#FoodieFaceOff: Boston's Best New Restaurants

You voted — here are winners across several newcomer categories
March 28, 2016
by Scott Kearnan

In a restaurant scene with so many openings, everyone is a winner. But what about the newcomers from the last six months in particular? We couldn't help but notice a few spots with loosely similar identities — similar ambiance, or types of cuisine. And it made us wonder: who is winning? So we took to the Zagat Twitter account with a series of #FoodieFaceOff polls, asking followers to choose their favorites from a series of matchups. (We excluded March openings, since they're too new.) Here's what you picked:

1. Favorite Italian Small Plates: Sfizi vs. SRVThe North End's Sfizi, restaurateur Frank De Pasquale's October replacement for the old Mare location, went head to head with the South End's SRV, a slick-looking bacaro from the Coda Group (the team behind Canary Square, Coda and The Salty Pig). Sfizi had variety on its side, as the menu also incorporates other Mediterranean cuisines, but SRV has one of our most recent 30 Under 30 superstars in co-exec chef Michael Lombardi. 

SRV photo: Morgan Ione Yeager

The winner: SRV. It was a decisive win for the South End spot, which has even more new developments going for it: Top Chef alum Stephanie Cmar just joined the kitchen, and a cloistered rear patio is set to open on April 1 if all (read: weather) goes according to plan.  

2. Favorite South Boston Newcomer: Coppersmith vs. Worden HallSouthie has enjoyed a recent spate of hot openings, including smaller newcomers like The Maiden and Sixth Gear. But we wondered how the neighborhood compared these big, splashy rollouts: Coppersmith, a multi-faceted outfit inside a former copper foundry, and Worden Hall, a slightly equestrian-themed gastropub from the Five Horses Tavern team. 

Worden Hall photo: Joel Benjamin

The winner: Worden Hall. Worden galloped ahead, perhaps thanks to its 100-strong whiskey selection. Or maybe it's the elevated American tavern fare from exec chef Tim McQuinn and exec sous Bill Nurse, a past 30 Under 30 honoree. That said, Coppersmith just recruited former East Coast Grille guru Jason Heard, so we're curious to see how his influence helps that spot continue to stand out. 

3. Favorite Build-a-Bowl Concept: Tahaza Hummus Kitchen vs. Whole Heart ProvisionsThe last year has seen a ton of fast-casuals take the DIY approach to menus, with entries like Dates and Olives and Jody Adams' just-opened Saloniki. Two big standouts: the Eastern Mediterranean-focused Tahaza, opened in East Cambridge by entrepreneur Emily DeBonis, and Whole Heart Provisions, an Asian-inflected idea that unites Roxy's Grilled Cheese founder James DiSabatino with former Sarma chef Rebecca Arnold. 

Whole Heart Provisions photo: Zac Wolf

The winner: TIE! Because when it comes to Tahaza and Whole Heart (pictured above), apparently there's enough love to go around. 

4. Favorite Italian Newcomer: Capo vs. La Motta's Italian SpecialtiesIt's been a good six months for Italian fans. Besides the aforementioned small plates-focused joints, we've also seen two hearty red sauce slingers from large restaurant groups. In South Boston came Capo from the team behind Lincoln Tavern & RestaurantLoco Taqueria & Oyster Bar, a big draw from former Sage chef Anthony Susi; and the South End's La Motta's, a proudly Italian-American eatery from the Aquitaine Group (CinquecentoGaslight and others). Both, incidentally, take a somewhat mid-century approach, eschewing modernity for throwback vibes that seem straight out of Goodfellas or A Bronx Tale. 

La Motta's photo: Izzy Berdan

The winner: La Motta's Italian Specialties. La Motta's took the lead, and there's actually a whole new reason to head over: it introduced brunch service on Saturdays and Sundays (10 AM-3 PM), including a $9.95 prix fixe option for early birds who show up within the first hour. 

5. Favorite New and Funky Fenway-side East Asian: Hojoko vs. Tiger MamaNo longer a barren wasteland offering burgers and dogs, the Fenway neighborhood has blossomed with great restaurants over the last several years. And we just saw the arrival of two more: Hojoko, a kitsch and creative izakaya from duo Tim and Nancy Cushman (O Ya), and Tiger Mama, Top Chef runner-up Tiffani Faison's personal exploration of Southeast Asian cuisines

Tiger Mama photo: Michael Diskin

The winner: Tiger Mama. Faison's latest project roared ahead, and here's something to sink your teeth into: this month Tiger Mama launched daily lunch service (11:30 AM-2:30 PM). The fun menu categories include "Crunch," home to Chicken Salad Viet, and "Slurp" where you'll find options like Duck Noodle Soup. 

6. Favorite Greek Concept: Doretta Taverna & Raw Bar vs. Pelekasis at Wink & NodThis face-off pits an established industry vet against a hot rising toque. Doretta, one of last year's biggest openings, is the latest venture from star chef Michael Schlow (Alta Strada, Tico). Pelekasis began as a pop-up from recent Hell's Kitchen contestant Brendan Pelley, but found a semi-permanent home at the South End's subterranean Wink & Nod as the latest in that spot's "culinary incubator" inhabitants. Amid all the recent Greek openings, which would resonate with readers? 

Pelekasis photo: Brian Samuels Photography

The winner: Pelekasis at Wink & Nod. Here's to the ingenue! Pelley's combination of traditional recipes (Pelekasis is a family surname) and modern whimsy are a hit. We recently opined that his spot deserved to be getting more love, so we're glad to see crowds catching on. 

7. Most Exciting Re-Opening: Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe vs. Villa Mexico CafeTwo shuttered cult favorites, two highly anticipated January re-openings. Charlie's left South Enders in a heartbroken lurch when that iconic diner stopped serving turkey hash in 2014 after 90 years in business. (Thank Stella chef Evan Deluty for saving it.) And Villa Mexico, a burrito-slinger so awesome it lured foodies to its space inside a Beacon Hill gas station until it closed in 2013, finally found a proper home Downtown. Welcome back to both. 

Villa Mexico Cafe photo: Cristopher Castasus

The winner: Villa Mexico Cafe. Victory went to Villa. Those bomb burritos simply stole the show. 

8. Suburban Newcomer That's Most Worth the Trip: Branch Line vs. Little Big DinerThe Boston area is lucky to have some pretty top-notch restaurants in its 'burbs. And these two new spin-offs are hot enough to lure those of us who live in the city too. We'll gladly extend ourselves to get to Branch Line, Watertown's new American brasserie from the Eastern Standard team, and make plans to visit Newton's Little Big Diner, a pint-sized outfit from the team behind the Sycamore and The Merchant, which serves up soul-filled takes on modern Asian street food. But which earned your votes? 

The winner: Branch Line. Branch Line takes the win. Also winning: its leafy 65-seat patio, perfect for lunch breaks and outfitted with a bocce court. Score. 

9. Favorite New Steakhouse: Flank vs. Ocean PrimeA city that loves its steak scored two new concepts. Flank, which opened in February in Waltham, is reviving the "beefsteak" dinner: turn-of-the-century banquets where diners dove into meat with their bare hands. (Don't worry, you can now opt for silverware.) Ocean Prime, meanwhile, is a high-end steak and seafood chain that set up its first Boston outpost right in the heart of the Seaport. Which was your pick for top chops? 

The winner: Ocean Prime. Say it with us: It's prime time. 

Of course, these face-offs were based on just a few of the noteworthy possibilities for each category. Do you have a different favorite new Italian entry? Is there another standout suburban opening you think deserves more credit? Let us know your other ideas (or chime in with your feelings on the above results) in the comments section!

new openings