6 restaurants pushing the envelope in Boston

Dazzling design features at Mex Taqueria & Bar in Cambridge include a low-rider bicycle spinning from the ceiling. | Credit: Mex Taqueria & Bar

Boston is no stranger to breakthroughs. Home to the highest concentration of labs and universities in the country, the city has spurred plenty of ideas and inventions, including such standouts as self-government, vaccines, and the microwave.

That experimental spirit stretches to the area’s restaurant scene. Sip on cocktails crafted by an acclaimed techie mixologist at a seafood spot in Back Bay. In Cambridge, treat yourself to exquisite desserts at a cell phone-free wine bar. Grab dinner and a show at a new eatertainment venue in Somerville, where the top-notch Italian plates are anything but understudies.

Boston’s innovative soul shines brightly at these unique restaurants. Read on for a shortlist of six cutting-edge spots to book now.

Mooncusser (Back Bay)

An extra chilled cocktail, courtesy of star bartender Todd Maul at LTD Bar at Cusser’s. | Credit: LTD Bar at Cusser’s

Creativity comes naturally to the team behind Mooncusser, a sleek, three-story seafood spot steered by Top Chef alum Carl Dooley. At the watering hole downstairs, LTD Bar at Cusser’s, techie mixologist Todd Maul pushes the boundaries on cocktails. Maul, one of Boston’s most decorated bartenders, uses a centrifuge to make clarified juices and has a penchant for torching drinks. Watch him work a Snapchiller—a tabletop machine that turns hot coffee cold in 60 seconds with technology developed (fittingly) by an M.I.T. alum—and you’ll see why he’s a local legend. Sub-zero-degree martinis, anyone?

Wusong Road (Cambridge)

An evening at Wusong Road is a full-fledged tropical escape, according to chef and co-owner Jason Doo. The restaurant’s Asian American-style tapas menu was partly inspired by his family’s Chinese American restaurant in nearby Malden, which was all about scorpion bowls, pu pu platters, and mai tais. Doo’s Harvard Square spot is a reimagined and rebooted tiki bar, unlike any other spot in Boston. And it more than delivers a whimsical getaway. Dramatic design flourishes, such as a reproduced Balinese temple and a gargantuan dragon sculpture, fuel a transportive vibe. Don’t miss the perfectly crispy Peking duck, prepared in a hand-built brick oven. Wusong Road’s small plates pair well with any of the inventive rum cocktails—the restaurant’s riff on a zombie, that tiki bar staple, is brightened with falernum, a spicy and citrusy syrup.

Little Whale (Back Bay)

The year-round clambake at Little Whale. | Credit: Little Whale

Little Whale’s chef and owner Michael Serpa (of Select Oyster Bar and Atlántico fame) has big ideas. Boston is famous for its lobster, but it’s notorious for brutal winters. Serpa stretches the limited seasonality of a beloved seaside tradition, the family-style clambake, making Little Whale the only Boston restaurant to offer it year-round. The indoor clambake menu, meant for parties of eight or more, includes chowder, clams, potatoes, corn, and linguica, plus everyone’s favorite crustaceans. Seal the deal with wine and raw bar options, available as add-ons. Serpa is also a local trailblazer when it comes to gratuities for his team: At each of his restaurants, a 20% pre-tax gratuity is added to all checks. (The inclusion is noted on menus and printed receipts, but can be removed upon request.)

Zuzu’s Petals (Cambridge)

This Inman Square wine and dessert bar opened in 2021, but it’s an unapologetically old soul—and that’s precisely what makes it cutting-edge. Zuzu’s doesn’t accept online payments, has no QR codes to scan, and most notably, it’s a cell phone-free zone. The distraction-free setup is meant to ensure your focus stays on its exquisite confections (don’t miss the tonka bean-infused crème brulée), New England-sourced cheese boards, and crêpes. Founders Alexandra Whisnant and Bobby MacLean are tastemakers with plenty of local street cred: Whisnant’s previous ventures include Gate Comme Des Filles, a stellar chocolate and dessert shop in Somerville, while MacLean is the force behind Picnic & Pantry, a beloved area grocery store.

Mex Taqueria & Bar (Cambridge)

Each of the three stories at Mex Taqueria & Bar exudes its own unique vibe. | Credit: Mex Taqueria & Bar

Architect-turned-chef Delio Susi envisioned two of the most visually striking spots in Cambridge: Mex Taqueria bar, which marks its first anniversary at the end of 2022, and Italian comfort food favorite, Sulmona. At the latter, the backlit bar serves as an irresistible focal point—it’s modeled after an Italian train station. Clever design touches, including a shiny red Vespa hovering from the ceiling, abound in the industrial space. At Mex, each of the three stories exudes its own unique vibe: the first level houses a 50-seat terrace and bar inspired by the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics. On the second floor, the Viper Lounge features snakeskin-patterned walls, while the third floor is an additional lounge that opens to a roof deck. Fire pits and couches take the nip out of the air, inviting Bostonians to warm up with a sip or two from an extensive tequila menu—one of Boston’s largest.

Premiere on Broadway (Somerville)

Red sauce, meet red carpet. Premiere on Broadway, which opened in July 2021, is a sprawling, 300-seat performance venue—one of just a few in Boston—serving Italian classics. While food sometimes takes a backseat at many buzzy entertainment spots, Premiere turns out inspired dishes that take cues from Italian American classics, including housemade pastas, pizzas, and arancini. Though the star players here are undoubtedly the meatballs topped with whipped ricotta, made from a treasured family recipe. Many shows, such as burlesque dinner performances and live DJ sets, include free admission with the cost of dinner. If you’re just here for a drink, pick from a list filled with negronis, bellinis, and Americano cocktails, tributes to the neighborhood’s Italian roots.

Carley Thornell-Wade is a Boston-based food, travel, and technology writer who’s been to more than 70 countries and delighted in tasting the regional delicacies of each.

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