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Cozy budget eats in either Porter or Harvard before a show?

I'm catching up with an old friend and going to a show at Oberon in a couple weeks. Friend isn't a picky eater but is on a tight budget. I'm drawing a total blank in Porter, so thinking we'll stick to Harvard. Friend, who hasn't been to Cambridge since moving to Western MA last year, wants a uniquely Cambridge experience. I'm thinking an ethnic hole in the wall. Any thoughts? My gut reaction is Bon Chon, though it doesn't quite have the cozy catch-up ambiance we're striving for.

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  1. well if you have the time to wait (and someone can chime in how bad it is these days?) i'd say yume wo katare in porter is a. cozy b. unique (don't know where else you can get jiro ramen) c. cheap d. more unique than bon chon which is a chain (although pretty uncommon around here so def get the point). otherwise, orinoco (also a few of those i realize) in hsq could fit the bill, certainly cozier than bon chon, you can definitely order cheap there.

    1. My suggestion would be L'Impasto on Mass Ave between Harvard Sq and Porter Sq. It is not very expensive and I have found the food very good on each visit. It certainly fits the small, cozy request.

      2 Replies
      1. re: RoyRon

        I like L'Impasto too, but it's the exact opposite direction from there -- it'd be a good 15 minute walk from the Porter T away from Harvard.

        1. re: RoyRon

          L'Impasto is well past Porter outbound on Mass Ave - but yes, it is good.

          The food court at Porter Exchange is always fun. And I seem to recall a burrito place on Mass Ave between the two squares (and there is an Anna's at Porter). Not sure if there is too much unique in Harvard Sq these days..

        2. Try the Boathouse! It's a new place right next to Daedalus - really reasonable (steak tips for $13) but tasty food (albeit not ethnic if that's what you want). It's also quite cozy and seems not many people know about it yet - not much of a wait when I've been.

          13 Replies
          1. re: ceck8

            Do you know of an on-line menu for Boathouse? My husband and I were thinking of checking it out a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't easily find the menu. Any help would be appreciated.

            1. re: bear

              I wasn't able to find one either (I just went by yelp reviews since I couldn't find anything on here). It's just good, basic comfort food, not anything especially gourmet. Off the top of my head I remember they had steak tips, shepherd's pie, burgers, couple different sandwiches (cuban), some salads, with fish tacos and mussels (among a couple other things) on the appetizer menu.

              1. re: ceck8

                Thanks. Hopefully they'll get an on-line presence in some form soon.

                1. re: bear

                  The Boathouse's online presence is apparently limited to Facebook:
                  https://www.facebook.com/theboathouse...

                  Here's their menu (although I'm hoping the draft beer list is out of date, because they still list a pumpkin beer...):
                  http://freepdfhosting.com/48cba9c4b8.pdf

                  1. re: huuvola

                    Lord Hobo had a pumpkin beer on last weekend. I guess the season never ends. I also still think they have six packs of Pumpkinhead at the Wine and Cheese Cask.

                    1. re: mkfisher

                      It's unlikely that Lord Hobo had a pumpkin beer on draft in February. However, they do often have beer from the "Jolly Pumpkin" brewery, which is a Michigan brewer that gets great reviews for its Belgian style beers.
                      http://www.jollypumpkin.com/artisanal...

                      1. re: huuvola

                        No, it was a pumpkin beer. To be exact, it was the Shorts Funkin Punkin. They had all kinds of beer from Shorts that was brought into town for the Extreme Beerfest that was cancelled because of Nemo. Thus, it ended up at Hobo.

                        1. re: mkfisher

                          I stand corrected! (But I will remain opposed to seeing pumpkin beers in stores or bars before September or after December.) :-)

                          1. re: huuvola

                            They also had some pretty weird beers from Shorts. I forget the names but the two I tried were a key lime pie beer (it was pretty awful, but I applaud them for the effort) and a bloody mary beer (which was surprisingly good).

              2. re: bear

                The Boathouse isn't anything too creative, but we have really enjoyed having them in the neighborhood. Mostly everything seems to be fresh and made in house. They also serve brunch on the weekend, which we have yet to try. The fish tacos are very good, grilled instead of fried which I prefer. We asked for a plate of mac & cheese immediately upon sitting down for our little one. A cast iron dish of some of the best mac & cheese we have had with a nice crumb topping came out quickly. Mom and Dad finished whatever was left over. The steak tips, steak sandwich, beet salad and onion strings were pretty good as well. They've got a pretty good beer and rum selection; the light & stormy was a nice cocktail. The atmosphere is cozy and welcoming.

                They definitely need a website.

                1. re: Gabatta

                  Thanks so much, huuvola and Gabatta. Looks like the kind of place we are often in the mood for on our Mondays out, and the prices can't be beat. We'll definitely check it out.

                  1. re: Gabatta

                    Hey, Gabatta, we ended up at the Boathouse a week ago or so and enjoyed it. My husband got fish and chips. The fish was coated in bread crumbs, which was kind of surprising and wouldn't be my first choice but he liked it just fine. He also liked that the fries were definitely browned and hand-cut. I had a cubano which was a tasty sandwich. It didn't appear to be pressed, but the baguette was fresh and crunchy and the house-pickles inside added a nice touch. I think it was $9 with fries, which is certainly worth it. As you said, they're not reinventing the wheel but affordable, comfy and fresh food.

                    We liked the space, and service was friendly. Definitely in the cheap-eats Monday night rotation so thanks.

                    1. re: bear

                      Glad you enjoyed it. It is local and walkable for us, so good a good option to have in the area. They're also very kid friendly and have good service in general.

              3. there are two good thai restaurants in Porter Square: sugar and spice and rod dee. If you plan on eating ramen; you may end up in a long line. sugar and spice has better ambiance then rod dee.

                cheap and in harvard square:

                Mr. Bartleys makes good burgers and is a student staple; tamarind bay has good indian though may be pricier than what you want. The ambience there is nice.

                If it is on a monday night; the dollar oysters at the Rialto bar could make that place affordable and attractive. Their Island Creek Oysters are cheaper than buying them at New Deal.

                1. Definitely not an ethnic hole in the wall, but if a $10 patty melt is within the budget, Park Restaurant could work. My husband and I went there a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed our experience. The patty melt was fine, not amazing. Could have been a little bit rarer. It was a very tasty dish, with lots of decent fries. My husband commented that it was as cozy as dining at home with really comfy leather chairs to sit in while we ate. Nice and dark, and excellent service while we were there.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: bear

                    definitely fits cozy! around a 'show time' i'd probably get a reservation. As someone who used to go when it was first open, and emptied, i've been a bit shocked lately at how packed Park has been.

                  2. Uniquely Cambridge in that area reminds me of Cafe Pamplona - I think it hits also on the cozy, although I have no memory of the food.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Bob Dobalina

                      I like the garlic soup there.

                      And there specialty is different kinds of pressed sandwiches,
                      a Cubano, a media noche (sort of a mini-Cubano), and various others. I think now there's also some few salads, and a soup of the day besides garlic.

                      The flan is nice, too.

                      It's not that food-centric, but atmosphere is old time boho Harvard Square, and it's a fun and comfortable place to be.

                      1. re: Bob Dobalina

                        I was just going to say Pamplona. Totally Cambridge, totally inexpensive, totally cozy, totally close to the theater.

                        Cafe Algiers, in a similar spirit.

                      2. You should try Shay's wine bar, very cozy (some might say divey, but not me!) excellent wines, a cut above pub food, the fries are amazing and the specials are always unique, delish and wallet friendly.
                        Its on JFK street, toward Memorial Drive

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: momoftwo

                          +1 for Shay's for affordable Harvard Square, simple menu. I always forget about it, but it's true!

                        2. Oberon is at Zero Arrow Street, toward Central Square from Harvard Square. So you could profitably expand your search range to include the Central and Inman Square areas, which will be closer to your destination than Porter Square is.

                          I live almost across the street from Oberon, and among the dining options nearby are Dolphin Seafood (fresh fish, simply prepared) and Garden at the Cellar (no longer Will Gilson's place, but still interesting).

                          1. Addis Red Sea (Ethiopian) between Porter and Harvard?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Pia

                              oh that's a good call. less likely to have a wait, although they can take quite a while sometimes nonetheless, so just something to keep in mind in terms of timing.

                            2. The Dolphin is super convenient to Oberon. And if you order right, you'll enjoy your meal.

                              What to eat at the Dophin--plain or garlic broiled scrod, scallops or any number of other fish that are fresh and not overcooked. Best bets for sides--baked potato and cole slaw. The rice might be okay. The salad is a lame disaster.

                              The seafood chowder is delicious.

                              What not to eat--anything fancy or "cooked." The paella was horrible.

                              1. can you explain what "ethnic" means in this context?

                                I saw a show at Oberon last night and we relaxed beforehand in a little booth at John Harvard's brewhouse.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: enhF94

                                  Did you see "Mortified"? :) Basically non-pub fare is what we're after: Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, and so forth.