NFT Boston Central Somerville / Porter Square

Central Somerville / Porter Square

Essentials
Porter Square feels less polished than Harvard and Davis, and living space here and in neighboring Somerville is slightly more affordable. Shops and restaurants are concentrated on Mass Ave, and a mix of young people, families, and townies populates the residential neighborhoods.

Sundries/Entertainment
With a less concentrated bar and restaurant scene than Davis or Harvard, Porter often gets overlooked -- but that just means fewer crowds for those in the know. Check out Highland Kitchen for wicked cocktails and tip-top pub grub, or head to Toad where there's live music every night. Get baked at some of the best bakeries in the Boston area: Petsi Pies, When Pigs Fly, or See more.

>Lyndell's Bakery.

Transportation
Furnished with perhaps the longest escalator in the land, and guarded by a 46-foot steel kinetic sculpture (painted red to match the subway line), the centrally located Porter Square T stop makes it easy to get from Porter to other corners of Cambridge, Somerville, Boston, and the commuter rail. Street parking is generally plentiful, but the surrounding roads seem to have been designed by scribbling toddlers.




         


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Boston's Squares

By Janet Potter
Ain't just squares in the schools we're talking about. From Copley to Coolidge, Kenmore to Central, Boston is a geographically square-rich complex of squarish personas. Join them, and they will always respect you.

Read More...
Boston's Rock Roots

By Suzanne Cope
I wanna rock! Rock! Long before Bostonians were sailing to America and hanging witches, they were performing live, sold-out rock shows decked out in glittery makeup and five-inch heels while harems of slithering females with golden candelabra headdresses did weird swishy circular hand dances around their faces. Don't believe me? Tell it to Suzanne Cope.

Read More...

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Pescatore
I really thought I knew where to find the best seafood in this town. (The obvious answer being "near the water.") But I now stand corrected. You actually have to go a little further inland, to Ball Square, to Pescatore. People keep referring to Pescatore as a "hidden gem," and these people aren't kidding. It's really hidden. While it's home to some cool shops, Ball Square isn't exactly the prettiest square in Somerville. And the building Pescatore calls home is an unassuming, awkwardly placed beige corner with a takeout counter and a separate dining room of about 5 tables (needless to say, reservations are recommended). But one bite of any of Pescatore's Italian seafood offerings will send all that location, location, location mumbo jumbo right out the window. The fruits of the sea are treated with the love and respect they deserve for every dish. Even if you don’t dig on seafood, you can still appreciate some of the best Italian fare in Boston, including the precious North End. I hate when people throw around the word "authentic," but I would wager that Pescatore's could put a smile on your off-the-boat Nonna's face. But not a hole in her wallet.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Highland Kitchen
A great local bar, just far enough away from the squares to weed out the riffraff, but still close enough to take the T (we are talking about a bar, here). That would be Highland Kitchen in a nutshell, were it not for the attention-grabbing menu that takes it to another level. With unusual drafts from microbrews including HeBrew, Dogfish Head, and BBC, you can easily entertain yourself for an entire evening just with the liquid menu. But the foodstuff offers something for everyone, and whatever that something is for you, you won't be able to pass it up. It's like pub food that's good enough for foodies. Whether it's mac 'n cheese, gnocchi in beef short rib rag, deviled eggs, Beer battered fish 'n chips, or spicy coconut curried goat stew, you are powerless to resist Highland Kitchen. Now get in line.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Wheel Questions
If you've ever walked down Elm Street towards Porter Square, you've probably noticed an intriguing little cove in the side yard of a house at the corner of Bernside Avenue. It took me some time to check it out, because it has a slightly creepy Blair Witch vibe to it from far away. But now there are signs inviting onlookers to come see, with promises of inspiration to be found within. So what is this place? It's an interactive garden with a little wooden "gazebo" that houses "The Wheel." This wheel displays questions left anonymously by community members (like yourself!). Some questions are deep, like "How do I keep my fears from disabling me?" Others are silly but still thought-provoking, like "What is Victoria's secret?" About three days after you "post" your question, an answer will appear on the wheel. The author of these answers employs a "secular philosophy meant to inspire you to think rationally and stop waiting to change your life."  In such a dense city, it's reassuring that such a lovely place exists to ponder the great mysteries of the universe and to get the answers to them, too! It's part public art project, part Inspiration Point.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Tu Y Yo
There are two things that separate Tu Y Yo from your run of the mill "authentic" Mexican restaurant. The first is that the dishes featured at Tu Y Yo replicate the style you'd find at a Mexican fonda: homemade, regional family recipes, 100% Mexican, and not a hint of "Tex Mex." That's right: sans chips and salsa, margaritas, and gorditas. Instead, you're looking at ingredients like mole, cactus, plantains, grasshoppers, and cuitlocoche (look it up, smarty pants) put to use in family recipes spanning the past hundred years. And you really can't make a bad choice (though I highly recommend starting with Empanadas de Plátano Macho con Queso). The second thing that makes Tu Y Yo a cut above the rest is that THE SANGRIA WILL BLOW YOUR EFFING MIND. This is how it's supposed to taste when you actually make it from scratch and ditch the Arbor Mist. Prices are a little higher than what you might associate with Mexican restaurants, but after one bite, you’ll know that this is not your typical Mexican restaurant and that there’s a reason why a meal at Taco Bell costs less than a can of cat food.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Random British Soldier Grave
The American Revolution kicked off at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Later that day as the British retreated, another skirmish took place between American and British soldiers in what is now the city of Somerville. The "sharp fight" took place on present day Elm Street near the intersection of Willow Avenue. With one loss already under their belt that day, the Redcoats suffered another blow by the minutemen, and the dead British solders were buried right where they fell. Today that spot is marked by a surprisingly inconspicuous tablet, facing the street, and often goes unnoticed by the pedestrians on the sidewalk because its text faces the street (or the door of whatever car happens to park next to it).  But if you stop to actually see what it is, the stone reads: "A sharp fight occurred here between the patriots and the British.  April 19, 1775. This marks British soldiers' graves." The grave sits in front of a bike shop called Ace Wheel Works. It's a good bike shop and everything. But still, if I were one of those soldiers buried on the side of the road, I'd be kinda pissed.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Tags Hardware
Because most leases forbid painting, many renters often adopt the attitude that if they can't change their wall color, they might as well not change anything else in their apartment. But there are so many improvements that can be made while still staying within the boundaries of a lease. And there is a wealth of inspiration to be had by visiting a good hardware store like TAGS. You probably don't need siding and lumber, so instead of Home Depot, head to TAGS, which is more like "Apartment Depot" (to borrow a phrase). They cover all the basics you could possibly need--from tools, keys, hardware, and electrical supplies to storage, shelving, decorating supplies, and a huge houseware department, in a vast two-floor space. TAGS is also a great one-stop-stop for seasonal items like air conditioners and Christmas tree stands. Their salespeople are actually competent and friendly. It is truly a joy to stop there, and I always come home skipping. TAGS' slogan is, "If you rent an empty apartment at 9 am, you can fill it with the basics by 5 pm at TAGS!" I have put this guarantee to the test: and it is true.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Shaw's
On the whole, Shaw's is a fine chain of supermarkets. As the ubiquitous supermarket of Boston, you could do far worse. Most Shaw's are similar in both layout and overall pleasant shopping experience. Except one: God help you if you set foot in the Shaw's at Porter Square! This particular Shaw's has managed to inspire and maintain a level of chaos unheard of in supermarkets. The main problem is the layout: a microcosm of the Boston street "grid," with no order or logic. Blind turns, narrow aisles, random poles blocking off even more space. What's more is that the clientele is overwhelmingly oblivious in navigating this Escher-like setup, and is just as dim-witted with carts as they are with cars. (I often wonder if everyone in the store is high.) They pull out of aisles without looking, block entire aisles off with their carts, come to a halt as soon as they exit the automatic doors, causing a three-cart pile up behind them. And now Shaw's has thrown a tripping hazard into the mix with new "Shop n' Roll" baskets. This place is dangerous, my friends. And don't even get me started on the parking lot.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Somerville Armory
While apartment hunting in Davis Square, I came across a building that did not belong among the typical Somerville style houses surrounding it. Concrete sandcastles are generally not often found in this area. Unfortunately, no information about it was present on the site, so I was forced to go on for months wondering what the heck it was. Then I found an old timey photo of it, labeled as the Somerville Armory. A little more research explained that it was built in 1903 to accommodate the Somerville Light Infantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia and later the Massachusetts National Guard. But since the 1970s, it sat vacant until it was purchased in 2004 by the owners of the Middle East restaurant and club, who are currently in the process of turning it into a community arts center. I have to say, I did enjoy the romance of wondering what this mysterious building was doing in the middle of Highland Ave, while it lasted. But in the end, I'm very glad to see that this cool structure is going to be given a new life. (Hopefully one that does not revolve around firearms.)



Posted By:  Patrick Hellen
Photo:  Patrick Hellen

Broken Yolk
I've often said that the definition of "comfortable," as in, I want to make enough money to live comfortably, is being able to afford to go out to breakfast every single morning like my Grandpa did after he retired from teaching. The Broken Yolk in Somerville is exactly the type of place he would have loved. I'm very much a greasy spoon fan, and when you're talking self-serve coffee, no table service, and plastic cutlery, you can't get much greasier. And personally, that's pretty damn perfect, freeing you to more fully focus on the chow the short order is pushing your way. The menu is pretty standard for a quick bite, with your usual options for eggs and sandwiches, and I suggest the hash as a good stick-to-your-ribs hearty item. The place seems to have a small identity crisis, with photos of Greece on the walls, and burritos on the menu, but the service is quick and the staff is friendly so you'll focus on the food. Since the Yolk is so close to Tufts, I'm assuming it's probably packed on Sunday mornings, so maybe try brunch first.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

When Pigs Fly
City livin' was made for the foodie, because it is possible to do all your food shopping without setting foot in a colossally bland grocery store. The result: higher quality food prepared by people who actually give a damn about their product and your happiness. A simple loaf of bread takes on its own importance once you drop the superficial Pepperidge Farm pretense. Instead, check out When Pigs Fly Bread Company and take note of the actual flavor, which is so often missing from mass-produced breads. And you'll be hard-pressed to find an unfavorable style at When Pigs Fly; they cover everything from whole wheat (three kinds!), sourdough (rolls, too), and rye, to specialty artisan breads that are chock full of nuts, fruit, spices, and whatever else you can cram into a loaf. (Try the Banana, Pecan, Maple, and Brown Sugar variety. AWE-some.) But if you have to go to the Big Blah Markets, When Pigs Fly is also a shining beacon in the bread aisle at stores like Shaw's, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods, and Market Basket.



Posted By:  Leah Bagas
Photo:  Leah Bagas

Passage to India
When I think "Passage to India" I usually think of sitting in English class. Now I think of Porter Square. Now, I am a huge fan of Indian in general so I am already biased towards Passage to India. Like most Indian places, there is a great weekend lunch buffet. Tasty, indeed. What sets Passage apart are two things: they have a great vegetable curry and amazing kheer (Indian Rice Pudding). It can be hard sometimes to find really good veggie dishes when you don't want to have a buffet feast of tandoori chicken. However, there is one more thing that I like about Passage. I don't feel like a weirdo loser when I sit there alone to eat! That is something a $8 buffet can't buy.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Stone Hearth Pizza Co.
Let's see, how can I eat pizza and still feel good about it (or at least, not feel as bad)? Take a trip outside of Boston to Stone Hearth Pizza Co., and find the answer you seek. I would not suggest making this trip if the pizza were not damn well worth it. The toppings: fresh and seemingly limitless. The sauce: bellissimo! The crust: crispy, delicious, also available in whole wheat. "Okay," you say, "so the pizza's great. Hoop de damn do! I can go to the North End for that." Ah, but I still haven't told you why you will feel good about eating this pizza: Stone Hearth vows to always utilize healthy, organic, local, and sustainable ingredients to create their enchanting fare. The team running the show believes that this principle not only begets top-notch quality, but also supports the local economy and area farmers, and preserves natural resources. You can't argue with that, folks! So hop in the car and head to Needham (or the other Stone Hearth location in Belmont) to eat pizza, allowing yourself to become part of the solution--not part of the problem.



Posted By:  Emily Doutre
Photo:  Emily Doutre

Kickass Cupcakes
I think, for most of you, when I tell you that there is a new store in Davis Square called Kick Ass Cupcakes, all I have to tell you is the address and you’ll be there. But for the rest of you bums who say, “What do these guys have that my box o’Duncan Hines doesn’t?” it’s going to take a little more convincing. The difference between Kick Ass and your pals Duncan, Betty, and the Dough Boy is that Kick Ass knows what they’re doing. They are perfecting the underrated art of cupcake excellence, beyond the “just-add-egg-and-water-to-this-box-of-chocolate-dust” approach. Using fine ingredients like Valrhona chocolate, India Tree natural colors and decorating sugars, and Rumford aluminum-free baking powder, Kick Ass conscientiously blows your mind with flavors like Cinnamon Chai Pecan Sticky, Berry Crumbly, and my favorite, The Mojito, as well as delicious version of old favorites. And don’t give me the “I have to walk the dog” excuse, because they have a special line of cupcakes for canines and felines, too. So if there are any stragglers left over who are not convinced, I suggest you seek therapy.



Posted By:  Stuart Kurtz
Photo:  Stuart Kurtz

Wang’s looks like your typical take out-eat in place, but this may be the best Chinese food in the metro area (not counting those places in Chinatown where you wait forever just to get a table). The cuisine is from the north of China, although the owner wouldn’t say just how far north (Manchuria, even?). Dumplings are a specialty; they must turn out a few thousand a week. They’re chewy, not doughy or heavy, and not at all rubbery like some from other joints. The Hunan Spicy Chicken has tender meat chunks, baby corn, peppers, and water chestnuts in a mildly spicy brown sauce. Eel with sour piddle sauce is for connoisseurs. And just as a warning: there are more bones than Davy Jones’ Locker. You’ll work for your meal. For the prospector in you, try the wildly different sea cucumber and pork. No, not those colorful squishy things you’ve seen in aquariums. They’re whelks, kind of like small scungilli. The stir-fry bitter melon with dry shrimp presents challenges, as the melon tastes foul at first and leaves your tongue with a case of the fuzzies; but it grows on you. On your way to the restroom, you’ll walk past the kitchen and catch a glimpse of the family making some of those delicious dumplings.



Posted By:  Todd Strauss
Photo: 

R.F. O'Sullivan & Son
I don't eat burgers often, but when I do, I don’t want it to look like a defrosted hockey puck and taste grosser than the frozen ones that your cheap ass friends grill for the 4th of July (they have the nerve to call it a BBQ). I also hate it when the burger is made from such crap quality meat that it smells and tastes like baloney. I want my burger to be thick, hand formed, red inside, and topped with cheddar cheese and several crispy slices of bacon. The best place to go for this is Grumpy White's, but since they are way too far away in that South Shore land called Quincy, you might as well settle for the second (or maybe the third) best burger, and this is at R.F. O'Sullivans. Some people complain that their burgers are, well, a little too thick, but, hell, that's their opinion.



Posted By:  Todd Strauss
Photo: 

Tacos Lupita
Tacos Lupita is one of those rare places that actually makes me wish that I lived in Somerville. The food is fresh, the horchata is delicious, and you really cannot go wrong with anything on the menu. People rave about their burritos, but I have yet to have one. I always get a variety of tacos. It doesn't matter what filling you chose. They are all superb. And don't stop there, make sure to get a mulita. The thick tortillas and the gooey melted cheese make this a way better treat than a quesadilla. Don't forget, this is an El Salvadoran restaurant so you must have a pupusa.



Posted By:  Stuart Kurtz
Photo:  Stuart Kurtz

This is no pie in the sky. It’s only the best pie around, excluding of course the one your grandmother whips up. Rene McLeod (Petsi was her childhood name) learned a lot of her panache from her Nanny Shields. If you can bake love into pies, Rene does it. The chocolate sour cream cake, for example, was her Nanny’s recipe, but the coconut cake is her own. Her signature pie is the sweet potato, made with mashed up bits of the humble tuber–just enough firmness, and not too sweet as the starchiness balances the sugar. The pecan pie is Petsi’s second celeb in the house. The nuts soak up the corn syrup to plump perfection. Her blueberry pie is less sweet than most due to a mystery guest: clove. While her crusts are never soggy, they do soak up juices but maintain body. Pies are not all that Petsi serves, there’s also a nice selection of savory tarts.



Posted By:  Joy Mazzola
Photo:  Joy Mazzola

Drive along Elm Street in Davis Square and you may catch a glimpse of this tucked away spot. On foot, it’s impossible to resist investigating further. How can you walk on by when there’s a bright red sign and an arrow with the words “think small” on it pointing into an alleyway? A polka-dotted path leads to this garage-turned-gallery, and it’s clear immediately that this is no ordinary art-space. Interestingly Willoughby and Baltic shows science and technology-themed work. But even more curious is their marionette theater, called the “Colossal Nanotheater,” in which their String Theory Marionettes come to life. Hmmm. A mysterious alleyway, a red arrow, local artists and puppet shows. In a world of Ipods, summer blockbusters and video games, Willoughby and Baltic is a refreshing little nugget of culture.



Posted By:  Emma Lockwood
Photo:  Emma Lockwood

Let it first be said that the recently opened Greenward is a damn fine place to buy a little something for a housewarming/birthday/new baby/I’m sorry occasion. But not just any little something. A unique and eco-friendly something. We’re not talking about a bunch of ill-fitting hemp shirts here. We’re talking modern, well-designed objects d’eco. Al Gore, the Live Earth concert, wind turbines—there’s quite a hubbub going on, and Greenward is more proof that we can all do a little something for our planet. Do you bring cloth bags to the supermarket? Do you try to ride your bike or take public transportation instead of driving? Do you also have a subscription to Dwell or Metropolitan Home? If you answered yes to any of these questions then super-stylish Greenward is for you. And they put their money where their mouth is—the store is built with earth-friendly materials, and lit with energy-efficient bulbs.



Posted By:  Emma Lockwood
Photo:  Emma Lockwood

Kickass Cupcakes
Alright. It’s way too soon to mention since all we’re talking about here is an empty storefront, but I’m beside myself with cupcake excitement and I can’t hold it in. A sign has appeared in the window of 378 Highland Avenue. No movement yet, just a “coming soon” notice and a logo with a picture of a cupcake in the middle. What could this mean? Does it mean there’ll be cupcakes in Davis Square? Does it? Will we all be able to wash down our JP Licks with a lovely bit of frosted cake? Well, frankly, I don’t know. But I have a good feeling about it. I like the saucy name, and who the hell says no to a cupcake? I’m keeping a close watch and saving my appetite.




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See Central Somerville / Porter Square...
Restaurants (26)
Nightlife (6)
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