The "Lunch in Harvard Square" Blog - Restaurant Reviews

Since starting to work in the Square in mid-August, I'm trying to eat lunch at a new restaurant every day until I can't find any more. Here's my list of the Top Ten Lunch Restaurants in Harvard Square (Food Only). Got a suggestion on a new lunch spot for me? New Restaurants to Try in Harvard Square.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Friendly Eating Place

49. 10-30 Friendly Eating Place, 985 Massachusetts Ave (two blocks past the Crate & Barrel furniture store toward Central Square, on the left). Summary: Basic sub shop.

The name says it all, I think; this is a place where you can can get basic food at low cost. No pretentions to be ethnic or upscale. And sure enough, the workers are all sweaty and in white tee shirts, working their butts off by the grill or the oven or at the cash register, while the patrons are a mix of ethnicities and white collar/blue collar (probably more of the latter). The pizza smell permeating the shop is of the thick cheese that makes a pizza taste really good.

We were all satisfied with our food. Unfortunately they forgot about my order and so Tom, Rob, and Jennifer had to wait for me, their food getting colder by the moment. Despite that, the portions were good, the prices low, and the food quality decent - not great, but decent. Jennifer didn't think the steak in her steak n'cheese n'egg (I've never seen one of these before!) was of great quality; Tom liked the initial taste of his pizza slices, but seemed to regret the size and ingredients after finishing. Rob and I (grilled chicken sub) were content.

So, nothing special, but a good dose of "reality" in lunch spots - the kind of place I imagine most of America goes to. About $6 per person.


48. 10-27 Sabra Grill, 20 Eliot Street. Summary: Very good food, decent prices, nice to have a Middle Eastern option!

Sabra is very small - really there isn't a way to eat there, so it's essentially all take-out. I ordered falafel and homus sandwich, plus a vegetarian lentil soup. Both were satisfying; the falafel was crunchy, the yoghurt sauce sweet - kind of a mess, but that's to be expected with this kind of sandwich. The soup I thought was excellent, because the spinach added a nice tartness you don't often get with a lentil soup.

About $10 - a bit expensive, but worth it for the 'exotic' nature of the food.


47. 10-26 Tanjore 18 Eliot Street. Summary: Excellent value, very good food.

Tom and I hit paydirt on one of the best value take-out options we've yet seen: Tanjore lets you fill up a good sized aluminum dish from its buffet, and pay the buffet price ($8). And they include a full piece of naan bread to boot.

The food at the buffet is very good - I don't think it's quite as good as Tamarind Bay, but everything was tasty. Not enough veggie dishes, I thought.

But it's still very good food, and for the quantity you can place in the take-out dish, for $8 it's a steal!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pizzeria Uno

46. 10-25 Pizzeria Uno, JFK Street. Summary: Mixed reaction from the three of us.

Pizzeria Uno - known popularly as Uno's - is known for its Chicago deep dish pizza - thick bread with loads of cheese and tomato sauce. It's almost like a quiche in its thickness. This is all well and good, but at this stage in my life, I don't want all that cheese and bread.

So, today I tried their thin crust pizza - Mediteranean - and I was underwhelmed. A small amount of toppings on very crunchy crust, with parmesan cheese baked on top. Overbaked, too crunchy, not much taste. I also had their vegetable soup, which was lacking in any interesting taste.

But, that's me. Rob and Jennifer both really enjoyed their meals. Jennifer's from the mid-West, and she loves cheese - so she had the "tuna sliders" [edited, thanks to Jennifer's comment] with french fries ("they were the perfect fries," she remarked) - and she loved both. Rob also loves cheese and isn't too adventuresome with food, and he had exactly what I had, and enjoyed it greatly. Different strokes for different folks!

Service was OK. Our server wrote his name on a napkin and left it on the table - Rob and Jennifer remarked that they had seen this done in other restaurants (Macaroni Grill), but it's new for me, a bit odd I thought. The server fluttered by frequently, but did make mistakes regarding the menu and the prices. And a spoon was clearly dirty and needed to be replaced.

We split the bill at $12 per person, including tip. FYI, the drinks were each over $2 - pretty expensive for a coke or glass of lemonade. I thought it was expensive for the food/service/atmosphere.

Broadway Market: Sushi

45. 10-24 Broadway Market: Sushi. Summary: Not recommended.

I've decided that the breadth of Broadway needs to be reviewed in multiple posts. I already reviewed the Broadway Market salad bar, which I thought was excellent. Today I tried their sushi, which wasn't so great. There's nothing like just-made sushi - Cafe Sushi has it, and it's great - while, unfortunately, Broadway's sushi is shrinkwrapped and appears to be left in the case for two days - all the "eat by" dates were tomorrow.

As a result, the fish/rice tasted a bit of the plastic wrap, and the seaweed salad was a bit limp and watery.

Not a success. About $10 for the two items.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Top Ten Food Restaurants in Harvard Square

I get asked this every time I mention my blog to people: "what's your favorite?" So, I've taken a crack at it, in this case working only off of the food quality - ignoring price, atmosphere, etc.

(Note I'm writing this without having been to absolutely EVERY restaurant in the Square - but I'm pretty confident about the top ones regardless.)

Top Ten Restaurants in Harvard Square, By Food Quality:

1) Upstairs on the Square (downstairs). Exceptional ingredients, creativity in selection, all foods prepared perfectly. Savory, sweet, everything in between - "practically perfect in every way."

2) Cardullo's. Universal appeal from everyone who ate there: The food is outstanding. Somehow they make a 'normal' sandwich something special.

3. Veggie Planet. This is a real find, stuck in a basement where you wouldn't expect it. Great food, all vegeterian, usually served as a pizza.

4. Felipe's. I love burritos, and nobody does them better than Felipe's. Great value, super fast service, high quality food, and you get to watch them make it to your specifications.

5. Bartley's Burger Cottage. Ever have a perfect burger? The kind you try to make on the grill, but don't get quite right? It's got a bit of a crust on the outside - but not too much - and it's cooked just enough inside so the flavor just rushes into your mouth? This is the place.

6. Tamarind Bay. Finally, an Indian restaurant with creative, interesting, and delicious food! Not enough options in the buffet, but what's there is excellent.

7. Le's Vietnamese Restaurant (formerly Pho Pasteur) . Wonderful food, sure to satisfy, wide variety.

8. Cafe Pamplona. This is a real find - authentic Spanish food prepared well. Simple menu, but what they make, they do well.

9. Finale. Surprisingly tasty sandwiches (from a dessert place).

10. Charlie's Kitchen. It's all about matching expectations - if you're looking for an outstanding greasy burger, you can't do better than Charlie's.


44. 10-23 Yenching, 1326 Mass. Ave, corner of Holyoke and Mass Ave. Summary: Decent Chinese food, fair price.

I have been to Yenching only once before (that I can remember), way back in 1980. I was just a snot-nosed kid and refused to leave a tip because I didn't like the service. The waittress yelled loudly in Chinese, so I had to beat a fast retreat through the door. I've felt bad about that ever since!

All five of us made it to Yenching today, so we decided to eat in at the round table closest to Mass Ave (incidently, the same table I sat at 26 years ago - weird I can remember that!). Service was fine, except our lunches arrived over a range of about five minutes, so a few of us were halfway through when other lunches arrived.

Decent, predictable listings for both lunch and main meals. Including tip (!) we each paid $8.50.


43. 10-20 Rendang, upstairs in Galeria Mall (next to Bombay Restaurant). Summary: Interesting food, lots of it, for a fair price.

Rendang just recently changed management - I don't know what it used to be named, but the name is now new. It's a big space with lots of tables and some amount of 'style' - including dark colors throughout the restaurant.

Rendang serves Malaysian food. I ordered spicy chicken with string beans, which came with a mango salad and two small spring rolls and rice. It ended up being a lot of food! Fortunately everything tasted good; the spicy chicken was indeed spicy, and the mango salad cut the sting of the spice nicely. About $7.50.

Finagle a Bagel

42. 10-19 Finagle a Bagel, on Mass Ave between the Coop and Church Street. Summary: Decent food, quickly prepared, fair prices.

There are a number of Finagle a Bagels around the Boston area. We had one in Needham Heights near our last work address, so there's little new to see in this Harvard Square location. Main differences: No trademarked bagel cutting blade to delight the kids (conveyer belt carries bagel from ordering place to sandwich making area, huge circular blad cuts bagel along the way - it's really cool and most Finagle's have them), addition of scones and muffins, and no seating.

This is a really small Finagle, but it works for take out. They have a good range of sandwiches, all made with bagels, along with soups. I had a turkey sandwich and a bag of chips for about $6. Fresh food, nice service, fair prices.


41. 10-18 Toscanini's, Mass Ave (that's right, the ice cream and coffee place!). Summary - only a few choices, but fine nonetheless.

Toscanini's falls into the "barely makes lunch" category. They have maybe four pre-made sandwich options, made in their othere Toscanini store. I had a veggie sandwich and a bagel as a side. The guy serving me said that sandwiches with meats are coming "in a week or so."

The sandwich was fine, nothing special but healthy. Total cost, around $6.

Veggie Planet

40. 10-17 Veggie Planet, corner of Church and Palmer Street (across from Border Cafe). Summary - This is a real find - oozes atmosphere due to Club Passim environment, while at the same time the food is creative and excellent.

Someone recommended Veggie Planet to me recently, and I had to admit I didn't realize Club Passim had a kitchen. I have attended a few events at the Club over the years, including seeing my college roommate play and sing folk music. It's a great place to go in the winter - very cozy.

Mike, a colleague, and I were impressed with Veggie Planet. Billed as "an innovative vegetarian pizzeria in the heart of Harvard Square," Veggie Planet lives up to its billing. Every dish can be made into a "pizza," which means all the incredients are placed on a flat bread and then baked in an oven. The results are impressive - nice, crunchy 'crust' and the ingredients are toasty warm. I had a "fajita" with guacamole and black beans served as a pizza - it was delicious. I also tried the white bean soup, which also was delicious. Mike, never that adventurous in his dining, enjoyed his ceasar salad pizza [edited, I took out "chicken" which obviously isn't served here!] (strange concept, but it worked for him!).

There are vegan dishes - I don't recall if all food there is vegan. Cash only. My cost was around $10.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Broadway Market: Salad Bar

39. 10-16 Broadway Market, 335 Broadway Street. Summary: Excellent, if quirky, salad bar.

I can't believe it took me two months to remember Broadway Market. Back in Needham, my colleagues and I would walk nearly every day to Zathmary's on Highland to pick through their excellent salad bar; once it closed, we were left with lame offerings at Sudbury Farms. But lo and behold, Broadway Market has an excellent salad bar - so we're all happy. All five of us partook.

$4.99/pound, which is a reasonable price. Four kinds of lettuce, including fresh spinach (we all looked at eachother and went for it, despite the deaths a few weeks ago from fresh spinach coming out of California. How long do you need to be scared? We can't keep living in a 'culture of fear'!) - and then an interesting variety of veggies, plus yoghurt and granola and raisins and nuts and fruit. Plus I found some guacamole in a separate are to add to the salad.

$6.50 total, very tasty, everyone was happy. Next time at Broadway I'll try their sandwiches, and then their hot foods. A three-fer!

Border Cafe

38. 10-13 Border Cafe, Church Street. Summary: As you'd expect of such a large restaurant - but passable in every aspect of the experience.

Border Cafe screams "tourist trap" the second you walk in. Major hustle and bustle, music blaring, blinking lights everywhere, tons and tons of tables upstairs and down service people zipping across the floor, onions sizzling on plates as they arrive at the table.

That said, it delivers a decent lunch. Service was prompt and courteous, food was fine, prices were a bit high but not terrible. Portions, however, were too large.

We got a big bowl of still-hot nachos and salsa as we sat down - which immediately fills you up and makes your stomach content. Then our Cokes came, in massive plastic glasses. Eventually our orders came, essentially super-sized. I ordered the blackened catfish taco, which was an enormous amount of food - but of course I ate it all, because I can't leave food on the table. And my companion had his Coke refilled, without asking, when it was down to about 2/3 empty.

The taco was quite good - the fish was well seasoned. There were a lot of 'extras' to add into the 'taco shells' (they were soft - not sure if that's authentic, but it worked) - but everything made for good eating.

So, if you're looking for a lot of food in a decidedly not-Harvard atmosphere, for about $13, this is your spot.

Greek Corner 11

37. 10-12 Greek Corner 11, 8.5 Eliot Street. Summary: Good, interesting food, reasonable prices.

What I like most about Greek Corner 11 (is it pronouced "Greek Corner Two"?) is that the food is definitely Greek. I had a falafel gyro and a bowl of lentil soup, and both were very good - tasty, nice cruch from the falafel, and the soup had a nice tomato broth with the right amount of lentils that settled in the bottom of the cup.

I'll be back. About $8.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Au Bon Pain (Mass Ave/Dunster)

36. 10-11 Au Bon Pain (Mass Ave/Dunster Street). Summary: Doesn't disappoint.

What can I say? As much I'd like to diss ABP and say they're too big/spread too thin, they do an excellent job with lunch. This is the "big one" - there are three satellite ABPs around the square, but this is, I think, the original, and it's been there a really long time.

They introduce new foods, the service is always efficient, the place is always bustling, the prices are fair. I had a sandwich made to order - good food, a fair amount of it too - plus a small yoghurt and a bag of chips for $8. That's a lot of food for that amount of cash.

No complaints. It's not necessarily special, but it satisfies pretty much every time.


35. 10-10 Finale, corner of Mt. Auburn and Dunster Streets. Summary: Surprisingly decent sandwiches and service.

I didn't even realize that Finale offered sandwiches, but they do and they're pretty good. All made to order in the kitchen area (can't see it), presented in clear wrapping and in a nice plastic bag - this place knows how to make most any food look great. And while you're ordering and waiting, you have to smell and gaze at the desserts behind the glass cases - they're all decadent.

Prices weren't too bad and the food was pretty good; the service was definitely above average. I'd come back.

Spice Thai Cuisine

34. 10-6 Spice Thai Cuisine, 24 Holyoke St. Summary: Decent food, nothing special.

Quite frankly, this restaurant is the same as most other Thai restaurants. Decent, basic food, at fair prices. Nothing special enough to bring me back. There's seating for perhaps 50 people, the location is great, but otherwise I have nothing original to say about Spice Thai Cuisine.

Dunkin' Donuts/Deli

33. 10-5 Dunkin' Donuts/Deli, corner of JFK and Eliot St. Summary: Half-hearted lunch offerings, slow service, but safe.

The fact that there were eight Cambridge cops eating outside the deli on this beautiful day made me feel perhaps a bit safer. Perhaps. The stereotypes sure still do work, though don't they?

There was one guy behind the counter. He took our orders, then walked over to the "pick up food here" area and made our sandwiches, one by one. Eventually another woman took the counter by the "order here" area.

Our guy was very nice, but slow and just learning. He screwed up one order, forgot part of another order, and didn't charge for part of another.

The sandwiches were fine but nothing special, nor were the prices. The bread, amazingly, was some kind of modified bagel shaped into a figure eight. Bizarre, and really not that tasty.

This won't make the top of my list.

Thursday, October 05, 2006


32. 10-4 Daedalus, 45.5 Mt. Auburn Street. Summary: Excellent food, service, and setting. A bit pricey, but worth it.

Daedalus is apparently a hopping night spot, packed with twenty-somethings out to have a good time. For lunch, it's a very good option. The food was original and perfectly cooked - I had a chicken sandwich, and it came hot but juicy - not an easy thing to do with chicken. I also had a cup of tomato soup which was very good.

Our server was very attentive and quick, and never forgot any requests.

The atmosphere upstairs is very pleasant - lots of windows letting in light, plenty of booths.

Price was about $14 per person - expensive, but worth it, I think.

New Asia

31. 10-3 New Asia, 1105 Mass Ave. Summary: Chinese buffet, decent variety, fine food.

Nothing special here, but it's good to have a Chinese buffet nearby. $7, all you can eat. There was a decent selection of veggie dishes, all of which looked fresh, and meat dishes as well. Our whole gruop went, and everyone was content.

Bright, somewhat sterile atmosphere.


30. 10-2 Darwin's on Mt. Auburn heading toward Watertown. Summary: Confusing how to order, excellent food, decent prices, excellent variety.

I was anxious about going to Darwin's; I thought it would be similar in snootiness/high prices to Hi Rise on Brattle, but it wasn't. The prices at Darwins are OK - a couple of dollars less than Hi Rise. And the variety of sandwiches - breads, veggies, spreads, cheeses, and meats - is remarkable, simlar to Cardullo's.

The "line management" at Darwin's is poor. People were trying to order from all directions, and some who came in later ordered before others trying to wait patiently. A sign and divider to have people order from the back would be great.

Darwin's also is a small market with fresh vegetables, basic foods, and lots of wine. And, next door is a bakery/cafe to buy coffee and baked goods. Clearly they're doing OK.

Il Panino Express

29. 9-29 Il Panino Express, 1001 Mass Ave (on the way to Central from Harvard). Summary: Good food, a bit expensive, no atmosphere, enthusiastic staff.

I used to go to Il Panino about five years ago, and it hasn't changed. It's a block past the Crate & Barrel furniture store - about 8 minutes from the heart of the Square. You have to jump in the line on the right moving toward the cashier to place your order and pay. After that you watch the cooks at work and wait for your food.

As the name implies, this place is 100% Italian. I had a salad with chicken, and a bowl of their chicken soup. The salad was good - a lot of food - and the soup was OK, despite its $5 price. The chef actually cooked up the soup as I waited, adding tomato and stock and noodles and chicken to a sauce pan. It took quite a while. He told me that once it starts getting colder he'll have a pot available, but he prefers to cook it on the spot to make sure it's fresh. I found the vegetables a bit too crunchy for my liking, but on the other hand that means they're fresh!

I ended up paying $10, too much for these two items. There are other menu items that are more reasonable; pay attention to the daily special, which is generally cheaper and also quicker to get to you.

9 Tastes

28. 9-28, 9 Tastes, 50 JFK St. Summary: Very good food and service.

I love Thai food. I always order a Pad Thai with shrimp and chicken as my first dish at a new Thai restaurant, because it tells me whether the restaurant tries to do something unique with its food. 9 Tastes did indeed add some spices/seasonings to their Pad Thai that were very tasty and unusual. I was impressed.

It's a small restaurant that can seat maybe 50 people. The atmosphere is cozy. The service is very attentive and friendly. The prices are fair - not expensive, not cheap. $8 for Pad Thai dish.