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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Roxbury

A place rich in history, diversity


Roxbury is one of Boston’s oldest communities. Incorporated nearly 400 years ago, in 1630, the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were its first European settlers. It became a city in 1846 and was annexed to the city of Boston in 1868.

Originally a farming community, Roxbury was home to a number of prominent colonial figures. Roxbury Neck connected the town to Boston, which at the time was three miles to the north on a peninsula, meaning that all land traffic to the city had to pass through Roxbury. As marshland surrounding the causeway was filled in, factories and warehouses were built there.

Since the mid-19th century, when Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine began arriving in Boston in large numbers, Roxbury has been home to many diverse communities. In the early 20th century, Irish dance halls could be found throughout Dudley Square. The Irish were followed closely by German immigrants, who helped establish the breweries that sprung up along the Stony Brook, a major city watercourse, in the years before Prohibition. A large Jewish community developed around Grove Hall, along Blue Hill Avenue, and into neighboring Dorchester. Starting in the 1940s, the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to northern cities made Roxbury home to a growing number of African Americans, and by 1960 predominantly white Roxbury had become a predominantly black community. It continues as the heart of Boston’s African American community and is also home to Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian families.

Roxbury comprises several districts, including the areas around Dudley Square, Fort Hill, Crosstown, Grove Hall, Egleston Square, and Blue Hill Avenue. Many Blue Hill Avenue businesses and shops were destroyed in the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) in 1968. Mounting poverty, unemployment, and a wave of arsons in the 1960s and 1970s contributed to further decline, but in recent years city, state, and local grassroots efforts have done much to transform the neighborhood. Several projects are currently under way, including a major overhaul of the Boston Public Library Dudley branch and development of the 1.2-million-square-foot Tremont Crossing, a multibuilding development that will include more than 700 apartments, office and retail space, and a new Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists.

You’ll find wonderful restaurants, museums, and cultural sites that reflect the neighborhood’s rich diversity and history. Below are some highlights.

Ali’s Roti Restaurant
1035 Tremont St.

This unassuming counter serve–style restaurant is popular with locals—a quick visit and you’ll know why. Known for its authentic West Indian-Trinidadian cuisine, it serves roti (flat bread, similar to naan) stuffed with a choice of vegetable curry or meat (stewed chicken, goat, or beef, among others)—all of it delicious and with great prices. The place is close to Northeastern, making it a go-to destination for students looking for affordable dining. The interior is decidedly no-frills, but there’s no missing the place: the exterior is painted a vibrant orange. Open Wednesday through Saturday only.

Store front of Bangkok Pinto

Bangkok Pinto, 1041 Tremont St.

Bangkok Pinto
1041 Tremont St.

Named for Thailand’s capital and the traditional Thai pinto (lunch box) containers used to carry home-cooked meals, Bangkok Pinto serves up tasty and inexpensive Thai cuisine. The bright green exterior and quirky interior give this tiny eatery a unique charm and flair. The large menu offers classic dishes like crispy scallion pancakes with ginger sauce, duck choo chee (boneless roasted duck and vegetables in choo chee curry sauce), tofu soup in a clear broth, and drunken noodles (stir-fried flat noodles with egg, mixed vegetables, and a choice of meat or tofu). Thai iced tea and desserts like sweet sticky rice with mango and coconut-fried banana are also served. Known best for its delivery and takeout, limited seating is available. Open Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays.

Beta Burger
1437 Tremont St.

This isn’t your traditional fast food burger joint. Founder Adrian Wong set out to create an eatery that combined his twin passions, fast food and innovation, when he opened the restaurant in 2014, taking much of its inspiration from Boston’s growing start-up scene. Wong’s unique cooking method uses a CVap (controlled vapor technology) oven—food is sealed in airtight plastic bags and placed in either a water bath or a temperature-controlled steam environment, a method that keeps the burgers from drying out. Some menu highlights: the MVP Burger (an Angus beef patty on a wheat bun with Beta steak sauce), the Alpha Burger (two Angus beef patties, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Beta steak sauce on a wheat bun), and a customizable burger (either Angus beef, grilled chicken, or a vegetarian option with choice of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, jalapeños, relish, cheese, and Beta steak sauce).

Crispy Dough Pizzeria
1514 Tremont St.

This no-frills neighborhood pizzeria offers yummy riffs on everyone’s favorite Italian dish. Try the crispy honey pizza (breaded honey mustard chicken with caramelized onions, banana peppers, and honey mustard sauce). Customize your pizzas with a variety of toppings and sauces, and Crispy Dough will turn any of their signature pizzas into a calzone. Customers rave about the buffalo chicken pizza; the chicken ziti broccoli alfredo pasta is also a must-try. You’ll find plenty of wraps, subs, and salads too.

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
100 Malcolm X Blvd.

This is New England’s largest mosque, home to one of the most multifaceted US Islamic centers. The 70,000-square-foot structure is also a dynamic cultural center designed to serve the entire community. It offers numerous programs, among them a weekly group for Muslim mothers and their children, bimonthly community social events, and a five-week Islam 101 program introducing non-Muslims to Islam. It also houses a school, a café, and a gift shop that sells perfumes, body oils, traditional clothing, Islamic books, artwork, and natural organic products. The center’s large multipurpose space is used by interfaith, nonprofit, cultural, and educational organizations for various functions and events.

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center building

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, 100 Malcolm X Blvd.

Ashur Restaurant
291 Roxbury St.

Open since 2008, this casual, bustling eatery has something for every taste. The Middle Eastern and African halal restaurant offers traditional dishes like lamb and chicken kebabs, and cubed goat meat, all made on the premises and served with rice and a side salad. It’s best known for generous portions and delicately spiced lamb dishes, including lamb shank and braised lamb. The Somali chai tea, spiced with clove, cinnamon, and cardamom (it comes sweetened with condensed milk as well), is also excellent. Behind the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and close to Roxbury Community College and the Roxbury Crossing T station, Ashur has ample seating and is a popular meeting spot for locals and college students. Takeout and delivery are available.

The Dillaway-Thomas House at Roxbury Heritage State Park
183 Roxbury St./John Eliot Square

Built in 1750 as the parsonage for First Church in Roxbury, the Dillaway-Thomas House was the headquarters for General John Thomas and the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston in 1775. The two-story house is one of the few remaining examples in Boston of 18th-century domestic architecture. Today, the house is maintained and operated by the commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, and it has been restored to show how the house’s use has changed over the centuries. Visitors can find exhibits showcasing the history of Roxbury, its people, and their cultures. The adjacent Roxbury Heritage State Park is undergoing revitalization, and offers picnic benches and panoramic views of downtown Boston. Across the street is the current First Church in Roxbury (the fifth on the site), an outstanding example of a Federal-style meetinghouse, built in 1804.

Haley House Bakery Café
12 Dade St.

This is one bakery where you can feel good about loading up on the calories. Founded more than a decade ago by the nonprofit Haley House, the bakery-café is dedicated to improving the lives of some of the city’s neediest residents. The Dudley Square bakery not only serves up locally sourced meals and baked goods, but provides jobs for people facing significant barriers to employment and on-the-job culinary education for young people and is a hub for cultural and arts events. Its goal is to promote physical, economic, and social well-being by offering nutritious food and breaking down barriers between people.

Hamill Gallery of Tribal Art
2164 Washington St.

Housed in a former 19th-century wallpaper factory, the gallery has a huge collection of traditional African art, African and non-African tribal art, and contemporary photography of Africa. The 7,000-square-foot exhibition space displays an ever-changing roster of art from 160 major African peoples, giving a balanced view of subjects, styles, and techniques that have been used for centuries. Masks, figures, artifacts, textiles, jewelry, books, and posters can be found at the gallery, which hosts new exhibitions every three months highlighting a particular tribe or theme. The College of Fine Arts Tim Hamill Visiting Artist Lecture Series is named in honor of gallery owner Tim Hamill (CFA’65,’68). The gallery is open Thursday through Saturday or by appointment.

Silver Slipper Restaurant
2387 Washington St.

This homey diner serves up a delicious southern-style breakfast menu, with some of the best grits you’ll find in Boston. Other highlights: a delicious western omelet, spicy sausage, and Texas-style French toast. You can wash it all down with a glass of Silver Slipper’s refreshing sweet tea. Everything on the menu is less than $10, making it an ideal destination for budget-conscious students. But be sure to bring cash: the restaurant doesn’t take credit cards.

Dudley Café
15 Warren St.

This modern neighborhood café has become a gathering spot for local residents since it opened in 2015. The large outdoor seating section has bright blue metal chairs, and the interior is a blend of sleek industrial style and classic comfort, with a brick accent wall, black leather couches, exposed metal beams, a wooden counter area, and a colorful Roxbury-inspired mural. The work of local artists fills the walls. Some favorites on a menu full of breakfast and lunch items: the Roxbury Deluxe, a homemade cheddar biscuit with egg, spinach, bacon, cheddar cheese, and garlic-onion jam, the New Edition sandwich, with roasted sweet potato, avocado, pesto, goat cheese, crispy shallots, and arugula on sourdough bread, and Ayanna’s Bowl, with quinoa, sautéed spinach, Asian slaw, broccoli, and a hard-boiled egg, served with a homemade Peruvian sauce. The café also hosts trivia nights, fundraisers for local charities, and live musical events, and is open Monday through Saturday, closed Sundays.

Boston Public Library Dudley Square Branch
65 Warren St.

The BPL’s Dudley Square Branch is impossible to miss: a large sign with bright red, yellow, and orange circles greets passersby. The building is temporarily closed for a $14.7 million renovation that will include a new welcome area, a redesigned plaza, dedicated space for children, teens, and adults, a nutrition lab, and a technology teaching lab when completed in 2020. The branch is renowned for its collection of books covering the African American experience dating to before the Civil War and its many tomes on the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement. Books about African American musicians and music, including gospel, blues, jazz, and soul, abound too. The library offers many kinds of programming, among them a children’s story time, film screenings for children and young adults, literacy programs, and chess lessons. Closed Sundays.

Hibernian Hall
184 Dudley St.

Originally built as a social club for Irish immigrants in 1913, Hibernian Hall was a magnet for the Irish community in Dudley Square for decades and was a popular Irish dance destination. After Irish residents began moving out of Roxbury in the early 1960s, the building changed ownership several times and was vacant for more than a decade. Purchased in 2000 by the nonprofit Madison Park Development Corporation, it was restored and reopened in 2005. Today it’s a destination for arts, culture, and theater in the heart of Dudley Square. With its high ceilings and proscenium stage, the building is now home to both the Roxbury Center for the Arts and programs and initiatives of the cultural and economic development program Arts, Culture, and Trade Roxbury (ACT Roxbury).

Suya Joint
185 Dudley St.

This elegant restaurant, bar, and lounge, owned and operated by Nigerian chef Cecelia Lizotte, specializes in West African cuisine, particularly Nigerian dishes. It started as a small catering business—an avenue for Lizotte to express her passion for food and cooking. Suya Joint can seat up to 80 customers. The entire menu is gluten-free and dairy-free, and many dishes can be made to order as vegetarian. Highlights include spicy suya kebabs made of seasoned, thinly sliced beef or chicken, Nigerian stews with fish, goat, beef, or chicken, and fufu, a dumpling made from whole wheat, cassava, yam, or corn. African art adorns the cozy interior, and there is live music in the bar and lounge on Friday and Saturday nights.

Ideal Sub Shop
522 Dudley St.

Don’t let the unassuming exterior and bare-bones interior fool you: at lunchtime, the line here is out the door. The cash-only eatery serves breakfast and lunch and is a perennial favorite among local residents. The family-owned sub shop is reasonably priced; you can get a small but filling sub for as little as $4. But be prepared for long lines. Open from 6 am to 3:30 pm, Monday through Saturday.

Victoria’s Diner
1024 Massachusetts Ave.

Part of the Roxbury community since 1949, Victoria’s, at the intersection of Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End, serves breakfast (all day, every day), lunch, and dinner. Plus, it’s open 24 hours a day Thursday through Saturday for those night owls in search of food in the middle of the night. The menu offers up classic diner fare, including home fries, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, potato skins, burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf, milkshakes, smoothies, and more. There is a selection of wine, beer, cocktails, and specialty alcoholic coffees. Takeout is available.

Front of Shirley-Eustis House

Shirley-Eustis House, 33 Shirley St.

Shirley-Eustis House
33 Shirley St.

William Shirley’s Georgian mansion is the only remaining country house in America built by a British Royal colonial governor. The well-preserved mansion, on an acre of grounds, was built between 1747 and 1751, and became a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Today, it’s open to the public for tours Thursday through Sunday, from June through Labor Day, on weekends in September, and by appointment. The house was the home of two governors—one Royal (Shirley) and one Federal (William Eustis). Among other occupants: when it was a Revolutionary War barracks during the Siege of Boston in 1775, it housed the Massachusetts Sixth Regiment of Foot; Jean-Baptiste du Buc, the Haitian counselor to Louis XVI of France; and Captain James Magee, a prosperous Irish American who made his fortune in the China Trade. The house offers a handful of events, including history and gardening seminars. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and free to members of the Shirley-Eustis House Association, which runs the site and was instrumental in keeping the mansion in Roxbury when a move to Fenway was proposed in the late 1960s.

Merengue Restaurant & Catering
160 Blue Hill Ave.

This restaurant’s website says it draws inspiration from the passion and boldness of merengue as music and art, and translates it to the essence of Dominican cuisine. Offered are appetizers like cassava turnovers and dishes like roasted eggplant with green plantains, red snapper fillet, and lobster and shrimp gumbo. It seats 90 and has two spacious dining rooms whose vibrant colors and tropical accents make you feel you’ve been transported to the Dominican Republic.

Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex & Memorial Pool
120 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

This multipurpose Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation complex, named for local Civil Rights activist Melnea A. Cass, opened in 2011, with a 24,000-square-foot indoor climate-controlled recreational arena, classroom space, and an event area. The complex has a new running track and floor space lined for multiple sports, like soccer, roller derby, and tennis. On-site showers and lockers are available, and a large outdoor pool, also named after Cass, is connected to the complex. It is adjacent to Malcolm X Park and the city of Boston’s Shelburne Youth Center. A Hubway bicycle stop is right outside the main entrance.

The Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists

The Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, 300 Walnut Ave.

Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists
300 Walnut Ave.

Dedicated to the celebration, exhibition, and collection of black visual arts worldwide, this museum presents a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions in many media, including painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and the decorative arts. Check out the burial chamber of King Aspelta, who governed ancient Nubia and Egypt during the 25th Dynasty. Outside, visitors can see the monumental sculpture Eternal Presence, commissioned by the museum and created by the late Roxbury native John Wilson, a CFA professor emeritus, who taught at BU from 1964 to 1986. The imposing bronze head celebrates human creativity and spirituality. Wilson drew upon various traditions, including the Olmec heads of ancient Mexico and contemplative Buddhas. Installed in 1987, it represents the NCAAA’s commitment to excellence in contemporary artistic expression for the black world. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday; admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and free for children under age 12. Currently on Walnut Avenue, it’s expected to move to Tremont Crossing, at the corner of Tremont Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard, when it’s completed

Skippy White’s Record Store
1971 Columbus Ave.

Fred Le Blanc, aka Skippy White, and his record store in the heart of Egleston Square have been playing and selling the best in hip-hop, soul, gospel, and R&B in Boston since 1961. Le Blanc studied journalism at BU, dropped out in his third year and turned his hobby of collecting records into a career. He worked at a local record store before opening his own store, Oldies But Goodies Land, in 1961. Le Blanc later changed the name of his store to Skippy White’s, after his radio DJ name. The store moved several times, but has been in its current spot since 2004. With an inventory of tens of thousands of LPs, 45s, and cassette tapes, as well as CDs and DVDs, it draws music lovers from around the world. And don’t worry that it may run out of stock anytime soon: Skippy says that he has a warehouse containing another 250,000 albums. The store opens at noon every day, except 9 am Saturday; closed Sunday.

Inside of Skippy White’s Record Store, hundreds of records on shelves

Skippy White’s Record Store, 1971 Columbus Ave.

Franklin Park

The city’s largest park, spread over parts of Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester, Franklin Park is considered the crown jewel of the Emerald Necklace, a series of nine connected parks, six of them designed by noted 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, best known today for his work creating New York City’s Central Park. Established in 1885, Franklin Park was designated a Boston Landmark in 1980. The park comprises 485 acres and includes Franklin Park Zoo, the William J. Devine Golf Course, an 18-hole public golf course (the second oldest in the country), athletic courts and fields, an open-air public performance space, a woodland reserve, old stone ruins, ponds, picnic areas, playgrounds, and more. The community-based group Franklin Park Coalition works to engage all park users and community members through advocacy, programs, and restoration. Find directions here.

Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Road, Dorchester

Although the address of the 72-acre Franklin Park Zoo, nestled inside Franklin Park, is officially Dorchester, it’s included here because the park encompasses parts of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. The zoo 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 containing Masai giraffes; and Serengeti Crossing, four acres of grassland and wooded hills where a number of Grant’s zebras, ostriches, and wildebeests roam. There’s also a Children’s Zoo (ducks, prairie dogs, red pandas), a seasonal Butterfly Landing, a carousel, train rides, and snack bars. Opened in 1912, Franklin Park Zoo today is operated by Zoo New England, a private nonprofit committed to conservation. Open year-round, the zoo has one of the world’s best indoor gorilla exhibitions and a tropical rain forest. This popular, family-friendly destination attracts approximately 400,000 visitors a year.
Getting there: Take a Green Line trolley inbound to Park Street/Downtown Crossing, then an Orange Line train to either Ruggles or Roxbury Crossing. Or take the Silver Line SL5 from Downtown Crossing to Dudley Station.

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

Explore other neighborhoods around Boston here.

This story was originally published on November 11, 2016; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.


2 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Roxbury

  • Orange line rider on 11.14.2016 at 4:59 pm

    I live in Roxbury because it is a great community. What is meant by “gentrification led by professionals and a large number of college students”.
    What is gentrification? I did not know I was leading this. Explain how my landlord , who has lived in Roxbury for 40 years and charges a great deal of money for the rent is exempt from leading this.

  • Malika Jeffries-EL on 11.19.2016 at 4:14 pm

    What a great piece, I just moved to Roxbury this year as I recognized what a gem of a neighborhood it is. I think that you did a nice job highlighting some of the local businesses. Haley House, is a great spot for brunch!

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