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Help a relocating San Francisco hound pick a neighborhood

My wife and I are about to relocate from SF to the Boston area. We were spoiled by our last neighborhood in Oakland, where we lived a minute's walk from a family-run butcher shop, an artisan bakery, and a grocery store specializing in quality produce (not to mention the wine shop, chocolate shop...). Did I mention we were spoiled?

In any case, we are currently looking at apartments in Cambridge and Somerville, within easy walking distance to the red line. With that restriction, are there any good markets that carry high quality organic produce, naturally-raised meat, local dairy, etc? Other than farmers markets, which are easy enough to locate, what are the best grocery sources for spoiled California foodies in the above-mentioned areas?

Thanks in advance for tips, and we are excited to spend the next few years exploring the chow-worthy secrets of Boston!

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  1. Davis Square! We live within walking distance of Dave's Fresh Pasta, which will email you their weekly delivery of fresh farm beef, dairy...and fresh fish and shellfish (in addition to their own housemade fresh pastas, great sandwiches, and cheese and wine selection). They also offer pasta sauce, pasta making classes, and wine pairing events. Kick Ass Cupcake's Dairy Bar also has local milk delivery and is a drop off for some CSAs.

    1 Reply
    1. re: winecafe95

      I'll second Davis Square. Dave's Fresh Pasta is a great place to have in the neighborhood: in addition to everything winecafe95 mentions, they also have a small selection of produce (some from local farms in season), eggs from Chip-in Farm (although more expensive here than Russo's), and a good range of excellent chocolate, including Taza which is made in Somerville. Dave's also sells Iggy's bread (although they tend to run out). In Davis Square, there is also the When Pigs Fly bakery, which is good (and right next to the Dairy Bar that others have mentioned).

    2. Savenor's for meat, Market Basket for impressive bargain produce, New Deal for fish, Wine & Cheese Cask for cheese (Formaggio is the best, but not near the redline). And of course Whole Foods, the Fresh Pond and River Street stores are both very good. Bakeries: D&R and Clear Flour are my favorites, Iggy's also excellent, and all three make their breads available at various markets around town. The stretch between Harvard and Union Squares is a good area to look, lots of affordable apartments and good walking access to many of the aforementioned. Plus, we'd be neighbors :)

      In general, we have good stuff here, but you will definitely have to make an adjustment, coming from the wonderful bounty you've got out there. In particular, we are not as strong in the locally-produced department, and of course all local produce is highly seasonal here. The farmers markets really are the best resource in season.

      1 Reply
      1. re: jajjguy

        I'm biased, but would recommend the Inman Square neighborhood because of its proximity to all the places jajjguy mentions and its equal proximity to the Red Line. Union is a great neighborhood but still a good walk to the T. Inman has more restaurants (and a greater range) than Union and is just about 10 minutes from Central Square. But they are both great neighborhoods that will also put you smack in the middle of at least three farmers markets (Harvard University, Union Square, Central Square) and not far from the Harvest Co-op and Whole Foods in Central to boot.

      2. My experience with meat is the best way to get local products is to join one of the meat CSAs in the area. Whole Foods carries a selection, but it is not all local. Also, in my own experience (River Rock for beef, now beef/pork/lamb/chicken from Chestnut Farms), the cost of buying through a CSA is lower.

        Local dairy and eggs are easy. In Somerville you can go to the Dairy Bar (DavisSquare area) and get wonderful milk from Shaw Farm (Dracut). Or, you can get High Lawn Farm milk at Whole Foods or at Russo's in Watertown. Russo's charges less and also has a wonderful variety of produce (not organic though). You would want to drive to Russo's but it is worth it and really not a big deal in terms of a drive. High Lawn milk comes from Jersey cows, which means it has more calcium and butterfat. Shaw Farm milk is nice because it is minimally pasteurized (great fresh flavor that I like even better), there is an organic version, and they sell creamline whole milk (though not organic). My favorite local eggs come from Chip'N Farm in Bedford. They are available at Russo's. Or, you could drive to the farm - it is about 30 minutes from Somerville. The reason to do that is you get eggs that were laid the day before, plus Chip'N Farm also sells Shaw Farm milk.

        There are a few farms that are a short drive from Cambridge or Somerville. Busa Farm is in Arlington. Their stand is open year round, but given the other choices, I would go there only in the summer and early fall. Busa Farm is not organic. Sergi Farm is in Belmont. It is organic. Like Busa Farm, it is definitely worth visiting in season, but probably not in other times of the year. Finally there is Wilson Farm, in Lexington. In season they grow a great variety of IPM produce. They also raise chickens and sell chickens and eggs. Wilson Farms sells Shaw Farms milk, but not the creamline. They are worth visiting any time of year; out of season their produce comes from warmer climates, just like all the produce in this area.

        There are some wonderful bakeries around the area. None in Somerville comes to mind, but there is Hi-Rise in Cambridge, and (my current fave) Mamadou's in Winchester.

        Once you get here, you will probably want to take a walk through Boston's North End; there are lots of foodie destinations there.

        Oh, for cheese, you will want to go to Formaggio's on Huron Avenue in Cambridge. I have heard very nice things about Dave's Fresh Pasta, and Whole Foods has a good selection as does Russo's, but nothing beats Formaggio's.

        The bottom line is no matter where you live, you will probably find some great food in the neighborhood, but you will also probably want to travel a little bit to other foodie destinations. Rather than being clustered in a few neighborhoods, our foodie destinations tend to be sprinkled around. So pick a neighborhood that has a vibe you like and is good for getting to work or school or whatever else brings you to the area. It won't be the same as Oakland (or the Bay area in general), but I am sure you will find that there is plenty of great food here to cook and enjoy.

        1. "easy walking distance to the red line" puts union square out of reach, and maybe inman too. inman is not far from the red line (15 min walk), but it might be a drag every day.

          yr. options are: kendall (no), central, harvard (too touristy and freaky expensive), porter, davis, alewife (probably too far out). so as b/w central, porter and davis neighborhoods, just find an apartment or condo or neighborhood that you like. they are not too far apart, and either way you slice it, you're going to be in walking distance to some things and driving/biking/T distance to others. all three are good areas, and probably roughly equivalent. and frankly i think it would be weird to choose one or the other b/c someone somewhere points out that A is 0.2 miles closer than B or C to some putative food destination that you may or may not even like.

          3 Replies
          1. re: autopi

            Second this suggestion - Establishing commuting ease via T is essential - shopping via T not so much - there are too many really good places that are not so T accessible, and everything you might want in Cambridge or Somerville is about 10 minutes away at most, so no need to necessarily live right next to these places.

            Pinch of Salt, you forgot Petsi Pies in Somerville (Beacon Street) as a good bakery.

            In the end, if you are looking for quality and value, you're going to want to make a weekly trip to Russo's in Watertown anyway.

            I think you will find that part of the reason that the Boston board is so active is that the good spots for the things you are looking for tend to spring up in all sorts of places and are not centrally located. For example, Savenor's is on one corner in Cambridge, Formaggio Kitchen is in another neighborhood, some good wine spots are in Newton, the best hot dogs are in an industrial park in South Boston, the best bagels are either in Brookline, over the Tobin Bridge in Chelsea or in Newton Centre...(I mean, there are NO great bagel places in Cambridge or Somerville that come to mind)....the list goes on and on.

            1. re: Bob Dobalina

              Mia culpa! (About Petsi Pies) Truth to tell, I have never been there, though last year volunteering at the Belmont Farmer's Market, where Petsi Pies had a tent, was indeed an exercise in willpower.

              1. re: PinchOfSalt

                Now that's a tent revival that I could go for!

          2. We are moving from Davis Square to a street right between Central and Inman next month, and we're psyched. While I like Davis a lot, I think being close to Central/Inman will be great. Here's a recent thread about the area: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/628007

            3 Replies
            1. re: Suze123

              We are currently in Mid Cambridge as well and love it! We were previously in the Back Bay for 12 years and definitely prefer this side of the river though I never thought I would say that.

              1. re: Gabatta

                Well, once you get the visa and shots to cross the Charles, many do find life wonderful.

                1. re: Karl S

                  YOU are funny! STILL funny, I should say!

            2. Just remember: expectations are premeditated resentments.

              You are choosing a good area.

              That said, land has been scarce and expensive longer than anyone can remember around here (especially after the mid-19th century), so it means overhead can be prohibitive for any low-margin operation that does not have high volume, which tends to include many types of restaurants and food establishments favored by foodies if not exactly Chowhounds. The process of urban development here has roots in the 17th century, and was very organic, as they say (it may be the most organic thing here, though most people are unaware of it). So you will find some things you like and love (or will learn to), and miss other things. (I have a former long-term housemate who lives in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland and we have done the compare-contrast.)

              And you might feel less constrained food-wise if you eventually extend your sense of Boston out about 2+ hours, to capture places not only like Cape Ann and the North Shore, Cape Cod, but also Providence and Portsmouth and, very importantly, Portland, which to my mind and the mind of many others, has more of a food scene that you might find most congenial. Learn to get off interstates and wander back roads: you get the most out of New England by getting on back roads regularly - cuz that's where we all are anyway when we're not commuting. New England has dense chains of town/village centers extending for a few hours that merit gradual exploration over years.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Karl S


                Your reply is a must read for any foodie moving to Boston. Well said!

              2. Thanks to everyone for all the fantastic info. We found a great apartment in Cambridgeport, not far from Central, and look forward to exploring and eating our way around the region over the next years!

                3 Replies
                1. re: OakTownHound

                  Cambridgeport is a lovely verdant quiet part of Cambridge with lots of attractive 19th c. architecture and v. good access to all parts of boston(which is important because your local food merchants are not to be found in that neighborhood, except Trader Joe's)Congratulations on your choice; know you'll enjoy that area!

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Actually, Cambridgeport is home to the nicest Whole Foods around with a great cheese counter, a great Saturday farmer's market (Morse school), Alive & Kicking, aforementioned TJs (which I'm not a big fan of). Central is a short walk away--Harvest Co-op, Shalimar, a Monday farmer's market.

                    You could def do worse!

                  2. re: OakTownHound

                    You'll have to check out Alive & Kicking Lobsters: http://cambridge.ma.povo.com/Alive_&a... and Petsi Pies, 31 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139-2919: http://www.petsipies.com/, plus Baraka Cafe: http://barakacafe.com/

                  3. I am also a little biased, but I like the Inman Square area/Mid-Cambridge. I live one block from Savenor's (for meat) and several good restaurants (Dali-tapas, Kebab Factory-Indian, EVOO, upscale locally-focused american). I can walk 10 minutes to Harvard Square for the red line or about 15 minutes to Central Square for the red line. Bus stations are close by as well.

                    For organic, in-season food I highly suggest getting a weekly box from Boston Organics. My mom and I have been getting a small 2/3 vegetable box for years now and hardly ever buy produce anymore (unless we need a few extra apples or need something specific). The quality of their produce has always been great and they are happy to compensate you if you feel something was not quite right (although we have never had to do this). They focus on local produce whenever possible. I have certainly expanded my vegetable repertoire because of some of the things we get in our box. Anyway, I don't work for them or anything but really do like the service.

                    Oh, and welcome to the area!!

                    1. I agree with Formaggio's on Huron for cheese but only for special occasions - it is pricey! And don't go on a weekend or a day before a holiday, because you won't be able to move around.

                      For bread, my favorite is the Danish Pastry House, I love their six grain as well as the really dark kind (forget the name). I'm not into sweet stuff, but if you are, you have to try their pastries. The location is kind of odd, in a warehouse sort of area in Watertown, but this time of year, they're at the Farmer's Market at Harvard (outside the Science Center) on Tuesday afternoons. http://www.danishpastryhouse.com/

                      Also, for nuts and exotic stuff, there are several shops in Watertown (Sevan Bakery is one).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Cattie

                        Oh, and I forgot Christina's Ice Cream in Inman Square - the best ice cream on the planet. I know I said I'm not into sweet stuff, but ice cream is the exception.

                      2. Hello there -
                        We live in San Francisco and may be relocating to Boston. In our internet search your post regarding your move popped up... Thought we would check-in and see how things are going and see if you have any advice on good places to live that will keep us near good restaurants and fun neighborhoods.- We would like to be near the red or silver line as that would be closest to work in the Seaport area. We want to stay near Boston and not be too far out. Any location or general advice? We are somewhat blind on where to look. Thanks!