The city of Somerville has undergone a major transformation in the past 25 years. Once known as a strictly blue-collar community filled with triple-deckers, the city has seen housing prices soar, especially as rumors of an extension of the MBTA Green Line continue to circulate. Nowhere are the city’s changing fortunes more apparent than in Davis Square, in the northwest section of Somerville. The square abuts the Powder House Square, Magoun Square, and Spring Hill neighborhoods and is a stone’s throw from Tufts University. Today, Somerville has become a major destination for college students, Gen Xers, and just about everybody else. Nowhere is that truer than in the Davis Square neighborhood, which is on the MBTA Red Line.
Some residents trace (or lament) the genesis of Somerville’s transformation to a 1997 Utne Reader article anointing Davis Square as one of the 10 hippest places in America. Others go back further, to the opening of the T station in 1984. Historians might flip all the way to 1850, when wealthy grain dealer Preston Davis first strode into town and threw up an estate near the intersection of Elm and Grove.
No matter where on the timeline your finger stops, Davis Square—fed by five asphalt tributaries—is now a crackling ball of artistic, entrepreneurial, and culinary energy, with a rich blend of mom-and-pops, hip eateries, quirky shops, public art, one of the area’s oldest movie theaters, and a pulsating nightlife. Consider taking the T to get there, especially if you’re going on a weekend. Parking is scarce.
To get your Davis on, try out some of the following:
Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar
381 Summer St.
Formerly a diner, this neighborhood landmark was revamped in 2014 by restaurateur Joe Cassinelli to create a new atmosphere and a menu he considers “down and dirty food.” While Rosebud still offers its famous seasonal homestyle pies and boozy hot chocolate, regulars will now find new dishes like fried chicken thighs, BBQ Baconator meatloaf, griddled cheeseburgers, and whole roasted hog heads with gochujang barbecue sauce, courtesy of chef-partner John Delpha. The bar menu combines the old with the new, with whiskey and creative cocktails; some, like the Lunch Car #773, pay tribute to the old Rosebud. The restaurant is open for dinner daily, but lunch is served on Fridays only. Rosebud also offers a popular weekend brunch.
187 Elm St.
This “wood-fired Italian restaurant” features classic Italian fare, including handmade pasta, pizzas, grilled meats, fish, poultry, and a variety of desserts. Menu favorites: bruschetta with roasted grape tomatoes, goat cheese, basil, and vincotto; gnocchi with braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce; and a meatball pizza with beef, pork, veal, and Posto’s own fiore di latte mozzarella, made fresh daily. The wood-burning oven offers a cozy setting in winter months. In warm-weather months, the glass front doors are opened directly onto the sidewalk, giving the place an outdoor feel.
Out of the Blue
215 Elm St.
Out of the Blue offers delicious Italian-style seafood dishes at a reasonable price in a relaxed atmosphere. Known for its large portions, the restaurant’s most popular dishes are fried scallops served with french fries, onion rings, and coleslaw; baked stuffed lobster with sea scallops and a Ritz cracker filling; and frutti di mare, a mix of seafood served over linguine in either a red, white, or fra diavolo sauce. There is free parking behind the restaurant, a big plus given the neighborhood’s parking shortage.
The Painted Burro
219 Elm St.
This gem, which celebrates the diverse cuisines of Latin America, will impress any and all margarita lovers with a menu of more than 100 craft tequilas (try the spicy El Diablo, mixed with jalapeño-infused tequila). It also features an array of seasonal dishes, using local ingredients. Dubbing itself “upscale casual,” the Painted Burro is committed to maintaining the tradition of Mexican street-style food, but with a modern twist. Do your taste buds a favor and chow down on a street-style hot dog—an all-beef Pearl dog topped with savoy cabbage and jalapeño slaw, chicharrón, chipotle ketchup, and agave mustard on a grilled roll—or one of the 10 innovative taco choices, like the Mahi Mahi a la Plancha, served with avocado, jicama, pineapple and serrano salsa, and frisee. It’s also a great weekend brunch destination (options include thick-cut French toast with caramelized plantains and a morning taco plate). There are also weekly featured events, like Tex-Mex Mondays and Burro Karaoke (“karaoke that doesn’t suck”) on Tuesdays.
237 Elm St.
If you’re looking for something more down and dirty, sidle into Sligo, described as the “last dive bar in Somerville.” It’s cramped, the tables can be sticky, and it sometimes smells of stale beer, but the drinks are cheap and the bartenders are among the friendliest in the neighborhood. Some tips from the regulars: Sligo doesn’t serve food, and the bar is cash-only.
238 Elm St.
“Cash for fashion!” advertises this store where clothing and accessories can be bought, sold, and traded among customers. It’s like a Goodwill store, but more selective; be prepared for your wardrobe to be scrutinized and some of the less desirable items you bring in to wind up in the reject pile. Upon making an exchange, you can choose cash or trade for items in the store, which offers men’s and women’s clothing for all seasons. The store also offers a wide array of shoes, boots, jewelry, and sunglasses and other accessories.
243 Elm St.
“Meju” refers to fermented soybeans, the umami flavor that can be found in this Korean restaurant’s soy-grilled short rib galbi and other savory dishes. Meju is a relatively new arrival to Davis Square (opened in January 2015), but it has already become a neighborhood favorite. Mix and match “small plate dishes,” like lotus root chips, vegetarian pan-roasted mushrooms, and spicy rice cake, are delicious. You can also enjoy a heartier meal with one of the “big plates,” like chili stir-fried seafood, a combo plate of shrimp, squid, scallops, and oysters. Be sure to try the green tea cheesecake. The bar offers a number of hard-to-find Korean spirits, including Bekseju and Bokbunja.
247 Elm St.
This bar, named for a bleak, scarred limestone plateau in County Clare, Ireland, offers live Irish music—folk, jazz, and traditional songs—seven nights a week, along with Irish step-dancing, open mic, and comedy. Here, you’ll find 17 beers on tap, along with a wide assortment of bottled beers and wine (no mixed drinks are served). The menu features typical bar food, as well as several authentic Irish dishes, like bangers and mash, Guinness beef stew, and at brunch, a full Irish breakfast, with rashers, Irish sausage, black and white pudding, grilled tomato, and Irish baked beans, served with Irish brown bread. Athletes can look forward to the weekly Monday night “Bur-run,” a 5K run around the square followed by pasta and drinks.
Amsterdam Falafel Shop
248 Elm St.
Move over, McDonald’s. Amsterdam Falafel Shop offers visitors to the square fast food of another kind. Servers guarantee you’ll have your order in two to five minutes, and they’re true to their word: they’ll even fry it fresh, right before your hungry eyes. With 22 sauce and topping options, customers have their work cut out for them. (Hint: you can’t go wrong with the yogurt-dill sauce or the fried eggplant.) Inspired by similar shops throughout the Netherlands, evidenced by the Dutch concert posters on its walls, this Somerville spot is addictive—a great place for a quick lunch or a late-night snack. You can choose between a falafel sandwich or bowl (the latter is priced by weight). Don’t leave without tasting the twice-fried Dutch fries. The chain recently opened a second Boston area location, in Kenmore Square.
Davis Square Theatre
255 Elm St.
Formerly known as Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater, the reminted Davis Square Theatre hosts music, theater, and comedy performances, most catering to the 21+ crowd, although it offers family-friendly shows as well. Programs range from family favorites like The Encyclopedia Show and NPR’s You’re the Expert to Shit-faced Shakespeare and Game of Thrones Burlesque. The venue has a new bar, but you can also grab a bite to eat at the Foundry on Elm, located upstairs. For tickets and show information, visit the online calendar.
255 Elm St.
This underground venue recalls Prohibition-era speakeasies. Not surprisingly, Saloon is known primarily for its extensive drink menu, which includes 120 different whiskies, as well as red and white wines, local craft beer, and craft cocktails like the Horned Goddess—a bewitching concoction of vodka, creole shrub, lime, kiwi, and sparkling rosé. The dinner menu includes pan-roasted Scottish salmon with sausage-potato hash and Holland leeks, and a Cornish game hen stuffed with cornbread and currants, served with applewood-smoked bacon and Brussels sprouts. Saloon is the second Davis Square venture by restaurateurs Ken Kelly and David Flanagan, who also opened Foundry on Elm in 2010.
257 Elm St.
The seating at Diesel Café goes back as far as the eye can see. Tables, vinyl booths, and bar seating made from reclaimed wood suggest an earth-friendly place to pop the laptop or crack a paperback over a cup of direct trade joe. Along with funky artwork and board games, Diesel offers a large selection of loose teas, specialty drinks (try the Tuck’s Turtle—16 ounces of hot chocolate, hazelnut, and house-made caramel topped with fresh whipped cream), salads, baked goods, and sandwiches of the vegan, vegetarian, and carnivorous variety. All the pastries and breads are baked at the café’s Forge Baking Company, just down the road on Somerville Avenue. The staff is friendly (they even hook up the competition, Starbucks, with coffee filters when the chain runs out), and some will draw flowers in the foam on your latte. Break a few racks on the red-felt pool tables or get cozy with a friend in the vintage photo booth. The garage-door-style front rolls up in good weather to let in the sidewalk vibe. Wi-Fi is available, albeit for a fee.
55 Chester St.
BBQ, beers, and bikes—that about sums up the Redbones creed. Let one of the bicycle valets park your ride (free year-round service no matter your destination), and then gorge on catfish or rib combos, corn fritters, and hush puppies. The delicious sides: collard greens, dirty rice, mac ’n cheese, and potato salad. Wash it all down with one of the 29 beers on tap, many from local microbreweries, or an iced tea from a large sweat-beaded mason jar. The Southern back-home feel is enhanced by photos of barbecue glory days and autographed pics of R&B greats. Counter seats at the open kitchen offer a front-row view of the pit master’s crew in action; a nice alternative is to nosh at the bar adjoining the dining room. Head downstairs to Underbones for a darker tavern version. Brunch on Sunday comes with a helping of live bluegrass music.
Davis Square Somerville Farmers Market
Corner of Day and Herbert Streets, across from Sacco’s Bowl Haven
Visit the Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons, rain or shine, between late May and late November. You will find local produce, baked goods and breads, honey, meats, herbs, seafood, and roasted nut butters, as well as flowers and plants. The market showcases performers and cooking demos, too.
Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven
45 Day St.
There was a big gasp in 2010 when the gourmet Flatbread Pizza Company took over Sacco’s Bowl Haven, a Somerville institution since 1939. But the folks at Flatbread have not only retained, but also invigorated the old-school candlepin bowling alley. (Candlepin bowling is something of a New England specialty, using smaller balls and pins than you’ll find with 10-pin bowling.) The renovated space offers 10 lanes. Shoe rental is $2 a pair and a lane costs $25 per hour. After slipping back into your street shoes, grab a table and relax. We suggest Jay’s Heart (whole milk mozzarella, parmesan, wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce, and herbs), Homemade Sausage, or one of Flatbread’s organic salads. Word to the wise: the airy crust means that two people can easily split one pizza. Also, sit too close to the brick oven and you may find yourself breaking into a sweat. A full bar is available and you’ll want to save room for dessert. We recommend Sarah’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Sundae.
65 Holland St.
Music, trivia, sports, and good food—you’ll find it all at the Orleans restaurant and lounge, which hosts trivia, karaoke, and Throwback Thursdays and broadcasts all Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, and Patriots games on 14 HD screens. The bar offers 20 rotating taps of seasonal craft beers and a variety of wines, Scotch whiskey, and cocktails. The dinner menu has a wide range of salads, nachos, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees like fried chicken and bacon-wrapped meatloaf. Orleans also hosts a popular brunch on weekends.
The Boston Shaker
69 Holland St.
Cocktail enthusiast Adam Lantheaume opened the Boston Shaker out of frustration at the lack of a place carrying merchandise cocktail enthusiasts need to make their favorite concoctions. His small shop now sells everything the professional bartender or those throwing their first cocktail party may need: barware, ceramic tiki mugs, bitters and flavorings, recipe books, and more. After poking around, you realize that mixology can be regarded as a science—after all, who knew you needed a mini angled measuring cup for the perfect pour or a professional ice-crushing bag? The shop also offers classes and workshops for those who’ve been bitten by the cocktail bug and want to learn more.
Dave’s Fresh Pasta
81 Holland St.
David Jick expanded his pasta, cheese, and wine shop a few years ago, adding fresh local produce, beef, fish, and a wine and beer section. Known for handmade pasta, ravioli, and sauces, Dave’s market/take-out restaurant also offers breads and baked goods, and dozens of cheeses: everything from Cotswold to goat Brie to Reblochon. The sandwiches alone are worth a trip—they are that good. Try the Cubano, the prosciutto and fig, or after a particularly rough night, the Brazilian Hangover Helper (mortadella, provolone picante, red onion, dill pickle, hot peppers, mayo), a concoction the staff says “works better than anything else.” A few indoor and outdoor seats are available, but they fill up quickly.
Spoke Wine Bar
89 Holland St.
Adjacent to Dave’s is Spoke, an intimate, refined wine bar. Lacking any major signage, this cozy nook may easily (and regrettably) be overlooked, but despite its understated exterior, it’s packed with personality. The modern space has a funky flare—and a carefully edited vino list. Pair your glass of pinot noir from Burgundy, France, with one of the many small plates, such as the spiced steak tartare, or with a more sizable dish like the farro risotto. With former No. 9 Park executive sous chef John Paul daSilva heading the kitchen, you can’t go wrong. Spoke’s specialty is wine, but bottled beer and seasonal, bespoke cocktails are available as well. Just try not to spill on the felt-lined walls.
Rudy’s Café & Tequila Bar
248 Holland St.
You won’t find anything pretentious about this casual neighborhood spot serving up refreshing margaritas (the tequila menu boasts over 50 varieties) and some tasty fish tacos. And really, with those staples, what more do you need? Oh, right. Fresh tortilla chips and queso. Failure to order the latter, a customer favorite, would be a mistake. You’ll also find a great selection of Tex-Mex combo plates, burritos, and enchiladas. Rudy’s is technically located in Teele Square, but it’s just a five-minute walk from the heart of Davis Square. Head down Holland Street and look for a large mural of a cactus-filled desert.
382 Highland Ave.
This wonderful Mexican restaurant offers a full complement of enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and tortas, a type of Mexican pressed sandwich. Tenoch also has two food trucks, El Jarocho and Tenoch Movil that frequent the BU campus. Note: the restaurant does not serve wine or liquor.
Five Horses Tavern
400 Highland Ave.
The only downside to Five Horses isn’t really a downside: there are too many delicious options. Open the menu and you’ll be hard-pressed to get past the mouthwatering appetizers, which include perfectly seasoned buttermilk-fried chicken tenders served with a red dragon chili sauce, and a papas fritas—triple-fried fingerling potatoes with a red pepper and garlic mayo. If you do venture as far as the main menu, you’ll encounter several unique options, among them a French Kiss pizza (apple, Brie, and balsamic pizza with arugula puree and candied walnuts), crab and bacon risotto, and pork belly tacos. And we haven’t gotten to the beer yet: 40 rotating drafts and more than 60 bottled beers—selection are touted by way of a mounted chandelier made from various beer taps. The tavern is justifiably popular for its weekend brunch. Be sure to try the Good Morning Davis, a three-egg omelet with spinach, mushrooms, beets, and Gruyere cheese, served with home fries.
407 Highland Ave.
Offering vintage toys, graphic novels, and a gaming area in the backroom, Comicazi is the perfect escape for the comic book lover and the child at heart. In addition to kids’ activities, the store hosts game nights, manga and sci-fi book clubs, and a 21+ “drink and draw” event. Comicazi has been voted Boston’s Best Comic Book store for the last four years and also manages a YouTube Channel, a gallery of artists’ work, and an independent publishing division, Bad Kids Press.
409 Highland Ave.
This small gift shop on the quieter side of Davis Square sells fun and witty gifts for adults, children, and the home. Opened in 2007 and independently owned, the store sells unique handmade items like vases, toys, books, shea butter soap, and big paper flowers. Before you leave, grab a goodie “gag” bag (which does not come filled with goodies—that’s your job) or invest in a tropical colored “not” wine glass with a handy dandy top and straw.
414 Highland Ave.
Freshly baked bread, bruschetta, pizza, and cannoli await you at this Italian market and restaurant, opened in December 2014. Pepe’s has the old Italian neighborhood feel, with authentic home-cooked dishes like gnocchi, meatballs, and chicken parmigiana, and an impressive selection of Italian cheeses and charcuterie, breads, and Italian desserts. The personable staff makes an effort to get to know customers, and you’ll find regulars chatting in Italian. Grab a seat on the patio in good weather for some fresh air and people-watching. Pepe’s plans to offer bread-making classes in the near future.
Mike’s Food and Spirits
9 Davis Square
This is an ideal place to stop for a quick, inexpensive bite before a show at the Somerville Theatre. There is a bit of everything, from meat lasagna to a chicken parm calzone to a Gorgonzola and walnut salad. Best of all is the cheap beer, from Geary’s London Porter to Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Service is a little gruff, but it’s fast.
37 Davis Square
This burger joint, which has two other locations in and around Boston, offers 29 different types of creative eight-ounce certified Angus beef burgers, like the Waikiki Beach Burger (grilled pineapple, ham, bacon, and teriyaki) and the Bruschetta Burger (marinated tomatoes, provolone, and basil pesto mayonnaise). You can try the Mac Attack, a burger topped with homemade four-cheese macaroni, cheese, and sizzling bacon that was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Not in the mood for beef? There’s also a veggie burger, chicken sandwiches, boneless wings, panini, chowder, chili, and gumbo. The restaurant also offers its own handmade potato chips and fried pickles.
This crêperie and café offers breakfast and lunch fare, with crêpes whose stuffings range from smoked ham to roasted mushrooms to fresh sliced apples, grapes, and Brie. There are also gourmet sweet crêpes (can’t beat the Nutella classic). Teas, coffees, soups, salads, and ice cream are also available. The large glass windows reveal the square’s epicenter, offering prime people-watching. But be careful not to exceed the 30-minute table limit (on weekends and during lunch) for non–crêpe eaters.
55 Davis Square
Beer and wine. Real butter on your popcorn. Cheap tickets. U2. What more could you ask from a movie theater? Built in 1914 (stage and screen legend Tallulah Bankhead was once a member of the Somerville Theatre Players), the theater offers five screens of new films and the occasional second-run movie. The theater also hosts a number of film festivals, including the Independent Film Festival of Boston—a week of indie narratives and quirky documentaries, plus merch and cast Q&As, and the Boston Sci-Fi Festival. For night owls, the theater offers midnight movies. Matinee tickets dip as low as $7 before 6 p.m., and the regularly priced tickets are still a bargain at $10. The venerable venue also pulls in such music acts as Bruce Springsteen, Joe Jackson, Bruce Cockburn, and They Might Be Giants. U2 played a surprise show and gave a Q&A at the 900-seat venue in 2009. While you’re waiting for the show to start, check out the Museum of Bad Art (free admission with a movie ticket).
Somerville Community Path/Minuteman Bikeway
Access behind the Davis T station
The bikeway is great for year-round, traffic-free recreation (strap on skis in winter). From Davis Square to the Alewife station at the end of the Red Line (0.8 miles), it’s part of the Somerville Community Path. At Alewife, it becomes the 11-mile Minuteman Bikeway, which runs to Bedford, snaking along an old rail bed and past Revolutionary War sites. Eventually, the path will be the final link in the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail, which will extend 104 miles along a former rail line from Boston to Northampton.
Getting there: Parking is tight around Davis Square, especially during the evenings and weekends, so driving is not recommended. But the T will drop you smack in the heart of the action: take the Green Line inbound, change at Park Street to the Red Line outbound (Alewife), and get off at Davis Square station. By bus: pick up the #47 bus at the BU Bridge and take it to Green and Magazine Streets, and hop on the Red Line outbound (Alewife) at Central Square.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Davis Square area.