Here we go again! This is the seventh year that we have picked the cream of the crop as far as little-known restaurants in and around Boston are concerned, and as usual, this year we have a few repeats as well as a number of newcomers. To see the choices are for the best little-known restaurants of 2011, read on to see our picks in various categories! (Note: This Best of 2011 Boston Restaurant page is part of our restaurant features section, which also includes our 2010 Best Boston Restaurants List, restaurant features section, which also includes our 2009 Best Boston Restaurants List, 2008 Best Boston Restaurants List, 2007 Best Boston Restaurants List, 2006 Best Boston Restaurants List, and 2005 Best Boston Restaurants List).
Best American Restaurant, 2011
In a Pig's Eye, Salem, MA
Offbeat, funky, and eclectic, this rustic and cozy little North Shore eatery features classic American dishes at almost criminally low prices. The friendly and low-key staff at In a Pig's Eye serves up such tasty items as beef and bean chili, fried artichoke hearts, steak tips, beef stroganoff, and fish cakes, all of which are well worth getting. And for those of you who are beer drinkers, the restaurant has an extensive list of local microbrews.
[Reader Picks: Abe and Louie's, Craigie on Main, Silvertone]
Best Breakfast Place, 2011
McKay's Breakfast and Lunch, Quincy, MA
A classic local breakfast and lunch joint in South Quincy, McKay's is also a surprisingly large place with three separate rooms of dining. Favored by Irish immigrants who live in and around Quincy, this friendly spot features delicious breakfast dishes, including a marvelous Texas-style French toast along with grilled brown bread and grilled soda bread as well as a traditional Irish breakfast with blood pudding.
[Reader Pick: The Paramount]
Best Cafe, 2011
Strip-T's Restaurant, Watertown, MA
We're not sure how much longer we can consider this East Watertown eatery a hidden gem, as it is starting to get some major press (including nationally). But Strip-T's still remains a bit of an unknown spot to many diners, partly because of its location on a cross street in a mostly residential area. Some recent menu changes have brought some very interesting items to the place, including poutine and charred baby octopus.
[Reader Pick: Espresso Royale]
Best Chinese Restaurant, 2011
Shanghai Gate, Allston, MA
With Sichuan Garden being not too far away in Brookline, our two top picks for Chinese happen to be in the same section of the Boston area. And while it is always tough to pick against Sichuan Garden, this brightly-lit spot on the Allton/Brookline border has some items that aren't just among the top Chinese dishes we've had, but the best dishes of any kind in and around Boston (the soup dumplings at Shanghai Gate, for instance, are pure heaven).
[Reader Pick: Gourmet Dumpling House]
Best Deli, 2011
Barry's Village Deli, Waban, MA
This was an extremely tough decision, with the new-ish Inna's Kitchen in nearby Newton Centre greatly impressing us, but Barry's simply hits on all cylinders. Everything is fantastic, including the matzo ball soup, potato latkas, cheese blintzes, house-made corned beef hash, knishes, kasha varnishkas, egg salad, etc. Hidden on a side street in one of Newton's quietest villages, Barry's also happens to remain way under the radar.
[Reader Pick: Zaftigs]
Best Diner, 2011
Victoria's Diner, Boston, MA
A three-time winner now, there is certainly a lot to like about this spot near South Bay and Newmarket Square in Roxbury. Take the Nutella-smothered French toast, for example; or the short rib mac and cheese; or maybe the Monte Cristo breakfast sandwich; or perhaps the Cinnabon French toast. Do we need to go on? Probably not.
[Reader Pick: Deluxe Town Diner]
Best Greek Restaurant, 2011
Desfina, Cambridge, MA
It was a tough choice this year, with Greek Corner on the other side of Cambridge continuing to impress, but the authentic taverna atmosphere--plus the quality of some of the dishes at Desfina--put this East Cambridge spot slightly above Greek Corner for 2011. The starters are some of the best items at this spot, including the rich-tasting avgolemono, the earthy steamed dandelions, and the marvelous saganaki cheese, which is set on fire at diners' tables.
[Reader Pick: Greek Corner]
Best Hamburgers, 2011
Flat Patties, Cambridge, MA
It is nice to see that the move from The Garage to Brattle Street didn't affect the quality of the burgers at Flat Patties. If anything, the burgers almost seem to be better, with an exceptional amount of taste coming from the high fat content of these thin patties. O'Sullivan's in Somerville continues to be a close second to us, but it is the sheer juiciness of the Flat Patties burgers that put them over the top.
[Reader Picks: Mr. Bartley's, O'Sullivan's]
Best Hot Dog Stand, 2011
Simco's, Mattapan, MA
Much like Dok Bua in Brookline for Thai (see below), Simco's may end up in our Hall of Fame (if we ever build one), as it keeps impressing with its delectable hot dogs year after year after year. This Mattapan spot somehow remains a hidden gem after so many years in business, partly because it resides in an area that doesn't get a ton of traffic, but it is certainly one place that hot dog lovers need to seek out.
[Reader Pick: Spike's]
Best Indian Restaurant, 2011
Kebab Factory, Somerville, MA
This slick and quirky Somerville restaurant seems to be our pick every few years, and for good reason; the food just seems a little fresher, more inventive, and tastier than that of many of its competitors in the Boston area. And the atmosphere at Kebab Factory, while perhaps not for everyone, is a bit more funky and eclectic than you might expect from an Indian eatery.
[Reader Pick: Punjabi Dhaba]
Best Irish Pub/Restaurant, 2011
Townsend's, Hyde Park, MA (CLOSED)
For the second year in a row, we picked this slightly upscale Irish pub and restaurant partly for its atmosphere, partly for its food, and definitely for its affable storytelling bartender, who is one of our favorites in the Boston area. More of an elegant spot than most other Irish eating and drinking establishments in the area, Townsend's is indeed a unique place.
[Reader Picks: Matt Murphy's, PJ Ryan's]
Best Italian Restaurant, 2011
Vecchia Roma, Newton, MA
We could have easily picked the neighboring Maria Di Napoli (see below) for this category, but since the pizza was so good at that spot, it became our pick there. And while the Italian food at both Nonantum restaurants is impressive, it is the cozy and romantic atmosphere that puts Vecchia Roma over the top. Well, that and such wonderful dishes as linguini con vongole and house-made ravioli with veggies in a white wine sauce.
[Reader Pick: Giacomo's]
Best Japanese Restaurant, 2011
Toraya, Arlington, MA
A repeat pick for this year, this one just barely made the list for 2011, as there was certainly some stiff competition (including Hayashi in Easton). But the sushi and maki at this small spot just west of the center of town is something to behold, with such items as the flying fish roe and plum and beefsteak leaf maki having flavors and textures that you won't soon forget.
[Reader Pick: Oishii]
Best Mexican Restaurant, 2011
Taqueria El Amigo, Waltham, MA
Perhaps the smallest restaurant to be included in our "Best Of" list, Taqueria El Amigo is also one of the hardest to find, being located on a little side street near the Watertown and Newton borders. But this tiny spot has dishes with big flavors, including the incredibly rich beef cheek tacos, the cheese quesadillas with delicious mushrooms, and the cilantro-heavy guacamole.
[Reader Pick: Anna's]
Best Pizza, 2011
Maria Di Napoli Ristorante, Newton, MA
Ok, so you might be asking, what about Santarpio's? What about Pizzeria Regina? Well, those two places do have outstanding pizza, but Maria Di Napoli rivals both (its pies are closer in style to Regina's, by the way), and it is an utterly unknown place in Newton's working-class Nonantum neighborhood. Add easy parking and friendly owners and you have yourself a winner of a place for authentic Neapolitan pizza.
[Reader Pick: Regina's]
Best Sandwiches, 2011
John's Roast Beef and Seafood, Lynn, MA
One of the fun parts about looking for little-known spots is finding that extra-special place that no one seems to know about. And John's on Western Avenue in Lynn is certainly one of those. Slightly less "downscale" than most roast beef joints in the Boston area, John's also happens to have perhaps the tastiest roast beef on the North Shore, which is saying a lot.
[Reader Pick: Sam La Grassa's]
Best Seafood Restaurant, 2011
Haddad's Ocean Cafe, Marshfield, MA
It may be a bit of a ride from downtown Boston, but this well-worn seafood joint in the Brant Rock section of Marshfield is something special. Haddad's focuses mainly on shellfish, with their lobster dishes and their crab cakes (when available) being about the best that you'll find in all of Eastern Massachusetts.
[Reader Pick: Island Creek Oyster Bar]
Best Thai Restaurant, 2011
Dok Bua, Brookline, MA
We could say that picking Dok Bua year after year is becoming tiresome, but when it comes to the food at this humble little Brookline spot, it simply never does get old. There is some good competition out there for Thai food, but the dishes at Dok Bua (including the steamed pork dumplings and vermicelli with crispy chicken) are simply that much better than those of other places in and around Boston.
[Reader Picks: Montien, Rod Dee]
[Ed note: A few categories were not covered by us this year. Here are reader picks for those categories:]
Central/South American: Orinoco
Middle Eastern: Cafe Jaffa
Vietnamese: Pho Basil