BY MANDANA BLANK
$ – entrees $10 or less
$$ – entrees $10 – 15
$$$ – entrees $15 – 20
$$$$ – entrees $20+
Porter Square/Near HLS
1920 Mass. Ave., (617) 876-9180
This is the type of pub food the average Cambridge hippie can appreciate — lots of organic ingredients, vegetarian options, and attention to fat content. Rarely greasy, almost always flavorful, the array of Tex-Mex offerings (try the fajitas), pastas, fishes and sandwiches makes choosing a meal almost impossible. The beer selection is also considerable, with over 20 always on tap.
1759 Mass. Ave. (617) 864-6299
The décor is simple and the hospitality genuine at this small, cheap, homestyle Korean restaurant within walking distance of campus. Try the bi bim bap (rice with assorted vegetables and sometimes meat — a rough Korean equivalent of fried rice). They also have homemade pickles, kimchee, and other Korean staples to go.
1815 Mass. Ave. (617) 354-3727
A French “bistrot” in Porter Square, Metro opened last year to great expectations – the chef, Amanda Lydon, was named one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs in 2000, and her food lives up to the promise. Come here if you crave simple French food: steak tartare, soufflé, paté, or perhaps a frog leg or two. Don’t come here if you’re on a tight budget. The room is decorated as one might imagine a French bistro to be, yet the ambiance and scene are still not quite “authentique.” A recent change in management may mean better service (keep your fingers crossed). Metro serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, and brunch on weekends.
West Side Lounge ($$$)
1680 Mass. Ave., (617) 441-5566
Owned by one of the three groups in Cambridge who seem to own all of the scarce liquor licenses that come up for grabs, West Side Lounge is a great place to upscale it when you’re sick of Cambridge Common. New American cuisine, precious at times, but a reliably mellow atmosphere and reasonably priced menu make this a good option for a decent bite to eat close to campus.
Forest Café ($$)
1682 Mass. Ave. (617) 661-7810
This divey Mexican spot, nestled between Temple Bar and West Side Lounge, won’t score many points for décor, but its bar won’t bust the bank like its more upscale brethren. Go there for overloaded nachos, flavorful-enough burritos, its Wednesday night pub quiz, or to drown a bad day of interviews with some crisp shots of tequila and a top-notch margarita.
Anna’s Taqueria and Boca Grande ($)
No one ever recommended Cambridge, MA as a destination for exceptional Mexican food, but with several branches apiece, these two restaurants have become Boston area institutions for students seeking cheap, filling eats. Boca has a menu with a few more authentic options, while Anna’s sticks mostly to burritos, tacos and quesadillas. If you’re hungry, short on cash, and the Hark is closed for the weekend, there are plenty of reasons to make regular stops at either of these.
1712 Mass. Ave. (617) 547-6565
Arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Cambridge, Changsho offers a gut-busting daily buffet lunch ($8.95), a more extensive Sunday buffet ($17.95), and a full menu dinner. The buffet lunches offer delicacies like fried wonton skins and a few pieces of dim sum as well as popular dishes like General Tso’s chicken, chow mien, noodles with shellfish, potstickers and spring rolls. In the evenings, Peking duck (slices of tender roasted duck wrapped in a sweet bun with plum sauce), twice cooked pork (a Shanghainese delicacy), and string bean dishes are winners. Word to the wise: While dining at Changsho, watch what you say — it’s just as likely that the guy sitting behind you is that Civ Pro professor you love to hate.
Tamarind House ($)
1790 Mass. Ave. (617) 491-9940
This Thai restaurant near Porter Square does not feature the most accommodating staff, but it does have some fine food. Tamarind duck and crispy pad thai are winners. The appetizers are creative and well worth a try, especially chicken wings stuffed with shrimps and vegetable. Feel free to order a Thai iced coffee or tea to help you relax and enjoy your meal. It may not be the most exciting Thai restaurant in the Harvard/Porter Square area, but Tamarind House is consistent enough to be worth the quick hoof from the HLS dorms.
Temple Bar ($$)
1688 Mass. Ave. (617) 547-5055
Go there to get drinks in a nice place within 5 minutes of campus. Don’t go there to eat–pastas are bland, meats are often incorrectly cooked, service is molasses-slow even during the uncrowded lunch hour, and the prices are several dollars above neighboring Cambridge Common.
Cambridge Common ($)
1667 Mass. Ave. (617) 547-1228
This local pub doesn’t get enough credit from the HLS crew, seeing as how it’s only a 5-minute walk from Gropius. But our Hark away from the Hark happens to be consistently voted one of the best bargains in Cambridge, and its fare is both varied and consistent. For a real treat, snag a basket of the sweet potato fries and one of the 20-plus beers on tap. The supersized vodka tonics — served in the same glasses as the beer — are also a good way to loosen up after a tough day of Contracts.
The Elephant Walk ($$$)
2046 Mass. Ave. (617) 492-6900
A slightly more upscale restaurant with one branch located just past Porter Square and another in the trendy Back Bay area, the Elephant Walk has been a local favorite for quite a few years. The menu is half French and half Cambodian. Both sides of the menu are strong, but the Cambodian is the better half with dishes like curry de crevettes (seafood curry) and various satays. Cambodian cooking has a slight French influence, so it does have some distinguishing characteristics from Thai food even though there are many overlaps in dishes. End your meal with one of many French delicate pastries. Make reservations or be prepared for a very, very long wait.
Grafton Street ($$)
1230 Mass. Ave. (617) 497-0400
Newly-reopened, this Harvard graduate school standby has taken over the former Bow & Arrow Pub (best known as the bar in Good Will Hunting), and morphed it into yet another lavish pseudo-Irish pub. The owners of Temple Bar and Daedalus stick to the same formula that has brought them success in the past (for something ever so slightly different, check out their Red Line). Food-wise, comfort food, sandwiches and pub grub brush up alongside decent nouveau cuisine. Grafton won’t surprise you, but it’s a good place to see and be seen — maybe even by some b-school hotties.
57 JFK St. (617) 234-3988
This installation of the New York City chain serves reasonably priced and good Malaysian food nestled in a quasi-post-modern setting. Conveniently located in the Galleria in Harvard Square (not to be confused with the Cambridgeside Galleria in East Cambridge or the Garage in Harvard Square), this spot serves up great rote canai (an Indian-style pancake with curry dipping sauce) and yam pots (stir-fried vegetables and your choice of meat served in a basket made of deep fried taro root).
56 JFK St. (617) 354-8576
Tucked behind shops on JFK street, Iruña is a little known Spanish joint that has nice, quiet outdoor seating, in which you may enjoy good simple Spanish food and sangria. Check out their lunch specials, too.
John Harvard’s ($$)
33 Dunster St. (617) 868-3585
If and when you tire of Cambridge’s overabundance of ethnic foods, this brewpub standby won’t let you go hungry. Check out cla
ssic American grub like buffalo wings, hamburgers, creamy pastas, and steaks, along with a few more creative salads. The rotating cast of beers rarely disappoints, and a warm, enormous apple crisp is a great way to finish you off. There’s usually a crowd on weekends, but if high-quality, high-quantity, not terribly challenging American food is what you’re after, it’s worth the wait.
45 Mount Auburn St. (617) 349-0071
Unlike its sister Temple Bar, Daedalus could likely stand on cuisine alone. The upscale selection of pastas, steaks, risottos and fish dishes makes for good date food at a price point a bit below places with comparably plush atmospheres.
Casa Mexico ($$)
75 Winthrop St. (617) 491-4552
Arguably the best Mexican food in Harvard Square, the food at this dimly lit, tightly packed restaurant is more authentic, better tasting, and slightly more complex than your average taco joint. Entrees range from $10 to $15 and feature dishes such as chicken in mole sauce and different types of tamales and enchiladas. Dishes are accompanied with rice and beans and are usually teeming with flavor. Health nuts be warned: Casa Mexico, like many Mexican restaurants, doesn’t go easy on the butter and oil. Complement your meal with a Mexican beer, sangria, or margarita. End your feast with a traditional flan or a sweet empanada. Be prepared for long waits on Friday and Saturday nights at this local favorite underground establishment embellished with tile and ceramic décor.
Bombay Club ($$)
57 JFK St. (617) 661-8100
Part of the strong contingent of Indian restaurants in the Square, this favorite has all you can eat lunches ($6.95 weekdays, $8.95 weekends) and a la carte dinners. A wide variety of tasty lamb, beef, chicken, and vegetarian dishes all have wonderfully spiced sauces that are heavenly when matched with one of several different kinds of naan (Indian bread) or rice. A mango-yogurt lassi is a cool way to cleanse the palate between bites.
Café of India ($$)
52A Brattle St. (617) 661-0683
Yet another good Indian restaurant in the Square, it features many traditional Indian dishes such as chicken tikka masala. You must start off the meal with a samosa or two. For the ones with large appetites, the special dinner for one ($19.95; special dinner for two also available at a higher price) features a sampling from several different appetizers and meat dishes that is guaranteed to fill you and leave you satisfied. Café of India is particularly attractive during warm weather since the front of the restaurant opens up nicely right onto the sidewalk, giving it a chic restaurant/sidewalk café feel. Even during the winter, the decor is better than average.
Greenhouse Coffee Shop ($)
3 Brattle St. (617) 354-3184
Get to The Greenhouse before 1 pm on Saturday or Sunday to enjoy one of the most popular breakfasts in Cambridge — and one of the few offering quality traditional fare like French toast, pancakes and omelettes. Each breakfast comes with home fries, toast, milk or coffee and a shot of juice (orange, apple, or grape). At any time, you can enjoy large meals of pepper fried steak sandwiches, hamburgers, and meat loaf. Enjoy a frappe or a piece of German chocolate three-layer cake to finish off your meal.
Bangkok House ($$)
50 JFK St. (617) 547-6666
A popular dining spot for the K-School set, Bangkok House has great box lunch specials that include an entrée, a side salad, rice, and a few token pieces of sushi. They offer the usual variety of curries — green, red, yellow, and mussaman — along with various types of meat or seafood. The dishes from this underground establishment tend to be a little watery and pricey compared to the multitude of other Thai restaurants in Harvard Square and on Mass. Ave. But most items are quite spicy, so if you’re looking for the extra kick in your Thai food, this might be your place.
24 Holyoke St. (617) 868-9560
A colorfully decorated restaurant in the heart of Harvard Square, Spice offers exactly what its name spells — spicy and flavorful Thai dishes. Weekly specials (usually fool-proof) complement a sizable selection of curries and other thai favorites. For an appetizer, try the various satays for a tasteful treat. A wonderful selection of ice creams — ginger, coconut, or green tea — offer the perfect ending to your meal. One thing Spice doesn’t offer, though, is alcohol, so don’t plan on washing any of the spicy stuff back with an ice-cold brew or a mai tai.
Border Café ($)
32 Church St. (617) 864-6100
Surprise, Southwesterners — Cambridge is a long, long way from Texas. Thus, the closest we get to Tex-Mex is this bizarre Cajun/Tex-Mex hybrid. The beanless burritos (“burros”) are horrible here, and the enchiladas are nothing special, but if you don’t mind the grease, there’s plenty to enjoy, even if you won’t write home to El Paso about it. Still light years better than the neighboring Chili’s chain, if you’re hankering for a margarita and something made with a tortilla, this Border is the closest thing you can make a run for.
Bartley’s Burger Cottage ($)
1246 Mass. Ave. (617) 354-6559
Viewed by most as the best burger joint in Cambridge, this little hole in the hall squeezes its customers together while serving them the freshest and tastiest beef smothered with your choice of accompaniment. All the burgers are named after famous figures like Al Bore, George Bush, Bill Clinton, etc. Bartley’s is slightly higher priced than your usual burger joint, so share a basket of fries or onion rings to help save money–you won’t need a full portion to yourself anyway. But if you can stand a couple hundred more calories, Bartley’s frappes and milkshakes are amazing. Be sure to check the chalkboards around the restaurant to make sure you’re not missing out on any specials that might not be on the menu.
57 JFK St. (617) 547-7971
One of several decent sushi spots in the area (there are tons of extremely informal options in the Porter Square Mall), Shilla offers a strong compromise in location, price and quality. Not quite the quality and selection of Roka, but a nonetheless consistent and strikingly fresh sushi selection that goes well with the tolerable Japanese and Korean food and bento box specials.
1001 Mass. Ave. (617) 661-0344
The sushi champ in terms of variety and atmosphere, Roka keeps things interesting with a wide variety of fish, plus a strong selection of sakes and Japanese beers. But if you want your sushi to come cheap, and don’t care if it’s served in a diner-style atmosphere, try Café Sushi a few doors down instead.
10 Eliot St. (617) 442-9646
Charlie’s draws one of Harvard Square’s scruffier crowds — indie rockers, townies and beer drinkers will feel more at home than the utterly faux set throwing them down at Redline around the corner. Charlie’s also makes a mean — if rather smallish — burger. The double- and triple-decker options are best bets, coupled with thin, perfectly crispy fries. The rest of the pub grub rarely falters, and the searing wings are some of the best in the area. Even if you’re not hungry, it’s worth the trip simply to knock back a Pilsner Urquell while listening to the well-stocked jukebox, likely the magnet for the black-rimmed glasses set inside.
Fire and Ice
50 Church St. (617) 547-9007
This Mongolian barbecue joint boasts boatloads of potential food combinations. You pick the ingredients, F&E employees grill them up, and you can repeat the performance as many times as you want. Unfortunately, all those raw meats and vegetables available usually look better than they taste — somehow, everything at Fire and Ice ends up
turning out bland. Still, the all-you-can eat option makes it a winner for the quantity-over-quality crowd.
Rock Bottom Brewery ($$)
33 Church St.
Part of a well-known national chain, there would be no point in mentioning this if it were not for the fact that it’s food, service and décor are so hideous that any untutored individual should avoid the place like the plague. Put your name on the waiting list at John Harvard’s instead — if you’ve gotten desperate enough to go here, you know your dining options have hit rock bottom.
Inman Square & Somerville
Punjabi Dhaba ($)
225 Hampshire St. (617) 547-8272
Want good, cheap, fast Indian food? Don’t care if you have to take out? Go to Punjabi Dhaba in Inman Square. Plus, they’re open until midnight.
Diesel Café ($$)
257 Elm St., Somerville (617) 629-8717
Owned by three Harvard grads, Diesel Café is a unique participant in the Davis Square coffee shop wars. With a rotating exhibit of local art, two pool tables in the back (rentable by the hour), veggie-friendly eats, excellent coffee and Toscanini’s ice cream, Diesel has built itself a loyal clientele over the past few years, and is a great place to go if you need to “escape” HLS for a few hours. Do not leave the premises without trying a Rusty Slide.
Zoe’s Chinese Restaurant ($)
289 Beacon St. (near Star Market), Somerville (617) 864-6265
Advertised as having a nationally-acclaimed chef from China working in the kitchen, Zoe’s offers a variety of Cantonese, Shanghainese, and Szechuan dishes. On weekends, you can try Chinese home breakfasts consisting of sweet soymilk, Chinese doughnuts (unsweetened), scallion pancakes, pastries with beef, or even more exotic fare like steamed chicken with tsao hsing beer. On regular nights, Zoe’s offers American favorites like General Tso’s chicken and sweet and sour chicken, but also has Chinese favorites like Shanghai-style pan fried shrimp and fried rice noodle with beef. They also offer evening delivery with a minimum purchase of $20.
118 Beacon St., Somerville (617) 661-3866
The name stands for “extra virgin olive oil,” but it doesn’t begin to describe the range and excellence of evoo’s innovative New American cuisine. Offerings like the southern-influenced cornmeal-fried oysters and rich, intricately arranged duck are dazzling; the minimalist, uninspiring décor is not. But the food, not the setting, is the star here.
Greek Corner ($$)
2366 Mass. Ave. (617) 661-5655
Though just about the only option for Greek food in Cambridge, Greek Corner serves up inexpensive Greek-American staples: various kebabs, moussaka, grape leaves, baklava and the like. It is a casual spot, often popular with families (read: many small children). Try the saganaki, even if just to be able to say you’ve eaten flaming cheese.
415 Washington St., Somerville (617) 661-3254
This lushly decorated tapas spot is always crowded–and for good reason. One of the best restaurants across the river, Dali has everything you could want for a date or a group — or a vegetarian. A variety of tapas based around the rich seafood of New England (crabs, lobsters), exotic game items like rabbit, and fresh vegetables like asparagus and bell peppers all work to tempt your appetite. More expensive and less creative entrees based around meats and rice are also available, and the paella is top notch. Two caveats: Watch what you order, as the bill for those little bites tends to add up in a hurry, and be ready to wait — Dali doesn’t take reservations for anything but large groups.
B-Side Lounge ($$)
92 Hampshire St. (617) 354-0766
Cambridge locals chill with dot-commers at this Kendall Square retro bar/eatery. The food is good, moderately-priced standard American with the occasional pan-Asian flare; the drinks are great. Come for a late supper, linger afterwards to check out the bar scene. If you’re really into food, also check out their monthly special themed prix-fixe dinners, usually cooked up by some of Boston’s finest.
1193 Cambridge St. (617) 576-1971
Take Southern food north of the Mason-Dixon, and it can seem downright exotic. So it goes with Magnolia’s slightly upscale take on various dishes of the region, from New Orleans faves like jambalaya and hush puppies to pork loin with mashed sweet potatoes. True Southerners say the cuisine isn’t dazzling, but it’s about the only way to go for this style of food.
720 Mass. Ave. (617) 868-2405
Fancy Italian food (oxymoron though that may be). Still, if you want nouveau Italian food in Cambridge, this is a good choice (for simple, authentic Italian food, go to the North End). It’s also next door to the Good Life in Central Square, which makes drinks after dinner a no-brainer. Impress your friends and empty your bank account — all in one fell swoop.
Jasper White’s Summer Shack ($$)
149 Alewife Brook Parkway
Jasper White has been an influential figure on the Boston restaurant scene since the eighties, when his restaurant, Jasper’s, redefined New England cuisine. His latest restaurant, Summer Shack, is a massive attempt to recreate the feel of a New England clambake, albeit in a former Polynesian restaurant (witness the cement Buddha outside), and is a nice alternative to the overpriced and overrated Legal Sea Foods when you’re in the mood for fish. Easily accessible by T (right across the street from the Alewife stop on the Red Line), Summer Shack has good food with a casual atmosphere, but they don’t take reservations (except maybe for large groups) — so show early or be prepared to hang out with a beeper and wait. Good for a large group, even if the local surroundings are a little dim.
143 First St., Cambridge (617) 492-4646
Afghani cuisine is the culinary realization of geographical realities: balanced somewhere between Persian and Indian food (think lots of lamb, delicately flavored rice, and hearty sauces) — and this Afghan restaurant near the Cambridgeside Galleria delivers exceptional food and ambiance at very reasonable prices. Try the kaddo (sugar pumpkin with yogurt sauce) or chowpan (grilled rack of lamb). Owned by a relative of Afghanistan’s embattled prime minister Hamid Karzai, this restaurant is very popular: You will need a reservation to come here on any weekend night. It might not be a bad idea to snag reservations on some of the busier weekdays, either.