KEY TO TYPICAL ENTREE PRICES
$ $10 OR LESS
$$ $11 TO $15
$$$ $16 TO $25
$$$$ $26 AND UP
Nahita /$$$$ Nahita brings together the flavors of Peru, Turkey, Japan, and Mexico in a sumptuous space. Check out the ceviche, sashimi, tacos, and pricey steaks, along with craft cocktails. The vibe here is jungle sophisticate. Try the shareable small plates like shishito peppers or baby artichokes with dried miso, Parmesan, and truffle-yuzu dressing. Or sashimi and its Peruvian cousin, tiradito. Tacos (zucchini blossom, spicy crab, duck carnitas) are served in little wood boxes. Other memorable dishes include a Peruvian-Chinese steamed whole fish. 100 Arlington Street, Boston, 617-457-8130, nahitarestaurant.com — Devra First
Dumpling Daughter / $$ and Vester / $ Dumpling Daughter and Vester are an adjacent fast-casual Chinese restaurant and Danish-inspired cafe in Kendall Square. The concepts may not seem related, but the people are: Nadia Liu Spelman runs Dumpling Daughter, the second branch of her Weston restaurant, and sister Nicole Liu operates Vester. At Dumpling Daughter, order at the counter and take a number. On the menu are dumplings, of course, filled with pork, vegetables, and more. And steamed buns and snacks such as sticky rice in bamboo leaf and wings glazed in spicy honey and soy sauce. At Vester: all-day breakfast, including pastries, egg and cheese on brioche, and avocado toast. Come for the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella sandwiches, kale salad, and specials such as smorrebrod, the Danish open-faced sandwich. 73 Ames Street, Cambridge, 617-577-8886, dumplingdaughter.com; 617-577-8665, vestercafe.com — D.F.
Pagu / $$$At Pagu in Central Square, the menu throws a net around Spain, Japan, Taiwan, and of-the-moment American food culture and pulls it comfortably snug. You might order jamón ibérico, the ham made from acorn-fed Spanish pigs. Or beautiful bluefin tartare, local catch layered with avocado, olives, and celery and flavored with a double punch of Japanese citrus: ponzu and yuzu kosho. And so the cultural mashup begins. Each dish is more eye-catching than the last. What makes these visual acrobatics so delightful is that they’re not just stunts. The food tastes very good. It is smartly composed. And it is original. 310 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com —D.F.
Saloniki / $ The Harvard Square location of Greek fast-casual restaurant Saloniki has a larger menu than its siblings in the Fenway and Central Square: daily breakfast, Greek pastries, and a big roster of sandwiches, plates, and small meze. Get a pita stuffed with pomegranate-glazed eggplant, honey-garlic braised pork shoulder, or lemon-oregano grilled chicken, drizzled with interesting sauces: red pepper sesame, garlic yogurt, spicy “secret” house honey. The full cocktail menu is stocked with light Mediterranean-style drinks like the Santorini Spritz, made with Roots Rakomelo (an Aegean honey liqueur), Aperol, lime, and sparking rosé. 24 Dunster Street, Cambridge, 617-945-5074, salonikigreek.com — Kara Baskin
El Pelón Taquería / $ Jim Hoben opened El Pelón in 1998 because he lived nearby, and there weren’t many choices in the area. The menu was basic — tacos, burritos — but his cooks were passionate. Today, El Pelon still feels like an unassuming little neighborhood restaurant: a handful of wobbly tables, framed customer photos and license plates, a small walk-up counter, the original menu with some additions. Hoben says he expanded his menu over the years to keep regular customers intrigued. What I like are the plantains. They are warm and starchy, with a sugary, caramelized glaze. Not fancy, but delicious. 92 Peterborough Street, 617-262-9090, elpelon.com — K.B.
Kamakura /$$$$ Hoist chopsticks at Kamakura, a multi-floor Financial District oasis. You’ll savor pricey, precious twinkles of sushi and bento boxes framed by magical views of the Custom House and other romantic downtown rooftops that soften any awkward business lunch. (The best views are from the upper-level Kumo lounge.) At dinner, there’s a multi-course tasting menu of small bites: seasoned black cod sashimi, smoked tuna, sake ice cream. At lunch, indulge with a bento lunch in various combinations: black cod sashimi, mushrooms in a slick “amazing” sauce, chicken grilled over charcoal, a little mug of miso soup. 150 State Street, Boston, 617-377-4588, kamakuraboston.com — K.B.
Fuku /$ Fuku is an all-the-rage poultry parlor in the Seaport from Momofuku founder David Chang and his team. Most people get sandwiches served on squishy potato rolls. You can make your own creation, with toppings including neon-yellow spicy cheese sauce, knockout sauce (a tangy Thousand Island-like condiment), spicy cucumbers, and carrot slaw. Loaded fries are splotched with that yellow cheese, ranch, a shower of scallions — and bacon, if you please. Volcano fries are mountainous, fortified with fried chicken, cheese, ranch, and, yes, bacon. Healthier eaters can get spinach or kale salad, with or without griddled chicken bites or thighs. 43 Northern Avenue, Boston, eatfuku.com — K.B.
Mortadella Head / $$ Mortadella Head in Davis Square serves up lavishly accessorized sandwiches, fries, and rectangular Roman-style pizzas. Top your pizza with sauerkraut, French fries, scrambled eggs, honey — “go wild,” the menu suggests. Or choose from more than 25 signature sandwiches on breads from Winter Hill Bakery. There are also many varieties of fries, from Disco (mozzarella, gravy) to Mayflower (turkey, fried stuffing, cranberry sauce).20 College Avenue, Somerville, 617-996-6680, mortadellahead.com — K.B.
Bar Lyon / $$$ Bar Lyon is a chic South End cafe in the style of France’s gastronomic capital. It offers an updated take on traditional Lyonnaise cuisine (no blood sausage or veal kidney), including terrine en croûte with an intense jellied aspic tucked between tender crust and coarse country pâté; a proper salade Lyonnaise, with frisee, chunky cubes of bacon, nuggets of roast potato, and a perfect poached egg in a piquant, vinegary dressing; and a silky omelette, billed as “baveuse” (literally “slobbery”) enriched with triple-crème cheese. 1750 Washington Street, Boston, 617-904-4020, barlyon.com — Sheryl Julian
Shore Leave / $$ Descend into a vast room in the South End with a Trader Vic’s vibe: a hut-like roof, wood shingles, wicker hanging lamps, and jungle-themed wallpaper. There’s a long bar, and plenty of little warrens for seating; groups of friends nibble on spicy peanuts and pork belly bao while sipping drinks garnished with pineapple. Small plates draw on the cuisines of Asia: green mango salad, cool raw scallop kinilaw with coconut and onion, chicken wings spiked with tongue-tingling sansho pepper, dan dan wontons, scallion pancakes with king crab dip. 11 William E. Mullins Way, Boston, 617-530-1775, shoreleaveboston.com — D.F.
Alcove /$$$ Where else near North Station can you eat charred avocado with harissa aioli, bigoli with braised duck, and pan-seared sea bream with golden quinoa while sipping a riff on a Sazerac? (You can also get a cheeseburger and a beer.) At Alcove, the menu lands between New England and the Mediterranean: raw bar and charcuterie; small plates such as crab cocktail, octopus with potatoes and black olives, and pickled eggs with vegetables from Sparrow Arc Farm in Maine; house-made pasta, roast chicken, and bouillabaisse; olive oil semifreddo and apple galette. 50 Lovejoy Wharf, 617-248-0050, alcoveboston.com — D.F.
NORTH OF THE CITY
Nappi’s / $$$ Nappi’s began as a butcher shop and Italian market and slowly transformed into a sandwich shop. About six years ago, it became a full-service restaurant, featuring traditional Italian entrees and appetizers. There’s no formal dinner menu (though there’s a printed lunch menu). Instead, helpful waitresses recite what’s up, and customers choose from pastas, meats, fish, sauces, and vegetables. Nappi’s accepts cash only and does not serve liquor; customers can bring their own. 370 Salem Street, Medford, 781-391-7900, nappirestaurant.com — Stephanie Schorow
Paprika Grill / $ Down an alley near the Salem Wax Museum sits Paprika Grill, a 12-seat spot serving remarkably good Turkish cuisine. An outdoor garden seats 20 more, but the place is essentially takeout and delivery. The streamlined menu includes seven main dishes, most of them kebabs, available in a bowl of rice, rolled up a wrap, or tucked into pita. The bowls are a fine way to eat this highly seasoned meat, particularly kofte, juicy ground beef meatballs that you can top with hummus, pickled red cabbage, and shredded carrot. Everything here is homemade except the bread. 2 Liberty Street, Salem, 978-551-8186, facebook.com/paprikagrill/ — S.J.
SOUTH OF THE CITY
5 South Main / $$$After a nine-year stint as executive chef of Hingham’s upscale Tosca, you can now find chef-owner Brian Hennebury at work in the small open kitchen of 5 South Main. Hennebury described his cuisine as casual bistro with an Italian accent, and his Bolognese says ciao. The dinner portion is a big bowl of al dente rigatoni, in a clingy ragu, topped with dollops of whipped ricotta. Even better though — actually outstanding — is his cacio e pepe, the deceptively simple cheese-and-pepper dish sometimes used to measure a chef’s skills.5 South Main Street, Cohasset, 781-383-3555, 5southmain.com — Joan Wilder
Steel & Rye /$$$$ Steel & Rye is in Lower Falls, on the Dorchester border. Originally built as the garage for a DeSoto dealership, the space is operatic in scale. The menu is small: snacks, apps, pizzas, mains, and a few sides. For the most part, the dishes are elaborate. Confit duck wings with Jamaican jerk sauce pop with the pungent flavors of freshly ground spices. The pizzas are great: Our margarita is perfectly charred and bubbled. 95 Eliot Street, Milton, 617-690-2787, steelandrye.com — J.W.
WEST OF THE CITY
Balani / $$$ Go to Balani for small plates, snacks, dumplings, pizzas, and jazzy entrees in a cavernous space made more intimate with floor-to-ceiling curtains to cordon off seating areas for large groups. Find tempting nibbles and mains with flashy flavors from around the globe. Puffy chickpea fries with paprika-sumac mayo and grated manchego, called panisses in Provence, are long, slender rectangles, crisp outside and creamy inside. The burger is griddled and smashed and slipped into a house-made potato bun with crisp pork belly, cheddar, and Thousand Island dressing; outstanding fries accompany it. Also on the menu: pulled short-rib stir-try with homemade spaghetti, crispy adobe fried chicken, and grilled octopus over fava beans. 469 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-472-2805, balaniwaltham.com — S.J.
The James /$$$ Hang your coat on the hook by the door. While you’re waiting for a table, watch the chefs in the open kitchen or peruse the cookbook shelf. Don’t miss the soda bread, a craggy mini loaf served with a luxurious schmear of Irish butter sweetened with honey. Or the short rib and ale pie. The James also serves one of the best Scotch eggs I’ve ever had, runny-yolked, encased in lamb sausage, with black-garlic aioli and tangy pickled mustard seeds. There’s a satisfying burger draped in Irish cheddar, and a bowl of plump mussels in garlicky broth spiked with Belgian beer, served with slabs of grilled bread. All of this pub fare is well prepared with fresh, local ingredients, balanced flavors, and a careful hand. 1027 Great Plain Avenue, Needham, 781-455-8800, thejamespub.com — D.F.
Peter’s Greek Kitchen / $$ Peter’s Greek Kitchen delivers superior homemade tzatziki: strained Greek yogurt whipped with olive oil, garlic, cucumber slivers, and dill for a luscious dip. Melitzanosalata mashes roasted eggplant with tomato, olive oil, and spices; dolmades, or vegetarian grape leaves rolled and stuffed with rice and herbs, burst with flavor. The menu is not solely Greek. Salads, subs, and pasta dishes all make appearances, and the pizzas, perhaps surprisingly, are not Greek-style, but thinner-crust Italian, with freshly prepared dough hand-tossed each day. 1056 Main Street, Waltham, 781-891-7677, petersgreekkitchen.com — Rachel Lebeaux