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The Evolution of Boston’s Buzziest Bites

by Brandon Schultz

May 9, 2024

Mariel © Josh Jamison

Daily

Boston has long been beloved for both its seafood prowess and the authentic Italian cuisine of the North End, but it hasn’t historically been known for having a fully developed culinary scene beyond these specialties. That’s changing. And while there are many independent restaurants raising culinary standards across the city, restaurant groups are accelerating the pace of adding destination-worthy eateries to Boston’s map.

On the hierarchy of restaurant preferences, chain restaurants may fall to the bottom for serious eaters, but the rise of the restaurant group takes a unique approach with a similar business model. While chains generally reproduce the same restaurant, design and menu across locations, restaurant groups reproduce culture and management across distinct properties, all backed by resource levels previously known only to those less-desirable chains. In Boston, two key restaurant groups manage several of the city’s buzziest reservations with thoughtful and eye-popping menus from table to bar as decadently stylized as their sumptuous surroundings.

Coje Management Group is leading the charge in modernizing Boston’s restaurant and bar scene, offering many of the city’s best tables. In addition to two nightlife venues and a café, Coje currently operates five restaurant concepts across Boston, with a sixth on the way this summer. Whether looking to impress clients or just have a chic night out with friends or family between obligations, here are some top choices for unforgettable meals.

Coquette

Coquette © Josh Jamison

Coquette

Blending Art Nouveau with modern whimsy, the airy ambiance of Coquette is home to a Mediterranean-inspired menu ideal for a memorable brunch. Dive into seafood towers from the raw bar; Capri-style pizzas; and indulgent pastries from Cocorico, the neighboring boulangerie also in the Coje family.

Yvonne's

Yvonne’s © Josh Jamison

Yvonne’s

If you’re entertaining a group, spend the evening at Yvonne’s. Start with craft cocktails in the lounge before moving on to the soaring main dining room evoking the Gilded Age glamor of its storied predecessor, Locke-Ober. The global influences on this supper club-style menu are diverse, but lean most heavily toward a harmony of the Middle East and Europe. Order the showstopping baked Alaska for dessert. If you’re looking to host a private meal for a larger group, ask about The Gallery, below Yvonne’s, and accessed through a hidden bookcase entrance.

Lolita

Lolita © Josh Jamison

Lolita

Lolita serves upscale Mexican cuisine in an evocative setting surrounded by brick, cast iron and scores of fresh red roses. Expect hand-painted murals, elegant skulls, and enough red and black to fulfill any gothic fantasy. You’ll find updated classics like tacos, ceviche and guacamole, but look out for fun fusions with local fare like the Lolita lobster roll with corn esquites and morita chili. The extensive margaritas menu is, unsurprisingly, worth exploring, but the comprehensive beverage program goes far beyond the obvious here, as it does at all Coje properties. There are now two Lolita locations in Boston.

Ruka

Ruka © Josh Jamison

Ruka

You may be familiar with both Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian cuisine) and Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian cuisine), but Ruka serves both. In an invigorating setting of stone and wood accented by vibrant gold touches and bright murals, the atmosphere is lively and playful, but the food and drinks are serious. Elegant makimono rolls are a must (including a wagyu roll torched tableside for the fish averse), but there’s also an extensive wok list, plus chilled and hot menus. Start with sake, of course.

Mariel

Mariel © Josh Jamison

Mariel

Mariel embraces the aesthetic of pre-revolutionary Cuba in a cavernous dining room that screams celebration from the start. Inside a former bank, Mariel incorporates classic Cuban ingredients and Latin preparation on a menu decidedly more international, elevating the famously simple Cuban cuisine for a cosmopolitan audience. The mojito- and daiquiri-forward cocktail menu will get the party started immediately. If you’re down for an all-nighter, Mariel Underground, one of Coje’s two nightlife venues, is just below.

Mr. H

Depending on the timing of your visit, you may be able to get a table at Mr. H, coming to the Seaport District this summer. Though details aren’t final, the menu will likely reflect strong Chinese and Taiwanese influences, based on an extensive scouting trip from Coje’s beverage and culinary directors.

Eastern Standard Hospitality

Eastern Standard originally opened in 2005 and achieved tremendous success in focusing national attention on the city’s culinary scene. Its COVID-19-era closing in 2020 was a blow to Boston, but it recently reopened in a new location quite close to the original, bringing this early pioneer back into the spotlight. The flagship property of New England restaurateur Garrett Harker, Eastern Standard serves the best of brasserie fare in an environment as meticulously handcrafted as its menus, but the best way to approach these plates is by sharing; there’s a designated For the Table section, but much of the rest can be shared, too. If wine is your dinner accompaniment of choice, be sure to head next door to the adjoining Equal Measure after your meal for some seriously thoughtful cocktails that will challenge, surprise and delight.

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