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Traveling Table: Boston

Where to eat and drink in Beantown

Boston's recent spate of casual-restaurant openings--complete with linen-free tabletops and simple, straightforward fare--has been a welcome trend. And, although the surroundings at these newcomers aren't fancy, their pedigrees are undeniably four-star. The result: singular dishes done with bright, bold flavors for a reasonable price.

Sweet Cheeks: With the help of her 4,700-pound smoker, nicknamed Tootsie, chef Tiffani Faison is doing a fine impression of a roadside Texas barbecue joint smack in the middle of the city. Settle in at one of the reclaimed bowling-alley-floor tables and order a tray of smoked-pork belly, pulled chicken or turkey legs along with a few side "scoops," such as Linda's broccoli-cheese casserole (from Faison's mom).

Trade: Inspired by travels far and wide, the team at Trade, led by chef Jody Adams, pairs seasonal ingredients with wide-ranging flavors. The options are mostly casual: flatbreads, small plates, sandwiches (our pick: fried chicken topped with kimchi) and a whole avocado topped with green-mango-tamarind-peanut chutney. But the biggest draw might be the price: Two people can eat and drink well for less than $75.

Catalyst: Formerly executive chef at the Four Seasons' Aujourd'hui, William Kovel pays respect to his fine-dining roots with dishes such as beef tournedos and delicate, crisp quail. Equally good, though, are an outstanding rotisserie chicken and a bacon burger. The cavernous room is warmed by 30-foot-tall windows.

Area Four: Two wood-fired ovens cook 90 percent of what's on the hyperlocal menu at this sleek industrial space. Find local beets in tarragon dressing, squid with chickpeas and preserved lemons, and a roster of flavor-packed pizzas. Hit the adjoining bakery for a sticky bun or red-velvet whoopie pie and locally roasted coffee.

Sweet Cheeks 1381 Boylston St. Boston MA 02215 617-266-1300 Trade 540 Atlantic Ave. Boston MA 02110 617-451-1234 Catalyst 300 Technology Square Cambridge MA 02139 617-576-3000 Area Four 500 Technology Square Cambridge MA 02139 617-758-4444

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