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A bulletin board is on the wall in Ula Cafe in Jamaica Plain, MA, where owner Beth Santos looks at some of the pay it forward messages that are written on post-its on September 3, 2021. 
Ula Cafe in JP has a “pay it forward” wall where customers can pay ahead for drinks and food for other diners.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

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The Boston Restaurants That Really Stepped Up for Their Communities in 2022

Omar’s Bistro in Lexington, Ula Cafe in JP, and more

Erika Adams is the editor of Eater Boston.

To wrap up the year, Eater Boston polled both local journalists and readers of this site to get their thoughts on the past year in dining: the good, the bad, and the most exciting things still to come in 2023. The results have been collected in the following series of posts. (Check out the full archive here.)

Below, we ask: Was there one restaurant in particular that you felt really stepped up for your local community? How did they do so?

Marc Hurwitz, founder of Boston’s Hidden Restaurants and Boston Restaurant Talk, food/travel writer for Dig Boston and NBC Boston/NECN:

“The new Omar’s Bistro in Lexington is doing tremendous things by hiring people with special needs. Omar himself has Down syndrome and he and his family have really done something special here with the comic book shop, video game lounge, and now the restaurant.”

MC Slim JB, restaurant critic for Boston Magazine:

“Not a restaurant, but I’m grateful to local organizations that feed Bostonians who are unhoused or suffering from food insecurity, like the Greater Boston Food Bank, Community Servings, Restaurant Worker Mutual Aid of Greater Boston, and Haley House. Another I only recently learned about is the Friday Night Supper Program, which serves weekly free meals at the Arlington Street Church to people in need. They all richly deserve our support.”

Devra First, restaurant critic for the Boston Globe:

“So many restaurants do so much good for their communities, I wouldn’t attempt to single one of them out: for regularly feeding neighbors in need, contributing to worthy organizations, helping employees who fall on hard times, and so on. I will say: It was great to see Madhouse Cafe open on a stretch of Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury that didn’t have this kind of welcoming coffeehouse/hangout.”

Rachel Leah Blumenthal, food editor for Boston Magazine:

“I continue to be impressed by everything Pagu owner Tracy Chang has been doing throughout the pandemic, helping launch several food-insecurity and mutual-aid initiatives and working with existing ones. For example, she and Irene Li of Mei Mei, along with a couple non-restaurant-industry collaborators, spearheaded Project Restore Us, helping get groceries to thousands of essential-worker families around Greater Boston. And that’s just one of several community service projects she’s been busy with!”

Reader responses

Nearly 100 people took part in Eater Boston’s dining survey this year (thank you, all!). Below, find a sampling of reader responses on the restaurants that really stepped up for their communities this year.

  • “JP residents Kelly Fernandes, Marvin Mathelier, and Beth Santos took over Ula Cafe in 2021, but this year, they have really made Ula a model community cafe! They have a ‘pay it forward’ wall where customers can purchase an item anonymously for other community members. They have also really stepped up to support and protect queer and trans members of the community in the face of hate. Their values represent the best of JP and it’s so nice to have that in our cafes again!”
  • Backbar — even though they do Harry Potter nights I appreciate that they donate money to trans activist orgs and point out JKR doesn’t get any money from them.”
  • Franklin Cafe. Making the outdoor seating a permanent fixture post-pandemic created a permanent welcoming space for the South End. Thanks for being the best!”
  • Hemlock really embraced the community doing things like ‘drive-in movie’ night and other family activities, supporting The Country Club during US Open and hosted Fireside dinners.”
  • Trina’s Starlight Lounge. They continued to celebrate and welcome the community.”
  • Alba in Quincy and Hanover. The owner Leo has done so much for the community and his employees after and during the pandemic.”
  • Koji Club, providing a wonderful neighborhood sake experience with frequent pop ups and a truly caring owner.”
  • “Not a single restaurant — Commonwealth Kitchen — supporting primarily POC and immigrant start-ups with shared culinary space, business planning, marketing, etc.”
  • Mei Mei — the team there have really championed small business and AAPI small businesses.”
  • Tonino in JP and Koji Club in Brighton! There isn’t really other sake bars in Boston. Tonino’s a great addition to JP in that casual but intimate dining experience — I feel like Tres Gatos and Brassica are great but hard to walk in or get reservations at.”

These answers have been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.

Mei Mei (Boston)

506 Park Dr., Boston, MA 02215 (857) 250-4959 Visit Website


310 Massachusetts Avenue, , MA 02139 (617) 945-9290 Visit Website

The Koji Club

525 Western Avenue, , MA 02135 Visit Website


7 Sanborn Court, , MA 02143 (617) 249-3522 Visit Website

Ula Cafe

284 Amory St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 (617) 524-7890 Visit Website
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