Photo by Osman Rana on Unsplash
8 restaurants to visit in Boston
Boston chef Irene Shiang Li is the co-founder of Mei Mei Dumplings, a restaurant-turned-dumpling factory that offers cooking classes. She is a six-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star Chef semi-finalist. In 2022, she became the youngest person ever to win the James Beard Foundation’s Leadership Award. Li is also the co-founder of Prepshift, a restaurant coaching and consulting business that supports small companies and their teams. Her second book in collaboration with her sister comes out this June: Perfectly Good Food from W. W. Norton. These are her favourite places to eat in her hometown of Boston, Massachusetts.
Rubato HK Café
Photo: Matt Li
Li raves about this modern Hong Kong café in Quincy: “Hong Kong style-breakfast and brunch, scratch-made you tiao (Chinese crullers), run by a chef who took over his mom’s cafe. Don’t miss the crispy chicken bolo bar either!” Rubato also serves riffs on Cantonese childhood favourites like lava egg yolk bao and an array of ji cheung fun (steamed savoury rice rolls) that bring to mind the energetic rice roll street stalls of Wan Chai.
“Globally inspired and diasporic cuisine. [The] jerk jackfruit slider will change the way you think about jackfruit!” raves Li. Comfort Kitchen celebrates the nuanced flavours of the African diaspora, an enormous swath of territory from Asia to the Americas. Everyone is sure to find comfort somewhere in their range of snacks from seared okra with masala yoghurt to beef kafta scented with urfa chilli and their Middle Eastern-inflected brown butter trout.
Via Cannuccia is a hybrid bakery, pizzeria and trattoria that serves sumptuous roasted porchetta, pasta, pizzas and crusty, fluffy loaves of bread. “Brand new Italian neighbourhood spot. Pastries are where it’s at,” recommends Li. Chef Stefano Kiros was born in Rome, trained in culinary school in Italy and brings years of cooking and baking Italian food to Via Cannuccia’s impressively expansive menu.
Tawakal Halal Café
“In East Boston near the airport, [you’ll find] Somali-inspired food by Yahya Noor and his family. The sambusas and wraps on freshly griddled roti are the best ‘welcome back’ to the city you can get,” says Li. This family-owned restaurant has been named a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist this year for Best Restaurant Northeast. They’re also famous for their fiery Tawakal hot sauce made with fresh mangoes.
Cafe Sushi Shoten
“A takeout-only second-generation sushi spot where the California roll has real snow crab and the platters are basically omakase,” says Li. Café Sushi encompasses a sake shop with an extensive selection of Japanese sake and also features an array of hard-to-find Japanese pantry items and snacks. When it comes to nigiri, sashimi and maki, the menu is downright enormous and boasts unique signature items like branzino kabujime (kombu-cured European sea bass) and 12-spice salmon (king salmon seasoned with poblano miso and 12-spice pineapple).
Photo: Matt Li
Pagu bills itself as a Japanese tapas restaurant, a very current dining trend in the US. “Tracy Chang’s Spanish-Japanese-Taiwanese eatery [offers] everything from noodles to paella. I love it so much I got married there!” raves Li. Pagu serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and this year was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurant award. To put it simply, Pagu’s menu has swagger: sake mirin coconut steamed whole branzino, squid ink paella with carabineros or scarlet prawns – confidently served alongside pork belly bao. The dessert menu reads like waking up from a fever dream simultaneously in Japan and Spain (black sesame tofu with hojicha tea syrup with tofu foam meets Basque cheesecake).
Hemlock Grill’s stunning fried chicken sandwich, two bun slices bookending a sphere of crispy battered chicken, defies belief – and perhaps even gravity. “Tucked away on Brookline’s public golf course, the best fried chicken sandwich and killer tacos. When Bisq closed, Alex Sáenz ended up here,” recommends Li.
“Hard to find Dian and Yunnan specialities with lots of sticky rice and pea jelly dishes, plus air-dried ham fried rice,” raves Li. The spicy and sour balance of Yunnan or Dian cuisine is uncommon in Boston and Yunnan Kitchen is a project from the same team making Yunnan rice noodles at South of the Clouds.