We've launched our 2014 Zagat Boston Restaurants Survey, reflecting ratings for 1,207 restaurants as determined by 8,514 surveyors. We've crunched the numbers: which spots have diners determined offer the best Food, Service and Decor in the city? Here are the results, which reveal that while Boston remains fond of tradition (steak- and seafood-oriented restaurants seem to do quite well), exciting trends are aplenty, and culinary creativity is helping new neighborhoods gain ground with diners. (Hint: have you crossed the river lately?)
Top Food in Boston: Neptune Oyster
The North End seafood pearl may have a small space (which gets crowded quickly by lines that form before doors open), but it has one of the biggest and best reputations in Boston. From its legendary lobster rolls to johnnycakes and (of course) oysters, the Hub's top-rated restaurant is clearly the culinary king of seafood spots.
Peek inside Neptune and two other top restaurants by watching our Boston Taste Tour video.
Most Popular: Abe & Louie's
This Back Bay steakhouse is a 15-year stalwart of the city's dining scene, but from lunch meetings to indulgent dinners, it continues to command plenty of pull: sort of like the big-time power brokers and executive-level diners it attracts. Why? A classic, quintessential steakhouse vibe that combines Brahmin sensibilities, a popular patio for people-watching and a 200-deep award-winning wine list. Also, those steaks might have a little something to do with it.
Top Decor: Sorellina
The world may not be black and white, but Sorellina (mostly) is, and keeping things simple and chic seems to work well for chef Jamie Mammano's elegant Italian restaurant. The seven-year-old spot is part of Columbus Hospitality Group, the team behind a number of notably sleek establishments like Mistral and Mooo...., and its attractiveness can be vouched for with appearences in many Boston-set movies. Sorellina most recently scored a cameo in the Mark Wahlberg flick Ted. More importantly, it earned the top spot from Zagat surveyors, who call the surroundings "breathtaking."
Top Service: Menton
Barbara Lynch's Fort Point restaurant takes home the honors for top service once again. The prix fixe mecca is worshiped by many, but it's the reverence that expert servers show to diners (described as "phenomenal" service by surveyors) that truly shines through and sets it apart.
Best Buys: Life Alive
You don't need to be vegan or vegetarian to appreciate the experience at this Central Square restaurant, which takes the top spot for restaurants at the $25 and under cost level. Surveyors of all stripes consider the organic fare "outstanding" and hunger for its ultrafresh ingredients and innovative plates.
Hot Neighborhood: Seaport
Innovative start-ups and a thriving dining scene are turning the Seaport, which has often felt a bit removed from the rest of the city, into a thriving destination. The fact that within two years it will finally have a direct train link from the rest of Boston bodes even better for its future. It's here that Legal Harborside, which boasts a significant "scene," has been working to heighten the image of the Boston-based chain. (Legal Crossing, slated for Millennium Place in Downtown Crossing, may up the ante further.) Relatively recent entries like steakhouse Del Frisco's, Harpoon Beer Hall, Pan-Asian hot spot Empire Restaurant & Lounge and others represent the diversifying options. And then there's Fort Point, the mini-neighborhood linking the Seaport to South Boston, with favorites like Barbara Lynch's Menton and Sportello, and newer hits like Tavern Road and chef Ming Tsai's Blue Dragon.
Getting Warmer: Somerville
On the other side of the river, Cambridge generally challenges Boston for cool openings and innovative cuisine, but we've been seeing Somerville warm up for some time now, and the boiling point may soon be reached. It started over the last few years with the opening of American brasserie Foundry on Elm (plus its handsome adjacent cocktail spot, Saloon), Southern-inspired M3, marvelous Mexican spot The Painted Burro, hipster-friendly Daddy Jones and haute-concept Journeyman, pictured. But within the last year we've seen Spoke Wine Bar pour out greatness, MF Dulock carve itself a notch as one of the area's best butcheries, a revamped Posto and still-approachable but more ambitious spots like East End Grille moving into formerly quiet areas. And star chefs are recognizing it as a place to debut new restaurants: Tim Wiechmann (T.W. Food) just opened his Central European restaurant Bronwyn, Tony Maws (Craigie on Main) unveils Kirkland Tap & Trotter next week, and Ana Sortun (Oleana) brings us Sarma any time now.
Biggest Leap: Il Capriccio
The Waltham upscale-Italian restaurant has been well-received for three decades now, but for the 2014 rankings it leap-frogged to the top 10 on two different lists: it's #10 for Best Food (last year: #32) and #2 for Top Service (last year: #29).
Trend: Small Is the New Big
Hold the War and Peace-length menus, please. While finer dining generally eschews marathon lists for more carefully edited selections, it appears that Boston is particularly warming up to smaller but more focused fare. Maybe it was Menton that got things started by succeeding at its upscale, prix fixe-only approach even in a difficult economy, or the proliferating pop-up movement, which acclimated diners to inherently limited menus. But small-option dining is going over big with crowds: look at the triumph of key newcomers like tasting-only Asta, and a spate of new spots like Belly Wine Bar and Spoke Wine Bar that focus on small plates and snacks, with fewer full-portioned options.
Trend: Open Kitchens
Food TV isn't the only place to be watching your favorite chefs at work. Several of this year's Key Newcomers are restaurants sporting an open-kitchen design: think Blue Dragon, Menotomy Grill & Tavern and Steel & Rye. We enthusiastically accept any trend that gives us a better chance to sense the hustle and bustle of a kitchen and see the experts at work, even if those front-row seats require reservations.