Waypoint’s chopped clam pizza.Photo Credit : courtesy of Waypoint
The truth of restaurant trends is that they tend to run from west to east. Those poke-and-rice bowls you’re seeing everywhere were invented in Hawaii, adopted by Californians, and disseminated from there. Gourmet doughnuts were a Pacific Northwest export. Avocado toast? Australia, then California, then here.
Does that mean New Englanders are culinary laggards? Not necessarily. Ana Sortun was popularizing modern Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors in the U.S. well before Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks hit the best-seller lists. Steve Herrell (of Herrell’s) and Gus and Mimi Rancatore (of Toscanini’s)—not to mention Ben and Jerry—helped revolutionize the way Americans eat ice cream.
And it’s no coincidence that of the names mentioned above, most have roots in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This brainy, urbane city has long embraced food pioneers. Julia Child called it home. Legal Sea Foods began there. The list goes on…and on. And in the microcosm of the Boston restaurant scene, Cambridge continues to innovate a bit ahead of its neighbors. At Bondir, where Jason Bond uses his love of wild edibles, odd bits, and hand-crafted everything (rose vinegar, seaweed-infused bread) to turn out the tastiest food in one of the coziest and most romantic restaurants in the city. At Craigie on Main, Tony Maws continues to employ his virtuosic technique to meat and veg in equal measure (but especially to pork, which he serves three ways: shoulder, rib, belly). And at Shepard, Susan Regis masters the art of bringing simple elements together into a much greater whole—a talent typified in a small, transcendent snack of chamomile-scented ricotta on a rye cracker with honey.
Then there’s Waypoint, the newest of chef Michael Scelfo’s properties. It’s a “coastal-inspired” restaurant, not a seafood shack, so if you’re looking for broiled scrod or baked stuffed shrimp, look elsewhere. This is globetrotting stuff, with octopus polpetti (meatballs) cozying up to chilies, mint, and ricotta salata in a pasta dish, and Maine lobster served with black rice and brown butter aioli. It’s not all so exotic—there’s a classic raw bar, and grandees can enjoy flights of caviar—and there’s also a great rib-eye and an array of pizzas for landlubbers. But the best of the menu is wide-ranging, ambitious fare served in a sleek and sexy room where the light fixtures evoke glass fishing floats and ceiling beams have the hue of driftwood.
The most casual of Ana Sortun’s restaurants, this bakery serves farm-fresh Middle Eastern–inspired salads, spreads, and shawarmas alongside chef Maura Kilpatrick’s perfect pastries (don’t miss her earthquake cookies, almond-rose tea cakes, and sesame-cashew bars). sofrabakery.com
Chef Michael Pagliarini is a master of pasta, employing not just a multitude of styles (stuffed, ribboned, twisted) but also flours (from semolina to spelt to Glenn, a hard red spring flour). giuliarestaurant.com
The name may be a mouthful, but the only mouthful that really matters at this restaurant-within-a-catering-company in North Cambridge is the one that chef Carl Dooley fills with treats like roasted pork belly with marinated peaches, and orecchiette pasta with mussels, green chiles, and lemon bread crumbs. The format is prix fixe, and the price ($69) seems eminently reasonable for food this good. cambridgetable.com
Wood-fired fare is the focus here, and the pizzas are the best in Greater Boston. In particular, the clam pie is worth a head-to-head battle with some New Haven stalwarts. areafour.com
Chef Will Gilson was raised on an herb farm, and his knowledge of New England’s growing seasons is woven into Puritan’s DNA. There are New Englandy touches—like Moxie-glazed lamb belly—but also grilled swordfish with herbes de Provence. puritancambridge.com
This modern deli gives you your Reuben, your house-cured pastrami, and Nana’s Noodle Kugel alongside smart, tasty plates like salmon with green tahini and charred eggplant. mamalehs.com
As Yankee’s senior food editor, Amy Traverso oversees the magazine’s food department and contributes to NewEngland.com. She’s also the cohost of Yankee’s TV series with WGBH, Weekends with Yankee, and the author of The Apple Lover’s Cookbook (W.W. Norton), which won an International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook award in the “American” category.