Feature

Boston's 10 Hottest Restaurants Right Now

By Scott Kearnan | March 3, 2015 By Scott Kearnan  |  March 3, 2015
Photo by: Joel Benjamin

What makes a restaurant "hot"? That's highly subjective. Great food and drinks, an enticing atmosphere, strong service and the allure of newness all play a part. It was tough to choose 10 local restaurants for the latest update of our "Hottest Restaurants" series. The allure of some recent mainstays still hasn't worn off, but some new kids on the block already are serving up the right stuff. 

Here's the latest update of our picks for the hottest restaurants in Boston. But how do they compare to yours?

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  • Moonshine 152

    Why It's Hot: "East Coast cuisine" and street food collide at this Southie newcomer from chef Asia Mei (ex Sam's and the late, venerable Hamersley's Bistro). 

    Must-Order: The just-opened spot is turning out tantalizing snacks like Hurricane Popcorn with pork fat and nori, starters like whole grilled pig's ear, and mains like boar-shoulder stroganoff. 

    Insider Tip: True to its name, Moonshine's kitchen blazes into the night, offering a rare-for-the-area late-night menu from 10 PM to 1:30 AM. 

    152 Dorchester Ave., South Boston; 617-752-4191

  • Townsman

    Why It's Hot: Because after shuttering his acclaimed Providence farm-to-table Farmstead Inc., chef Matt Jennnings, a four-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Northeast, has returned to his native Boston with a glossy Downtown option for upscale American brasserie-style plates. It opened only last week, but local food geeks have been anticipating Townsman for nearly a year. 

    Must-Order: Jennings notched three consecutive wins in the local stops of Cochon 555, the city-hopping nose-to-tail culinary series, so naturally meats play a large role in his menu. Groups can graze over gorgeous charcuterie boards (which include offerings provided by gourmet Waltham deli Moody's) and a house terrine board ($35) with rotating selections. 

    Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for thoughtful interior flourishes. Lounge cocktail tables come from the same designer who created the wedding ring of Jennings' wife, Kate; a tile mural features an ad for a Somerville tapioca company that Jennings found in one of his vintage cookbooks; and a Pawtucket furniture maker foraged wood for the black walnut dining room tables. "We wanted to bring a bit of Rhode Island with us," says Jennings.

    120 Kingston St.; 617-993-0750

  • Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar

    Why It's Hot: Right across the street from sibling spot Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant is a similarly sleek, young-professional-skewing space, this time offering vibrant Mexican, mezcal and mouthwatering seafood.

    Must-Order: You'll find nine inventive taco varieties that range from lobster tacos with pickled corn to cola pork carnitas. For the best of two worlds, try these surf 'n' turf tacos ($15). All natural skirt steak is marinated with chimichurri and served with smoked tomatillo salsa, then paired with fried rock shrimp and brushed with an aïoli of aji amarillo pepper. 

    Insider Tip: There are 41 tequilas and mezcals. That includes a menu of high-end varieties, dubbed "Woah Baby!" on the menu, which features an $80 sip of DeLeon Extra Anejo.

    412 W. Broadway, South Boston; 617-917-5626

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    Blackbird Doughnuts

    Why It's Hot: Officially nested in the South End is this coffee- and donuts-focused take-out joint from The Gallows family. (If Blackbird's feathered mascot looks familiar, it also adorns the logo of that parent gastropub.) 

    Must-Order: Stock up on repurposed pizza boxes filled with constantly changing flavors that include maple miso, lemon cream bismarck, pepperoni pizza —and the solid standby vanilla glaze.

    Insider Tip: Prepare for a South End hat trick. The Gallows Group has another restaurant on the way, reportedly an Asian street food-inspired concept that will inhabit the nearby Tremont Street space that formerly belonged to Hamersley's Bistro. Chef Phillip Tang of East By Northeast recently announced via email to press that he'll be stepping into its kitchen. (East By Northeast, meanwhile, closes on March 8.)

    492 Tremont St.; 617-425-0200

  • Night Market

    Why It's Hot: Because the former Tamarind Bay space in Harvard Square has been replaced with a cozy yet colorful subterranean den of Asian street food and sake slushies that you never knew you needed. 

    Must-Order: Chinese Fish Fry ($7.50) a tin can of salty dace seared with shallots and chile, served on a bed of rice with wilted mustard greens. "It's the kind of guilty pleasure a kitchen staff wants after a long day of work," says chef Jason Tom, formerly of  East By NortheastAmerican Seasons and Barbara Lynch's Stir.

    Insider Tip: Splashy murals evoke vintage propaganda posters and contemporary street art — and if you love them, you can buy some of the local artist's work. Night Market's owner was inspired by a painting he purchased back in California years ago, and discovered that the artist, Rene Gagnon, coincidentally is based on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Gagnon went wild in the Night Market space, filling it with reflections of his "post-graffiti abstract expressionism." 

    48 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge; 857-285-6948

  • Café ArtScience

    Why It's Hot: This innovative eatery purveys "the future of food" thanks to founder David Edwards, a renowned engineer and Harvard professor who is also behind Le Laboratoire, a Paris innovation center that is dedicated to merging art and food-focused science. The restaurant is designed to help diners interact with his innovative ideas, and even houses a lecture hall for seminars on sustainability issues, technology and the like.

    Must-Order: Chef Patrick Campbell, alum of No.9 Park, turns out classy French-American fare. But the wildest stuff on the menu will be found at the bar, where our own Mr. Wizard of cocktails, former Clio guru Todd Maul, is all about innovative boozing. Says Maul: "Progress is about looking and something and saying, 'Is this better?' Not just, 'This is the way they used to do it.'" That mindset results in drinks like this Smoked Cocoa Nib Negroni: the coca nibs are smoked then used to infuse Carpano Vermouth. That's combined with gin and Campari, with ice cubes pulled from the blast freezer and shattered with a hammer. 

    Insider Tip: Don't miss the Apple store-like display of Edwards' inventions available for purchase, including Le Whaf which uses ultrasonic waves to create flavor clouds, and the oPhone, a device that provides "scent-based mobile messaging." (You can use the restaurant's "HotSpot" kiosk to try it out, downloading and "texting" to friends the smell of the fragrant duck dish you just devoured.)

    650 Kendall St., Cambridge; 857-999-2193

  • Photo by: Joel Benjamin

    River Bar

    Why It's Hot: Besides the fire pits on its all-seasons patio? This Assembly Row newcomer features a culinary program helmed by Patrick Gilmartin, vet of Rialto and the industry-fave food-truck Staff Meal. River Bar brings together the best of both those worlds, parlaying an "elevated street food" style with ample Asian inflections. 

    Must-Order: You'll find whole grilled fish ($21) cooked with house-preserved lemon, red onion and sautéed greens. "A chef is a curator as well as a creator," says Gilmartin about the importance of sourcing. He works with Georges Bank, the seafood supplier owned by Summer Shack's famed chef Jasper White, to get fresh daily catch like the branzino seen here. 

    Insider Tip: River Bar owner Ken Kelly is evidently impressed with Gilmartin's grub. He just asked the chef to redevelop the culinary approach for one of his other restaurants, The Independent. Head here to check out what's on the new and improved menu. 

    661 Assembly Row, Somerville; 617-616-5561

  • Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar

    Why It's Hot: All eyes have been on the iconic Rosebud diner car in Davis Square, which was recently purchased by Joe Cassinelli of nearby Posto and The Painted Burro. Not only does the joint look better than ever, but it has a bold new menu from chef John Delpha that puts international accents on Southern-inflected American comfort food. 

    Must-Order: Spicy-food lovers will find much to snack upon, including these fiery Atomic BT's, a starter of smoked jalapeño peppers and pulled pork.

    Insider Tip: For dessert, scope a glass case filled with fresh-baked pies — served whole or by the slice.

    381 Summer St., Somerville; 617-629-9500

  • Merrill & Co.

    Why It's Hot: Although it was buoyed by a cool cocktail program from 30 Under 30 honoree Kevin Mabry, this seafood-centric, modern diner-style spot needed time to find its sea legs when it opened last year amid high industry anticipation. Following a recent chef shuffle, choppy waters have given way to a steadier course. Opening chef Jason Cheek has been replaced by Chris Bauer, who continues to helm sibling restaurant jm Curley, and has imported some of the same "funkiness" that has long categorized that Downtown hit. It feels like a more natural fit, given Merrill's cheeky, modern diner-style design. 

    Must-Order: Its new menu is divided into "sassy" and "classy" selections. From the former, check out some pepperoni pizza rangoons (with marinara dipping sauce, naturally). From the latter, get on the duck confit with sesame sticky rice and black vinegar glaze. 

    Insider Tip: Merrill isn't the only restaurant from its parent team to undergo a recent overhaul. In January, Bina Family Hospitality reopened Lala Rokh, its long-standing Persian on Beacon Hill, following full renovations and re-imagining of its menu. Check out a look at the new space and plates here

    1 Appleton St.; 617-728-0728

  • Photo by: Jennifer Che

    Alden & Harlow

    Why It's Hot: It's been over a year since opening, yet chef Michael Scelfo's Harvard Square is still one of the hottest restaurants around, thanks in part to a contingent of industry devotees who have been preaching the gospel of this rustic-Americana restaurant. Just as we were about to pull this one from the list, Alden & Harlow was announced as a James Beard Award semifinalist for Best New Restaurant, giving the spot yet another shot of buzz. 

    Must-Order: The "secret burger," an eight-oz. patty with weekly rotating toppings, is a thing of legend. (And one of the best around Boston, according to your feedback in our recent Burger Survey.)

    Insider Tip: Customers should bring an empty stomach, but leave the attitude at home. This week, Scelfo proved he doesn't play

    40 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-864-2100

Places Mentioned

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Sam's

New American Seaport District
Food23 Decor24 Service22 Cost$43
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Loco Taqueria & Oyster Bar

Mexican South Boston
Food- Decor- Service- CostM
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Lincoln Tavern & Restaurant

American South Boston
Food24 Decor21 Service22 Cost$41
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The Gallows

New American South End
Food22 Decor21 Service21 Cost$37
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Night Market

Asian Cambridge
Food- Decor- Service- CostI
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American Seasons

New American Nantucket
Food27 Decor24 Service26 Cost$70
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Café ArtScience

French Cambridge
Food- Decor- Service- CostM
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River Bar

Bar Somerville
Atmo.- Decor- Service- CostM
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Rialto Restaurant

Italian Cambridge
Food26 Decor25 Service25 Cost$64
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Summer Shack

Seafood Back Bay
Food20 Decor16 Service19 Cost$36
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Summer Shack

Seafood Montville
Food22 Decor17 Service18 Cost$39
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Summer Shack

American Cambridge
Food20 Decor16 Service19 Cost$36
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Summer Shack Restaurant

Seafood Dedham
Food20 Decor16 Service19 Cost$36
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The Independent

American Somerville
Food18 Decor18 Service16 Cost$22
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Food21 Decor22 Service21 Cost$26
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Posto

Italian Cambridge
Food23 Decor22 Service22 Cost$33
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The Painted Burro

Mexican Somerville
Food23 Decor22 Service22 Cost$28
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jm Curley

American Downtown
Food24 Decor21 Service22 Cost$27
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Alden & Harlow

New American Cambridge
Food25 Decor24 Service24 Cost$49

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