheered when we heard that the same team behind the Gallows and Blackbird Doughnuts was moving into its South End spot. But it was still hard to imagine what newcomer could possibly compete with our memories of hallowed Hamersley's. Smartly, Banyan doesn't try. Its funky, Pan-Asian, gastropub-style small plates couldn't be more different from the classic French-American food that was once served in this space, which has been re-imagined from a white-tablecloth dining room to the kind of contemporary, Eastern-inflected hot spot that serves Kirin slushies at the bar. Hopes were high, and Banyan met them by branching out. 

Must-Try: Buns and dumplings are a strong suit. We always love to get our claws into the warm lobster bun ($15) with honey miso butter and pickled sea beans.

553 Tremont St.; 617-556-4211

6. Hojoko

Expectations were high for Hojoko, a quirky izakaya inside the Fenway neighborhood's rock 'n' roll–themed Verb Hotel. Why? Because we were finally getting a more casual, moderately priced menu from the folks behind O Ya, Boston's most expensive restaurant (by our number crunching, anyway). It didn't disappoint. Not only is the Japanese tavern fare supremely creative, but the cocktails are stellar, the sake program sings, and the space itself is one of our favorite new interiors, a colorful burst of midcentury kitsch that answers the question, "How would hipster Donna Reed decorate her house?"

Must-Try: Get obsessed with the okonomiyaki ($8) with smoky bacon, shiitake, yam, truffle Kewpie and "Hojoko honkytonky sauce." Pro-tip: pair it with Bushido Keg Sake. Hojoko bills itself as the first place in the country to consistently serve keg sake. 

1271 Boylston St.; 617-670-0507

5. SELECT Oyster Bar

Former 30 Under 30 honoree Michael Serpa left his longtime mooring at Neptune Oyster to launch this seafood spot, and Bostonians were appropriately excited. Not only were we getting a new restaurant from one of the city's young talents, but the Back Bay — a neighborhood that always seems in need of more quality, nonchain eateries — was scoring an independently owned, neighborhood restaurant tucked inside a traditional brownstone, where the focus is on quality of product rather than volume. Plus, Serpa's decision to add a 20% pre-tax gratuity to checks made his one of the first Boston restaurants to chime in to the currently buzzy conversation about how the industry can best ensure the appropriate compensation of service staff. (See also: Danny Meyer's new no-tipping policy.) Most importantly, SELECT is just as great as we'd hoped, solidifying Serpa's status as a seafood king. 

Must-Try: The simply prepared scallop ceviche ($16) spotlights Serpa's commitment to quality and made our list of the 10 Best Things We Ate in 2015

50 Gloucester St.; 857-239-8064

4. Townsman

This was the homecoming we were waiting for. Three-time James Beard nominee Matt Jennings made the decision to shutter his highly regarded farm-to-table trend forerunner, Providence's Farmstead Inc., and open his first Boston restaurant. Thus was born Townsman, occupying the bottom floor of the Radian building, a luxury residence tower at the intersection of Chinatown and the Financial District. Jennings, a three-time Cochon 555 winner, brings his nose-to-tail know-how via elaborate charcuterie, and meat-heavy mains are a highlight. Whether you're pulling up a Shaker chair to one of the countrified walnut dining tables, snagging a stool at the big bar or getting a front-row view of the kitchen from a small crudo counter, it's easy to see the level of ambition all over the place. 

Must-Try: The house terrine board ($32) is a great way to sample the full spectrum of Jennings' gift for meaty eats. 

120 Kingston St.; 617-993-0750

3. Tiger Mama

Four long years after she opened her Fenway barbecue restaurant Sweet Cheeks Q, three-time Top Chef alum Tiffani Faison finally rolled out her follow-up. Tiger Mama opened last week just a few doors down from Sweet Cheeks, and it is worlds apart, trading down-home American for funky and adventurous Southeast Asian. Inspired by travels with her wife and co-owner Kelly Walsh, Faison culls ideas from Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian cuisines, among others, offering her own interpretations in a wild space that abounds with copper palm fronds at its rear tiki bar (one of two), a live green wall that flourishes with herbs in the dining room, and a big disco-ball-style elephant sculpture by the host stand. It's smart and spirited, roaring right out of the gate.

Must-Try: Having just opened, the jury's still out on which dishes will emerge as the go-to favorites. But to start, the chile-spiced short-rib crudo ($13) served with an herb salad, black vinaigrette and charred leeks seems like great example of what Faison is going for here. (For our in-depth look at Tiger Mama, head here.)

1363 Boylston St.; 617-425-6262

2. Yvonne's

It takes some moxie to move in to the space left behind by Locke-Ober, the revered 1875-founded fine-dining establishment that was one of Boston's oldest restaurants when it finally closed in 2012. But Yvonne's, named for the subject of a nude painting once hanged in Locke-Ober, is more than a worthy successor to the space: it pays homage to the past while embracing Boston's future. The sexy space brings in the appropriate Gilded Age finery — think flocked wallpaper, Locke-Ober's original hand-carved mahogany bar and a library lounge with flickering fireplace — but adds a bit of irreverence. (You'll sip on communal cocktail bowls under an oil panting of, say, Christopher Walken dressed as a military general.) Two of last year's 30 Under 30 stars are in the kitchen: chef Juan Pedrosa, whose eats are uniformly awesome, and pastry chef Kate Holowchik, whose playful treats include classy Choco Tacos and macaron ice cream sandwiches in flavors like Swedish Fish. They built it and crowds are coming. While the ghosts of decades' worth of "who's who" power players still linger here, Yvonne's is the new go-to for today's well-fed social butterflies. 

Must-Try: Hard to choose, but the corn and farro salad ($12), one of the best things we ate this year, is emblematic of Pedrosa's deft hand at balancing flavors. 

2 Winter Place; 617-267-0047

1. Tasting Counter

Boston is becoming an increasingly adventurous food city, and chef Peter Ungár's experiential Somerville spot is the perfect example. Ungár — previously of Boston's late, esteemed Aujourd'hui and the Michelin-starred Paris restaurant Le Grand Véfour — focuses on nine-course tasting menus filled with gorgeous, esoteric ideas (think oyster with cucumber-seaweed gel, nashi pear and candied Meyer lemon). They're prepared directly in front of guests at the 20-seat counter, where your presence is secured via prepaid ticket purchase. Price — inclusive of tax, gratuity and beverages — is based on reservation time and demand. They've also set a goal to be a zero-carbon-footprint restaurant. It's smart, thoughtful and stylish. It's revolutionary — Somerville address aside, it's so very Boston. 

Must-Try: Menus change constantly, and you never know what you'll be served. That's half the fun. 

14 Tyler St., Somerville; 617-299-6362

year in review