Masona Grill | 4–6 Corey Street | 617.323.3331
The South End’s loss of one good neighborhood spot, Claremont Café, worked to the benefit of West Roxbury, an area sorely in need of some culinary flair. The Claremont’s former co-owner created Masona in an interesting, high-ceilinged, two-level space, and hired another South End veteran to prepare his New American menu, punched up with South American influences. Pulled-pork empanadas, a sirloin with chimichurri and yucca fries, and Peruvian-style paella (with duck and pickled onions added to the usual mix of chorizo and seafood) elevate humble South American classics with yanqui refinement. The result feels like a Tremont Street restaurant in a slightly funkier setting, with more casual, familiar service. To locals, this might be the fanciest small restaurant around, but roving downtowners shouldn’t blanch at entrées under $27. A short, modest wine list with some scarcely seen South American wines completes a very pleasant picture.
Ashmont Grill | 555 Talbot Avenue | 617.825.4300
South End fine-dining pioneer Chris Douglass (chef/owner of Icarus) got so tired of middling neighborhood joints near his Dorchester home that he decided to open something better. The Ashmont is that most versatile of inexpensive restaurants — the cool, casual bar with well-above-average food, epitomized in my mind by the South End’s Franklin Café. Let’s see: skilled bartending, featuring serious old-school cocktails, decent craft beer choices, and affordable wines? Check. Buzzing atmosphere with a mostly local crowd? Check. Comfortable dining at both bar and tables? Check. Something to provide a good base for a night of carousing: trainwreck fries with cheese, bacon, jalapenos, sour cream, and scallions? A big check. The menu moves easily between eclectic dishes (Thai red curry next to linguine with clams) and gussied-up comfort food (grilled bluefish, baked macaroni-and-cheese, a good burger), all under $18. Wedding anniversaries won’t be celebrated here as at Icarus, but a good neighborhood place like this resembles an actual marriage: built more on small, everyday moments than on significant events.
Don Ricardo’s Restaurant | 57 West Dedham Street | 617.247.9249
Don Ricardo’s Restaurant
As many long-time residents will bitchily attest, every day the South End is looking less funky and multicultural and more like an annex of the Back Bay: straighter, whiter, richer. Its famous cluster of tony restaurants caters not only to preppy-looking newcomers but to hordes of well-heeled suburban weekenders. Some price relief arrived this year with the openings of Pops, Coda, Gaslight, and J.J. Foley’s. But except for Foley’s, a century-old saloon that just began serving food, these venues don’t much evoke the old neighborhood. For that, you need to visit Don Ricardo’s, a decidedly unglamorous storefront in Villa Victoria, one of many housing developments that dot the South End and make the Wellesley crowd nervous. The ever-genial proprietor scrimps on décor and spends in the kitchen, serving hearty platters of Peruvian and Brazilian cuisine. Dishes like albóndigas rellenas (baseball-sized beef meatballs stuffed with chopped olives and eggs), Bahian moqueca (haddock-and-shrimp stew with coconut milk and palm oil), and seco de cordero (Peruvian-style lamb in an earthy, dark-beer sauce) should entice even timid gringos to forgo the Mexican dishes aimed at them (though those are fresh and tasty, too). Entrée prices under $15 are as novel and welcome as the sight of fellow patrons who have actually lived on the block for more than three years, and who don’t look like Biff and Muffy.