One of the nice parts about traveling to the North Shore is finding endless options for roast beef sandwiches, as this sprawling area north of Boston is a sort of bookend to the South Shore and its bar pizza. And while the South Shore has good places for roast beef and the North Shore has a few decent bar pizza spots, it’s common knowledge among locals that if you want roast beef you drive north of Boston and if you want bar pies you drive south of Boston. The problem is, if you don’t have a car (or you live in the city and aren’t all that motivated to drive 20 miles for a sandwich), you’re pretty much out of luck for some quality roast beef. Or are you? It just so happens that an outstanding place for roast beef sandwiches can be found in East Cambridge, and while Skampa doesn’t exactly have the name recognition of Nick’s in Beverly, Harrison’s in North Andover, or the legendary Kelly’s at Revere Beach, it holds up pretty well against the best that the North Shore has to offer, and you can literally walk there from the heart of Boston if you don’t mind playing dodgeball with cars and trucks at some of the craziest intersections in the area.
Skampa’s name tends to cause some confusion, as the much more popular and similarly named Scampo resides nearby, just across the Charles River at the Liberty Hotel in Boston. And even though Lydia Shire’s upscale eatery and the ultracasual roast beef joint have absolutely nothing in common, the two names can be easily mixed up, with most people knowing about the former and not the latter. Skampa isn’t actually the most prominent dining spot around, as it sits on a stretch of Cambridge Street between Lechmere and Inman Square with endless independent restaurants, bars, and stores, with the only hint that this might not just be another sub shop being the old-school sign out front that displays a roast beef sandwich. There isn’t much to say about the interior, with its hard chairs and tables, small counter area for ordering, dim track lighting, and hard tiled floor all seeming to indicate that this is not a destination spot for roast beef or anything else, instead being a place where you can simply get a quick, basic, cheap meal and little else.
While not exactly a one-trick pony, roast beef is certainly front and center at Skampa, with many customers coming here for that and that alone, and for good reason. The junior, large, and super beef sandwiches here rival the best that the North Shore has to offer, with the thinly sliced meat being slightly warm, the onion rolls being soft and fresh-tasting, and the BBQ sauce having a rich flavor but not so much as to overwhelm the other ingredients. Perhaps the ideal choice at Skampa is to get the super beef “three-way,” which is a familiar term north of Boston and means to include sauce, mayo, and cheese. Also, while it isn’t included on the menu, you can ask for a fried egg on top of the sandwich, just in case you didn’t think there were enough calories in only the meat, sauce, mayo, cheese, and bread (the egg can make the sandwich a thing of beauty or a horrifying mess, depending on your viewpoint). Sides that go well with the sandwiches include fries and onion rings, and you can also get rice pilaf with your roast beef if you’re so inclined, while non-roast beef options include everything from wings to burgers to pizza to calzones to pasta dishes to seafood plates and more.
There is nothing quite like a good roast beef sandwich from a roast beef and seafood joint on the North Shore, but if you can’t make it up there, Skampa in East Cambridge is definitely a viable alternative. And for those who have cars but don’t want to head too far out of the city, parking can usually be found along this part of Cambridge Street since it is a good distance away from Inman Square and just far enough away from Lechmere to keep it from being overly busy. You may not be minutes away from quiet beaches, charming villages, or peaceful conservation lands, but Skampa should surely be able to help with any immediate roast beef cravings that you might have.
SKAMPA. 424 CAMBRIDGE ST., CAMBRIDGE. SKAMPACAMBRIDGE.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.