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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Davis Square

Eating, shopping, and hanging out in one of the 10 hippest places in America

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The city of Somerville has undergone a major transformation in the past 30 years. Once a strictly blue-collar community of triple-deckers, its housing prices have soared, especially with plans for an extension of the MBTA Green Line. Nowhere are the city’s changing fortunes more apparent than in Davis Square, in the city’s northwest section. The square abuts the Powder House Square, Magoun Square, and Spring Hill neighborhoods and is a stone’s throw from Tufts University. Today, Somerville is a major destination for college students, Gen Xers, and just about anybody else. Nowhere is that truer than in the Davis Square neighborhood, conveniently located on the Red Line.

Some residents trace (or lament) the 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 1984 opening of the T station. 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 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, especially if you’re going on a weekend. Parking is scarce.

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, creating a new atmosphere and a menu of “down and dirty food.” While still offering its famous seasonal home-style pies and boozy hot chocolate, new dishes like Moroccan stew, BBQ Baconator meatloaf, jambalaya, and whole roasted hog heads with gochujang barbecue sauce are offered, courtesy of chef-partner John Delpha. The bar combines old and new, classics like mint juleps with creative cocktails, some, like the Lunch Car #773, paying tribute to the old Rosebud. It’s open for dinner daily, but lunch is served on Fridays only. There’s also a popular weekend brunch.

Posto
187 Elm St.

This wood-fired Italian restaurant’s classic Italian fare includes 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 Posto’s own fiore di latte mozzarella, made fresh daily. The wood-burning oven makes for a cozy setting in winter. In warm weather, the glass doors are opened directly onto the sidewalk and diners can eat outside.

The Rosebud, Davis Square

Rosebud Diner, 381 Summer St.

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 large portions, its most popular dishes are fried scallops with french fries, onion rings, and coleslaw, baked stuffed lobster with sea scallops and a Ritz cracker filling, and frutti di mare, mixed seafood served over linguine in either a red, white, or fra diavolo sauce. Free parking behind the restaurant is a big plus given the parking shortage.

The Painted Burro
219 Elm St.

This gem celebrates the diverse cuisines of Latin America, impressing margarita lovers with more than 100 craft tequilas (try the spicy El Diablo, mixed with jalapeño-infused tequila). Its seasonal menu is in the tradition of Mexican street-style food, with a modern twist. Chow down on an all-beef Pearl dog topped with cabbage and jalapeño slaw, chicharrón, chipotle ketchup, and agave mustard on a grilled roll or one of the 10 innovative taco choices, like the short rib “double stack,” crunchy and soft tortillas, tres quesos, red wine and Mexican cola mole, cotija, and shredded napa cabbage. It’s also great for a weekend brunch (options include thick-cut French toast with caramelized plantains and a morning taco plate). There are weekly events, like Burro Karaoke on Tuesdays.

Sligo Pub
237 Elm St.

Sligo proclaims itself 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.

Buffalo Exchange
238 Elm St.

“Cash for fashion!” advertises this store, where clothing and accessories can be bought, sold, and traded. It’s like a Goodwill store, but more selective; be prepared for your offerings to be scrutinized and the less desirable items to wind up in the reject pile. You can choose cash or trade for items in the store, which offers men’s and women’s clothing for all seasons and a wide array of shoes, boots, jewelry, and sunglasses and other accessories.

Buffalo Exchange, Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Buffalo Exchange, 238 Elm St.

Meju
243 Elm St.

“Meju” refers to fermented soybeans, the umami flavor found in this Korean restaurant’s soy-marinated short rib galbi and other dishes. A relatively new square arrival (opened in January 2015), it is already a neighborhood favorite. The mix and match “small plate dishes,” like the spicy pork buns, are delicious. For a heartier meal, try one of the “big plates,” like the shrimp noodles. The bar has a number of hard-to-find Korean spirits, like Bekseju and Bokbunja.

The Burren
247 Elm St.

Named for a bleak, scarred limestone plateau in County Clare, Ireland, the bar has live Irish music—folk, jazz, and traditional songs—seven nights a week, along with Stump trivia, open mic, and comedy. You’ll find 17 beers on tap and a wide assortment of bottled beers, wine, and cider (no mixed drinks are served). The menu has 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.

Amsterdam Falafel Shop
248 Elm St.

Move over, McDonald’s. Visitors get fast food of another kind here. Your order is guaranteed to come in two to five minutes, and you can see it fried fresh right before your eyes. With 22 sauce and topping options, choices can be tough. (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 walls’ Dutch concert posters and painted tulips, the spot is addictive—great for a quick lunch or a late-night snack. You can choose between a falafel or chicken sandwich or bowl (the latter priced by weight). Don’t leave without tasting the twice-fried Dutch fries.

The Burren pub, Davis Square, Somerville, MA

The Burren, 247 Elm St.

The Rockwell
255 Elm St.

Formerly known as Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater and later the Davis Square Theatre, the reminted Rockwell hosts music, theater, and comedy performances, most catering to the 21+ crowd, although it has family-friendly shows as well. Programs range from family favorites like Kerplunk! and NPR’s You’re the Expert to Shit-faced Shakespeare and an interactive dating game show based on Netflix shows, Netflix and Chill. The 200-seat basement theater has a full bar and if you’re hungry after the show, you can grab a bite to eat upstairs at the Foundry on Elm. Find tickets and show information here.

Saloon
255 Elm St.

This underground venue recalls Prohibition-era speakeasies, and is known primarily for its extensive drink menu: 120 different whiskies, as well as red and white wines, local craft beer, and craft cocktails like the Holy Mountain—a concoction of sherry, rum, lime, pineapple, burnt cinnamon and bitters. The dinner menu includes appetizers like poutine with hand-cut potato wedges and smoked cheddar and applewood smoked bacon gravy and entrées like pan-roasted Faroe Islands salmon, seared shitake mushrooms, and red quinoa.

Diesel Café
257 Elm St.

The seating here goes back as far as the eye can see. Tables, vinyl booths, and bar seating of reclaimed wood suggest an earth-friendly place to pop the laptop or crack a paperback over a cup of direct trade joe. It 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 vegan, vegetarian, and the usual sandwiches. All pastries and breads are baked at the café’s Forge Baking Company, just down the road. The staff is friendly, 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 after 45 minutes.

Redbones Barbecue
55 Chester St.

BBQ, beers, and bikes—that about sums up the Redbones creed. Gems from the extensive menu: catfish or rib combos, corn fritters, and hush puppies. The delicious sides: collard greens, dirty rice, mac ’n’ cheese, and potato salad, to name just a few. 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 or you can 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’ll find local produce, baked goods and breads, honey, meats, maple syrup, seafood, and wine, as well as cut flowers and plants. There are even skin care products and hand-knit baby clothes for sale.

Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven, Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven, 45 Day St.

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 Flatbread has not only retained, but also invigorated the old-school candlepin bowling alley. (Candlepin is something of a New England specialty, using smaller balls and pins than 10-pin bowling.) The renovated space has 10 lanes. Shoe rental is $3 a pair and a lane is $30 an hour. After slipping back into your street shoes, grab a table and relax. We suggest the Jay’s Heart flatbread (whole milk mozzarella, parmesan, wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce, and herbs), the Homemade Sausage flatbread, or any of the excellent organic salads. Word to the wise: the airy crust means that two people can easily split one pizza, and sitting too close to the brick oven may be a tad uncomfortable. There’s a full bar and you’ll want to save room for dessert—Sarah’s Chocolate Chip Banana Bread Sundae is recommended.

Orleans
65 Holland St.

Music, trivia, sports, and good food is what you’ll find here. The place hosts Trivia Wednesdays, karaoke, and live music 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 and seasonal cocktails. On the dinner menu are salads, nachos, tacos, burgers, sandwiches, and entrées like buffalo mac ’n’ cheese and steak tips. A popular brunch on weekends allows you to build your own Bloody Mary.

The Boston Shaker
69 Holland St.

Frustrated by the lack of places carrying merchandise needed to make exotic concoctions, cocktail enthusiast Adam Lantheaume opened this shop, and it sells most anything a professional bartender or someone throwing a first cocktail party may need: barware, ceramic tiki mugs, bitters and flavorings, recipe books, and more. Who knew you needed a mini angled measuring cup for the perfect pour or a professional ice-crushing bag? Those bitten by the cocktail bug can find classes and workshops here.

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 has breads, baked goods, and dozens of cheeses: from Cotswold to goat Brie to Reblochon. The sandwiches alone are worth a trip. 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, and mayo), a concoction the staff says “works better than anything else” if you’ve overindulged the night before. A few indoor and outdoor seats are available, but they fill up quickly.

Dave's, Davis Square

Dave’s Fresh Pasta, 81 Holland St.

Rudy’s Café & Tequila Bar
248 Holland St.

There’s nothing pretentious about this casual Tex-Mex restaurant and tequila bar serving up refreshing margaritas (40 plus tequila varieties) and tasty fish tacos. And really, with those staples, what more do you need? Oh, right. Fresh tortilla chips and queso, a customer favorite. You’ll find a great selection of Tex-Mex combo plates, burritos, and enchiladas. Rudy’s is technically 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.

Tenoch Mexican
382 Highland Ave.

This wonderful Mexican restaurant offers a full complement of enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and tortas, a type of Mexican pressed sandwich. It 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 here: there are too many delicious options. You’ll be hard-pressed to get past the appetizers, which include seasoned buttermilk-fried chicken tenders with a red dragon chili sauce and cast iron cornbread with honey butter. On the main menu, you’ll find several unique options, among them a French Kiss pizza (apple, Brie, and balsamic pizza with arugula puree and candied walnuts), a duck burrito, and pork belly tacos. And we haven’t gotten to the beer yet: 40 rotating drafts and more than 60 bottled beers—selections are touted by a mounted chandelier made from various beer taps. Its weekend brunch is also popular: the  Good Morning Davis, a three-egg omelet with spinach, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and cheddar, is served with home fries. The house apple-cinamon donut holes are irresistible, too.

Comicazi, Davis Square, Somerville, MA

Comicazi, 407 Highland Ave.

Comicazi
407 Highland Ave.

Offering vintage toys, graphic novels, and a gaming area in the backroom, this store offers an escape for the comic book lover and the child at heart. Besides kids’ activities, it hosts game nights, manga and sci-fi book clubs, a Pokemon league, and a 21+ “drink and draw” event. Comicazi has been voted Boston’s Best Comic Book store for the last five years. It also manages a YouTube Channel, a gallery of artists’ work, and an independent publishing division, Bad Kids Press.

Davis Squared
409 Highland Ave.

This small gift shop on the quieter side of the square sells fun and witty gifts for adults, children, and the home. Opened in 2007 and independently owned, it has unique and handcrafted items like toys, chocolate, local honey, shea butter soap, and knitwear. There’s an especially good selection of cookbooks and gardening books: Quinoa Revolution for a health nut, and Teeny Tiny Gardening for an apartment-bound friend with gardening dreams would be good choices.

Magpie
314 Highland Ave.

This independently owned gift shop offers “shiny things for your nest” or for someone else’s—if you need to find a housewarming gift, look here. Featuring handmade craft and indie design products by local and regional artists, the store has jewelry, art, cards, stationery, housewares, baby items, cards, and more. Among the finds: brass and copper earrings from Boston-based Glamourpuss Creations, whose materials are sourced from shuttered factories throughout the Northeast.

Pepe Bocca
414 Highland Ave.

Fresh-baked bread, bruschetta, pizza, and cannoli await at this Italian market and restaurant, with its old Italian neighborhood feel and authentic home-cooked dishes like gnocchi, meatballs, and chicken parmigiana, and an impressive selection of Italian cheeses, charcuterie, and Italian desserts. The personable staff makes an effort 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 also offers bread-, pizza-, and gnocchi-making classes.

Mike's, Davis Square

Mike’s Food and Spirits, 9 Davis Square

Mike’s Food and Spirits
9 Davis Square

Want a quick, inexpensive bite before a show at the Somerville Theatre? There is a bit of everything here, from meat lasagna to a chicken parm calzone to a Gorgonzola and walnut salad. There are more than two dozen pizzas, as well as burgers, wraps, and fried seafood dishes. Best of all is the cheap beer—available in a bucket—from Geary’s London Porter to Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Service is a little gruff, but it’s fast.

Boston Burger Company
37 Davis Square

This burger joint, with two others around the Boston area, offers 29 types of creative eight-ounce certified Angus beef burgers, like the Waikiki Beach Burger (grilled pineapple, ham, bacon, and teriyaki), the Bruschetta Burger (tomatoes, provolone, basil, and pesto mayonnaise), and the Mac Attack (topped with homemade four-cheese macaroni and sizzling bacon), which was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Not in the mood for beef? There’s also a veggie burger, a conch burger, chicken sandwiches, boneless wings, chowder, chili, and 13 types of fries. Potato chips and fried pickles are handmade. You’ll want to save room for one of the frappes as well.

Mr. Crêpe
51 Davis Square

This crêperie and café offers breakfast and lunch fare, with crêpes fillings 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 pastries. The large glass windows look out on the square’s center and offer prime people-watching. Be careful not to exceed the 30-minute weekend and lunch table limit for non-crêpe eaters.

Sugidama Soba and Izakaya
260 Elm Street, Suite 106

This izakaya (informal Japanese gastropub) opened in March and has gained a loyal following. The interior features lots of clean wood, a blue-and-white-mosaic-tiled bar, and rustic Japanese-style serving dishes. The soba noodles are made in-house, and are served hot or cold, with bonito broth. The uni soba, topped with raw sea urchin and ikura, or salmon roe, is all the rage, but don’t pass over the non–noodle dishes. Appetizers, like the homemade zaru tofu, soft-shell crab tempura, and harami angus rib eye yakitori, are all delicious. The prices are reasonable, and there are lunch deals, like a soba with salmon sashimi and salmon roe over rice dish or 10 pieces of chef’s choice sushi with miso soup for only $13.

Somerville Theatre, Davis Square

Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square

Somerville Theatre
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), there are five screens for new films and the occasional second-run movie. The theater also hosts long-running productions like The Slutcracker and film festivals like the Boston Sci-Fi Festival. Night owls can opt for the midnight movies. Matinee tickets (before 6 p.m.) are $7, and regular-price 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 did 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) in the theater’s basement.

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 railbed 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, especially 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 to Alewife, and get off at Davis Square. By bus: pick up the #47 bus at the BU Bridge, 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.

Learn about other neighborhoods in the area here. Check out our Davis Square list on Foursquare for more neighborhood tips.

This story originally ran August 24, 2009; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

1 Comments

One Comment on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Davis Square

  • Anonymous on 04.28.2008 at 8:04 am

    I LOVE these articles!! Keep them coming! Where next?

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