BOSTON – It’s easy to turn a jaded eye towards Restaurant Week. Yes, you can find great deals on the “Best (your city) Has To Offer.” Only the select entrees may frequently be far from a restaurant’s best. Yes, it’s a boon to the local tourist economy. But ask anyone who’s actually had to work in service about restaurant weeks and you may understand why the lacklustre tips, spurious questions and entitled attitudes from “here-today-gone-today” customers have led to what has infamously been called a hell where patrons “infest the restaurants like swarms of locusts, covering every square inch of table space looking for deals. It is a time that we make our money with quantity instead of quality.”
(And I won’t even touch upon the last restaurant week I attended where a certain near empty North End establishment insisted on playing a particular Bell Biv Devoe classic over and over again, much to the consternation of my dining partner.)
But I haven’t come to bury Dine Out Boston, which kicks off this weekend and runs through the 30th. On the contrary. And while there’s a very good reason why some of the over 200 participating restaurants will be vying for your business twice a year, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for an $8 mystery burger of unknown origin. So long as you understand that the server you blithely roll your eyes at has likely been on their feet for the past nine hours for 8 percent gratuity and fielding such pertinent questions as “But I don’t understand. What is sriacha?”
In other words? Don’t be schemin’ on no house, money.
Mooncusser Fish House
304 Stuart St Boston, MA $38 prix fixe menu/dinner only
Mooncusser is the sort of deceptively basic contrast you want in a seafood restaurant. Simple but inventive. Locally sourced but globally influenced. And above all, understated. They don’t have to garishly boast of a crudo of striped bass spiced with pistachio or grilled squid with mint and fish sauce; the dishes speak for themselves.
Casa Cana Latin Kitchen
1234 Soldiers Field Rd Brighton, MA $33 prix fixe menu/dinner only
You want to hate Casa Cana. It’s three ingredients that should be a disaster when combined: latin cuisine, trendy and mid-to-higher end prices. And it’s a Lyons Group venture, which means… a Lyons Group crowd (all that VC startup money has to be spent somewhere, bro.) But if you’re going to go nouveau Latin with annatto grilled chicken thighs or prawns in sofrito and chimichurri, there’s worse places to stare absentmindedly into your iPhone.
660 Washington St Boston, MA $20 lunch/$33 dinner prix fixe menu
Yes, you can and should be directed towards other restaurants in Chinatown than Q during any other week. And yes, it will be packed—uncomfortably so, at times. And yes, hot pot can lose its any lingering novelty quicker than you can imagine. But yes, their spicy mala hot pot is legendary. For a very good reason. As is their black bone chicken broth. As is…
4 Avery St Boston, MA $25 lunch/$38 dinner prix fixe menu
Blu insists on spelling their name “blu.” Which to any rational person would be a strike against them. And they’re in the Theater district. Which to any rational person would be a strike against them. But I’m really not going to argue about it over harissa fish tacos or lamb lollipops (which are really just kebabs but… you’re called ‘blu’, so naturally you’re going to refer to them as lollipops. It really isn’t clever but damn... they’re worth it.)
10 Bosworth St Boston, MA *$25 lunch/$38 dinner prix fixe menu *
After a disastrous 2018 which saw not one but four different long standing institutions bid farewell, you’d think traditional French restaurants in Boston was all but dead. But the Marliave still stands, and has been standing since the nineteenth century. It’s everything your cookbooks may have told you about French cuisine prior to the late ‘60s but with a decidedly Italian influence:which means duck liver ravioli, escargot and beef wellington can sit comfortably next to a vegetarian piccata and none’s the wiser.
415 Hanover St Boston, MA $20 lunch/$33 prix fixe menu
I can’t lie. As much as the North End may covet Restaurant Week like some fiercely protected gastronomic icon of faith, I avoid it like the plague. It becomes a veritable full moon for otherwise mild-mannered patrons who let their inner werewolves run rampant as is the neighborhood were a slightly more Catholic version of the Encore Casino. But I’ll make an exception for Lucia for one reason and one reason only. The porchetta. If you’ve ever tried this at home, you’re already aware you shouldn’t. And if you’ve tried it anywhere else, you’re already aware they probably shouldn’t. But at Lucia, they not only invite you to; they command you to.
Publico Street Bistro
11 Dorchester St Boston, MA $33 prix fixe menu/dinner only
If you hear the terms “street bistro”, “Latin inspired” and “South Boston” together in the same sentence and your Spidey senses tingle in a bad way, you’re not alone. But with Publico, you’d also be mistaken. There’s no sense of affectation anywhere to be found in both the atmosphere and menu. It’s as genuine a take on Latin cuisine you’re likely to find in Southie; and if the merguez-spiced grilled octopus can’t persuade you, nothing else in the neighborhood these days should.
The Elephant Walk
1415 Washington St Boston, MA $33 prix fixe menu/dinner only
Should you love the Elephant Walk in spite of the dozens of other choices for French/Cambodian cuisine in Boston? No. Chiefly because there aren’t any. But if there were, you’d still be coming back here; both to an innovator, as well as a culinary landmark. There’s never been anything on the menu at the Elephant Walk worth ignoring, and that’s been true for over thirty years. But if you’re going to have to choose, make sure one of the dishes is the braised short ribs in tamarind and ginger. Your eyes will see the light.
Dine Out Boston is being held from August 18th-23rd and August 25th-30th at participating restaurants in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and the surrounding communities. For more information, visit www.bostonusa.com/dine-out-boston