First Bite: River Bar

One of the few indie restaurants in Somerville’s rapidly developing Assembly Row complex boasts fun, creative bar snacks—and an atmosphere to match.


River Bar’s shrimp chips with black-garlic aioli. / Photograph by Ruby Wallace-Ewing

On a frigid evening last January, a handful of people in winter coats sipped cocktails in the covered, quasi-heated part of River Bar’s 2,600-square-foot patio. It was a testament to the New England resolve, yes, but also to the al fresco wonderland that is Assembly Row’s River Bar—replete with fire pits, plush patio furniture, and prime Mystic River frontage. Now that the temperature is finally climbing, that handful of people will likely swell to a mob.

And they’ll be snacking on dishes from chef Patrick Gilmartin, who honed his chops serving up high-low mash-ups like foie gras baklava from the now-defunct Staff Meal food truck. The stepped-up bar food here is equally whimsical—think: petite Scotch-style quail eggs encased in chorizo; pan-fried corned-beef-and-cabbage dumplings served with a rye-infused dipping sauce; and a gluttonous burger topped with bacon spring rolls (!).

river bar kitchen

A view of the open kitchen. / Photograph by Ruby Wallace-Ewing

It sounds like the kind of fare you’d want to enjoy with a cold draft of Pretty Things, or creative cocktails spiked with everything from Aperol to sherry. And it would be, if the execution were more even. The yolks in those Scotch eggs were overcooked, as was our burger patty. And the generous corned-beef-and-cabbage filling in the dumplings was overwhelmed by doughy, greasy wrappers. Plenty of plates did deliver on the intriguing menu descriptions, however. Crunchy, puffed “shrimp chips” were matched with an eggy, earthy black-garlic aioli, and the salt-and-pepper-fried oysters came to the table perfectly tender and crisp. Fried sweet potato cubes, meanwhile, were brilliantly paired with zingy pomegranate molasses.

In the end, that’s what River Bar is about: food that’s clever, loud, and, best of all, fun. And when you have such a prime outdoor space, all you need is a few friends, a pint of Meadowlark IPA, and perhaps a bowl of those fried sweet potatoes to remind you that spring has finally arrived.

661 Assembly Row, Somerville, 617-616-5561,

river bar interior shot

A view of the indoor bar area. / Photograph by Ruby Wallace-Ewing

While You’re at Assembly Row…

Stop by for a bite—or a pint—at one of these quick-service spots.

Ernesto’s: Fuel up with an enormous slice at the second location of this North End standby, which offers a litany of Italian-style pizzas (don’t miss the eggplant-and-ricotta) by the hulking quarter-pie wedge. 617-764-4194,

American Fresh Taproom: After a long day scoring deals at the likes of J.Crew and Pendleton, unwind with a cup of cheddar-ale soup and a glass of Porter Square Porter at this outdoor beer garden, from the team behind locally based Slumbrew.

Paul: Swing by this outpost of the global boulangerie chain for a flaky coconut croissant and a latte, and linger for a while in a plush red banquette, or outside on the very Parisian patio. 617-440-1049,