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The Harvard Experience

I'm taking my son up to Harvard to do a tour, and I thought it would be nice to have dinner somewhere around Harvard Square so that he can get a real sense of what the place feels like. I know nothing about Cambridge, and would love any suggestions for places to eat -- from fine dining, to hang outs -- as long as the food is good and the atmosphere is fun.


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  1. Russell House Tavern or Upstairs on the Square for hang out and fine dining respectively. Bartley's Burger House for dive although I personally don't think it lives up to the hype. Have a fun trip!!

    1. Burdick's is a great "sweet" shoppe that has wonderful hot chocolate. Get some and drink it outside as you watch a broad spectrum of the human race walk by.

      2 Replies
      1. re: catsmeow

        I've been to the Burdick's in Walpole, NH where they have a really nice dinner menu. And of course, the chocolate mice! My son is a chocoholic (every meal ends with a dark chocolate feve), so we will certainly stop there. Thanks for the heads up!

        1. re: roxlet

          Just an fyi, Burdick's in Cambridge is a bit different from the one in Walpole. No restaurant per se, rather it focuses more on the chocolates and the hot beverages and the sweets. Kind of like the chocolate store section in Walpole without the dining room.

      2. The Border Cafe is very popular among student aged population. I'm not a fan, but it'd give you a certain view into local life.
        Charlie's Kitchen in the same vein, which I like better.
        Crema Cafe. Cambridge 1. Algiers Cafe. Tamarind Bay. Pinocchio's. Russell House Tavern. Bartley's. All these aregood
        to very good at what they do and are very popular local flavor places.

        32 Replies
        1. re: jajjguy

          Skip the Border. I'd take a prospective student to Charlie's where they will be hanging out and also to grendels. Not known for food. But still. If you want a nicer meal hit Russell House. Love it there!

          1. re: yumyum

            Would Charlie's be a good spot for lunch if we did Russell house the previous night for dinner?

            1. re: roxlet

              Charlie's is your basic student dive bar. I wouldn't bother with it. Ditto for the perpetually-overrated Bartley's.

              Otto and Pinocchio offer very different but equally enjoyable slices.

              A big part of the issue is that Harvard Square has gotten so overrun with bank branches and chain stores that you can give him "a real sense of what the place feels like" by dropping him off at your local mall and then paying someone to go up with a clipboard and hector him to make a donation to a charity that won't actually see a dime of the money.

                1. re: roxlet

                  Sorry about that. I actually spend a fair amount of time in Harvard Square myself, and there are certainly things I love about it -- various record and book stores, Bob Slate Stationers, LaFlamme's Barber Shop -- but as a whole, it's just not at all what it used to be. There's a handful of quick cheap lunch options that I frequent regularly, being within walking distance, but not much to recommend as a specific destination.

                  1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                    You are so SADLY right...

                    I am so sad at what it's become...

                    But count me in as a huge Charlie's fan!

                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      It's a great place for a beer and I would argue that the jukebox at Charlie's is the superlative jukebox in all of Massachusetts, not that there's a lot of competition there anymore. But what on the menu is any good? This is a serious question: I'd be happy to stop in more often if there was hidden greatness on the menu, but I don't recall ever having anything better than meh there.

                      Although now that I think of it, it occurs to me that the last time I went to Charlie's, it was with my father-in-law, so that was 2004 or before, so things may have changed.

                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                        The food is more or less the same as it has been for at least 15 years. They occasionally have interesting specials but they're always variations on the same themes. I don't mind eating there but I usually try to eat elsewhere if I'm going to be hanging out there.

                        1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                          Where are you staying?

                          The food Charlie's is below average IMO, and the place is generally a bit gross and dirty to boot. It's fine for a drink, but I'm definitely not eating there. Charlie's qualifies as a dive, whereas Bartleys does not despite a comment earlier in the thread.

                          I would do Russell House for dinner, and Bartley's for lunch the next day to get a good feel for the current Square. Bartleys has both its fans and detractors here, but it is unquestionably a unique local atmosphere.

                          We have enjoyed some nice casual meals at the Boathouse recently.

                          A friend who has a nephew at Harvard asked us to pick up gift cards to Russell House, Wagamama and Pinocchio's for Christmas (as we live in the neighborhood and could do a quick errand). That's just one point of reference of what an actual student wanted to eat.

                          1. re: Gabatta

                            We're staying at the Hotel Marlowe, which is some distance away, but it's where my son and husband always stay for squash tournaments at Harvard. We'll have to drive into the center and park, so it doesn't matter where the restaurant is, as long as it's near the University. Usually, when they go for tournaments, they go right back to the hotel after matches to shower and for my son to do school work, so they often eat at the hotel. I want to give him a different experience.

                            1. re: roxlet

                              Squash tournaments suggest, with only a friendly wink and the barest hint of a smirk, that you might be able to find a friend to take you to the Harvard Faculty Club. You can find better food in the square, but it's a particular and interesting social experience - both to hang with the Crimsons and to browse the 1950s-era photos of dorm rooms ("Chip fit his scull inside the room, can you believe it? Had to replace his bed with a hammock, though. What a cad!")

                              1. re: enhF94

                                We could certainly do that, but since my husband is a Yalie, we have had lots of experience with bad club food, lol!

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  "Toooooo the tables down at Mory's... wherever that may be..." :D

                                    1. re: enhF94

                                      I may be the only one here who got that sly reference!

                                          1. re: nsenada

                                            technically Lehrer, due to the 2nd half of the quote, but he was riffing on The Whiffenpoofs Song.

                                            ObFood: At Mory's, you can still get Welsh Rarebit, Buck, and Golden Buck. (Golden buck is rarebit with a poached egg on top.)

                                            1. re: enhF94

                                              When my husband last ate there in March, he said that the food was, if possible, worse than ever, lol! But he goes to support the institution rather than have a good meal!

                                          2. re: Steve L

                                            Yup. You'd be surprised how few people have any idea who Tom Lehrer was (or the Whiffenpoofs, for that matter).

                                            "Ivy covered professors, in ivy covered halls."

                                            1. re: kimfair1

                                              My favorite is The Vatican Rag. Love Tom Lehrer.

                        2. re: roxlet

                          well, as mark twain said, wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds.

                          half of harvard square is a mall, the other half is more quirky.

                          i like rialto, a very good italian restaurant; there are still good new and used books stores in the square. I could get a burger at Mr. Bartley's under duress.

                          And both Porter Square and Central Square have very interesting places to eat. Try Rod Dee or Rendezvous or Craigie on Main

                          All is not lost.

                          I bet Cambridge is 1968 Berkley in comparison to present day Palo Atlo.

                        3. re: Jenny Ondioline

                          I whole heartedly agree with Bartley's being overrated. For a great burger, I say, go to Flat Patties nearby.

                          1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                            I'm not a huge Charlie's fan, but most of the people I know who go there are Kennedy School people and Cambridge City Goverment 20-somethings, so maybe not *quite* a "basic student dive bar."

                            It's also staffed with people who care about doing a good job (if not necessarily making everyone feel welcome).

                            1. re: enhF94

                              I'm in my late 30s and hang out there upstairs with some regularity and I don't usually feel *that* old. I think you're right that its mor grad students and late 20/early 30 somethings

                            2. re: Jenny Ondioline

                              Otto is a west coast import. Pinocchio's is 100% homegrown.

                                1. re: Chef Bwana

                                  Perhaps you're confusing Portland ME with Portland OR?

                                  1. re: roxlet

                                    I actually like Charlie's. The make a great steak and cheese. They attract a diverse crowd, and yes, it is a dive. Also, Russell House Tavern is one of my favorites. We generally sit at the bar and enjoy the brunch menu.

                              1. Actual students also go to John Harvard's Brew House and Veggie Planet; I've always enjoyed the food at VP.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: cassis

                                  YES, this is the most student-y I've heard yet.

                                  1. re: cassis

                                    Also Clover. Very casual vegetarian/vegan with real cream for your hipster pourover coffee. And a local beer.

                                    1. re: Aromatherapy

                                      What about the old Algiers coffeehouse? Haven't been in years but one of the few remaining classic places. My first exposure to turkish coffee in the mid 80s. They used to have a really nice moujaddara too.

                                        1. re: jajjguy

                                          It's very pricey for what it is.

                                          1. re: femmevox

                                            Really? Prices seem in line with other mid-eastern places and coffee shops in general. Particularly in Harvard Square!

                                            1. re: Science Chick

                                              Algiers is very expensive --- maybe for coffee and tea only a little more than most places, but food prices are ridiculous. It's also beautiful inside, especially on the second floor.

                                              1. re: lipoff

                                                I haven't been there in years...since it was the charming little hole in the basement. But looking at the online menu I'm seeing prices for sandwiches in the $7-9 range. Seems only a little more expensive that Cafe Barada, which I think is appropriate for the HS location.

                                        2. re: Science Chick

                                          Yes - Algiers is a nice museaum piece. Dare I ask if Pamplona still exists?

                                          1. re: nsenada

                                            It was closed for several months around 2005, but it reopened and has remained its usual self.

                                            1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                              I always feel like I'm the only one there - my husband does business meetings there so he's not disturbed. Overpriced and sort of sad. It will NOT make him eager to go to Harvard. Cafe Crema has a much livelier vibe (and better food)

                                              1. re: LauraBear

                                                To each their own, I guess. Cafe Crema has some good offerings, but it's always so crowded it's just plain annoying. In and out for some takeout pastries is as much as I can handle there.

                                    2. I made a reservation at Russell House just to be assured of a spot, and I will continue perusing some other menus in case I find one that looks better for dinner, and looking for a spot for lunch. Thanks for all these ideas!

                                      9 Replies
                                      1. re: roxlet

                                        I like the downstairs bar significantly better then the upstairs bar. Also, ask the bartender what the secret burger of the week is. This is one of my favorite places to eat in the Sq.

                                        1. re: beetlebug

                                          Definitely sit downstairs, preferably at the bar. Most complaints that I've heard about Russell House have been on the upstairs room.

                                          1. re: beetlebug

                                            Thanks for the heads up on dining downstairs. Is it only bar seating downstairs, or do they have tables too? My son is a minor, and there are places that don't allow minors at the bar.

                                            1. re: roxlet

                                              There is a beautiful bar as well as tables. Your son, should be able to sit at the bar though. Bypass the upstairs hostess and go right downstairs.

                                          2. re: roxlet

                                            look into Shay's, its a pub, homey, and a great burger, actually everything there is great but the menu is small, nice outdoor patio also

                                            1. re: momoftwo

                                              Sounds like a nice spot for lunch -- particularly if it's a nice day!

                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                Yes but if it is a nice day you will never find a seat.

                                                1. re: David_A

                                                  They are huge soccer fans - great place to watch the World Cup matches.

                                                  1. re: David_A

                                                    We always get a seat. It moves - if you want a seat, and willing to wait (a few minutes max) - you can get one. People are also generous about sliding over and making room.

                                            2. Having Brunch at Upstairs on the Square while the Harvard Krokodiloes serenade the diners (Sundays at 1 PM) is about as Harvard as it gets for my money. I'm not sure if they stop for the summer though, so you would probably want to check with the restaurant first.

                                              Most of the likely suspects have already been mentioned. If looking for a burger, Tory Row is another alternative to the kitschy but iconic Bartley's. Harvest would be another option for a fancy meal, but I haven't been there in ages.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: nickls

                                                Thanks, but we unfortunately will arrive in the late afternoon on Sunday, and not in time for brunch.

                                              2. Another Harvard experience is ice cream. Unfortunately, there are only two ice cream shops left in the square - Lizzy's and JP Licks. There are also a couple of frozen yogurt places - Pinkberry and Berryline. I love Berryline and they switch their flavors out every week or so.

                                                Also, in between Harvard Sq and your hotel is Christina's ice cream. I love this ice cream. My favorite combo is burnt sugar and mexican chocolate.

                                                Others may direct you to Toscanini's ice cream in Central Sq (closer to a MIT experience). Their ice cream is wonderful. Unfortunately for me, I don't eat Tosci's anymore.

                                                9 Replies
                                                1. re: beetlebug

                                                  If I may ask, is there a reason you don't eat Tosci's?

                                                  I boycotted for a while during the whole "I didn't pay my taxes, so I'm holding a fundraiser so you can pay them...again!", but have been going back more in the past year.

                                                  1. re: Prav

                                                    Some of us still boycott them for that exact reason

                                                    1. re: Prav

                                                      It's for the same reason you mentioned. I gave them a pass the first time the tax thing happened. The second time coupled with the fundraiser, it just didn't sit well with me.

                                                      Of course, I'm probably cutting my nose off to spite my face.

                                                      1. re: beetlebug

                                                        I didn't like the whole "help bail us out ....come and pay your taxes twice" thing either and didn't support it. But everyone makes mistakes.....they fixed things with the state. Moving forward I'm sure they are being watched like hawks. I enjoy their product immensely and want to support quality, local homemade ice cream. So I've forgiven them and still patronize their business. Indeed, if a criminal serves their time and gets out, should no one give them a job or do anything to support them moving forward?

                                                        1. re: Science Chick

                                                          I continued to support them the first time that made a huge tax mistake which also led to a temporary closure (I think). Then they did the same thing a few laters later and had the gall to ask for donations. It made me wonder what they did with my tax money when I bought their ice cream. I'm operating under the whole, fool me once...

                                                          That said, I really do miss the burnt caramel ice cream. It's probably one of my all time favorite flavors.

                                                          ETA: It's my own thing. I don't tell other people not eat there, I just don't go there or buy their products at the grocery store.

                                                          1. re: beetlebug

                                                            Gotcha...totally respect your right to protest them.....and, yes, their burnt caramel is my favorite too!

                                                        2. re: beetlebug

                                                          Your self-diagnosis is correct, but hey, shorter lines for me. I donated to the fundraiser and don't care if Gus is a terrible accountant and am not sure why any non-donors would care if I and others chose to help him out. He makes amazing ice cream (and breakfast is quite good as well). Totally different situation than with, say, Upper Crust.

                                                          1. re: CportJ

                                                            At least for me, it's because I don't believe that he's a terrible accountant. Read into that what you will.

                                                      2. re: beetlebug

                                                        More Butter Chip for me. mmmmmmmmmmmm.......

                                                      3. In Harvard Square I'd say that the best Fancy food is at Harvest. Henrietta's Table in the Charles Hotel serves a terrific breakfast, but I would studiously avoid all other meals there, including Sunday brunch.

                                                        The best casual, sit-down places are Cambridge 1, Tamarind Bay, Orinoco, Russell House and yes, Bartley's. I think people have very different preferences when it comes to burgers, but I personally can't stand thin patties. Bartley's are very thick, almost round burgers, and they will cook them medium rare. The sweet potato fries and onion rings are very good.

                                                        Among quick lunch places for a sandwich there are quite a few good options, including Darwin's, Clover and Pronto.

                                                        Veggie Planet, Pinocchio's and Otto all serve very different styles of good pizza.

                                                        For late night food, there's Tasty Burger (for decent hot dogs and onion rings, skip the burgers and fries), Felipe's (the tacos and burritos are average, but better than Qdoba or Chipotle, and they have a terrific self-serve salsa bar, including excellent marinated onions.

                                                        The most divey, studenty places, however, are certainly Charlie's Kitchen and the Hong Kong. The burgers at Charlies are decent and fried foods, like crab rangoon and scallion pancakes are surprisingly good at the Kong.

                                                        Crema Cafe, Cafe Algiers, and Cafe Pamplona are all nice cafes. Boston Tea Stop has refreshing bubble tea, and actually the best ice cream in the Square (mochi ice cream flown in from Hawai'i). Berryline has very good local frozen yogurt, and Zenniken's makes decent Belgian waffles.

                                                        Personally, I would recommend against partaking of any food at Upstairs on the Square, but I agree that the Sunday brunch is fun. The Krokodiloes, however, will probably not be around anymore since finals period just ended. Border Cafe is generally disgusting. If you must, the chimichuri steak is decent. Please avoid Fire & Ice, Yenching, and Panera.

                                                        Harvard Square may be mostly chain stores and banks (in fact, mostly banks), and many of the restaurants are owned by the same restaurant groups, but there are still a lot of interesting stores and some decent restaurants.

                                                        15 Replies
                                                        1. re: lipoff

                                                          Ah yes, Yenching. That spot hasn't been the same since Bick's moved on.

                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                              Now don't go getting me all nostalgic or I might have to despair about the loss of Lee's and Elsie's

                                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                  Sorry.......I'm mentally blocking it all out....I'm awash in Starbucks and Panera......

                                                                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                    Although I love Tasty Burger and am thrilled that they opened a Harvard Square location (since I'm rarely ever in the Fenway), does anyone else find it slightly uncool that they have a photo of The Tasty -- no relation -- on the wall of the HS store? Like they're trying to claim a connection where there is none, for street cred.

                                                                    1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                      I miss the Tasty as much as any one ("do you serve breakfast? yeah... double cheeseburger"), but I don't see it like that. I think they are just paying homage to a legendary institution which was down the block with a coincidental name. I'm just glad people still remember the Tasty and it is not yet lost to history.

                                                                      Russel House has some great HSQ vintage photos in the downstairs dining room as well.

                                                                      1. re: Jenny Ondioline

                                                                        Yes, I guess it is a nice nod to The Tasty but when I saw that photo it just made me sad. I get the same feeling when I walk by a store that used to be a Woolworth's.

                                                                    2. re: Science Chick

                                                                      What about the Wurst Haus? That was always my favorite as a kid.

                                                                        1. re: owades

                                                                          I imagine nickls knows this; this little sub-thread was name-checking beloved and bygone Harvard Square places.

                                                                          Speaking of which, I was racking my brain trying to come up with the name of the bad Chinese joint on Church Street, eventually unearthed it: Young and Yee!

                                                                          That led me to this 1973 Harvard Crimson piece on area restaurants, presumably a guide for incoming freshmen, really fascinating: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/197... A lot of names I haven't heard in a long time, and many I knew of only by legend.


                                                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                            A mandatory stop with my grandparents. I miss those crispy fried noodles they'd put out

                                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                              That is amazing. I wonder when Nick's Beef and Beer House (or eef and B Ho as we knew it based on the burned out lights on the sign) opened -- seems like it should have been old/cheap enough. At least Charlie's will still give you a double cheeseburger "with tops."

                                                                              1. re: CportJ

                                                                                NIck's was Charlie's Beef and Beer before it was Nicks. Switched over ~1982.

                                                                                1. re: gourmaniac

                                                                                  That explains my fondness for both establishments. Thanks!

                                                                2. Rox-- just a quick thought.
                                                                  You guys are probably going to be easily identifiable as "Kid and parents[s] on a Harvard tour."

                                                                  As much as he loves you, the genuine student hangouts might Not be where he wants to go with you -- particualrly if people watching/ atmosphere ascertaining is the goal.

                                                                  Many people have mentioned places based on their pub/alcohol qualities and you countered that Kiddo is a minor-- all the more cause for a cringe worthy experience.

                                                                  I'd suggest giving him a little space-- you get a reservation at X place for Y time, and then let him explore on his own for 90min/hour before hand and he'll meet you there.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                                    My son is a rare bird -- he has always enjoyed hanging out with adults than with kids. Often, he has cancelled plans with his friends because we have our friends coming to dinner. He still remembers when he was served pizza with a friend when we were having a big dinner party. He is a wonderful traveler, and we have been all over together, including living in Egypt for a year. He knows that our time together is short, and that soon we won't see each other that often. I'm giving him "space" for the tour and info session, and meeting a coach. I feel I should not in any way influence his decision on what is the right school for him.

                                                                  2. I love the scones at Petsi Pies on Putnam. The coffee is pretty good too. And its tucked away off the square so you can see a little bit of the neighborhood.

                                                                    Although if you prefer a flaky pastry and a cappuccino I think Crema is better for that.

                                                                    1. Park seems to have caught on with young[er] patrons, but I suspect older than the student crowd. Ditto Sinclaire, the new club which has opened a restaurant similar to Russell House. It has a patio not on the street, which is nice.

                                                                      If you want a sense of where local grown ups eat (so you can plan for your trips to visit him once he's here), head up Mass Ave to West Side Lounge, Guilia's and Temple Bar, all in one block. Or even Cambridge Common which is known for its beers and live music. I'd avoid Chez Henri, alas - it has gone downhill and they are negotiating a sale.

                                                                      1. I'm not sure when you are coming up, but you may be interested in a cooking demo by Joanne Chang. This is in Porter Sq, Cambridge, about a mile north of Harvard.


                                                                        Also, there is a Flour Bakery in Central Sq, Cambridge. This is a mile in the other direction, very close to MIT.

                                                                        ETA: also in Harvard Sq is the Harvard Bookstore. Downstairs is a used book section that has a decent selection of used and remaindered cookbooks. This is next to Bartley's Burgers so you can kill two birds with one stone.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: beetlebug

                                                                          Funny -- I was just looking up the locations of Flour today since I made an excellent cookie from her cookbook yesterday.

                                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                                            The cookies are the best sweet items at Flour, IMO. And the ones from the cookbook are very close to the ones you'll get at the bakery. The sandwiches are good. But if you're looking for baked goods, head for Petsi Pies on Putnam Street which is closer. Darwin's on Mount Auburn Street also carries good cookies from Lakota Bakery.

                                                                        2. I am a few years out, but as an undergrad we frequented Border Cafe and Cambridge 1 quite a lot, primarily because of the price and ambience, so that would give you a good feel. Daedalus is great for outdoor seating, but otherwise not worth going to. For late night eats, you can never go wrong with the Felipe's or Pinocchio's (Noch's). The Kong is also a college standby...but not as much so for those under 21.

                                                                          There are certainly better restaurants than those mentioned above, either in the Square or in adjacent neighborhoods, but most college students don't go out to places like Craigie all the time.

                                                                          7 Replies
                                                                          1. re: eckbean8

                                                                            Hey, thanks - it's good to know Daedelus is good for something. I've never liked it, so wondered how it survived, and outdoor seating is as good a reason as any.

                                                                            1. re: enhF94

                                                                              Deadelus is fine for when you want to have a drink on an outside deck. Full stop.

                                                                              Just for the record Harvard square is a cluster right now with all the commencement and alumni activity going on. Stay away if you don't like crowds.

                                                                              1. re: yumyum

                                                                                That should be done by when we arrive on Sunday, no?

                                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                                  I don't know when it dies down. Hopefully someone with more Harvard experience can enlighten us both. Oprah's commencement speech today was great though!

                                                                                  1. re: yumyum

                                                                                    By Sunday the traveling circus has more or less moved on, and the Square has been cleaned of alumni, parents, and graduate droppings. Should be fine then.

                                                                                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                                                      It was easy to get a reservation at Russell House for Sunday night, so I figured as much. Thanks for the verification.

                                                                                      1. re: Uncle Yabai

                                                                                        Thanks!! It was a veritable sh*tshow from Tuesday till today. All my bartender friends said so too. Nice to know we can get back to 'normal' Harvard square lunacy soon!

                                                                            2. I know it's closer to MIT than Harvard Square, but I wonder if anyone has eaten at Oleana. The menu looks very interesting, and I have Ana Sortun's cookbook.

                                                                              13 Replies
                                                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                                                You can also check out her informal place, Sofra on the Belmont/Watertown line. It's about 2 miles for Harvard square. Sofra also has some of the dishes from the cookbook.

                                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                                  The board is full of accolades for Oleana and you should certainly consider eating there. You will also find lovely baked goods and other takeout at her bakery, Sofra's, on Belmont Street.

                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                    definitely oleana, especially if you can sit in the garden....no reservations for that.

                                                                                    1. re: Madrid

                                                                                      So Oleana over Russell House? Just from the standpoint of food?

                                                                                      1. re: roxlet

                                                                                        i think that oleana is trying for something more serious than russell house.

                                                                                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                                                                          Kind of a moot point. No reservations are available for a reasonable dinner hour....

                                                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                                                            I don't think anybody has mentioned the Red House on Winthrop. Great cheap oysters (usually $1.00 an oyster), nice patio, decent bar and food and a pretty joint. Won't set the world on fire but it still feels local and like a good neighborhood bistro.

                                                                                            1. re: teezeetoo

                                                                                              I'm pretty sure its because the original poster is looking for something in/around Harvard Sq.

                                                                                              1. re: catsmeow

                                                                                                Yes, that is correct. We have a very brief time in Cambridge (arriving sometime late tomorrow afternoon, leaving mid-day on Monday), and I wanted my son to get a feel of what it might be like to be in Cambridge.

                                                                                                1. re: catsmeow

                                                                                                  On Winthrop St; not in Winthrop :)

                                                                                                  1. re: catsmeow

                                                                                                    Red House couldn't be more "in/around Harvard Sq", not sure what you're saying.

                                                                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                                                                      Sorry...I misread it as being in Winthrop not on Winthrop. Time for stronger reading glasses.....

                                                                                                      1. re: catsmeow

                                                                                                        Ah! That makes sense.

                                                                                                        Note that there's also a (bad) chinese take out place in Union Sq also named Red House

                                                                                      2. Well, we had our dinner last night at The Russell House, and it was kind of a bust.

                                                                                        First of all, as advised, we requested rooms downstairs, which was where they directed us. Sunday night was very warm, and as we descended the stairs, it began to feel like an inferno. When we spoke with the hostess, we were told that the a/c was broken, but someone was coming to fix it. She led us to our table. It was a two top in the farthest, hottest corner of the room. One of us would have been staring at the wall all night. Most of the tables were unoccupied, so I immediately requested a larger table, which they did give us. Though the room was about half empty, the acoustics were deafening. I spent the entire evening saying, "What?" Not my favorite way to dine. The food was fine, not particularly outstanding, but just ok. Actually, I should have gone with my original idea of having a couple of small plates and starters since my crispy poached egg was pretty good.

                                                                                        However, the most disturbing part of the meal came when we were looking at the dessert menu. My son wrinkled his nose and said, "Do you smell that? That's horrible." Indeed it was. He got up from the table saying that he couldn't sit there anymore. The manager came over and casually explained that it must be from the a/c repair. Whatever it was from, I quickly paid my bill, and beat it the hell out of there.

                                                                                        16 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: roxlet

                                                                                          That's a disappointing meal although you don't really say what you ate. Mostly everything else about the place sounded not great though. I happened to be there Sat. for my 4th time and I have to say, I think this place kind of sucks. Only one time has the service been good/great and surprisingly that was on a New Year's Eve. One night of very odd service from a waitress and two times being ignored by downstairs bartenders. We almost walked out. At least it didn't smell.

                                                                                          On the other hand, stopped into Bartley's for the first time in a couple years and the burger was tasty as anything. Especially the jalapeno burger, the meat just tasted of really high quality with a good sear on it. A little overcooked but with a good batch of onion rings, we were happy. Hope your other Harvard area places brought better results than RH.

                                                                                          1. re: total13

                                                                                            I've immensely enjoyed Scelfo's special dinners there (which I'd imagine will no longer happen). I've enjoyed outings where I've sat at the upstairs bar and had a burger and some drinks. I've enjoyed outings at the downstairs bar where I just drank and maybe nibbled on some small bites.

                                                                                            Beyond that I don't have much positive to say. Because of that I stick to the three scenarios I outlined above.

                                                                                            1. re: jgg13

                                                                                              At least you've had positive experiences at the bar which has been lacking for me in both cases. We should have just screwed on the bill if we were so invisible.

                                                                                          2. re: roxlet

                                                                                            So sorry to hear that RHT didn't work out for you. The a/c situation sounded awful. I do love that crispy poached egg though.

                                                                                            It's also too bad that you are hear during less then stellar weather. Between yesterday's heat and today's humid rain, it really doesn't show case Cambridge.

                                                                                            Here's hoping that you get better chow later today and that you and your son have a nice visit.

                                                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                                                              That sounds like every experience I have had a Russell House. I have only chosen to go there once - my first time - for lunch (and it was horrendous), and I have been to three dinners planned by someone else. Each experience has had some kind of disjointed service or physical plant issue, and the food, while serviceable, was not memorable enough to withstand the awkward, weird service issues. We had a couple bad food problems on one of the dinners, I recall. Can't remember exactly what. Blah to the whole place.

                                                                                              1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                What a bummer. I have been surprised at how this early heat wave brought down the AC in the area. Our new Whole Foods was shut down Friday afternoon and re-opened Saturday.
                                                                                                I hope you get to Toscanini's for ice cream. Monday night with no big sporting events should yield more choices. Have you thought about Rendevous? Central Square is a lot less of a tourist trap than HSQ.

                                                                                                1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                  If you mean tonight = no big sporting event you must be joking! But alas roxlet has been and gone. What a disappointment to hear the RHT experience wasn't as hoped.

                                                                                                    1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                      Dude - "Monday night with no big sporting events"....I believe Niblet is referring to Bruins @ Penguins, game 2...in 2nd intermission right now. We're up 4-1. Doy-yay (Quebecois for "duh").

                                                                                                      1. re: digga

                                                                                                        I was referring to events in town, B's were in Pittsburgh.

                                                                                                        1. re: Berheenia

                                                                                                          Nice save Fleury...since when does Boston congestion spill into Harvard Square. But no matter, it's a glorious day.

                                                                                                2. re: roxlet

                                                                                                  That is such a shame, that sounds like a perfectly dreadful experience. Sorry that Cambridge did not deliver for you chow-wise (or weather-wise). Hope the actual Harvard part of the visit went better.

                                                                                                  1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                    That's a shame to hear because Harvard square overall is a beautiful place to hang out - good food, good live music, great shops. People of all ages hanging out together. I just hope you get the chance to go back and get the true gist of the place (at least I hope your son enjoyed his tour and his overall experience)

                                                                                                    1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                      What a bummer Rox! You are not the first person I have heard from that the service is spotty and food not living up to the hype. Too bad but downstairs with no AC? Yikes, that's miserable.

                                                                                                      Hope the rest of the trip was successful...