Welcome to The Best Things the Eater Boston Team Ate This Week, summer 2021 edition. On Fridays, we share a restaurant dish or two that really hit the spot in the past week. (Check out last season’s edition here.) Want to share your own favorites? Join our Facebook group to give and get recommendations for local dining.
Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; the latest data about the delta variant indicates that it may pose a low-to-moderate risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial transmission. The latest CDC guidance is here; find a COVID-19 vaccination site here.
September 2: Seafood and txakoli on a South End patio
A variety of seafood small plates at Atlántico
600 Harrison Ave., South End, Boston
I headed to Michael Serpa’s new spot Atlántico back in October, shortly before it opened, to take some photos of the space and food for a pre-opening feature. It was one of the only bits of in-person reporting I had done in many months. Just before the start of the pandemic, I had spent a few glorious days eating my way through Barcelona. Between that trip and that Atlántico photoshoot and interview, I had mostly been a hermit, so seeing Serpa’s menu — a seafood-focused collection of small plates inspired by Spain and Portugal — brought me right back to that vacation. I was so excited to return to Atlántico once it opened.
Life (and the pandemic) got in the way for a while, but I finally made it to the patio last Friday for a sunny lunch date, and it got me dreaming of that vacation all over again, from the tomato bread (pretty sure we had this with just about every meal in Barcelona) to the garlicky clams studded with chunks of chorizo. A glass of txakoli — wine from Basque Country — was the perfect complement: crisp, light, and ever-so-slightly bubbly.
What a nice midday escape. It’s open for lunch on Fridays; the rest of the week, there’s cafe service in the mornings and early afternoons. (Speaking of weekday lunch, check out our new map — 25 weekday lunch options in and around Boston with patio seating.) It’s also open for dinner daily, plus weekend brunch.
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
August 27: A feast of Thai small plates and more
Kor moo yang and more from Mahaniyom; sliders and tots from Snappy Pattys; crispy sweet and sour pork with chile oil from Golden Garden
Mahaniyom, 236 Washington St., Brookline Village; Snappy Pattys, 454 High St., West Medford; Golden Garden, 9 Highland Ave., Malden
I think Mahaniyom, the Thai restaurant and cocktail bar in Brookline Village, is my biggest restaurant obsession of 2020-2021. I fell for it hard when it opened just weeks pre-pandemic (here’s an inside look at some of the dishes that I published in late February 2020); I quickly returned several times, bringing different friends and eating my way through as much of the menu as possible. Then, boom, pandemic, you know the drill. I never got around to getting takeout from Mahaniyom because it’s a bit too far away from me, but I definitely kept checking the website to see if somehow I had moved into delivery range. (Alas, I did not.) Finally, after over a year away from this perfect restaurant, the stars aligned — kid in daycare, day off from work — and my husband and I were able to get over there for lunch this past week.
It is still just as magical as it was when I first ate there (and again, and again) in early 2020. I think Jolyon Helterman expressed it well in his recent review for Boston magazine, which posits that less is more. The restaurant “patently rejects the notion of serving as a compendium of every dish in the history of [Thai] cuisine, much less a hazy-borders hit parade of pan-Asian crowd pleasers.”
This isn’t where you go for a giant menu of customizable curry and noodle dishes; this is where you go for a tightly curated take on modern Thai cuisine — with an exceptional cocktail program, too. The place has a young, funky feel (don’t miss the eye-catching bathroom, decorated with a blacklight-responsive mural); the volume was up on the hip hop soundtrack on our Monday afternoon visit. I sipped Thai iced tea with lime alongside my crispy chicken skins because, well, it was Monday afternoon, but they’d pair so well with a crisp Thai lager or something stronger.
Most of the dishes are snack-sized, so you can try a bunch. Don’t miss the kor moo yang (grilled pork jowl) if available, as well as nang kai tod (the aforementioned crispy chicken skin) and yum ngoh (rambutan salad). The crab fried rice is a must, too. That one brought me right back to this little canal-side restaurant in Bangkok, Nhong Rim Klong, that specializes in all things crab.
I love this place so, so much.
I do want to throw in a couple honorable mentions for this week; it was a good week of eating!
- Snappy Pattys: The patio out back is super cute, the service is exceedingly friendly in an old-school Medford way, and the food is pure comfort. Great sliders? Check. Giant bowl of tater tots? Check. Mojito made with fresh mint from the restaurant’s little garden? Check.
- Golden Garden: I got delivery from this Malden spot thanks to a tip on Instagram (please reach out if there’s something you think I should be eating!), and it’s going right into my regular rotation of Chinese takeout/delivery options. (My growing Medford/Malden list currently features Chilli Garden — see below — and District Kitchen.) The pork, leek, and shrimp dumplings were solid; the double cooked bacon and the sauteed northeast lapi (a cold noodle dish with cucumbers) were both worth trying as well. The highlight, though was the crispy sweet and sour pork with chile oil. A little spicy, very crispy, and extremely sweet, it tasted like pork candy in the best way possible. (If you don’t have a major sweet tooth, this might not be the dish for you.)
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
August 18: Meat pies on the waterfront
Sneaking in on Wednesday this week since I’ll be on a staycation for the rest of the week. (We had grand plans to go to Philly for a wedding — and to eat at South Philly Barbacoa and Kalaya Thai — but with COVID numbers trending up, we decided to stay home. Big thanks to everyone in our Facebook group who’s been helping me figure out some fun weekday lunch ideas since our kid’s in daycare now and we can actually go out on some “dates” during the day while I’m off work!)
Couple spots to highlight this week:
- KO Pies: You probably already know and love it, and if you do, you know that it’s been set to close for a few years now. The last few days of business are now scheduled; get there this Thursday through Sunday and/or Saturday, August 28, for your final Australian meat pies under chef and owner Sam Jackson. (Yes, the new owners of the space will carry on the meat pie torch, and I have high hopes for their success, but you should still get over there before the changeover to say goodbye to Jackson and the crew and the quirky little meat pie shop in the very artsy marina in East Boston’s shipyard.) I said my goodbyes this past weekend with a classic beef pie, some potatoes wedges, and a ginger beer, all excellent. The patio was packed full of other fans saying farewell; we headed down the street to the lovely Piers Park to grab a picnic table and water views. This place has always felt so special and so unique to the Boston dining scene. I’m really going to miss it but wish Jackson best of luck on his new adventures, and I’m excited to see what the team behind the forthcoming Seabiscuit does with the place.
- The Shop at Dovetail: I’m a big fan of Brewer’s Fork (see June 24 entry below), so I was excited to grab lunch from the sandwich-focused takeout portion of their new place, Dovetail. The four-way roast beef sandwich (well, three-way, I guess, because I omitted the aioli) was a hit, as well as the house-made chips and cookie. I love that I was also able to stock up on some provisions for dinner — fresh pasta, a sausage ragu, and a bottle of Allagash’s funky sour ale, Coolship Red. (My only knowledge of Allagash, up until touring the brewery a couple years back, was Allagash White. Solid beer, sure, but I had no idea that Allagash also brews some really cool, interesting stuff, like the spontaneously fermented Coolship series. Now I’m always on the lookout for it and was thrilled to find Coolship so close to home.)
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
August 6: A super-quick getaway to Providence
Fried seafood from Dune Brothers Seafood and sweets from Aleppo Sweets
Dune Brothers Seafood, 239 Dyer St., Providence, RI; Aleppo Sweets, 107 Ives St., Providence, RI
We tend to get down to Providence a few times a year to meet up with family and eat as much as humanly possible in a small amount of time, so I have a bunch of spots I love but an even longer list of spots I want to try. We only had the briefest bit of an afternoon available on this visit but managed to hit a couple of new-to-me spots: downtown fish shack Dune Brothers Seafood and the acclaimed Aleppo Sweets.
Our giant takeout spread from Dune Brothers — lots of fish and chips, some chowder — felt like the epitome of a New England summer. The only thing that would have made it more New England-y would have been eating it outdoors on the water somewhere, but we were juggling an energetic infant and toddler, which was easiest to do back at the house. (We introduced our infant to clam chowder, initiating him into true New Englander status. He was a fan!)
Dune Brothers’s thing is that the fish is fried in beef fat. I don’t eat fish and chips often enough to describe whether this tasted different than other versions I’ve had, but I will say it was very good and very filling.
I wish we could have settled into Aleppo Sweets — such a gorgeous little cafe, founded by baker Youssef Akhtarini, a Syrian refugee who passed through Turkey en route to Providence — for an afternoon, sipping ginger, cardamom, and mint tea or Arabic coffee and trying every kind of baklava. We just had time to grab a few pieces to go, digging them out of a cardboard box hours later in our own kitchen, licking pistachio dust and syrup off our fingers in an ambiance not quite as beautiful as this. One bite, though, and everything melted away and all I could think about was how to get back there ASAP and eat so much more baklava.
Turns out Aleppo Sweets ships its baklava, and I encourage you to order some — or a lot — right away. Try the variety tray for a sampling of four different types. Let me know if you need help eating any of it… —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
July 30: A big Sichuan spread, birria tacos, and more
Sichuan dumplings and chicken with dry pepper from Chilli Garden; birria tacos from El Mexsal; Spring Street sandwich from Neighborhood Kitchen; banh hoi bowl with crispy pork belly from Viet Citron; poke and brown sugar milk tea with boba from Ono Pokébar
Chilli Garden, 41 Riverside Ave., Medford; El Mexsal, 97 Medford St., Malden; Neighborhood Kitchen, 84 Spring St., Medford; Viet Citron, 47 Middlesex Tpke., Burlington; Ono Pokébar, 1923 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
One of the joys of moving to a new area is locking in your new go-to takeout spots; if you’ve been following my recommendations here for the past few months, you know I’ve been eating a lot of takeout and delivery (probably too much) around my new home of Medford (and Malden next door). Since I moved here, I’ve heard from everyone that Chilli Garden is Medford’s essential Chinese restaurant if you’re craving fiery Sichuan. Whenever I post a photo of food from Chilli Garden, a million folks I didn’t know frequented the Medford area come out of the woodwork to rave about their favorite dishes at the restaurant. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to order a few times, I can definitely say this has earned a place on my sacred takeout shortlist. Favorites so far: Sichuan-style pork dumplings and house special chicken with dry pepper. I’ve heard I need to try one of the fresh green peppercorn dishes, too — I’ll be sure to get one next time.
A few other highlights from the week:
- Birria tacos from El Mexsal, a fairly new spot in Malden. While birria tacos are certainly not new, they’ve enjoyed a bit of an explosion in recent years, thanks in part to social media, and you can now find them all over the Boston area. (In fact, a ton more have popped up since I published that map — probably time for an update!) The ones at El Mexsal are quite good, and I look forward to trying more there, although let’s be honest, I’ll probably just order the birria tacos every time.
- Fried chicken sandwich (the “Spring Street”) from Neighborhood Kitchen in Medford. I’ve written about this spot before; it’s known for its chicken and waffles, among other things. The Spring Street sandwich, with chipotle mayo* and bacon jam, is top-notch. *I can’t speak for the mayo because I’m a weird mayo-hater and ordered it without, but my husband vouches for the sandwich in its intended form, and I was more than pleased without the mayo.
- Banh hoi bowl with crispy pork belly from Viet Citron. Geographically speaking, this one’s a little outside of my usual takeout range, but my husband had a work thing in Burlington around lunchtime one day, so I asked him to bring home lunch from this great Vietnamese spot, and he obliged. The crispy pork belly is a must.
- Poke and brown sugar milk tea with boba from Ono Pokébar. I’ve been eyeing this since it opened a little over a year ago underneath Yume Wo Katare in Cambridge; I finally ordered this week and was not disappointed. You can load a bowl up with all your favorite things with the build-a-bowl option, or go with one of their premade choices. Either way, I think this is one of the better poke options around town.
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
July 23: Sushi and breakfast tacos
Sushi at Ebi
290 Somerville Ave., Union Square, Somerville
I’ve always been a bit of an Ebi super-fan and could probably live solely on the torched salmon belly. It was the first thing I wanted to eat after giving birth, and if COVID restrictions hadn’t prevented my husband from leaving the hospital and coming back with it, it would have happened. (Instead, it was the first thing I ate when I got home from the hospital. I’m pretty sure we got more the next day, too.)
While Ebi has always done a lot of takeout and delivery, it’s also always been a nice enough spot for dining in, especially if you ate at the sushi bar. But it closed a few months back for a massive interior overhaul, and now it’s not just “nice enough” — it’s really quite lovely. I’m not sure how I feel about most of the changes that Union Square is undergoing these days (actually, I do know how I feel, but that’s a rant for another day), but Ebi, for one, has changed for the better, and I think the renovations (and new cocktails!) have taken it from a nice spot for excellent sushi to a swanky date-night spot for excellent sushi.
There’s a stunning mural of the neighborhood, a person eating sushi, and a cat by artist Adelaide Bruce, who also did the gorgeous octopus mural on the side of Sarma. The cocktails include winners like the “Friend of a Friend” (gin, matcha, agave, cream, lime zest) and “Ringo Smash” (bourbon, apple shrub, pineapple, lemon, lapsang souchong tea, mint). There’s a neat little private dining room, decorated with a sushi boat mural, that I can’t wait to rent out for some future special occasion.
I was sad to miss out on several months of eating Ebi’s sushi while renovations were ongoing, but the new and improved Ebi was well worth the wait. Now please excuse me while I go eat more torched salmon belly.
(Oh, this was also my first time eating indoors at a restaurant in 16 months. It felt almost normal! I’m not quite ready to make a habit of it — I want to wait and see what happens with the delta variant, especially since I have a too-young-to-be-vaccinated baby — but it was great to experience a couple hours of pseudo-normalcy just this once.) —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
Breakfast tacos at Glasser Coffee Co.
589 Washington St., Brighton
This recently opened Oak Square cafe serves carefully crafted coffee beverages and a small food menu. One of those menu options is the breakfast taco. Glasser, a sibling establishment to Allston’s Coreanos, takes that Mexican and Korean inspiration to this dish. Starting with a nice fluffy tortilla, the taco is then stacked with egg, cheese, and potatoes. You can top it with black bean and corn salsa or bacon for no additional charge. The black bean and corn is a great way to add some brightness to the taco. It’s garnished with arugula and black sesame seeds, and spicy mayo can be added — which it should, because it brings just enough heat to complete the meal. Grab this taco with a cortado to start your day off right. Glasser is open until 3 p.m. six days a week (closed Tuesdays). —Samer Khudairi
[Ed. Note: I just want to add another plug for our Facebook group, which you can join here. One recent thread centered around where to find good breakfast tacos around the Boston area, featuring Glasser Coffee Co. and some other great options. —RLB]
July 16: Nam prik ong, fried chicken, and more
Nam prik ong from Crying Thaiger; iced coffee and more from Reign Drink Lab; treats from Cafe Madeleine
Crying Thaiger, 114 Ferry St., Malden; Reign Drink Lab, 1370 Dorchester Ave., Dorchester, Boston; Cafe Madeleine, 517 Columbus Ave., South End, Boston
I know, it seems like I eat takeout or delivery all day, every day, but I actually cooked quite a few times over the last couple of weeks! I want to give a shoutout to two old-school Boston cookbooks for providing me with sustenance in recent days: Stir by Barbara Lynch and The Thrill of the Grill by Chris Schlesinger (of East Coast Grill fame, a restaurant I miss terribly) and food writer John Willoughby. From Stir, I made one of my favorite Boston dishes, the spicy tomato soup and grilled cheese from Sportello. It’s not really the type of tomato soup and grilled cheese you’d throw together on a weeknight — it’s a Barbara Lynch recipe, so of course there are going to be some fancy extra steps — but it was well worth the effort for the caraway-spiked, ultra-thin, ultra-crispy sandwich and smooth, spicy soup. Staying along the soup theme, I made an enormous portion of a Portuguese-inspired chorizo, sweet potato, and kale soup from Schlesinger’s book, which was flavor-packed and hearty. It went well with Doc’s cheddar biscuits from the same book.
Actual restaurant food and beverage shoutouts for the past couple of weeks:
- Crying Thaiger in Malden continues to be one of my Thai delivery go-tos. The latest winner is the nam prik ong, a northern Thai dip made of chiles, pork, and tomatoes. I want to dip everything into it.
- I finally made it over to Reign Drink Lab in Dorchester; the visit inspired this Dole whip roundup thanks to Reign’s pineapple whip. The Dark & Stormy (nitro cold brew, Vietnamese coffee, and sea salt cream) was also excellent, as were the doughnuts from Lionheart Confections, which is popping up there on summer weekends.
- I feel like I’ve been following pastry chef Hana Quon’s beautiful pastry work on Instagram for years now but never find myself in the right part of the South End at the right part of the day to make it to Cafe Madeleine. I finally made it yesterday and immensely enjoyed a simple brioche bun and a pistachio macaron. Now I need to make it back — ideally sooner than several years from now! — to try everything else.
—Rachel Leah Blumenthal
Fried chicken and oysters at Lily P’s
50 Binney St., Kendall Square, Cambridge
The last time my wife and I hung out with a big group of friends before the pandemic struck was when she was not yet my wife and I was not yet her husband. It was our engagement party, which our friends threw for us at Lily P’s in Kendall Square. We ate tons of fried chicken and slurped dozens of oysters (and drank lots of Fiddlehead IPA and champagne). By then, Lily P’s had become a pretty consistent hang for us, a place we’d pop by for oyster happy hour, a few beers, french fries (the best in Greater Boston, fwiw), and a fried chicken sandwich a couple times a month. This was in early February 2020. The vibes were good because we were celebrating, but there was a sense of unease surrounding the group about what might happen in the next weeks and months. This week, we returned for the first time in more than a year and a half. We ordered oysters, fried chicken (in sandwich and tender form), Fiddlehead, and rosé (champagne seemed like a bit much), and we watched a replay of that classic 2008 Olympic gold medal basketball game between team USA’s “Redeem Team” and Spain. Nothing is normal and nothing will ever be normal again, but it felt good to be in that space, home to one of our happiest moments of community and friendship. —Terrence Doyle
July 2: Crispy fried rice cakes and spicy goat stew
MaShiSo chicken from Sura BBQ
27 Riverside Ave., Medford Square
Ever have one of those nights when you scroll through every delivery app in existence, mindlessly clicking on and then dismissing countless options? Had that one too recently, not in the mood for this one, delivery fee’s too high on this one… Last night was one of those nights for me, until I finally narrowed it down to a few new-to-me options in my area, including Sura BBQ. For onsite dining, it’s an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue spot, which I’d love to try once I start eating indoors at restaurants again, but the takeout/delivery selection’s not too shabby. I’ve been craving Korean food, so Sura ultimately won out. (What’s your favorite Korean takeout/delivery in the Somerville/Medford/Malden area? Let me know; I need more options!)
I’m a sucker for rice cakes, especially in tteokbokki (the spicy stir-fried rice cake dish that often includes fish cakes and scallions), but in a variety of other applications as well. My mouse was hovering over Sura’s tteokbokki, which the restaurant describes as “addicting,” but then I saw something called MaShiSo chicken — it’s got rice cakes (fried!), plus popcorn chicken, smothered in what the menu describes as a sticky honey sauce. Sold.
Sticky, sweet, spicy, and crispy, this dish just landed on my list of local favorites. It’s the perfect thing to shovel into one’s mouth late at night, huddled in the living room while hoping the baby actually stays asleep for just a little while longer and watching The Good Fight grow ever more bonkers and pondering whether to drink that last River Styx Brewing Sour Patch beer in the fridge.
Sura’s scallion pancakes are killer, too.
Go forth into the holiday weekend and eat crispy, delicious things, folks. See you next week. —Rachel Leah Blumenthal
Goat stew and margaritas at Highland Kitchen
150 Highland Ave., Spring Hill, Somerville
It’s uplifting to see places reopen after some uncertainty through this year. Reawakened from a considered temporary seasonal closure is Somerville’s welcoming Highland Kitchen, which opened indoor seating on June 11 with a select food menu parsed from its previous full menu. Daily specials are substituted for favored dishes that don’t appear full-time. On Wednesdays, Highland Kitchen features its goat stew. This big bowl of spicy curry comes with starchy vegetables, plantains, and rice. The hearty stew pairs well with a margarita, and there’s certainly enough to bring to go. But, if you decide to finish it at the bar, it takes about another drink to finish. —Samer Khudairi
June 24: Patio pizza and more
Pizza, oysters, and cocktails from Brewer’s Fork
7 Moulton St., Charlestown
I’ve been very, very slowly venturing out to patios in recent weeks. Between grappling with whatever this current phase of the pandemic is and figuring out how to be a new parent out in the world, I haven’t really minded continuing to focus mostly on takeout and delivery. But Father’s Day arrived, the weather was beautiful, and we decided to attempt to bring our almost six-month-old out to a restaurant for the very first time. (I promise all my stories won’t be family-friendly this, baby-friendly that from now on…but if you don’t want to read those, you probably shouldn’t read today’s update to the family-friendly brewery/beer garden map.)
We showed up at Brewer’s Fork right around opening in an attempt to disrupt the least number of people possible if the baby had a sudden meltdown (and hey, we’d been up for hours already anyway! What’s sleep?) The restaurant has more than doubled its patio space — there’s the original part connected to the restaurant, plus a new part in an empty lot adjacent to the original part. Everything was spaced out comfortably, and there were very few other early birds. There was plenty of room for our giant stroller, and there was an umbrella to block the sun. There was also a changing table in a single-occupancy restroom. Bringing the baby along turned out to be much less stressful than expected.
Man, this meal reminded me how much I miss actually going out to eat. Not that my earlier experiences at Celeste and Oleana — both extraordinary — didn’t do that, but something about a super casual, sunny brunch with pizza, cocktails, and oysters, and my baby napping nearby, made me feel like we’re actually almost through to the other side on all this. It felt like a new beginning, and I’m eager to see what the rest of the summer brings. By the way, the pizza, as always, was stellar; we got a special that had chorizo and a tomatillo sauce. Brewer’s Fork is such a treasure. (Afterward, we wandered the Navy Yard and spotted the patio for Brewer’s Fork’s new sibling, Dovetail, which also looked great.)
What other patios should I attempt to visit, baby in tow? Hit up my inbox with your baby-friendly favorites, please! —Rachel Leah Blumenthal