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.