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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Royal Bengal: Bengali Warmth for the Cold Winter

Bus 80 drops us right in front of Royal Bengal. Literally in front of the door.

For 14 years, Royal Bengal opened its doors in Cambridge, MA. About a year ago, however, the high rent prices of the area made it clear to Sadhanm and Gita -the owners- that they would have to take their business elsewhere. Fortunately for us, elsewhere meant Somerville.

Located almost in the corner of Medford St and School St, Royal Bengal is a quiet place, with a small plasma TV that is always playing action-packed Bollywood movies or Indian music videos, and four or five small tables covered in white and pink cloths.

The size and decoration of Royal Bengal make me feel at home inmediately.

The size and decoration of Royal Bengal make me feel at home inmediately.

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Masala: Two traditions, two flavors, one spirit

Masala: Two traditions, two flavors, one spirit


In the middle of Teele Square, along Broadway, there is a restaurant called Masala, a word used in the South Asia region to signify “Mixture.” And a mixture of species, food traditions, and experiences is, indeed, what I found when I visited a few weeks ago.


“I had a passion for cooking since my school years, so I decided to go to the culinary arts.”


“Our ultimate goal is not to sell the food, but to share our traditional culture, our hospitality,” tells me chef Dammar Bdr Thapa, a kind and young Nepalese who joined Masala in 2013. For this, he explains to me, they are working on different ways to introduce what he calls fusion Nepalese food. “In the beginning, people didn’t know about Nepalese food, but we indicate it in our menu” he says. “Now people know that Nepalese food is different: they know they like it and sometimes they don’t even need to see the menu!”

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Tu y Yo: A taste of Mexico in Somerville

I walked into Tu y Yo almost by accident. Walking by Broadway, right at Powderhouse Sq, I found myself with some spare time and the need to have lunch. As I’m debating whether I should wait to get home and cook something or buy a snack on the way, I stumble with this place called Tu y Yo Mexican Fonda.

Sober, but colorful decorations have the unmistakable taste of Mexico.

Sober, but colorful decorations have the unmistakable taste of Mexico.

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Somerville’s Own Sicilian Gem

Vinny Magilore is quick to list his restaurant’s accomplishments…

“We have been interviewed by FoodNetwork, Phantom and we have a higher Zagat rating than most of those guys in the North End.”

Vinny is a proud, confident man, who has worked long and hard to build the popular and delicious restaurant he has today. Vinny’s restaurant, Vinny’s at Night, is a charming and cozy space hidden behind an Italian grocery store and Deli in East Somerville, near Sullivan Square. Vinny’s has become one of the more popular Italian/Sicilian restaurants in the greater Boston area.

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