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.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Red House Restaurant

78. 12-22 The Red House Restaurant 98 Winthrop Street. Summary: Fine dining, cozy atmosphere, quality comfort food, expensive.

Winthrop Street is turning out to be quite the corner for high-end dining. Upstairs on the Square, Om, and now the Red House restaurant. And I haven't yet tried Tommy Doyle's. So for location, the Red House gets top marks.

For atmosphere, high marks again. It's not as fancy inside as either Om or Upstairs, but clearly management put a lot of money into the renovation of the building. There are four areas for eating: An outside patio, useless now in the winter; a foyer room facing the street; a bar/lounge area with a working, real-wood fireplace (not many of those around anymore - a nice touch!), and the main dining room in the back, with a fancy circular skylight in the middle. But compared with the nearby fancy restaurants, the Red House seems sort of quaint, with the multiple rooms, narrow hallway, and working fireplace. Cozy, but certainly not cutting edge.

Service was fine - our server was prompt and polite. He knew the menu well but I didn't get the impression he was really into the food - more reading off a list rather than understanding how the ingredients would taste.

The food was good - very good, but not great. I went with my friend Dwight, and we each had the house salad, which was a plateful and had a light dressing that seemed just right. Then, we each had lobster dishes; mine was the lobster pot pie, Dwight's the lobster risotto. I definitely enjoyed the pot pie - the puff pastry on top was light and perfectly browned, and the lobster/potato/veggies were in a light cream sauce beneath. Dwight loved his lobster risotto, which was definitely more food than mine.

My only complaint is that the Red House uses a lot of cream. The soup special, both our lobster dishes, then other dishes including carbonara - there's not a lot on the menu that is cholesterol friendly. It's a high end comfort food restaurant, I think.

For $30 each, tip included, only tap water to drink - what I paid at Harvest, Upstairs, and Om - I would place the Red House last on that list. It's a bit pricey for the fare. But it's certainly an enjoyable experience.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Plough and Stars

77. 12-21 Plough and Stars 912 Massachusetts Ave. Summary: Cozy, bustling, friendly, Guiness flowing, decent food.

The Plough is a great establishment, the kind of place I imagine folk from the British Isles enjoy spending time in because it reminds them of neighborhood pubs back home. It's warm and inviting - everybody crowds in elbow to elbow; the waitresses are a bit coarse but friendly; and the food is satisfying. This is the kind of place worth the 15 minute walk from Harvard Square, or probably 10 from Central.

The Plough serves bar food, no matter how fancy the descriptions are ("Tuscan vegetable soup with truffle oil"!). I had this soup, and it was fine, but the beans were a bit undercooked. Then Mike and I each had the Turkey Club sandwich, which was a bit dry, but the fries made up for it - not dipped in batter, and served in steak cut style, which I love because it brings out the flavor of the potatoes instead of the oil or batter. Casey had the Cuban sandwich and thought it was great, but a bit too large.

We didn't drink any Guiness, which really is a sin in this kind of place, but nonetheless we enjoyed the experience greatly.

About $12 per person.

Om Restaurant

76. 12-20 Om Restaurant 92 Winthrop Street. Summary: Outstanding meal - food, atmosphere, location, service. Pricey, but worth it. Challenging the very best restaurants of Harvard Square.

I was really impressed with Om. To be honest, I had this place figured for a hip bar crowd, and assumed the food would be more in line with Grafton St. and Z Square, where atmoshpere overwhelms quality. But I was proved wrong - the atmosphere is unique - trendy, hip, appealing - and the food is excellent to boot.

Walk in the door, and you immediately face a sheet of undulating, rippling water running down a dark wall of ribbed stone of some kind. Turn to face a very hip bar/lounge area, quite dark, with a large wall of thin layers of stone ("some kind of 'water stone,' I'm told," said the maitre d') behind the bar. Then upstairs to the dining room, which is pleasant, well lit, and decorated with various paintings and sculptures, all of a Tibetan theme.

I went with my friend Brad, who had heard good things about the restaurant, as I had from my wife. Our server was a bit goofy but efficient and he had specific recommendations from the menu that were excellent.

We started by sharing a dozen "Signature MoMo's" - stupid name, but very tasty small steamed dumplings - we had six veggie and six pork. Three sauces came for the dumplings, arranged in their own dishes for us to dip into. The soy sauce was fine but boring, the mango sauce good for the veggie dumplings but too weak for the pork, and the melted red pepper sauce good for both.

I had an an entre the Om sandwich, which is broiled unagi (eel) with plum and sprouts on a biscuit, alongside a clump of daikon salad with chili sauce dressing - quite spicy. As the server suggested, I combined the two to match the sweetness of the sandwich with the spiciness of the daikon - it worked and was excellent. My only complaint is that there was a brush stroke of sauce in the middle of the plate, but whatever it was had hardened like paint. The server chuckled and remarked that it was actually supposed to be edible. Nonetheless the dish was excellent.

Brad had the Chinese Pork sandwich with sweek potato fries - "best sandwich ever," he said.

So, we both left happy and $30 poorer, but richer for the experience. Om is a very cool addition to the Harvard Square restaurant scene and I hope it does well, because its inventiveness and high quality should raise the level of competition throughout the neighborhood.

Mass Food Market

75. 12-19 Mass Food Market 950 Massachusetts Ave. Summary: A bit scary.

I knew I was in trouble when I walked in the door to the Mass Food Market, which is tucked in a large residential building closer to Central than Harvard Square. The shelves were half full of junk food, the fruit was expensive, and no one else was there but the two guys behind the counter. I felt like I was in a small store in rural Massachusetts or New Hampshire - where you can get only lowest common denominator foods (i.e. processed).

I ordered a sandwich - turkey on wheat - and got a bag of chips and an orange. While waiting to pay, a sketchy looking guy won $40 on scratch lottery tickets he had just bought there, so he came back to buy more and take the rest as cash. The cashier wouldn't tell me what I owed, just pointed to the number on the register.

I got out, ate my food, and didn't die. Not one to recommend. About $7.

India Castle

74. 12-18 India Castle 928 Massachusetts Ave. Summary: Decent Indian buffet, nothing special.

I didn't even know India Castle existed until a couple days ago - it's very close to the Plough and Stars, closer to Central Square than Harvard. Given there are four Indian restaurants in the heart of Harvard Square (about 15 minutes walk away), India Castle probably serves more the in-between and Central crowd, I think. A lot of people live between Harvard and Central, so the restaurant has a market to address.

The food isn't anything to write home about. The buffet (taken for granted, all Indian restaurants offer lunch buffets) is of average size, with foods that are a bit oily but nonetheless decent. Tom and I did take-out from the buffet with good sized, but not huge, take-out dishes. The foods all seemed to have the same basic taste to them - not much stood out. The salad was weak - iceburg lettuce and frozen tomatos. They did give each of us a full piece of Naan bread.

$8.30 per person - decent value.

Broadway Market, Prepared Foods

73.5 12-15 Broadway Market, Prepared Foods 468 Broadway. Summary: Decent food.

This trip merits a 73.5 because I've really been to Broadway too many times. I did eat some new stuff, but it's not that different from other trips. The company decided to come here because we also bought foodstuffs for a company holiday party - quite successfully, I might add.

Rob and I had their veggie soup - I found it a bit too lemony, but Rob liked it. Then I had a veggie roll with peanut sauce to dip in, plus guacamole, plus pasta. It was all tasty.

Broadway continues to impress me with their range and quality (other than the sushi) and reasonable prices.

About $7.


73. 12-04 Casablanca Restaurant 40 Brattle Street. Summary: Outstanding food, leaves you hungry, cramped dining room, expensive.

My friend Howard and I ate at Casa-B's today, and we really enjoyed the food. Bread is pita with olive oil and salt and pepper; our salads had a nice mix of leaves and a sublte dressing; and I loved my bluefish cakes served on greens. Howard had lamb served on flatbread with a yoghurt sauce - he loved his entre as well. I'd have to say that the food here is top five in the whole Square.

That said, the portions were quite modest. I'm all in favor of European-style portions - I'm convinced that's how Europeans in general stay thin and on the flip side our huge portions are why Americans tend to be overweight. But, I was mighty hungry later in the afternoon, so I think Casablanca is pushing it on portion size.

That said, the atmosphere is a bit stifling. We ate in the open area, where tables are very close to one another. At one point another diner "shh-ed" Howard - how often do you hear of that happening? In New York, all restaurants are like this, and everyone just yells and doesn't worry about it. I recommend a booth if you can grab one.

The meal - appetizer, entre, and a lemonade, cost $28 per person. Pretty expensive.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

John Harvard's Brew House

72. 12-13 John Harvard's Brew House 33 Dunster Street. Summary: What you would expect from a brew house!

What was I thinking, taking out food from a brew house?! As I'm standing there waiting for my food, the TV's are on, the beer is flowing from the many taps, people are engaged in fun conversations. And I take my food out and bring it to the office.

Their food is fine. It's just what you'd expect from a brew pub - basic, lots of meat and carbos and cheese. I ordered at buffalo chicken sandwich with fries. Both the chicken and fries were coated in batter and then fried. Not how I like it, but standard for this kind of restaurant.

My advice? Stay and drink and have fun. About $10.

Dado Tea

71. 12-11 Dado Tea 955 Massachusetts Ave. Summary: Four thumbs up from our group!

This was a nice surprise. I didn't realize Dado Tea was in this location - I thought is was only in the heart of the Square (yet to be reviewed). This space is small but functional, with a few tables and seating around the edges of the room for perhaps 20 people.

The people at the counter were very pleasant and seemed eager to please. I ordered a roasted turkey sandwich with pesto spread and vegetables - I have never been offered pesto as a spread on a sandwich, and it wasn't bad. They have plenty of salads and fresh fruit as well. And of course they have loads of tea. All of us enjoyed our food.

About $8, a fair price.

Greenhouse Coffee Shop

70. 12-8 Greenhouse Coffee Shop 3 Brattle Street. Summary: Superb location, crowds to match, food nothing special, a bit expensive.

Location, location, location. Greenhouse Coffee Shop is the most central of all restaurants in Harvard Square - none are closer to the subway stop or the two newsstands. As a result, this restaurant gets a tremendous amount of folk who are hungry and need food NOW.

It was packed when I visited - the same day as the high school Model UN at Harvard was starting. Teams representing various countries crammed around tables on this very cold day, chatting about strategy, tactics, and (sometimes) normal high school stuff. One wouldn't say there was much atmosphere, but at least it was bustling.

The servers were very busy, but they kept up with the order volume.

The food was fair. There is a large menu with a lot of basic, home-style food on it. I had a chicken soup, a grilled chicken sandwich with fries, and an iced tea. The soup was OK, the sandwich dry, the fries had batter on them (which I hate). On a cold day it did the trick, but it certainly wasn't anything special.

Total price: $15, including tip. Too high for the food and atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


69. 12-7 Angelo's 444 Broadway Street. Summary: Basic pizza joint, with a nice salad.

Angelos is, like the truck I reviewed yesterday, just across from Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school. It sells to high schoolers plus some adults in the neighborhood.

I ordered a large turkey sub and a small salad. Both were good, the salad in particular - it had a mix of lettuces, tomato, broccoli, and zuchini. I expected iceburg lettuce and little else, so I was pleased.

It's a pretty plain place - don't go for the atmosphere. But the food's OK. About $7.

Parked Truck Outside Cambridge Rindge and Latin, on Broadway

68. 12-6 Truck outside Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, on Broadway Ave. Summary: This is what high school kids eat - bummer.

I should have known not to expect too much. Any place that caters exclusively to high schoolers isn't going to be interesting. High Schoolers are stressed, and they crave comfort in their food.

So this truck had the basics: burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs, fries. We asked about their veggie sandwich, and the guy said nobody had asked for three months and they didn't have the mixings. Same thing for a tuna sandwich - too good for you, I guess.

The food was greasy and cheap - perfect for kids. About $5 per person, including chips and a soda.


67. 12-5 Bertucci's 21 Brattle Street. Summary: Nice meal.

It's hard to say much bad about Bertucci's - they really have perfected the restaurant experience, and they've done it so that there is remarkable consistency among their many locations. The rolls are always perfect and abundant; the pizza is a good thickeness and has just a bit of char on it. All six of us went this time, and nobody left disappointed, except perhaps Tom, whose dish was a bit smaller than the rest of ours.

But, I can't rave about Bertucci's. Maybe it's the fact that it's a chain, and I have a natural bias against chains. Or it's the consistency - nothing is left to chance (no risk, no reward. They used to have bocce courts in some of their restaurants, which I loved). But regardless, I can't put Bertucci's on top of any list.

About $10 per person, including tip.

Dolphin Seafood

66. 12-4 Dolphin Seafood 1105 Massachusetts Ave. Summary: Very nice meal, a bit expensive.

Dolphin Seafood has been around a long time. It upgraded quite a while ago - perhaps ten years? - and since then I've always considered it 'upscale.' The prices certainly are in line with this designation, but the location - a bit outside of the heart of the Square - and the inside ambience, which is unremarkable, are inconsistent with the high prices.

My friend Bom and I shared a two person luncheon special; we each had seafood bisque, then I had the blackened catfish with rice and salad, and then I had a dessert that unfortunately I can't remember (doesn't say much for it!). I enjoyed all the food. The service was fine. Bom enjoyed his food as well.

So no complaints, except the price seems high for the location and ambience. $17 per person.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


65. 12-1 Sandrine's 8 Holyoke Street. Summary: Lovely setting; cold but efficient service; interesting, creative, attractive, and expensive food.

Sandrine's is a beautiful restaurant, from the Art Deco molding over the entrance, reminiscent of Parisian subways, to the different levels in the main dining room and the ornate bar and the linen tablecloths. With its excellent location, and that much attention to the setting, you know it's going to be expensive. The only question is, can the food and service match the environment?

I think it does, just. I went with a friend, Michael, and we were the first to arrive for lunch, at about 11:40am. Our server was efficient and polite, but she had negative personality. Her expression never changed. No smiles, no friendly chit-chat, no anecdotes - only attention to the food we wanted. You'd think, with no one else in the restaurant, that a server would have an extra second to chat...

While the service was a bit cold, the food was excellent. I had a bowl of onion soup gratinee, which was exactly as you'd expect - nice clumps of cheese on top, and very tasty onion broth loaded with onion slices beneath. For an entre I had the Roasted Chicken Salade Roulade, which I also enjoyed. Michael had a simple salad and then the Gourmand Sirloin Burger, which comes with duck truffle Perigoudine, which I believe is a foie gras. Lots of rich food, full of flavor. We finished everything, happily.

We didn't even partake in any of the regional specialities - Alsatian, meaning the border of France and Germany near Strassbourg. Alsatian foods tend to highlight both French and German specialties.

So, a successful lunch. But for $20 each, the server could have smiled!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Grendel's Den

64. 11-30 Grendel's Den, Winthrop Street. Summary: Excellent history, nice "bar" setting, good value, OK food.

Grendel's has a lot of history, more than most restaurants in the Square. It used to have a dining room upstairs, where Upstairs at the Square now is, and a bar downstairs. A few of us reminisced about the upstairs eating - a lovely, two-story grand room, but it was always run-down, and we remembered cockroaches scampering about even with many diners nearby. "Atmosphere."

Grendel's also is well-known for its successful Supreme Court case. Before the decision in 1982, churches could legally object to nearby (within 500 feet) businesses selling liquor. At that point there was an Armenian church but 10 feet away, and it objected to Grendel's being granted a liquor license. So the restaurant sued to get the law stricken, and it eventually made it to the Supreme Court. Lawrence Tribe of Harvard Law School argued the case; Chief Justice Burger delivered the decision for the majority (Rehnquist dissented). The law was indeed struck from the books, and similar ones from other states, and Grendel's happily serves booze. A nice example of our Constitution at work.

Enough history. The four of us ordered basics, including grilled cheese, pasta, soup, burgers, fries. It was all cheap and decent tasting. Apparently the prices plummet come happy hour time, as long as you start drinking. The menu isn't extensive but you don't expect that given you're in a bar.

About $8 per person.

Z Square

63. 11-29 Z Square, 14 JFK Street. Summary: Strange setup, good service, food needs work.

After peering in the windows of Z Square a couple times, and giving them time to work through service issues (every restaurant needs time to get its service down, I think), I gave it a go with Susan, an aquaintance.

The biggest surprise about this place is its size. From the sidewalk it looks like a small cafe - and it is, at that level. But downstairs opens up into a very large seating area, one that I would guess could handle 200 diners. It's all nicely decorated, kind of chic. But I found it a bit weird that you really can't get a sense of the restaurant from the street.

I had a white bean soup - it was nice, but there was an interesting and somewhat off-setting flavor to it that I couldn't quite identify. It seemed like an asian-style herb or spice, which I found odd for such a classic Italian, hearty dish. I followed this with a special: penne pasta with chicken and a mushroom/tomato sauce. I found the sauce too heavy - almost like a stew.

The sevice was excellent. But for the price - about $13 per person - I expected better food. I rank Z Square about the same at Grafton Street - good locations, trendy atmosphere, food good but not great.

Greenhouse Cafe, Harvard Science Center

62. 11-28 Greenhouse Cafe, Harvard Science Center (Oxford Street). Summary: Decent value, variety, mixed reviews on food quality.

First of all, what's with the name? The Greenhouse Cafe has been in the heart of Harvard Square forever. It's a bit weird that Harvard allowed another eating place on its premises with the same name - and I think it's owned by Harvard too. Given that Harvard is trying to police money-making uses of its own name, you'd think it would respect other companies' names as well.

Eating at Harvard's Greenhouse Cafe is an experience, given that probably 80-90% of the customers are Harvard people - mostly students, I think. They don't accept credit cards, but do accept Harvard debit cards, along with cash. So if you're looking to rub elbows with "real" Harvard people, this is the place. And I verified that you don't have to be affiliated with Harvard to eat here. There is ample seating but it's still crowded.

As for the food, our group was mixed. Rob seemed most happy with his tortilla-wrapped sensation - lots of salad-type stuff crammed in. Good value and good food. I had a chicken burrito, and was unhappily surprise when I was directed to pre-made ones sitting under heat lamps. I want my burrito made in front of me! You don't know what's in the sitting ones, nor how long they've been there. And I asked for guacamole to be added, which was an option on the board - but I was directed to get that from the salad-making area, where there was a line and an extra $1.50 charge for a small plastic container of guacamole. Rob did this for me, and I then had to unroll my burrito and add the guacamole - not my kind of service. And finally the burrito only tasted OK, I thought. (FYI, Tom had the same thing, minus the guacamole, and enjoyed it.)

Casey found the pizza a "good value" but commented that the sauce was similar to ketchup. Yuck. Jennifer had tuna and found it "pre-made."

So this place isn't going on the top of the list, thought I might follow Rob's lead and try the salad bar. About $7 per person.