There’s a certain playfulness about Little Big Diner. It beckons you in with a grinning orange octopus floating above the front door. It makes you smile to slurp on umami-loaded ramen while staring at a whimsical blue mural of the soup on an exposed brick wall. It sweet-talks you into willingly subjecting yourself to rush-hour traffic to Newton, just for a fix.
The vibe might not be too serious—but the food is. With a focus on small details, owner David Punch (of restaurants Sycamore and Jinny’s Pizzeria) and team take perfectly delicious dishes into groan-worthy territory. House-made spicy mayo is bound with miso paste rather than mustard, and spiked with sambal oelek, the Southeast Asian chili garlic paste, making it a perfect dipper for shatteringly crisp Japanese-style Kara-age Fried Chicken. Even dried shrimp—an Asian grocery store staple—are oven-toasted, which transforms them into intensely flavored Rice Krispies-of-the-sea before they’re scattered atop the Green Papaya Salad.
But most people come for the ramen. It’s based on a broth that rolls at a hard boil for six hours before being topped with rich chashu pork, chicken thighs, or chili ground pork. (Or, in the case of the Chef’s Ultra Ramen, all three at once.)
It all sounds very decadent, and it is. But the kitchen knows just how to balance out richness with a well-placed scallion salad on the fried chicken; or pressed cucumbers and spicy radishes on an egg-topped brown rice bowl; or the acidic funk of homemade kimchi on a big bowl of alkaline noodles. And yes, there’s always the sparkling Local Yellowfin Tuna Poke Bowl (and that insanely delicious papaya salad) if you’re looking to eat light.
Did we mention all of this happens in a tiny slip of a suburban restaurant? There are just about 20 seats, and no, you can’t make a reservation. But while waiting for table you can sip a draft craft cocktail—a clever way for beverage manager Scott Shoer to adapt to a tiny bar. From the Cold Tea—a dangerously refreshing blend of tequila, mezcal, yuzu, sake, and green tea—to craft brews from Mikkeller and Aeronaut, to an undiluted sake brewed by Farthest Star in Medfield, there’s something for everyone on this wee but well-curated list.
Punching well above its weight, Little Big Diner can go toe-to-toe with any hip hot spot within Boston city limits. Forget the school system; we’re moving to the ’burbs just for the food.
This article was originally published April 11, 2018, and has been lightly updated.
Little Big Diner still doesn’t take reservations, but in recent years it has changed the game by starting online ordering and takeout. It also added a sidewalk patio in-season.
If there’s a wait for dining-in, head across the Newton Centre Green to sister-spot Sycamore for a Falerno!, a fizzy, spicy agave drink that’s one of our favorites.
Customize your ramen bowl with a menu of add-ons like smoked honey corn, marinated shiitakes, butter cubes, chili crisp oil, and more.
The opening head chef Daniel Scott came up in fine-dining working for Ming Tsai at Blue Ginger (which explains a lot).
Tastes of Little Big Diner
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