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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Roxbury

A place rich in history, diversity


Roxbury is one of Boston’s oldest communities. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were its first European settlers, and the town was incorporated in 1630. Roxbury became a city in 1846 and was annexed to the city of Boston in 1868.

Originally a farming community, Roxbury was home to a number of prominent colonial figures. Roxbury Neck connected the town to Boston, which at the time was three miles to the north on a peninsula, meaning that all land traffic to the city had to pass through Roxbury. As marshland surrounding the causeway was filled in, factories and warehouses were built there.

Since the mid-19th century, when Irish immigrants escaping the potato famine began arriving in Boston in large numbers, Roxbury has been home to many diverse communities. In the early 20th century, Irish dance halls could be found throughout Dudley Square. The Irish were followed closely by German immigrants, who helped established the breweries that sprung up along the Stony Brook, a major city watercourse, in the years before Prohibition. A large Jewish community developed around Grove Hall, along Blue Hill Avenue, and into neighboring Dorchester. Starting in the 1940s, the Second Great Migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow South to northern cities made Roxbury home to a growing number of African Americans, and by 1960 predominantly white Roxbury had become a predominantly black community. It continues as the heart of Boston’s African American community, and is also home to Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian families.

Roxbury comprises several districts, including the areas around Dudley Square, Fort Hill, Crosstown, Grove Hall, Egleston Square, and Blue Hill Avenue. Many Blue Hill businesses and shops were destroyed in the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) in 1968. Mounting poverty, unemployment, and a wave of arsons in the 1960s and 1970s contributed to Roxbury’s further decline, but in recent years city, state, and local grassroots efforts have done much to transform the neighborhood. Roxbury is currently in the midst of development and change, including gentrification led by professionals and a large number of college students.

You can find wonderful restaurants, museums, and cultural sites that reflect the neighborhood’s rich diversity and history. Below are some highlights.

Ali’s Roti Restaurant
1035 Tremont St.

Ali’s Roti Restaurant is popular with locals—a quick visit and you’ll know why. The unassuming counter-serve style restaurant in Roxbury Crossing is renowned for its authentic West Indian-Trinidadian cuisine. It serves roti (flat bread, similar to naan) stuffed with a choice of vegetable curry or meat (stewed chicken, goat, or beef, among others)—all of it delicious. And the prices are great. The place is close to Northeastern, making it a go-to destination for students looking for affordable dining. The interior is decidedly no-frills, but there’s no missing the place: the exterior is painted a vibrant orange.

Store front of Bangkok Pinto

Bangkok Pinto, 1041 Tremont St.

Bangkok Pinto
1041 Tremont St.

Named for both the capital of Thailand and the traditional Thai pinto (lunch box) containers used to carry home-cooked meals, Bangkok Pinto serves up tasty and inexpensive Thai cuisine. The bright green exterior and quirky interior give this tiny eatery a unique charm and flair. The large menu?offers classic dishes like crispy scallion pancakes with ginger sauce, duck choo chee (boneless roasted duck and vegetables in choo chee curry sauce), tofu soup in a clear broth, and drunken noodles (stir-fried flat noodles with egg, mixed vegetables, and a choice of meat or tofu). Thai iced tea and desserts like sweet sticky rice with mango and coconut-fried banana are also served. Bangkok Pinto is known best for its delivery and takeout, but limited seating is available.

Beta Burger
1437 Tremont St.

Beta Burger is not your traditional fast food burger joint. Restaurant founder Adrian Wong set out to create an eatery that combined his twin passions, fast food and innovation, when he opened the Roxbury Crossing restaurant, which has taken much of its inspiration from Boston’s growing start-up scene, in 2014. Wong’s unique cooking method uses a CVap (controlled vapor technology) oven—food is sealed in airtight plastic bags and placed in either a water bath or a temperature-controlled steam environment, a method that keeps the burgers from drying out. Some menu highlights: the MVP Burger (an Angus beef patty on a wheat bun with Beta steak sauce), the Alpha Burger (two Angus beef patties, lettuce, tomato, onion, and Beta steak sauce on a wheat bun), and its namesake, the customizable Beta Burger (either Angus beef, grilled chicken, or a vegetarian option with choice of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles, jalapenos, relish, cheese, and Beta steak sauce).

Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center
100 Malcolm X Blvd.

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center is New England’s largest mosque, home to one of the most multifaceted US Islamic centers. The 70,000-square-foot structure is not only a mosque, but a dynamic cultural center designed to serve the entire community. It offers numerous programs, among them a weekly Mommy & Me Halaqa group for Muslim mothers and their children, bimonthly community social events, and a five-week Islam 101 program?introducing non-Muslims to Islam. It also houses a school, a café, and a gift shop that sells perfumes, body oils, traditional clothing, Islamic books, artwork, and natural organic products. The center’s large multipurpose space is used by interfaith, nonprofit, cultural, and educational organizations for various functions and events.

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center building

The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, 100 Malcolm X Blvd.

Ashur Restaurant
291 Roxbury St.

Open since 2008, Ashur Restaurant is a casual, bustling eatery with something for every taste. The Middle Eastern and African halal restaurant offers traditional dishes like baklava, sambusa, lamb, chicken, and goat kebabs, and mandasi (a type of fried dough), all made on the premises and each served with rice and a side salad. It’s best known for generous portions and delicately spiced lamb dishes, including lamb shank and braised lamb. The Somali chai tea, spiced with clove, cinnamon, and cardamom (it comes sweetened with condensed milk as well), is also excellent. Ashur, behind the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center and close to Roxbury Community College and the Roxbury Crossing T station, has ample seating and is a popular meeting spot for locals and college students. Takeout and delivery are available.

The Dillaway-Thomas House at Roxbury Heritage State Park
183 Roxbury St./John Eliot Square

Built in 1750 as the parsonage for First Church in Roxbury, the Dillaway-Thomas House was the headquarters for General John Thomas and the Continental Army during the Siege of Boston in 1775. The two-story house is one of the few remaining examples in Boston of 18th-century domestic architecture. Today, the house is maintained and operated by the commonwealth’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, and it has been restored to show how the house’s use has changed over the centuries. Visitors can find exhibits showcasing the history of Roxbury, its people, and their cultures. The adjacent Roxbury Heritage State Park is undergoing revitalization, and offers picnic benches and panoramic views of downtown Boston. Across the street is the current First Church in Roxbury (the fifth on the site), an outstanding example of a Federal-style meetinghouse, built in 1804.

Juba Market Café
50 John Eliot Square

Juba Market Café, serving halal Sudanese cuisine, is a local favorite. Large windows looking out onto John Eliot Square offer great people-watching. The restaurant has a welcoming, casual vibe, the staff is friendly, and the prices reasonable. Allergens are marked on its whiteboard menu, which offers a variety of dishes, including beef, lamb, and vegetarian plates, served with rice. An eight-minute walk from the Orange Line’s Roxbury Crossing T stop and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, Juba is a must for anyone who savors the flavors and spices of Sudanese cuisine.

Haley House Bakery Café
12 Dade St.

This is one bakery where you can feel good about loading up on the calories. Founded more than a decade ago by the nonprofit Haley House, dedicated to improving the lives of some of the city’s neediest residents, this Dudley Square bakery not only serves up locally sourced meals and baked goods, but provides jobs for people facing significant barriers to employment and on-the-job culinary education for young people. It’s also a hub for cultural and arts events. The café’s goal is to promote physical, economic, and social well-being by offering nutritious food and breaking down barriers between people. In 2015, Haley House opened a second enterprise, Dudley Dough (see below).

Hamill Gallery of Tribal Art
2164 Washington St.

Housed in a former 19th-century wallpaper factory, the Hamill Gallery of Tribal Art has a huge collection of traditional African art, African and non-African tribal art, and contemporary photography of Africa. The 16,000-square-foot exhibition space holds art from 160 major African tribes, giving a balanced view of subjects, styles, and techniques that have been used for centuries. Masks, figures, artifacts, textiles, jewelry, books, and posters can be found at the gallery, which hosts new exhibitions every three months highlighting a particular tribe or theme. The College of Fine Arts Tim?Hamill?Visiting Artist Lecture Series is named in honor of gallery owner Tim Hamill (CFA’65,’68). Open Thursday through Saturday only, the gallery is closed from November 13 through December 2; plan your visit accordingly.

Dudley Dough
2302 Washington St.

Dudley Dough was launched by the nonprofit Haley House in 2015. The artisanal pizza shop’s motto is “Pizza with purpose.” Inspired by the difficult economic conditions faced by restaurant workers, its goal is to combat inequality in the Roxbury area by offering employees living wages and profit-sharing opportunities. Patrons can enjoy craft beers, the shop’s take on the classic margherita pizza, served here with a smoky tomato sauce topped with house-pulled mozzarella, asiago cheese, and basil, and a different specialty pizza every day, among them shrimp and corn with puttanesca; mashed potato and meatloaf with corn, capers, and béchamel sauce; curried vegetable with lentils; and jerk chicken, sweet potato, and jack cheese. The pizzeria serves breakfast, including a breakfast pizza, salads, soups, and desserts. It is in the historic, recently renovated Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building in the heart of Dudley Square.

Front of Dudley Dough

Dudley Dough, 2302 Washington St.

Dudley Café
15 Warren St.

Open since September 2015, this modern neighborhood café has become a gathering spot. The large outdoor seating section has bright blue metal chairs, and the interior is a blend of sleek industrial style and classic comfort, with a brick accent wall, black leather couches, exposed metal beams, a wooden counter area, and a colorful Roxbury-inspired mural. The work of local artists fills the walls. Some favorites on a menu full of of breakfast and lunch items: the Roxbury Deluxe, a homemade cheddar biscuit with egg, spinach, bacon, cheddar cheese, and garlic-onion jam, the New Edition sandwich, with roasted sweet potato, avocado, pesto, goat cheese, crispy shallots, and arugula on sourdough bread, and Ayanna’s Bowl, with quinoa, sautéed spinach, Asian slaw, broccoli, and a hardboiled egg, served with a homemade Peruvian sauce.

Boston Public Library Dudley Square Branch
65 Warren St.

The Dudley Square Branch of the Boston Public Library is impossible to miss: a large sign featuring bright red, yellow, and orange circles greets passers-by. Also impossible to miss is its a large collection of books covering the African American experience dating to before the Civil War and its many tomes on the slave trade, the Underground Railroad, the Harlem Renaissance, and the civil rights movement. Books about African American musicians and music, including gospel, blues, jazz, and soul, abound here too. The library offers many kinds of programming, among them a children’s story time, film screenings for children and young adults, literacy programs, and chess lessons. The library is closed Sundays.

Suya Joint
185 Dudley St.

Restaurant, bar, and lounge Suya Joint, specializing in “all African cuisine,” particularly Nigerian dishes, is owned and operated by Nigerian chef Cecilia Lizotte. It started as a small catering business—an avenue for Lizotte to express her passion for food and cooking. Just around the corner from the Dudley Square bus station, Suya Joint can seat up to 80 customers. The entire menu is gluten-free and dairy-free, and many dishes can be made to order as vegetarian. Highlights include spicy suya kebabs made of seasoned, thinly sliced beef or chicken, Nigerian stews with fish, goat, beef, or chicken, and fufu, a dumpling made from whole wheat, cassava, yam, or corn. African art adorns the cozy interior, and there is live music in the bar and lounge on Friday and Saturday nights.

Hibernian Hall
184 Dudley St.

Originally built as a social club for Irish immigrants in 1913, Hibernian Hall was a magnet for the Irish community in Dudley Square for decades and was a popular Irish dance destination. After Irish residents began moving out of Roxbury in the early 1960s, the building changed ownership several times and was vacant for more than a decade before being purchased in 2000 by the nonprofit Madison Park Development Corporation, which restored the building and reopened it in 2005. Today it’s a destination for arts, culture, and theater in the heart of Dudley Square. With its high ceilings and proscenium stage, the building is now home to both the Roxbury Center for the Arts and programs and initiatives of the Arts, Culture, and Trade Roxbury (ACT Roxbury), a cultural and economic development program.

Ideal Sub Shop
522 Dudley St.

Don’t let the unassuming exterior and barebones interior fool you: at lunchtime, the line at Ideal Sub Shop is out the door. The cash-only eatery serves breakfast and lunch and is a perennial favorite among local residents. The sub shop is family-owned and reasonably priced; you can get a small but filling sub for as little as $4. But be prepared to brave long lines.

Victoria’s Diner
1024 Massachusetts Ave.

Victoria’s Diner has been a part of the Roxbury community since 1949. The diner, at the intersection of Dorchester, Roxbury, and the South End, serves breakfast (all day, every day), lunch, and dinner. Plus, it’s open 23 hours a day (6 a.m. to 5 a.m.) Thursday through Saturday. The menu offers up classic diner fare, including home fries, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, potato skins, burgers, sandwiches, meatloaf, milkshakes, smoothies, and more. There is a selection of wine, beer, cocktails, and specialty alcoholic coffees. Takeout is available.

Front of Shirley-Eustis House

Shirley-Eustis House, 33 Shirley St.

Shirley-Eustis House
33 Shirley St.

William Shirley’s Georgian mansion is the only remaining country house in America built by a British Royal Colonial Governor. The well-preserved mansion, on an acre of grounds, was built between 1747 and 1751 and became a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Today, the house is open to the public for tours Thursday through Sunday from June through September and by appointment year-round. The house was the home of two governors—one Royal (Shirley) and one Federal (William Eustis). Among other occupants: when the house was a Revolutionary War barracks during the Siege of Boston in 1775 it housed the Massachusetts Sixth Regiment of Foot; Jean-Baptiste du Buc, the Haitian counselor to Louis XVI of France; and Captain James Magee, a prosperous Irish American who made his fortune in the China Trade. The house offers a handful of events, including history and gardening seminars. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and free to members of the Shirley-Eustis House Association, which runs the site and was instrumental in keeping the mansion in Roxbury when a move to the Fenway was proposed in the late 1960s.

Merengue Restaurant & Catering
160 Blue Hill Ave.

This restaurant draws inspiration from the passion and boldness of merengue as music and art, and translates that to the essence of Dominican cuisine, according to its website. The aromas of authentic Dominican cooking will stop you in your tracks on the sidewalk. Merengue offers appetizers like cassava turnovers and dishes like roasted eggplant with green plantains, red snapper fillet, and lobster and shrimp gumbo. The restaurant seats 90 and is divided into two spacious dining rooms whose vibrant colors and tropical accents will make you feel like you’ve been transported to the Dominican Republic.

Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex & Memorial Pool
120 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

This multipurpose Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation complex, named for local civil rights activist Melnea A. Cass, opened in 2011, with a 24,000-square-foot indoor climate-controlled recreational arena, classroom space, and an event area. The complex has?a new running track and floor space lined for multiple sports, like?soccer, roller derby, and tennis. On-site showers and lockers are available, and a large outdoor pool, also named after Cass, is connected to the complex. It is adjacent to Malcolm X Park and the City of Boston’s Shelburne Youth Center. A Hubway bicycle stop is positioned right outside the main entrance.

The Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists

The Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists, 300 Walnut Ave.

Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists
300 Walnut Ave.

This museum is dedicated to the celebration, exhibition, and collection of black visual arts worldwide, presenting a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions in many media, including painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and the decorative arts. Be sure to check out the burial chamber of King Aspelta, who governed ancient Nubia and Egypt during the 25th Dynasty. Outside, visitors can see the monumental sculpture Eternal Presence, commissioned by the museum and created by the late Roxbury native John Wilson, a College of Fine Arts professor emeritus, who taught at the School of Visual Arts from 1964 to 1986. The sculpture, an imposing bronze head, celebrates human creativity and spirituality. Wilson drew upon various traditions, including the Olmec heads of ancient Mexico and contemplative Buddhas. Installed in 1987, it represents the NCAAA’s commitment to excellence in contemporary artistic expression for the black world. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday; admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors, and free for children under age 12.

Skippy White’s Record Store
1971 Columbus Ave.

Fred Le Blanc, aka Skippy White, and his record store in the heart of Eggleston Square have been playing and selling the best in hip-hop, soul, gospel, and R&B in Boston since 1961. Le Blanc studied journalism at BU, dropped out in his third year, and after leaving, turned his hobby of collecting records into a career. He worked at a local record store before opening his own store, Oldies But Goodies Land, in 1961. Le Blanc later changed the name of his store to Skippy White’s, after his radio DJ name. The store moved several times, but has been in its current Eggleston Square location since 2004. With an inventory of tens of thousands of LPs, 45s, and cassette tapes as well as CDs and DVDs, Skippy White’s draws music lovers from around the world. And don’t worry that it may run out of stock anytime soon: Skippy says that he has a warehouse containing another 250,000 albums. The store opens at noon every day and is closed on Sundays.

Inside of Skippy White’s Record Store, hundreds of records on shelves

Skippy White’s Record Store, 1971 Columbus Ave.

Franklin Park

The city’s largest park, spread over parts of Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Dorchester,?Franklin Park is considered the crown jewel of the Emerald Necklace, a series of nine connected parks, six of them designed by noted 19th-century landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, best known today for his work creating New York City’s Central Park. Established in 1885, Franklin Park was designated a Boston Landmark in 1980. The park comprises 485 acres and includes Franklin Park Zoo, the William J. Devine Golf Course, an 18-hole public golf course, the second oldest in the country, athletic courts and fields, an open-air public performance space, a woodland reserve, old stone ruins, ponds, picnic areas, playgrounds, and more. The community-based group Franklin Park Coalition?works to engage all park users and community members through advocacy, programs, and restoration. Find directions here.

Franklin Park Zoo
One Franklin Park Road

Although the address of the 72-acre Franklin Park Zoo, nestled inside Franklin Park, is officially Dorchester, it’s included here because the park encompasses parts of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. The zoo is home to more than 220 species of animals in a variety of habitats, including an Outback Trail featuring kangaroos, kookaburras, emus, and sheep; a savannah containing Masai giraffes; and Serengeti Crossing, four acres of grassland and wooded hills where a number of Grave’s zebras, ostriches, and wildebeests roam. There’s also a Children’s Zoo (ducks, prairie dogs, red pandas), a seasonal Butterfly Landing, a carousel, train rides, and snack bars. Opened in 1912, Franklin Park Zoo today is operated by Zoo New England, a private nonprofit committed to conservation. Open year-round, the zoo has one of the world’s best indoor gorilla exhibitions and a tropical rain forest. This popular, family-friendly destination attracts approximately 400,000 visitors a year.

Getting there: Take a Green Line trolley inbound to Park Street/Downtown Crossing, then an Orange Line train to either Ruggles or Roxbury Crossing. Or take the Silver Line SL5 from Downtown Crossing to Dudley Station.

Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to Roxbury.

Explore other neighborhoods around Boston?here.


2 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Roxbury

  • Orange line rider on 11.14.2016 at 4:59 pm

    I live in Roxbury because it is a great community. What is meant by “gentrification led by professionals and a large number of college students”.
    What is gentrification? I did not know I was leading this. Explain how my landlord , who has lived in Roxbury for 40 years and charges a great deal of money for the rent is exempt from leading this.

  • Malika Jeffries-EL on 11.19.2016 at 4:14 pm

    What a great piece, I just moved to Roxbury this year as I recognized what a gem of a neighborhood it is. I think that you did a nice job highlighting some of the local businesses. Haley House, is a great spot for brunch!

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