Washington Square Tavern | 714 Washington Street | 617.232.8989
Washington Square Tavern
Remember when this space was a dank, nicotine-stained dump called the Hammond Lounge? It’s hard to imagine anyone missing that sad “old man bar,” so warm and inviting is this single open room, with its antique mirrors, walls of books, well-spaced tables, and solicitous service. Wine bottles average about $50, so you might instead favor one of the three-dozen beers, 10 modest wines by the glass, or an original specialty cocktail. And the kitchen adds cunning twists to American comfort-food classics. Chewing my perfectly fried clams with a curry-seasoned batter and a cilantro-yogurt dip, I think: “clam pakoras!” A bruschetta goes Caprese with cubes of fine tomato and fresh mozzarella spooned onto charred Tuscan bread that’s smeared with basil purée. Entrées include a big, bold-flavored veggie burger, hinting of the Southwest with black beans and lots of cumin, served on a good roll with excellent sweet-potato fries and dressed greens. A generously sized striped bass sports a lovely crust and a novel starch: a crunchy croquette of puréed limas. Diners and drinkers happily crowd together at the large, communal central table, a testament to the pleasant, convivial vibe.
Ten Tables | 597 Centre Street | 617.524.8810
This tiny bandbox seems almost too pretty to be a neighborhood joint, adorned as it is with fresh lilies and votives. But the prices are right for a proper bistro, with entrées topping out at $21 and a four-course vegetarian prix fixe on offer for $25 most nights. One server manages to skillfully juggle the dining room’s 10 tables (they aren’t kidding about the name — you’d better make reservations). The short, thoughtful wine list features six budget-friendly half bottles. Mostly, though, the gorgeous, French-inspired food is what leaves a lasting impression: handmade pastas, grilled meats (such as pork tenderloin with deeply flavored, intense sauces), a Portuguese-style fish-and-shellfish, and a perfect coulotte steak with white beans, red peppers, and fennel. Desserts show similar extraordinary care and quality ingredients, as in the hazelnut-brown-butter cake with blackberries and crème fraîche. In essence, Ten Tables is an elegant restaurant disguised as a bistro, and as such, one of the best fine-dining values in town.
Jasmine Bistro | 412 Market Street | 617.789.4676
What do you get from a chef/owner who hails from Baluchistan (in western Pakistan), apprenticed in swank Parisian restaurants, and cheffed at Boston’s late, beloved Café Budapest before opening his own place? This easily overlooked gem in Brighton Center, is what: a storefront serving a mix of classic French dishes, Hungarian food, and Baluchistani specialties, which by turns will remind you of Persian and Afghan cuisine. This truly is a family-run place, the owner’s sons having assumed most cooking and serving duties. I came here for the kind of Central European cooking that is rarely seen in Boston, and the Hungarian dishes, rich and complexly spiced, are stunning: veal paprikás, beef gulyás, Wiener schnitzel topped with a fried egg and anchovies. For all the butter and sour cream in use, this is surprisingly light eating: the “noodles” underneath many dishes are more like tiny, airy gnocchi or spätzle. Return visits are essential to sample the terrific kebabs and curries. With most entrées under $20, this is a one-of-a-kind treasure in a neighborhood with few alternatives to pedestrian pub grub.