Is it possible for a restaurant to be “hidden” when between 100,000 and 200,000 cars pass within a few hundred feet of the place each and every day? It is if you’re McKenna’s Cafe, a friendly neighborhood spot in Dorchester’s Savin Hill that sits just west of a bridge above the busy Southeast Expressway. And while this breakfast and lunch place is maybe a one-minute walk from the highway (and don’t do that), it is just far enough away from the Columbia Road and Morrissey Boulevard/Freeport Street exits that it is actually quite a drive from the highway, making it a spot that is probably easier to get to by the T—which is almost literally next door—or by walking if you happen to live in this close-knit section of Dorchester. However you get there, you’ll find that McKenna’s is a classic local hangout that more than a few neighborhood folks call their second home, especially on weekend mornings.
Located up the hill from where Dorchester Avenue and Savin Hill Avenue meet, McKenna’s Cafe is very easy for drivers to miss, especially considering that Savin Hill Avenue basically goes nowhere once it heads east from Dot Ave, making a sort of loop in a gorgeous neighborhood that is cut off from the rest of Boston by the Expressway, Morrissey Boulevard, and little pieces of Dorchester Bay and Savin Hill Cove. The restaurant’s location makes it ideal for Savin Hill residents to walk to, and on weekends there are often lines out the door of people who live nearby—along with a few food nerds from outside the area who know about the place. The setup of the interior is a bit awkward on busy days, as the line of people extends from the head of the counter where people check in by writing their names, resulting in many “excuse mes” while trying to get to the signup sheet. The counter itself has several seats where the hardcore regulars can often be found, while the rest of the space is set up with booths and tables of various sizes.
The menu at McKenna’s offers mostly familiar breakfast and lunch items with no real surprises included, but the food is consistently good, the portions are big, and the ingredients used are fresh (probably because it is constantly busy with locals, so ingredients don’t have a chance to sit around like at spots that are often devoid of customers). One of the breakfast highlights here is the granola-crusted French toast, which is made healthy (wink wink) by the granola coating, while another favorite is the McKenna’s Special, a nap-inducing plate that includes two eggs, home fries, bacon or sausage, corned beef hash, and toast. Sandwiches are the way to go for many at lunch, including a meatball sub with cheese and lots of red sauce, a delicious “turkey stuffer” with all the fixings, and a classic tuna melt, while a downright cheap New York sirloin, a spaghetti and meatball plate, and chicken parmigiana are a few options for those looking for a more substantial meal. McKenna’s doesn’t have a liquor license, but it does have some of the best coffees in the area, and if you like flavored coffees, the sweet and rich Snickerdoodle is about as good as it gets.
Like most breakfast places, McKenna’s isn’t a trendy, chic place that everyone talks about, nor does it seem to want to be anything like that. Instead, it pretty much is what it is, a solid eatery where you can get a good stick-to-your-ribs meal at a decent price and be served by people who seem to know more than a few of the customers on a first-name basis (especially up at the counter). If you’re looking for a good meal in the morning or around lunchtime and you happen to be on the expressway, hop off and set your GPS for this totally unpretentious spot.
McKENNA’S CAFE. 109 SAVIN HILL AVE., DORCHESTER. MCKENNASCAFE.COM
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.