The Boston restaurant scene offers an embarrassment of riches. Many local establishments are deservedly hyped — whether because the food is delicious and beautifully prepared, the chef brings something new to the culinary landscape, the atmosphere is particularly appealing, or the cocktails are perfectly made each time. Others, of course, are less-deservedly hyped.
And then there are the restaurants that should be on the radar and, for whatever reason, aren’t — or at least aren’t as appreciated as they ought to be. They are off the beaten path. They get eclipsed by a nearby restaurant with a similar concept. They have been doing the same thing so well for so long we take them for granted. Or, simply, they don’t have a budget for PR. These places deserve to be recognized. A list could encompass hundreds, but for starters, here are 10 of Boston’s underrated restaurants.
Carlo’s Cucina Italiana
131 Brighton Ave., Allston
Oh, ye who seek Italian food, journey not to the North End, or at least not always. Carlo’s Cucina Italiana in Allston serves up generous portions of well-prepared, gently priced Italian-American classics and originals. The atmosphere is casual, often bustling, and the staff is friendly. For your fix of fried calamari, rigatoni puttanesca, and eggplant Parm — or house specialties such as shrimp in Grand Marnier sauce, pappardelle alla Chloe (with vegetables and ricotta in a pink sauce), and pollo alla Giancarlo (chicken and sausage sauteed with potatoes, vinegar peppers, and more) — look no farther. (A few others to file under “tasty Italian food not in the North End”: Delfino in Roslindale, Anchovies in the South End, and Il Capriccio in Waltham.)
Bistro du Midi
272 Boylston St., Boston
This is a city where diners are always looking for good seafood. And although seafood is not its explicit focus, Provencal restaurant Bistro du Midi ought to be at the top of any list. Executive chef Robert Sisca formerly worked at New York’s fish-focused Le Bernardin, which deserves the four stars it repeatedly wins from The New York Times. From whole prawns with Sardinian couscous to Maine lobster with lobster-coral tagliatelle, the surf side of the menu shines. Of course, the turf is fine, too, with dishes such as classic beef daube and perfect whole roast chicken. There are lovely desserts, including souffles. And perhaps the best part is the service, attentive and wholly without posturing. It’s located on a block of luxe shops near the Public Garden, so perhaps people think of it as a celebration restaurant. It’s certainly occasion-worthy, but a lower-priced cafe menu means it can also be part of a more-regular rotation.
567 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
This restaurant, open since 1999, is part of Central Square’s fabric. One hardly notices its dark wood exterior and tile sign anymore, so much a part of the landscape are they. This neighborhood standby works equally well for drinks with friends, a casual weeknight supper, or date night. For creative bistro fare — including some of the best mussels in town — along with an interesting, reasonably priced bottle of wine, Central Kitchen will always have your back.
East by Northeast
1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge
This little restaurant is just far enough away from the fray to keep it from becoming impossible to get a table. Chef Phillip Tang worked at places such as Lumiere, T.W. Food, and Hungry Mother before opening his modern Chinese restaurant; his family runs popular dim sum restaurants in the D.C. area. Combining the two modes, he prepares the cuisine using seasonal ingredients from local farms. The result is dishes such as pork and zucchini dumplings with carrot puree and black vinegar reduction, stuffed littleneck clams with bacon, black beans, and spicy tomato relish, and thick, handmade noodles in vegetable broth with a poached egg and grilled king oyster mushrooms and eggplant. If it were located a few blocks westward on Cambridge Street, you’d never find a seat.
700 Harrison Ave., Boston
Tapas in the South End? All we ever hear is “Toro, Toro, Toro.” Estragon is the Jan Brady of the neighborhood. The Spanish restaurant has its own fine attributes. First, of course, is the food. Owners Lara Egger and Julio de Haro, a Madrid native, offer plenty of classic pintxos and tapas. The menu also encompasses less-familiar dishes — think ensalada a la parilla, grilled romaine with pickled beets and crisped Serrano ham; paella croquettes; pollo en pepitoria, braised chicken with almond-saffron-sherry cream; and potaje Andaluz, a vegetarian mix of chard, butternut squash, chickpeas, almonds, and raisins. The decor looks like an art nouveau version of Alice’s Wonderland, and the cava, sherry, and sangria flow. And one doesn’t have to contend with the waits often encountered at that other neighborhood tapas spot.Continued...