Having lived and worked in the area for almost a year, I have been to my fair share of eateries in Harvard Square. Without a doubt, my go-to sit-down joint is Border Cafe, with its margarita list, festive atmosphere, solid Tex-Mex, and complimentary, bottomless homemade chips. I’ve never had a bad time there, whether with one person or with ten. The only possible downside is that since it is popular, the wait can be a half-hour or more…but still worth it. Coffee @ Peet’s is another no-brainer. I haven’t been to the upscale places like Casablanca, Henrietta’s Table, or Rialto (though I have a reservation at Rialto for Restaurant Week!!), so I can’t comment on them. On the whole, though, I’d say the Square’s most appealing offerings are found in the casual, take-out places that cater to the students or university-affiliated people who work in the area. Competition maintains quality, and while some are more overpriced than others, the expense is easier to swallow when you account for the yapping tourists, street musicians, and panhandlers that provide ready entertainment should you decide to eat while people-watching outside ABP (and you should). Two of the wisest culinary choices you can make while in Harvard Square are the $6 burger at Oggi’s (comes with fries!) and the Sicilian pizza at Pinocchio’s (2 slices for $4.50, go with the tomato basil and spinach, ask for the corners, and extra-crisp). And on Monday nights from 6-8pm, you would be remiss not to get the $5 Margarita pie at Oggi’s. The one route I’d caution against is Bartley’s, unless you have a hankering for a particular Bartley’s burger that won’t go away, no matter how many Oggi burgers you try to chase it with. Though, once you’ve had the Oggi burger, which is juicy, flavorful, and served on a grilled bun with mixed greens and the topping of the day, I suspect you’ll pass by Bartley’s without thinking twice. Unless it genuinely delights you to eat burgers named after people, in which case Bartley’s can rest assured it has a monopoly on your business in this area.
Here’s a quick run-down of most of the other places I’ve been to:
Respectable take-out/quick food options:
Cardullo’s — A gourmet food shop(pe) with a deli counter inside serving some fancy-pants sandwiches. I hear their fig jam and something sandwich is a stand-out.
Flat Patties — You can get a West Coast-style burger for $3.50 or something absurd like that, but I usually go for the chicken sandwich and onion rings. Many a mention of the banana bread pudding, which I have yet to try.
Crema Cafe — Sandwiches made thick with interesting combinations like the roast turkey, bacon, avocado and jicama slaw. Good bread, too. I like the option to add homemade sweet potato chips for $1, but they vary in consistency and have come to me soggy. Sandwiches can sometimes take awhile, at least in sandwich time.
9 Tastes — Got take-out here for the first time last weekend and was very satisfied with the spicy wide rice noodles. Take-out prices were the same as dinner, so it wasn’t cheap, but I daresay the dish might have reasonably fed two 🙂
b.good — Emphasis on local ingredients, decent enough but I’m a huge not-fan of the name…typical Cambridge.
Qdoba — I don’t mind their burritos, especially with the Harvard discount, but nothing special.
Chipotle — Who hasn’t eaten at a Chipotle?
Cambridge 1 — Good thin-crust pizza, if a bit yuppy. Good beer list, I hear?
Finale — Decadent desserts and drinks. Three words: molten chocolate cake. I hear their lunch special is a bargain.
Grendel’s — 1/2 off appetizers with drinks. I’ve fallen for the Dark N’ Stormy and the grimy vibe.
Harvard Market — A bit hidden on Church Street. They don’t slack on the selection; salads, hot foods, including stuff like curry and jap chae. The right place to indulge the indecisive in you.
Darwin’s — sandwiches and service with attitude (of the irritating, hipster kind), but damnit, their breakfast sandwiches are good.
Hi-Rise — see: Darwin’s.