There’s a certain breed of souls who actually look forward to winter in Boston. They’re foolhardy souls; souls who brave sleet, snowdrifts and precarious sidewalks in a pair of shorts just to get their hands on an iced coffee. For them, a winter wonderland isn’t just an infernal melody burrowing its way into their eardrums. It’s a perpetual state of mind.

I’m not one of them. I don’t know anyone who is one of them. In fact, I’m not certain I necessarily want to know anyone who is one of them. But they exist. That’s why restaurants stay open year-round. And that’s why even the most post-holiday weary among us can rely on certain essential staples when it comes to dining options. Ramen doesn’t travel well in a delivery container during subzero temperatures. Neither does clam chowder. And unless you’ve been storing acorns all spring, summer and fall, at some point you’re going to eventually have to brave the elements and take your date, family or attorney out to dinner. Whether you’re laughing in the face of winter or simply find yourself with no other option but to dine out, here’s seven of the best choices you can make.

 


Estragon Tapas Bar

700 Harrison Ave, Boston
Open Monday - Saturday from 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm

Photo credit: Yelp/Minzhi Y.

There are countless choices for tapas in Boston, and virtually all of them are beyond reproach. But Estragon has never gotten the love it deserves. It doesn’t have a high profile chef behind it. And no, it doesn’t cater to the tech start-up nouveau-Brahmins. Instead, the menu remains consistent, affordable and (for lack of a better term) fun, with an extensive happy hour menu and what could be one of the best cocktail lists in the South End.

Essential winter choices: Morcilla on toast, spiced chicken skewers, chicken and sofrito empanadas, paprika-spiced chickpeas


Tiger Mama

1363 Boylston St, Boston
Open Sunday - Thursday from 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Friday - Saturday from 5:00 pm - 11:00 pm
Sunday Brunch from 11:00 am - 2:30 pm

Photo credit: Yelp/Cindy K.

I probably could have mentioned several authentic Thai restaurants in lieu of Tiffani Faison’s “Southeast-Asian inspired” Fenway institution. I probably should have. I probably will. But there’s a reason I keep coming back to Tiger Mama. It’s not just the menu. It’s not just the brunch. It’s not just the fact that Tiki drinks are served without irony. And it’s not just the fact that her food can be even more inventive than many Thai restaurants in Boston. It’s all of the above.

Essential winter choices: Thai whiskey chicken, spicy okra, crispy pork ribs in charred ginger chili sauce, mala mushrooms


The Q

660 Washington St, Boston
Open Sunday - Thursday from 11:30 am - 11:00 pm
Friday - Saturday from 11:30 am - 1:00 am

Photo credit: Yelp/David C.

Should you be wary of any restaurant that offers both sushi, Shanghai-style dim sum, Chinese appetizers and pad thai on the same menu? Probably. Should you be wary of any restaurant in Chinatown which aims to be both trendy and upscale? Definitely. So why bother choosing the Q in the dead of winter? Mongolian hot pot. It’s how hot pot should be. Aromatic, numbingly spicy and highly addictive. It’s precisely why you’ll find yourself waiting half an hour for a table. And it’s precisely why you won’t mind at all.

Essential winter choices: Szechuan chili hot pot, mala hot pot, spicy wontons, cumin beef


Atlantic Fish Company

761 Boylston St, Boston
Open Sunday - Thursday from 11:30 am - 11:00 pm
Friday - Saturday from 11:30 am - 11:30 pm

Photo credit: Yelp/Yue L.

Clam chowder is probably the most divisive New England food staple. Rarely is there a happy medium. There’s no such thing as agreeing to disagree about clam chowder. Just bitter acrimony and wasted breath. Atlantic Fish is the exception. You may not be coming here on a daily basis. And seafood may not seem like the quintessential winter food. It isn’t. But there’s a reason why Atlantic Fish is synonymous with clam chowder. And there’s also a reason why they’re a much more appropriate pescetarian choice than their… er, “Legal” competitors.

Essential winter choices: Clam chowder, Mediterranean branzino, Lobster Fra Diavolo


Cha Yen Thai

613 Mt Auburn St, Watertown
Open Tuesday - Thursday from 11:30 am - 9:30 pm
Friday - Saturday from 11:30 am - 10:00 pm
Sundays from 12:00 pm - 9:30 pm

Ever had truly bad Thai food? Not merely average. Not even mediocre. But truly awful Thai food? The sort where you’ll vow never to eat Thai again until next Tuesday? Neither have I. And Cha Yen Thai doesn’t do anything the illusion that such a thing exists. Yes, your typical curries, pad thai and tom yung noodle soup will be here. And they’re done masterfully. But it’s the specialties you come for. And it’s the specialties that make your average Thai restaurant look… well, truly awful.

Essential winter choices: Cashew nut stir fry, yakisoba noodles, Khai Sao brisket


Juliet

257 Washington St, Somerville
Open Wednesday - Saturday from 8:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sundays from 8:00 am - 8:00 pm

Photo credit: Yelp/Sahithi B.

Juliet shouldn’t be a winter staple. In fact, it’s a concept that just wouldn’t work for most people. Dining options are limited to a la carte or a seasonal prix fixe dinner based on reservations only. Limited means limited—and there’s a very good reason why you should opt for the latter. It’s not pretense. It’s reflective of a philosophy: simplicity, not novelty.

Essential winter choices from the a la carte menu: French onion soup, roasted mushroom risotto


Clerys

113 Dartmouth St, Boston
Open Sunday - Saturday, 11:00 am - 2:00 am
Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:00 am - 2:00 pm

Photo credit: Yelp/Nelson R.

It’s an Irish bar in the same way that its sister spots the Black Rose and Coogan’s are Irish bars. Meaning it’s all about marketing a stereotype from a hospitality group. So what makes Clery’s different? After all, isn't it just comfort food? But it can occasionally be inventive comfort food. Sure, you can get a burger or fish and chips. But winter isn’t exactly a predictable season. Your dining choices shouldn’t be, either.

Essential winter choices: General Tso’s brussel sprouts, short rib grilled cheese