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Feb 17, 2009 06:12 AM

Chinese or Asian Food recommendations around Harvard Square

I must admit, when someone wanted to meet around Harvard for Chinese, I could not even think of a chinese restaurant there, let alone one that I wanted to try. Could not find any mentions on the board either. Anyone know of good chinese, (doesn't even have to be authentic C-town food, good americanized chinese is OK), or at the least good asian food. Thanks

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  1. This place is not terrible, but you are much better off hitting Mulan in Kendall.

    Yenching Restaurant
    1326 Massachusetts Ave
    Cambridge, MA 02138
    (617) 547-1130

    1 Reply
    1. re: StriperGuy

      Sorry StriperGuy, I really disagree about Yenching. I find it just about the worst Chinese restaurant I've been to in the Boston area (the thankfully departed Rice Garden in Somerville was actually even worse). I know some Chinese friends like Yenching, but I think what's going on here is that while Yenching has many authentic dishes on it's menu, they just aren't good.

      Put another way, I remember the first time I went to China, I was surprised by how many bad restaurants I encountered when I was on my own, without a local friend or Chowhound to guide me. They were all authentic restaurants, but with a similar proportion of good dishes if one were to wander around Boston trying restaurants at random.

      My most recent experience at Yenching involved wu3 xiang1 niu2 rou4 tang1 mian4 (Roast Beef Noodle Soup). The beef was meager and completely without flavor, the vegetable in the soup was limp, a metal twisty tie floating in there as well, the noodles were soggy and obviously not either freshly made or handmade, the broth was lacking flavor, and when I asked for la4 jiang4 to try to spice it up, I was given sriracha, not real pepper paste.

      That is an authentic dish, but it tastes of the worst restaurants in China.

      I much prefer the Hong Kong, which has a mostly Americanized menu, but has some quite authentic Cantonese soups and noodle dishes, and some almost Hakka-style basil dishes.

      Changsho also has high quality but almost completely Americanized Chinese food.

      But for the walk from Harvard Square to Changsho, one could walk to Zoe's instead, which is the real deal. Both authentic and skilled, with a wide range of excellent dishes from several regions of Chinese cuisine. Zoe's is about a ten to twelve minute walk from the Harvard Science Center.

      One could also take the 68 bus from Harvard Square to Mulan's doorstep, the 66 bus to Jo Jo Taipei, or the 1 bus (or walk from the Davis Square T-stop) to Qingdao Garden.

      I haven't been to New Taste of Asia in a very long time, but several years ago it served completely forgettable Americanized Chinese food, but still preferential to Yenching.

      Honestly, if you need Chinese food in Harvard Square and can't walk to Zoe's, I'd recommend the Hong Kong.

      As for Thai, the best option in the square is probably Aiyara Thai Cuisine, formerly called the Smile Thai Cafe. The menu is not terrific compared to options elsewhere in Boston, but has some authentic options. Spice is competent for Americanized Thai food. I see no reason to go to 9 Tastes. Better is Tamarind House nearer to Porter Square, which has brighter flavors, a nicer setting, and some really interesting fruity wines, if still Americanized food. I will say that once while eating at Spice, there was a very large Thai family of about fourteen people eating at the front of the restaurant, and feasting on a wide variety of off-menu authentic Thai dishes, included whole fish dishes, large seafood soups, and many vegetables reminiscent of Mittapheap in Lynn. I've never actually tried to get any of that at Spice, but it seems the kitchen is capable of producing it.

      Other Asian options in the square are unremarkable --- Takemura is serviceable Japanese, Cafe Sushi is to be avoided at all costs, and Shilla is overpriced and mediocre Korean food with overpriced but slightly better Japanese sushi. Wagamama is not really Asian food, and not particularly good either.

      The Harvard faculty club is doing a "taste of Asia" menu in May.

      Sorry I can't offer advice that's any better than to walk up to Oxford Street and Wendell St. turn right on Wendell, and keep walking until you get to Beacon Street and find Zoe's!

    2. I like Yenching...especially the whole steamed fish. Yum. They also give you a choice of white or brown rice, which I appreciate.

      1. Would you go for Thai? If so, 9 Tastes is quite good. At least, it has been the few times I've eaten there, and some of my Thai friends really like it, which is saying something.

        1. Can you go somewhere close by? StiperGuy suggests Mulan (I don't like it, but it is well-regarded on the board) in Kendall. Also there is Qingdao in North Cambridge, or Zoe's on Broadway, also North of H. Sq. Much better than Yenching.

          8 Replies
          1. re: gansu girl

            Wow, don't like Mulan, what's not to like.

            Heck if you schlep a bit there is also ...

            Wangs Fast Food
            509 Broadway
            Somerville, MA 02145
            (617) 623-2982

            1. re: StriperGuy

              Just underwhelmed by the food at Mulan - wanted to love it, but feel it doesn't live up to the rep on Chowhound - love Wang's though!

              1. re: gansu girl

                you have to appreciate simplicity to like Mulan. that kind of relatively uncomplicated, cook-from-fresh-ingredients type of thing is quite typical of many (though not all) Taiwanese dishes (in comparison to authentic Cantonese food, for example which has complicated procedures for making sauces, or Sichuan food, which uses a ton of preserved products). Mulan balances their flavours well while keeping food simple -- your food isn't drowned in pre-made sauces, and their vegetables are very fresh. some of the dishes at Mulan are closer to home-style food than you'd get elsewhere. if you want Taiwanese food with flair and style, try Jo Jo Taipei...

                1. re: yuanzhoulv

                  Hmmm, yes, it was too simple for us. Simple is one thing, flavorless and poorly executed is another. We're fairly experienced with Chinese cuisine of all types - been to China, have Chinese friends who home-cook food, seek out fresh and authentic restaurants everywhere. Like I said, although Mulan has many fans here, I'm not one of them. I am a huge fan of Jo Jo Taipei, however.

                  1. re: gansu girl

                    side question ... are you from gansu?? any tips on making lanzhou lamian?
                    especially ... where can i get a flour around boston that will actually work? ^^
                    none of the american flour seems to work ...

                    1. re: gansu girl

                      I did like the braised pork shin in brown sauce at Mulan-- very homestyle hearty dish with plenty of lacquered pork skin, not as fatty/salty as Shanghai Gate's dong po or ti-pa pork, and a hint of anise. Comes with enough sauce that you can dump a bowl of rice in there to soak up all that rich brown goodness

              2. re: gansu girl

                Zoe's is on Beacon, not Broadway, in Somerville.

                289 Beacon St, Somerville, MA 02143

              3. There's that place on Mass Ave sorta by Chez Henri, called "Changsho" - is it still around? I had fairly suitable American Chinese there once a few years ago.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Prav

                  They are a little weird. The platters of sushi at the buffet kinda... I don't know, freak me out.