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Harvard Square for Lunch - Where to Go?

I'll be in Harvard Square on Friday and plan to have lunch, but where? I usually end up at Grafton Street or John Harvard and I'm looking for some place different. I'm thinking maybe Smile Thai. Anyone have any other suggestions?

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  1. How about Cafe Z? I haven't been there, but I've heard it's great!

    3 Replies
    1. re: parkslopemama

      Really? I've heard almost nothing positive about Cafe Z, including a not-so-hot review in the Globe. I haven't been there either, but if anyone's a fan out there, let us know why.

      1. re: wontonton

        Tried to go today for breakfast b/c a friend's parents had RAVED about it to her. Decided to be open-minded and try it. Unfortunately it wasn't meant to be as the waitress was running late so they had to delay their breakfast start-time to 11AM and we didn't want to eat from the limited/counter service menu upstairs. It was 10:15 when we walked in. Have to say I won't rush back given how un-accomodating they were to us.

        1. re: wontonton

          Been once, for dinner.

          The best thing about Cafe Z, IMHO, is the niche it fills: mid-priced, non-ethnic, non-pub food in Harvard Square. You can get a cup of decent soup an entree with a meat/fish and a side or two and a drink for $25 or so plus tax/tip.

          On my particular visit, I had a decent-not-great carrot soup, the "Wursthause Plate" entree with 3 different sausages, good red cabbage and mashed potatoes and an Endurance Pale Ale. $35 after tip, I think, and well worth it IMHO.

          The take-out lunch menu also looked promising - always good to have more options in The Square.

      2. Time and weather permitting, might be a good opportunity to hoof it over to the Plough and Stars and try one of those cubanos the kids have been talking about.

          1. re: heathermb

            Upstairs on the Square (Monday Club) also has a prix fix for lunch. $20 for three courses. I've had it in the past and the portions were substantial and delicious. An excellent lunch deal. Plus, I love the decor.

          2. Tamarind Bay, for Indian lunch buffet.

            1. Smile is not very good. The best of the (deeply mediocre) Thai in Harvard Square is Spice. But I'd go with one of the above suggestions, or if you're in the mood for something Asian (non-Indian), try Rendang (formerly Penang, same menu, same food).

              1. Thanks for the feedback on Smile Thai, I'll cross that off my list. Tamarind Bay sounds good and so does the Monday Club. I had wanted to try OM, but it's not open for lunch. I know there have been a lot of negative posts about OM, but they are the same people who own Shanti in Dorchester, and I love that place. Totally different concepts of course, but I was curious about the filet mignon with the truffled potato and egg on top.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Pegmeister

                  Om is open for lunch--I had lunch there just last week. The menu for lunch is downsized from dinner, but they have good momos and sandwichy things in the $10-15 range. I thought that it wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. My chinese pork sandwich filled the gap, at least.

                2. I had a nice lunch at Rendang (the restaurant formerly known as Penang) a few months ago, I'd recommend it. I also like Tamarind Bay a lot as well. I noticed recently that Om is now serving lunch now -- I think everything was between $10 and $20, with entrees on the high end of that and sandwiches at the low end. I haven't tried it though.

                  I wouldn't recommend it for a special occasion lunch, but if you're just looking for a nice place to have a sandwich or salad, I'll give my broken record endorsement of Finale's lunch menu -- it's generally very good. I particularly like the roasted chicken sandwich with arugula and lime-pickled onions. Very reasonable prices too, as long as you don't ask for substitutions on your sandwiches (they have ridiculous charges for that). As generally noted, their ostensible raison d'etre, the desserts, are mostly pretty but dull, although I think that applies more to the cakes than to the cookies and pastries, which are pretty good but overpriced.

                  1. This may end up being a light lunch, heavy shopping and light dinner day. I just checked out the menu for Cafe Z and saw the crepes!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Pegmeister

                      If you try the crepes, do report back. I didn't like it, as it tended toward sweet even with a savory filling (ham and gruyere) but technically it's fine. I did like the cafe space and it felt like a good spot for a light lunch in between shops. If it was me, and I could carve out an hour, I'd go to Upstairs on the Square like heathermb. You can have a lovely light meal with a glass of wine and I think the atmosphere is really festive.

                    2. Cambridge One or Veggie Planet if you feel like upscale pizzas or good salads. Cambridge One definitely has a nicer atmosphere.

                      1. If you want crepes, go to La Creperie on Mass Ave. It is pretty good. I have not tried the crepes at Z-Square, but have found everything else there to be a bit uninspired (including the service) during my two visits there.

                        1. I'd rather eat at 7-11 or Store 24 than at John Harvard's! That said, when in Harvard Sq for lunch, I have a hard time passing up Bartley's.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Blumie

                            Heh. I agree, Harvard's is really only good for beer - which is why I go there periodically (I occasionally get the chowder).

                            I'll also suggest Casablanca and Dadaelus, Bartley's and Plough & Stars are good too.

                          2. Rendang is the best deal in the Sq for lunch. And it's rarely busy so you'll get in and out quickly. Cambridge 1 is great tho the menu is so limited (a few salads, pizzas. that's it.)I too always find myself back at Grafton St.

                            1. I'll second Tamarind Bay.

                              Of all the lunch options in the square, for anything sit down, aside from pizza, I'd lean towards Legal's, Upstairs and Sandrines have been quite disappointing lately for lunch.

                              How about Cafe Pamplona? Kind of a landmark, the food's usually pretty good too.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sailormouth

                                Pamplona is a cool place to hang out and have a coffee if you don't mind the claustrophobic basement digs. But the food was nothing to write home about the one time I went and the service was clueless. Admittedly things may have changed since I went there a few years ago, but...

                              2. For the ultimate in quick, but savory food, I'd suggest going to Broadway Market, just outside of the Square, and order one of the many sandwiches they make at their deli counter. Seating can be a bit tricky between the hours of 12:30 and 1:30 when the place fills up with high school students on their lunch break, but I've never been disappointed with the food there. They also have a pretty good salad bar and hot and cold entree bars.

                                1. I ended up at OM and don't hate me, but I really liked it. The space is beautiful and the waiter was pleasant and accomodating. The pea soup was unusual; vibrant green color, with an undertone of smokiness from the bacon and served with scallops. My ham and cheese served on a toasted chewy bread was delicious; and I guess my only complaint would be that the sweet potato fries were too salty. For dessert I had the trio of ice creams in 3 different flavors; expresso, creamscicle and ginger. The standout was the ginger which contained candied ginger slices

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: Pegmeister

                                    Have you had dinner at Om? I don't think I've seen such a difference between a lunch and dinner menu before. I found the croque monsieur a little disappointing because the ham wasn't very flavorful and the fries were very salty. It's such a beautiful room, the service is good and the prices aren't too bad but I wish they would fancy up the lunch menu just a drop.

                                    1. re: sailormouth

                                      Haven't gone for dinner yet. I'm really interested in trying that tenderloin steak with the truffled potato covered egg! It's on my list for the first of the year.

                                      1. re: Pegmeister

                                        The steak and eggs is fine, but a bit overhyped IMO. When we went, the egg was actually overdone, which is ridiculous for something so key in this dish. It is a fine dish when done correctly, we had previously tried it when the exec chef was at XO Cafe in Providence. I can only imagine her chagrin if she realized that someone had cooked her signature dish incorrectly here.

                                        Overall we were underwhelmed by the food at Om. Our consensus was that the bar had a great atmosphere to go back to for drinks, but there was probably not a reason to go back there for dinner.

                                        1. re: Gabatta

                                          My two dinners at OM couldn't have been more different. The first, a month or so after opening, was wonderful. The menu was creative, the execution flawless.

                                          My second, three or four months ago, was a bit disappointing. Similarly creative menu, but execution was off. Some dishes were still great (the foie gras pecan pie, OMG!), but some were just not.

                                          We then learned that the executive chef was not on site that night. So, if I were to return, I would most certainly call first to insure that she is there.


                                          1. re: BJK

                                            That reminds me of when I lived in New York, and worked one door down from Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. This was way before he was a celebrity chef mind you. I had the Spicy Scallop salad almost everyday for lunch at the Mesa Grill bar. It was always impeccable. Then one day, it was good, but not great. The gentleman sitting next to me said, "salad not so good today?" I replied that it was fine, but not quite as great as usual. Then I said, "Bobby Flay must not be in the kitchen this afternoon."

                                            To which the gentleman replied, "you're right. I'm not."

                                  2. Spice is good. Le's (nee Pho Pasteur) is nice for a big bowl of pho, or their unbelievably huge "combination salad". Try the Shanghai cold noodles at Yenching as well. Oversized sandwiches at the Greenhouse Cafe make for a filling lunch, and if you don't mind smelling like a fajita for the rest of the day the Border Cafe has a reasonably speedy lunch service and a shrimp and crabmeat ceviche which is surprisingly good. If it's a balmy winter day you can always order Sandwiches at the deli at Cardullo's and eat outside (they often set up a table on warm days) -- my favorite is the Green Mountain, which is turkey and cheddar with mustard and sliced green apples. And of course Sabra has the ass-kickingest falafel in Cambridge, hands down.

                                    Bartley's is a classic, but people have been making noise about the burgers at Be Good, though I've never eaten there myself yet. It's a shame that Campo closed, because they were good for a lunchtime pizza fix, though Crazy Dough's is okay in a pinch and moreover they have $4 pitchers of PBR if you're sitting down to eat (yes, ugh -- PBR; but on the other hand $4 for a pitcher in a square where $4 normally buys you *a* beer ain't all that bad!).

                                    Going to Penang/Rendang for the first time since the name change, but I always love it there and the lunch service is FAST. Felipe's Taqueria is a nice place to do lunch, if you time it right and snag a table -- they've been doing tamales on special lately, which I haven't tried yet but look mighty tasty when I see them being ordered. And I loves me some of their watermelon drink...

                                    (Can you tell I work in Harvard Square? It's so hard to brown-bag my lunch, with so many good options to choose from. Enjoy!)

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: oodja

                                      Campo closed? Bummer, I loved grabbing a slice there when in Harvard Sq.
                                      Uh, no offense, but I don't know any true burger lover who would ever dare compare Bartley's burgers to the ones at B Good. They are in totally different camps. Bartley serves a classic ground chuck burger, juicy and grilled to perfection. B Good is basically a low-fat burger, using leaner cuts of meat and spicing/salting the burger a little too much for my taste. If you want a burger and you're trying to be healthy, then sure, B Good is an option. But should not EVER be put in the same league as Bartleys, O'Sullivan's, Audobon, etc. JMO.

                                      1. re: twentyoystahs

                                        Each of the three times I went to Campo di Fiore, the pizza was burned on the bottom. The place had no shortage of fans, but I wasn't among them.

                                      2. re: oodja

                                        I'm very reluctant to recommend the Greenhouse Cafe, especially since I just came back from a meal there and had the non-pleasure of listening to the obnoxious woman behind the cash register yelling at one of the employees for something she didn't like. I find such behavior very unprofessional; I don't go to a restaurant to experience someone else's personnel problems up close. And with so many other options in the area and with the food being OK at best there, I'm not keen to rush back any time soon.

                                        1. re: oodja

                                          I've got to very strongly disagree with any recommendations of Yenching Palace. Haven't eaten there in a while, but that's because anytime I got pork on their lunch buffet there, it was badly undercooked. And the food in general was flat-out awful, not just uninspired or weak. To my mind, the only worse lunch option in Harvard Square is the Hong Kong.

                                          Other places on my avoid list in Harvard Square include Shilla, Grafton Street, Smile Thai, The Greenhouse, Veggie Planet, Tommy Doyle's, Fire & Ice, Cafe Pamplona, Grendel's Den, Boston Chowda/Doghouse, and New Asia. For lunch, I'll second Le's, Rendang, Felipes, Bartleys, Spice, and Cardullo's; I'll also recommend Dolphin Seafood, Flat Patties, Darwin's, Charlie's Kitchen, Tamarind Bay, Cafe of India, Tanjore, B Good, 9 Tastes, and Daedalus. And if you're feeling financially flush, try Casablanca, Henrietta's Table, Harvest, Sandrine's, or Upstairs on the Square. I'd put Cafe Sushi, Sabra, Takemura, Border Cafe, Boloco, Finale, Au Bon Pain, Bertucci's, IHOP, Uno's, Bombay Club, Cambridge 1, Crazy Dough's, and Red House in the hit-or-miss category.

                                          1. re: bachslunch

                                            to the large extent i'm familiar with these restaurants, it's amazing that i agree on almost every single thing--even the hit-or-miss parts. but some comments:

                                            the one time i ate at charlie's kitchen it was very, very bad. my tuna steak sandwich was made from processed tuna stuff. (should i not have been expecting a chunk of seared ahi tuna?)

                                            i've never eaten the yenching buffet, but the (few because it's just OK) times i've eaten at yenching it has been OK.

                                            all of this and no algiers? there's a lot negative to be said about algiers, but in my opinion, the falafel and fries, the hummus ajami, and the chicken kebab with couscous are among the very best lunches in harvard square. add some exotic coffees and teas, lazy but nice service, and a beautiful interior: there simply isn't a better place to work and lunch for a couple of hours.

                                            i'd add pinocchio's and hi-rise to the hit-or-miss category.

                                            1. re: fenian

                                              I guess I give Charlie's a little extra credit for being the last real throwback to when Harvard Square was a funky student mecca instead of the glorified shopping mall it's turned into. That being said, I've had good meals there when I've gone, including the best cheap lobster roll deal around. It strikes me as a kitchen that might be capable of turning out some klunkers, but maybe my luck has just been unusually good there. Haven't gotten the tuna, so I can't comment on that.

                                              The only time I've been to the Algiers was several years ago for dessert and coffee. It was fine for what it was. I guess I didn't feel sufficiently qualified to give an opinion on the place, given how long ago that was.

                                              Pinocchio's has some fans here, but I've found it just pedestrian.

                                              I actually liked the food at Hi-Rise the times I've been, though the counter folk can be clueless and finding a place to sit can be a challenge. And as long as we're in Huron Village for lunch, I say yes to Armando's and Village Kitchen, hit-or-miss to Ortanique, and a resounding no to Full Moon and Lucky Garden.

                                              Forgot about Cafe Paradiso and Greek Corner II (hit-or-miss) and Arrow Street Crepes (good) in Harvard Square. And then there's all the places up Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter Square, which is a whole other list.

                                              1. re: bachslunch

                                                there's a hi-rise next to burdick in harvard square--didn't mean to reference huron. agree on greek corner ii.

                                                1. re: bachslunch

                                                  I agree on Charlie's. The cheeseburgers have a great charcoal taste. And my husband says it's not Charlie's unless some french fries stick to the melted cheese. Old school, represent!

                                          2. A lot of places I like already mentioned. I'd add a few: Shilla for respectable Korean (also has Japanese, but I always stick to Korean), Sabra Grill for takeout kebabs, salads, and sandwiches, kind of a mix of Israeli and Armenian dishes; Tanjore for Indian, including dosai and other Southern dishes.

                                            1. Petsi's Pies might be walkable from Harvard Sq. For something quick and dirty (but pretty good) I'd go to Flat Patties.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: limster

                                                If you go to Flat Patties, be sure to get an order of onion rings :-)

                                              2. Grendel's Den... $3.99 daily lunch specials.