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Moving to Porter Square

This weekend, I'll be moving to Porter Square. My friend and I would like some advice on where to find the following:

For the kitchen:
A butcher - Savenor's is not a daily option. I know about McKinnon's. How's the meat at Market Basket?
A baker - I don't remember Petsi's selling bread....should I just trek to Hi-Rise or Iggy's? Does Union Bakery carry breads?
A candlestick maker - ok, not really
A fish monger - Should I just stick with Courthouse? How's the fish at Market Basket?
Good looking produce - Will I have to treck out to Russo's or can Market Basket deliver the goods? I know that once the farmer's markets start, I'll feel better about this, but in the mean time...
An all purpose grocery store for when we're feeling lazy - Market Basket? Is Evergood Market good in a pinch?

Why are both Shaws/Star markets so abysmal?

Eating out:
Chinese - What should I order at Zoe's? I feel like it's very hit or miss.
Indian - Passage to India seems average and India Club is turning into Addis Red Sea - what else is there or should I stick with Namaskar in Davis?
Thai - Tried Tamarind House recently and wasn't blown away, but it will do in a pinch - is there anything else worthwhile? How's Sugar & Spice?
Pizza - How's Di Mio? I know Pini's delivers down here.
Coffee - Cafe Rustica - is their cappuccino any good? Other neighborhood coffee shops? I'm adverse to Rose's.
Other than Christopher's and Sully's, is there another good pub around? How's the food at the Thirsty Scholar?
A great salad or sandwich - I'm drawing a blank here - is Blue Shirt in Davis my best bet? Or Oxford Spa?
Tea shop - Does Tea Zone have service or is it just a store?
Deli/Appetizing - Where to get lox on a bagel for breakfast? Or a great pastrami on rye? I might be pushing my luck.


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    1. I stopped eating at the Thirsty Scholar a while back because the quality of the food and the service were abysmal. My last burger there (requested medium rare) bore a very strong resemblance to a hockey puck. My second to last visit included an order of nachos that came out with cold congealed cheese - yum.

      Good place to have a beer and watch a game, but don't eat there.

      3 Replies
      1. re: heathermb

        ew. Just ew. Thanks for the warning.

        1. re: heathermb

          My husband and I went to the Thirsty Scholar for dinner a couple of Wednesdays ago, and had fine drinks, good pub food, hot & not congealed nachos & attentive service. It was pretty empty, as it was mid-week & relatively early, but we'd go again.

          1. re: trsf

            I'm glad to hear your experience was better than mine. Given my string of many bad food experiences, I'm going to stay away until I hear that things have VASTLY improved. Too many other good places to go!

        2. I won't attempt a comprehensive response, but a few notes from a guy who lived in Porter Square for years.

          Baker: if you're looking for bread, Hi-Rise is probably your best bet (I think Iggy's is ridiculously overrated). Formaggio Kitchen also carries a wide selection of good breads made daily, including wonderful breads by B&R (the guy who used to be the baker at Sel de la Terre). They also do deli sandwiches most days -- including the occasional pastrami on rye, which they do very well.

          Thai: I think you're being too generous with Tamarind House. It stinks. You may have to go to Harvard Square or Inman for decent Thai, although I haven't tried Sugar & Spice.

          Pub: best bet is to head into Davis, where there are several.

          Korean: Yes, I know you didn't ask, but I need to mention Seoul Food on MassAve, which is delightful and reliable. It was one of my mainstays when I lived over there.

          Indian: there was a place just north of the square, across from KFC, whose name I can't recall, but I remember it got some good writeups.

          Pizza: Armando's in Huron Village is surprisingly decent. So is Village Kitchen, also in Huron Village. I believe Armando's delivers.

          4 Replies
          1. re: B. Savarin

            I think the place across from KFC is now an Afghani place. It used to be called Buzkachi but they changed the name.

            I agree with both Armando's and Village Kitchen. I like VK a lot.

            There is also Orantique in Huron Village. I haven't had much luck with great food there. Always luke warm and had been sitting in the pot for awhile. But very sweet service.

            1. re: beetlebug

              Now if only the Walden St Bridge would open back up, I could zip constantly up there!

            2. re: B. Savarin

              Unfortunately, Armando's does not deliver, but their pizza is worth the quick drive if you can pick it up.
              Sugar & Spice - I like the soups and noodles. The Chicken Masaman Curry didn't resemble the Masaman I was expecting. It was very bland; just did have the right flavoring.
              Deli - One of the small convenience shops on the right towards Cambridge Common has Boar's Head and makes a good sandwich and breakfast sandwich to go.
              Lox on a bagel - when I want that, I head to the bar at S&S
              Places to check out: West Side Lounge for brunch or drinks at the bar. It is a great place to eat solo as well if you are out on a walk.
              Porter Exchange - my favorite is Choo Choo, it is Korean I believe. my favorite dish is the beef Soon Du bo -something like that
              I just popped into that convenience store that used to be the White Hen across from the Exchange. It is now Gourmet Deli or something like that. The staff was very nice and the place looked clean and had some good looking groceries on the shelves - nice honeys and condiments, some produce. I didn't check out the prices on the groceries, but the sandwich I got was good and well priced.

              Have fun exploring.

              1. re: B. Savarin

                I prefer Buk Kyung to Seoul Food. Seoul Food always seems really greasy to me. Also, their panchan is miserable.

                Thanks for the pizza recs!

              2. Baker - Formaggio has Iggy's breads as well as B&R (my current fave), Clear Flour and others. If you are going to Hi-Rise, there coffee and take out dinners are also very good.

                Meat - I usually just go to Whole Foods for meat. Fish also now that Fresh Pond Seafood shuttered its doors. Sometimes I go to the Fishmonger on Huron Ave (next to Formaggio).

                I can't help you with Market Basket because I don't go there often enough to give an accurate assessment. I go a few times a year and it's packed but reasonably priced. The produce is of good quality and the turnover is high. When I was on my mexican cooking phase, I noticed that the tomatillos were comparably priced to Whole Foods so the savings may not be as great on certain items.

                Thai - Tamarind House is slightly better than Sugar & Spice. But neither really does it for me.

                Indian - I usually head into Arlington for eat in (Punjab) and there are no decent take out places in the Porter area.

                Pub food - Food at the Thirsty Scholar is ok. Not good and not bad. But parking is easier to deal with than heading the extra few blocks into Inman.

                Cafe Rustica - I have friends who swear by it (both coffee and sandwiches) but it's never on my radar.

                Oxford Spa - the sandwiches are pretty good there. I don't go there often because of the location. If I feel the need to eat a sandwich, I usually grab a fancy one from Formaggio and occasionally, Hi-Rise. BTW, Hi-Rise does do half sandwiches and their soups are quite satisfying.

                Also you will probably be closer to Union Square now which opens up a whole world of possibilities too.

                3 Replies
                1. re: beetlebug

                  For restaurants, if you have a car, Arlington Center is not far and offers many possibilities. Search here for lots of recs.

                  1. re: peregrine

                    Arlington is a quick hop on the 77 bus, too.

                    I like Tango for steak and Punjab for Indian.

                  2. re: beetlebug

                    Market Basket has one of, if not the largest meat selection around. Almost every cut from every animal, including lots of offal and harder to find meat, like goat. The prices are outstanding, and the high turnover means a fresh product.

                    Is it the best meat? No, Savenor's and Whole Foods' is better, but also 3-4 times as expensive. Market Basket's meat is on the same level as the major supermarkets (shaw's, stop and shop), but usually a bit fresher.

                    For selection and price, Market Basket's meat section is tough to match.

                    I still make the trek to Russo's for produce, but will go to Market Basket in a pinch. The produce is like the meat: good selection, high turnover, and low prices.

                  3. Welcome to the neighborhood.

                    The Star/Shaws is terrible and terribly expensive because it caters to a captive student / grad population that does not have the wheels to go elsewhere for their food. I periodically go down the Ave (Somerville Ave) to the Basket (Market Basket) to scope for deals. One example: Newman's Own Lemonade (and other varieties) - Typically pushes two bucks or more at the Shaw's - Often, I can get it for $1.50 at the Basket. They also have surprisingly good produce and cheaper than Shaw's - Recently had very sweet and large pineapples for $3. These are but two examples - I am sure you can make out.

                    This is sort of how the whole area slants - the closer you get to Tufts or Harvard the more you pay. The closer to Union, the cheaper.

                    Although it is isolated from the T, Union Square is far superior in terms of quality, number and diversity of restaurants than Porter. There are great, low-rent places there - For coffee and fresh scones, hit the Sherman Cafe. The Independent has a good bar area and good grub. The Neighborhood Restaurant has a great weekend brunch. Myriad others....

                    Fish monger: Try Roma Seafood just past Union - I think they have good deals.

                    Chinese: I order almost exclusively from Qing Dao in North Cambridge - they deliver to Porter Square and I find it superior to Zoe's. Many threads on ordering on the board.

                    Indian: I don't disagree with your assessment, although I think there is Indian in Union Square that is comparable.

                    Thai: I order from Lemon Tree Thai (I think) on Highland Avenue - it's ok, but I feel like the prices are a touch more reasonable.

                    Pizza: Porter is a pizza wasteland. I've enjoyed the pies from La Ronga Bakery on Somerville Avenue, for really homemade seriously cheap pizza, but it's only pick-up and I am never around when they are open it seems. However, definitely check out La Ronga for fresh basic bread - no multigrain business there, but outstanding fresh sub rolls, italian bread, etc.

                    Tea Zone is just a store.

                    Also, don't forget Tacos Lupita is in Wilson Square (the square with the Cumby's) - still the best Mexican for my money -

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      > However, definitely check out La Ronga for fresh basic bread - no multigrain business
                      > there, but outstanding fresh sub rolls, italian bread, etc.

                      Agreed -- however, they do have a multigrain loaf -- I had one last week. I think they also had a wholemeal loaf.

                    2. Pizza: I agree with the others on Armando's - a 20 minute walk on a pleasant day from Cambridge Common. Di Mio is decent, similar to Cambridge 1 (which I find not that good). I actually prefered Bertucci's when I lived in the area
                      Sandwiches: Try Montrose Spa for their Cuban.
                      Salads: Cambridge Common has tasty, large salads with varied ingredients
                      Groceries: Market Basket has the cheapest dairy, bread, fruits, and vegetables (and good quality too), but try to avoid the after-work crowd. Evergood Market has reasonable prices on fruits and veggies, check the specials, but everything else is comparable price or higher to Shaw's.

                      1. Depending on where in Porter Sq. you are, Qingdao Garden might be walkable.

                        I think Passage to India is abysmal. Namaskar is pretty good, but I greatly prefer Tanjore in Harvard Sq.

                        I don't like Di Mio at all. So much so that I won't eat it even if it's free. This may be a pizza style issue, so you may enjoy it if you like cracker crust pizza, sweeter sauces and heavy cheese. The only pizza I've found in the Somerville/Cambridge area that I like are Pini's and Pinocchio's. I haven't tried Armando's yet, though.

                        If you do find real bagels, pastrami, etc. please let me know! I think you're out of luck on that one, though.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: maillard

                          i have been searching for 2 years for a REAL ny bagel and lox....in the porter area.
                          you can find lox from time to time, like at Renees in Teele/Davis, but certainly not any REAL bagels....
                          no such luck on our side of the river!

                        2. I only went to DiMio's once but had a pretty tasty duck pizza. Give it a shot.
                          Don't forget Montrose Spa on Mass Ave. towards Harvard for sandwiches.

                          1. Ok. Look. Market Basket is your friend. All god's children shop at Market Basket. The butcher shop (with a real butcher that you can ask to cut different meats etc) is good. No, you're not going to find farm-raised chickens and exotic strains of wild-caught fish but you are going to find a LOT of variety and some of the best produce around. Really. In particular, the herbs they sell are fresh fresh fresh and you can find all kinds of exotic (to me) vegetables. The prices on regular groceries can't be beat -- paper towels, Tide, etc. I usually make one trip to MB a week and supplement with fish from Courthouse, or the occasional fancy thing from Whole Foods.

                            Now, the caveat. this particular Market Basket is absolutely a zoo, at any time of the day or night, and worse on weekends. If you do not have a supply of valium, you will need to have a firm talk with yourself before you head in to the store. Patience. Zen. Deep Cleansing breaths. You know the drill. They are ALWAYS stocking the aisles and there are always a million people in there with impossibly full carts and families in tow. But if you can go at an odd time (try a Tuesday night) you will be fine and your wallet will thank you.

                            I used to live right in Porter and Breuggers were the best bagels around. Sad but true. No real "deli" but the Montrose spa makes great sandwiches including a servicable cubano. I was at the Thirsty Scholar last night and I'd echo Heathermb's sentiments about the food. Good place for a pint though. I understand the Half Shell does good pizza but I've not strayed from Regina's and the Paddock lately. Zoe's is totally hit or miss, although when they are hitting and you get that spicy cumin lamb dish, it's very very good. I'll think of more soon. Not sure where to send you for the candles.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: yumyum

                              I find that if I go to the Market Basket while wearing flip-flops, it forces me to walk much slower than my normally frenetic, New England-style pace, which is just about the right speed to trudge along with the rest of the masses in the slo-mo, Busby Berkeley-esque dance for food stuffs.

                              Oh, forgot to mention -

                              Parish Cafe is opening a second branch at the former Rustic Kitchen site soon...

                              and Addis Red Sea is opening a second branch on Mass Ave. soon...both very welcome additions.

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                I'm all for the frenzy of Market Basket after setting foot inside of Star Market on Beacon St last night. I got elbows and I know how to use 'em.

                                1. re: gini

                                  Actually, I find that folks are MUCH more polite at the Market Basket than, say, Whole Foods by Alewife.

                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina


                                    It's not the elbows that are necessary at MB, it's the patience. Lots of nice folks. Just slooooow. I like the flipflops idea Bob Dob.

                                    1. re: yumyum

                                      MB is an adventure for sure. My tips are: go shortly before closing... after 8 pm. So much less crowded.

                                      The other strategy that worked for me--especially at busy times--was to go on foot, thus avoiding the chaotic parking lot, and also allowing me to use the Express Lane (a person can only carry so much). That made it much more bearable. I think their produce, meat, fish is slightly lower in quality than some supermarkets, but they offer good service and variety and great prices.

                            2. Rustica - cappuccino is good, not earth-shattering. However the super-nice owners and spectacularly relaxing back patio more than make up for it, making it far and away my favorite coffee hangout in the area.

                              Other coffee - Simon's on Mass Ave has earned a reputation for pulling some of the best espresso in town. Diesel has also vastly improved in the past few years, if you don't mind the hoardes of hipsters.

                              Breads - Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis and Wine and Cheese Cask near Union both carry good loaves from, I believe, Clear Flour and Hi Rise, respectively. Shaws carries Iggy's.

                              Sandwich - Dave's Fresh Pasta makes some very respectable panini

                              1. Wow, thanks for the quick and comprehensive responses!

                                1. There are yummy sandwiches at Sessas, the Italian market on Highland Ave in the center of Davis.

                                  1. Depending on which part of Porter you are moving to...

                                    Pizza - One CHer has often heralded Newtowne as having good, Paddock-like bar pizza. I remember a warning to take out only, since the clientele can be a bit rough, but I think you could handle it! Di Mio is awful (and the customer service we got one time was really bad). Bad crust - I found it pretty flavorless, thin.

                                    Pubs - Thirsty Scholar is okay. I've been happy with the mussels and the curry fries. Hard to mess those up. The music can get really loud and cheesy, though. Don't forget about Toad for free live music and a friendly crowd (no food, though). Not a fan of the food at Christopher's or Cambridge Common. Spirit, while winning no prizes for food either, also has all the major sports packages with audio and is a friendly place. You could do worse than to sit at the bar on a Sunday afternoon to catch a football game (the taps are pretty awful, though, both selection-wise and cleanliness of the lines...I'd stick with bottles).

                                    Right down the street, the KFC/Taco Bell has mercifully closed recently - no idea what is coming in, but keep your fingers crossed! In that same area, beetlebug is right - there is an Afghani place, but I would be surprised if it lasts much longer...it is perpetually empty.

                                    I have been told numerous times to avoid Kaya.

                                    I guess technically, Harvard Sq., but Forest Cafe has the audio for all Red Sox games - fun to sit at the bar and nibble snacks while catching a few innings. Always an interesting crowd.

                                    The Market Basket seems perpetually a zoo. We go by it almost every morning on our way to work, and it never fails to amaze us how packed the lot is EVERY day. Great deals, though. Sharpen those elbows!

                                    Farther afield, and probably technically Davis Sq., but Capone Foods just opened last weekend. Do they do sandwiches in the Union Sq. location?

                                    Candles - Either that artist co-op shop next to Emack and Bolio's or Cambridge Naturals. :)

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: a l i c e

                                      Newtowne has food? I've actually been inside, a l i c e, and think I can hang with the best (or worst of them). I'll try the pizza and report back. Never had the food at Spirit either, but the big tvs are nice (and they have the package!). Ate at kaya once, never need to go back again.

                                      Forgot about Capone's opening! Thanks for the reminder.

                                      1. re: gini

                                        For what it's worth, I've tried the pizza at Newtowne, and while it certainly does *look* like a Paddock pie, I've found the taste to range somewhere between middling and bad.

                                        Having said that, it's hard to find fault with their pie-and-a-pitcher specials, especially during Sox season. Sometimes, even when pizza is bad, it's good.

                                      2. re: a l i c e

                                        since i'm an early riser by nature, i sometimes go to market basket early in the morning right when they open. and it's *still* always packed!

                                        1. re: a l i c e

                                          Your initial post makes it sound like you are going to be between Porter and Union Squares, which is where I live, so I've found this a useful thread too as a fairly recent newcomer to the area.

                                          I agree with the poster who mentioned La Ronga Bakery on Somerville Ave. Great cheap deals on pizza and subs (3.50 plus tax for two larges slices of cheese pizza and a 20oz drink seems cheap to me, anyway) and very nice bread baked on the premises. They seem to pre-slice the majority of their loaves. They cost just under two dollars. I have no idea if this is a good deal, but the bread is definitely worthwhile. My only complaint about this place is that they are closed in the evenings.

                                          Happily the City Slicker Cafe has recently opened almost directly across the road. This is run by some people who had an apparently well liked place in Davis called The Urban Gourmet. They sell pizza, subs, etc., but fairly high-end ones. So far I'd say it is a good spot. And they stay open relatively late.

                                          Tacos Lupita is also nearby, next door to the Tea Zone, and consistently gets props from people all over the metro area. It's fairly cheap and good, and provides a more relaxing environment to sit down and eat in than Anna's Taqueria close to the Porter T, which has tiny tables and an assembly line vibe.

                                          Also, don't forget the Gol! supermarket for Brazilian/Portuguese grocery action.

                                          Across the tracks on Beacon St. near Sully's / Star Market, there is Petsi Pies, which on the basis of two visits I can say does excellent home-baked pies. There you have it, not much more to say.

                                          I haven't experimented much with pubs in the nether region between Porter and Union Squares. Davis has the most authentic pubs nearby that I've found, but I haven't yet checked out the two bars on Somerville Ave. There are two either side of the street. I think one was called the Sky Bar at some time and seems to be a disco kind of deal. Any comments on those bars? I like old's men's pubs ...

                                          1. re: chickendhansak

                                            I forgot about Gol!

                                            The bars between Porter and Union on Somerville Avenue - Razzy's I think is one - have recently undergone a major cosmetic upgrade - brightly colored new canopies and signage at least - so that I might consider checking them out, whereas before they seemed just a little scary.

                                            There is also the Mambo Club in that section that seems always pretty busy, but I have yet to go in, don't know if there is chow, etc.

                                            Also, isn't City Slicker Cafe just a bad name? I have avoided going in there simply on that basis.

                                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                              Definitely, and the signage design is pretty bad too, but it seems a worthy addition to the area, although certainly more pricey than most other businesses around there.

                                              Thanks for the tips on the pubs; Razzy's is the one I was thinking of checking out.

                                            2. re: chickendhansak

                                              Sky Bar is scaaaary. Not recommended.

                                              1. re: yumyum

                                                Why do you think it's scary? It seemed like a clean rock club when I went.

                                                1. re: Joanie

                                                  God, it must have been 3 years ago now? The place was packed with employees from the envelope factory nearby who were all ragging on the boss and/or the union and/or "foreigners" and they were NOT open to strangers. My friend and I (who both like old man bars and dives) felt really unwelcome.

                                                  1. re: yumyum

                                                    I feel like Sky Bar is definitely different nowadays.

                                              2. re: chickendhansak

                                                actually, there is more to say about petsi's. the scones rock, and so do the ham and pepper biscuits.

                                              3. re: a l i c e

                                                Reading through all the posts until now, I was wondering why no one covered Toad as a good neighborhood pub for beer and free music nightly. Alice is right on about Toad. Sometimes I used to grab a bite at Lupita or Christopher's then head to Toad for pints and music.

                                              4. Seems like most of the bases have been covered, but if you're walking up Mass Ave towards Arlington to get to Qing Dao, check out Pemberton Garden Center (right hand side, on the corner of Day St.). I frequently get produce there if I can hit it when it's fresh. (Lettuce is about a buck cheaper than at Whole Foods). They also make good sandwiches and have an interesting, though pricey, array of other goodies. Now that spring is here, you can even buy a couple of pots of fresh herbs, if you're so inclined.

                                                1. All these replies and nobody commented on Evergood? Am I the only Evergood fan?

                                                  My favorite things to buy there are bread (from Iggy's, at non-inflated prices, unlike other small shops in the Harvard Sq. area that shall go unnamed) and produce. Evergood has a solid selection for such a small place and good prices. Obviously you have to pick and choose, but I used to pass by regularly and plan dinner around whatever vegetables were good and cheap. Evergood also has little baggies of fresh herbs for about 59 cents which are great for making one meal's worth.

                                                  It's a decent place for quick basics too-- eggs, milk, cheese, a piece of chicken, TP, etc.

                                                  Oh, and I second the Pemberton's rec -- nice for random gourmet-ish things, plus plants

                                                  1. For a fish market, it is definitely worth hopping in your car to check out the New Deal Fish Market on Cambridge Street in Cambridge. IMO they are the best in the area. A small family owned fishmonger who will always discuss what is fresh and how it should be prepared. They will remember your preferences as soon as you are through the door. There are not too many places like New Deal any more. It will be about a 10 min drive for you.

                                                    1. I've got to disagree with the assessment of Porter Square being a pizza wasteland -- it pretty much is except for the Half Shell, which does excellent pizza, calzones, and subs as well as breakfast all day.

                                                      And I much prefer Tamarind House to Sugar and Spice.

                                                      Be sure also to try the little restaurants at Porter Exchange (but avoid the sushi bar Kotobukiya and be a little wary of Sapporo Ramen, the former being awful, the latter being inconsistent).

                                                      There's also Elephant Walk for excellent Cambodian food, Changsho for good though Americanized Chinese food, West Side Lounge for dinner or brunch, and Forest Cafe for good non-taco Mexican. For taco-type Mexican, there's Anna Taqueria and Boca Grande (I prefer the former), and for a more authentic version, Tacos Lupita. Plus there's a Rosie's Bakery, and they do nice sandwiches and soups too. Cafe Baraka does worthwhile Middle Eastern cuisine. Bruegger's is OK for bagels and such. O'Sullivan's does great burgers, though there are a few on this board who don't like the place. Andy's does a good greasy spoon breakfast.

                                                      I'll also enthusiastically second Oxford Spa, Simon's, Seoul Food, Qingdao Garden, Hi Rise, Iggy's, Armando's, Village Kitchen, La Ronga, and Petsi Pies.

                                                      Evergood is a great little neighborhood market, while Pemberton Farms is like a gourmet's idea of a farm stand with big prices to match. Cambridge Naturals has some healthy foods among all the supplements and the like. Market Basket is pretty good too -- best supermarket prices -- but it's always crowded. Star and Shaw's are horribly expensive.

                                                      Avoid Kaya, Socrates Newtowne Grill, Subs Express, and Zoe's.

                                                      DiMio's, Cambridge Common, Temple Bar, and Christopher's are just so-so.

                                                      Passage to India is OK, but there's better in other parts of Cambridge/Somerville. Thirsty Scholar is nothing special -- but two great dinner places nearby are Evoo and Dali.

                                                      And Davis Square is a whole other slew of stuff. Gargoyle's, Namaskar, Marta's on Elm, and Out of the Blue are all very good, and so is Johnny D's for brunch and Diesel Cafe for coffee and the like. I also like Redbones, but it has its detractors on this board. Antonio's is OK Italian, while Mike's is middling pizza and subs. Avoid Diva and approach Rosebud Diner with caution outside of breakfast. The pub-like places are all varying degrees of so-so: The Burren, Orleans, Joshua Tree -- flip a coin food-wise.

                                                      6 Replies
                                                      1. re: bachslunch

                                                        Huh? Zoe's (you mean the Chinese place next to the "ghetto Star", right?) is awesome. You have to know what to order - but they do fantastic and very authentic Chinese. True, it can be hit or miss but I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. Sure, it looks a bit dodgy and we usually order takeout (they also deliver) ... but I'm surprised to hear someone recommending against it.

                                                        1. re: Sgt Snackers

                                                          Could you recommend a few dishes at Zoe's? I've liked the tea smoked duck, cumin lamb, the salt and pepper scallops, and the General Tsao's tofu.

                                                          1. re: gini

                                                            You're right on the money with the dishes you mentioned.

                                                            I also love their stir-fried eggplant, and personally prefer the salt and pepper shrimp to the scallops. The Sichuan whole fish dishes are great too, but I wouldn't get them take-out.

                                                            While I'm not as much of a fan, the chef is known for his Shanghainese, so the grand marnier prawns and crispy whole fish in sweet and sour sauce are theoretically pretty good.

                                                            1. re: gini

                                                              Those are some of my favorites too. Also enjoyed the pork with cilantro, dan dan noodles, shredded beef with hot pepper, the spicy potato dish, and the lotus root app.

                                                            2. re: Sgt Snackers

                                                              Yes, that's the Zoe's I mean. Got a lunch there that was quite weak preparation and flavor-wise, and worse yet the server was terrible (I had to hunt her down in the kitchen area to get waited on -- no one was at the front stand -- and for the check because she took so long, and I wound up getting my own water and refilling it myself because she disappeared except for bringing out the plate of food -- which was cold because she probably was nowhere to be found when it came up).

                                                              1. re: bachslunch

                                                                Sorry to hear that. I think the food there is great. I tend to order takeout from there however...

                                                          2. There are lots of good recommendations here. I'd also recommend Hana Sushi, further down Mass Ave in North Cambridge. I think they are much better quality than Bluefin, definitely WAY better than Kaya, and they also deliver. Forest Cafe would be my choice for Mexican. I agree with everyone that the pizza options in this part of town are lackluster, but Marco's has a decent sicilian style (as far as storefront delivery-type places go) and City Slicker Cafe has some slightly more creative options than the other joints. I've tried a couple of different Chinese places via Foodler.com with mixed results. As I recall, Sesame was pretty decent and also Kee Kar Lau. For great sandwiches - the new Deli-icious in Davis Square is awesome, and also Soleil Cafe in Teele Sq (other side of Davis).

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: cambridgejen

                                                              i think toraya on mass ave in arlington also deserves a recommendation. it's not that far away and it is very fresh and authentic.

                                                              1. re: ameria

                                                                I have to second the Toraya rec. We went there tonight, had delicious balanced teriyaki, fresh sushi, it was delicious. Customer service was great too, eating atmosphere was pleasant.

                                                                1. re: ameria

                                                                  I agree with the Toraya rec. I've basically given up on sushi in N Cambridge/W Somerville and head out to Toraya instead. I really like the chirashi - everything is good and he'll even throw in a few special pieces (last time it was sweet shrimp).

                                                              2. The friendliness of the staff may have something to do with it, but for Thai I like Benjapon's, which is about halfway between Porter and Davis. After adding hot sauce, I've liked everything I've tried there. I especially like their tofu more than most restaurants'.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: jtw

                                                                  isn't Benjapon's gone now? I think its a Boloco?? right???

                                                                  1. re: dustycolby2

                                                                    Actually, Boloco replaced O'Naturals (which relaced Carberry's).

                                                                    Benjapon's replaced Fusion Express.

                                                                    1. re: finlero

                                                                      THAT's right!! thanks for the clarification! i never drive/walk down that part of the square!

                                                                2. Geez - so many responses! As a former Porter/Davis/Winter Hill denizen, here are my thoughts:
                                                                  - Petsi pies - not only fab scones, but amazing savory tarts for a great summer supper
                                                                  - Evergood Market - a good place in a pinch, plus they have good fish and an impressive cheese selection, plus they carry Iggy's breads
                                                                  - Montrose Spa - for sandwiches, friendly service, and plaintain chips
                                                                  - Oxford spa - fancy sandwiches, and nice soups
                                                                  - Greek corner - a bit of a way up Mass Ave, but good and cheap
                                                                  - Sugar and Spice - decent Thai, but imho, Thai Moon in Arl Center is worth the trip
                                                                  - pizza - for the gourmet stuff, bus it to E Arlington to Za. Great salads too
                                                                  - Market basket - always scared me. Great produce though, so if you can deal, good luck! I usually did Beacon St. Star.
                                                                  - Cafe Rustica - decent eats and the outside patio is lovely
                                                                  - pub - avoid Spirit - I went there once - that was enough!

                                                                  1. I don't want to reiterate what's already been said, but I'll add my coffee vote for Simon's and Cafe Rustica. Service and atmosphere are much more pleasant at Rustica. They also make terrific chai lattes, hot chocolates etc.

                                                                    I love the Oxford Spa. It will serve your sandwich needs. Very nicely conceived sandwich menu, with high quality ingredients and Iggy's bread. The cookies and scones are also excellent, as is the green bean, gorgonzola and walnut salad.

                                                                    A good, if bizarre, breakfast bagel option is the Montrose Spa on Mass Ave (between Chez Henri and Harvard). They supposedly also have good Cubans, although I haven't tried one.

                                                                    The intersection of Kirkland and Beacon has the highest concentration of good chow: besides Dali and Evoo, you've got the Kebab Factory for dinner or the lunch buffet and the outstanding Cheese and Wine Cask for, well, cheese and wine. Toscanini and Sons doesn't get much mention on this board, but it's a lovely place to study or read. They have some decent lunch options, too.

                                                                    The West Side lounge is a great neighborhood weeknight spot, and some of the food at Cambridge Common (fried pickles, sweet potato fries, dinner salads) is surprisingly good. That would be the third real pub in the area.

                                                                    1. Diva in Davis Square. Solid Indian fare and some interesting cocktails in the adjacent bar while you wait for take out.

                                                                      1. welcome to the neighborhood:

                                                                        I am only going to comment on the Supermarket part, since everybody else has pretty much nailed it on the head with the other categories:

                                                                        I actually grew up on teh No. Shore were there are a ton of Market Baskets. (i also used to work for Mr. Demoulas at his country club and at one of the supermarkets during college). Market Basket always has great prices. They really cant be beat by the shaws and stop and shops. The Produce is very good as well as the meat.

                                                                        I have to say that the MB in porter square sadly is somewhat dirty. Its usually VERY crowded, so be prepared for a crowd. If you go there early in the mornings however, you can usually just fly right through. Its worth the savings if you know what to expect when you get there.

                                                                        During the weekdays, i sometimes like to go to the Stop and Shop on Mcgrath. Its VERY clean, and the produce is pretty good. The meat selection is so-so, however i generally do not buy a lot of meats. Its never very crowded either, and the isles are quite large, so nobody gets in your way. They have some hard to find items there too. IT is cheaper than the Shaws in Porter though....so keep in mind that alternative.

                                                                        1. I remember hearing that the cubano at Montrose Spa is supposed to be great. I know that Chez Henri is in the area and that their's receives raves, but Montrose would be great for a quick bite. Has anyone tried it?

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: bear

                                                                            I mentioned it above in my post. It's good -- not great. But better than many other versions around and a relative steal at $6. It's perfect for, as you say, a quick bite when you're in the hood.

                                                                          2. okay, this may seem silly, since you didn't request a convenience store recommendation.... but i just moved to the davis sq (not far from porter, really) area last fall and i was really impressed by the white hen pantry on broadway in ball sq. quite a selection of really nice stuff- definitely *not* the white hen pantry of my youth. it rocks!

                                                                            1. Wow, lots of replies. Sorry i'm coming late to the game but here's my two cents.
                                                                              Butcher - McKinnon's will cut your meat in many ways and the quality is about the same as the other supermarkets. The deal there is that it's cheap. I agree with others that Market Basket has a wide selection of meats with standard quality.
                                                                              Baker - hmm can't comment there. I don't go to a particular one enough. Petsi Pies does have great cupcakes and pies though
                                                                              Fish monger - Whole foods is a safe bet. I don't trust the seafood at Market Basket because it is all packaged in plastic and styrofoam. It doesn't make great sense I know. They do have good deals on frozen, raw shrimp - often with specials of $5/lb. The Korean grocery in Union Square - Reliable Market - has good quality although limited choices of seafood.
                                                                              Produce - I also agree with some that Market Basket has good produce because of high turnover. Russo's is better though.
                                                                              Grocery store - I'm a big Market Basket fan. It's not 'glitzy' like Shaw's in Porter. It's where the working class people of the area go to shop. Yes it's a zoo but the prices are well worth it. Avoid going the 4th and the 15th of each month - that's when SSDI and food stamps are received by those that have this benefit. The basket always seems crazier around those days.
                                                                              Chinese - Quindao Garden on Mass Ave, Wang's on Broadway
                                                                              Thai - Lemon Thai on Highland Ave, relatively new, small place but family owned and you can see mom cooking in the back. They don't tend to tone down the heat (spice) like other Thai places.
                                                                              Pizza - Armando's - better eaten there. Take out tends to get soggy when left in the box too long. My new favorite is the Paddock on Pearl St in Somerville. They've got great thin, crispy crust pizza.
                                                                              Coffee - True Grounds on Highland in Ball Square.
                                                                              Have fun!

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: alsaman

                                                                                My two cents...

                                                                                Coffee - I like lighter roasts (I "grew up" on Coffee Connection's full city roasts), so I like Diesel and Simon's. I think Diesel is more consistent than Simon's. Also, the cafe at Porter Square Books has pretty good coffee.

                                                                                Sandwiches, etc - Again, the cafe at PSB. They serve scones (from Petsi Pies), croissants, and sandwiches. If you go to Davis Square, in addition to the earlier recommendations, Sagra now serves lunch (pizzas and delicious panini).

                                                                                Pizza - Again in Davis... Sagra makes wonder Italian-style pizza. I also like Angelina's near Teele Square.

                                                                                1. re: alsaman

                                                                                  You mean True Grounds on Broadway, right? It's my personal favorite too.

                                                                                  1. re: heathermb

                                                                                    oops, yes you're right Broadway not Highland.

                                                                                2. My wife and I are newly moved to a house between Porter and Davis, having moved from Beacon Hill. So a few comments (some echoes of what has gone before):

                                                                                  butcher: There's MacKinnon's. Another option is that on Mass Ave, across the street from Pemberton Farm, next to the B&B, there is a small Indian food shop. There is a halal butcher in the basement. Dirt cheap and they'll carve on the spot for you. No pork there, obviously.

                                                                                  baker: A few shops in the area will resell Iggy's, Clear Flour and other baguettes; Capone's on Mass Ave and the two Pemberton stores come to mind as examples. Me, I am looking forward to spring weather and getting on my bike down to Clear Flour, but I guess I'll also start trying High Rise at some point.

                                                                                  good looking produce -- me, I'd trek out to Russo's, though the farmer's market in Davis and Harvard Squares will make this much easier. I used to bike out from Beacon HIll to Wilson Farms once a week in the summer also; I expect to do the same this summer, only without quite so much hill to climb.

                                                                                  all purpose market: I get a zipcar and go to Whole Foods, for lack of a better solution. One friend of mine has (aptly) dubbed the Beacon Hill the "Ghetto Star." Blech.

                                                                                  Chinese: Zoe's is extremely hit or miss in my book, and more miss than hit. I'd opt for Qingdao Garden or Szechwan Bay and avoid Changsho unless American food is what you're looking for. Plenty of threads exist on what to get at Qingdao Garden or Szechwan Bay, but in general, with Qingdao garden, just about anything on the pink side of the menu is recommendable and just about anything on the white side is to be strictly avoided.

                                                                                  Indian: Someone mentioned the Afghan Tandoor (formerly Buzkashi by the boarded up KFC on Mass Ave); I think the seasoning there is interesting (not as blow your head off as many Indian places) but the take-out portions feature a lot more rice than food. Namaskar isn't half bad at least on one try, but I haven't been overwhelmed by the Indian options in the area.

                                                                                  Thai: I really like Sugar & Spice -- actually one of my fave Thai places alongside Brown Sugar/Similans. Their country style pad thai is quite lovely, and I've liked pretty much everything else I've had on the menu.

                                                                                  Pizza: As a native New Yorker, I'm afraid I can't help -- I go to NY or New Haven for pizza.

                                                                                  Coffee: the coffee in the Porter Square Books shop is pretty good. There are also a batch of cafes in Davis Square, though I personally haven't tried any of them.

                                                                                  Pub Grub: If you're on the Inman side of Mass Ave as the e-mail suggests, and you're heading in the direction of Thirsty Scholar and Zoe's, I'd opt for R.F. O'Sullivan's over either of those places. Not as fave a burger for me as for many in the crowd, but it's a pretty good burger. Gargoyle's in Davis Square has a very fine bar menu which isn't half as hideously overpriced as the main menu and they have Harpoon on draft. And I'm also with the crowd looking forward to Parrish Cafe opening up in Porter Square. I also like Cambridge Common nearer to Harvard Law School, not least because the kitchen stays open until midnight (very useful after concerts). Christopher's is also pretty good for food.

                                                                                  Salad or Sandwich: I've heard about Dave's Fresh Pasta in Davis which I really need to get out to some time. Very soon.

                                                                                  Deli: see comment on pizza. Or head on the red line to Downtown Crossing and get a pretty decent Boston imitation at Sam La Grassa's.

                                                                                  Unasked for: Capone Foods just opened a shop on Mass Ave, between Davis and Porter. This is my fave little cheese shop, some damn fine manchego for $10 a pound, incredibly nice help (usually Mr. Capone's daughters who are quite enthusiastic and know their cheese) and a variety of prepared foods, though not typically foods to eat on the fly like sandwiches.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: Dr.Jimbob

                                                                                    Yo, Jimbo - have you tried the pizza at Armando's? Seems to hit the NY style pretty close to the mark.

                                                                                  2. Tried some new 'hood places this weekend: delivery pizza from the Paddock - soggier crust than I remember, but overall good; general tso's tofu and sauteed peapods from Zoe's - they were out of eggplant and we weren't hungry enough for a whole fish, but these were fine - saw whole fish go by as well as a few hot pots that looked good too. A trip to Market Basket this morning - wasn't crazy at all, but I'm sad they don't have a butcher counter. The fish there also looked slimy all wrapped up in its plastic; great prices on dry goods though. Headed out to Russo's for a produce fix, but could have easily gotten any of MB's (prices varied from 1 cent to 1 dollar per pound more expensive than Russo's). Had S&S on Saturday for lunch - average diner-style food with less than pleasant service. Whitefish plate was overly salty, but otherwise fine, pesto omlette was flat, but consumed by its orderer, coffee cake was great, pastrami and knockwurst sandwhich was ok, but the NYer that ordered kept comparing it to Katz's, rather unfairly. Went to Petsi's Pies this morning for breakfast - had a cheddar and dill scone and a fig scone - but were good, moist and not overly crumbly. Cappucinos were competent. Was hoping to catch their Latin brunch, but it didn't seem to be an option.

                                                                                    Thanks for all of the recommendations, hounds!

                                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: gini

                                                                                      Re: Petsi's Latin Brunch. I think it is only at the Putnam Street branch, not Beacon Street. Also, the buttermilk currant as well as the pear pecan scones are some of my faves.

                                                                                      1. re: beetlebug

                                                                                        Last I heard, they had discontinued the Latin brunch altogether, although it's certainly possible it could have been revived.

                                                                                      2. re: gini

                                                                                        Definitely order the pizza at the Paddock well done -- it holds up better for the ride. Cautionary tale: Last time I ordered for delivery, it took a looooong time as there was some big game on (45+ mins). Then the delivery guy chewed me out for not having visible numbers (we do) and the pizza wasn't hot although I'm around the corner. I've been picking up since.

                                                                                        re: the butcher at MB -- no counter, but you can ask them to cut anything special for you. They are really accomodating in the produce dept. too ... lots of the produce is shrinkwrapped for some reason and when I only needed half of what was in the package of poblanos the guy quickly went to the back, divided the package and gave me my half. Shrinkwrapped. ???

                                                                                        I know you didn't have a choice for S&S but it's so sad one of your first lunches in the hood had to be there and not, say, Tacos Lupita.

                                                                                        1. re: yumyum

                                                                                          most has been mentioned but if you head down mass ave towards north cambridge on the right hand side is a bangladeshi restaurant. It's not indian exactly but it's excellent and way better than any indian I have tried in the immediate porter square area. And since summer is coming up the greek corner is also in north cambridge and it's a great local cheap food spot to know about. Not the greatest food in the world but for the price and speediness you can't beat it.

                                                                                          1. re: AmandaRG

                                                                                            That sounds like Bengal Cafe - there's been a few recent posts by Aromatherapy on it.

                                                                                            1. re: limster

                                                                                              And if you're headed down that neck of the woods, there are two more suggestions:

                                                                                              1. Verna's Donuts, which does arguably the best donuts anywhere in the Boston area, as well as other pastries. And yes, I can vouch for the fact that they're open, because I went there today....

                                                                                              2. for a workingman's level steakhouse experience that's actually quite good, there's always Frank's Steak House.

                                                                                              1. re: bachslunch

                                                                                                Have you tried Diane's in Roslindale for donuts?

                                                                                                1. re: bachslunch

                                                                                                  Also, Verna's is now open on Sundays!

                                                                                                  1. re: maillard

                                                                                                    it also looks like verna's might be expanding into the space next door that used to be the cake decorating supply place...

                                                                                        2. This just in -- there's a new cafe on the same block as Qingdao Garden, and on the same side. It's called the Good Food Cafe. Web site is <http://jimsgoodfood.com/> and apparently they also have free wi-fi in the cafe (a nice perk) and an attractive looking menu. A friend of mine has apparently been and loves the place though I haven't been yet myself.

                                                                                          1. I'd give Maria Bonita a spin. Great Machaca tacos.