BU Today

Campus Life

Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Inman Square

Eating, shopping, hanging out in an often-overlooked Cambridge square

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, but several MBTA buses pass through. At the junction of Cambridge and Hampshire streets, the culturally diverse East Cambridge neighborhood 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.

Midwest Grill
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 meal price includes unlimited trips to hot and cold buffet tables, featuring smoky black beans with pig’s feet, roasted vegetables, and various salads.

Casa Portugal
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, it has fresh clams, fried steak, and grilled squid. The portions are large, and the traditional Portuguese fries served with most entrées 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 here 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—mojo-marinated grilled eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, portobello mushrooms, Swiss cheese, and sliced dill pickle, with yellow Dijon mustard and cilantro aioli. All sandwiches come 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 Homemade Ice Cream
1255 Cambridge St.

For a sweet finish, swing by Christina’s and choose from dozens of varieties, all made from scratch. While the chocolate and vanilla are popular, the real draw are the uncommon flavors, like adzuki bean, ginger molasses, and the staple: green tea. 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 offers a rotating list of seasonal sorbets.

Dishes at Highland Fried restaurant, Inman Square, Cambridge, MA

Highland Fried, 1271 Cambridge St. Photo by Chynna Benson (CGS’18, COM’20)

Highland Fried
1271 Cambridge St.

Fans of the old East Coast Grill mourned its closing, but the new eatery in its place is equally good. Run by the same team behind Somerville’s popular Highland Kitchen, Highland Fried serves up fried chicken, biscuits, and barbecue (pit-smoked chicken, beef brisket, pulled pork) in a way that brings American comfort food to a new level. Its tiki bar has an elaborate cocktail menu, from Mai Tais to scorpion bowls. The back lounge sports a pool table, jukebox, and games. The best part? You don’t have to wait for a table—Highland Fried takes reservations.

Christina’s Spice and Specialty Store
1255 Cambridge St.

You’ll find this place, which carries exotic flavors from around the world, just down the block from Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream. 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. 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 extremely knowledgeable.

Spices displayed on a shelf at Christina's Spice and Specialty Store in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA

Christina’s Spice and Specialty Foods, 1297 Cambridge St. Photo by Chynna Benson (CGS’18, COM’20)

Bukowski Tavern
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 with staples like sandwiches and fries, a surprisingly good chili dog, and an unusual array of burgers (chunky peanut butter burger or the cauliflower burger) tries to hold its own against the impressive beer list. The front opens onto the sidewalk in good weather, combining bar and street for a nice ambience. 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. The tavern is 21+ only.

Ginger Exchange
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 fare, it offers healthy food at a reasonable price and has daily happy hour specials, with discounted bar food and cheap drafts, and nightly specials, such as WOW Wing Wednesdays (75 cent wings).

S&S Restaurant and Deli
1334 Cambridge St.

This Inman Square institution is always crowded. Once you taste the food, you’ll know why. S&S is the closest thing to a New York–style deli 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,” inspiring the name for what became the S&S, 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. Takeout and catering are also available.

Yarn and textile materials displayed on the floor of Gather Here store in Inman Square, Cambridge, MA

Gather here, 1343 Cambridge St. Photo by Chynna Benson (CGS’18, COM’20)

gather here
1343 Cambridge St.

Part sewing studio, part fabric and yarn shop, gather here bills itself as “Cambridge’s only stitch lounge.” The knowledgeable staff will help even the most inexperienced crafter make something unique. The store offers workshops in DIY crafts, sewing, knitting, and more. Find information about classes here. In-house sewing machine service is also available.

The Lily Pad
1353 Cambridge St

This artist-run performance space and music venue is known for its avant-garde music and art. Visitors can take in performances while socializing with other art-lovers and sipping on wine, hard cider, beer, or soft drinks. Concertgoers love it for its quaint, intimate setting and beautiful acoustics. Typically featuring jazz groups, it has also hosted artists such as Arcade Fire. Check out the calendar for upcoming events. Also offered are piano lessons and classes in baby music and yoga.

The Druid
1357 Cambridge St.

The Druid, in the oldest wooden mercantile building in Cambridge, 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 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.

neighborhoods near Boston University, Inman Square

1369 Coffee House, 1369 Cambridge St.

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 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 design 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
351 Broadway

Although it’s a bit of a walk from Inman Square, 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 bikes—there is an inventory of new and reconditioned city-style hybrid and mountain bikes, street bikes, and commuter bikes. They also sell Brompton bikes, a folding bike suited for apartment dwellers. You can rent bikes ($30 daily, $120 weekly) and they’ll give you a free estimate before doing any repair work. Repairing a flat takes only 15 minutes and $19.

Broadway Bicycle School,

Broadway Bicycle School, 351 Broadway

Olé Mexican Grill
11 Springfield St.

This bustling Mexican restaurant on a quiet side street is anything but ordinary. The guacamole couldn’t be fresher—waiters slice and mash fragrant avocados at your table—and the pitchers of sangria couldn’t be fruitier. Try the slow-cooked pork carnitas or pan-seared marinated duck breast with mole Maria. The restaurant also offers takeout.

Outpost 186
186½ Hampshire St.

Outpost 186 is the place to go for art and multimedia exhibitions and performances. The intimate space hosts a variety of musical performances, from jazz to experimental and improvisational music. Also offered are poetry readings, film screenings, and occasional art exhibitions and life drawing classes. There is something going on almost every day of the week, so check out the schedule. 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, bachata, and kizomba lessons. The music is the thing, but the first floor serves numerous domestic and imported beers and a late-night menu. The 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 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.

Moona
243 Hampshire St.

With its sleek, eye-catching design, Moona is one of those restaurants that makes an impression the moment you step in. The classic eastern Mediterranean menu includes numerous “mezza,” or small-plate, options for sharing with friends, as well as entrées like lamb shish kebob and grilled whole fish. In the mood for brunch? Moona has that too. Try the Arabic breakfast (labneh, jam, soft-boiled egg, cucumbers, and tomatoes).

Exterior of Moona middle eastern restaurant on Hampshire Street, Inman Square, Cambridge, MA

Moona, 243 Hampshire St. Photo by Chynna Benson (CGS’18, COM’20)

Inman Oasis
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. 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 seven people.

The four places below are technically in Somerville, not Inman Square. But most Inman Square residents count them as their own, so we include them here.

Cambridge Arts Academy
111 South St., Somerville

Formerly known as School of Groove, this music school relocated from just east of Inman Square to its current spot and was rechristened as Cambridge Arts Academy. The school offers classes in guitar, bass, drums, piano, voice, and saxophone/woodwinds, and accepts students of all ages and levels interested in playing composers from Beethoven to Zeppelin. Students can pursue rock, jazz, pop, hip-hop, classical, Latin, gospel, and world music. Unsure about whether this is the right place for you? The first 30-minute lesson is half off, just $20. And there’s no semester minimum or contract.

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 craft beer selection, although the food is not to be overlooked. Beer-battered fish and chips is a staple, and the Irish bangers and mash aren’t bad either. If you’re feeling bookish, you can peruse its collection of National Geographic magazines while munching on your Scholar Burger. Lunch is served Friday through Sunday and a popular traditional Irish breakfast on Sundays. The 11 TVs make the pub a popular destination for sports fans on weeknights and Sundays.

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 will steer confused customers to the best chardonnay, cabernet, and merlot. The store also picks four great-value “Wines of the Month,” each coming in at under $10. 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 & Tapas Bar (10 minutes by foot from the heart of the square) is one of the area’s most romantic dining destinations. The sangria, sherry, and Rioja all flow freely, and the extensive and delicious tapas offerings—grilled Spanish sausage, beef short ribs in Rioja wine sauce, fresh scallops marinated in citrus and salsa—are ideal for sharing. For a main course, try the signature fresh whole fish baked in coarse salt. It’s memorable. Dalí is the 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.

Explore other neighborhoods around Boston here.

This story originally ran November 5, 2009; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.