Where Boston Best of 2018: Our Top 5 Picks in Food, Drink and Shopping

A selection of stuff we really like, from local cider to underground dining and South End gifts.

BLR by Shojo

Through the neon steam swirling from the sewer caps, past the clicks and murmurs of men huddled about Chinese chess boards, a short flight of stairs descends and disappears through an unassuming door on Hudson Street. BLR (Best Little Restaurant, from the same team behind Shojo and Ruckus), has the feel of a high class, albeit covert, gambling den turned gourmet restaurant: hanging Chinese paper lamps shine light off of the gold painted brick walls, then a tray of simmering Oxtail Chow Fun emerges from the kitchen alongside a cocktail in a color you’ve never seen before. Nothing on BLR’s menu will disappoint, but the Ginger-Scallion Shrimp will change your life for the better, and their infused liquor cocktails are unlike anything else in Boston. 

Saintly Cider

Saintly Cider

The North Shore above Boston—which roughly covers the coastal counties stretching from the city to the New Hampshire border—is a trove of rural folklore, natural beauty and charming saltiness. All of those elements have been condensed into the fledgling Saintly Cider label. Visionary founders Caleb and Emily Noble have set out on a mission to combine cutting-edge cider-making techniques with the kind of local knowledge that can only be tapped through deep North Shore roots. A history of cider barns abandoned since Prohibition, and river mills once thick with the musk of crushed apples, has not been lost on the Saintly team, whose outstanding basic dry cider (Cornerstone) is complemented by a sublime seasonal blend featuring ginger and spices (Everything Nice) and a hibiscus/mint marvel (Heart & Soul). More flavors are to follow. Check website for retail and bar locations. 

Gifted

Gifted

Most people head to Boston's South End, where the wide avenues and leafy residential side streets have a relaxed Parisian feel, for the concentration of outstanding restaurants, such as B&G Oysters, Banyan Bar, Petit Robert Bistro, Frenchie and Metropolis. An exploratory ramble through the neighborhood also delivers the occasional retail surprise, and it was our pleasure to stumble upon Gifted on Dartmouth street, an emporium of exceptionally well-chosen objects ideal for birthdays and other special occasions. By seeking out local artists, owner Marie Corcoran (who has a BFA in photography and ceramics) has avoided all the usual gift shop cheesiness and instead offers a wide range of items sure to delight the creatively-minded shopper. We especially like the rhodium plated, US-made Boston map cufflinks, a way more subtle sartorial tribute to the Hub than that Wicked Smaaht hoodie. 

Catalyst

Catalyst

Past the rolling lawn and the marble columns of MIT, a channel of winding streets is lined with student-designed glass, concrete and sheet metal façades that jut out at off-angles, pitched slopes, and impossible cantilevers. As if by design, wanderers of this maze are brought directly to the plate glass windows of Catalyst, a laid-back yet gourmet restaurant that tips its hat to the cradle of science wherein it resides. Inside, molecular structures hang from the ceiling in the form of lamps, while repurposed barn siding lines the walls—the effect is a feeling that you’re at the cutting edge of something, but you’re happy to take your time getting there. Chef de cuisine Justin Urso builds a seasonally shifting menu that’s both refined yet entirely unpretentious. Try any of the hand-cut pastas and make sure you order the Ralph Maccio from the bar: It’s the closest you can get to drinking a macaroon. 

Sea Bags

Some ideas are so perfectly simple, they carry the stamp of genius. Such is the case with Sea Bags of Portland, Maine, which repurposes yacht sails into stylish—and quintessentially New England—totes. Head off to Newport, Kennebunkport or the Cape with one of these on your shoulder, and you'll fit in with the locals as naturally as anyone with the surname Vanderbilt, Bush or Kennedy. Salty types trade in the sails that would otherwise have gone into landfill, and the material is then hand-crafted into its new function, whether that's a beach bag or a daily receptacle for your lint and other junk. We're especially fond of the lobster claw designs and all the bags featuring bold graphic numbers. Check out these and more at the central Boston Back Bay location.

Sea Bags

Alex Oliveira
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