Boston may be the much larger city, but local dining world followers know that Cambridge has been home to some of the area’s most exciting recent restaurant openings. The last year has been particularly flush with new hit eateries, from those serving shareable dishes of down-home cooking to others parlaying contemporary prix fixe menus. Want a primer on the last dozen or so months of must-snatch meal tickets? Here you go.

Alden & Harlow. The city’s restaurant scene was abuzz when well-regarded chef Michael Scelfo left Harvard Square’s Russell House Tavern to open his own new restaurant in the former Casablanca space. And Alden & Harlow has lived up to early hype, killing it (that’s good) in a subterranean hideaway that conveys farmhouse-chic: shelves are lined with mason jars of house-pickled veggies, walls teem with lush vines, overhead hangs a chandelier of bike wheels, and hipsters crowd the bar for unique cocktails served on draft. What’s for dinner? Shareable plates of inventively prepared, fresh-plucked veggies, plus meatier options like the not-so-secret Secret Burger. (40 Brattle St., 617-864-2100,

Bao Nation. This fast-casual Asian eatery is tucked unexpectedly toward the back of an Indian grocery store, but it’s worth seeking out for its eponymous specialty. Bao, Taiwanese steamed buns, come in untraditional permutations named for neighborhoods and landmarks: like the M.I.T. Bao (lamb with ginger and peanut) to the veggie tempura-filled JP Bao. (A nod to the Indian cuisine at Bukhara, its sister restaurant in Jamaica Plain.) There areeven dessert baos boasting caramel-bacon, all served in a tiny hideaway with scarlet walls covered in colorful street art-style murals. (575 Massachusetts Ave., 617-547-0295,

Brass Union. Want a date with Ms. Pac-Man? Head to this nearby newcomer in Somerville that merits the extra travel effort. Why? Because your American comfort food is accompanied by a treasure trove of games: think old-school arcade favorites, vintage board games stocked in the cocktail lounge, a 14-foot long shuffleboard, and oversized versions of Jenga and Connect Four. (When the weather improves, you can even play cornhole out on the patio.) Dig in to lobster pappardelle and down fizzy cocktails – including a rotating selection served on draft. When the tab comes, a Donkey Kong duel should settle who picks it up. (70 Union Square, Somerville, 617-623-9211


Commonwealth. Helmed by the eminently likable chef Steve “Nookie” Postal, a finalist on the Bravo show “Around the World in 80 Plates,” Commonwealth is a restaurant-slash-market on the outskirts of Kendall Square. In rooms filled with rough-hewn woods, diners gather around main plates like lamb, ribeye steak, and black bass prepared simply but with sophistication, accompanied by a la carte pots of veggies and hefty sides, like cheesy potatoes and duck fat fries. There’s a sense of humor too, found in the kooky flavors of house made ice cream in the food market side of the space, and in quirkily named brunch dishes: say, the Fatboy Pizza, topped with egg, goat cheese, and banana peppers. (11 Broad Canal Way, 617-945-7030,

Dumpling House. Cambridge diners no longer need to cross the Charles River to find the same handmade soup dumplings that have baited cult-like crowds to Chinatown’s Gourmet Dumpling House. Despite dumping the superlative g-word, what this house offers is just as good – no, great – from the titular steam pockets of broth, spice, and meats to other Sichuan dishes like spicy tofu and braised eggplant. The place bustles, and it’s not a space to linger, but those seeking a quick, delicious lunch will be in luck. (950 Massachusetts Ave., 617-661-8066)

Mother Juice. A mobile dispensary of healthy, cold-pressed juices and smoothies has birthed this new brick and mortar location, where organic fruits and veggies are transformed into vitamin-packed elixirs like the Kale Yea and Peary Godmother. Multi-day juice cleanses are available for daily home delivery, for those desperately seeking a detox. But the quick service-style juice bar is also a place to find simple, inexpensive snacks like Breakfast Bowls heaped with oats, acai, and shredded coconut. Oh, Mother. (625 West Kendall St., 617-286-6580,

Night Market. This sub-street level hideaway hawks chef-enhanced takes on Asian street food found more commonly on the West Coast, like tins of salty Chinese fish fry, Vietnamese-style beef in a citrus sauce, and sliced daikon fries served with smoked tomato-ginger ketchup. Wash them down with tropical-flavored sake “slushies” in a funky brick-filled space with modern furnishings in bright pops of primary colors and walls splashed with propaganda poster-inspired graffiti art. (48 John F. Kennedy St., 857-285-6948,

Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar. The historic Rosebud diner car, just over the city border in Somerville, is a familiar sight to anyone who has lived in the area. But last year the Davis Square space was purchased by restaurateur Joe Cassinelli, the man behind restaurants like Posto and The Painted Burro, and fully renovated. The diner car exterior remains, but inside it’s a sleek, stylish new eatin’ machine, filled with tufted leather banquettes in cherry red and panels of rough-hewn wood. And elevated comfort food is not greasy spoon stuff: We’re talking a whole hog’s head lacquered in an Asian-inspired BBQ sauce, flatbread pizza topped with duck and fig, and chicken fried catfish with green goddess dressing. There’s still a Down South charm, but the ante has been upped. A lot. (381 Summer Street, 617-629-9500,

Shabu & Mein. This ninth eatery from the Fuji family of Japanese restaurants turns its attention to hot pot, letting guests sink their choice of delectable meats, seafood, and veggies into sizzling soup broths that range from goji berry to spicy curry. Plus there are bowls of ramen, those simple but delicious noodles that are enjoying a wave of popularity thanks to food nerds. (These aren’t your college dorm versions.) There’s a host of other Asian-inflected dishes too, from octopus salad to crab dumplings, but be sure to hit the bar for the sake and plum wine selection too. (148 First St., 617-577-7888,

Shake Shack. We’ve always have heart for the home team: so if you haven’t already, check out the Harvard Square location of Boston-born Tasty Burger, a mini-chain of delish patty grillers. That said, it was hard to not be excited about last year’s arrival of Shake Shack a few streets away. Shake Shack started as a cult favorite in NYC, where it was launched as a fast-casual option from the same restaurant group behind high-end restaurants like Gramercy Tavern. Now a growing global behemoth – it just made a sizzling IPO on the stock exchange – it retains a boutique vibe through local touches like the Cambridge location’s Crimson Red Velvet, a custard made with cake bits from Boston’s South End Buttery. (92 Winthrop St., 617-758-8495

State Park. Tucked away in Kendall is this intentionally well-worn recreation of a cozy dive bar. (In fact, the bric-a-brac strewn walls repurpose many décor items from Whitey Bulger’s former Winter Hill haunt, The Paddock.) Shoot a game of pool, play a game of vintage pinball, then settle into a red leather seat for flavorful dishes inspired by Southern diner culture. We’re talking Memphis BBQ spaghetti with smoked pork shoulder, “Nashville hot” fried chicken, and ice-filled pitchers of cocktails from the bar. The lo-fi environs aside, the food is excellent. This is actually the new younger sibling to Cambridge’s esteemed Southern restaurant Hungry Mother. (1 Kendall Square, 617-848-4355,

Study. Here’s the Cliffnotes on Study: it comes from the same team behind Journeyman, a Somerville restaurant that serves solely multi-course tasting menus that use farm-fresh ingredients to create haute American cuisine. Study follows a similar approach, emphasizing four- and thirteen-course menus ($59 and $125) respectively, although unlike Journeyman, it does make available a la carte ordering of oft-rotating dishes like ink gnocchi and duck heart. Want to sample its beverages too? No problem. Study offers unique flights of vermouth and sherry wines, including a “Sherry Shebang” that gives 1-ounce sips of each on the list. A-plus! (73 Ames St., 617-374-0700,

Taco Truck. The fleet of food trucks has yielded this Harvard Square haunt for tacos, tortas, and burritos overflowing with sweet pork, braised beef, grilled chicken and crispy catfish, to name a few. The fast-casual space, which boasts an elaborate mural made by a Brooklyn-based artist, fills up fast. But luckily the Cambridge spot also allows for online ordering, so you can select your salsa-covered eats in advance for pick-up or delivery. Yes, even this brick and mortar location will hit the road for you. (83 Mount Auburn St., 857-829-3904,

Viale. Replacing Rendezvous in Central Square is this Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that serves house made pastas – from bucatini with goat cheese to rabbit pappardelle – and small plates like roasted bone marrow and fried calamari pizza. But it’s no slouch in the beverage department either, which shouldn’t be a surprise; the team behind Viale includes two alums of Green Street, a Central Square mainstay known for its killer cocktail program. At Viale you can kick back with a nifty selection of canned craft beers and inventive mixed drinks like the Old Plank Road, a tincture of bourbon and apple-vanilla maple syrup, or the One Trick Pony, a regularly changing spin on spike hot cocoa. (502 Massachusetts Ave., 617-576-1900,

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