Sofra Bakery and Cafe
1 Belmont St, Cambridge
Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in the charming, redbrick suburb that is Cambridge on a Sunday morning, Sofra is your place for brunch—even if you’re not a brunch person. With not a piece of maple-glazed bacon in sight, this is Middle Eastern cuisine that transforms breakfast into the most exciting meal of the day. Diners go wild for the shakshuka (eggs baked in a harissa-heavy tomato sauce), but we would argue for the Turkish-style breakfast (a plate of boiled eggs, cucumber and tomato salad, thick yogurt, and hunks of feta). The space looks like a cozy cabin and operates as a café-meets-general-store. The beautifully packaged herb and spice blends and a box of orange-and-rose-scented pastries make great gifts. The divine cardamom and orange blossom buns will make you rethink your feelings on cinnamon and sugar. The same goes for the coffee: The Turks like it dense and unapologetically strong.
249 Pearl St, Somerville
The Turkish word "sarma" has many meanings. It translates to: something wrapped, rolled, enveloped, a bite-sized morsel…you get the idea. Chef Cassie Piuma has modeled her dishes (many of which are, well, enveloped in flaky pastry or wrapped in grape leaves) on meyhane, the bar bites you would eat in a tavern if you were in Istanbul. Sarma’s parsnip fritters with crushed nuts are perfect—and even more perfect with a cold beer. The beef jerky in a sticky, syrupy date molasses pairs well with wine. And every bite of the mezze (Middle Eastern tapas) brings a different flavor and texture—some hot, some cold, some just wildly and excitingly foreign. Bright Turkish plates adorn the walls, while seats are upholstered in multihued traditional fabrics imbuing the space with a casual, celebratory atmosphere. Even the drinks—full of flavors like orange blossom, rose water, and oh so much mint—are a nod to the Arabian Peninsula.
Barcelona Wine Bar
525 Tremont St., South End
Barcelona is a convivial, lively wine and tapas bar in trendy South End, an area that's also home to the long-established Toro. But clearly the neighborhood’s appetite for Spanish food has spiked—both spots are perpetually full. There are a few other Barcelonas, and all are good, but here, it’s the atmosphere as much as the food that keeps guests planted in the wooden seats well past bedtime. Given that Spanish food is designed to be shared, going with hungry friends—and therefore an excuse to order half the menu—is entirely sensible. A heavy, steaming pan of saffron-flecked paella is made for many spoons, while garlicky gambas (prawns) al ajillo, boquerones (anchovies) slick with oil, and a platter of jamón sit firmly in the dig-in-with-your fingers category. Linger at the table with a last glass of sweet sherry, and mop up every remaining morsel with hunks of crusty bread.
Craigie on Main
853 Main St., Cambridge
Craigie on Main is one of those old-world restaurants where you order a cocktail at the bar before dinner, where the the food is coursed (not a small plate to share in sight), and where you do not steal glances at your phone. A farm-to-table, sort of French but mostly New American interpretation of a bistro, this place leans into the trappings of an old-school classic: starched white tablecloths, redbrick walls, and wood-shuttered windows. The menu is packed with comforting mainstays. Sweet, licorice-y fennel cuts through the richness of Craigie’s olive-oil-poached salmon, and the slow-cooked, thoroughly indulgent Vermont pork belly is a meal made for cold Boston winters. Either way, a side of white corn grits infused with peppery Pecorino is essential.
63 Salem St., North End
Admittedly, the line out the door can be a turnoff—but then again, there’s a line for a reason. It moves fast, and these bivalves are worth the wait. Watching the servers shuck hundreds of oysters behind the bar is almost (but not quite) as enjoyable as knocking back a dozen of these briny creatures with generous dollops of mignonette and a crisp glass of sparkling wine. The rest of the menu lives up to the hype—the fish entrées are especially good. The less sophisticated but no less delicious johnnycake—an airy cornmeal pancake soaked in sweet honey butter and topped with sturgeon caviar—is childhood indulgence and grown-up tastes combined; order one for the table.
Island Creek Oyster House
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Fenway
In a city of oysters, these are different. Rather than advertising wild-caught, Oyster Creek is ahead on the sustainability curve—they source their mollusks from small farms specializing in aquaculture. The restaurant started as an extension of Island Creek Oyster farm, which has been pioneering ocean-friendly aquaculture since 1992, and these special oysters are the pride of the menu. The fish selection changes daily, depending on what comes in on the boats, and the “from the land” section covers the comfort-food bases with a cheesy ramp rigatoni (dusted in toasty, citrusy breadcrumbs), skirt steak, roast chicken, and an all-American burger. The restaurant is a pleasant spot to spend an evening—high tables and chairs, blonde wood everywhere, and an especially well-stocked bar.
21 Union Square, Somerville
There are a couple of ways to approach a meal at Juliet: You could make a reservation for the prix-fixe menu, or you could chance it, stroll in, and the à la carte menu is all yours. This level of what can only be described as pageantry is entirely worth it for the French-tinged food—runny omelettes flecked with breadcrumbs, or a Bostonian salade Niçoise (marinated mussels instead of tuna), which, when made with premium ingredients, is one of the most satisfyingly healthy meals to eat. For the planners who booked tables, the set menus change all the time and are based around regional cuisines—the Juliet interpretation of the dishes of the Basque coast, for example—keeping it fresh for the regulars.
505 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge
We always wonder what chefs really eat when they’re off the clock. Little Donkey is one restaurant to address this question. James Beard Award winners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette have created a menu of food they eat at home (or dishes inspired by their travels). The result is a series of international, tapas-style small plates not wed to one culture or cuisine. This mishmash includes charred avocado with sharp yogurt and sweet-and-sour pomegranate molasses, manti (a kind of Turkish ravioli that resemble little pinched parcels) stuffed with meats and dolloped with garlicky crème fraîche, and biryani (a South Asian spiced curry-and-rice mix layered in a pot and baked for celebrations). For those craving good old American comfort, order the fried chicken sandwich. The menu could easily be classified as a roundup of the world’s culinary greatest hits. If you’re curious about the name, consider that donkeys are beloved, hardworking, and reliable—not unlike the owners themselves.
One Kendall Square, 15 Hampshire St., Cambridge
"Mamaleh," a Yiddish term of endearment for a child, sums up how this deli makes you feel–cherished, maybe a little bit spoiled, and certainly well fed. Deli classics are served up in this roomy, diner-style space, most lovingly prepared the old-school way (the pastrami is spiced, cured, and smoked for days), some dishes with a little modern flair thrown in. The bagels and the bialys are all made in-house—ready to be slathered in herby cream cheese and every variety of smoked fish. The blintzes, oozing with not-too-sweet raspberry preserves, are heaven-sent and especially good with an egg cream (syrup, seltzer, and root beer).
Myers + Chang
1145 Washington St, South End
South End has come into its own, and local restaurateurs are racing to set up shop. Myers + Chang (operated by a husband-and-wife team) was one of the first in. It’s like a South Asian diner with great street food. And don’t be fooled by the casual, graffiti-laden setting. The food is incredible. The menu is laid out by dietary restriction—nut-free dinner, gluten-free dinner, shellfish-free dinner—to address how many of us eat today. It can be tough to eat in Boston without pasta or fish taking center stage, but the vegetable dishes at Myers + Chang put to rest the notion that meals need animal meat (although the chicken wings and pork belly buns are heaven). Try the red-miso-glazed carrots or any of the noodle dishes. Spice- and herb-soaked vegetables sautéed in a piping hot pan and twirled with noodles is possibly the perfect meal. And the dim sum brunch on weekends is a welcome change of pace from eggs and bacon.
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