Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Inman Square
Eating, shopping, and hanging out in an often-overlooked Cambridge square
This story originally ran November 5, 2009; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.
Off the T’s beaten track, Cambridge’s Inman Square is something of a hidden gem. Unlike the city’s more famous squares—Harvard, Central, and Kendall—you can’t get there directly by subway, although several MBTA buses pass through. A culturally diverse East Cambridge neighborhood, at the junction of Cambridge and Hampshire streets, Inman Square is a treasure trove of multicolored storefronts and restaurants. Likely named for Ralph Inman, a wealthy 18th-century Boston merchant, the square today is home to professionals, working people, and students from nearby MIT and Harvard. With strong Brazilian and Portuguese influences, the neighborhood has a vibrant flair.
School of Groove
535 Cambridge St.
Once upon a time, music lessons were confined to living rooms, the piano was the instrument, and performances took place in stuffy recital halls. Classically trained violinist Chris Vuk bucked this tradition by opening a music school a few blocks east of the square. At School of Groove students of all ages play anything from Beethoven to Zeppelin. Study is available in rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, classical, Latin, gospel, and world music. Recitals take place at local clubs and festivals.
Hub Bicycle Company
1064 Cambridge St.
Hub Bicycle Company draws bike fanatics from all over Massachusetts, and the reason is the shop’s friendly, knowledgeable staff. They love bikes—selling them, fixing them, riding them, even just talking about them. Hub offers a full range of repair services—from fixing a flat tire to full conversions (just in case you want that mountain bike you got for Christmas to be a commuting street bike). The shop also offers monthly clinics in basic bike maintenance, as well as more advanced one-on-one bike tutoring classes. And it provides free estimates before performing any work. So, if you have any problems with, or questions about, your bike, Hub is the place to go. Just remember that it is closed Sundays—that’s bike riding day for the staff.
1124 Cambridge St.
Carnivores rejoice at Midwest Grill, a Brazilian barbecue spot that offers an all-you-can-eat rodízio. Waiters deliver skewers of various meats to each table, encouraging patrons to eat as many slices of tender beef, chicken, lamb, pork, and sausage as their stomachs can hold. The price of the meal also includes unlimited trips to hot and cold buffet tables, which feature smoky black beans with pig’s feet, roasted vegetables, and various salads.
1200 Cambridge St.
The oldest Portuguese restaurant in the Boston area, Casa Portugal has been serving authentic dishes since 1976. Specializing in meat and seafood, the restaurant offers fresh clams, fried steak, and grilled squid. The portions are large, and the traditional Portuguese fries served with most entrees are crispy and delicious. An extensive wine list complements the menu.
All Star Sandwich Bar
1245 Cambridge St.
Anyone can stuff meat and cheese between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich. But at the All Star Sandwich Bar, the cooks make it their specialty. The bread is wholesome, the ingredients fresh, and the sandwiches big and flavorful. One of the most popular items is the Gobbler, a roast turkey sandwich with apple-sausage stuffing, orange-cranberry relish, mayonnaise, and gravy. For vegetarians, there’s the Veggie Cubano, with grilled eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, mushrooms, peppers, and red onions, with Mango Mojo May Dressing, pickles, and Swiss cheese. All sandwiches are served with coleslaw and a pickle. There is also an impressive selection of sides, including Canadian-style poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds).
Christina’s Ice Cream
1255 Cambridge St.
For a sweet finish, swing by Christina’s Ice Cream and choose from dozens of homemade varieties. While the chocolate and vanilla are popular, the real draw is the shop’s uncommon flavors, like adzuki bean, ginger molasses, honey lavender, and licorice. Seasonal offerings such as fresh rose and fresh mint help beat the summer heat, while eggnog and peppermint stick are wintertime favorites. The shop also sells sorbets and hard frozen yogurts.
Christina’s Spice and Specialty Store
1255 Cambridge St.
Next door to the ice cream shop, you’ll find Christina’s Spice and Specialty Store, which carries exotic flavors from around the world. A whiff of the more than 250 spices and seasonings will bring out the inner chef in even the most reluctant cook. Walls are lined with exotic seasonings, including grains of paradise, black cardamom, and rare Galangal spices. Be sure to check out the dried chilies, including the ají amarillo from Peru and the Indian ghost chili—reputedly the hottest chili in the world. The prices are reasonable and the staff is knowledgeable.
East Coast Grill
1271 Cambridge St.
One of greater Boston’s most prized restaurants, East Coast Grill has been a neighborhood fixture since 1985. One bite of the North Carolina–style shredded pork, and you’ll understand why Chef Jason Heard’s inventive approach to seafood and barbecue has won national acclaim. In addition to traditional Southern barbecue fare, the restaurant serves raw shellfish and a variety of native fish dishes, including New England–style fried haddock. For masochists, East Coast Grill offers Hell Night—the hottest ticket in town—several times a year. Spicy-food lovers can order special items like Wings of Ass Destruction, Satan’s Soy, and Szechuan Chile–Braised Pork Shank, all fueled by East Coast’s original Inner Beauty Hot Sauce. For drinks at Hell Night, we recommend the Guillotine Gibson Hell ’Tini or the Bloody Mary (with extra Tabasco sauce). You will feel pain, but the restaurant’s relaxed, welcoming environment will cool you down. Hell Night requires reservations well in advance.
1281 Cambridge St.
With over 150 beers and a full bar that would have satisfied even the legendary writer (and drinker) Charles Bukowski, Bukowski Tavern boasts brews so obscure they aren’t even pronounceable. Local craft beers are well represented also. A modest menu tries to hold its own against the impressive beer list and includes staples like sandwiches and fries, as well as a surprisingly good chili dog and a chunky peanut butter burger. The front opens onto the sidewalk in good weather, combining bar and street to form a nice ambiance. Note: credit cards are not accepted, but there is an ATM in the back, past the murals of Bukowski and near a wheel you can spin to choose your next beer if you’re too overwhelmed to make the choice yourself.
1287 Cambridge St
If you’re partial to Asian cuisine, try Ginger Exchange, which features Japanese, Thai, Korean, and Vietnamese food. Specializing in sushi and vegetarian, the restaurant offers healthy food at a reasonable price. It also has happy hours Monday through Saturday, offering discounted bar food and cheap drafts. Don’t feel like going out? Ginger Exchange delivers as well.
1309 Cambridge St.
While the ornate crystal chandeliers may be the first things that grab your attention, it’s Boutique Fabulous’ vast selection of funky furniture, housewares, kitchenwares, art, clothing, jewelry, and accessories that will keep you coming back. Owner Mara Kustra handpicks every item. The store sells vintage clothing—dresses, jackets, hats, shoes, and patchwork bell-bottoms—and new items, such as organic soaps and lotions, jewelry by local artists, Cambridge and Somerville T-shirts, magnets, and note cards.
S & S Restaurant and Deli
1334 Cambridge St.
This Inman Square institution is always crowded, so expect to wait. Once you taste the food, you’ll know why. S & S is the closest thing to a New York–style deli anywhere around Boston. In 1919, Ma Edelstein welcomed the first customers to her Cambridge deli by encouraging them to “es and es”—a Yiddish phrase for “eat and eat.” Her words inspired the name for what became the S & S Restaurant and Deli, now much expanded. Someone from the family still shows up every day to run the bustling eatery. The menu includes traditional dishes, from the house-favorite Reuben, piled with extra-lean corned beef and served on marble rye, to a thick New York–style potato knish and hearty matzo-ball soup. Take-out and catering are also available.
The Lily Pad
1353 Cambridge St
Combining beer, wine, gumbo, and the arts into one venue, the Lily Pad provides visitors the opportunity to take in performances while socializing with other art-lovers. Concertgoers know the Lily Pad for its quaint, close setting and beautiful acoustics. The Lily Pad typically features jazz groups, but has also hosted artists such as Arcade Fire.
1357 Cambridge St.
Located in the oldest wooden mercantile building in Cambridge, the Druid is a popular neighborhood Irish bar that offers good beer, and by Irish pub standards, even better food. Regional brews such as Berkshire Steel Rail Pale Ale and Long Trail Double Pack taste great with the bar’s hearty food, but of course there’s always Guinness. Try the shepherd’s pie, the homemade veggie burger with fries, or the fish and chips. Live Irish music, sessions-style (no stage, players gathering in a corner), is performed every Tuesday night and Saturday afternoon, and a traditional Irish brunch is served on Sunday.
1360 Cambridge St.
Now owned by Richard Henry (CAS’75, GSM’77), Stellabella Toys has provided innovative and educational toys since the 1980s. You’ll find the basics—stuffed animals, dolls, books, games, and puzzles—along with musical instruments, art supplies, and nature projects. Even adults will delight in the large wooden train set in the center of the store. At the back is a room for playgroups, storytelling, and music classes, with a free self-service gift-wrapping station.
1369 Coffee House
1369 Cambridge St.
Inman Square is one of the few major commercial centers in Cambridge that does not have at least one Starbucks. Residents seeking a hot cup o’ joe go to 1369 Coffee House, a charming independent shop that was formerly a jazz club where Berklee students aired improvisations. Now, the baristas brew two dozen varieties of coffee from around the world, as well as dozens of types of fine loose-leaf teas, and often there’s a visual improv, designs drawn in your latte foam. Lunch consists of homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, and quiche, and the bakery case has a selection of cakes, pies, cookies, and shortbread.
Broadway Bicycle School
Although it’s a bit of a walk from Inman Square, the Broadway Bicycle School is worth a trip. Established in 1972, this collectively owned full-service bicycle repair shop sells new and used bikes, parts, and accessories and offers classes on bicycle repair. While the brand selection isn’t huge—the shop sells mostly Marin’s—there is an inventory of new and reconditioned city-style hybrid and mountain bikes, street bikes, and commuter bikes. Customers who want to do their own bike repairs can borrow tools and work space for a small fee.
Olé Mexican Grill
11 Springfield St.
Nestled in a quiet side street, this bustling Mexican restaurant is anything but ordinary. The guacamole couldn’t be fresher—waiters pound fragrant avocados at your table—and the pitchers of sangria couldn’t be fruitier. Try the tender pork ribs slow-cooked in banana leaves or the pan-seared sea bass with red bell pepper sauce. If you don’t have time to wait for your food, run across the street to Olécito, the restaurant’s take-out kitchen.
186½ Hampshire St.
Outpost 186 is the place to go for art and multimedia exhibitions and performances of every stripe in Inman Square. The intimate space hosts a variety of musical performances, from jazz to experimental and improvisational music. Outpost also holds poetry readings and film screenings in addition to occasional art exhibitions and drawing classes. There is something going on almost every day of the week, so be sure to check out the schedule to see what’s happening. The space can also be rented during the day for meetings, film shoots, and theatrical rehearsals.
Ryles Jazz Club
212 Hampshire St.
Since 1919, Ryles Jazz Club has kept Cambridge residents plugged into the local jazz scene. Performers have included national headliners such as Pat Metheny, Arturo Sandoval, McCoy Tyner, Maynard Ferguson, Jon Hendricks, Jon Faddis, and Nestor Torres, as well as local talent. Upstairs, Ryles Dance Hall hosts weekly salsa, merengue, ballroom, and swing dance lessons. The music is the thing, but the first floor features numerous domestic and imported beers and a late-night menu. The club’s popular Sunday jazz brunch combines good food with favorite local acts.
Punjabi Dhaba Indian Café
225 Hampshire St.
Modeled after dhabas—highway truck stops in India that serve inexpensive street food and snacks—the hole-in-the-wall Punjabi Dhaba Indian Café lives up to its name by offering ridiculously cheap dishes. Try to ignore the blaring Bollywood music and the clanging of steel plates and focus on the fresh, flavorful food.
243 Hampshire St.
Stressed out? Tense? Soak it up at Inman Oasis. With over a dozen therapists on staff, this spa offers a wide range of massages, including Swedish, deep tissue, prenatal, and neuromuscular, as well as Shiatsu and Thai massages. The facilities include two private hot tub rooms, a five-foot Jarrah wood Japanese soaking tub, and a seven-foot fiberglass tub with 51 jets. There is also an eight-foot teak wooden “community tub” that holds up to eight of your best friends.
243 Hampshire St.
A must for anyone with a sweet tooth, this bakery is the site of the original Legal Sea Foods restaurant. Rosie’s has earned a well-deserved reputation for its cakes, cookies, and brownies. All of the desserts are made with creamery butter, real chocolate, fresh cream, unbleached flour, whole eggs, pure cane sugar, and fresh fruit and nuts. Don’t leave without trying the fresh fruit tart or the Boom Booms, chocolate brownies swirled with cream cheese filling.
The three places below are technically in Somerville, not Inman Square. But most Inman Square residents count them as their own, so we include them here.
The Thirsty Scholar
70 Beacon St., Somerville
Not much studying goes on at the Thirsty Scholar, now famous for its appearance in the opening scene of David Fincher’s Oscar-winning film The Social Network. The Irish pub’s main draw is its extensive beer selection, although the food should not be overlooked. Beer-battered fish and chips is a staple, and the Irish bangers and mash aren’t bad. If you’re feeling bookish, you can peruse its collection of National Geographic magazines while munching on your Scholar Burger.
Wine & Cheese Cask
407 Washington St., Somerville
This is one of the best wine and cheese shops anywhere. We all know there’s more to a bottle of wine than a pretty label, and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish the diamonds from the duds. But the knowledgeable staff at Wine & Cheese Cask will steer confused customers to the best chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot. While the store carries wines from the Loire, Burgundy, Spain, and Italy, it tends to emphasize style and character more than regions or countries. An expansive cheese and meat assortment rounds out the selection and makes the store a one-stop destination when entertaining.
Dalí Restaurant and Tapas Bar
415 Washington St., Somerville
With its burnished copper ceilings, Iberian tiles, and cozy mahogany nooks, Dalí Restaurant and Tapas Bar (10 minutes by foot from the heart of the square) is one of Cambridge’s most romantic dining destinations. The sangria, sherry, and Rioja all flow freely, and the extensive and delicious tapas offerings—venison sausage with pomegranate sauce, braised rabbit with red wine, juniper berries, and garlic—are ideal for sharing. For a main course, try the sea bass baked in a crust of salt or paella for two. Dalí is the perfect place to impress a first date or rekindle an old flame. This is a true neighborhood haunt—you won’t find many tourists here.
Getting there: Whether you take the subway or a bus to Inman Square, you’ll have to walk a bit, more so on weekends. Weekdays, the CT2 commuter bus, which stops in South Campus and in front of the BU Academy, goes directly to the area, but runs only during business hours. Other times and days, take the #47 bus to Central Square and turn onto Prospect Street at Massachusetts Avenue. Walk about 15 minutes until you hit Cambridge Street. Or take the Green Line inbound to Park Street and transfer to the Red Line outbound toward Alewife. Get off at the Central Square stop. At Massachusetts Avenue, turn onto Prospect Street and walk about 15 minutes to Cambridge Street. Three MBTA bus lines (69, 83, 91) also stop in Inman Square.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Inman Square area.
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