Some people think Somerville is filled solely with 20-somethings whose porkpie hats blow off their heads when they’re riding their fixed-gear bikes to the local tattoo parlor. And some people who haven’t been there in 20 years and don’t realize that it’s the real estate speculation capital of New England still call it Slumerville.
There are a lot of stereotypes that a lot of people think define Somerville, and none of them are really true. What is true, though, is that this place has a lot of great restaurants, coffee shops, and butchers. Here are the 19 best.
Sarma seems like it’s pretty much everyone’s favorite restaurant in Boston. And while we don’t give in to peer pressure easily (we still haven’t signed up for TikTok), we do agree that it’s worth the hassle to get a table at this Turkish spot in Winter Hill. It has one of the biggest small plates menus we’ve ever seen, and nearly every dish seems to have an entire grocery store’s worth of ingredients in it. The result is some really intense stuff, like the harissa bbq duck with almonds, orange blossom, and carrot brown butter, or the stuffed grape leaves.
M.F. Dulock is on our list for one the best butcher shops in Boston, and for good reason. You can pretty much get any cut of meat you want at this nose-to-tail butchery, with everything being sourced from within 250 miles of the city. Plus, in our experience, everyone who works here was more than willing to answer our “we’re clearly not butchers” questions, which is arguably the most important part of shopping at a butcher shop anyway.
Is ceviche still ceviche if it isn’t made with fish? That prompt would work pretty well as one of those unanswerable philosophy questions that supposedly promotes mindfulness. But if you’re more interested in eating great Peruvian food than achieving a higher state of mental being, head to this tiny, colorful spot in Union Square. The fishless ceviche (it’s made with artichokes and hearts of palm) is excellent, but so is just about everything else here - definitely get one of the stews.
Revival in Davis Square has the single largest wooden bench we’ve ever had the pleasure of sipping a cortado on. While that may seem like a useless piece of information, on sunny days that are remotely warm, that bench is exactly where you’ll want to be. Along with the great coffee, Revival also has some solid sandwich options for breakfast and lunch, and pastries that make you want to yell, “Put me in coach!”
photo credit: Tina Picz
Eating inside at Bow Market’s Tanam sort of feels like eating in a shipping container, since there’s only a single table in a rectangular room and you have to go outside and cross a courtyard if you want to go to the bathroom. But we would gladly spend months sleeping in a bunk, singing sea shanties, and dodging pirates if it meant having an all-access pass to Filippino food this good.
We’re not sure why, but we’ve never really been pie people. Then again, we didn’t grow up with the chocolate bourbon pecan, or bacon, leek, and gruyere ones from Petsi Pies either. Having any number of slices here is a revelatory experience, not unlike the first time we tried aerial yoga after a Blood Mary-heavy brunch. Yeah, we’ll just leave it at that.
3 Little Figs
3 Little Figs is a tiny cafe with really good coffee and a tasty black pepper egg and cheddar breakfast biscuit sandwich. They also sell a variety of baked goods, smoothies, and lunch sandwiches. That’s pretty much all we have to say about 3 Little Figs - it doesn’t sound like a lot, but that biscuit is enough to get us out of bed in the morning. That’s pretty monumental, especially considering the 11 snoozes it would take otherwise.
We really like the industrial style of Forge the coffee shop, and the old-school feel of Forge the ice cream bar. This surprisingly large space in Somerville also makes some good loaves of bread. If it wasn’t for the slow wifi, this would be our go-to work spot, but you can still find us here on the days when we want to switch between coffee, ice cream, and croissants - which is most days.
Always order the specials off the chalkboard next to the sushi counter when you go to Ebi. It’s not that the rest of the menu isn’t any good, it’s just that it’s the pieces of truffle scallop tartare and torched salmon belly with honey-lime marinade and crunchy garlic that elevate this place from casual little neighborhood spot to a place that tempts you to always stop by Union Square on your way home. Whether you actually go out of your way to eat here, or you live nearby and come in as often as possible, you won’t be the only one placing orders here - it can get really busy.
Reliable Market has been supplying Korean and Japanese groceries to Somerville residents for over 30 years. In the back of the store, there’s a fishmonger preparing sashimi-grade cuts right next to a takeout kitchen that offers things like bibimbap and udon soup. And if all that wasn’t enough, Reliable also has a huge selection of sake and craft beer. It’s the local supermarket we wish every neighborhood had.
Field and Vine
If you’ve ever had a Honey, I Shrunk The Kids fantasy, except instead of being lost in a suburban backyard, you wanted to be lost in a farmers market, head to Field and Vine in Union Square. The restaurant itself is covered in vines, and while the menu changes seasonally, you’ll find yourself surrounded by things like tomato salad with gin-spiked labneh, or grilled beets with nectarine and mint. The result is that you kind of feel like a tiny talking crouton wandering through a salad, but you’ll gladly eat your way out. The fish and meat dishes are great too.
Your experience at Tsurumen will probably differ on your first visit vs. your 68th. That’s because the type of ramen served here changes pretty frequently, but whatever’s on the menu, you can be sure that it’s a well-balanced bowl of greatness. From the shoyu to spicy tan tan to the tamari pork shoyu ramen, you won’t be disappointed. After all, this is the best ramen in Boston.
The Turkish omelette at Istanbul’lu in Teele Square comes in the skillet it was cooked in. We hypothesize that this is because the kitchen staff has to get the runny, cheesy mix of eggs, vegetables, and sausage out as fast as they can so they don’t eat it themselves. Come to this tiny, casual spot with rugs on the walls for brunch if you want a really good Turkish breakfast, or come for dinner if you want great meze like steamed lentils with scallions or an eggplant-zucchini-yogurt mix that’s so good you’ll probably try to make it yourself later (and fail).
Boston’s gotten a lot better at street food since the days when the only thing you could eat on the corner was a hot dog cooked in something that looks like it receives Superfund money, but judging by the Thai street noodles at this tiny counter-service spot in Davis Square, we have a long way to go. The menu is pretty small here, which in this case is a good thing, because you’re going to want to try every dish. Our favorite is the boat noodles with pork that falls off the bone if you just look at it, but it’s also really hard to beat the sweet and savory khao soi.
If there’s one thing that Harry and Lloyd taught us, it’s that condiments can really alter the dynamics of dinner. That’s certainly the case at Bronwyn, a German-ish spot in Union Square with some truly fantastic house-made horseradish mustard. We’d happily consume that stuff in spoonfuls straight out of a jar, but since that’s neither socially acceptable or kind to the olfactory system, we’ll keep having it with the great wursts and pretzels served here. Have a couple rounds of Glühwein too - just keep the salt on the table.
We hypothesize that the number of Massholes on the road would significantly decrease if fines were issued for the incorrect use of a traffic circle. But until that day comes, we like to think of Tu y Yo, located right on the Powder House Square traffic circle, as a place for dinner and a show. While the terrible driving does get old after a while, the tamales, sopes, and chile relleno certainly do not. Plus, there’s a full bar here as well, which is helpful for when you want to stay a while and write up a petition to the RMV.
Spoke in Davis Square is very much a wine bar, with small plates that are designed to complement your drinking rather than the other way around. But man are the small plates at this tiny spot good. The sunchoke doughnuts (which are onion ring-sized, not doughnut-sized) are the type of snack we’re always in the mood for, and they serve a couple more substantial things like sambal cured mackerel.
The great beers, board games, and live music are reason enough to go to Aeronaut Brewery, but if for some reason that’s not enough for you, what if we told you there’s also a nine-course, fine-dining restaurant hidden inside? The Tasting Counter is exactly what it sounds like: a counter that seats about 20 people here to taste some food. The food, in this case, is excellent - seasonal stuff like squab breast, langoustine, and miso ravioli. At around $325 per person, it’s not even close to cheap, but save it for something special and you won’t regret it.
Gracie's Ice Cream
All the alcohol cooks out when they make the salty whiskey ice cream at Gracie’s - at least that’s what we tell ourselves during our midday snack sessions. The salty whiskey happens to be our favorite scoop here, but we also enjoy the black raspberry chip and other seasonal flavors like ube and Golden Milk (ginger, turmeric, black pepper, and cinnamon). If you’re looking to change up those snacking blues, you can also get a Fluff cone any day of the year - a nod to the fact that Fluff was invented in Somerville.