Rib-sticking classics meet global flavors in our cozy-dining picks for the best comfort foods in New England.
By Amy Traverso
Jan 01 2018
From Irish-French toast in Rhode Island to the perfect brisket Reuben in Massachusetts and our dream chocolate sea salt doughnuts in Maine, we think these dishes are the best comfort foods in New England.
To make his signature French toast, Brian O’Rourke begins by baking the bread—specifically, fragrant Irish soda bread studded with raisins and toasted caraway seeds. After being soaked in custard, griddled, and served with homemade jam and clotted cream, these slices are a multinational delight. 860-346-6101; orourkesmiddletown.com
If any cut of meat qualifies as comfort food, it’s the humble short rib. Rich and meaty, it cooks down to melting tenderness after a long braise or low-temperature roast. Pair it with a tangy braising sauce and you have, well, a rib-sticker. In the hands of chef-owner Chris Prosperi, the ribs—and the mushroom-rich risotto with which they’re served—achieve perfect texture and intensity, the stuff of next-day nostalgia. 860-651-1908; metrobis.com
The cure for whatever ails us can be found in this bowl of long-simmered broth, braised pork belly, minced pork, and noodles with a lashing of miso and a soft-cooked egg. There are layers on layers of flavor here, with garnishes of sesame, scallion, and sweet corn. No wonder the line snakes out the door on weekends (plus, the space itself is small—only 10 tables). If you can, arrive on a weekday before the doors open at 11:30. But even if there’s a line, you’ll be sheltered from the cold inside Brookline’s old Arcade Building. And it’s always worth the wait. 617-730-8100; gankoramen.com
Here at America’s oldest restaurant (c. 1673), the lobster mac comes in a little cast-iron pot and bears a crown of crunchy, buttery bread crumbs. But its real glory lies in the sauce, which is made with two New England cheeses (Great Hill Blue and sharp Vermont cheddar) and a generous portion of chopped lobster meat—a humble meal made princely. 401-849-3600; whitehorsenewport.com
At this tiny rustic eatery (there’s just six tables), Bangkok-born chef Ravin Nakjaroen cooks vividly flavored Thai-inspired dishes that feel entirely local, given his sourcing of fresh, seasonal ingredients. Pad kemao features wok-charred house-made noodles with Thai basil, organic greens, wild mushrooms, and your choice of meat (we recommend the chicken or pork belly), an irresistibly cozy combination. 207-236-9001; longgraincamden.com
What began as a roadside trailer at the Brimfield Antique Show has become a destination restaurant, thanks to chef-owner Brian Treitman’s sixth sense for smoke. Everything here, from the ribs to the pulled pork to the mac and cheese, is so rich and tasty you could go into hibernation after downing a platter. But it’s the brisket Reuben—an inspired marriage of two nostalgic classics—that wins the prize. 508-347-3188; btsmokehouse.com
Chasing the success of the Shake Shack juggernaut, upscale burger joints have begun doling out gussied-up fries and fancy milkshakes at premium prices. But Brgr Bar—now with a location in Portland, Maine, too—breaks free from the pack with thoughtful sourcing (the beef comes from Maine family farms) and seriously creative combos (e.g., a mango salsa/pulled pork/smoked gouda/avocado-topped burger). Our favorite combines a beef patty with gorgonzola, onion rings, and onion-bacon jam, all in perfect harmony. 603-294-0902; brgr-bar.com
Why is so much comfort food on the cheesy-starchy side when there’s a world of warming spices to take the chill away? This Indo-Chinese dish traditionally pairs crispy cauliflower florets with a moderately spicy curry sauce, but at Rasoi there’s an added hint of sweetness. It’s the kind of dish that you taste once, and seek out endlessly. 401-728-5500; rasoirestaurant.com
A Quebecois invention, traditional poutine is a gut-busting dish of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. It’s a winter warmer, a spirits-soaker-upper. But at Worthy Kitchen it’s a worth-the-trip wonder: excellent fries topped with duck fat gravy, pork confit, smoked cheddar (a Vermonty touch), fresh herbs, and pickled shallots. Salt, fat, acid, smoke … a flawless cold-weather quartet. 802-457-7281; worthyvermont.com
Generations of downhillers have made an après-ski habit of stopping by Henri Borel’s iconic bistro in Sugarbush Village. There’s plenty of comfort to be found here (onion soup, fondue, filet with bérnaise), but in our view the raclette—melty alpine cheese served simply with potatoes, pickles, and charcuterie—is the best way to end the day. Borel celebrated the restaurant’s 50th anniversary in 2014, and this youthful nonagenarian still runs the place from his perch behind the marble bar. How does he do it? Maybe it’s the French paradox. 802-583-2600; chezhenrisugarbush.com
Before taking over Colby Hill, chef-owner Bruce Barnes cooked in New York and Washington, D.C., two towns known for their excellent variations on this soul food classic. He sidesteps a common pitfall—dry, overdone meat—by cooking the chicken sous vide before flash-frying it, then pairing the burnished bird with a seasonal waffle (sweet potato or pumpkin in fall, zucchini in summer). 603-428-3281; colbyhillinn.com
It’s long been a tradition in Maine potato country to add mashed spuds to doughnut batter, which provides a fluffier, moister texture. So when Leigh Kellis decided to open a doughnut shop in Portland in 2012, it was only natural to make her rounds with potatoes. We especially love the chocolate glazed doughnut finished with a sprinkling of sea salt, the ideal foil to all that sweet goodness. Locations in Portland and Scarborough. theholydonut.com
What would you add to our list of the best comfort foods in New England? Let us know below!