It is now the fifth year of our picking top "hidden" restaurants in the Boston area, and this year we have some new categories. So what are our choices for the best little-known restaurants of 2009? Read on to check out our picks in the Boston area and beyond! (Note: This Best of 2009 Boston Restaurant page is part of our restaurant features section, which also includes our 2008 Best Boston Restaurants List, 2007 Best Boston Restaurants List, 2006 Best Boston Restaurants List, and 2005 Best Boston Restaurants List).
Best American (New) Restaurant, 2009
Blue Ox, Lynn, MA
Utterly fantastic (and utterly unknown), The Blue Ox is a bit of the South End in downtown Lynn. And partly because this friendly, laid-back New American spot is on a side street in a city that is not known for its upscale restaurants, it is often easy to get a table. Plenty of street parking and reasonable prices just add to the appeal of this place.
Best American (Traditional) Restaurant, 2009
Cronin's Publick House, Quincy, MA
If we had a "Best Bar" category (which we might in years to come), Cronin's would certainly be at the top of the list. But this slightly rough-looking spot near the old shipyard is much more than a bar, as the food impresses time and time again. The Cajun chicken soup, steak tips, and Kansas City sirloin are just three of many outstanding items at this little neighborhood place.
Best Breakfast Place, 2009
McKenna's Cafe, Dorchester, MA
A two-time winner, this local breakfast and lunch spot located in the Savin Hill section of Dorchester seems to have it all: Tasty food, great prices, a real neighborhood feel, and a friendly staff. Good picks at McKenna's include the French toast, home fries, oatmeal, and bagels.
Best Cafe, 2009
Strip-T's Restaurant, Watertown, MA
A restaurant that could easily win in a few other categories ("Traditional American" and "Sandwiches" come to mind), Strip-T's is a place that specializes in freshly made--and often healthy--entrees. The flank steak burrito (which is not always available) at this tiny neighborhood dining spot is one of the best individual dishes that we have had this year.
Best Chinese Restaurant, 2009
Qingdao Garden, Cambridge, MA
This year it seemed to be all about the dumplings, with Wang's in Somerville and Qingdao Garden duking it out for us (not literally, of course). What puts this North Cambridge spot over the top is the fact that its fantastic homemade dumplings are only part of the story, as so many other dishes (both authentic and Chinese-American) at this plain-looking restaurant are excellent in quality.
Best Diner, 2009
Victoria's Diner, Boston, MA
The Boston area has some excellent diners, some of which are pretty well-known (South Street Diner, Deluxe Town Diner), and some that aren't. In the latter category is a terrific spot near Newmarket Square and South Bay (just south of downtown Boston) called Victoria's Diner, which features breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a spacious environment, and is open 24 hours a day from Thursday into Sunday.
Best Greek Restaurant, 2009
New Brothers Restaurant, Danvers, MA
This one actually surprised us, especially with such tough competition as two-time winner the Farm Grill and Rotisserie in Newton. But New Brothers earned points for a quiet, spacious, and comfortable atmosphere, terrific prices, a somewhat gruff but very helpful staff, and some real standouts that include the pastitsio, grape leaves, and roasted potatoes.
Best Hamburgers, 2009
O'Sullivan's, Somerville, MA
Will anyone ever knock this little restaurant and pub on the Somerville/Cambridge line out of the top spot for burgers? Well, some have come close (including Grumpy White's in Quincy and Tavern at the End of the World in Charlestown), but we believe that the quality of the meatball-shaped burgers at O'Sullivan's puts the place over the top once again.
Best Hot Dog Stand, 2009
Simco's, Mattapan, MA
Now a two-time winner, Simco's is a classic roadside food stand that has a variety of food, but the almost-foot-long grilled hot dogs are the main reason to come here. Located just north of Mattapan Square on Blue Hill Avenue, Simco's isn't particularly close to any highways or major shopping areas, so it remains a bit of a hidden gem even though it has been around for many, many decades.
Best Indian Restaurant, 2009
Kebab Factory, Somerville, MA
We were able to try many excellent Indian restaurants this year (including Kabab and Tandoor in Waltham and Indian Delight in Weymouth), but Kebab Factory is our pick for this year, and for good reason; from the sleek and rather unusual atmosphere to the amazing breads, appetizers, and entrees, this strangely-named restaurant remains a memorable spot that never disappoints.
Best Irish Pub, 2009
The Snug, Hingham, MA
Another two-time winner, The Snug is a friendly little spot that just happens to be located in one of the most attractive town centers in all of New England. Housed in an attractive old space, you can almost feel the history coming from every corner of the cozy bar and dining area. Live music can be found here occasionally, and the food is better than that of your typical pub.
Best Italian Restaurant, 2009
Alia Ristorante, Winthrop, MA
This year's pick for best Italian restaurant isn't just Italian; indeed, the folks who run the place are Italian and Moroccan, which results in an interesting mix of foods that almost leans toward Mediterranean fare at times. But the Italian dishes at this unassuming spot a block from the ocean are simply outstanding, with everything made from scratch.
Best Japanese Restaurant, 2009
Genki Ya, Brookline, MA
Toraya in Arlington and Village Sushi in Roslindale may have some fabulous dishes, but this brightly-lit spot between Allston and Coolidge Corner tops them, and others, not only because they focus completely on organic ingredients, but also because the presentation of the food is something to behold. A friendly staff and easy parking round out the reasons to come to this very little-known place.
Best Mexican Restaurant, 2009
La Siesta Restaurante, Winthrop, MA
This was an extremely tough decision for us, as Angela's Cafe in East Boston remains one of our favorite places in the entire Boston area. But a cozy, comfortable atmosphere and an owner who is as kind and caring as they come put La Siesta over the top this year. The food sometimes leans more toward Americanized Mexican fare, but both the Mexican-American and traditional Mexican dishes are tremendous.
Best Middle Eastern Restaurant, 2009
Cafe Jaffa, Boston, MA
Another category with some good competition (including the wonderful Molana in Watertown, which admittedly leans more toward Persian food), Cafe Jaffa wins this year partly because its mix of Israeli and Lebanese food is wholesome, fresh, and delicious. But it also wins because it is a nearly completely unknown restaurant in one of Boston's busiest neighborhoods (the Back Bay).
Best Pizza, 2009
Picco Restaurant, Boston, MA
Perhaps the only no-brainer in this year's list, we believe that Picco may have the best pizza in the entire Boston area (including some not-so-hidden spots such as Regina's in the North End and Santarpio's in East Boston). The flavorful and slightly charred crust of the brick-oven pizza at this funky spot is easily one of the best we've had anywhere.
Best Seafood Restaurant, 2009
Haddad's Ocean Cafe, Marshfield, MA
There are some great seafood joints in the Boston area, but our favorite of 2009 is a bit further out (though well worth the ride). Haddad's is a real townie joint that seems a little rough-and-tumble at times in the bar area, but the dining section is quiet and low-key, and more importantly, the seafood dishes (including the transcendent crab cakes) are about as fresh as you will find.
Best Thai Restaurant, 2009
Dok Bua, Brookline, MA
Up against some strong competition this year (including a surprise candidate in Thaitation, an outstanding spot in the Fenway neighborhood), Dok Bua rises above them all simply because their food seems to taste just a little bit fresher and better than anywhere else. The space they are in isn't exactly cozy or romantic, but the food is the main thing at this great little place just north of Coolidge Corner.