As we approach the end of 2014, it is time to look back at some of the best restaurants visited over the past year. This is our tenth year of picking the best of the best in select categories (and the tenth year for the website), and this year, there are a mix of repeat winners and newcomers to the "best of" lists, including one or two which might surprise some. So here we go--the best restaurants of 2014. (Note: This page is part of our restaurant features section, which also includes our 2013 Best Boston Restaurants List and other "best of" lists that go back to 2005.)
Best American Restaurant, 2014
Ashmont Grill, Dorchester, MA
After 10 years, this Peabody Square restaurant and bar continues to impress, with its inventive takes on comfort food dishes (think macaroni and cheese, burgers, baby back ribs, fish and chips) and its very good beer list. And if you like to dine in the great outdoors during the warmer months, the Ashmont Grill has a wonderful back patio complete with strings of lights, trees, and a fire pit.
Best Bar, 2014
The Gaff, Waltham, MA
Very much an under-the-radar place on one of best-known streets in the Boston area for dining, this Waltham drinking spot may look like a dive from the outside, but it is actually a beer bar with countless beer choices from the local region, elsewhere in the country, and around the world. In addition, this small but comfortable place also offers above average versions of pub grub and American classics, with some ingredients brought over from the outstanding Moody's deli across the street.
Best Breakfast Place, 2014
Renee's Cafe, Somerville, MA
A favorite among both college students from nearby Tufts and locals who live around Teele Square and Davis Square, this attractive two-room spot is a friendly and at-times bustling place (especially on the weekends) that features all the breakfast faves, including waffles, French toast, pancakes, and a particularly good house-made corned beef. Renee's is also a good spot for coffee lovers, as even their decaf is excellent.
Best Chinese Restaurant, 2014
Sichuan Garden II, Woburn, MA
This was a tough one, with several places being in the running including the original Sichuan Garden in Brookline Village, but Sichuan Garden II gets the nod in part because of its outstanding bar that includes one of the best mixologists in New England and its gorgeous digs just north of Route 128, which dates all the way back to the 1600s. Oh, and the food can be tremendous, with such specials as an absolutely sublime lacquered duck.
Best Deli, 2014
Barry's Village Deli, Waban, MA
This isn't the first time that this place has made the list, and for good reason; if any deli in the Boston area compares favorably to the classic delicatessens of New York City, Barry's may just be it. This two-floor eatery and food shop has it all, from gruff but friendly counter help and servers to fantastic soups to some of the best potato pancakes and blintzes that you will find in the region.
Best Greek Restaurant, 2014
Esperia Grill, Brighton, MA
One of the lesser-known Greek restaurants in the local area, Esperia Grill also happens to be among the best. While this Brighton Center spot doesn't look like much from the outside, it is relatively warm and cozy inside and more importantly, the food is marvelous; think excellent takes on avgolemono (egg lemon soup), stuffed grape leaves, falafel, gyros, keftedes (Greek-style meatballs), moussaka, and baklava, all at decent prices.
Best Hamburgers, 2014
Flat Patties, Cambridge, MA
We tend to go back and forth between Flat Patties and O'Sullivan's in Somerville when it comes to best burgers from relatively hidden spots, and it is particularly tough because the burgers are so different. But it is very hard not to pick this Harvard Square eatery, as their thin, griddled burgers simply taste so incredibly good, and their double burgers are even better because of the extra juices from the two patties. Note: The hot dogs and fries here are also excellent.
Best Hot Dog Stand, 2014
Simco's, Mattapan, MA
This Mattapan snack shack is pretty much in the Boston's Hidden Restaurants hall of fame (if there was one, that is), as it gets picked year after year after year for its not-quite-foot-long hot dogs, even with such other standouts as Sullivan's in South Boston and Fred's Franks in Wakefield. And while Simco's has been around for many, many years, it is still a hidden gem of sorts in part because it is not the easiest place to get to via public transportation, and it is a good distance from any major highways..
Best Irish Pub/Restaurant, 2014
James's Gate, Jamaica Plain, MA
The Boston area has many, many Irish pubs, but some tend to stand out over the others, including this rustic and cozy spot that is hidden in plain sight in JP. The pub side of James's Gate is nearly perfect, with a blazing fireplace, old ceiling beams, and dark woods used throughout, though its dining side is also attractive and features terrific Irish and American fare. (The pub menu also has some great dishes.)
Best Italian Restaurant, 2014
Pescatore, Somerville, MA
So many choices came up this year in this category, but with all due respect to places such as Vecchia Roma in Newton and the mostly-Italian City Girl Cafe in Cambridge, this quiet, low-key Ball Square restaurant makes the grade this year. If you like Italian seafood dishes, it is tough to beat the options here (including the haddock Americano and the fusilli amalfi), and its house-made pasta dishes (including the pappardelle tartufo) are equally good.
Best Japanese Restaurant, 2014
Tampopo, Cambridge, MA
Most years, a sushi bar wins in this category (including the wonderful Toraya in Arlington and the similarly great Village Sushi in Roslindale), but Tampopo not only beats them all this year, but could be considered the best restaurant of all winners for 2014. This shoebox-sized eatery in Porter Square's Sears Building features absolutely sublime takes on tempura, udon and soba soups, croquettes, rice bowls, and curry items, with prices being downright cheap.
Best Mexican Restaurant, 2014
Angela's Cafe, East Boston, MA
This friendly neighborhood dining spot has won "best of" before, and for good reason; it is tough to argue with the food here, which includes some of the best guacamole and mole in the entire Boston area, but the friendliness of the people behind this tiny Eagle Hill restaurant and simply the "hidden gem" feel to it (almost giving it a sense of discovery) make Angela's a must for lovers of authentic Mexican fare.
Best Pizza, 2014
Galleria Umberto, Boston, MA
While not a place to get traditional thin-crust pizza, this old-school spot in the heart of the North End has Sicilian slices so good that they almost bring people to tears. The perfect combination of thick, yeasty crust, spicy and slightly sweet sauce, and golden-brown cheese make for an ideal lunch, though the arancini and panzarotti (fried pockets of dough stuffed with potato and cheese) are also well worth considering.
Best Seafood Restaurant, 2014
Tony's Clam Shop, Quincy, MA
Sadly, this Wollaston Beach spot is now closed for the season as it is every winter, but that doesn't keep it from getting recognition this year for its excellent takes on all kinds of seafood items. The fried clams are perhaps the standout at Tony's, though it also features one of the best lobster rolls you'll find around the Boston area, and its crab cakes and fried scallops are tough to beat (it also has a few good Middle Eastern dishes as well).
Best Thai Restaurant, 2014
Dok Bua, Brookline, MA
Another hall of famer (whenever we decide to build one), this quirky restaurant near Coolidge Corner has such an extensive menu that it is often difficult to choose what to order. But everything is good at this Thai street-food spot, with such items as tom yum koong soup, golden bags (pastry bags filled with chicken, corn, and onions), Pad Se Ew with vermicelli, hot basil fried rice, Dok Bua noodles (wide noodles with shrimp), and Pad Thai with crispy chicken all being memorable--and dirt cheap.
Best Vietnamese Restaurant, 2014
Pho Viet's, Allston, MA
Like the aforementioned Tampopo, this eatery is located in a loud and often-packed food court, and while it might not be good for a romantic date, the food here rivals some of the best found in the Fields Corner area of Dorchester (which is often considered the place to go in Boston for Vietnamese food). Some highlights include a mind-blowingly good banh mi, a great take on the always-popular pho ga, and a perfectly-marinated grilled lemongrass pork with vermicelli.