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, November 27, 2006

Broadway Market: Prepared Foods

61. 11-27 Broadway Market (Prepared Foods) 335 Broadway Street. Summary: Tasty, simple, affordable.

This is my third trip to Broadway - they have such variety of offerings one visit can't do the market justice. First time: Broadway's salad bar. Second time: Broadway's sushi. This time: Broadway's prepared foods. I ordered pasta with a pesto sauce that included olives; grilled asparagus; and a veggie spring roll. All three were very good, particularly the asparagus, which was cooked perfectly. My only complaint is the abundance of plastic needed to bring all three foods home.

Barring the assault on the environment through the packaging, this is an excellent lunch at a very reasonable price. $7.

Smile (Thai Food)

60. 11-21 Smile Thai Food, Eliot Street. Summary: Greasy, uninspiring.

I love Thai food, particularly Pad Thai - the combination of noodles, chicken, shrimp, cashews, scallions/garlic is right up my alley. I have found it's difficult to screw this up - I've tried this dish from a wide variety of Thai restaurants. So I was disappointed to find that Smile's Pad Thai was overly greasy- they must use a lot of oil for some reason. The dish didn't taste good as a result.

I don't recommend this restaurant, particularly with two other Thai restaurants nearby. $7 for the lunch special.

Crazy Dough's

59. 11-20 Crazy Dough's, in the Garage (corner Mt. Auburn and JFK Sts.). Summary: Thick, doughy crust, light on toppings.

Crazy Dough didn't come highly recommended to me, and it lived up to its billing. Their pizza is like eating focaccia with stuff on top - it's that thick. The toppings were interesting (I had two slices, one with chicken BBQ and a another with a pesto/pine nut sauce), but overwhelmed by the dough. I don't like this kind of pizza, but perhaps others do.

I also had a small salad, which was quite good. But in the end you go there for the pizza, and I don't recommend it. Total cost: $9.50.

Fire and Ice

58. 11-17 Fire and Ice, Church Street. Summary: Better than expected, all happy with food.

I've been to Fire and Ice a number of times, always with my kids. For some reason, kids love this restaurant. I think it's because you have total control over what ends up on your plate - you pick out all the raw ingredients (including lots of meat, which kids love), plus your sauce, and then you get to watch the chefs cook it in front of you, while you hang out with your buds around the enormous griddle.

So I had low expectations when our group of six adults went. But, it turned out well, because adults have a better idea of portions and how to balance a meal, so no one pigged out on just meat (which kids always seem to do). The chefs cooked the food fine - usually it's overcooked so they don't have problems with undercooked food. I had a nice salad plus jerk chicken, noodles, and some veggies cooked together.

Worked out to $12 per person, including tip. An ususual dining experience, great for kids, OK for adults.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cafe of India

57. 11-9 Cafe of India 52 Brattle Street. Summary: Large buffet, good food, unique setup - but nothing special.

I have to admit, Cafe of India had a tough task with me, in that I've already visited the other three Indian restaurants in the Square. All four have buffets - and how different can you make a buffet?

A couple of things caught my eye today. First, they have Papdum - the spicy bread/cracker. I really like this, and they are the only restaurant with it. Second, they had a cook at the buffet area, who was making some sort of potato-stuffed pastry - it was good, and fun to watch him. Third, they had something close to a salad bar; most Indian buffets have a token salad, but Cafe of India has both cucumber/tomato plus lettuce, and a couple of dressings.

They didn't have any chaat, which I always enjoy.

As to the main dishes, I found them very similar to the competition. No standouts, nothing terribly interesting.

So, I rate Cafe of India's buffet average, on par with Bombay Club. About $9.

Au Bon Pain, Brattle

56. 11-8 Au Bon Pain, Brattle Street. Summary: Very good.

I've decided that ABP is an outstanding business. It seems that every time I go there, I buy more than I expected; and even with the over-spending, I enjoy the food and go back.

Take today. I walk in, see a line in this small-ish ABP (smaller than both the massive one at the corner of Dunster, and the one at the intersection of Mass Ave and Mt. Auburn St by Crate and Barrel furniture), and think, "What are all these people doing waiting in line when there's a huge ABP three minutes from here?" But I want to try it, so I stay, and while I'm in line waiting to order I snag some fruit and a cookie in the perfectly-placed displays.

And before I know it, I'm ordering. The line looked long, but only took two minues or so. Brilliant.

And in one of the nicer touches, as I'm waiting for my wrap to be made, I get to talk with the sandwich maker - in a smaller ABP, you can make a connection with the people. The bigger ones don't give you this opportunity. Somehow I think it makes a difference both for the employee and the customer.

So I spent too much - about $10 - and got too much food as a result (Mediterranean Wrap, chicken noodle soup, gingerbread man cookie, banana, and orange). But I very much liked the wrap - a good value, lots of interesting ingredients - and the soup was also tasty. And the cookie was satisfying.

And I'll go back.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


55. 11-7 Shay's 58 JFK Street. Summary: Good food, nice pub atmosphere, good value.

Lunch at Shay's was a nice surprise. We had a company lunch, all five of us, and four enjoyed the food; only Jennifer found her sandwich too salty. And, Rob and Tom split a beer (which probably helped them to enjoy the meal).

Shay's is really a bar - it's hopping at night, with a young crowd - but at lunch the smell of beer isn't overwhelming and it isn't crowded. Our server was very pleasant and checked in on us a number of times.

The menu is quite limited - pretty much bar food - but was fine. The veggie burger was actually not a flat patty and looked edible (and Tom enjoyed it), I had a turkey sandwich with too much turkey but still tasty, Rob's tuna melt satisfied. Nice accompaniments of tortilla chips with salsa.

About $9 per person, including sandwich and drink and tip.


54 11-6 Harvest Between Mt. Auburn and Brattle, by Post Office (Mt. Auburn) and Crate & Barrel (Brattle). Summary: Very good food, not great service, pricey.

My wife and I went to Harvest today. I figure, it's probably the highest priced lunch spot in the Square (we'll see), and she deserves it. Plus, if I went with anyone else, she's be jealous and I'd never hear the end of it.

Harvest is an excellent restaurant, clearly in the top tier of dinner eating spots in the Square - up there with Rialto and Upstairs on the Square. The space itself isn't that interesting - the bar area is really nice, but the tables kind of float and it's easy to feel exposed. Plus the service people pass by all the time, which can be good and bad - good for catching waiters/waitresses, bad for the hustle and bustle.

Our server was efficient, but lacked personality. For the cash we were laying out, it doesn't seem unreasonable to have a server who is both professional/efficient, but also interesting and personable. She barely cracked a smile the whole time.

We got off to an unauspicious start as my wife immediately spotted the lobster club sandwich - but the server forgot to mention it wasn't available, and so ten minutes later, when we ordered, she had to re-evalutate the menu. No expressions of sympathy from the server, just quick apologies. Turns out she did the same thing with the table next to ours - forgot to mention the sandwich wasn't available. You'd think she'd learn...

But beside that, lunch was very good. I personally ate the entire bread basket contents - the bread is that good, and very interesting as well. We had salads as first courses - my waldorf salad was good, but not great - it just wasn't that interesting; my wife had the beet salad, and that was outstanding - a great collection of textures and tastes, including soft and warm chickpeas. I had the burger, which came highly recommended, and indeed it's as good as Bartley's but with fancier accompaniments, including an onion roll and hand-cut fries. My wife had the lobster bisque, which she enjoyed.

So, my take on Harvest - very good food, service not at an upper level, and too pricey. About $25-30 per person, two courses and non-alcoholic drink included, no dessert.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Legal Seafood

53. Legal's 11-3 within the Charles Hotel complex, across the courtyard. Summary: Outstanding food/service - worth the higher price.

I've eaten at Legal's for dinner many times, with mixed results. At this location, a number of months ago I went with a group, and the serving sizes were outrageous - it was the seafood equivalent of Durgin Park or Vinny Testa's - so much food that we all left feeling uncomfortable about a) the amount of food in our bellies, and b) the wasted food left on the table.

But today, the lunch was superb. I ordered the salmon/falafel dish off the lunch menu, medium rare. It was cooked perfectly, with a crust of falafel, hummos to the side, and tomatoes and yoghurt sauce as well. I had a side dish of lentils, which were tasty. And of course they served me their famous warm rolls. The dish was appealing to the eye - lots of nice bright colors - and to the taste buds as well. It all worked well.

I ate at the bar - friendly, attentive service. The greeting at the door was a bit too much for me, but nonetheless at Legal's they take service quite seriously, and it shows.

$22 including tip. Worth it, I think. And Legal's will probably make my next "top ten" list for food, unless other new ones come out on top of it.


52. Shilla 11-2 57 JFK St (basement of Galeria). Summary: Nothing special.

I've walked by the sandwich board outside the Galeria many times - the one that announces that Shilla is open. But I've never found it - until today. Rob and I hunted around the first and second floors before we saw the back staircase leading down to Shilla, a Korean/Japanese restaurant that's been there eight years.

I ordered the Chicken Teriyaki lunch box; Rob ordered Bibim-Bap. Neither of us was thrilled with the food. Mine was missing its rice, and the chicken just didn't taste that good - there were a couple of bites that made me wonder on the chicken's freshness. (I think I need to start ordering other dishes from Japanese/Korean restaurants, perhaps chicken teriyaki isn't a true dish from these countries.)

About $8 per person.

Cafe Paradiso

51. Cafe Paradiso 11-1 One Eliot Square (corner of Eliot and Winthrop Streets). Summary: Excellent Italian bistro food/experience, but leaves you hungry.

Cafe Paradiso is a hoot. Everything about it is straight out of Italy - the staff is obviously Italian, the espresso machine is always shrieking, they serve real gellato, and they have biscotti on the countertop. Plus, you can sit either in the cafe or perch yourself precariously by the sidewalk on Winthrop St, with inches to spare from the curb, to take in some sun and city atmosphere.

Four of us ordered sandwiches and drinks, and ate outside on what will probably be the last day like this before Winter forces us inside to eat. No one tumbled off their chair - a success - and we all enjoyed our sandwiches, served on basil focaccia bread. While the tomatoes in my sandwich were obviously frozen at some point, everything else was quite good. And there was a small salad included on the plate. We sampled the gelatto and biscotti for desserts - all quite good. Thumbs up on the food quality.

Except, come four pm in the afternoon, I was starving to the point of bonking. I guess my body needs more food at lunch. Maybe Italians eat a small lunch and then snack through the afternoon?


50. Takemura 10-31 18 Eliot Street. Summary: Decent Japanese/Korean, but take-out lacked flavor.

(Note: Number Five - O today!)

Jennifer and I did take out from Takemura. I ordered the lunch special, Teriyaki Bento with chicken. It was good - Miso soup included - but nothing special. Maybe the styrofoam sucks away the flavor of the food, or instead imparts an unnatural flavor into the food, but in any case take-out asian food, particularly if its flavor is subtle, is rarely very good.

So I imagine Takemura is a very good sit-in restaurant, but it's unremarkable for its take-out.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Got a Restaurant Suggestion?

I'm always looking for ideas on new places to eat lunch in the Square. Before you send me a suggestion, use the search box above and see if I've already been there - pretty likely, in that I've been to over 50 lunch spots already.

But, here's a list of eateries I havent' been to yet:

Dolphin Seafood
Indian restaurant on Brattle
Chocolate place on Brattle
Fire and Ice
Inn at Harvard
Harvard Science center
Red House
Irish restaurant next to Red House
whitney's (do they serve food?)
Tea place
au bon pain, brattle
au bon pain, Mt. Auburn
Z Square
Asian on Eliot, above Takemura
Pizza join in the Garage
More spots towards Central Square
Upstairs at Upstairs on Square

Amazing, that's 26 more - and I'm sure that's not the whole list! Seems like I'm going to hit 80.