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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Dorchester

A guide to shopping, eating, and more in Boston’s largest neighborhood

Encompassing just over six square miles, Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood. It is also arguably the city’s most diverse, as it is home to nearly a quarter of the city’s population, including Irish, Polish, Vietnamese, and African American residents, as well as a large Caribbean and Cape Verdean community. Founded in 1630, months before the establishment of Boston, it is also a place steeped in history.

Dorchester was founded by Puritans who emigrated from Dorchester, England. Their ship, the Mary and John, landed at what’s now known as Columbia Point (also known as Harbor Point) in June 1630. Originally a small, rural community, the town (it wasn’t annexed to Boston until 1870) was the site of many firsts in the nation: America’s first town meeting was held there in 1633 and the Mather Elementary School (still in operation today), the nation’s first free public elementary school, was erected in 1639. And the nation’s first chocolate factory, the Walter Baker Chocolate Factory, was established in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester in 1765. First Parish Dorchester (Unitarian Universalist) is at the pinnacle of Meetinghouse Hill, where the first church structure was built in 1630, and is the oldest religious organization in present-day Boston. And the James Blake House, owned by the Dorchester Historical Society, built in 1661, remains the oldest home in Boston. More recently, Dorchester was home to the country’s first community health center (the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center, originally called the Columbia Point Health Center when it opened in 1965) and the neighborhood’s Vietnamese Community Center was the first of its kind as well.

By the late 19th century, the neighborhood had become a popular place for Boston’s wealthy families to live, the arrival of the streetcar making it possible to easily travel into downtown Boston. Dorchester officially became part of Boston in 1870, and by the early 20th century, immigrants from Ireland, Poland, Canada, and Italy began arriving, followed by a large influx of African Americans who were migrating from the Jim Crow South around the middle of the century.

After a decades-long decline, marked by high crime rates in some sections, Dorchester today is a vibrant community that retains its melting pot reputation. Comprising a number of squares and smaller sections, the neighborhood is easily accessed by the MBTA Red Line and the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line, and, by car, via Interstate 93 (the Southeast Expressway).

Despite being the city’s most densely populated area, it is home to a rich and diverse collection of museums, historical sites, restaurants and boutiques, outdoor trails, and beaches and parks, including the 485-acre Franklin Park, considered to be the crown jewel of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, a series of interconnected parks, which is also home to a world-renowned zoo.

Former residents of Dorchester—or Dot as it is fondly referred to by some locals—read like a who’s who of Boston history and include President John Kennedy’s parents, Joe and Rose; actor Ray Bolger (the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz); Star Trek’s original Spock, Leonard Nimoy; and brothers Donnie and Mark Wahlberg. Martin Luther King Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) called the neighborhood home during much of the time he was a student at BU.

BU Today has compiled a list of some of the best places to explore when you visit. And because Dorchester is so much larger than many of Boston’s other neighborhoods, we’ve organized this story a bit differently than others in our series, grouping places of interest by MBTA stops.

front of John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Columbia Point

JFK/UMass

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Columbia Point

The JFK Presidential Library and Museum opened in 1979 on Columbia Point. The 10-acre site offers sweeping views of Dorchester Bay and is dedicated to the nation’s 35th president, who was assassinated in 1963. The museum is home to several permanent exhibitions, including ones dedicated to Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, his time in the Oval Office, and the NASA space program that he nurtured. Another portrays the Kennedy family, featuring home movies, photographs, and correspondence. One of the most popular permanent exhibits is dedicated to former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. The museum hosts special exhibitions related to the Kennedy family and mid-20th-century America, and is also home to novelist Ernest Hemingway’s archive. The museum houses a café and gift shop. Seniors, college students, youth under 17, and US armed forces veterans receive discounted admission.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate
Columbia Point

Adjacent to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum is the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. Teddy Kennedy was one of the most distinguished members of the US Senate, serving from 1962 until his death in 2009. The 68,000-square-foot institute is dedicated to educating the public about the role of the US Senate in our government and seeks to inspire civic engagement. Visitors will find exhibits about the Senate and educational programs designed to immerse the public in the legislative process. The centerpiece of the building is a full-scale recreation of the Senate Chamber, where guests can become a “Senator-in-training,” casting ballots on some of the current issues before the Senate. A replica of Senator Kennedy’s office and reception area are also on view.

Commonwealth Museum
220 Morrissey Blvd.

Conveniently located across the parking lot from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum is the Commonwealth Museum, which traces the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s unique history. From the first public schools to the first battles for American independence to the first abolitionist newspaper, Massachusetts has always been a leader in the quest for equal rights and opportunities, many of them highlighted here. The museum offers interactive exhibits, such as a “Know Your Rights” trivia game that tests visitors’ knowledge of the Constitution. Be sure to check out the museum’s Treasure Gallery, which is filled with rare manuscripts chronicling the state’s history. Among the highlights are the 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Commonwealth’s original copies of the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence. Both the museum and the archives are free and open to the public.

front of Dorchester Brewing Company

Dorchester Brewing Company, 1250 Massachusetts Ave.

Strand Theatre
543 Columbia Rd.

The Strand Theatre, located in Upham’s Corner, opened in November 1918 and was billed at the time as Dorchester’s million-dollar vaudeville and movie palace. The theatre, which seats approximately 1,800, closed in 1969 due to declining ticket sales. Saved by a group of neighborhood residents and federal and state grants, the building is now owned by the City of Boston and serves as a cultural and educational resource for artists and audiences. Numerous big-name musical and theatrical acts have performed here over the past three decades, including B.B. King, Phish, LL Cool J, and the Broadway musical Ain’t Misbehavin’. The theater is currently home to the Fiddlehead Theatre Company.

Dorchester Brewing Company
1250 Massachusetts Ave.

Billing itself as Boston’s only contract and partner brewing facility, Dorchester Brewing Company opened in July 2016. The state-of-the-art 25,000 square-foot facility provides local craft brewers who don’t have their own large-scale brewery the opportunity and the space to produce, package, store, and sell their beers to the public. The adjoining public taproom offers beers made on the premises, as well as games, Wi-Fi, appetizers, and fresh beer to go. The company was started by several local professionals who loved craft beer and wanted to invigorate Dorchester’s development. There’s outdoor seating in front of the brewery and plenty of seating indoors, including countertop stools in front of large windows overlooking the brewery floor. Note: Dorchester Brewing Co. is closed on Mondays. Click here to see what’s currently on tap.

Sugar Bowl Café
857 Dorchester Ave.

With its bright purple exterior, it’s impossible to miss the Sugar Bowl, the popular ice cream and coffee shop that has become a huge hit with locals and visitors. The interior is a hodgepodge of furniture, accented by marble columns and a tin ceiling. The affordable menu includes breakfast sandwiches, and hot and cold subs and sandwiches, many for under $5. But the café is best known for its ice cream desserts featuring Brigham’s ice cream, a local favorite. Crowds line up outside the door for Sugar Bowl’s famous banana splits, sundaes, root beer floats, raspberry lime rickeys, and frappes.

front of Sugar Bowl

The Sugar Bowl, 857 Dorchester Ave.

The Banshee Pub
934 Dorchester Ave.

The Banshee Pub claims to be the number one bar and restaurant in Boston for watching domestic and European sports. “If your game is being broadcast in North America, then you can rest assured that the Banshee will be showing it,” brags the pub’s website. And with 10 flat-screen televisions and two floors, chances are you’ll find your team, whether it’s a European soccer team or Gaelic football club. You can check to see which games are playing on the Banshee’s calendar. The two-story Irish pub serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner in addition to bar bites and beer. Menu highlights include kale and cabbage dumplings, buffalo chicken tenders, nachos, sandwiches, burgers, flatbread pizzas, and beer battered fish and chips. The pub also offers a weekly Trivia Night on Wednesdays.

224 Boston Street Restaurant
224 Boston St.

224 Boston Street Restaurant prides itself on contemporary American cuisine. The restaurant is open daily, but only for dinner. In addition to salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads, 224 also serves mouthwatering main courses like pan seared scallops with grilled zucchini, corn and smoked bacon risotto, and a watermelon and basil relish; braised pork belly with grits, pork sausage, braised cabbage, and apple salsa; and fettuccine with duck confit, pearl onions, broccoli rabe, Madeira wine, and pecorino. If you still have room for dessert, treat yourself to a piece of Boston cream pie or the restaurant’s famous Death by Chocolate—a chocolate brownie accompanied by hot fudge, vanilla bean ice cream, and whipped cream.

Paraiso Restaurant
750 Dudley St.

This Dominican restaurant, located in the heart of Upham’s Corner, is the latest endeavor of former Holy Cross basketball standout Ramon Gregory Colon. Colon and his mother, Marianela Ceballos, do it all at their restaurant: greeting and seating guests, waiting on tables, washing dishes, cooking, and rushing out to make deliveries. The serve-yourself, buffet-style restaurant offers traditional Dominican cuisine, including stewed meats, empanadas, and bacalao, all at very reasonable prices. The customer service is warm and friendly, as one might expect from a family-run restaurant. And there’s plenty of seating with a front room, reminiscent of a sunroom, and a back room closer to the hubbub of the kitchen.

front of 224 Restaurant

224 Restaurant, 224 Boston St.

Savin Hill

Savin Hill Beach
Bounded by Playstead Road and Morrissey Boulevard

Savin Hill Beach offers much-needed respite for city dwellers on a hot summer day. It is one of three public beaches comprising the Dorchester Shores Reservation. In addition to the beach’s protected swimming area, there are a tot lot and baseball fields. The beach, designed by the famous Olmstead Brothers landscape firm, was one of the most popular beaches in Boston, along with nearby Malibu Beach, until the 1960s, when a lack of upkeep forced patrons to flee. But Savin Hill Beach has been re-sanded and new, upgraded landscaping has been added to the surrounding beachfront area. There are lifeguards on duty during the summer, so swimmers can safely enjoy a dunk to escape the heat.

McKenna’s Café
109 Savin Hill Ave.

McKenna’s Cafe is a true Dorchester original. Opened in 1999 by two longtime Dorchester residents, the restaurant prides itself on its neighborhood spirit, tradition, friendly service, and large portions of excellent food. The café begins serving breakfast at 5:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m. on Sundays) but the breakfast menu is available all day and includes classic fare like omelets, pancakes, French toast, and waffles. The café also serves lunch (no dinner): delicious dishes like chicken Parmesan and pasta, juicy steak tips, crab cake BLT, and a veggie burger. The café also serves traditional Irish breakfast items like Irish sausage and black and white pudding, a nod to the many Irish immigrants who make Dorchester their home. Another popular draw is “Fish Friday,” which offers fried or baked fish, served with coleslaw.

Savin Bar & Kitchen
112 Savin Hill Ave.

Savin Bar & Kitchen is open daily for lunch and dinner, and for brunch on weekends. The popular restaurant underwent extensive renovations several years ago and now boasts oversized windows, plush seating, reclaimed oak, and an open kitchen design. The cocktail menu includes over 20 wines, 20 beers, and 30 tequilas. The restaurant offers daily specials, including $1 oysters on Monday afternoons, trivia on Tuesday nights, and a late-night menu on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights with small plates such as mac and cheese fritters, flatbread pizzas, and chicken tenders.

Savin Hill Beach

Savin Hill Beach, bounded by Playstead Road and Morrissey Boulevard

Banh Mi Ba Le
1052 Dorchester Ave.

Dorchester is home to many of Boston’s finest Vietnamese restaurants, and Banh Mi Ba Le in Savin Hill is one of the best. All of the food here—including lo mein, spring rolls, dumplings, and sticky rice with banana—is prepared fresh in-house and customers can customize their orders to their tastes. Banh Mi Ba Le’s prices are another big draw; many items cost only a few dollars. Be sure to try the fresh-squeezed sugar cane juice and the delectable desserts.

DBar
1236 Dorchester Ave.

DBar is a full-service restaurant that transforms with ease into a nightclub and lounge as the evening progresses. The restaurant, which has a sleek, dark, and moody interior, is open daily for dinner and Sunday brunch. The seasonal menu, which draws on local ingredients where possible, is overseen by noted chef Chris Coombs and includes dishes like tuna ceviche; penne alla Bolognese with veal, beef, and pancetta in a creamy tomato sauce with Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh herbs; and the very popular giannone chicken under a brick—a crispy-skinned organic chicken with mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a mushroom-Madeira jus. The cocktail menu offers everything from orange jalapeno margaritas to espresso martinis to the eatery’s backstreet bourbon, a blend of pomegranate, limoncello, basil, and bourbon. It’s not unusual to see patrons dancing to 1980s hits. DBar’s Showtune Tuesday, a sing-along of Broadway show tunes, has become especially popular.

Restaurante Cesaria
266 Bowdoin St.

Restaurante Cesaria specializes in Cape Verdean cuisine—a fusion of Portuguese and West African cooking. The menu is reasonably priced and includes traditional favorites like fish, quail, canja (a local chicken soup), katchupada (a spicy stew of pork, beans, kale, and hominy), and cabriada (stewed goat). Cesaria’s spacious interior offers ample seating and the staff, most of whom are of Cape Verdean descent, create a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Live music is performed most nights and during Sunday brunch. And the cocktail menu is extensive.

Jerk
310 Bowdoin St.

Jerk, located in Dorchester’s Bowdoin Street neighborhood, takes its name from the Jamaican staple jerk chicken. Food, fun, and a friendly atmosphere converge at this trendy upscale Jamaican restaurant, which showcases traditional Jamaican food like oxtail and curry chicken while incorporating distinct American influences. The cozy dining room has bamboo-covered walls hung with Jamaican artwork. A steady selection of reggae music fills the room. Note: Jerk is closed on Sundays.

Fields Corner

Boston Winery (via #210 bus)
26 Ericsson St.

Boston Winery, founded in 2006 by Italian vintner Ralph Bruno, bills itself as Boston’s only winery. Bruno, who grew up in a family of vintners in Abruzzi, Italy, and later managed a bakery in the North End for several years before venturing into the wine business, takes grapes from California and Europe and puts his own twist on them, creating one-of-a-kind blends. The winery sells its own Boston Winery brand, with a selection of crisp whites and flavorful reds, all made naturally without added sulfites or preservatives. The Italian-inspired winery also offers winemaking tutorials as well as tours and tastings on Saturday afternoons, which are 21+ only. Reservations are recommended, as space is limited.

home.stead bakery & café

home.stead bakery & café, 1448 Dorchester Ave.

Franklin Park Zoo
1 Franklin Park Road

The 72-acre Franklin Park Zoo, nestled inside Boston’s largest city park, 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, home to Masai giraffes; and Serengeti Crossing, four acres of grassland and wooded hills that is home to the zoo’s Grave’s zebras, ostriches, and wildebeests. The zoo, which opened in 1912, is operated by Zoo New England, a private nonprofit committed to conservation. Open year-round and attracting approximately 400,000 visitors annually, Franklin Park Zoo features one of the world’s best indoor gorilla exhibitions as well as a tropical rain forest.

home.stead bakery & café
1448 Dorchester Ave.

Home.stead is an oasis of quiet in the heart of the bustling Field’s Corner neighborhood. Located in the historic Lenane Building, the quaint café serves as both a meeting place for friends to gather and a laid-back setting for those looking to get work done. Open daily for breakfast and lunch, the café offers fresh bagel sandwiches, burritos, and homemade sesame granola, as well as soups, salads, sandwiches, and pressed panini. It’s all delicious, and servers are friendly and helpful. Sandwiches on the menu include the Little Chickpea, made from smashed chickpea salad with avocado, cilantro, and sea salt on toasted seven-grain bread, and the Hot Norwegian, made with smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and Sriracha mayo. There’s ample seating, but home.stead is also a great option for anyone looking to grab a fresh pastry and hot drink to go. A constantly changing array of photographs by local artists decorate the walls and are available for purchase.

Dot Café
1459 Dorchester Ave.

This reasonably priced, unpretentious café, located just steps away from the Field’s Corner MBTA stop, is popular for breakfast and lunch. The menu is small but well curated and portions are generous. Dot Cafe begins serving breakfast daily at 6 a.m. and is open until midafternoon. You’ll find staples like French toast, omelets, pancakes, bagels, and breakfast sandwiches in the morning. Among the popular lunch items are a variety of burgers, hot dogs, sweet and salty pork chops served with rice, a sunny-side up egg served with a side salad, and bot chien, a traditional Vietnamese dish made of a fried rice flour cake served over eggs. The Vietnamese iced coffee and tea are the perfect complement to the café’s more savory dishes. Warning: the lines to get into Dot can be long, so be prepared to wait. You can also order food to go.

Coco Leaf
1480 Dorchester Ave.

Coco Leaf, a Vietnamese dessert and drink shop, is the perfect place to indulge your sweet tooth. The self-described “dessert café” is famous for its ché, traditional sweet Vietnamese beverages that are packed with sweetened beans, tapioca, and fruit. The eponymous ché, the coco leaf, is made from pandan jelly, red and white beans, hot luu, mung beans, coconut milk, coconut meat, and chia seeds. Those who prefer something a little less adventurous can select from Thai iced tea, bubble teas, passion fruit and mixed berry smoothies, or traditional iced coffee. The café also serves a variety of sweet and savory crepes, such as the Trai Cay, which is filled with mango, lychee, pineapple compote, and toasted coconut flakes, topped off with vanilla ice cream, strawberry pocky, and whipped cream.

front of Dorchester Art Project

Dorchester Art Project, 1486 Dorchester Ave.

Dorchester Art Project
1486 Dorchester Ave.

It’s easy to walk past the Dorchester Art Project (DAP); its tiny green door, small sign, and unassuming entryway blend into the street landscape. But inside, the building is humming with the creative energy of local artists creating a range of eclectic art. In addition to housing 14 artists’ studios, DAP also houses a gallery and a performance space, providing a critically needed venue for up-and-coming artists to showcase their work, and outside arts groups can use the space to hold events. DAP also works with local arts organizations and businesses to offer art education programs for youth. You can find a list of current and upcoming events here. Exhibits rotate every six weeks. The gallery is open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment.

The Blarney Stone
1505 Dorchester Ave.

A Dorchester institution for more than 35 years, The Blarney Stone has the distinction of being the first bar in the country to sell draught Guinness. Today the historic bar/restaurant specializes in modern American comfort and bar food such as beer-battered fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, soups, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads, including a trafulo bistecca: sirloin with fried gnocchi, white cheddar and fontina, basil, truffle oil, and a demi-glaze drizzle. The bar serves a variety of wine, beer, and cocktails, including a chile pepper ’rita made from muddled red and green chile peppers, Don Julio tequila, orange liqueur, agave syrup, fresh lime, and orange bitters. The Blarney Stone is open for Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with favorites like huevos rancheros, French toast, and eggs Benedict. The restaurant also hosts trivia night each Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., Taco Tuesdays featuring $2 tacos served from 4 p.m. to closing, and Buck-a-Shuck oysters, served every Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Ashmont

Pierce House
24 Oakton Ave.

Built in 1683, the Pierce House is one of the last surviving examples of 17th-century architecture in Boston. Inhabited by 10 generations of the Pierce family, the house grew and was altered substantially over the years, reflecting changing tastes and building practices. The house became a museum in 1968 after the Pierces sold it to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England. Tour admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2.50 for students, and free for Historic New England members and Boston residents. It’s a must-see for history and architecture buffs.

Ashmont Grill
555 Talbot Ave.

Ashmont Grill has been serving delicious and affordable modern bar food in Peabody Square for more than a decade. Best known for its train wreck French fries—hand-cut fries with melted jack cheese, bacon, jalapenos, and sour cream—and grass-fed burgers, Ashmont Grill also serves up applewood-smoked baby back ribs; pan-seared miso salmon; a homemade pita and hummus dish with olives, whipped red pepper feta, tzatziki, and tomato salad; and a sublime sticky toffee pudding. The restaurant, which attracts a diverse crowd, is open for dinner nightly and serves lunch on Fridays only. They also offer a popular weekend brunch. Check out their dinner, brunch, and Friday lunch menus here.

Tavolo Ristorante and Bar
1918 Dorchester Ave.

This restaurant has become a neighborhood favorite and a go-to Dorchester hot spot for a casual but sophisticated dinner. Located right next to the Ashmont T station, Tavolo offers ample seating, including a large, family-style tavolo (table) at the heart of the eatery. The restaurant serves what it calls “Dorchester Italian” fare, including appetizers like marinated olives, roasted Brussels sprouts with peanuts and honey, house-made Italian sausage, and salumi and formaggi boards. Try one of Tavolo’s famed pizzas; their mushroom pizza is made with whipped ricotta, taleggio, scallion-truffle oil, and rosemary. Or, indulge in classic Italian fare like the tagliatelle Bolognese made from veal, beef, pork, whipped ricotta, and herbs, or the seared veal cutlet, served with caper and Meyer lemon cream, garlic, spinach, and grilled sour dough toast. The drinks menu features an array of craft beers, specialty cocktails, and an impressive wine list. Tavolo also hosts special weekly wine dinners and cicchetti nights.

Pierce House

Pierce House, 24 Oakton Ave.

Blasi’s Café and The Fat Belly Deli
762 Adams St.

This spacious but intimate bar and restaurant is a well-known neighborhood eatery that fuses traditional Italian fare with American bar food. Blasi’s Café, an easy-to-spot corner unit painted green, is popular with locals and visitors alike and offers both eat-in and to-go options. The café serves appetizers like wings, stuffed mushrooms, and bruschetta; soups, salads, and sandwiches with an Italian influence; and entrees including pasta dishes and Italian chicken and seafood plates. At the rear of Blasi’s is the Fat Belly Deli, which serves burgers, subs, sandwiches, salads, and hot entrees and is popular for take-out.

Molinari’s
789 Adams St.

One of Boston’s hottest and newest Italian restaurants, Molinari’s opened in the summer of 2016 in Adams Corner, one of the few businesses in the mostly residential area. Molinari’s is named after Boston native and chef-owner Jeff Cincotta’s grandmother, who grew up just outside of Rome. According to Cincotta, his restaurant is the only one in Dorchester that uses a brick oven to cook authentic Italian cuisine. The specialty pizzas alone are worth the trip. Try the Meat Lover, made with tomato sauce, house-made Italian sausage, pepperoni, hamburger, and caramelized onions, or the Lucca, prepared with Parmesan garlic cream, mozzarella, ricotta, meatballs, and garlic confit. The house-made pastas like the ricotta gnocchi Genovese, featuring hand-crafted gnocchi, pesto, garlic, and cream are also delicious. Even the sandwiches are inspired. Try the Grinder, made with shaved prosciutto, mortadella, salami, imported provolone, house-made pickled Italian peppers, baby lettuce, olive oil, and vinegar.

The Eire Pub
795 Adams St.

The Eire has been a Dorchester fixture for over 50 years. A traditional Irish pub, it’s a popular destination for celebrities and politicians alike, including Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, actor Mark Wahlberg, NHL player Jimmy Hayes, Governor Charlie Baker, and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to name just a few. It originally opened as a “men’s bar,” and the signage still bills itself as such, even though the pub started letting women join the fun in 1984. There are 11 beers on tap and 11 HDTVs. The menu includes classic pub favorites like potato skins, chicken wings, hot pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, hot dogs (still only $1), and burgers. Find a list of the pub’s daily specials here. Note: The Eire Pub is cash only.

Cedar Grove (via the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line)

Pope John Paul II Park Reservation

This 66-acre park is accessible via the Mattapan Trolley, which operates on the high-speed line that runs through Dorchester, Milton, and Mattapan. The park is open year-round, dawn to dusk, on what had once been a landfill and a drive-in movie theater site. In 2001, the area was restored and renovated into a spacious park that offers beautiful views of the Neponset River Estuary. The park includes picnic facilities, soccer fields, play areas, walking paths, a restored salt marsh, and lots of greenery. Visitors have reported seeing snowy egrets and great blue herons, among other wildlife.

Dorchester Park
2180 Dorchester Ave.

Created in 1891, Dorchester Park provides a 30-acre oasis amidst the surrounding urban sprawl. Featuring two ball fields, two tennis courts, a tot lot with swings, and a mini forest with scenic pathways, the park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2008. Although somewhat of a hidden gem, local families and dog owners enjoy the clean, well-maintained park space. The park also hosts seasonal events, including a popular classic car show and family fun day each September.

Lower Mills Tavern

Lower Mills Tavern, 2269 Dorchester Ave.

Lower Mills and Milton (via the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line)

Sweet Life Bakery & Café
2243 Dorchester Ave.

Sweet Life Bakery and Café is, as its name implies, both a restaurant and bustling bakery. There’s no missing the quaint café, which is adorned with a vibrant mural on one of its exterior walls titled “Walter Baker’s Mill, circa 1900.” The impressive menu includes breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch, and, most recently, dinner, which is now offered Thursday through Saturday. Many items are a nod to Dorchester’s Gaelic influence, including the Irish Mixed Grill: pork medallions served with Irish sausage, Irish blood pudding, mash, and beans. The café draws big crowds on weekends. The brunch menu offers a range of classic egg dishes, including several variations of eggs Benedict and build-your-own omelets, pancakes, French toast, sophisticated sandwiches, healthy salads and wraps, and juicy burgers. If you just want to stop in for a coffee and a quick confection, head to the bakery, which serves up treats like cupcakes, cookies, pastries, French macarons, and over six varieties of bread, baked fresh daily.

BRED Gourmet
2255 Dorchester Ave.

This intimate and inventive burger and sandwich joint has a small but creative menu and prices are reasonable. Carnivores will delight in options such as the Maui burger, a grass-fed beef burger topped with grilled pineapple, pepper jack cheese, crispy onions, sweet plantains, grilled ham, and barbeque sauce, served on a potato bun, or the Marley Sandwich, a potato bun stuffed with jerk chicken breast, romaine lettuce, red onion, grilled bell pepper medley, habanero pepper jack, and Scotch bonnet relish. Vegetarians have plenty to choose from as well, including the BRED Veggie, a sweet potato veggie burger topped with goat cheese, sliced apples, mixed greens, and fig spread, served on a whole wheat bun, or one of the eatery’s salads. Sides like Parmesan truffle fries, sweet potato fries with cinnamon, and grilled asparagus can be paired with any meal. Order a smoothie like the Tom Brady, made from strawberry, banana, raspberry, coconut, and almond milk to wash it all down.

ester
2261 Dorchester Ave.

This unique eatery is dedicated to fresh, local food. And when we say local, we mean really local. Much of the produce is grown on the restaurant’s roof and carried down a ladder that leads straight to the kitchen. Ester serves lunch, afternoon snacks, and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and has a separate menu for Sunday, when they offer brunch, supper, and an evening pub menu. Located in the heart of Lower Mills, ester offers seasonal modern American fusion cuisine, including snacks like truffle goat cheese croquettes, appetizers like patatas bravas, served with roasted garlic aioli, sides like pickled ester vegetables, and entrees like grilled swordfish served with cucumber sour cream, fingerling potatoes, and seasonal rooftop veggies. The restaurant has a full bar with an extensive wine list, and hosts events like Wednesday night trivia and live music Fridays March through May. Patrons can dine inside or on the large outdoor patio during warm weather. Note: ester is closed Mondays.

Steel & Rye

Steel & Rye, 95 Eliot St., Milton

Cake Pops Boston
2267 Dorchester Ave.

This tiny confectionary boutique is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth. The whimsical cake pops—balls of cake that has been fully cooked, crumbed, and mixed with buttercream icing and then dipped in a chocolate or candy coating—start at $2 for “everyday flavors” like chocolate, cookies and cream, sweet cream, and red velvet, and rise in price for rotating flavors, which include maple bacon, cinnamon toast crunch, Meyer lemon, and cappuccino. Cake pops can also be made to order as a fun gift or unique centerpiece for events and parties and customized to color, theme, or flower as well as holidays, people, animals, bugs…they’ve even done vegetables. The shop has also begun offering candies and chocolates.

Lower Mills Tavern
2269 Dorchester Ave.

Named one of the Boston Globe’s Best New Restaurants of 2016, Lower Mills Tavern has already developed a loyal clientele. The tavern, which serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, was purchased by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys in late 2015 and completely revamped. Today the hot spot, which is especially popular for dinner and drinks, offers a range of options from pizzas to sandwiches and salads to plates like Guinness beef stew, made with carrot, onion, potato, and peas and served with puff pastry. There’s also a delicious Israeli couscous, which comes topped with seared Brussels sprouts, garlic spinach, feta, artichoke hearts, and Kalamata olives. The tavern boasts an impressive drink menu, including nearly 100 whiskeys, more than 50 beers and ciders (including 10 on tap), a small but distinguished wine list, and several craft cocktails, including Autumn’s Redemption, which is made from apple brandy, whiskey, sweet vermouth, Campari, and Becherovka—perfect for taking the chill off a cold night.

The Ice Creamsmith
2295 Dorchester Ave.

Founded in 1976, the Ice Creamsmith has become a neighborhood staple, famous for its homemade ice cream, produced in small batches. The quaint shop serves over 10 flavors, including staples like sweet cream, mocha, chocolate chip, and strawberry, as well as a number of special monthly flavors. Over a dozen “mixin’s,” including cookies, coconut, jelly beans, and chocolate covered raisins can be mixed into any order. The Ice Creamsmith also offers a selection of frozen yogurt and dairy-free sorbets, and a variety of treats and beverages like old-fashioned banana splits, cream sodas, and floats, as well as ice cream cakes, pies, and cupcakes. Note: The Ice Creamsmith is cash only.

Flat Black Coffee Company
1906 Dorchester Ave.

Flat Black Coffee Company boasts that it is Boston’s “largest independently owned roaster, retailer, and wholesaler of specialty coffees.” The Lower Mills store, which opened in 2003, was the first location for the chain (they now have six espresso bars in the Boston area). The company’s name comes from the Australian term for an Americano, and Flat Back is dedicated to serving high-quality, single-origin coffees in the spirit of Australia’s thriving coffee culture. The yellow walls and cozy interior, decorated with coffee sacks, old-fashioned coffee grinders, and a coffee tree, has a distinctly “down under” vibe that will transport you to the outback. The coffee bar offers a variety of teas and coffees from Africa, Central and South America, and the Pacific Rim.

Steel & Rye
95 Eliot St., Milton

Steeped in the spirit of Americana, Steel & Rye is an award-winning restaurant and bar that opened in 2012. The restaurant is open for dinner and weekend brunch only. The spacious dining room serves modern American cuisine with a twist, including wood-fired pizzas, house-made pasta, and seasonal entrees like butter-roasted salmon with baked parsnips; green grapes in a lobster–brown butter emulsion; and buttermilk fried chicken with creamy polenta, kale, tasso ham, and red eye gravy. The large bar offers a generous selection of beers, wines, and craft cocktails. We recommend trying the Hands of Bianca, made from rum, cucumber, lime, and apple mint vermouth. Reservations are recommended, but not required.

Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Dorchester neighborhood.

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