Below I list some restaurants around Boston that offer the diner the possibility of eating real food. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have an idea what I mean by real food: local produce when possible, Meat Of Known Origin (MOKO), live fermented foods, healthy fats, organ meats, foods preserved by traditional methods, and so on—more or less what is described by Sally Fallon in her book Nourishing Traditions. Although I don't presume that I could summarize her book in a few paragraphs, this past blog post of mine provides a quick overview.
The restaurants I list use many ingredients similar to what you might have found a hundred years ago, before the latest "modern advances" in food science, but with the benefits of clean kitchens, readily available exotic herbs and spices and so on, and innovative chefs who are able to explore where their imaginations take them.
Some of these restaurants are more expensive, and some are less. None are "cheap" like fast food. If you want inexpensive real food, your best bet is to prepare it yourself!
Making this list was less straightforward than I expected. I admit no universal bright-line test for real food. It is a personal judgment. For instance, some Boston restaurants serve chickens from the Giannone poultry farm in Québec. Known origin? Yes. Above-average? Yes. Free range? Perhaps, in some technical sense of the word. Sustainable? Ultimately not. Organic? I see no evidence of it. Are these chickens expressing their full chicken-ness, as Joel Salatin would say? Definitely not. Real chickens don't eat "corn, soya, and wheat, with a supply of natural vitamins and minerals", which, according to their website, is what the Giannone chickens eat. Real chickens eat whatever the heck they want, including grass, worms, bugs, half-digested cow poop, dead mice, seeds from trees, and so on.
In the end, Giannone passed my test: they are a known origin, and they are reasonably up-front about their methods. But I wouldn't call it "sustainable food". Furthermore, their web site makes me uncomfortable, I think in large part because it contains no pictures of live chickens.
So, as always, the responsibility lies with the eater to find out the story behind the food, and to make her or his own personal decisions based on available information or lack thereof. At the moment I am fairly picky about beef, chicken, turkey, and pork, and less picky about other land animals. Other folks might have different priorities. That's okay with me.
When you go to a restaurant, don't hesitate to ask the server where this meat comes from, or where that vegetable comes from. If enough people ask, and if it becomes apparent that it affects how people order and where they dine, restaurants will notice, menus will include more sourcing information, and transparency will generally increase.
So, having said all of that, and in no particular order, here are some restaurants that I like:
T.W. Food (Cambridge): T.W. Food has been my favorite Boston area restaurant since it opened a couple of years ago. Chef Tim Wiechmann has a deep understanding of tradition and respect for it, a sincere appreciation of the importance of ingredients, and an inventive and intuitive palate. Servings are generous. His expanding selection of charcuterie is the real deal. Outside-the-box wine pairings are delightful and thought-provoking. And for all that, prices are more than fair.
In the past, T.W. has had some "all local" nights, with meals consisting exclusively of local ingredients. Not only were the animal and vegetable products local, but there was no olive oil (butter and other fats took its place); there was no white sugar (maple syrup, honey, and local fruit juices are sweet); flour and bread were made from locally grown and milled wheat; and so on. Very cool.
Garden at the Cellar (Cambridge): Delicious, satisfying, sustainable, and uncluttered food. Chef Will Gilson is very serious about local and sustainable food sourcing, both for his own restaurant and for others; he works with Chef's Collaborative and the Boston Public Market Association. A great dinner spot, but also one of the few games in town for a late-night or lunchtime burger-of-known-origin.
dbar (Dorcester): Chef Christopher Coombs serves upscale food at a surprisingly low price-point. He grows his own herbs and vegetables on the roof of the restaurant, and tends the garden himself. The food absolutely justifies the trip to its "out-of-the-way" location (all of three miles from South Station, near UMass Boston). Be aware that after 10PM or so, the restaurant turns into a nightclub!
Ten Tables (Jamaica Plain and Cambridge): Local, seasonal, traditional European-inspired food. They used to have very well-priced wine-paired dinners every Tuesday night in JP; I can't tell from their website whether or not this is still the case.