Here we go again! This is our ninth year of picking the cream of the crop among mostly lesser-known restaurants in the Boston area, and this year there are newcomers as well as some repeat performers. Scroll down to check out our choices for the best little-known restaurants of 2013! (Note: This Best of 2013 page is part of our restaurant features section, which also includes our 2012 Best Boston Restaurants List and other "best of" lists that go back to 2005.)
Best American Restaurant, 2013
Atwood's Tavern, Cambridge, MA
This was a tough one, with the terrific Dogwood Cafe in Jamaica Plain also in the running, but this spot, which is located just east of restaurant-rich Inman Square, is a tremendously interesting--and rather funky--place with some truly outstanding dishes (the grass-fed burgers and pork chops are memorable here). Add to this a hidden outdoor patio, live music, and a good beer selection and you have a dining and drinking spot that impresses on nearly all counts.
Best Breakfast Place, 2013
Dot 2 Dot Cafe, Dorchester, MA
A quirky and very artsy spot that appears to be nearly completely unknown, the Dot 2 Dot Cafe features fresh--and often healthy--breakfast items including omelets, pancakes, and French toast (the latter of which is made using delicious brioche). Located between Fields Corner and the Ashmont Hill area on a stretch of Dorchester Avenue that doesn't have much in the way of restaurants, this is a true hidden gem.
Best Chinese Restaurant, 2013
Shanghai Gate, Allston, MA
China King in the Chinatown section of Boston nearly took this one, but the food at this tiny storefront near the Allston/Brookline border was mind-blowingly good once again this year. The lion's head meatballs, string beans in garlic sauce, pan-fried noodles, beef with green peppers, and oh yes, the sublime pork buns all put this place over the top, and the low prices don't hurt all that much, either.
Best Deli, 2013
Barry's Village Deli, Waban, MA
There aren't many delis in the Greater Boston area, and very few that compare to the best that New York City has to offer. But yet again, this under-the-radar spot in the Waban section of Newton impressed with its traditional deli items, gruff but funny workers, and somewhat reasonable prices (though not exactly cheap, but good deli food rarely is). Highlights include corned beef and pastrami sandwiches, blintzes, and matzo ball soup.
Best Diner, 2013
Victoria's Diner, Boston, MA
As is the case with delis, you won't find a ton of diners in and around Boston either, though there are certainly some good ones if you look hard enough. And this surprisingly spacious eatery near Newmarket Square on the Roxbury/Dorchester line is one of the better options, with some truly decadent dishes. Their Nutella-smothered French toast is quite good, as is their meatloaf sandwich, breakfast burger, and shortrib macaroni and cheese.
Best Greek Restaurant, 2013
Greek Corner, Cambridge, MA
Perhaps not as "hidden" as it used to be (thanks to Guy Fieri visiting the place for "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives" a few years back), this North Cambridge dining spot is still relatively little-known outside of the immediate area. And Greek Corner does seem to do nearly everything right, with excellent takes on chicken, lemon, and egg soup ("Avgolemono"), saganaki, spinach pie, gyros, pastitso, and moussaka, the last of which has a nice little kick to it.
Best Hamburgers, 2013
RF O'Sullivan's, Somerville, MA
This was an extremely tough call this year, with burgers from Flat Patties and the Atwood Tavern in Cambridge being up there as well, along with Grumpy White's in Quincy, but O'Sullivan's seemed to be a bit more consistent with its burgers this year. These meatball-shaped burgers aren't for everyone, but it is tough to argue with these juicy and tasty flame-grilled hunks of meat, especially when any number of toppings are added (or stuffed into them, as is the case with the baconattor).
Best Hot Dog Stand, 2013
Simco's, Mattapan, MA
So yes, Simco's is a spot that continues to win year after year after year, even with such standouts as Fred's Franks in Wakefield and Sullivan's in South Boston out there. But these nearly foot-long dogs are just too good to ignore, which, oddly enough, is what seems to continue to happen even after many decades in the same spot. Because Mattapan isn't really close to any highway and is about as far away from downtown as you can get, this takeout joint continues to remain a hidden gem to this day.
Best Indian Restaurant, 2013
Punjab Cafe, Quincy, MA
About as little-known a spot as you'll find, this comfortable restaurant located between Quincy Center and the old shipyard features takes on both familiar and more exotic Indian dishes that are much tastier than what you'll find at some other spots in the Boston area, including excellent samosas, naan, tikka masala, and more. Decent prices, relatively easy parking, and lack of crowds all help make Punjab Cafe a top pick as well.
Best Irish Pub/Restaurant, 2013
O'Hara's, Newton Highlands, MA
If you're looking for a down-and-dirty Irish pub that focuses on pints and music, and maybe a sandwich or two, this sprawling spot is probably not for you. But O'Hara's is certainly a good place to go if you're looking for something that is more family-friendly, and also one to check out for food that goes beyond basic bar food. The calamari, macaroni and cheese, burgers, and fish and chips are all worth getting at this rather serene and laid-back place in charming Newton Highlands.
Best Italian Restaurant, 2013
Vecchia Roma, Newton, MA
This is always a difficult category, as there are many terrific Italian restaurants in the area, including a number of which are not well-known. But Vecchia Roma comes out on top this year, in part because of the freshness and authenticity of its dishes, along with the fact that very few seem to know about the place, which is located in an old Italian neighborhood called Nonantum. Some of the best items at this two-room eatery include the rolled eggplant, linguine con vongole, risotto, and rigatoni with fennel seeds.
Best Japanese Restaurant, 2013
Village Sushi and Grill, Roslindale, MA
For the second year in a row, this under-the-radar spot in the heart of Roslindale comes out on top for Japanese fare for a few reasons, with the outstanding sushi being the main one. But the Japanese and Korean dishes at this quiet restaurant are also well worth getting (the wasabi shumai and mandoo kuk are both marvelous), and the private-feeling outdoor patio behind the eatery is a wonderful spot to be on a warm summer evening.
Best Mexican Restaurant, 2013
Mi Pueblito, East Boston, MA
Also in the running for "restaurant in most obscure location" (if we had a category for that, that is), this spot is one that you will probably not find on your own, unless you happen to be driving through the industrial parts of Eastie that look out over the Mystic Tobin Bridge. And while Mi Pueblito looks a bit questionable from the outside, the interior is bright, colorful, and cheerful, and yes, it's food is fantastic. Mexican and Salvadoran items such as chiles rellenos, guacamole, and papusas are all top notch here.
Best Pizza, 2013
Lynwood Cafe, Randolph, MA
This was another tough category, with so many standouts for pizza in and around Boston, but in the end, it was this rickety old dive bar south of the city that came out at the top. And this may not be a surprise to some, as the Lynwood is seen by more than a few as having the best bar pizza in Eastern Massachusetts, which is why you will see folks constantly leaving this place with stacks of pies to go.
Best Seafood Restaurant, 2013
Lobster Pool, Rockport, MA
While technically not in the Boston area, this Cape Ann restaurant is an absolute winner of a place, with fresh seafood of all kinds (the lobster, clam chowder, and fried seafood are about as good as it gets), spectacular views of the water--including unforgettable sunsets--and mostly decent prices. Tony's Clam Shop in Quincy is always in the running for this category as well, but The Lobster Pool gets the nod this year.
Best Thai Restaurant, 2013
Dok Bua, Brookline, MA
What more can be said about this spot? Dok Bua gets picked year after year for good reason, as it consistently puts out amazing dishes at almost absurdly low prices. And sure, the atmosphere at this Harvard Street eatery isn't much to write home about, but it has its charm, feeling a bit like a street-food spot or a market (which used to be located in the space). Highlights are too numerous to mention, but the pad Thai with crispy chicken is a real winner here.