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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Jamaica Plain

A guide to eating, shopping, and hanging in a hidden corner


Just 15 minutes from BU by bike, bus, or T, Jamaica Plain, or JP more commonly, is one of Boston’s most diverse and happening neighborhoods.

You won’t find chain stores here. What you will find is a community committed to the environment, fair-trade commerce, and sustainable agriculture, a place that’s hip and definitely way left-of-center when it comes to politics.

Once described as the “Eden of America,” JP evolved after the Civil War from a series of large farms to one of the country’s first streetcar suburbs. The neighborhood includes a key part of the city’s famed Emerald Necklace Conservancy, a seven-mile series of contiguous parks designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century.

The Great Outdoors

Jamaica Pond
Jamaicaway and Pond Street

To get to Jamaica Pond, follow the bike path that runs along the Emerald Necklace from the Landmark Center on Boston’s Park Drive to JP. Covering 68 acres, Jamaica Pond is a great place for a stroll (dogs must be leashed). This kettle pond formed by glaciers was once a reservoir for the city of Boston. Today, holders of a Massachusetts fishing license can fish the pond. Sailboats and rowboats are available for rent by the hour during the summer months.

Jamaica Pond

Jamaica Pond, Jamaicaway and Pond Street

Arnold Arboretum

The crown jewel of all of JP’s open spaces, the Arnold Arboretum offers a stunning landscape that changes with the seasons. Like Jamaica Pond, the Arboretum is a link in the city’s Emerald Necklace. Originally owned by Harvard University, the Arboretum was established in 1872, making it the oldest public arboretum in North America. It was deeded to the city of Boston in 1882, and Harvard was given a 1,000-year lease and operates the property. Today, it is one of the world’s preeminent research institutions, with more than 15,000 plants spread across 265 acres. The Arboretum is famous for its annual Lilac Sunday, held each May to celebrate and showcase its world-class collection of lilac trees.

Forest Hills Cemetery
95 Forest Hills Ave.

One of the premier examples in America of the garden cemetery style, Forest Hills was created in 1848 to replace old colonial graveyards in what was then the city of Roxbury. The cemetery, set on 275 acres, was designed not only as a place to mourn the dead, but also to contemplate nature. Many famous Americans are buried here, among them the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, Nobel-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, and poets Anne Sexton and e. e. Cummings. The cemetery also includes wonderful examples of Victorian architecture and spectacular sculptures, including a towering bronze angel created by sculptor Daniel Chester French, famous for the Lincoln Memorial’s marble sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, in Washington, DC.

The park-like setting is ideal for strolling and contemplation, with its woodlands, grassy slopes, waterfall, fountain, and the man-made Lake Hibiscus. The crematory at Forest Hills was the first built in the United States. The cemetery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Guided tours are available, and summer concerts are offered in the chapel.

Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Rd., Dorchester

Although the address of the 72-acre Franklin Park Zoo, nestled in Franklin Park, is officially Dorchester, we include it because Boston’s largest park is spread over parts of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury as well. The zoo is home to more than 220 species of animals in a variety of habitats, including an Outback Trail featuring kangaroos, kookaburras, emus, and sheep; a savannah containing Masai giraffes; and Serengeti Crossing, four acres of grassland and wooded hills where a number of Grave’s zebras, ostriches, and wildebeests roam. Opened in 1912, Franklin Park Zoo today is operated by Zoo New England, a private nonprofit committed to conservation. Open year-round, the zoo has one of the world’s best indoor gorilla exhibitions and a tropical rain forest. This popular destination for families attracts approximately 400,000 visitors a year.

El Oriental de Cuba, 416 Centre St.

El Oriental de Cuba, 416 Centre St.

Hyde Square

El Oriental de Cuba
416 Centre St.

Hyde Square is home to a large Hispanic community, much of it anchored by the El Oriental de Cuba restaurant, a neighborhood fixture since 1994 and possibly the best Cuban restaurant in Boston. This no-frills place offers up appetizers like mofongo (mashed green plantains with pork rinds in garlic sauce), a variety of rice dishes, including rice with spicy octopus, and classic fare such as ropa vieja, braised oxtail, and caballo steak topped with fried eggs. Menus are in both Spanish and English.

Caffè Aromi
403A Centre St.

This sleek, Italian-style café brings some much-needed pizzazz to Hyde Square. The contemporary interior—plastic chairs and paintings by local artists—is somewhat minimalist, but the coffee and pastries (made on-site) are worth a visit. The menu boasts several caffeinated drinks and features George Howell Coffee, the artisan roaster based in Acton, Mass., and organic teas by Two Leaves Tea Company. In addition to breakfast pastries and sandwiches, it has a small but tasty selection of panini sandwiches. Try the melted brie with granny smith apples and walnut pesto on pan de mie—you won’t be disappointed.

Brendan Behan Pub
378 Centre St.

Popular with locals, “the Behan,” as it’s called, has been named one of the four best beer haunts in America by Interview magazine. This classic Irish bar is famous for its large selection of draft and bottled beers, including dark ales, stouts, and lagers. And as the pub’s devoted clientele will tell you, the Behan is also famous for conversation. You’ll find no TVs or pinball machines here, just knots of people talking with one another.

Caffè Aromi

Caffè Aromi, 403A Centre St.

The Frogmore               
365 Centre St.

This recent addition to JP’s vibrant restaurant scene celebrates Lowcountry Southern cuisine, with delicacies like she crab soup, fried green tomatoes, Hoppin’ John (a delicious dish of black-eyed peas and rice in a ham broth) grilled okra, collards, catfish, and the restaurant’s signature Low Country stew, studded with shrimp, smoked sausage, corn, potato, and crab. There are a dozen craft beers on tap and an extensive wine and cocktail list. Dishes are priced reasonably and the staff is especially welcoming.

A Taste of History

Loring-Greenough House
12 South St.

A superb example of Georgian Colonial architecture, the Loring-Greenough House is one of the oldest structures in JP. Built in 1760 by Joshua Loring, a Colonial American commodore in the English navy, the house saw a number of uses after English Loyalist Loring returned to England at the start of the American Revolution. It was used as a military hospital during the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1784, it was bought by the Greenough family, who occupied it until 1924, when it was saved from demolition by a group of civic-minded women. The house is open to the public each Sunday between noon and 2 p.m. from April through December. Visitors will see American furniture and decorative arts from the 18th through the early 20th centuries and archival material chronicling the history of Jamaica Plain. Special exhibits and concerts are also held at the house.

The Eliot School, 24 Eliot St.

The Eliot School, 24 Eliot St.

The Footlight Club
7A Eliot St.

Founded in 1877 with the mission of providing “pleasant and useful entertainment by the aid of drama,” this is the oldest community theater in the country. And yes, it still produces enjoyable dramas, musicals, and comedies, all cast with local nonprofessional actors.

The Eliot School
24 Eliot St.

In 1676, 38 residents of Jamaica Plain donated land to support a school. Funded by an endowment from local farmer John Eliot, the school educated Africans, Native Americans, and Colonial children before turning its focus to the arts in the late 19th century. Alarmed at how “manual arts” like woodworking, sewing, and bookbinding were disappearing in Boston, the Eliot School began offering courses in such crafts for schoolteachers and adults, and then for children in after-school programs.

Today the Eliot School of Fine & Applied Arts offers courses for children and adults in woodworking, sewing, fiber arts, drawing and painting, photography, and bookbinding. Classes offer a modern twist on many of these art forms: there are courses in drawing for comics and cartoons, digital photography, and even how to market yourself as an artist.

Still operating out of its original 17th-century schoolhouse, the Eliot School has twice yearly sales of art created by faculty and students, in June and December.

Centre Street

Jamaica Plain’s main shopping and dining venues can be found along Centre Street, the principal artery cutting through JP Center (at one end it becomes South Street, at the other, South Huntington Avenue). Below are highlights.

Salmagundi, 765 Centre St.

Salmagundi, 765 Centre St.

765 Centre St.

Salmagundi’s owners, husband and wife Jessen Fitzpatrick and Andria Rapagnola, believe that there’s a perfect hat for every man and woman, and their shop has more than 7,000 to choose from. In addition to chapeaus of every stripe, the boutique offers a wonderful selection of handbags, jewelry, men’s ties, belts, and wallets—even flasks. The store also offers cleaning and blocking services.

716 Centre St.

Love vintage clothing and want to support a good cause? Stop by this secondhand shop, which carries a wide selection of men’s, women’s, and children’s used clothing, as well as used furniture, electronics, toys, art, books, and CDs. All sales benefit the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts. The store’s inventory changes often as people donate goods constantly, so you’ll want to visit frequently. It has some real bargains, and if you’re looking to stock a new apartment, you cannot do better. And its window displays are works of pop art.

Wonder Spice Café
697 Centre St.

The small Wonder Spice Café bills itself as both a Cambodian and a Thai restaurant, offering such stalwarts as pad thai, chicken satay, and sweet chili shrimp alongside more exotic fare. Try the Phnom Penh Noodle Soup, a traditional Khmer soup with rice noodles, bean sprouts, and fried garlic, flavored with lime juice and scallions, and drunken noodle, large rice noodles stir-fried with eggs and vegetables in a hot basil sauce. Wonder Spice is open for lunch and dinner.

On Centre,

On Centre, 676 Centre St.

Fire Opal
683 Centre St.

If you’re looking for an unusual wedding or birthday gift, a visit to Fire Opal is a must. It has a beautiful selection of glassware, pottery, tiles, furniture, and textiles. You’ll also find elegant handcrafted jewelry (the shop has an excellent collection of wedding rings and offers a bridal registry) and stylish clothing. Fire Opal has a second location, on Harvard Street in Coolidge Corner, Brookline.

On Centre
676 Centre St.

Independently owned, this small gem of a gift shop offers something for everyone. It features a small, but select choice of clothing, handbags, jewelry, kitchen appliances, paper supplies, and other housewares. It’s the perfect place to find a quirky birthday present, a housewarming gift, or a JP T-shirt. New merchandise arrives weekly. The store is open seven days a week, but often not before noon, so check their website for hours of operation.

The Purple Cactus
674 Centre St.

This is the closest thing to fast food in JP. With an emphasis on fresh ingredients and vibrant flavors rather than heavy sauces, Purple Cactus offers a lighter, healthier interpretation of classic Mexican cuisine. The restaurant’s mantra is “big on flavor, low on fat.” Black beans are simmered without lard or additives, and the kitchen uses low-fat sour cream and lean steak in its dishes, which include an array of fabulous fajita wraps, rice and bean or shrimp burritos, excellent quesadillas, and a vegetable taco salad that comes with a zingy cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The superb guacamole is made daily. The Purple Cactus may represent the best dining value in all of JP.

City Feed and Supply, 672 Centre St.

City Feed and Supply, 672 Centre St.

City Feed and Supply
672 Centre St.

This grocery-café-deli is reminiscent of an old-fashioned general store, but with a modern twist. City Feed’s motto, “Buy Fresh, Buy Local,” emphasizes its commitment to sustainability and locally grown or prepared foods. A popular breakfast haunt among locals—particularly on weekends—City Feed offers excellent fair-trade coffee and a mouthwatering selection of sandwiches and baked goods. The produce is organic, the sodas, root beer, and sarsaparilla locally manufactured. The store offers the best selection of cheeses (most are from Vermont) in the neighborhood, as well as locally produced craft beers. City Feed often holds free food tastings and cooking demonstrations, and actively supports local charities. A smaller City Feed can be found at 66A Boylston St., a short walk from the MBTA Orange Line’s Stony Brook station.

Centre Street Café
669A Centre St.

This JP institution, long popular with local residents for its weekend brunch, featuring crispy waffles with real maple syrup, pancakes du jour, and truck-stop breakfast (one large pancake, three organic eggs, home fries, and bacon or sausage) was recently bought by the owners of Tres Gatos (see below). The new dinner menu has a pronounced Italian/Mediterranean flavor, anchored by a house-made pasta menu that includes toasted semolina rigatoni served with squash blossoms, tomato, Thai basil, pine nuts, and summer truffle and squid ink fusilli. The wine list is decidedly Italian in flavor, with reds and whites from Sicily, Tuscany, and the Piedmont region. Prepare to continue to have to stand in line to get a table at weekend brunch time. The truck-stop breakfast and homemade donuts are worth the wait.

668 Centre St.

This wonderful little children’s boutique offers a huge selection of organic fiber children’s clothing (ages newborn to eight years), as well as eco-friendly creative toys including puzzles, games, wooden toys, rattles, and stuffed animals.

J. P. Licks
659 Centre St.

This original J.P. Licks ice cream shop (there are now 12 in and around Boston) could be the most popular place in JP. Referring to itself as an ice cream maker, coffee roaster, destination, and good neighbor, J.P. Licks offers ice cream in dozens of flavors, as well as nonfat smoothies, frappes, floats, egg creams, and sorbets and hard and soft yogurt. Each month the store has seasonal specials. Not to be missed is the strawberry rhubarb ice cream available each June and the pumpkin custard in the fall. The restaurant’s large fireplace is put to good use during winter months. Outdoor tables make it an inviting place in warm weather. Everything made here is Kosher-certified.

Grass Fed, 605 Centre St.

Grass Fed, 605 Centre St.

Caramelo Clothing Company
606 Centre St.

A classic men’s boutique, Caramelo exudes style. The vintage Coca Cola sign, the Victorian-era mirror, and the dark hardwood floors all add to the tasteful atmosphere. From timeless pieces with name brands like Levi’s to hip looks from local clothing companies, Caramelo carries an extensive collection of men’s wear and accessories: the selection of ties, wallets, belts, and rings is fantastic. If you fall in love with JP during your visit, you can purchase one of the store’s hip “I Heart JP” T-shirts. The only downside to Caramelo? These pretty clothes cost a pretty penny.

Grass Fed
605 Centre St.

Founded by Krista Kranyak, the owner of Ten Tables (see below), this modern twist on the classic fast food burger joint has become one of the most popular dining destinations in JP. Featuring a variety of 100 percent grass-fed beef burgers (from a Maine co-op of small cattle farmers), fries, hot dogs, sandwiches, and milkshakes, as well as beer and wine, this unpretentious eatery is frequently packed with diners. The food is delicious, the price point fantastic (burgers are about $7.75, hot dogs between $4.50 and $5.95), Grass Fed has a decidedly neighborhood vibe and is a popular destination for families (it has a kid’s menu) and couples. Check out the adult milkshakes—a meal in themselves.

JP Comics and Games
603 Centre St.

This store is a must for any gaming fanatic or comic book fan. It has a great selection of comics, graphic novels, board games, card games, puzzles, magic, Pokémon, and Yu-Gi-Oh! It holds an open forum every other Saturday exploring themes of women in media, Dungeons & Dragons encounters every Wednesday, game nights every Thursday, and magic gatherings on Friday and Monday nights and all day Sunday.

JP Comics, 603 Centre Street

JP Comics, 603 Centre St.

Ten Tables and TT Bar
597 Centre St.

This welcoming restaurant puts an emphasis on fresh ingredients from local purveyors, served in an intimate, elegant setting. Lights are dim and candlelight casts a glow over the tiny restaurant and adjoining bar. It serves wines from vineyards that practice organic or biodynamic winemaking and an interesting array of cocktails. The menu changes with the season, depending on what ingredients are available.

Tres Gatos
470 Centre St.

No ordinary tapas bar, Tres Gatos is the city’s “first full-service restaurant/book and music store,” according to its website. Formerly the book and music store Rhythm & Blues, Tres Gatos still sells books and music, and has a menu featuring classic tapas items, charcuterie, and appetizers, with an emphasis on local produce, fish, and meats. It also has a nice selection of classic and contemporary Spanish wines and hard-to-find brews. Based on the belief that “sharing good food, music, and books is essential to a happy life,” Tres Gatos has become enormously popular with locals. Seating varies from a bar to a large common table, several smaller standing bars, and a seasonal outdoor area.

Canary Square
435 South Huntington Ave.

No matter what night of the week, this place is almost always packed. The environment is friendly, the food unpretentious but delicious, and the cocktail menu wildly inventive. Our favorite? The Franklin Park, featuring Bully Boy whiskey, aperol, amaro monetenegro, and lime. Canary Square also offers more than two dozen draft beers. Outdoor seating is available seasonally.

Canary Square

Canary Square, 435 South Huntington Ave.

Monumental Cupcakes
36 South St.

Posters are plastered onto the wall of this small shop, each displaying an illustration of a monstrous cupcake towering over buildings and civilians. The posters perfectly capture the ethos of this neighborhood bakery, where the cupcake is king. Monumental Cupcakes offers some of the most scrumptious cupcakes in town, as well as breakfast pastries and locally roasted, sustainably grown coffee beans, courtesy of Biscuit Brand Coffees. The inventive flavors change daily, but classics like red velvet and Belgium chocolate are mouthwatering fixtures, as are the shop’s vegan options. The staff is as sweet as the confections they serve, treating everyone with a smile.

Off the Beaten Path

7 Pond Coffee Bar
7 Pond St.

This latest edition to JP’s burgeoning coffee scene insists on calling itself a bar, not a café, and one peak inside will tell you why. There’s seating for only a dozen—7 Pond is designed for people who want get a great cup of coffee on the go, not for those looking to linger with their laptops and earbuds. The pastries are made by the Danish Pastry House, in Watertown, and the coffee is roasted by Barrington Coffee Roasting Company, in Lee, Mass. The knowledgeable and friendly baristas specialize in made-to-order “pour-over” coffees made from single-source beans. The bar features dozens of teas as well, many of them organic. It’s at the corner of Pond and Centre Streets.

7 Pond Coffee Bar

7 Pond Coffee Bar, 7 Pond St.

Café Bartlett Sq.
154 Green St.

Café Bartlett Sq isn’t your typical cramped coffee shop. Featuring long tables meant for sharing and marble countertops, as well as a sizable outdoor patio, this sleek café, which resembles a renovated warehouse, offers ample space to enjoy a cappuccino, homemade pastry, or artisan sandwich. You can also treat yourself to ice cream from Cambridge-based Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Papercuts J.P.
5 Green St.

This pint-sized bookstore specializes in the offbeat. Yes, you’ll find the latest John Grisham best seller here, along with a select choice of cookbooks, graphic novels, children’s book, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, but also books by authors deemed overlooked by owner Kate Layte, and books that are beautifully designed. Layte, a former publishing executive and JP resident, has an eye for the unusual. One visit and you’ll keep coming back.

The Video Underground
3203 Washington St.

Created to offer Boston cinephiles an extensive selection of independent films, Video Underground has more than 15,000 titles, including many you won’t find online. The knowledgeable staff researches films to add to the store’s collection on a daily basis. The store also offers local artists a chance to put their work on the shelves for rental. You can buy or rent VHS and DVD films here, and the salesclerks will happily order, at no extra cost, any available title they don’t have in stock. Films are categorized by subject, such as Drugs & Booze, Comics & Superheroes, and Cops & Criminals.

Canto 6
3346 Washington St.

Described by one fan as “pastry heaven,” this small bakery next to the Orange Line’s Green Street stop is easily one of the best in the city. Famous for its almond chocolate croissants, Canto 6 also offers a delicious stuffed brioche (pear and brie cheese), a constantly changing array of scones, and traditional and cranberry shortbread cookies. Of special note are the cannelés, small confections with a crème brûlée–like outer shell and deep vanilla custard inside. The bakery takes its name from the sixth canto of Dante’s Inferno, which details the fate that awaits the gluttonous.

Doyle’s Café
3484 Washington St.

In business since 1882, this is the grand dame of the neighborhood’s eating establishments. Stepping inside is like taking a trip back in time. The walls are loaded with signs for now-defunct Boston breweries and all kinds of political memorabilia, including photos of nearly every Boston mayor, governor, senator, and representative of the last 100 years. One room is dedicated to former Boston mayor John F. “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy. A favorite watering hole among politicians, the café has figured prominently in a number of films, including Celtic PrideMystic River, and The Brink’s Job, as well as television shows like Boston Public. Home to one of New England’s largest selections of draft beers, Doyle’s was the first bar to put Samuel Adams Lager on tap.

Bella Luna/Milky Way Lounge, 284 Amory St

Bella Luna/Milky Way Lounge, 284 Amory St.

Bella Luna and the Milky Way Lounge
The Brewery Complex, 284 Amory St.

Located in the former Haffenreffer brewery, this restaurant and music venue is one of the neighborhood’s most popular destinations. Bella Luna is famous for its pizzas and calzones, and there is often a wait for a table, but the place also does a booming take-out and delivery business. An outdoor deck provides one of the best al fresco dining options in JP. The attached Milky Way Lounge offers lively entertainment, ranging from trivia game nights to country line dancing, dyke nights, rock ’n’ roll bingo, live comedy, and dance parties with Latin, reggae, and queer themes. The restaurant and lounge’s mission is to “create community through delicious food and beverages, art, and music; to be a gathering place where everyone feels comfortable and has fun.” Judging from the crowds, it’s clear they’re succeeding.

Ula Café
The Brewery Complex, 284 Amory St.

In the same complex as Bella Luna, this wonderful bakery–coffee shop carries fair-trade roasted coffee, espresso, and a wide selection of loose-leaf teas, as well as fresh salads and delicious pastries. The free WiFi attracts a lot of young professionals bearing laptops.

Getting there: The easiest way to get to JP is to take the #39 bus from Copley Square to JP Center. The bus takes you down Huntington Avenue to South Huntington Avenue, which merges onto Centre Street. Or take the MBTA’s Orange Line to either the Jackson Square stop (for venues in Hyde Square) or the Green Street stop. The neighborhood is also within an easy bicycle ride; the Emerald Necklace bike path is one of Boston’s best.

Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Jamaica Plain area.

Learn more about neighborhoods around Boston here. Check out our Jamaica Plain list on Foursquare for more neighborhood tips.

This story was originally published on June 27, 2008; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

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