Where to Eat in Somerville’s Davis Square Right Now
Mexican feasts, fall-off-the-bone BBQ, and family-style Tibetan dishes in one of the Boston area's best dining neighborhoods.
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Vintage stores, an indie movie theater, and lots and lots of bars: Davis Square is the textbook definition of a liberal-arts-student magnet. With that in mind, while you’ll encounter lots of Tufts University sweatshirts and sharply dressed young professionals walking around this hip neighborhood, you’ll also find one of the most eclectic and vibrant dining scenes in the Boston area. That’s in large part thanks to the variety of cuisines packed into this bustling square, which covers Mexican feasts, fall-off-the-bone BBQ, and some family-style Tibetan dishes, to name a few.
Essentially a Bangkok street cart transformed into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Dakzen brings super-slurpable roadside Thai noodles to Davis Square. The chefs here have fine-tuned their grandmothers’ slow simmered silky broths and noodle dishes, which pack in sweet, spicy, and even tangy flavors. Their curry scented Khao Soi, for instance, features crispy pork belly, a dash of pickled mustard, and starchy egg noodles that soak up the broth’s umami flavor. All the snacks and street foods are delicious, but if we’re forced to pick favorites, they might be the Northern Thai sliced Sai Ua sausage and the fiery Pad Kee Mow with holy basil and fresh chili. That said, while we would usually suggest diverting from your conventional pad Thai order, given all the exciting offerings, Dakzen’s version will easily become your new favorite in the city.
195 Elm St., Davis Square, 617-718-1759, dakzen.net.
Dave’s Fresh Pasta
Once you step inside this quaint neighborhood market, you’ll realize that you don’t have to trek all the way to the North End to get some great Italian sandwiches, fresh pasta and homemade sauces, imported olives, and everything you need to assemble a charcuterie board at home. What’s more, most of the fresh produce and specialty groceries come straight from New England. Behind the deli counter, meanwhile, nearly everything is made in-house: Take their Sicilian sandwich, for example, topped with Genoa salame, hot capocollo, and handmade fresh mozzarella on just-baked focaccia brushed with basil pesto. As for the titular pasta? Dave’s ravioli and the rest are cut-to-order and often come in a unique variety of flavors, from porcini mushroom to saffron.
81 Holland St., Davis Square, 617-623-0867, davesfreshpasta.com.
Old cassette tapes and spray-painted menus line the walls of this chef-driven slice shop that tops playful pies with everything from Kung Pao chicken to cheddar cheese and bacon drizzled with chili maple glaze. While this punk-rock pizzeria knows no bounds when it comes to inventive toppings, they also make a wonderfully nostalgic New York street corner-style three cheese pizza with a simple but effective marinara. Bonus: Dragon offers homemade sodas, gelatos, and cheap cocktails that you can sip on their streetside patio in the warmer months.
233 Elm St., Davis Square, 617-764-5026, dragonpizzasomerville.com.
Martsa on Elm
Spice enthusiasts, this one’s for you. Martsa’s menu full of Tibetan and Himalayan comfort foods always hits the spot—it also hits hard with the seasoning, so when the server asks whether you want things light, medium, or hot, take a moment to truly assess your heat tolerance. If you choose the path of fire, go for the wok-seared beef shapta or the South Indian-style fish curry with freshly ground spices and ginger garlic curry. Those with slightly more delicate palates can order some fried momo (dumplings), which arrive with an obscenely good, not-super-spicy onion/chili/red pepper sauce along with a few aromatic curries that won’t melt your taste buds off.
243 Elm St., Davis Square, 617-666-0660, Facebook.
The Painted Burro
While there is a string of excellent restaurants along Davis Square’s Elm Street, none of them can say they offer over 100 types of tequila, mezcal, and sotol — that is, unless they’re the Painted Burro. This always-buzzing, hacienda-style Mexican kitchen (from the same team behind the Burro Bar spots in the South End and Brookline) draws inspiration from the flavors of Baja and Oaxaca, with splashes of Tex-Mex. The chicken chimichanga with ranchero mole and avocado dressing packs a flavorful punch, while a drenching of red-wine-cola mole adds just the right kick to pork carnitas enchiladas. Did we mention The Painted Burro makes a mean margarita? We’re partial to the “Spicy Peach” when you’re flying solo, but if you’ve got company, go for the 64-oz. “Passion Fruit Pitcher.”
219 Elm St., Davis Square, 617-776-0005, thepaintedburro.com.
As Redbones owner Rob Gregory recalls, back in the ’80s, Davis Square was largely boarded-up buildings and a cluster of blue-collar bars. In 1987, though, the scrappy nightclub manager decided to rent a kitchen in a grimy dive bar to sell ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. The rest, as they say, is history. Gregory would go on to embrace New England’s burgeoning craft beer scene, leading to some legendary parties and an impressive list of 29 brews on draft, and today Redbones’ charming green gingham-covered tables and hand-painted signage retain its retro sensibility. Although eats such as jerk beef brisket prove Gregory is not one to shy away from contemporary flavor combinations, those who prefer to keep it classic will never get tired of the tangy baby backs with a side of burnt ends and mac ‘n’ cheese. Oh, and it wouldn’t be a true Redbones experience without ending on a sweet note, so treat yourself to a fresh slice of pecan pie while you’re at it.
55 Chester St., Davis Square, 617-628-2200, redbones.com.
Rosebud American Kitchen & Bar
Restaurateur Joe Cassinelli helped transform Davis Square into one of Somerville’s best neighborhoods for dining when he opened his still-thrilling, Neapolitan pizza spot, Posto, followed by the Painted Burro. A laid-back, chef-driven take on American diner fare soon followed in the form of Rosebud. Housed inside a renovated Worcester Lunch Car, Rosebud is pure Americana glamour: extra shiny tufted red booths, old fashioned green soda glasses, and updated takes on dishes from every corner of the country. It’s an American tradition reborn and revitalized, from the tail-on shrimp and grits with white wine and roasted garlic to hearty mains such as pork shoulder rigatoni. Round off the meal with something sweet like a shake or float—which you can (and should) choose to make boozy.
381 Summer St., Davis Square, 617-629-9500, rosebudkitchen.com.
In true speakeasy fashion, the entrance to Saloon is not easy to find. However, when you do encounter this subterranean cocktail bar (hint: try looking underneath sister restaurant Foundry), you will be immersed in a world of brick, leather, and antique rugs. The cozy pre-prohibition-style bar emphasizes brown liquor-based drinks like the Irish whiskey-laden “Bradshaw”, with Campari and sweet vermouth, or the “My Beeting Heart,” a savory mix of bourbon, scotch, lemon, beet, and dill. Plus, Saloon has over 120 varieties of whiskey lining the shelves, so if you prefer your drinks neat, the bartenders will point you towards a bottle that fits your flavor profile. The bar snacks are bit pricey, but if you’re treating a date to a night on the town, it’s well worth it to split the meze plate with roasted garlic hummus, red pepper dip, and a fuchsia-colored beet tzatziki.
255 Elm St., Davis Square, 617-628-4444, saloondavis.com.
Spoke Wine Bar
There’s nothing new about “New American” cuisine or wine bars, for that matter, but somehow Spoke has breathed a breath of fresh air into both terms. For one thing, its intimate atmosphere is anything but pretentious, something you’ll notice the moment you slide onto a barstool and a friendly bottle popper offers you Spoke’s compact, small producer-focused wine list, eager to guide you through the grapes. The delicious drinks on the chalkboard menu, meanwhile, will have you pondering whether it’s too late to squeeze “and cocktail” into Spoke’s name. Might as well tack on “and restaurant,” too: Spoke’s hyper-seasonal rotating menu always has a smattering of wonderfully inventive small plates, from sunchoke donuts with powdered leeks to rye Parisian gnocchi with beet, walnut, and horseradish.
89 Holland St., Davis Square, 617-718-9463, spokewinebar.com.
As you slurp the last sip of shiso broth out of a huge black bowl at this tiny noodle shop, the fleeting nature of life itself probably isn’t at the top of your mind. Yet, such philosophical reflection is built into the foundation of chef Masuo Onishi’s restaurant, which began as a study in impermanence: Onishi opened Tsuruman in 2018 with a plan to close its doors exactly 1,000 days later. After the past few perspective-shifting years, though, it seems the chef may have had a change of heart. For now, he continues to use noodles as a form of storytelling, from his “Formula 1985” ramen, inspired by the classic Tokyo shoyu ramen he ate as a child, to “Formula 2022,” an amalgamation of Onishi’s life experiences and the flavors that inspire him today. The chicken and fish broth comes adorned with blowtorched slices of fatty chashu pork that sizzle atop a bed of house-made noodles and bright green onions—and whether you’re starting a new job, moving homes, or simply wrapping up a workweek, it’s the perfect bowl for contemplating the closing of one chapter and the start of another.
420 Highland Ave., Davis Square, tsurumendavis.square.site.