Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Davis Square
Eating, shopping, and hanging out in one of the 10 hippest places in America
Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Davis Square
Eating, shopping, and hanging out in one of the Boston area’s hippest spots
The city of Somerville has undergone a major transformation in the past 40 years. It was once a strictly blue-collar community of triple-deckers, but housing prices have soared, especially with plans for an extension of the MBTA Green Line. Nowhere are its changing fortunes more apparent than in Davis Square, in the northwest section. The square abuts the Powder House Square, Porter Square, and Spring Hill neighborhoods, and is a stone’s throw from Magoun Square and Tufts University. Easily accessible on the Red Line, Davis Square is one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods, filled with sleek bars, restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisine options, and a thriving cultural scene.
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 back to 1850, when wealthy grain dealer Preston Davis first strode into town and built an estate near the intersection of Elm and Grove.
No matter where on the timeline your finger stops, Davis Square is now a crackling ball of artistic, entrepreneurial, and culinary energy, with a blend of mom-and-pop shops, 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.
Davis Square Donuts and Bagels
377 Summer St.
Opened in 2017 and a local favorite, Davis Square Donuts and Bagels has a loyal clientele devoted to its hand-crafted bagels and donuts. You’ll find traditional bagels like plain, sesame, and poppy seed, and more unusual varieties like jalapeño cheddar. Ditto for the donuts: they serve up old fashioned, glazed, and jelly donuts, alongside more adventurous choices, like the Somerville Cream (marshmallow Fluff whipped with strawberry cream cheese, topped with graham crackers), Fruity Pebbles, and peanut butter and jelly. The shop also offers a variety of specialty sandwiches, egg sandwiches, and deli sandwiches (including a delicious DSDB Cubano with ham, chorizo, mustard, pickles, and swiss cheese on a plain bagel). On-the-run caffeine fanatics will want to check out the coffee combos, pairing Peet’s Coffee with egg sandwiches, bagels, or donuts.
Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar
381 Summer St.
Formerly a diner, this neighborhood landmark was revamped in 2014 by restaurateur Joe Cassinelli, who created a new atmosphere and a revised menu featuring comfort food from across the country, like chicken and waffles, pork shoulder rigatoni, mushroom bolognese, grilled pork chops, and shrimp fritters. Rosebud’s menu also puts an emphasis on savory appetizers, like Atomic BT’s (roasted jalapenos stuffed with cream cheese and pulled pork, all wrapped in bacon and served with house BBQ sauce). Save room for dessert because Rosebud offers their signature Rosebud milkshakes and a delicious deep dish cookie skillet. The restaurant is renowned for its inventive cocktail list, from classics like mint juleps to creative concoctions like the Lunch Car #773 (New Amsterdam Gin, lemon, and lavender), a tribute to the old Rosebud. The non-alcoholic lime rickeys and lemon lavender fizzes are pretty tasty, too. It’s open daily for brunch and dinner. Be sure to check out the half-price appetizers at the bar, served Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 pm. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating.
187 Elm St.
This wood-fired Italian restaurant’s classic 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 and gnocchi with braised beef short ribs in a red wine sauce. Dishes are prepared with Posto’s own fiore di latte mozzarella cheese, made fresh daily. The wood-burning oven makes for a cozy setting in winter, and in warm weather, the glass doors open onto the sidewalk and diners can eat outside.
Out of the Blue
215 Elm St.
For large portions of Italian-style seafood dishes at reasonable prices in a relaxed atmosphere, choose this eatery. Its most popular dishes are fried scallops with french fries, onion rings, and coleslaw 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 area’s parking shortage.
The Painted Burro
219 Elm St.
This gem celebrates the diverse cuisines of Latin America, with more than 100 craft tequilas (try the Spicy El Diablo, with jalapeño-infused tequila). Its seasonal menu has a modern twist on traditional Mexican street food. Chow down on the roasted carrot enchiladas (carrots, kale, raisins, raja, cilantro, tres quesos, carrot and guajillo mole, pepitas, cilantro, and cotija) or one of the eight innovative taco choices, like the short rib “double stack,” with crunchy and soft tortillas, tres quesos, red wine, Mexican cola mole, cotija, and shredded napa cabbage. It’s also great for a weekend brunch (like thick-cut French toast with caramelized plantains and a morning taco plate).
Caramel French Patisserie
235 Elm St.
Can you find an authentic French patisserie in the heart of Davis Square? The answer is oui. This beautiful patisserie features an elegant interior serving up a rotating menu of delectable French treats. Indulge in classics such as the buttery croissants (customers rave about the almond) and French baguettes. The menu also features beautifully decorated mousse cakes and a mouth-watering selection of macaroons. Try the classics pistachio and chocolate. Be sure to arrive early: Caramel sells out in record time.
Kung Fu Tea
237 Elm St.
Specializing in made-to-order milk tea beverages, Kung Fu Tea offers a variety of hard-to-resist beverages. Try their best-selling signature milk tea, a blend of Earl Gray tea, cane sugar, and milk powder. Not a fan of milk tea? The shop also sells mango green tea, honey oolong tea, even strawberry slush tea. Check out their signature Milk Strike beverages, which are tea flavors paired with freshly cooked Wow bubbles—tapioca balls cooked in brown sugar—and lactose-free milk. The Oreo Wow is a fan favorite.
237 Elm St.
Sligo proclaims that it’s the “last dive bar in Somerville.” It’s cramped, the tables can be sticky, and it sometimes smells of stale beer, but the drinks are cheap and the bartenders are among the friendliest in the neighborhood. Some tips from the regulars: Sligo doesn’t serve food, and the bar is cash only.
238 Elm St.
“Cash for fashion!” advertises this store, where clothing and accessories can be bought, sold, and traded. It’s like a Goodwill store, but more selective; be prepared for your offerings to be scrutinized—less-desirable items wind up in the reject pile. You can choose cash or trade for items in the store, which has men’s and women’s clothing for all seasons and an array of shoes, boots, jewelry, sunglasses, and other accessories. The store pays 25 percent of the selling price in cash or PayPal, or 50 percent in a Digital Trade Card, and they’re always on the lookout for plus sizes, menswear, everyday clothing, T-shirts and button-ups, dresses, shoes, sweaters and jackets, shorts and skirts, designer wear, vintage, jewelry, costumes, and athletic wear.
247 Elm St.
Named for a bleak, scarred limestone plateau in County Clare, Ireland, this authentic Irish bar offers live Irish music—folk, jazz, and traditional songs—seven nights a week, along with Stump Trivia on Mondays. You’ll find 20 beers on tap and lots of bottled beers, wine, and cider, along with a small list of signature cocktails. The menu has typical bar food, as well as authentic Irish dishes, like bangers and mash, and Guinness beef stew. And at brunch, enjoy a full Irish breakfast with rashers, Irish sausage, black and white pudding, grilled tomato, and Irish baked beans, served with Irish soda bread.
255 Elm St.
Formerly Jimmy Tingle’s Off Broadway Theater, and later the Davis Square Theatre, the renamed Rockwell hosts music, theater, burlesque, and comedy performances, most catering to the 21-plus crowd, although it has family-friendly shows, as well. Programs range from family favorite Kerplunk! to the decidedly adult Shit-faced Shakespeare. The 150-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.
255 Elm St.
This underground venue, recalling Prohibition-era speakeasies, is known for its extensive drink menu: 120 different whiskies, as well as red and white wines, local craft beer, and craftcocktails like the 128 Press—a concoction of rye, Amaro Nonino, lime, ginger beer, and whiskey barrel–aged bitters. The menu features small plates like poutine with hand-cut potato wedges, garlic cheese curds, and applewood-smoked bacon gravy, and baked oysters with chimichurri and Ritz bread crumbs.
Niche Plant Shop
259 Elm St.
Have a green thumb? Niche is the place for you. They carry a wide array of houseplants, ready to spruce up your dorm, apartment, or home. The shop works with plant growers in Florida and throughout New England to provide high-quality and unique plants that meet life requirements of city living. You’ll find tried-and-true varieties like Ficus elastica, Peperomia, and Pachira aquatica. The store also carries pots, and the Niche team specializes in plant care and are only too happy to answer any questions. Their website also offers extensive plant advice. Note: the shop is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Sugidama Soba and Izakaya
260 Elm Street, Suite 106
This izakaya (informal Japanese gastropub) has gained a loyal following since opening in 2016. The interior features lots of clean wood, a blue-and-white-mosaic-tiled bar, and rustic Japanese-style serving dishes. The soba noodles served hot or cold, with bonito broth, are made in-house. 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 agedashi tofu, soft-shell crab tempura, and lobster okonomiyaki, are all delicious. Be sure to check out the Keto Tuna Bowl, featuring low-carb cauliflower rice, mixed greens, ahi tuna, a fresh scoop of avocado, and toppings like shredded nori and bright pickled ginger. The prices are reasonable, and there’s a rotating list of specials.
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 just down the road at the café’s Forge Baking Company. 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.
261 Elm St.
If you’re looking for something different, Pokéworks is a must. As its name suggests, the chain specializes in poké, the popular Hawaiian raw fish salad. Choose your base (bowl, burrito, or salad), pick your protein (Atlantic salmon, albacore or ahi tuna, shrimp and scallops, chicken, or tofu), then add mix-ins (from diced mango to edamame to seaweed). Next, select from one of eight sauces, then add toppings and crunch (garlic crisps, lotus chips, macadamia nuts, etc.), and voila—you have a delicious fresh meal. Order one of the restaurant’s classics—like the Hawaiian Ahi, Umamu Classic, or Spicy Ahi. There’s another Pokéworks in Harvard Square, too.
55 Chester St.
BBQ, beers, and bikes—that about sums up the Redbones creed. Gems from the extensive menu include rib combos, a BBQ hash special, and hush puppies. For sides, choose from collard greens, dirty rice, mac ’n’ cheese, and potato salad, to name just a few. Wash it all down with one of the 31 beers on tap, many from local microbreweries, or an iced tea from a large water-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 American Flatbread Company at Sacco’s Bowl Haven
This seasonal farmers market takes place Wednesday afternoons, rain or shine, from late May to 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.
American Flatbread at Sacco’s Bowl Haven
45 Day St.
When American Flatbread took over Sacco’s Bowl Haven, a Somerville institution since 1939, there was much local angst. 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 $4 a pair and a lane is $30 an hour. After slipping back into your street shoes, grab a table and enjoy some food. Suggestions: the homemade sausage flatbread (maple-fennel sausage, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and whole milk mozzarella) or any of the organic salads. Words 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—the doughnut sundae is recommended.
Nine Bar Espresso
11 Holland St.
Stop in this sleek, hip coffee bar for a morning latte or cappuccino, and you’ll find traditional café items—coffee drinks, teas, and pastries (courtesy of Danish Pastry House)—and more unique alternatives like nitro-poured cold-brewed coffee. It offers a small but tasty lineup of breakfast items, including avocado toast, oatmeal, and bagels, and sandwiches made with artisanal breads from Iggy’s Bread. Nine Bar Espresso offers window service only.
65 Holland St.
Music, trivia, sports, and good food are on tap 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, artisan pizzas, and entrées like an orange chicken bowl and steak tips. Orleans also serves up a popular weekend brunch.
The Boston Shaker
69 Holland St.
After struggling to find supplies to make craft cocktails at home, cocktail enthusiast Adam Lantheaume opened a shop that sells most anything needed by a professional bartender or just someone throwing a first cocktail party: barware, ceramic tiki mugs, bitters and flavorings, recipe books, and more. Who knew you needed a miniature, 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. The store is now owned and operated by Lonnie Newburn, who began work as store manager.
Dave’s Fresh Pasta
81 Holland St.
David Jick’s pasta, cheese, and wine shop carries fresh local produce, beef, fish, and wine and beer. Known for its handmade pasta, ravioli, and sauces, the market/takeout restaurant also sells breads, baked goods, and more than 300 different 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 piccante, 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 also offers cooking classes, which have become quite popular.
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.
Spoke Wine Bar
89 Holland St.
Spoke has a focus on wine, food, and hospitality, and serves “New-American small plates with the help of farmers and friends,” according to the website. You’ll find unique dishes, such as tagine bean dip served with apricots and focaccia—or, if you’re in the mood for something heartier, try the bavette steak, served with kohlrabi, turnip, and bonito vinaigrette. In addition to its extensive wine list, there’s an eclectic cocktail list. Try the Ramona Flowers—mezcal, sotol, acrimony amaro, and chamomile. Reservations are recommended.
382 Highland Ave.
This wonderful Mexican restaurant offers a full slate of enchiladas, burritos, tacos, and tortas, a type of Mexican pressed sandwich. Note: the restaurant does not serve wine or liquor, but does serve beer.
Five Horses Tavern
400 Highland Ave.
The only downside here: 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 are several unique options, among them a Shroom-Za (hot sausage and mushroom pizza with bechamel, onions, red peppers, and manchego), sweet chili salmon, and pork belly tacos. And we haven’t gotten to the beer yet: 37 rotating drafts and more than 120 bottled beers—a mounted chandelier is made from various beer taps. The weekend brunch is 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-cinnamon donut holes are irresistible, too.
407 Highland Ave.
Offering vintage toys, graphic novels, and a gaming area in the back room, this store provides an escape for the comic book lover and the child at heart. The store hosts manga and comic book clubs, and a Pokémon league. It also manages a YouTube Channel, a gallery of artists’ work, and an independent publishing division, Bad Kids Press.
409 Highland Ave.
This small gift shop on the quieter side of the square sells fun and witty gifts for adults, children, and the home. Independently owned, it has unique and handcrafted items like jewelry, prints, toys, chocolate, local honey, shea butter soap, and knitwear. There’s an especially good selection of cookbooks and gardening books, as well.
314 Highland Ave.
This independently owned gift shop offers “shiny things for your nest” or for someone else’s—meaning, 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, and more. Among the finds: brass and copper earrings from Boston-based Glamourpuss Creations, whose materials are sourced from shuttered factories throughout the Northeast.
Mike’s Food and Spirits
9 Davis Square
Want quick, inexpensive bites before a show at the Somerville Theatre? There is quite a variety here, from veal cacciatore to an Italian cold cut calzone to a Gorgonzola and walnut salad. There are 20 specialty pizzas to choose from, as well as burgers, wraps, and fried seafood dishes. Best of all is the cheap beer—available in a bucket—such as Wachusett Blueberry Ale and Sierra Nevada Torpedo. Service is a little gruff, but it’s fast.
Boston Burger Company
37 Davis Square
This burger joint—with two other locations around the Boston area and two more coming soon—offers 30 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 14 types of fries. Potato chips, fried pickles, sauces, and dressings are all handmade. You’ll want to save room for one of the frappes, as well. BBC also offers a great list of craft beers.
51 Davis Square
This crêperie and café offers breakfast and lunch fare, with crêpe 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 onto 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.
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 Science Fiction Film Festival (the latter has been virtual the last couple of years due to COVID-19). Night owls will enjoy the cinema’s midnight movies. Matinee tickets (before 6 pm) are $8, and regular-price tickets are still a bargain at $12. The venerable venue also pulls in popular music acts.
22A College Ave.
“Boston’s first oatmeal café,” Oat Shop serves up oatmeal bowls in a small but intimate café setting. You’ll find sweet and savory oatmeal, from the Apple Pie—with house-made applesauce, topped with sautéed apples and maple syrup—to the Sriracha Fried Egg, with cashew butter, soy sauce, and sriracha sauce, topped with a fried egg. You can also build your own bowl, and wash it all down with one of Oat Shop’s delicious coffee or espresso drinks.
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.
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I LOVE these articles!! Keep them coming! Where next?
These neighborhood profiles are fantastic. Lived in Davis Square 30 years ago and so appreciated learning about ALL the interesting places that are thriving there now. Your scouting detail is super. I’ve forwarded several profiles to my Freshman student in the hopes it will encourage them to go beyond Comm Ave and take advantage of all the affordable and diverse venues Boston has to offer. Thanks for the good work, looking forward to more.
You guys should do one of these on Assembly Square/East Somerville, lots of diverse restaurants, and lots of shops. We’ve got Maya Sol, Guachos, Taco Loco, Vinnys (Best Subs), Leones (little bit further down Broadway), and then all the restaurants in Assembly Row. Not sure how many BU students know about it, but it’s a nice place to hang out.
Sugidama is horrible by the way…
This makes me question the whole article