The restaurant Alden and Harlow in Harvard Square. Courtesy Nicole Kanner

Top 10 restaurants for graduation time

With commencement finally upon us, the Daily has compiled a list of 10 of the Boston area’s best restaurants worth exploring with your family and friends this weekend:

1. Alden & Harlow

While Michael Scelfo’s critically acclaimed Harvard Square hotspot features a well-rounded menu inspired by New American cuisine, the real star of the show is the Secret Burger ($16). Only available in limited qualities, Alden & Harlow’s burger has been the talk of the Boston food scene ever since its debut two years ago. Featuring a unique beef blend consisting of short ribs and ground brisket, the burger’s smokiness is the key to its success and is complemented by a buttery, flakey bun and a ridiculously addictive secret sauce. Be sure to arrive on the early side (6 p.m.) or plan on attending Alden & Harlow’s weekend brunch to snag one.

2. Giulia

This cozy Cambridge spot is known for producing some of the tastiest pasta in all of Boston, so much so that it was recently featured in Boston Magazine’s Best of Boston 2016. Whether it be the luscious pappardelle with wild boar ($23) or the simple-but-perfect bucatini all’amatriciana ($17), chef Michael Pagliarini always keeps his menu fresh and innovative, and Giulia’s pasta selections never cease to amaze. Though on the pricier side, this Porter Square staple offers a fantastic dining experience that will leave guests completely stuffed and imagining themselves on the Italian vacation of a lifetime.

3. Café Sushi

Boston is known for having a fantastic range of high-end sushi restaurants, yet none of them are noted for having particularly low price tags. Café Sushi manages not to break the bank while simultaneously offering one of the best sushi experiences in the Boston area. Menu highlights include the wonderfully inventive Sushi Dinner ($20) and Signature Sampler ($15), which feature some of the freshest fish outside of Japan. While the restaurant’s ambience leaves something to be desired, Café Sushi’s wonderful cuisine and usually quick wait more than make up for any other faults at this Cambridge highlight.

4/25/16 – Cambridge, MA – A chef makes a plate of sushi at Cafe Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in Cambridge, MA, on April 25, 2016. (Jiaxun Li / The Tufts Daily) (Jiaxun Li)

A chef makes a plate of sushi at Café Sushi, a Japanese restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. on April 25. (Jiaxun Li / The Tufts Daily)

4. Neptune Oyster

Believe the hype and prepare to endure a terrible wait: Neptune Oyster serves up some of the, if not the absolute, best seafood in Boston. In true New England fashion, the decadent Maine Lobster Roll ($29), prepared with either hot butter or cold mayo, is the clear must-have here.  The butter option, in particular, offers a divine dining experience — but may threaten to stop your heart. Whatever you choose, the lobster goodness cannot be overstated here. Make sure to arrive later in the afternoon (around 3 p.m.) ready to camp out for the long haul in order to have a chance at consuming this masterful creation.

5. Picco

On their own, pizza and ice cream are two delicious items, yet nothing one would call particularly upscale. Together? Now, that is genius. Picco transforms these two college staples and presents them in a warm setting, quite literally, with its Italian wood burning oven. On the pizza side, the Alsatian ($14.50 for a small and $23.50 for a large) stands out as the perfect combination of cheesy, bacony deliciousness. For dessert, be sure to try the comforting cinnamon ice cream. Dishes and cones are $4.25 for a small and $5.25 for a large, though a small is plenty for one person to enjoy. Pro-tip: if the wait is long, and it usually is, grab a quick cone to go.

5/10/16 – Somerville, MA – The seven layer hummus dish at the Mediterranean Restaurant Sarma on May 10, 2016. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily) (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily)

The seven-layer hummus dish at the Mediterranean Restaurant Sarma in Somerville, Mass. on May 10. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily)

6. Sarma

Featuring a creative take on Turkish and Mediterranean meze, Sarma has positioned itself as one of Somerville’s most revered restaurants. Chef Cassie Piuma is a master at crafting dishes that will leave diners begging for more, and indeed, one will be hard-pressed to order poorly as nearly every dish is expertly constructed on this exhaustive menu. The harissa barbeque duck ($17) and lamb köfte sliders ($11) are two of Sarma’s best, fusing together the restaurant’s Middle Eastern influences and immediate American location. It also is vital to save room for the sinfully delicious ricotta doughnuts called loukoumades ($5) with halva caramel (for an extra $2) and the special plates that Piuma randomly puts out without notice.

7. Spoke

Located right in Davis Square, Spoke is an elegant wine bar that pairs simple New England plates with wonderful beverages. Though the plates are on the small side, dishes such as the braised lamb neck ($16) and farro risotto ($15) are perfectly executed, leaving diners craving seconds. Due to the relatively small size of the restaurant, make sure to make a reservation in advance or plan on taking a larger party elsewhere.

8. Toro

Known for its classic Spanish tapas, this South End landmark lives up to its title as one Boston’s best longstanding restaurants. Traditional dishes such as the Maíz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija, the wonderful grilled corn, ($9) and Patatas Bravas, classic fried Spanish potatoes, ($8) pair well with some of the menus more unique dishes, including the Pato con Membrillo, or duck drumettes ($10). Toro does not take reservations, making it perfect for those seeking to find a restaurant for large parties on relatively short notice. 

9. Island Creek Oyster Bar

Just like the name suggests, Island Creek Oyster Bar is known for its fresh, expansive raw bar that never fails to impress. However, the menu features other hidden gems, namely in the form of the Crispy Oyster Slider ($4 each) and Lobster Roe Noodles ($38). The sliders are the perfect bite of fried seafood, further enhanced by a masterfully baked bun and lime chile aioli. The noodles, however, are truly a sight to behold, even though the mixture of braised short rib, grilled lobster, oyster mushrooms and Pecorino may seem intimidating for first-timers.

10. Coppa

At Coppa, prepare to feast.  This much-buzzed-about South End joint believes that small plates are the best vehicle to convey its interpretation of modern Italian food. Named the Boston’s best restaurant of 2016 by Boston Magazine, Coppa inspires with its inventive pizzas, namely the spicy, calamari-rich Nduja ($16) and creamy Bone Marrow ($16). Coppa’s Zeppole, lemon ricotta doughnuts with Nutella and chopped hazelnuts ($9/three pieces or $12/five pieces), ought to end any meal here. These treats are denser than beignets but not nearly as heavy as a traditional American doughnut; in other words, they are the perfect send-off.

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