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Yoshi’s

 

It would be hard to find a restaurant that demonstrates Somerville’s diversity better than Yoshi’s. The restaurant, a five minute walk from Davis Square,  used to be primarily Korean, but for six years has been under the management of a Chinese couple who specialize in sushi. I visited Yoshi’s with a friend on a weeknight, and had a chance to sit down with Qing, one of the current managers.

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Yoshi’s was warm and welcoming place, just like its owners. I heard a little of Qing’s experience as an immigrant to Somerville from southern China. After coming to the US over a decade ago, she quickly became rooted in Massachusetts when she first moved to Ipswich.  Qing and her family have found Somerville as a fun and welcoming place, and love try different cuisines around the city, her own favorite being Vietnamese food. She and her husband took over Yoshi’s from a Korean owner, and since then have revamped the menu to create a fusion of Asian cuisine that makes it a unique place that is invaluable to local residents.

Qing loves to welcome the international community brought in by students at Tufts University in particular. At the same time, they have also tailored the menu so that it is accessible to customers less familiar with Asian cuisine. True to this end, all kinds of people wandered in and out of the restaurant for take-out or a sit-down meal.

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My friend and I tasted only a few dishes from the extensive menu, but tried to get a sample of the different kind of cuisines offered. We started with fried tofu skin, friend tofu skin (thin, fried tofu stuffed with sweet rice), a tuna roll, as well as both scallion pancakes and the traditional dosul bibimbap – foods that I loved to eat growing up in a Korean home.

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Everything we sampled was fresh and delicious, but even with this much food, there were so many things left to try, especially with an incredibly extensive sushi menu. The lovely atmosphere, eclectic offerings, and warm hospitality make Yoshi’s a place that has something for everyone.

Yoshi’s makes itself accessible to customers by offering online ordering and a delivery service. It offers plenty of promotions for its customers, such as a free sushi roll for orders over $30.  Yoshi’s is located at 132 College Street, Somerville. Find a menu and more information at http://yoshis.net/.

Qing, her family, and Yoshi’s are an integral part of the community of Somerville, and the Welcome Project is honored to host them as one of ten immigrant-owned restaurants which will be featured at the event YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City, coming up on April 6.

To see all the restaurants that will be featured at this year’s YUM event, click here.

YUM: A Taste Immigrant City is an evening of culinary tastes from immigrant-run Somerville restaurants and local world entertainment, which benefits the work of The Welcome Project, Somerville’s largest immigrant and advocacy organization. The Welcome Project serves over 200 families each year. The event will be held April 6 at the Arts at the Armory. To purchase event sponsorships or tickets click here.

 All photo credits to Helen Fowowe.

 

 

 

 

 

Fasika: Bringing a Neighborhood Together with an Ethiopian Feast

By Delia Hagan

“The best thing about my job is when people say ‘I love the food’ and they leave happy,” says Befekadu Defar, owner of the beloved Somerville Ethiopian restaurant, Fasika.

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It’s no wonder Befekadu seems so happy – his customers certainly are. My husband and I wandered down to Fasika on a bitterly cold Sunday night to try the authentic Ethiopian fare at this cozy, family-run restaurant. As we took off our coats and settled in, we noticed Fasika’s diverse patrons – folks of all ages and ethnicities, from young people on what seemed to be a first date, to old friends catching up, to whole families laughing and talking around the mesob (a traditional Ethiopian woven serving table). It was clear that Fasika is a gathering place for friends and family. Its atmosphere exuded warmth, making us feel instantly at home, despite our lack of familiarity with Ethiopian food and culture.IMG_3664 (1)

We were warmly welcomed by Befekadu, who was posted up at the bar, greeting his customers one by one. After our meal (which was delicious, see our rave reviews below), Befekadu shared some stories with us about his restaurant, and his appreciation for the East Somerville community, which welcomed him with open arms 14 years ago.

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Befekadu, who has a background in culinary science and hotel management, brought the restaurant to East Somerville during a time of great demographic change. Before Fasika opened, the building it now occupies was an Irish Pub, with a large following of Irish American patrons. Befakadu was unsure how his traditional Ethiopian food would be received, and he wanted to respect the community’s existing preferences, so he began serving Irish food as well. For 4-5 years, he served up corned beef and cabbage alongside injera (traditional Ethiopian pancake-like bread) and a wide variety of traditional Ethiopian vegetarian and meat dishes. The community loved it. Fasika was even known for their annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration, where they served the neighborhood’s favorite Irish fare. Befekadu fondly remembers a compliment he received during this time from a City of Somerville school official, who remarked that she wished the schools could achieve such peaceful coexistence and respect among those of different cultures. “This community has been so supportive – instead of rejecting me, they gave me a chance. That is part of our fabric,” says Befekadu.

As the demographics of East Somerville shifted, the demand for Fasika’s Ethiopian fare grew, and the restaurant began to focus on what it does best. Now, Fasika serves exclusively Ethiopian food, and finds that patrons of all backgrounds come from all over the Boston area (and New Hampshire!) to experience it. People seek out Fasika because of their healthy vegetarian and vegan options, and they are known for their delicious dorowot, or spicy sauce, which is a crowd-pleaser. “Some people come because Ethiopian food is out of the ordinary for them,” Befekadu says, from the seasonings that are used to the way food is eaten with your fingers, communally. He fondly speaks of all the patrons who come for the first time, asking “what do I do?” when the food arrives.

Befekadu joked that the food at Fasika is addictive – once you taste their spices and seasonings, it’s tough not to return. My husband and I can attest that this is not a joke! We loved what we ordered and can’t wait to try everything else on the menu.

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We ordered the Fasika special with lamb, which was served over injera, with chickpeas on the side. The seasoning was mind-blowingly delicious – not too spicy, but totally different than anything I’ve had before. We also ordered a vegetarian dish with green beans and carrots, which was so flavorful. To go with it, we split a glass of tej, traditional Ethiopian honey wine, which balanced out our meal with its sweetness.

Fasika takes its welcoming atmosphere to an even greater level with its many vegetarian, vegan and gluten free options, making it a place where anyone can enjoy a delicious meal (call ahead for gluten free!). With its social, welcoming atmosphere, incredible food, great service, and convenient location to the orange line, we will definitely be making regular stops at Fasika.

The name Fasika translates to “feast,” and that is certainly what we found at this charming East Somerville gem. Check them out at YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City on April 6th – we’ll see you there!

Fasika is located 145 Broadway in Somerville, MA. You can make a reservation here, or by calling 617 628 9300. Visit their website at http://www.fasikarestaurant.com/

To see all the restaurants that will be featured at this year’s YUM event, click here.

YUM: A Taste Immigrant City is an evening of culinary tastes from immigrant-run Somerville restaurants and local world entertainment, which benefits the work of The Welcome Project, Somerville’s largest immigrant and advocacy organization. The Welcome Project serves over 200 families each year. The event will be held April 6 at the Arts at the Armory. To purchase event sponsorships or tickets click here.

Vinny’s at Night: a cozy spot for an intimate dinner

The great thing about living in Somerville is that we are a city of immigrants. East Somerville is a great neighborhood where one can observe the immigrant presence in our city. This is reflected in the choice of eateries that our neighborhood has to offer. Vinny’s is one of these restaurants and it represents one of the earlier immigrant groups that came to our city. For years Vinny’s has been serving Italian-American and Sicilian classics to residents from Somerville and the surrounding communities. The restaurant offers counter service for breakfast and lunch as well as sit-down service at night. For dinner the lights are dimmed and Vinny’s at Night becomes a place for a romantic date or intimate dinner with friends or family.

Although you can never go wrong with any of the pasta options at Vinny’s, on our most recent visit my fiancee and I wanted to try some of the options listed on the “Vinny’s Dinner Specials”. I ordered the Sicilian Rabbit and my fiancee ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana with the house-made fusili. The wine list offers an array of Italian options and a small selection from other countries. We chose a bottle of Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Service is casual but attentive and small touches like the bread basket with butter and extra virgin olive oil are spot on with the bread perfectly warm to help open up your appetite.

Our meal was greatly executed. The rabbit was braised to perfection, with the meat falling off the bone. The side of roasted vegetables and potatoes had a depth of flavor that was telling of the long cooking process. Vinny’s Eggplant Parmigiana is a generous portion or eggplant cut lengthwise and perfectly breaded and layered. The impressive dish is complimented well by the hand made fusili with Vinny’s marinara. Not only is the food great but the ambiance is one of the draws that keeps Vinny’s as a mainstay with long term Somerville residents and new arrivals alike.

It is great to see how Vinny’s is well liked by Somervillians not only for their great food but also for their connection with the community. On April 6, 2017, Vinny’s is joining nine other Somerville restaurants owned by immigrants in supporting The Welcome Project by serving food at the annual event YUM: A Taste of Immigrant Somerville at Armory on Highland Avenue. Make sure you don’t miss out on this great event, you can purchase your tickets online by clicking here.

To see all the restaurants that will be featured in this years’ YUM event please click here.

Vinny’s is located on 76 Broadway in East Somerville. You can check out their menu and hours of operation by going to www.vinnysatnight.com

   

Rincón Mexicano: Tastes from a Little Corner of Home

Rincón Mexicano is a vibrant oasis of authentic Mexican fare on Broadway in East Somerville. My husband and I went for a relaxed Sunday lunch, and found owner Lorenzo Reyes and his team serving a delicious selection of flautas, tostados and enchiladas to their hungry patrons. By the time we finished our meal, we had found our new weekly take-out spot.
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The experience of eating at Rincón Mexicano, with its brilliant décor, attentive staff and adoring customers, is just as satisfying as the food itself. But let’s start with the food, because man, it was good, and I’ve been dreaming about it since I left! We had the taco with carnitas, which was perfectly spiced, tender and tangy. The flautas – fried to perfection with a lovely chicken, potato and cheese filling, and topped with green and red sauces made in-house – were so good I almost ordered another to go. Finally, the chicken enchiladas (which we ordered with both mole and green sauce, since it was too hard to choose!) were to die for – expertly cooked and seasoned. In particular, the mole sauce was the best I’ve ever had, and as I later found out, it is made in-house with no less than 25 different spices.

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Lorenzo took some time to chat with us after bringing us our meal, and told us a bit about the restaurant. He and his brother Ricardo, of Framingham, MA, found this cozy spot on Broadway about three years ago and thought it would be a great place to bring their authentic Mexican flavors to the East Somerville community. It turns out the neighborhood went wild for their fare, and now, the brothers are expanding their restaurant into the space next door, so there will be more seating for their eager patrons.

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Lorenzo, with his friendly manner and kind smile, is clearly a man who doesn’t cut corners. “We focus on what we do well,” he told us. He is proud of the way he and his brother have focused on creating high-quality, authentic Mexican cuisine, resisting the urge to shift into a fusion restaurant, as can be trendy these days. As a result, they’ve made their mark by perfecting their traditional Mexican recipes, quickly making Rincón Mexicano both a unique and reliable staple in Somerville’s ever-changing restaurant landscape. The brothers and their staff make everything they can in-house, including their delicious salsas and famous mole sauce.

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We certainly weren’t alone in our adoration for Lorenzo’s food. As we ate, we chatted with a young family, the Valencias. It was their first time at the restaurant as well, and they had come from Waltham with their toddler to give Rincón Mexicano a try. They raved about the meal they had – tacos with guacamole, tortilla soup, and flan – and said they’d definitely be back to further explore the restaurant’s robust menu.

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We can’t wait to sample some more of the Reyes brother’s delicious eats at the YUM event in April, and stop by to try more of their delicious meals. Thank you Lorenzo and Ricardo for a refreshing and unforgettable taste of Mexico!

Rincón Mexicano is located 99 Broadway in Somerville, MA. You can contact them or (order for free delivery in Somerville and Charlestown) by calling 617 776 1200. Visit their website at http://www.rinconmexicanosomerville.com/

To see all the restaurants that will be featured at this year’s YUM event, click here.

YUM: A Taste Immigrant City benefits the work of The Welcome Project, which is Somerville’s largest immigrant and advocacy organization, serving over 200 families each year. The event will be held April 6 at the Arts at the Armory. To purchase event sponsorships or tickets click here.

Sally O’Brien’s: Somerville’s Immigrant Tradition in an Irish pub

In 1982, Hector, a short and friendly Salvadoran left his country and went to California in search of a better future. Six years later, he moved to Somerville. In 1986, Liam, almost the archetypical Irishman left the Emerald Island and Galway’s shores for the cold winters and short summers of Boston. Hector worked at the Station Café (now closed and replaced by P.J. Ryan’s), where Liam would often go for a drink after a long day of work. Both men shared the immigrant identity and the love of food and hospitality that characterizes Latinos and Irishmen, and so they quickly became friends. Liam would often talk about his plans of setting a bar (“Every Irishman’s dream is to own a bar,” he told me later) and always knew Hector would be there as the main chef.

 

In 2003, Liam remodeled an old “terrible dive bar” in Union Square and turned into what we now know as Sally O’Brien’s. One day, before the bar opened, Hector knocked on the door and said “I’m here. I’m ready!” They’ve worked together ever since.

 

Hector and Liam at YUM 2015

Hector and Liam serve food during YUM 20015

 

Initially a sports bar, it eventually transited into a place where people go to see live bands while they share a drink and have some delicious food. Now they even have two shows every day of the weekend. “I met Tom Hogerty at a Home Depot. He said ‘how about trying an early show at your place? It will work, I have a following.’ We packed the place!” Liam explains to me. “Early shows begin at around 5:30 and people come to have dinner and leave around 9:30. We don’t charge cover for early shows.” The variety of shows at Sally O’Brien’s is quite remarkable. From comedy and reggae to bluegrass and traditional Irish music.

 

“We have specials every day,” they tell me. “grilled tilapia, salmon, Guinness beef stew, shepherd’s pie, Irish burger…” Hector explains to me that they do everything from scratch. “We clean, we portion, we marinate… All the salsas, everything from scratch!” he says smiling. “Everything is fresh,” he continues. “We buy fish two or three times a week. If it was any fresher we would have to serve it under water!”

 

“Hector makes the best chilli in the world,” Liam says as he joins the conversation. “He even won a competition!” They tell me he has invented several dishes on the menu, like the Texas Chilli Burger and the Guac & Roll Burger. “I used to cook all the dishes,” Liam explains. “I would teach Hector how to cook the Irish dishes. Now his Irish stew is better than my grandmother’s!” Hector’s smile is equally shy and proud when he hears this. “I still cook the shepherd’s pie, though,” Liam concludes.

 

Hector during YUM 2015

Hector during YUM 2015

I order an Irish burger, made with bacon and cheese imported from Ireland. “The Irish bacon is totally lean, without fat,” Liam remarks. The burger is big. “This is wholesome food, not fine dining,” Liam says with a laugh. “We serve big portions! We don’t want anyone to leave this place hungry, it’s Irish hospitality!” As I savor the burger, I think about this bar in Union Square that used to be a sports bar and is now a place to eat and see live bands; that is the result of the dreams and ambitions of an Irishman and a Latino; that merges the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ immigrants in our city; a place that, perhaps better than any other, represents the contributions, dreams, and hopes that immigrants have brought to Somerville for more than a hundred years.

Rincon Mexicano: The Newest Mexican Hotspot in East Somerville

Located along Broadway, on the East side of Somerville, Rincon Mexicano is a relatively new, small, easy-to-miss restaurant that serves delicious, uncomplicated Mexican food. And when we at YUM say Mexican, we mean really Mexican. Just like me, Rincón’s owners are both chilangos. As I walk into the place, I notice that the TV is showing the Puebla vs Mérida soccer match from the Copa MX. If you ever want a sure sign that Mexicans work and visit a place, having a Copa or Liga MX match on TV is it.

 

Lorenzo Reyes, one of the owners and head chef, tells me he arrived in 1989 to the US. After spending three weeks in Chicago searching for jobs, a friend in Boston invited him to the city. The next day, he was working as a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant. After taking some English classes, he worked in a Burger King for a while. Eventually, he joined a couple of golf clubs as a cook, and dreamed of opening his own place.

"Rincon's colorful decorations remind me of Mexico City"

Rincon’s colorful decorations remind me of Mexico City

 

Finally, in March of 2014, Lorenzo finally opened Rincon Mexicano and saw his dream come true. “People like the fact that our food is authentic, especially the salsas!” he tells me. “We offer many dishes that people don’t know, many typical Mexican dishes,” he continues with a wide smile.

 

Indeed, the menu offers some of my favorite meals, including molcajete, a combination of meat, cactus, oaxaca cheese, peppers, and green sauce, named after a traditional indigenous cooking utensil; chiles rellenos, poblano peppers filled with cheese and beef;  carnitas, slow cooked, marinated pork and a personal guilty pleasure of mine; flautas, deep fried corn tortillas filled with chicken, potato, and cheese, topped with lettuce, sour cream, and green or red salsa… The beverages are no-less traditionally Mexican: from Jarritos (fruit-flavored sodas) to Aguas Frescas of horchata, tamarindo, and jamaica, Rincon’s selection is as good as that of any taquería in Mexico City.

 

Lorenzo at YUM 2015

Lorenzo serves chips during YUM 2015

 

Every year, Lorenzo goes back to DF (Mexico City), where his two daughters live. They take him to see the new and successful restaurants in the area and he gets new ideas to adapt for Somerville. “When I go to Mexico, I like going out, to the streets, and search for new ideas for Rincón,” he says.

 

A big attraction at Rincón are the specials they have on rotation. “Every week we put new specials in, besides what you can see on the menu… All traditional Mexican dishes,” Lorenzo explains. “This week I put tacos de tripa (fried gut tacos) in the specials. Some gringos tried them and liked them, which I really did not expect!”

Menudo is one of the most typical broths in Mexico

Menudo is one of the most typical broths in Mexico

 

My friend orders fish tacos and one glass of agua de tamarindo (tamarind water). I order a bottle of mandarine-flavored Jarritos and a plate of menudo, one of the most traditional soups in Mexico, prepared with beef stomach in a broth with red chilli pepper sauce, oregano, and onions. Now, I don’t usually order menudo when I am outside of Northern Mexico, simply because I am not a fan of the chilango style. However, I ask Lorenzo how they prepare it, and decide to give it a try. It was probably the best decision I made this week. We share a delicious flan for dessert.

 

"Welcome to your poor house, which is neither poor nor yours": Some Mexican humor in Somerville

“Welcome to your poor house, which is neither poor nor yours”: Some Mexican humor in Somerville

 

I ask Lorenzo how he feels about Rincón. “Happy,” he replies. “People speak very well of this place. ‘This is a real burrito!’ ‘This soup does taste like it should!’ The other day someone came from Brighton because he had heard food here was very good.” He goes silent for a while, and then he tells me “I was afraid of investing all my money in this, but you have to take risks to win. I came here, to the otro lado without knowing how to drive or how to speak English. This is how I conquered my fears: if I could overcome that, I can overcome anything!”

 

The word “rincón” means corner or nook, a small spot that is easy to spot, and where wonderful things can remain hidden forever. Rincón Mexicano is definitely a rincón of authentic Mexican food in East Somerville. Make sure to visit next time you are around!

Shape Up Somerville: Making Our City Healthier for Everyone

As a Tufts University student, Erica Satin-Hernandez – now the coordinator for Shape Up Somerville – had the opportunity to work on the YUM event through Tisch College‘s Tisch Scholar’s program. She was intrigued by how the program brought people together through food to increase community-wide empowerment and business patronage.

Erica at Whole Food's 5% day in benefit of the Mobile Market's EBT Match Fund

Erica at Whole Food’s 5% day in benefit of the Mobile Market’s EBT Match Fund

 Coming from a Latina and Jewish background, two cultures with a major focus on food as a medium for connection, Erica was fascinated to see this principle–the social and spiritual importance of sharing a meal with family and friends–operationalized on a city-wide scale. She interned at The Welcome Project for two years, first focusing on the YUM event and the next year working with another Tufts student to research barriers to physical activity for low-income immigrants in Somerville. The latter project was one of the first opportunities Erica had to address health disparities hands-on, and she subsequently focused her studies on racial health disparities and health equity.

“I found it unique and exciting to work in such an innovative way, and I’ve been involved ever since!” she says with pride. And why not? She has seen YUM grow over the years and gain a strong base of people who love the card and the event. “It’s great to see the community that has built around it over the years,” she remarks.
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