Ok, just to balance out the other thread in which we're all having fun (myself included) trashing all of the hyped and popular restaurants, let's talk about the places that rarely disappoint.
I've come around to a point in my dining life in which it's hard to include any of the high end places on this list. While the high end places often are great, they should be consistently extraordinary to justify their prices, and few of them are. I enjoy dining out at places like L'Espalier, Mistral, Clio, No. 9 Park -- these all are places I really like -- but to me they don't go on this list. It's too easy to be disappointed by these places on those occasions on which their food does not match their high prices. East Coast Grill may be my favorite place in the Boston area, but I understand that many consider it too pricey, and that it can be difficult for newbies to navigate their menu to find the truly extraordinary items. Sometimes I'll try one of their specials and will not be blown away.
Instead of the high end places, I'll start out this list with two "cheap eats" places that I'm always excited to go to. Sure, some meals are better than others at these places too, but at the prices they charge, I'm willing to give them a lot more leeway.
Rachel's Kitchen in Bay Village: Order an egg sandwich on brioche: it's the best I've ever had. And if you get there early enough on a Saturday morning, they might have lobster left over from Friday's lunch (when their lobster roll is on the menu), and Alon will make you a lobster scramble on brioche, which is life-changing. Everything on their menu is made with care. It's remarkable watching Alon make something as simple as a bagle-and-lox sandwich: while most places will slap one of these together in about 20 seconds, Alon takes his time to make sure the proportions of cream cheese, lox and vegetables are just right, and turns it into a work of art. Can you tell I like this place?
Chacarero: To me, this place defines what chowhound is all about. It's unique, it's relatively cheap, and it's delicious. There are people who have reported on this board that they don't get it, which is understandable anytime you've got such a unique product. But for those of us in the overwhelming majority who love this sandwich, it's a real treasure. I've had a chacarero in Chile, and it didn't compare. Why? Because in Chile, a chacarero is simple bar food. You can find them in lots of places, and like the bagle-and-lox sandwich I mention above, most places are just gonna slap one together for you. A chacarero from Chacarero, however, is made with balance and care. Sure they assemble it quickly; they have to in order to avoid the lines getting even longer. But they've figured out a system that results in an incredibly fresh and well balanced sandwich. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
So those are my two nominations. What are yours?
(BTW, I really wanted to add Bartley's to my list of never-disappoint places, but we have far too many threads already debating the merits of the various hamburger options!)