A little cafe that features a big (and hard-to-find) sandwich
Sometimes the most unassuming dining spots happen to hold secrets—it could be an extraordinary dish that rivals those found at more popular restaurants, or perhaps a hidden back patio or basement dining area, or maybe a food item that can’t be found anywhere else in the region. This last example is what puts the otherwise unknown Tasty on the Hill in Medford on the map just a bit, as this humble little cafe by Tufts University offers a sandwich that not only can’t be found anywhere else in the Boston area, but really anywhere else in the entire United States except for a few spots in New Jersey, California, and elsewhere. And what exactly is in this sandwich that makes it so unique? More on that in a bit, but the better question may be, what isn’t in it? (And why don’t more places offer it?)
Tasty on the Hill—also known as Tasty Cafe and Tasty Cafe on the Hill—sits in a block of businesses along the edge of Tufts in the Hillside section of Medford, which makes it a popular spot for students, along with residents of nearby West Medford, South Medford, and Somerville, which is just on the other side of the hill where Tufts resides. The place doesn’t look like much from the outside and could easily be mistaken for your basic sub shop, pizza spot, or deli—and mistaking it for a deli is certainly easy to do, considering that a deli called Tasty Gourmet had formerly been in the space. The interior of Tasty on the Hill is simple but pleasant, and while this is definitely a place where you can have a leisurely meal, a lot of customers do opt for takeout or delivery in part because of its small size and its location by Tufts.
The cuisine at Tasty on the Hill tends to have Portuguese influences, and this includes its signature sandwich, which is called a francesinha. Don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of this item because, frankly, few others in the Boston area have heard of it either, mainly because it simply cannot be found anywhere else in the region, at least not on a regular basis. And what is a francesinha? It’s a Portuguese sandwich that includes a lot of ingredients, with the traditional version offered here having the following: steak, bacon, ham, a hot dog, American cheese, and a fried egg, all somehow stuffed into two pieces of bread and covered in a brightly colored tomato-based sauce made with beer and other ingredients. Other versions of the francesinha can be ordered here as well, including ones with salted cod, ground beef, chicken, and salmon, and all versions can be ordered as a full sandwich (if you want to take a 12-hour nap after eating it) or a half sandwich (if you’re only up for a 6-hour nap). Tasty on the Hill is not a one-trick pony, by the way; the eatery has a number of other options, including waffles, pancakes, French toast, egg dishes, oatmeal, and more for breakfast, and all kinds of wraps, subs, and clubs as well as salads, burgers, pasta dishes, flatbread pizza, and grill items for lunch and a very early dinner (as of this writing, the restaurant only stays open until 4 pm each day). A few highlights in addition to the aforementioned francesinha include the steak and eggs with ham—which is almost as sleep-inducing as the sandwich—and reuben panini with plenty of corned beef. Alcohol is not served at Tasty on the Hill, but smoothies, coffee, tea, and a particularly good hot chocolate are offered.
If you like unique food items and you’re a big fan of sandwiches, Tasty on the Hill is a must, though be forewarned—this is not a sandwich that you pick up with your hands, unless your main goal is to gross out an entire restaurant. But the francesinha here is something special, and even if you decide not to opt for it, there are some other tasty Portuguese-influenced eats at this friendly little spot in the shadows of Tufts University.
TASTY ON THE HILL. 321 BOSTON AVE., MEDFORD. TASTYCAFEBOSTON.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.