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Best of the new

Best of the new: Food

Retro restaurants, late-night rock climbing, thrift stores galore, and a creative approach to charity. Here are 117 debuts that made 2009 a little sweeter.

Hotel Chocolat British-born Hotel Chocolat isn’t an ordinary candy shop. Like a fine library, confections are meticulously organized by taste -- salty, fruity, nutty -- to appeal to the sophisticated sweet tooth. Serious chocoholics should visit their tasting room in Boston for a crash course in chocolate history, samples, and a luxe goodie bag. 141A Newbury Street, Boston, 617-391-0513, hotelchocolat.com; also at the Mall at Chestnut Hill, 617-244-0070

Rowes Wharf Sea Grille If Bostonians had a dime for every time someone scoured our city for a stellar waterfront seafood restaurant, we’d have enough to, well, finally build one there. Meritage chef Daniel Bruce has up and done it, transforming the shuttered Intrigue Cafe into a harborside pescavore paradise. Pricey? Somewhat. But seaworthy sustenance like pan-roasted halibut with creamy saffron risotto is worth every penny (and dime). Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, 617-856-7744, roweswharfseagrille.com

Ten Tables You loved the original. Now there’s a sequel. The folks behind Jamaica Plain’s Ten Tables brought their well-crafted food to the other side of the river with a branch in Cambridge. Chef and co-owner David Punch has the touch, and he turns local ingredients into one of the best dining values around. 5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, 617-576-5444, tentables.net

South End Pita Brother-sister team Rod and Wafaa Ouassaidi opened South End Pita on a forlorn stretch of Albany Street and made the place cozy with a mural of Morocco, their native country. The pair, who say they’re trying to cook as well as their mom back home, make everything from scratch, including warm pita, exceptionally creamy hummus, and traditional tagines and couscous, offered many nights. Mom would be proud. 473 Albany Street, Boston, 617-556-2600, southendpita.com

The Blue Ox This comfortable neighborhood spot is owned by a group of local residents who want to bring business to downtown Lynn, and the food and friendly staff are worth the drive. Chef Matt O’Neil crafts excellent versions of standards such as clam chowder and grilled hanger steak with mashed potatoes. 191 Oxford Street, Lynn, 781-780-5722, theblueoxlynn.com

Coriander Bistro The name remains the same, but the food has certainly changed. Once a French bistro, Coriander in Sharon now serves some of the best Nepali and Indian cuisine in Greater Boston. The chef used to cook at a five-star hotel in Katmandu. You’ll find spot-on renditions of your takeout favorites, as well as plenty of more unfamiliar fare. 5 Post Office Square, Sharon, 781-784-2300, corianderbistro.net

The Friendly Toast

It’s like eating in one of the best vintage shops in the world, full of ’50s dinette sets, antique ads, wacky paintings, retro light fixtures, and a few mannequins for good measure. But there’s more than kitsch to this kitchen, including Almond Joy pancakes, breakfast burritos, stir-fries, and sandwiches galore. Bonus: On weekends, it’s open till 1 a.m. 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-621-1200, thefriendlytoast.net

Zing! Pizza Is it pizza? Does it matter? It’s delicious. Owned by local photographer Mark Ostow, the Porter Square restaurant has a half-dozen terrific varieties shaped in long rectangles, with three types changing by season or whim. Standbys are Blue October (includes butternut squash sauce) and Holy Pepperoni. Tony Soprano wouldn’t recognize these pies. His loss. 1925 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-497-4300, zingpizza.blogspot.com

Dorado Tacos and Cemitas Brookline has plenty of taquerias, but Dorado distinguishes itself by offering cemitas, too. These Mexican sandwiches are layered with avocado, black beans, chipotle adobo, cheese, cilantro, and your choice of meat. Another distinguishing mark: three versions of fish tacos, a dish chef Douglas Organ was known for at former restaurant Cafe D. Extra props to this cute little spot for being earth-friendly, with biodegradable utensils and more. 401 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617-566-2100, doradotacos.com

Bistro du Midi So what if the name evokes every snooty, French-ified backdrop used for Kate & Allie-era high jinks. Nothing stilted about this mid-priced Provencal eatery, installed in the old Excelsior space sans the typical Epcot-style kitsch. Any in-your-face Gallicizing ends up right in your mouth, like sumptuous rabbit rillettes, authentic bouillabaisse, and orange-peel-perfumed daube by (former Le Bernardin sous) Robert Sisca. 272 Boylston Street, Boston, 617-426-7878, bistrodumidi.com

Basta Pasta Enoteca On these cold winter days, we’re happy to take refuge in the bowls of pasta or with the puffy pizzas at this cozy spot in Quincy. Chef-owner Reno Hoxallari serves up handmade fusilli; try it with the veal piccata. The meatballs are large and tender, the risotto creamy. In the downstairs wine bar, opening soon, you can nibble on antipasti over a glass of Chianti -- and all of this is easy on the wallet. Salute! 150 Hancock Street, Quincy, 617-479-7979, bastapastaenoteca.com

Tupelo Southern comfort in Cambridge. Gumbo and jambalaya, daube of beef and roasted chicken -- the reasonably priced dishes here satisfy your appetite and your wallet. A portrait of Elvis presides over the restaurant. The legendary eater from Tupelo, Mississippi, would feel right at home. 1193 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, 617-868-0004, tupelo02139.com

Sonic/Pollo Campero If you can judge the quality of a restaurant by the line out the door, then these new arrivals are as good as it gets. These fast-food icons made their much anticipated move to the Boston area, and the wait just to park was more than an hour. The lines, thankfully, are gone but the tasty on-the-go food in fun settings remains. Pull up to one of Sonic’s drive-in bays, place your order, and a roller-skating server (weather permitting) will deliver it to your car. Don’t forget the onion rings. More in the mood for fried chicken from Guatemala? Pollo Campero’s tender and juicy recipe beats any three-letter offering we have around here. Sonic, 55 Newbury Street, Peabody, 978-535-9100, sonicdrivein.com; Pollo Campero,115 Park Street, Chelsea, 617-884-0070, campero.com

Technique It may be staffed by students, but the in-house restaurant of Le Cordon Bleu’s culinary school is far from amateur hour. Under the watchful eye of chef-instructors, soon-to-be grads sharpen their skills on sophisticated dishes like tagliatelle with truffled rabbit ragout. Entrees range from $13 to $18 -- or about half of what you’d typically pay for a fine dining experience elsewhere. 215 First Street, Cambridge, 617-218-8088, bostonculinaryarts.com

Orta Down in Pembroke, veteran chef and restaurateur Jimmy Burke is drawing crowds -- don’t be surprised to see lines out the door on weekends -- and deservedly so, for his piattini (try the Gorgonzola with Scituate honey), Neapolitan pizza, and other great Italian fare. 75 Washington Street, Pembroke, 781-826-8883, ortarestaurant.com

Boston Burger Company This Davis Square burger joint makes up for its diminutive 24-seat size with a hefty menu featuring 22 styles of hand-packed 8-ounce Black Angus patties, ranging from the traditional Boston Burger to the Kitchen Sink, with three types of cheese, a fried egg, ham, bacon, grilled onions, peppers, mushrooms, and a special sauce -- and will leave abandoned New Year’s Resolutions in its wake. 37 Davis Square, Somerville, 617-440-7361, bostonburgerco.com

The Regal Beagle Named for a ’70s-sitcom bar (where the glasses were hers and hers and his . . .), this low-key Coolidge Corner gastropub is primed to lure wandering-eye Washington Square Tavern regulars. The appealing menu, though small, runs the gamut -- at one end, foodie-approved za’atar-spiced pumpkin hummus; at the other, a Ritz-crusted mac-and-cheese that even an old-school meddling landlord might tolerate. 308 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617-739-5151, thebeaglebrookline.com

Veggie Meccas Revitalive Cafe Serving breakfast and lunch, the Newburyport cafe features such creative -- and tasty -- dishes as “meetballs and marinara” (made of sprouted almonds and sun-dried tomatoes) and “mock tuna salad,” in which pumpkin seeds and sea veggies actually pass for StarKist on rye. The raw pumpkin pie, however, takes the pseudo-cake. 50 Water Street, Newburyport, 978-462-0639, revitalivecafe.com

Peace o’ Pie Not only is this Allston pizza joint completely vegan -- no refined sugars or honey, even -- it’s stylishly sustainable, too (PaperStone and bamboo counters, recycled ceiling tiles, recycling and composting programs). But much more important, for anyone who comes in hungry, is that the mostly organic pies and ultra-fresh toppings taste mouthwateringly good. 487 Cambridge Street, Boston, 617-787-9884, peaceopie.com

Red Lentil A bright addition in Watertown’s Coolidge Square, from the spring-green walls to the cafe’s globe-trotting menu, all of which is vegan or vegetarian. Choices include Mexican pizza, grilled tofu with a tandoori marinade, and pan-seared portobello mushrooms with mango chutney. And you can’t go wrong with the sweet potato quesadilla. 600 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, 617-972-9188, theredlentil.com

Market Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant in the new W hotel reminds us why the chef is famous. Even when he’s creating comfort food, his flavors are exciting. Dishes include satisfying grilled lamb chops coated in smoked chili glaze, haddock in an intoxicating broth of coconut water and lemon grass, and Vongerichten signatures such as foie gras brule and warm chocolate cake. W Boston, 100 Stuart Street, Boston, 617-310-6790, marketbyjgboston.com

Pescatore Somerville’s unpretentious, beloved pesce parlor has added pizza to its extensive menu. Sixteen-inch pies are available for takeout; individual pizzas are served in the dining room. The thin, gooey creations come with basic toppings but also specialty items like lobster, shrimp, and scallops. 158 Boston Avenue, Somerville, 617-623-0003, pescatoreseafood.com

New Shanghai Nothing wrong with unambitious Chinese-American standards aimed at the kung-pao-craving masses. But when new owners let chef Shi He Yu spread his wings with the Szechuan cuisine he knows best, New Shanghai rose from Cantonese-lite mediocrity to become arguably Chinatown’s best restaurant. Tear-inducing specialties like chung qing spicy chicken and “numbing hot shredded bamboo shoot” are precisely the fix local chili-heads have been hungry (and, subsequently, very thirsty) for. 21 Hudson Street, Boston, 617-338-6688, newshanghairestaurant.com

Boston Speed Dog Speed’s has long enjoyed a cult following among carn-oisseurs. Last year the itinerant hot dog truck, enshrined in the gritty meat mecca of Roxbury’s Newmarket Square, added a succulent wood-grilled pastrami sandwich. Expect a lot more disciples to make the pilgrimage. 42 Newmarket Square, Boston, 617-839-0102, bostonspeeddog.com

Il Casale Chef Dante de Magistris and clan opened Il Casale in a former firehouse in their hometown, and all of a sudden Belmont was the place to be. Crowds came for the beautifully simple, rustic Italian food. Three kinds of meatballs, rich carbonara, light-as-air gnocchi, and the freshest grilled seafood are among the pleasures. Much of the fare is made from family recipes, and you can taste the love. 50 Leonard Street, Belmont, 617-209-4942, ilcasalebelmont.com

Coppa The much-anticipated enoteca from Toro team Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette was worth the wait. It serves the likes of house-made salumi, spaghetti alla carbonara with sea urchin, and wood-fired pizza that could be topped with anything from bone marrow and oxtail to fried calamari and cherry peppers. The only drawback: The place is tiny, tiny, tiny. Good luck getting a seat. 253 Shawmut Avenue, Boston, 617-391-0902, coppaboston.com

Ginger Park The restaurant that used to be Banq was given a new jolt of flavor after the owners drafted acclaimed chef Patricia Yeo from New York. Yeo, who had apprenticed with street vendors in Thailand and Malaysia, offers duck meatballs with massaman curry, wild boar and blue corn tostadas, and all manner of noodles and dumplings. Reinvented, and it tastes so good. 1375 Washington Street, Boston, 617-451-0077, gingerparkboston.com

Teranga The South End gets a taste of Senegal with this charming, stylish nook. Expats, families, Peace Corps alums, and young couples gather to eat dishes such as thiebou djeun (fish and vegetables with broken rice) and yassa guinaar (chicken with lemon and onions). The restaurant’s name means “hospitality” in Wolof, and restaurateur Marie-Claude Mendy makes sure that’s what you get. 1746 Washington Street, Boston, 617-266-0003, terangaboston.com

Sherman Market The owners of Union Square’s Sherman Cafe opened this market around the corner, and it’s a boon for those who believe in shopping locally. You’ll find a well-curated selection of meat, cheese, vegetables, chocolate, soaps, and more, all produced in the region. For those who don’t care much about shopping locally but live in the area, it’s still pretty darn useful. 22 Union Square, Somerville, 617-666-0179, twitter.com/shermanmarket

H Mart Shumai, spices, durian, a dizzying array of kimchi -- H Mart’s shelves are stocked with an abundance of hard-to-find goodies. The massive market has enthralled Asian families and curious foodies since opening in September; a food court with everything from curry to sushi adds to the frenzy. Weekends get hectic, and parking is a contact sport. 3 Old Concord Road, Burlington, 781-221-4570, hmart.com

Verrill Farm One short year after the cherished farm stand burned to the ground, it rose like a phoenix without missing a beat. Spacious, eco-friendly, and inviting, the new building is a fitting home to the prized produce and baked goods within, and the handmade minuteman/farmer weather vane crafted by Steve Verrill speaks to the farm’s indomitable spirit. 11 Wheeler Road, Concord, 978-369-4494, verrillfarm.com

Central Bottle Wine + Provisions This is one ambitious little wine store. The folks behind the Blue Room have cultivated a thoughtful collection of wine and beer, plus homemade cichetti (Italian nibbles), cheeses, and oils. On Thursdays, the shop becomes an enoteca and serves as a hub for nearby gourmands. Local chefs often drop in for demos, too. 196 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-225-0040, centralbottle.com

Trina’s Starlite Lounge Welcome to the coolest place in town, which looks like a 1950s roadside dive and runs like a well-oiled machine. The hipster crowd has turned Trina’s, near Inman Square, into the place to hang out. Food arrives fast and hot: luscious fried chicken on a waffle, the crispiest crunchiest onion strings, and Kayem all-beef dogs. 3 Beacon Street, Somerville, 617-576-0006, trinastarlitelounge.com

Bella Luna The JP standby maintains its old spirit in a new location, still in Jamaica Plain. The space is satisfyingly groovy, with a sparkly red bar and star-shaped lanterns dangling over booths. And the inventive salads and pizzas make everyone happy, from little kids to ironic urban hipsters. 284 Amory Street, Boston, 617-524-3740, milkywayjp.com

  • January 31, 2010 cover
  • january 31 globe magazine cover
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Best of the New 2010