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Harvard Square

Suggestions for yummy, fun, interesting places to eat in Harvard Square. Love fish and ethnic foods. Thanks! Expensive once okay - reasonable preferred.

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  1. Always been a fan of the landmark Casablanca these last 20 yrs but some changes are afoot there, so check the menu. Some Chs report good things about Rialto (high end) and Ten Tables. We really like the unusually clean,greaseless grilled pizza at Cambridge One and the take-out pizza (great crust) at Otto's. Yenching has been there forever though i've never seen it CH mentioned. Bartley's Burgers has a big following. Tanjore and Bombay Club both have fans for Indian. Russell House Tavern is on some serious foodie lists.

    Ten Tables
    5 Craigie Circle, Cambridge, MA 02138

    Bombay Club
    57 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

    18 Eliot St, Cambridge, MA 02138

    Russell House Tavern
    14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

    8 Replies
    1. re: opinionatedchef

      Thanks - exactly what we're looking for! Will check out the menus.

      1. re: opinionatedchef

        This may be a reason why you never see Yenching mentioned here:

        An earlier post from lipoff (in a whole thread about Yenching) that elaborates a bit more:

        1. re: Allstonian

          hmmm, i knew someone out there would clue me in. figures.
          dmortiz, scratch yenching from your list. ugh.

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Yenching has the unusual distinction of going completely unmentioned in Mo Lotman's comprehensive, and very fun, pictorial history of Harvard Square. Based on my own experience there from more than 30 years ago, I am inclined to think that the omission was intentional...

            1. re: khandha

              The Yenching is where the Hayes Bickford used to be. Mo probably doesn't mention the Yenching because he is unable to forgive them for replacing the Bick with Dreck.

              1. re: Uncle Yabai

                oh gosh, never knew that. thanks. I came to harvard square as a barely 18 year old from North Carolina in 1973.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  Nostalgia question - did Hayes Bickford mover from that spot at one point before they finally moved out?

              2. re: opinionatedchef

                Okay -- plenty of other places to consider - thanks!

          2. Harvest was one of the first or the first "new" restaurants in Harvard Square in the late 70's when food started happening in Boston. Still there, newish chef, remodeled patio when it's warmer. I haven't been there for years but mention it in case others who have recent experiences will post. Same for Upstairs on the Square....my last experience was at old location, Upstairs at the Pudding, don't feel inclined to try it but it seems mobbed.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Madrid

              I did have a good lobster roll at Harvest recently. My dinner experiences there have not been particularly memorable.

              1. re: barleywino

                My last few meals there have been solid, competent, and good. I had scallops a few weeks ago, they were nicely seared, not overcooked. And it is a real Harvard Square institution! Chefs from Chris Schlesinger to Bob Kinkead got their start there.

                1. re: hckybg

                  i did enjoy a couple dishes off the bar menu (duck confit and crispy calamari)

                  1. re: barleywino

                    I sat out on the patio recently at harvest and it was a really enjoyable evening with above average food and wine.

                  2. re: hckybg

                    To revive this older thread- My family and I had a Labor Day lunch at Upstairs on the Square. Really mediocre. Either we got the "C" staff on this holiday, or the place has gone seriously down hill. Apps- delicious cucumber soup. Reminded me of summer on Julia Child's front porch (someone else there on the same day disagrees, http://www.yelp.com/biz/upstairs-on-t...). Strange ham app was all over the place. Weird texture to the meat, but good sour pickles and greens. The main courses were a disaster. A "mozzarella en carozza" was simply a grilled tomato and cheese sandwich with decent mozzarella completely overwhelming a skinny slice of tomato. i do much better at home. A "steak sandwich" was inedible. It tasted like my mom's tough overcooked brisket on passover, except even more fully grey and dryer. A huge mound of decent fries was the only accompaniment. Very disappointing. On the other hand my tweens loved their hamburgers. Cooked to a correct medium for the kiddies, they were thrilled- the younger one said "perfection." And the kids loved the Zebra room, which just seemed like a dated attempt at whimsey to me. Deserts were the only star. An assortment of ice creams and sorbet were all delicious, and who can make bad chocolate moose? The "Zebra" cake was sweet, and did not offend, although not special. I was really surprised by the horrible service. I expected better from such an experienced management. Our waiter was clueless. When I pointed out my leather like steak to him he looked at it and said, "so what exactly is wrong?" Service was slow and clumsy,although the water glasses were kept full and the manager did take the steak sandwich off the bill. All and all this was one of the most disappointing lunches I have had in years.

              2. For ethnic, a new addition is Orinico -- a Venezuelan place in an alley off of JFK Street. It is a tricky place to have a restaurant, so we'll see how long it lasts (has had several different incarnations just in the few years I've lived in the neighborhood), but the one time I've gone so far was great. Grafton Street is solid, but a little boring. If you go on a nice day, the roof deck at Deadalus is one of the nicest places to spend an evening in the square (though the food is nothing special). Russell House is usually great.

                10 Replies
                1. re: awkwardpause

                  I think Orinoco is great. Once the patio opens, it will be in the rotation for lunch. Dinner is excellent as well, but they don't take reservations, so I'd go early as they seem be doing a brisk business, on Thursday nights at least. The last time I was there we split some bacon-wrapped dates (and wish we'd gotten two orders) and I had some baby back ribs which were so tasty I couldn't stop eating them. One DC got lamb chops which were perfectly cooked and very toothsome, and the other got a steak filet that was smothered in cheese. I tried a bite and it was good, but it did recall a very good cheeseburger more than anything else. Flan for dessert was fine but not memorable.

                  1. re: Dea

                    An enthusiastic second for Orinoco. The Cato family has been visiting Boston for a few days from a small town in the south (known as New York) and wanted a special, and interesting, finale dinner. We hoped to spend some time in Harvard Square and so found this thread. The Hounds came through, yet again!

                    The manager (who might well be the owner) was gracious, friendly and very welcoming. The waiter was helpful in making some difficult choices, and his advice was spot-on. Everything we ordered was well conceived and nicely executed.

                    FWIW, here's what we had. I would recommend any of these:

                    Arepa Queso de Mano
                    Bacon wrapped dates (extra points from Old Man Cato on this one....)
                    Maracuchitos (sweet plaintain wrapped around white cheese and grilled)

                    Churrasco (beef tenderloin with crab picadillo)
                    Lomito guayanesa (beef tenderloin wrapped in a thin wrapper of white cheese -- no, nothing like a cheeseburger at all, IMHO)
                    Panela (grilled salmon in an incredibly tasty, perhaps adobo, rub, served with quinoa and salad)
                    and Costillita de Cerdo, amazingly moist and tasty baby back ribs with yucca fries.

                    Highly, highly recommended, for the food and for the attentive, friendly service.

                  2. re: awkwardpause

                    Actually, I really like the crab cake sandwich at Deadalus and always get it with half salad half fries. I go there specifically for their crab cake sandwich. It's available at brunch and their lunch is definitely a much better deal than dinner.

                    For a nice night out with guests, we like to go to Red House. The food is upscaled comfort food in a cozy environment and the service is always excellent.

                    For Vietnamese, go the Le's. It's not anything particularly to write home about, but it hits the spot.

                    For affordable seafood, check out Dolphin .

                    Close to Harvard Square, but a walk away from the center and towards Dolphin, it's worth taking the walk out to The Cellar for their rosemary truffle fries.

                    1. re: mahlzeit_yumyum

                      +1 on Dolphin. My office is temporarily just down the street from there and I've been stopping in once a week for lunch. The sides are very very ordinary (think rice pilaf from a box, iceberg lettuce salad, etc.) but MAN do they know fish. I've had fish n chips, the trout picatta, swordfish kabob, fish sandwich, and everything has been perfectly cooked so far. NO it's not going to transport you to another place but for casual, fairly priced fish it's just great.

                      In the same area is Petsi's Pies (on Putnam) which is great for sandwiches and baked goods. I'm planning on doing a more comprehensive Harvard Square lunch thread but one pleasant surprise has been Takemura, a subterranian sushi place that does very decent Katsu bento. Nowhere near the artistry and beauty of Toraya, but convenient for lunch.

                      1. re: yumyum

                        I almost mentioned Petsi's Pies as well, but specifically for their croissants. My DH's office is close to there and he likes to go there for lunch as well. You two probably go to lots of the same lunch places.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          If you want to step back to the 80s which goes well with the sides, Dolphin will do a nice blackened version of dishes (I primarily like it with bluefish but would be fine with sword) and I am a fan of their scallop stuffed baked stuffed lobster.

                          1. re: itaunas

                            Thanks for the validation itaunas -- I thought I might be dreaming but last time I was there a fellow patron got 2 dozen littlenecks that were absolutely pristine. Sides aside (heh) they do a great job with sourcing freshest of fresh fish and other seafood.

                            Last thing I had was trout picatta style -- lots of capers and a fresh lemony sauce. I love the place for what it is.

                            1. re: yumyum

                              There are some preparations that I am not a big fan of and some of the fried items are better than others, so I stick primarily to fried scallops/fish, broiled or blackened fillet fish, and the baked stuffed lobster. Basically if it sounds like its from the 80s, I'll order it, but I never have had a bad meal and it was where a family friend used to eat every Friday (?) -- he also was a regular at Nick's Beef and Beer house-- so I always think of him when it comes up. The one real shame is last time I was in they had dropped their fish chowder in favor of a seafood chowder, which is unfortunate because their version was excellent (reportedly the owners cooked at the No Name and based the recipe on that) and the clam version not so.

                              1. re: itaunas

                                I'm really glad to see I'm not the only person who finds Dolphin just about the most consistently reliable old-school seafood restaurant around. Like itaunas, I have never had a bad meal here.

                        2. re: mahlzeit_yumyum

                          We went back to DOlphin for the first time in a long time the other night and enjoyed. It isn't anything fancy, but for decent fresh seafood, it is a good and reasonably priced option.

                          The deck at Deadalut can't be beat, but I find the service to be poor and the foor to have more hits than misses.

                      2. I would definitely try Russel House Tavern. The food is mostly innovative--and not "taverny" at all. I suppose it's tavern fare spiced up a bit. They make many of their own mixers for drinks, and have a lengthy and interesting cocktail menu. Try Burdick's hot chocolate for dessert if the weather cools down again!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: crosel23

                          crosel, i tried to find a website for RHT but keep getting connected to facebook. have you found a website w/ menus?

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            I have definitely found a menu and a homepage in the past, but like you, only have a Facebook page coming up. The website used to be www.russellhousetaverncambridge.com. I thought the problem was maybe the iphone, but it's not working on a regular computer either. That's a little annoying! Sorry!

                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                              Checked around, but even their Facebook page doesn't seem to have a menu. Can't remember everything I've had there, but the crispy fried egg over greens is divine (Hi, my name is Kimfair, and I'm an egg-aholic), and I enjoyed the pig face cake (also with an egg on top). Definietly worth a try, if you've never been.

                              1. re: kimfair1

                                This is happening for me too - maybe their site is down?

                              2. re: crosel23

                                Another thing to consider at RHT is their 'Happy Meal' (not on the menu, only on the blackboard upstairs, and they don't always sell it). It consists of a Russell House burger, a tallboy Narraganset, and a shot of Fernet Branca for $18. Sometimes they'll let you 'super size' it, which means adding six oysters on the half shell for another $6. It's wonderful.

                                I did a copy of their menu here, although I don't think it's entirely up to date: http://boston.menupages.com/restauran...

                              3. Some lunch options/snacks I haven't seen mentioned:

                                - Sweet: Good cupcakes. It's usually empty, so a good place to sit and read.
                                - Crema: Really good coffee/tea/cafe drinks and baked goods. Always a long line and nowhere to sit.
                                - Cardullos: A foreign (primarily European) specialty market with a really good made-to-order sandwich counter.
                                - Darwin's: Good upscale sandwiches and drinks.
                                - Shabu-Ya: This Korean place is hit or miss, but there are a few things here that I really enjoy in a city devoid of many Korean restaurants: kimchi, bulgogi, and the scallion pancake.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: TroyOLeary

                                  Reading this as I finish of the Merman Sandwich from Darwin's - a Wednesday special. So tasty. I have little patience for their sandwich-makers, so the premade special sandwiches are my go-to and this is my favorite. Battered cod with vinegared red onions, a tartary sauce, and fresh greens. Sooo good. The only downside is it's sizeable and I want a nap afterwards, which the boss frowns upon.

                                  Also, I think Crema's cupcakes are worlds better than Sweets. They do a nice job of packaging one to go, too, if seating isn't available, or if it's unseasonably warm and sunny outside, and the banks of the Charles River beckon.

                                  1. re: Dea

                                    +2 on Darwin's. Awesome sandwiches, especially like the the Magnolia or the Hubbard Park depending on the location (I don't know why the same sandwich has to have two different names). The Merman sandwich sounds gooood!

                                    1. re: Dea

                                      Which Darwins location? I find the staff at the Mt. Auburn location to be fairly efficient. The Cambridge Street location on the other hand is a nightmare. I won't go in there unless it's off hours. Their vegetarian sandwiches are some of the best around.

                                      I think Sweets is just awful, dry and they leave an aftertaste.

                                      1. re: Gabatta

                                        I frequent the Mt. Auburn location, Gabatta, though to be fair it has literally been years since I've ordered a non-premade sandwich, so maybe I should give the current staff a fair shot, eh? I tried the Cambridge Street location once, but walked out sandwich-less after being roundly ignored by the staff which was too busy flirting with each other to bother with me.

                                  2. No one's mentioned Cafe Sushi. I recently got a strong recommendation for this from an opinion I respect. Anyone have experiences here?

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: justbeingpolite

                                      Weird. I've always just walked past that place (kind of hidden in that hideous concrete strip mall on Mass Ave) but it wasn't until now that I poked around online. Lots of positive reviews. Report back if you end up going.

                                      1. re: justbeingpolite

                                        Used to go there regularly. . .until we came back from Japan.
                                        The sushi is nothing super special, but solid and reliable. I also occasionally liked to get some non-sushi dishes like the whole fish and butter sake miso tofu. Oh, and their clear soup was delightful. I don't remember which day (Mon or Tues?) it was and not sure if they still have it, but they used to have a dollar sushi night once a week.

                                        1. re: justbeingpolite

                                          yumyum mentioned Takemura above. I would recommend that over Cafe Sushi, however both of them are barely passable. I can't understand why there isn't a good sushi place in Harvard Square, it would make a killing (just off me).

                                          1. re: justbeingpolite

                                            unless it has improved markedly since my last visit, i would not recommed it. But i have not been there for 2 years and things change.

                                          2. Forgot to include: Veggie Planet.

                                            1. What are people thinking about OM these days? I'm looking for recommendations for a moms' night out in Harvard square.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Parsnipity

                                                gosh P, OM got so many negs when I posted a question about it last yr... and now that Patricia Yeo REALLY has her focus on something else(her new place up and running now in Central Sq) I would not suggest an OM venture were I you. Russell House Tavern gets some positives here and Ten Tables was o.k. when we went a few months ago. Even though Casablanca is changing owners(anyone up on that?has Sari sold it? i know he has the new place by Fresh Pond.) their menu still looks good and those big booths are so good for conversation.....

                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                  Thanks- I kind of figured that was the case. I had a really great meal at Ten Tables about a month ago- nothing earth shattering but really solid and delicious, but it's a bit far outside the square for this venture and there's no way we'll get organized for a table for 5 without a reservation on a Sat. I already have plans for Russell House next week with friends-- looking forward to that salad everyone's mentioning. Casablanca might work, or if we really can't get organized Cambridge One...

                                                2. re: Parsnipity

                                                  I had a nice dinner at OM's bar this weekend. Highlights were well made cocktails from their menu and great service, and an extremely delicious Uighur lamb dish. The main courses came in half portions (plenty for me with a salad) and it seemed like the right amount of money.

                                                  I'd only been two times before--a terrible Valentines day (bad food, bad service, too expensive), and a lunch on their beautiful patio (food ok, too expensive).

                                                  So we were plenty surprised at how much we enjoyed it. I wouldn't dismiss it anymore.

                                                  1. re: dulce de leche

                                                    i wonder who's chef there now. would you describe the lamb dish plse? love a great lamb dish.

                                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                      It's been a while, but here's how I remember it. Tender chunks of lightly spiced lamb in a bowl with bell peppers and I think slices of spring onion with what I think they called rice gnocchi? There must be a real name for them in Uighur. They were delicious, also very tender. All in a light sauce. I really liked it, would definitely love to eat it again.

                                                3. OMG, fabulous dinner last night at The Red House right in Harvard Square on Winthrop St. The also own an organic farm where many of their dishes included.... everything was very fresh and simply prepared: pan seared scallops w/ asparagus slaw, seared ahi tuna with zucchini linguini, smoked duck prosciutto over a bed or arugula with a mango dressing, pineapple shrimp skewers in a zippy citrus marinade, homemade pasta - lobster carbonara, maple/whiskey glazed ribs on a bed of red cabbage sourkraut.. finishing with (fresh squeezed) key lime pie, dark chocolate decadence and biscotti with a side of warm dipping dark chocolate.

                                                  Amazing meal.... can't wait to go back and try more. Love that you can order 1/2 size portions too. fabulous drinks, my sister got this excellent mr. sparkle w/ absolut citron, St. Germain & lychee puree and I a 'rita on the rocks. Fantastic service, loved the space. Outdoor dining w/ oysters will be my next trip in.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: lexpatti

                                                    Late to see your reply (damned job!) but thank for this tip. I'm making my way thru the H. Square options.

                                                    1. re: lexpatti

                                                      hmmm this looks good! And I have not seen the words 'Chocolate Decadence" for a loooong time
                                                      (30 yrs ago i got the recipe from Jack Milan and I used to make it alot.) Wonder if it's the same recipe at Red House....