An egg-and-cheese sandwich on lightly toasted focaccia at Diesel Cafe in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Hard to believe that Diesel Cafe is about to turn 23, making it one of the old-timers in Davis Square alongside Redbones, Mike’s Food & Spirits and the Sligo Pub, among others. During the pandemic, Diesel management team walled off the entryway to be a pickup portal, then remodeled the interior. Gone is the grungy, ’90s industrial steampunk vibe, replaced by a more modernistic, loft feel. Large glass garage doors still adorn the front, though the entryway is surprisingly narrow. Overall, the redesign has a more spacious and open feel, with inviting, communal spaces. The pool table has been relocated to the back, but the inclusive “be yourself” study hall atmosphere remains.

Reopening for dining in has been slow. The menu is limited, and the cafe closes at 2 p.m. – which for mid-afternoon coffee drinkers and those who like to sit down and write and read ’til dinner is a bit of downer. There’s no lunch menu at the moment, either – the classic Monkey Wrench (turkey, avocado and sprouts) and friends are forthcoming, the sign over the menu says. (And one would assume extended hours too; Diesel’s sister restaurants, Bloc and Forge, also in Somerville, are back closer to their pre-pandemic hours and menus.) What you can get is a full slate of coffee beverages, bakery goods and additions such as an ice cream bar and smoothies (the mango pineapple and Java Slide are good choices). There’s breakfast fare too, including avocado toast, breakfast burritos and basic egg sandwiches. The egg sandos come on focaccia or bagel; I find the basic egg and cheese on lightly toasted focaccia with a garnish of arugula and garlic mayo a perfectly satiating midday grab-and-go. 

Diesel Cafe’s renovations make it feel more spacious. (Photo: Tom Meek)

A cool thing about Diesel is that you no longer queue up at a register to order, just hop on an easy-to-use kiosk, punch in your order and pay digitally. It’s quicker and more efficient. Sure, the Diesel has changed some – neatened up, if you will – but in spirit and service it’s the same collective go-to to get a cup of good mud, grab a bite and be yourself. 

Diesel Cafe (257 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville)


Cambridge writer Tom Meek’s reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.