There is no shortage of incredible Italian food in Beantown, which makes trekking ten minutes outside the city for eggplant Parmesan a hard sell. But Sinatra is worth it. It’s located in the sparkling new Encore, the sister location of the Vegas-based hotel and casino, which boasts an exquisite spa. The interiors are extravagant—crimson tablecloths, brass chandeliers, life-size drawings of Frank himself—but they make the night unforgettable. Because that’s the thing: You come here to celebrate something. (And when you have several hours to spend on dinner.) Start with the crema de cannellini with fresh lobster, the octopus and salty fried capers, and the arancini finished with truffle oil. Take a minute to sip your glass of Cabernet and listen to “My Way” playing in the background. Then go in for the Parmesan with fresh pomodoro and the spicy cioppino with fresh New England scallops, clams, and lobster. If you have room—and even if you don’t—the chocolate mousse with berries is a perfect ending.
1395 Washington St., South End
The Gallows is a gastropub done right.
102 Waltham St., South End
Stir—a dreamy all-in-one demo kitchen and cookbook store—is the kind of place you pile into with a group on a chilly Wednesday night to learn pasta-rolling and wine-swilling from the masters. A bunch of stools surround the chef’s island, bordered on one side by the open kitchen and on the other by floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with culinary tomes from kitchen gods around the world. Browsing is encouraged. If you’re more the hates-to-cook-loves-to-eat kind, Stir regularly holds tasting menu evenings where you might go with old friends or alone to make new ones. Either way, everyone sits around the intimate table, sharing food and conversation in a setting so cozy, it feels like home.
550 Tremont St., South End
Chef Barbara Lynch has her hometown all figured out. She knows what the Bostonians want: oysters, at least twelve varieties with nearly as many fixings, served in the cozy basement of a classic brownstone, with chatty servers to talk booze and bivalves with. In fact, B & E Oyster moonlights as one of the South End’s most famous wine bars—the seventy-bottle-strong list is that good. Really. We recommend forgoing the Tabasco and dousing your oysters in the restaurant’s prosecco-based mignonette instead. Oh, and book in for a shucking class with the pros—usually held on weekday afternoons, champagne included.
Banyan Bar & Refuge
553 Tremont St., South End
Dim sum, avocado bao, spicy salmon poke, chicken tikka masala, dragon noodles, and kimchi fried rice—the number of dishes we like to order at this Asian-influenced restaurant seems to grow with every visit.
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.