I''m going to be in Cambridge in October for a few days and would like some restaurant suggestions.
I'm a huge fan of ECG: they do grilled fish better than just about anyone, in my view, and do good raw bar, decent Yankee barbecue (real slow smoke cooking), and great cocktails. Hectic, casual, fun, consistent. One of the few nationally known places in Boston/Cambridge that lives up to its reputation.
Salts is a terrific artisinal French place, not formal but with with quite lovely food. Intimate, refined, mid-priced.
A few standbys: as mentioned, Rialto, though it's top-tier costwise. Creative high-end cooking, sort of New Med, with great service, atmosphere, wines. Dressy, but not stuffy.
Tamarind Bay, for the most creative yet authentic Indian in Boston. Fancy of its type, which is to say casual but nicer looking than most.
B-Side Lounge for above-average casual New American food in a great bar setting with extraordinary bartending. The teensy wine list went from okay to pretty forgettable, but that's a quibble.
Some places on the New American tip with good grilling, casual but nice atmosphere, fine bartending, decent wines, and moderate prices: the Rendezvous at Central Square, Green Street, the Blue Room.
Excellent Neo-Cuban food and drinks in a tight bar setting: Chez Henri. The dining room French is okay, but the bar is where to dine.
A couple of holes in the wall: Izzy's (Puerto Rican), Baraka (Algerian), Forest Cafe (Mexican).
Sandrine's for not-cheap but authentic and strong Alsatian cuisine. Great desserts, interesting wines.
Several fine Portuguese places: my faves are O Cantinho and Casa Portugal. Brazilian spicy fish stew at Moqueca. All in East Cambridge, casual, relative bargains.
East Coast Grill is a lot of fun-- great food, strong drinks, and nice, if occasionally raucous atmosphere. Others to check out-- Central Kitchen in Central Square-- beautiful little room, excellent, eclectic wine list, and kick-ass food. they also are affiliated with a lounge upstairs called the Enormous Room--lots of couches and pillows to lounge on, great drink list, and you can get little plates to munch on if you want. Rendezvous, also in Central Square, is the new place that Steve Johnston, formerly of the Blue Room opened about a year or so ago. He's got influences from Asia to Africa to Latin America, all with a nod to local ingredients and authenticity of preparation. His former restaurant, the Blue Room in Kendall Square, has one of the best Sunday brunch deals around, as well as serving a pretty darn good dinner. Also an EXCELLENT wine list. Really eclectic and cool. Cambridge One in Harvard Square serves high end grilled flatbread style pizzas and salads. Good for lunch or casual dinner. Chez Henri, between Harvard and Porter-- eat in the bar and get conch fritters and a cuban sandwich. best f'in cuban i've had outside miami, and you can share with someone else and be full. great mojito and caipirinha, too. i don't love the dining room (prix fixe french fine dining) as much, oddly enough. Those'd be my top choices for Cambridge. if you're willing to go across the river a bit, let us know. also, as a last note-- rialto is in fact overpriced. avoid, avoid, avoid. same goes for upstairs on the square.
I agree with everything HeelsSoxHound suggested. Rendezvous is quickly becoming the hot Cambridge place. Slightly more expensive I'd add Salts, also in Central Sq. Outstanding. IMHO as good as anything across the river in So End... and you'll find parking.
Harvard Sq: Tamarind Bay is not the usual Indian and very good. Panang (a small chain) should reopen by then - their lunch is a great deal. Red House is more upscale but there are ways to eat there more frugally. Casablanca under the Brattle Theater. We've twice managed dinner for two at the Monkey Bar of Upstairs on the Sq for under $100, but that's with not much wine. Avoid all Chinese restaurants in Harvard Sq and the awful Border Cafe.
Up Mass Ave, towards Porter Sq (sorry, there's no other way to describe it) are, from most expensive to least, Chez Henri, which is French/Cuban, Temple Bar, West Side Lounge and Forest Cafe/ Mexican Cuisine.
On the Somerville line, there's a corner with Dali's, a good tapas place, and the badly named Kebab Factory - actually a really good Indian place.
All get busy on weekend nights - particularly Head of the Charles weekend - hope that's not when you're visiting (10/21 and 22) so do try reservations (tho not all take them).
- The original comment has been removed