Food & Drink

Essential Restaurants in Cambridge for Every Budget

Published On 09/06/2016 Published On 09/06/2016
Alden & Harlow
Alden & Harlow | Kristin Teig

Clover Food Lab

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.

Otto

OTTO Pizza

Harvard Square

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.

Vanessa Costa

All Star Sandwich Bar

Inman Square

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.

Alive & Kicking Lobsters

Cambridge

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.

Yume Wo Katare

Porter Square

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!”

State Park

State Park

Kendall Square

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 Den

Harvard Square

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.

Smoke Shop BBQ

The Smoke Shop

Kendall Square

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.

Courtesy of Area Four

Area Four

Kendall Square

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.

Charlie's Kitchen

Harvard Square

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.

Vegan Mac and Cheese | Courtesy of Veggie Galaxy

Veggie Galaxy

Central Square

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.

Flickr/Bill Couch

The Friendly Toast

Kendall Square

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).

Giulia

Porter Square

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).

Shepard

Harvard Square

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.

Aiden & Harlow

Alden & Harlow

Harvard Square

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.

The Table at Season to Taste

Harvard Square

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.

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1. Clover Food Lab 5 Cambridge Ctr, Cambridge, MA 02142 (Kendall Square)

With more than a dozen outposts and counting, Clover Food Lab has gone from the food truck brainchild of an MIT grad to a mini-chain that's redefining how Boston thinks of (and of course, eats) fast food. The company doesn't even have a damn freezer -- at any of its locations. That's how seriously they take their organic, creative, and fresh vegan dishes. Expect dishes like barbecue seitan and chickpea fritters, which, like just about every item on the menu, pair wonderfully with Clover's heavenly lavender lemonade.

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2. OTTO 1432 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square)

What started as a tiny pizza shop in Portland, Maine, is now a fan-favorite across Boston and Cambridge for its unique pies and perfectly crisp crusts. OTTO combines unconventional toppings like mashed potato, bacon & scallion, and three-cheese tortellini to create pizzas that are as flavorful as they are inventive. The topping combos might seem weird at first, but take one bite and you'll be hooked. The menu splits its options into pies with meat and pies with vegetarian toppings, and you can request to hold the cheese or use gluten-free crust, too. Be sure to grab a drink from the craft beer and wine selection.

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3. All Star Sandwich Bar 1245 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139 (East Cambridge)

Operating with the ethos that “a good sandwich is like an old friend,” All Star Sandwich Bar offers the ultimate sandwich experience from its post on Cambridge Street. The mounted chalkboard menu is home to all sandwich options on offer: the burger bar (featuring... burgers), classic sandwiches (like a tuna melt, or a chili cheese dog) funky sandwiches (this is where you’ll find house signatures, namely the lauded Mr. Miyagi, a hoisin-glazed pulled pork sandwich with Thai basil, English cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, a fried egg and Sriracha aioli on brioche), and veggie sandwiches. To further the experience, All Star Sandwich Bar knows that nothing goes better with a sandwich -- of any kind -- than poutine, and nothing goes better with poutine than a pitcher of beer. All Star Sandwich Bar has got you covered.

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4. Alive & Kicking Lobsters 269 Putnam Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

This no-frills seafood market in Cambridge is known for its lobster sandwich (not roll), as well as its steamers, chowders, and daily fresh-caught fish. Instead of a split-top bun, Alive & Kicking's lobster salad -- a simple mixture dressed in light mayo, salt, and pepper -- is served between two pieces of Italian scali bread.

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5. Yume Wo Katare 1923 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140 (Porter Square)

Yume Wo Katare serves ramen, and nothing but ramen. Each bowl is filled with rich and silky broth, a mountain of long noodles, and thick-cut slices of tender pork. The portions are huge, and once you've slurped your last noodle, a waiter will give you a piece of paper to write your life goals, which will then be hung on the wall. The tiny Cambridge spot racks up quite a crowd, so be prepared to wait at peak lunch and dinner hours.

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6. State Park One Kendall Sq, Cambridge, MA 02139 (Kendall Square)

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. State Park's menu changes often, but the comfort food vibe (and the fried chicken) is always present.

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7. Grendel's Den 89 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square)

This Harvard Square hot spot is home to all walks of life (read: Harvard and Cambridge students). Grab one of their unique brew choices and relax in the bar that noted Harvard hottie Natalie Portman used to hang in.

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8. Smoke Shop BBQ 1 Kendall Sq, Cambridge, MA 02139 (East Cambridge)

Toto, I don't think we're in Massachusetts anymore. World Barbeque Champion Chef Andy Husbands brought his love for the art of Texas-style bbq to East Cambridge in the form of this modern smoke shop, where chicken, sausage-links, ribs, burnt ends, and pulled pork are rubbed down in seasoning, slow-cooked, and slathered in sauce. Traditional deep-South sides like collard greens, cornbread, and coleslaw joint the mix alongside a whopping 100-plus collection of whiskeys.

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9. Area Four 500 Technology Sq, Cambridge, MA 02139 (Kendall Square)

Area Four keeps its seats filled with its famously crispy, wood-fired crust. Beginning with a starter that’s more than 10 years old, the dough is fermented for 30 hours or more, then topped with hand-pulled mozzarella. That is, if you want mozzarella: Area Four’s signature mozzarella tops most of its pies, but there are a couple other options -- including its ridiculously tasty clams & bacon pizza -- that opt out of mozzarella for a finish of nutty pecorino. Though it's known for dinner, Area Four serves traditional morning fare like breakfast sandwiches and pastries, plus a stellar breakfast pizza with cheddar cheese, potato, eggs, and bacon.

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10. Charlie's Kitchen 10 Eliot St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square)

This diner-style spot in Harvard Square is flipping some killer burgers -- the star sandwich even has a permanent place mark on the outdoor sign: "Double Cheeseburger KING." Charlie’s double cheeseburger has become a Beantown legend for its perfectly griddled patty and the delightful option to toss on bacon, blue cheese, sautéed jalapeños, and, if you're brave enough, a third patty. Aside from the burgers, the outdoor beer garden is a huge, seasonal draw.

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11. Veggie Galaxy 450 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

Vegetarians, behold: this is the meatless diner you've only dreamed about. With all the decor of a classic American diner, Veggie Galaxy offers an all-day menu that takes vegetarianism to new heights. Expect tofu omelets, BBQ jackfruit sandwiches, and black bean veggie burgers in lieu of their meat-centric counterparts. In true diner fashion, desserts like lemon meringue pie and chocolate strawberry cheesecake are displayed in a rotating glass case.

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12. The Friendly Toast 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 02139

The Kendall Square spinoff of the cult Portsmouth favorite, FT's Fri/Sat 24-hr, 150-seat full-service diner featuring a 22-seat bar, front lounge, and two dining areas adorned w/ lime green walls and hunter green vinyl seats and booths.

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13. Giulia 1682 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138 (Harvard Square)

This 70-seat trattoria in Cambridge is a diamond in the rough, forgotten stretch of Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter. Former Via Matta chef Michael Pagliarini spends hours each day rolling out his handmade doughs at the restaurant's centerpiece pasta table, and the resulting ravioli, fusilli, and pappardelle truly taste like they were made hours earlier. At night, the table transforms from a workspace to a communal dining table that serves family-style tasting meals.

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14. Shepard 1 Shepard St, Cambridge, 02138

This neighborhood restaurant on Harvard Square is a farm-fresh destination that changes its menu depending on the availability of local and seasonal goods. The food is vaguely French, though it wouldn't be a New England restaurant without a fine selection of seafood either. That said, Shepard's oven-roasted chicken is primal and perfect, served on a wood slab with the head and feet still attached.

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15. Alden & Harlow 40 Brattle St, Cambridge, MA 02138 (West Cambridge)

Alden & Harlow, located in Harvard Square, is serving inventive American cuisine from a constantly changing menu. Aside from unique small plates like chicken-fried rabbit and pickled corn pancakes, the kitchen makes an understated but decadent burger, simply dressed with shredded lettuce, a secret sauce, and a crisp frico. The semi-secret burger is available in limited quantities, so don't be surprised to see people lining up at 5pm for it.

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16. The Table at Season To Taste 2447 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02140 (North Cambridge)

Cambridge native Carl Dooley spent his formative years training under multiple James Beard Award-winning chefs, and now the Top Chef alum is manning the kitchen at this intimate, 20-seat restaurant inside Season To Taste catering. The prix-fixe menu features four courses, and though they're always changing, you're likely to find a mix of seafood, vegetables, and meat dishes vaguely inspired by French cooking.