Among all the trend diets that have come and gone, only one has endured: The Mediterranean diet. As healthful as it is delicious, this is a regimen that lets you have your pasta and enjoy it, too, with a healthy dollop of fish and olive oil on the side. In other words, the best Boston Mediterranean restaurants are the healthiest options when dining out (yes, sometimes over the best vegetarian restaurants in Boston and the best Japanese restaurants in Boston). Here is our list of favorites, which happen to be some of the best restaurants in Boston, period.
Best Boston Mediterranean restaurants
One day, Boston will erect a statue in Ana Sortun’s honor—that’s how revelatory her Eastern Mediterranean cooking has been to the city. After a training stint in Turkey, Sortun came back to Boston and opened Oleana in 2001, introducing Bostonians to fragrant, spice-laden cooking with seasonally grown ingredients. Delicate small plates (meze) like chickpea crepes, lamb siniya and spinach falafel please a wide range of palates (Oleana is nirvana to vegetarians), though larger entrées like the lemon chicken with za’atar and Turkish cheese pancake are equally flavor-packed. The homemade ice creams are a must (always keep an eye out for the salted butter varietal), as is a seat on the patio during the warmer months, ideally underneath the fig tree.
Oleana set the stage for Ana Sortun’s second spot, Sarma, which today is arguably more popular than its predecessor and just as friendly to vegetarians. Among the nearly 40 Mediterranean small plates on the menu are salmon ceviche, baked feta, cauliflower fatteh and Tunisian steak tartare—but that’s just today, as the menu changes according to the seasons. The regular off-menu specials, however, always remain the same and are brought around by the congenial wait staff dim sum-style (if the fried chicken is available, you take it—no questions asked). As for the cocktail program: Be prepared to order a drink made with allspice and to then be blown away by it.
Forget about the chain restaurant openings of yore: the Seaport dining scene has gotten interesting again. Exhibit A: Committee, from consulting chef Diane Kochilas (aka the “Mother of Greek Cooking”) and chef de cuisine Geoff Lukas, late of Sofra. Lukas plays with Mediterranean spices and techniques to produce a contemporary meze menu: artichoke moussaka, fried smelts, salt roasted beets and a wild green pie (don’t fret: standard bearers like tzatziki and hummus are there too). The conviviality doesn’t stop with the food, either: cocktails boast outré ingredients, like candied bacon chips, and the wine list includes bottles from Greece, Spain and Lebanon (enjoy at least one drink on the massive patio for the full restaurant experience). The weekend brunch is a singular surprise: Nowhere else in town can you pair a breakfast gyro with champagne tray service.
With lines out the door every night, it’s clear Kava Neo-Taverna bears investigating. As it turns out, the hype is more than warranted. The mezedes revelation from the trio of George Axiotis, Irakli Gogitidze and Shahrokh Reza proves the value of simple, superior ingredients. The owners import most of their fare from the Mediterranean (wines included); simple small plates like horiatiki (the Greek country salad), spanakopita, grilled octopus and souvlaki are executed so sublimely you might have to return a second time to venture onto the entrée side of the menu (although the grilled sea bass and mixed grill are well worth trying during your first visit). Finish off the evening with a glass of retsina and a square of baklava as you gaze at the wall mural of an old Greek fisherman and mentally transport yourself to Santorini.
Back Bay is not typically considered a bastion of authentic Greek cuisine but Michael Schlow has long been tricky that way. After closing his longtime Italian treasure Via Matta, Schlow debuted Doretta in the same space, calling it a celebration of his wife’s Mediterranean roots. Doretta’s small plates menu may be simple, but it’s simply delicious: fried calamari with roasted red pepper sauce, crispy Greek cheese, lamb meatballs and spicy homemade sausage. Those wanting to go big before going home should spring for the monstrous spit roasted lamb shoulder, best preluded with oysters and yellowtail from the raw bar.
It’s Anna Sortun for the hat trick, with a major assist from her longtime pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick. The duo’s casual bakery is the perfect complement to Sortun’s two sit-down dinner spots, offering a mix of Turkish, Greek and Lebanese fare, both savory and sweet. Don’t even bother making a case for restraint; you’re much better served ordering a spread of the lamb shawarma and the almond-rose cake, with a little whipped feta on the side. And be sure to return on a weekend for one of the donut specials, tahini-brown butter being the headline grabber.
It’s New England meets Mediterranean via one of the city’s great chefs. Jody Adams (Trade, the late Rialto) has debuted a seafood-centric menu that favors simple preparation so as to let her ingredients sing. Hamachi tartare gives way to steamed clams and grilled sardines; entrées include striped bass a la plancha and whole roasted lobster. Meat eaters will be assuaged by the 16-ounce rib-eye and confit duck leg, as well as the lamb burger at lunch (admittedly hard to choose when it’s competing with a lobster roll). On nights when a full sit-down meal seems too much, slip into the bar for some fried oysters and a Greek negroni.
Everyone in Boston has a favorite falafel place, but South End Pita’s fan base is unusually loyal. There are few surprises here, only delicious stalwarts: veggie and shawarma-centric roll-ups and plates, spinach pie and an addictive hummus salad (as the menu announces, South End Pita takes its hummus seriously). The burgers are the only unforeseen menu items here, offered up (deliciously, as it turns out) with topping choices like tahini and babaganoush.
It’s the little details that makes Effie’s so addictive: The pita bread is thick and freshly griddled; the Greek salad comes with plenty of feta and grilled chicken; the gyros are overflowing with piping hot meat and French fries; and the tzatziki is thick and freshly prepared. Prices skew lower than most Greek takeout places, which leaves you with just enough change to splurge on the divine baklava.
Greek street food made with regional ingredients? It’s the best of both worlds. Gyros are the headliners at this fast-casual spot, especially classics like loukaniko (pork and leek sausage with mustard sauce) and bifteki (ground beef with spicy whipped feta). You can also choose your protein and mix and match with toppings like tzatziki, charred eggplant and yogurt sauce. Then there are the loukoumades: homemade Greek honey donuts that are basically a far superior take on the Dunkin’ Donuts munchkin.