Great food in Harvard Square?
Yesterday, I found myself limited to only restaurants in Harvard Square, and found that I was only limited to mediocrity. Do you agree? Are there any great, not too expensive places to eat at Harvard Sq? Upstairs counts as a pretty expensive place for me. We ended up at 9 Tastes, which was Ok. I'm looking for more than Ok.
There isn't a lot of "great" & "inexpensive" for dinner in HS. You can do a lot better for lunch. Darwin's, Pinocchio's, Hi-Rise, Veggie Planet, the crepe place on Arrow (?) are all reliably great at what they do. Really pretty good & not expensive: lunch specials at Takemura, chicken shawarma at Sabra Grill, gyro plate at Greek Corner, BLT and greek salad at Leo's Lunch, steak salad at Border's, hamburger at Bartley's or Flat Patties (mos def get the fries there, too). Felipe's carnitas burrito with onions and horchata.
I haven't tried most of the more expensive category, but in the (super)budget category Felipe's and Le's are my faves. I get such a craving for those sweet marinated onions at Felipe's I've drive out there from South Boston a couple of times. Le's is never that spectacular and the soups can be a bit bland, but I remember liking the shrimp dishes a few years ago.
Bartley's is fine but IMO not worth the wait if there is a line. Charlie's is meh - I have never had anything remotely memorable there. Chipotle is a disgrace to fast food chains nationwide.
I always recommend Casablanca and Neptune Oyster on Chowhound threads, since you're interested in Harvard Square (and Neptune is in the North End) I'll again suggest Casablanca -- especially the bar area. Go when it's busy, there's a worldy/academic atmosphere there that I think is "very Harvard."
Grendel's Den does indeed have some good happy hour deals- a group of us meets there once a month for the cheap food and good beer! I always get the Original Sin cider on tap, and we usually go for the nachos, potato skins, and a few things off the rotating seasonal menu. Their vegetarian selections are usually really good, and I had an awesome tuna steak, tomato, red onion and balsamic salad there last summer.
Charlie's Kitchen has really great burgers (especially the Guinness ones), and Mr. Bartley's can hit the spot (I had a weird combination burger there once that I really didn't like), though their raspberry lime rickeys are mediocre at best, which is a big disappointment.
In terms of more pricey dining, I really like Rialto. They're an especially good deal during Restaurant Week. I've never had a bad dish there, and we've been very very happy with the food and service the 6 or so times we've gone there.
I've heard interesting things about the new Wagamama and Crema Cafe. And I will admit a weakness for Border Cafe's Texas margaritas and their caesar salad (I swear- the dressing tastes like the real raw egg+garlic dressing you get in the North End).
Bartley's for burgers, of course, and a frappe if I'm feeling particularly indulgent.
Cambridge 1 for the potato and fontina pizza with rosemary.
Casablanca for cocktails, appetizers and its great jukebox.
Charlie's Kitchen for some cheap bites and cheap beers, though the Hoegaardens aren't as massive as they used to be.
Darwin's Ltd. for hearty sandwiches -- my favorite is the Hubbard Park (hummus, avocado, green apple, carrots, tomato, and sprouts).
Noir for cocktails and grilled flatbreads.
Oggi Gourmet for a burger if the line at Bartley's is too long, or the cherry tomato, toasted almond and goat cheese pizza.
Tamarind Bay for modern Indian.
Tanjore for traditional, regional Indian.
Veggie Planet for (you guessed it) vegetarian, particularly the Vegan Oddlot over brown rice and the Lunch for Henry pizza.
Good, not too expensive places to eat in Harvard Square:
Bartley's (Viagra burger, Yuppy burger, lime rickeys, sweet potato fries)
Wagamama (Not so bad, actually, for a simple noodle shop)
Casablanca (love their small plates)
Chez Henri/West Side Lounge (love their bars & the menus)
Hi-Rise (sandwiches, cakes, never the cookies)
LA Burdicks (chocolate, hot cocoa)
Finale (lunch sandwiches only)
Veggie Planet (chips & salsa, butternut squash pizza)
Cheap, but not necessarily good places:
Charlie's (I love the double burgers here, dislike the lobster rolls)
Grendel's (uber cheap happy hour specials)
Shay's (there's a burger here, not sure that it's actually good)
i'm in the minority (i think) in thinking that the options in harvard square aren't that bad, relatively speaking. a number of these are chain places, but so be it. so on the more moderately priced line, i like:
-wagamama (i dislike the atmosphere, but the chow is better than smile, 9 tastes, et al.)
-crema (good espressos, scones are decent, great english muffins)
-flat patties (i like their fish sandwich and bbq sandwich, tho' perhaps not to degree others do)
-chipotle (better than felipe's, in my book)
-hi-rise (one of my favorite bakeries, great, over-priced sandwiches too)
-oxford spa (a bit out of the square)
-there's a new middle eastern falafel type-joint on mass ave north of the square, which is decent though not great
-burdick's (not really for a meal, but still)
-and, i have to admit, even though i know it's not chowish at all, i have a soft spot for the chinese truck that's over by the science center at lunchtime. i'm particularly a sucker for the crispy spicy chicken.
some of the more expensive places in the square are probably good too, but i wouldn't know since i never go to them.
I generally agree that considering the restaurant density, Harvard Square is a little light on serious chow. That said, a few ideas:
I like Darwin's pretty well for sandwiches. Actually, I've found that the pre-made ones tend to be more innovative than anything I'd likely get custom-made.
Hi-Rise is overpriced, but their sandwiches and baked goods are often superb.
I haven't been to Tamarind Bay, but there's a contingent of hounds on the board who say it's some of the better Indian in town.
Crema, the new coffee house, has garnered some early accolades here for its breakfast and lunch fare. I'm excited to get there and try a breakfast sandwich on their homemade English muffin.
I'm not a Bartley's fan, but there are plenty of fans of its burgers here. Haven't made it to Flat Patties yet, but a lot of hounds are saying it's the closest you can get in Boston to an In 'n' Out burger. [edit: see post below]
Although Upstairs on the Square is expensive, the Monday Club Bar is less so, especially if you order carefully; I've also found it to be consistently better than the fancier Soiree Room upstairs. My most recent visits there have been absolutely outstanding. At this point, I'd say they have some of the better upscale food in the city.
Just outside the Square, but nearby: Chez Henri bar menu for awesome pressed sandwiches, ditto at the Plough and Stars.
Agree as to the errnoneous comparison between In N Out and Flat Patties, but I think they were compared, with a little more merit and certainly less mess, to Whataburger. They're just good, normal, fast-food burgers.
Onto the chow. . .
I like the Cafe Algiers, even with the long waits. They have a lentil dish that is quite nice. I'm fairly happy with Pizzeria Oggi for fancy pizza, Felipe's and Chipotle for burritos, they each satisfy their own craving but I typically will default to Felipe's. Cafe Crema is nice for a snack. I'm fairly sure I'm the only defender of Cafe Pamplona, but like Arnold, personality goes a long way.
Heading out to the Law School Cambridge Common has great beers, but not much else, and the Montrose Spa has great sandwiches and is a little more blue collar than the Oxford Spa.
Near the Divinity School is Petsi Pies, which is probably the best pie shop I've ever been to, though I'll admit to not being an aficionado, they have sweet and savory pies. Zoe's is next door for yummy and cheap Chinese.
Near the Kennedy School and river houses is the Greek Corner II, which is ok, and IHOP for when you've given up.
Addendum to the Flat Patties hearsay from my previous post: in addition to the hounds who say Flat Patties burgers are like In 'n' Out, there are other hounds who say the first hounds are smoking crack. You have been warned. And I suppose I've learned my lesson about posting hearsay.