Dish: Five Horses Tavern

Breaking Davis Square's location jinx with mussels, Brussels sprouts, tacos and more
mussels and grilled bread
The mussels, a potential minefield, were the equal of anywhere else at the Five Horses Tavern. Photo: Kelly J. Benvenuto
February 14, 2012


This is one in an occasional series about eating establishments in neighborhoods near Tufts’ three campuses. Have a suggestion for a place for our roving diners to explore? Email us at now@tufts.eduYou can also follow Dish on Foursquare.

If, like me, you are inclined to engage in preprandial patter with the bartender prior to placing your dinner order, I can offer a few words of cautionary advice. Spare yourself the indignity of ordering “appys” at Five Horses Tavern. This will save you the shame of being publicly ridiculed for not referring to them as appetizers or starters, as they are called on the menu. I must say there’s nothing quite like the amuse-bouche of peremptory emasculation by a disdainful server.

Fortunately he mixes an excellent cocktail and knows his bourbons.

I had heard about Five Horses Tavern from several colleagues and fellow bons vivants. All professed a common hope that this time, the cursed-location spell would be broken. Given that memories of the previous restaurant are unanimously uncomplimentary, it ought to be a no-brainer for the incumbent.

Brussels sprouts seem to beckon chefs to heights of inspiration. Photo: Kelly J. BenvenutoI’d like to open with the starters, if I may. Skip the olives. A single stuffed clam was just that, smoky with pork belly inclusions, but ultimately judged bready by a confederate in our party. The relative paucity of actual clam bites forced the rest of us to agree.

Mussels, a potential minefield (see Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential), were deemed the equal of anywhere else. They are prepared with chile, ginger, garlic, white wine and scallions. Our taste buds detected a lovely note of fennel in there as well. It’s customary to demonstrate appreciation for the broth by sucking it out of the bowl using bread as a genteel delivery vehicle. In this case, we were moved to innovate additional measures after the second order of grilled bread had been consumed.

A variety of soft tacos are on offer. Photo: Kelly J. BenvenutoBrussels sprouts seem to beckon chefs to heights of inspiration. The extravagant creation offered here combines them with shiitake and wood ear mushrooms, pork belly (it’s all over the menu), pickled apple and fish sauce vinaigrette. If you make it through the list of ingredients without fainting, you’ll enjoy this dish.

Additional clues from the bartender prompted us to sample the soft tacos—one pork belly and another a short rib species called Toro Furioso (Raging Bull, I presume). The latter was anticipated to be spicy, but when the plates arrived, our guide pointed to the whole peppers with attached stems resting cutely on top and warned us gravely: “Those peppers are the devil’s penis.” I’m afraid our reaction might have disappointed him.

By the end of the visit our server had defrosted into ruddy smiles, only a bar’s width dividing us from guilty man hugs all around. Nice save, bro.

Five Horses Tavern, 400 Highland Ave., Somerville. Monday–Sunday, 11:30 a.m.–midnight. More information, including menus, can be found here.  

Fred Kalil can be reached at

Read earlier Dish entries:

Dish: Foundry on Elm

Dish: A Donut Smackdown

Dish: Dumpling Cafe

Dish: Yak and Yeti

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