Where the Wild Things Grow
Kendall Square (& other locations)
This regional chain was actually begun by an MIT grad who wanted quick-grab, sustainable vegan fare. What was once a single food truck has grown into a little local empire, with more than a dozen outlets dishing out favorites like barbecue seitan, chickpea fritters, and rosemary fries.
All the New York transplants wah-wah-wahing about the dearth of quality pizza in our city should head to OTTO and then shut up already. Thin-crust slices -- also available in a gluten-free version -- are delicious and ample, with the perfect balance of sauce and cheese. And because each slice is so large, you get to fold ‘em in half... just like the New Yorkers do at home.
Go for either one of the alt-classics, like the BLT -- applewood-smoked bacon, herb mayo, grilled sourdough -- or a true sandwich revelation like the Mr. Miyagi, which is comprised of hoisin-glazed pulled pork, Thai basil, cilantro, English cucumber, pickled daikon radish & carrots, and a fried egg on a grilled sesame brioche roll.
This place is a serious locals-only spot: venture into this no-frills seafood market for the lobster sandwich (sandwich, not roll), a venerated community favorite that speaks to the region’s shellfish obsession. There have long been rumors this place also fronts as a mob spot, which, well... welcome to old-timey Cambridge.
Ramen is the perfect get-to-know-you meal with friends, though we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a first date. This tiny Porter Square Shopping Center gem serves super-large bowls of pork ramen (no substitutions); if someone finishes the whole thing, the staff shouts, “We have a perfect!”
Good jukebox, good pinball, good live music, very good fried chicken: an evening at this subterranean spot is kind of a bonding-time classic. And seriously, the Nashville-style, hot sauce, and honey fried chicken is amazing and available 'til midnight… perfect for soaking up however many $3 cans of Genny Cream you end up throwing back.
Grendel’s is about as old-school as Harvard Square gets (seriously, if your parents went to school here, they probably have a dozen Grendel’s tales). The below-ground pub has been slinging bar food basics -- like spinach dip, turkey wraps, and veggie burgers -- since 1971. And the big bonus: every day from 5 to 7:30pm, most orders are half-off -- all you have to do is order $3 worth of drinks to qualify.
If you unabashedly love meat, you need to check this place out: ribs, crispy pork skins, brisket, burnt ends, fried chicken -- it’s all represented, but you can’t order everything at once, which basically gives you permission to eat off your friends’ plates. Afterwards, head to Flat Top Johnny’s for a little pool action.
Pizza pleases all palates, and this is the best sit-down pizza place in town (Obama even stopped by during a recent Cambridge touch-down). Topping combos like clam & bacon, or sausage & banana peppers, are guaranteed winners. And don’t be put off by the seemingly higher prices: these pizzas are so filling that you’ll be eating the leftovers for days.
It’s an institution, and for good reason. A posse of burger-loving folks can sit down for every kind of cheeseburger under the sun, be it loaded with bacon or slathered in pineapple and ham. The year-round beer garden is an obvious draw -- and a good place to convince yourself that drinking something Belgian is basically educational.
Everything on this diner-inspired menu is either vegetarian or vegan, but you still have your late-morning classics, from corned-beef seitan hash to vegetarian poutine. And if you get there past the noon mark, take it as an excuse to try the meatless Reuben and shepherd’s pie.
Friendly indeed, what with all the kitschy wall decor and steampunk-ish wait staff. We will happily embrace any place that offers six different variations on eggs Benedict, but there’s lots to love here, from the homemade granola to the Consciously Uncoupled Eggs (and not just for the genius name).
Some things are classic for a reason -- romantic Italian restaurants are still just solidly good date-night options. This lovely spot is also just perfect for indulging your love of gnocchi (it’s seriously good here).
If you really want to make an impression, you could do a lot worse than one of Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants of 2016. The roast chicken here is one of the stars, and pro tip: go for a seat that affords you a glimpse into the fiery kitchen.
This place is way hip (see self-conscious menu items like “ubiquitous kale salad”), and the prices are high to match. Still, sometimes you have to live a little -- and that happens when you get to swap out a classic like chicken-fried steak for chicken-fried rabbit. Or the duck tongue salad. Yeah. That.
This place is one high-end, semi-hidden gem. The Table at Season to Taste may be (OK, is) super-awkwardly named, but it’s also splendidly committed to seasonal cuisine and French technique. If you’re going to eat one prix fixe meal all year, you might as well go for this one.