One of my favorite things in life is advising people about where to dine out. I love it. Nothing makes me angrier than paying for a mediocre, overpriced meal. And nothing makes me more pleased than discovering and then steering people to luscious, affordable little holes-in-the-wall and glitz-o-rama glutton emporiums. I probably offer up a restaurant recommendation for Boston-area pals once a day or so. I do not want you to endure a frozen burger, shivering in its rawness; a flat beer, long in search of its suds; or a limp taco dusted with what once resembled tofu, drowning in watery salsa.
And so I’m pausing here to update my website with some of my favorite restaurants that I enjoyed this year. I hope it helps you and that you use it for reference. (And no, even though I write for the Globe’s Food section quite a bit, I’m not taking over for my talented friend, outgoing critic Devra First–though I appreciate that many of you have wondered if that was the plan!) I will, however, continue to write about trends and personalities and luscious burritos and garlicky condiments and grizzled old pizza mavens–among other things.
Anyhow, behold: my go-to recommendations. Dine feverishly, my friends, and with abandon. Life is too short for flaccid dumplings. Eat every sandwich. And happy new year.
- Cozy Date Night Italian: L’Impasto, North Cambridge. Yes, people love Giulia, and it’s a wonderful restaurant. L’Impasto is cozy as hell. The service is kind of eccentric. Everyone in the room seems just this side of drunk. Tell ‘em what you want, and they’ll make it. They play lots of Steely Dan.
- Townie Garlic-a-Go-Go-Scene: Vinnie’s at Night, Somerville. Vinnie’s is in the back of an East Somerville deli. It was in East Somerville before it was cool. This is the rare table-service place where you can grab a bag of Cape Cod chips and a quivering slab of veal parm in the same ten-minute span. Every customer sort of looks like Doris Roberts. Red sauce heaven.
- If You Go to the North End…: Daily Catch.Garlicky as hell calamari and clams, served sizzling from a pan from a guy who should be in Cirque de Soleil. Miniscule. Lines. Go at weird times. Get the black pasta and whatever’s on the chalkboard.
- Fish Tacos: La Victoria in Arlington Center. Nestled in a double tortilla. Swirled liberally with some kind of crack-like spicy mayonnaise. Tender, flavorful, and sadly only two per order.
- Mexican Breakfasts: Mi Pueblito, Orient Heights.Runny eggs drowning in chipotle sauce, soaking the chewiest tortillas you’ll ever sink your chompers into. Such a great little hometown place. Excellent chilaquiles, too, and loud cheerful music. Super affordable. Tons of parking. Easy, cheesy, fun.
- Hangover Tortas: Tenoch, Medford, North End, and Somerville.I love this place. I recommend it constantly. The owner is a lovebug. Their chips and chile de arbol, scooped up with brothy rice, are the taste equivalent of a Wired marathon–slightly uncomfortable, so spicy, so addictive. Their tortas, on telera bread (squishy, very absorbent of cheese and sauces) are magnificent — especially the pungent ground chorizo. The Davis location is the biggest.
- Sichuan Spice-Off: Baldwin Bar, Woburn.This is probably my favorite restaurant in the area. The atmosphere is Gone With the Wind-meets-Jay Gatsby’s bordello. The spices are atomic. The cocktails (get the Betty Draper, a frothy gimlet that tastes like alcoholic ambrosia) will render you senseless. People love the chicken wings here, stung with heat and slightly briny, and rightly so. But I love the pork dumplings with chili vinaigrette, tantalizingly ma la, juicy little bows of acid-trip flavor. And the pickled veggies–tart, crunchy, numbing. And the fish fillet with Napa cabbage, drowning in chili oil.
- Curry Fest: Royal India Bistro, Lexington.Excellent service, creamy curries, velvet-y chicken korma. Their garlic naan–crackly and seeping with garlicky juices–is best dunked in mint chutney. And they deliver!
- Swanky Night Out: The Bancroft, Burlington.Burlington, you say? Land of the Cheesecake Factory and Barnes & Noble? Yep. This place is glitzy as hell, with service that matches anything in Boston, and a hilarious, clamorous bar scene that’s sort of a cross between the Real Housewives of 128 and Cougartown. No matter: The food is divine. It’s a steakhouse, but so much more–Szechuan-crusted ahi tuna, baked clams, pastrami-cured smoked salmon. The dining room is decked out in Pop Art and there are chandeliers and catwalks and it’s just FUN. You’ll easily forget that you’re across from the Burlington Mall.
- Friends Night Out: La Brasa, East Somerville.This is a zesty, pulsating party palace that’s perfect for a disparate group who can’t agree: the friend who only eats at Cheesecake Factory, the one who only drinks craft cocktails, the wily vegan. They have everything, from tacos to pickled eggs to quinoa empanadas to enormous roasts cut table-side. Lovingly made cocktails. People bring their kids, too, but then it gets darker and things get friskier. Great open space. A people-pleaser. There’s a bartender who looks like Pharrell. What more do you want in a restaurant?
I’m limiting myself to ten spots, but there are so many honorable mentions: Eastern Standard (meetings, burgers), TW Food (cozy French on a rainy day), Shojo (hipster Chinatown when you don’t want Chinatown-Chinatown and if you have a yen for fries drenched in saucy tofu), Highland Kitchen (lovable service and soundtracks for aging and aspiring hipsters), Bob’s in Medford (juicy Italian subs), Santa Banta (killer Indian buffet in Waltham), Ritu ki Rasoi (veggie Indian buffet adjacent to a Burlington abandoned lot), Meju (best Korean rice cakes in the world), Sarma (Ana Sortun, she of Oleana and Sofra, has mastered the art of elegant casual–like dining in a beautiful opium den), The Helmand (romantic Afghani in a forgotten fringe of Cambridge), Posto (thin and blistery Davis Square pizzas in sparkly environs, with kid-friendly service).
I’m sure I’m forgetting some places, and I’ll try to update as I think of more. But off the top of my head, these are the spots where I send my friends, and places I feel truly happy to recommend. If you go, let me know how you like ‘em.