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Somerville/Davis Square: 3 Superlative Dishes?

After almost 10 years of living in the Leather District and in the South End, we're relocating to a place just off Davis Square. Exciting!

I've covered the city's dining scene enough during various writing stints to be fairly well versed in what the right *spots* around this neighborhood (or so I think...). What might help even more (and what might make this thread not so eye-glazingly basic for anyone willing to chime in), though, is to hear from fellow Chowhounds what some of those superlative *dishes* are—you know, those crave-worthy plates so good you might sit at the bar and order that and only that, even if the rest of the menu is less memorable.

Got 3 recommendations within walking distance (or a quick drive) of Davis Square, to steer me toward? More, less, anything.

Here are 3 that I already love, and I haven't even started truly digging in:
(1) Buffalo shrimp at Redbones
(2) Pork belly with pickled grapes at Foundry on Elm
(3) Mushroom pizza at Posto

Thanks in advance.

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Redbones
55 Chester St, Somerville, MA 02144

Foundry on Elm
255 Elm St, Somerville, MA 02144

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  1. Smoked bluefish cakes, gnocci with short ribs banana bread puddingat Highland Kitchen.

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    Highland Kitchen
    150 Highland Ave, Somerville, MA 02143

    6 Replies
    1. re: LeoLioness

      yum, forgot about HK: that blackened catfish po'boy is to die for

      1. re: Jolyon Helterman

        I'd add the pappardelle bolognese and the fried chicken dinner to that excellent po'boy at HK.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          Fried oysters, when they have 'em, at HK (though sometimes they're underseasoned). Also, I like the HK cheeseburger.

          veggie special of the day at Qingdao.

          Boston's Best Blue at Sound Bites is a nice dish, though I rarely order it. I also like Jimmy's Moroccan Eggs, but be warned, it's watery-oily. Still, sunny-side-up eggs, two servings of veg and an interesting dish is awfully nice if I want a big breakfast that will last me a while.

          But I'm pretty meh on Davis food these days. Maybe because of nearness, but there are very few dishes here I crave. Or restaurants, for that matter.

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          Sound Bites
          704 Broadway, Somerville, MA 02144

          1. re: enhF94

            I hated Davis square dining before you did.

            1. re: Beachowolfe

              The places I hate are pretty obscure; you've probably never heard of them... ;)

        2. Pizza at Flabread. Mopsy kaluha pork or anything their home made tomato sauce.

          1. Chonqing Chicken at Zoe's, Beacon Street south of Porter. Fried chicken, fried garlic, fried ginger, fried chili peppers...

            6 Replies
            1. re: hckybg

              +N

              Peanuts too.

              BTW on Foodler it was renamed "Chicken Chong Style" during a recent menu refresh. Got a fright before I noticed that.

              1. re: chickendhansak

                I noticed that the menu changed somewhat dramatically recently. I had a similar fright as many dishes moved around :)

                Speaking of, I tried ordering oneo f the preserved pork (assumed this is la rou) from the hunan section - they were all new to me. They called up saying they were out, and would I prefer *insert some american chinese dish here*. After much labored negotation due to language barrier I got something or other. Anyone know if they actually regularly have this or does "we're out tonight" mean "we don't have this"? I've seen the latter happen at other places before.

                1. re: chickendhansak

                  As usual, you have the best taste. I'm ashamed I left out the peanuts, they complete the symphony.

                  Thanks for mentioning the menu change, I would have had a heart attack if I'd opened the menu and not seen it.

                  1. re: hckybg

                    Well maybe we jointly have the best taste in one thing. I haven't had better in this style elsewhere yet. :)

                    I don't know if they changed it on the printed menu but definitely on the Foodler one. Another thing I liked seems to have disappeared from Foodler, which was a fried mushroom dish with pine nuts. I think it was oyster mushrooms chopped into little bite-size pieces and fried in a batter coating.

                    1. re: chickendhansak

                      Maybe one of the Chinese speakers on this board can help figure out what that is and cross-check it with the Chinese side of the menu. I've never had that but it sounds excellent. I'm sure they can make it for you even if it's not on the menu, the issue is being able to identify it for the staff. I'll never forget the day I ordered Chongqing Chicken at the restaurant and got Kung Pao. I guess the new waiter was working an interpretation in his head, but I sent it back.

                      I first had something like Chongqing-style chicken at one of Peter Chang's restaurants in DC, before he moved on. And then something similar at another place in the DC suburbs, Joe's Noodle House, which they called three-pepper chicken (green, dried, and Szechuan peppercorns). Always good!

                      1. re: hckybg

                        I've looked it up from an old printed menu and it was "Stir-Fried King Oyster Mushroom with Pine Nuts" from the vegetables section, no. 166 on the old menu. A quick scan suggests no analogue in the new vegetables section (print version).

              2. Quesadillas (not burritos) filled with meat (not veggies, beans or rice) from Anna's, unwrapped immediately and eaten while still crispy on the outside.

                (There's nothing remarkable about a steamed burrito, vegetables or rice, or a soggy tortilla. But they cook their meats well, and the griddle-fried quesadilla is very pleasantly crispy on the outside.)

                Flatbread's base pie is certainly excellent. Their meat toppings are unimpressive.

                Zoe's has done well at a number of spicy dishes over the years, but it's not really in Davis. If you're willing to go that far, also try Zocalo in Arlington. Qingdao produced good but not great food a few years ago, but I haven't been back since the remodel. I'd probably pick Zoe's.

                And, I think I have to try that pork belly sometime.

                20 Replies
                1. re: KWagle

                  tuna poke and crispy duck confit at gargoyles.

                  1. re: KWagle

                    You got me curious, so I mapped Zoe's to Davis--0.7 miles! Not too bad. I've walked from Davis to Inman, my neighborhood, a bunch of times so wasn't sure if I had a skewed perspective on the distance.

                    1. re: KWagle

                      Yes, hugely into the quesadillas as of the last couple of months and as you say, to be eaten immediately. This is the way to enjoy Anna's best.

                      1. re: KWagle

                        I suspect many of the anna's haters have never gone for the quesadilla. I get mine filled with everything that i normally would in a burrito. Half toungue/Half carnitas is sublime.

                        1. re: joth68

                          Don't understand your haters comment. If you want a burrito, but don't like the burritos they make or don't want to eat all that cheese, a quesadilla probably isn't going to change your mind. Also folding the tortilla and putting it on a grill (which will add more flavor, yes) vs. steaming and rolling it won't change the fact that their carnitas is usally too salty, steak often has no carmelization/flavor, black beans are often not cooked through, don't drain the meat or beans from the holding liquid enough, or that their service is unfriendly and rushed and are reluctant to listen to your requests. I don't think I have ever requested cilantro there without receiving some kind of dismissive eyeroll, head shake, or harumph.

                          1. re: LStaff

                            I'm pretty sure they put the same amount of cheese on the burrito as they do on a quesadilla unless you specifically ask otherwise. They also roll their quesadillas into a burrito shape so it is not like you are getting the typical flat folded over thing. Service can be rushed but other than that i've never had a problem with special requests. I almost always have them chop up a habenero for me and they are always happy to do so. I do agree with you that the steak (and chicken) leave something (a lot) to be desired but find the carnitas, toungue, and pastor to be completely delicious.

                            1. re: joth68

                              I think since the quesadilla is the same 10" tortilla as the standard burrito, the amount of cheese is about the same as for a super burrito -- maybe a whole slice instead of one cut down the middle lengthways. It's hard to tell as the one I go to (Porter) prepares the tortilla and cheese combination for the tortilla ahead of time, and so slap an already folded tortilla on the heat to get it going before filling. So I only see the cheese after it's been melted and the tortilla unfolded to fill.

                              Elsewhere recently someone complained about drainage of wetter items (beans, some of the meats) and I think that's a genuine risk at Anna's when they are busy -- sometimes even when they aren't -- but overall, the service seems efficient, not unpleasant, most of the time.

                              As for special requests, quite often I see people itemising the specific vegetables they want from the grilled vegetables, and that doesn't seem to bother the staff. I've seen people ask for some vegetables along with their meat, too -- making the preparation even more labour intensive, and they seem OK with that as well.

                              1. re: joth68

                                the pastor is terrif/ as good as the best in the Mission in San Fran. and the chile verde.

                                so, joth and hondo, they roll their quesadillas like a burrito?so the only diff is that the quesadilla is griddled crispy in lard? man, if that's what you're saying, i'm headed over v soon. i had no idea. and btw,like you and others above, i have never ever seen attitude there.

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  That is exactly what i'm saying. Just ask for everything that you would normaly get on a burrito. They don't default to putting rice on. The ends aren't sealed quite as tight as the normal burrito so they are slightly more prone to leakage. Best to leave the foil on and peel back as you eat.

                                  I myself thought anna's was super overated unti i jumped on the quesadilla bandwagon.

                                  1. re: joth68

                                    thanks. will follow suit. (but remember, it's still all in the fillings.)

                              2. re: LStaff

                                I actually agree w/ you on this Anna's location (posted a while about it). Chicken is pretty bland too.
                                Just to make sure it was location, I tried the Anna's in Coolidge Corner..same chicken burrito...lots more flavor in the chicken. So, not sure why, but the Davis Square location is terrible :-P
                                I did try a chicken quesadilla at Davis a while back and it's better than the burrito..only because the fried tortilla gave it more flavor ;-)

                                p.s., for the OP's question....tuna poke/duck confit at Gargoyle's and monkfish/swordfish at Out of The Blue...

                                1. re: Spike

                                  Wow, if the Davis location is "terrible" then the other Annas must be serving up the finest Mexican chow in Boston! I love the chile verde and al pastor at Davis, though the service can be weirdly deaf. "Can I have fresh avocado on that?" [dude reaches for the guac] "No, I mean the actual avocado (I point to the avocado next to him and the sign that says Ask For Fresh Avocado Slices)" [dude sort of stares at me and puts guacamole on it]

                                  1. re: Boston_Otter

                                    ha!; my first chuckle of the day; thanks. in all seriousness, try saying ' por favor, aguacate; no guacamole; gracias'. those guys really appreciate it when someone speaks spanish with them. that's <ahgwaCAHT>

                                    1. re: Boston_Otter

                                      FWIW, I did try carnitas (pork) before the chicken. It was really dry and bland (the small container of it seemed to be an indication of the popularity), and I did ask for spicy salsa (the chile verde IIRC). Then I tried two chicken ones in following weeks with the thought that they had more turnover since they seemed more popular so they had to be good....nope...bland and maybe slightly better than Chipotle...but at least it wasn't dry :-P

                                2. re: joth68

                                  Anna's quesadillas are special in that they are griddled in lard. There's only one other place I know of that does that (well, "did that" is more appropriate cuz the other place closed about 8 years ago) and my my my I do love a tortilla with some cheese in it griddled in lard. Gives it a crust and a taste which is unique. And nummy. Can't understand why more places don't do that.

                                  As far as attitude goes, well, I ain't never got any at Anna's. I always order some jalapenos in my quesadilla and whats cute is: if I haven't been there for months, and then come back, without asking, they know to put the jalapenos in the quesadila. Never seen a glimmer of an eyeroll to me or anyone else. Yes, some of the folks behind the counter don't listen so well, but I'd never attribute that to rudeness...

                                  1. re: hondodog

                                    boca grande does this as well although somewhat less successfully. They do not wrap their quesadillas as tightly as annas though so it ends up being more of a fork and knife type of dish. I've only been once but if were to go back I'd prob ask them to give it a tighter wrap or maybe get it to go so it could be eaten in hand.

                                    1. re: joth68

                                      At the Porter Anna's, they seem to have a clean griddle onto which they flick a few drops of liquid that sizzle and steam for a split second before they drop the pre-prepared, folded tortilla on it.

                                      I'd always assumed that was water, to ensure the tortilla doesn't burn and retains areas here and there of moisture. The tortilla is never greasy, but it certainly is tasty. I suppose it could be lard but I'd never thought so.

                                      1. re: chickendhansak

                                        My note was about the Davis Anna's. Can't speak to what they do at Porter as I've not visited that location. At Davis, they dip the quesadilla in the lard, then toss it on the griddle; no sizzle of a rapid boil.

                                        1. re: hondodog

                                          Interesting. The situation is the reverse for me as I've never been to the Davis one. It's possible the tortilla meets the lard in advance, but maybe it is a difference between the locations after all. The tortilla still ends up crispy and browned in spots.

                                      2. re: joth68

                                        My experience is at the davis location as well. They keep a tub of liquid lipid warming on the grill and the tortilla gets a little dunk right before it goes on.

                                3. Cubano at Dave's Pasta- easily equal to Chez Henri's(they strike me as the same recipe).
                                  Tuna Tataki at Gargoyle's (if it's been retained since Jason Santos left there to open his Blue Inc.)
                                  CROQUETTES -HOUSE SMOKED HAM, FONTINA CHEESE, TRUFFLED AÏOLI at The Independent
                                  Ana's Pastor Burrito

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    Second Dave's cubano. Also the artichoke and arugula sandwich at Dave's

                                      1. re: Parsnipity

                                        The Korean short rib ravioli at Dave's are crazy good...this coming from a Korean non-red meat eater. They were ridiculous in soup. Are they still available?

                                        Also, Yoshi's just re-opened, I think. We had a grilled whole fish there a few years ago that was fantastic. (Our friends who knew the owners did the ordering...It was really an impressive spread.)

                                        1. re: digga

                                          I'm also a big fan of the Korean short rib ravioli. They make them as a special, so you can't predict when they are available.