Let's talk Cambridge
I apologize in advance; this is somewhat of a selfish thread. I am moving to Cambridge in August, and while I am sure that all of the information I need currently is available on chowhound, I'd love to compile it all in a single thread.
I will be living in Mid-Cambridge, just south of Inman Square, about a half a mile north of Central Square, and right in the middle of Harvard and Kendall Squares. What I need to know to maximize my chow possibilites?
Here's what I already know:
East Coast Grill -- I've been eating here for 25 years. I know well what works and doesn't work there, so no need to rehash that here.
Druid -- Been enough times to know that, given my new location, I'm likely to be a regular at the bar. Have tried both the burger and the fish sandwich; on to other things!
Christina's -- Love it.
S&S -- Not a fan, but I haven't been in years and years. Should I give them another shot? If not, where do I go for breakfast?
Koreana -- Don't see it discussed much any more. Should I check it out?
Oleana -- I know I need to go.
1369 -- In my archives, I still own a t-shirt from the old Sunday afternoon blues jam at the 1369 Jazz Club. Should I make this my local coffee bar, or am I better off at Starbucks or Carberry's?
Where else? What about the Portuguese places?
I have been to Central Kitchen several times, but that's about it for my recent Central Square experiences. I know I need to go to Craigie on Main, Green Street and Salts. Where else?
I haven't explored it at all. I was a regular at Rachel's Kitchen, but have not been to Hungry Mother. Other than that and the Friendly Toast, are there other places I need to try:
I'm a Bartley's guy, so that's covered. I've also been to Rialto and Henrietta's many times, and Upstairs on the Square once. What should be on my list?
Somerville and other neighboring areas:
Anything else I'm missing?
TW Food, definitely.
Redbones and EVOO in Somerville. You have to stick to the greatest hits at EVOO: Duck Duck Goose, Chinese Box, Beef Filet, Cornmeal Fried Oysters. Sometimes they get a little wacky with their specials.
Za in Arlington (same owners as EVOO). Fancy pizza and salads. Delightful. The beet salad is to die for and the place is so inexpensive.
And yes, you are right about needing to get to Green Street. I think the food there is actually more reliably good than the drinks, although it is not as good as Central Kitchen. Hungry Mother also, yes yes, have the beef tongue canape. I also love their gnocchi.
I'd also recommend the Independent, in Somerville, great low-key but upscale pub environs and I heard the chef from the B-Side is at the helm there now. Excellent.
almost everything has been mentioned at least once, but
Indian: Tamarind Bay has an unusual take on Indian food
Bombay Club good but not adventuresome food
Chinese: Thailand Cafe - only for the sichuan food
Mulan - good Chinese and especially good dumplings
Afgan: Helmand in East Cambridge exotic and very good.
75 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138
57 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
I'm surprised The Cellar hasn't yet been mentioned. They make these fantastic sliders with cheddar on a delicate brioche. Simple and delicious. The rosemary truffle home fries are great and the beet pistachio, goat cheese, tarragon salad is a favorite.
The place can be cramped, but that body heat is appreciated on a cold Cambridge night. Cash only downstairs, but the bartender (in his 50's) is one of the best in town, with an uncanny knack for attending everyone at a break neck pace without losing his indomitable smile.
Every time we try to get in there, it's a 30+ minute wait. Seems like we have tried all different days with no success. Just last week, tried on a Wed. - no line at the door - was told a 30 minute wait.
So we walked over to the Plough and Stars for a fine meal of a summer vegetable soup (it was another damp, cool summer evening), DC has the Cuban and I the fried fish - all very good.
Second Plough and Cellar.
Cellar's a bit of a dive, but if you need a late night PBR and wind-down spot (not for everyone, I realize) this is a good one. I've also been there earlier in the evening and had some food from upstairs when the restaurant was packed. It was solid and the famed "tater-tots" are interesting, but I was not blown away. I will try again though, and sometime actually make it to the Garden at the Cellar.
Plough and Stars gets busy later in the evenings, but their dinner is actually quite good IMHO. I've had out-of-this-world scallops there and the chicken pot pie on special was lovely - flaky crust, well-cooked but not mushy veggies.
OK, maybe I'm missing something, but why hasn't anyone mentioned Finale in Harvard Square? In my opinion, and I am a serious sugarholic, one of the best places around for dessert.
For Tex-Mex...Border Cafe! I can't believe that nobody has said anything about this. One of the best places around for margaritas. Plus, according to my old roomate, a Chicano from San Antonio, it has some of the most authentic Tex-Mex food in the area.
In Union Square, Somerville, there's great Thai (Ronarong, formerly Great Thai Chef), and a more mediocre Thai place; great mexican (Cantina Mexicana), great indian (Indian Buffet); korean (I can't remember the name), plus great coffee at the Sherman Cafe with wonderful sandwiches and salads. And the best summer breakfast under grapevines at the Neighborhood Restaurant.
What have I missed? Oh yes, Brazilian at Cafe Belo. Anything else?
Sorry, one more (multi-part) question: what about supermarkets?
I'm closest to the Whole Foods on Prospect Street. I assume that's fine for most Whole Foods purchases, although I suspect I might want to go to River Street or Fresh Pond for cheese and other specialty purchases. Is that correct?
I know about the Trader Joe's on Memorial, and I know I can read the Trader Joe's Fresh Pond thread to find out whether they are or are not building one there.
What about "regular" supermarkets? Is the Broadway Market any good? Is the Star on Beacon any good (I seem to recall that it was a dump when I was last in it 20 years ago)? Which is better, the MIT Star or the Porter Square Shaws? Any others?
The prospect street whole foods is fine in a pinch [and if you have to carry groceries by hand.] But minimal bread, vegetables are often picked over, the choice of things like flour are very limited. In fact, the choices are just limited overall. I find the River Store to be good for meat and fish [if you need fish on Sunday], deli items and cheese. There is often a nice selection of sauces, vinegars, mustards, etc, but again the bread department is pathetic. We use the Fresh Pond store for the coffee and bread selection. If you like the prepared foods at Whole Foods, the River and Fresh Pond stores are the places to go.
If you can stand the crush of humanity, the Market Basket in Somerville is not to be surpassed. Oh, you don't go there for fancy Roquefort cheese, but if you want a pork butt or fresh fish from this morning's catch at a really reasonable price, it is a really comprehensive store.
Of the Stars, I prefer the one on McGrath. The one on Beacon Street is still a pit, but down the street do give Johnnies Foodmaster a try for the meats. Also on McGrath, at I93 is a Stop & Shop which is surprisingly good, especially for Italian staples.
And then there are all the small specialty, ethnic shops.
Because of my location I do most of my shopping at the River St. Whole Foods (fish, cheese and product), Memorial TJ's (alcohol, staples, freezer), and the MIT Star. Occasionally I'll go to the Mass Ave Harvest Co-Op for spices and bulk grains. Star is hit or miss when it comes to produce. Some days it looks as good as WF others it looks like crap. My roommate prefers the seafood at Star because it is much cheaper than WFs. Some things (like Fage yogurt) are more expensive at Star than at WFs and TJ's.
WFs on River Street is pretty comprehensive & is where I shop most. Smtucker's right about Market Basket: it's excellent. In fact, even the produce section gets better and better as WF's IMO gets worse. Avoid peak shopping times, though--the parking lot gets insane (um, arrests aren't uncommon). Harvest Coop is great for spices (especially when you need tiny amounts) and Shalimar, the Indian grocery a few doors down, sells enormous bags of 20-25 types of spice (i.e., cumin, pepper flakes, mustard seed) for a song. They also stock hard-to-find things like fresh lime leaves.
Also, for the next 5 months, there are farmers' markets just about every day of the week within a 2-mile radius of your new place.
I love the Somerville Market Basket too, for produce and staples. Keep an eye on your stuff as it goes from your cart into your bags, though--I've had selected craveable items (big bars of Cadbury's chocolate, etc) disappear between the register and my shopping bags. The management was super-nice about replacing them when I went back with my receipt.
Lots of good tips here (maybe more than you know what to do with!). To add one more - no one seems to have mentioned the Japanese places in the Porter Exchange (Porter Square). There are several stands to choose from, all with good, cheap food; my favorites are above all Cafe Mami (which specializes in "Western" japanese food - curries, fried chicken, etc. - and has a $5 lunch special) and Ittyo (if Cafe Mami's too crowded) .
A few of my Cambridge faves (forgive me if they were already mentioned.)
Rendezvous in Central Square
Four Burgers Central
Tory Row Harvard
Small Plates Harvard
East Coast Grill Inman (sit at the bar, enjoy the tuna tacos and bivalves)
Hungry Mother Kendall
Druid Inman (fish and chips, burger, yum)
Courthouse Seafood East Camb
... many many others.
Just to fill in a couple of gaps in your excellent list:
TW Food, high-level creative fine dining in Huron village
Kabob Factory, excellent casual Indian at Beacon/Kirkland/Washington
Ole Mexican Grille
Simon's Coffee Shop on Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter is easily the best coffee and espresso this side of the river, though Crema is good competition, and Sherman's is pretty good too
Small Plates in Harvard Sq, I know there are mixed reviews mainly of the service, but i've always gone at off-hours (saturday afternoon, say) and had great experiences.
Kolbeh of Kabob, on Cambridge St across from the hospital, great persian food
Dante (Royal Sonesta) on the river near Cambridgeside Galleria and the Museum of Science, very fine modern italian
Danny's Diner (still open despite Danny's passing!), a great neighborhood greasy spoon
We can also add Pho and Rice for good Vietnamese across from Zoe's on Beacon which, surprisingly, no one has mentioned. Savenor's also has yet to garner a mention, and the farmers markets at Harvard University, in Union Square, and in Central Square are also close at hand.
My neighborhood regulars, or favorites (everything mid-range or lower, since we have kids and not that much cashmoney:
Muqueca--excellent homey Brazilian
Tupelo--great drinks, specials, beef daube, gumbo
Christina's--also see the spice store
All Star Sandwich Bar--a little more $$ than it should be but like the food a lot
Druid--nice place to hang out, great bar food
City Girl Caffe--delicious, esp meatball sliders w/ arugula, nice people
Central Kitchen--been going for drinks and snacks for years, don't often eat dinner there, but go upstairs to Enormous Room after you eat
Green Street--great drinks, nice people
La Luna Cafe--breakfasts look surprisingly good, wide range of live music sometimes kind of avant garde string groups/jazz/Brazilian etc., good gelato
Craigie--only eaten at the bar, great drinks of course
Petsi's Pies--love everything about it, tiny seating area at this one, the other location is a nice place to spend time.
Kebab Factory--bad name, good food
Zoe's--great, spicy Chinese
Wine & Cheese Cask--great wines & liquor and lots of things to eat with them
Veggie Planet--great pizzas, salads, vegan curries, good vibe
Darwin's--some of the best sandwiches in town
Algiers--food is not special, but the building is great, outdoor terrace, good coffee
Felipe's--where I get my burritos, best in hood, I believe it shares its kitchen with Flat Patties indoors, which is also a good lunch
Hi Rise--excellent sandwiches, also a bit too $$, delicious bread
Formaggio Market--everything you want
Gran Gusto--in love with their various seafood pastas, brothers from Naples import burrata from home, great pizza
Basta Pasta--best inexpensive family dinner, home style Italian cooked with love and a bit more sophistication than is strictly necessary
East -ish Cambridge
Emma's Pizza--thin crust, "exotic" ingredients
Beauty's Pizza--for delivery
Friendly Toast--breakfast/diner/bar with good style
Cafe Kiraz--for frozen yogurt
Izzy's--homey Puerto Rican, go on Friday when they have the pork special
Atwood's--love the vibe, love the food
Athaneum--haven't gone yet, but it's the school of Le Cordon Bleu doing its Top Chef best
re: dulce de leche
Second Basta Pasta. I've tried a handful of their items -- panini, pizza, and salad -- which I found to be good but not great. What consistently blows me away is their homemade fusilli with bolognese. (I saw someone else recommend it with chicken marsala). Great, great, great dish at very reasonable prices.
Welcome to the neighborhood. Some good advice here already.
To answer your question on Koreana, we finally tried it a few months back after years of saying we should and it was just awful. The ingredients (meats, etc) for the korean grill items were of very low quality, the service was too bad to even spend time on. The best thing there was actually some of the sushi and maki which some of our DCs ordered. I would certainly skip it.
Breakfast (not referring to brunch) is excellent at Henrietta's on a weekday or early hours (pre-brunch) on weekends.
Daedalus had a great roof deck for drinks and lunch there was pretty good.
S&S isn't completely terrible for breakfast if you stick to the basics and there are not many other options in the area. Definitely a place that is much better during the week than on the weekend.
Punjabi Dhaba 2nd.
Oleana - go on the early side to get a table outside, MUCH better overall experience.
I like the standard mix in frozen yogurt at Kiraz.
Salts is outstanding and consistent, my favorite on this side of the river. Somewhat limited menu so we only go 1-2x per year (once for the duck and once for nornal ordering.)
Craigie on Main - stick strictly to the bar area which offers much better selection, value and service. I will try not to eat in the main dining room there again, but that is a discussion for another thread.
Sandrines is worth trying for French in Harvard Square.
Kolbeh of Kabob for quick good Perisan.
Hi Rise in Huron village is a drive but worth it.
Coast Cafe - sides are great and so is the chicken if you hit it on the right night though it can be a crap shoot.
For shopping of course you are close to New Deal for fish, check out Fresh Pond Market in Huron Village for meat (counter does not look like much, but just tell them what you want) and Christina's for spices etc.
Kebab Factory for underrated Indian.
If you like to walk, head down Cambridge Street towards Lechmere where you will find the Courthouse Seafood Restaurant. Go to the market next door, pick your fish and they will cook it in the restaurant for you. Or just order off the menu.
One block farther is Skampas. Very good roast beef sandwiches. I get the medium. Lunch for under $5.00. They also have subs, etc. but I haven't ever tried those.
Welcome to our side of the river!
-Friendly Toast : Haven't been yet, though I intend to soon.
-Atwood's Tavern : Already recommended; nice, decidedly non-pubby food, like items with an authentic Asian bent (seaweed salad; Asian noodle soup); also a delicious fish stew (courtesy of New Deal)
-Precinct (also recommended by Bob Dob) : We can't say enough about this place. Kitchen clearly cares about their product. Veggie shepherd's pie is my perennial obsession; burger+fries is good, steak salad equally so, etc.
-The Independent (also mentioned) : More than capable bartending and sophisticated food to boot.
-Buk Kyung II (Hometown; also mentioned) : Chinese-style Korean. Champong (spicy seafood noodle soup) or jajangmyun (noodles with black bean sauce) are the way to go. Also their gampoongki (sweet-sour fried pork) is popular.
-Machu Picchu Pollo : We bought one charcoal-roasted chicken on a Sat. My meat-eating partner snacked off of it (in tortillas, over rice, straight outta the fridge, etc) for the entire week. He was smacking his lips all week.
-Middlesex : Better-than-expected upscale small bites. I like sneaking off to M for lunch.
-Thirsty Scholar : Not a board favorite, but I like their mussels + fries to accompany a Pats game.
-Miracle of Science : Right next door, B likes the grilled chicken over salad, I love the hummus plate, cheese quesadillas, shrimp skewers. Our advice - branch out from the burgers.
-India Pavillion - I had never been there before, but I had a tasty lunch buffet with my co-workers last week. It seemed low on the ghee/grease (an Indian colleague brought us there and confirmed that).
-Rangzen - Wonderful Tibetan/Indian/Chinese lunch buffet, never been for dinner.
-Royal Bengal - Again, lunch buffet. I have not had dinner there. (I think limster or Aromatherapy have dinner experience there?)
-Green Street - I've been underwhelmed by the food (a bit pricey for what you get, IMHO), but great atmosphere and cocktails are tasty.
-Clover food truck. Yum.
-Bytes at University Place. Haven't been there in ages. Operated by West Africans smack dab in the middle of biotech valley. Wonderful spicy falafel wraps. West African peanut stew. I have to visit this week.
I find the Thirsty Scholar to be a good place to catch a sporting event, provided you get there early enough to secure a good spot. The food is fairly generic, but not a detriment if that makes sense.
India Pavillion was a long time favorite of mine compared to the other Indian joints in Central, but the last handful of times I've been there (spanning a few years) have been disappointing.
When the kitchen is on (read: off-hours), the veggie shepherd's pie is crave-worthy, especially, as you can imagine, in the dead of winter. Be warned - it is rather large. I abhor doggie bags, but rarely can I finish this off. Beers on tap are fantastic (Dogfish, Hennepin, etc.), as is the well-edited wine-by-the-glass list (they have a crisp and dry, sparkling rose by the glass - I love that..so what that it's Jacob's Creek).
I forgot to mention Mariposa Bakery across the street from the Asgard....haven't been by in a year since I switched companies. They had a wonderful veggie avocado sandwich on pretzel bread. Service can be sllloooowww.
Baraka Cafe in Central Sq
Montien's Cambridge location in Inman (a storefront or two down from East Coast Grill) for good Thai
Muqueca in Inman for Brazilian
Helmand's in East Cambridge for Afghan
Koreana is ok in my opinion - I guess good for the region, since everyone seems to think Korean is lackluster in Boston. My favorite of theirs is their soon dobu (soft tofu) jigae. Better ventilation than most places for bbq, but I don't love Korean bbq in general.
FYI Montien in Inman is closed. There's another thread on this. We like Sweet Ginger in Union Sq instead, tho I've heard mixed reviews recently and I haven't had a chance to go again.
City Girl Cafe for brunch/breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays.. and of course, you know to look forward to the opening of Lord Hobo in the B-side space. And third (or more) Olecito - esp. the shrimp tacos.
Welcome to the hood! And just in time for me to leave. Here's my brain dump:
Salts and Craigie - definitely. Between the two of them, I have almost no desire to do upscale dining anywhere else in the Boston area. Craigie deserves the stellar reputation it has here; I think Salts is if anything a little underrated, its cuisine going toe-to-toe with any I've had just about anywhere. Salts' signature duck for two is ok, but not really indicative of the transcendent rest of the menu.
Chez Henri bar - skip the dining room, but be sure to keep the Cuban sandwiches (I actually prefer the veggie version to the pork, but they're both awesome) and great cocktails on your radar screen.
Third Sherman, second Petsi, personally I really dislike 1369 at this point. BUT -- Crema in Harvard Square is just phenomenal. As pastries go in town, I put Crema second only to Clear Flour, and Clear Flour doesn't have anywhere to sit. Crema's coffee (both drip and espresso) is also outstanding. Specific baked goods to try: pain au currant, almost croissant, homemade English muffins, any quiche.
Agree that S&S is lackluster, but I'll occasionally go for a bagel and lox.
Berryline - great Pinkberry-style tart frozen yogurt in Harvard Square, as well as a second location on Mass Ave up towards Porter.
Gran Gusto - a little outside your orbit, but worth the drive to Huron Village (plus they have free parking). Some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza I've had outside Italy. Other food is excellent too. If they have a fresh cheese special, get it. Stracciatella or burrata imported from Campania is not to be missed.
City Slicker - some of the best takeout/delivery you'll find, on Somerville Ave on the close side of Porter Square. Interesting pan pizzas, great salads, I love their personal-size meatloaf.
Tacos Lupita - very good Mexican/Salvadoran on the close side of Porter, the tacos al pastor are my favorite.
Addis Red Sea - same menu as the one in the South End, on Mass Ave between Harvard and Porter, significantly better than Asmara in Central.
In Central Square, I'd add Rendezvous for fine dining (but not exorbitantly expensive), Baraka Cafe for excellent North African food (no booze, cramped quarters, but very charming). For coffee in Inman I vote for 1369, but the pastries at Carberry's are generally better (esp the pear danish). A bit farther afield, there is Petsi's Pies (for excellent pies; and some love their scones, although i'm not a humongous fan) on Beacon St. in Somerville, as well as Zoe's Chinese food right across the street. I second the Sherman (union sq) for scones, and for excellent sandwiches and salads. Bloc 11 (another cafe in Union) has a great atmosphere, outdoor seating, great coffee, and a killer breakfast sandwich (egg and prosciutto on some really fine bread), but I prefer Sherman's pastries. I strongly second the Pollos a la Brasa (Macchu Picchu) recommendation as well.
There is a new southern-food place, Tupelo, near Inman (on way to East Cambridge), but I haven't been yet. You might also want to check out East Cambridge for fish markets (New Deal, Courthouse; the latter has a restaurant too), Skampa for roast beef, Atwood's Tavern (live music), and various other places.
It's a great chow neighborhood...enjoy!
Inman: Tupelo is very good, Midwest Grill is fun, Muqueca is also very good. Olecito on Springfield is another favorite. I disagree on S&S; it is what it is, but it has largely met my expectations. I like their breakfasts, which are simple and generally good. They have good lox and matzo ball soup. It is not the best restaurant in the neighborhood, but is not supposed to be. It is a good standby for simple things.
Punjabi Dhaba is cheap Indian - I like it, but have not been since trying Guru.
ASSB - Still makes good sandwiches - still just a tick overpriced.
City Girl Cafe - decent lunches and salads - I have seen great looking pizzas turned out on occasion, though the one I had was clearly not made by the same person.
The Biscuit - I like their whole wheat scones - coffee is decent
Somerville: You are relatively close to Union Square so Sherman Cafe (Lemon scones in the a.m. still the best for me), the Korean spots - Wu Chon House (the pretty one) and Buk Kyung II (the not-so-pretty one) are both good. Precinct is the re-constituted Tir Na Nog group I believe (Have not been yet). The Independent - The Neighborhood - Capone's - and my personal favorite - Machu Picchu Charcoal Chicken for pollos a la Brasa.
Inman - no need to check out S&S. As for Portugeuse, I'm a big fan of Casa Portugal. There is this fish and banana dish that sounds like a gross combo, but somehow it works. Must be the butter. I also really like the sausages and clams (sometimes separately, sometimes together, depending on my mood.).
Kendall - Mulan for Taiwanese.