Harvard Food Services cuisine has never exactly excited anybody's palate, and with food prices eliminating some of what you like and soy substitutes replacing the rest, Harvard Square restaurants may be visited by more Harvard students than they have in the past.
This list of restaurants does not pretend to be comprehensive--it almost totally excludes the more expensive restaurants around Harvard, and it misses more than one good Harvard snack spot. We have also excluded most of Cambridge's watering holes--unless they also serve bar fare.
Ice cream addicts will find three places in Harvard Square--a Baskin-Robbins chain (1230 Mass Ave), Brigham's (1702 Mass Ave), and Bailey's (21 Brattle St.).
Midwestern natives will note with annoyance that those 16-cent and 31-cent B-R cones are 25 and 45 in Cambridge. Bailey's probably has the highest quality ice cream, but a one-scoop cone costs 35 cents. If you're willing to pay, try mocha almond or the chocolate.
Brigham's is more famous for the "townies" who loiter in front of the store than for its ice cream. But the ice cream is good and cheaper than Bailey's and Baskin-Robbins. The store is closed while it is being re-decorated red, white and blue. For you Mother's Day types, Brigham's also sells high-quality candy.
When the late-night munchies strike, Harvard students usually flock to the fast-food places around the Square. Besides Elsie's, Tommy's and others of that genre, a variety of pizza and sub shops cash in on the nocturnal hunger pangs.
A Crimson review of pizza last year touched off a "debate," as the pizza gourmets came out of the woodwork to defend their favorites. Joe's Pizza at 1 Linden St., and its sister shop on Plympton St., feature a thin crust. Pinocchio's at 74 Winthrop St. sells subs and pizza; most people who like a thicker crust frequent Pinocchio's.
The 24, at 24 Holyoke St., serves Greek food, but offers a small pizza which boasts nice cheese. The 24 also features grinders. Other pizza parlors exist farther away from the Square--check the Yellow Pages for the ones which deliver.
The Harvard greasy spoon is a well-established institution impervious to almost anything short of a full-scale nuclear attack. Elsie's and Tommy's have been feeding Harvard students since Christ was a corporal, and at 24 Holyoke St., where the 24 Restaurant recently replaced Hazen's, the greasy spoon will endure until the resurrection. Each eatery has its adherents, but they all serve about the same kind of food, Prices are highest at Tommy's. Bartley's Burger Cottage at 1246 Mass Ave has the best hamburger on the Square, far and away the best.
House grills are not of much interest to anyone but the people who live in the Houses. But almost every House has one; they're convenient, they're cheap, and they almost all have some specialty that is pretty good.
The grills generally offer sandwiches, frappes, ice cream, hamburgers, and munchies--though their offerings vary from House to House. More than one grill will sell you beer. Some carry yogurt and some minor health foods.
Practically nobody has been poisoned by the food served up on a House grill. Each House committee offers a grill franchies to House entrepreneurs, and whoever wins the franchise runs the thing for the next year or so. As a result the service varies, the cooking varies, and the hours vary--though it is safe to say that House grills are generally open late in the evenings and tend to close when the local entrepreneur decides to go to a basketball game.
58b Boylston St.
Soup is, obviously enough, the thing to have at Duck Soup. Though the menu has more than just soup on it, Duck Soup's versions of traditional offerings (which most people have tasted only out of the Campbell's can) are so much better that they can literally be meals in themselves. And the chili is hot enough to make an antihistamine spray seem like a good idea to clear smashed sinuses. Duck Soup is buried in the little jungle of specialty shops on Boylston St., but it's well worth the trouble to find it. And as long as the coffee is only a dime a cup, the prices will be hard to beat.
56 Boylston St.
Doubtless more than one high school French class has visited Fromage Import. In addition to having the kind of quaint setting every French teacher depicts as "typically" French, the restaurant's specialties--quiches and omelettes--are among those elementary French foods attempted by every French class at one time or another. Prices at Fromage Import are very reasonable--for under $2 you can get one of the specialties, a salad and a beverage ranging from mineral water to apple beer. A serving of mushroom, bacon, feta, chive, ham, spinach, mussel or ratatouille quiche is 95 cents. Even without your French class, a "field trip" to Fromage Import is worth it.
52 Boylston St.
The Hungry Persion offers good food at cheap prices. The fare consists mostly of combinations of meat and salads stuffed into Syrian pita bread. You can eat quickly, but the pleasant atmosphere makes a leisurely meal a promising prospect. The Hungry Persian is a refreshing change from hamburger sameness. Be sure to try the Phase Four special, a Nixonomics soybean variation of the standard Hungry Persian dish which the management claims is as tasty and more nutritious than the original. Friendly and informal, this place is certainly a Boylston St. bargain.
54 Boylston St.
The Patisserie Francaise, hidden in Boylston Street's collection of below street-level restaurants, offers relief from the madding undergraduate crowd common in Square restaurants. In exchange for somewhat expensive prices, the Patisserie provides several varieties of croissants, coffee, sandwiches and pastry. And if you are fortunate to find a seat it is yours for as long as it takes you to read the paper or write a portion of your current manuscript.
In the Yard
Mother Harvard doesn't exactly provide home cooking in Lehmann Hall. As a matter of fact, the food isn't any better than standard dining hall fare, and the prcies aren't so hot either--though they're certainly no worse than anywhere else. But the place is convenient, and you'll almost always find one of your sectionmen (past, present or future) sitting over coffee. Officially Lehmann Hall is run for Dudley House students, but anyone is welcome and the place has a reputation as a graduate student hangout.
As You Like It
1326 Mass Ave
To each his own. That is how we feel about this eatery, which can--if vitally necessary--be found on the corner of Mass Ave and Holyoke St. The fare is motley, ranging from some moderately expensive dinners to some over-priced delights. The menu, filled with cheesy Shakespearean quotes, nicely complements the fake-brick wallpaper.
22 Boylston Street
Within spitting distance of Harvard Square, Barney's serves New York style steaks with New York style prices. The latest gimmick is a 10 per cent surcharge to cover the rise in food prices. On football Saturdays, there are hordes of alums--the type who prefer not to drink from a make-shift tailgate bar. Downstairs at Barney's serves excellent hot sandwiches and beer at more moderate prices.
9 Brattle St.
Nothing is particularly pleasant about Zum Zum, but it's quick and it's cheap and you might want to have your lunch there if you are ever in a rush. The standard fare is a 55-cent frankfurter which is as good as any for sale in the Square. Sandwiches are also served; if you are not in the mood for a hot dog, order the pastrami on a bun. The side dishes at Zum Zum beef up what might otherwise be a skimpy meal. Light and dark beer is served, but if you are on the wagon Zum Zum's birch beer will do the trick.
4 Boylston St.
When we were freshmen, we thought the Wursthaus was a strange name for a restaurant. If the place is that bad, why advertise it? In all fairness, the pseudo-German spot has a fine selection of foreign lagers and ales, but the cuisine falls short.
The fare is your basic delicatessen offering but the pastrami and corned beef are fatty. And the sandwiches are not cheap; most of them go for $1.30 and up. So if you plan to check out the Wursthaus, do it after dinner for a beer. A Lowell House group plans to drink across Europe this fall--from Guiness to Pilsener--without ever leaving the restaurant.
Near Radcliffe, on Mass Ave
We didn't find out about the College Grille until junior year, probably because it's located up near Radcliffe on Mass Ave. If you're looking for decent pizza, good draft beer, and a nice atmosphere, don't wait that long.
But if you do decide to take the walk, wait until 11 p.m. and just order pizza. One group of eight made the mistake of going to the Grille for dinner--and one of the eight waited an hour for a hamburger. The pizza eaters had finished their meal and ordered another one.
1672 Mass Ave
Pasta lovers will not find a plethora of Italian restaurants in the Square area, and the best spot--Natalie's--is near Radcliffe. Although the spaghetti is superior, the best item on the menu is a $3 antipasto salad which is almost a meal in itself. The Caesar dressing adds just the right tang.
The spaghetti dinners start at $1.85 for a good mushroom sauce. The pasta noodles are excellent. The wine list is ordinary, but the prices are reasonable. The restaurant has a loyal clientele, so first-time customers can expect a line at the height of the dinner rush.
In Radcliffe Quad
Lightning probably won't strike the top of Hilles Library and you probably won't meet the Harvard or Radcliffe life mate of your dreams there. But the Hilles Coffee Shop is full of library users taking a study break, and God knows they aren't attracted exclusively by the food--which is pretty skimpy. Ice cream, pre-packaged cookies and brownies, doughnuts, and other standard House grill fare is about all that is offered. Hilles is a much nicer library than Lamont, and the Coffee Shop on the top floor is just one of the reasons. It's a nice place to go for a study break, but you'd have to be pretty desperate to actually go there for anything else.
1712 Mass Ave
The Midget (up near Radcliffe) is best at preparing the kind of food usually available from delicatessens. Although this Jewish style deli is not in the same league as Katz's Delicatessen on New York's lower east side (and it is not Kosher), in the Harvard Square area the Midget is probably the closest you'll come to a decent corned-beef-on-rye with a side order of kishka. The triple decker "College Sandwiches" are well worth their prices, and bagels with cream cheese and lox are available (a rarity in this town). The adjoining maxi bar and lounge is comfortable and its booze is served at reasonable prices. (Try the scotch-and-milk).
Young and Yee
27 Church St.
Young and Yee is at least the second best Chinese Restaurant in the Square, and given the Hong Kong's unreliability Young and Yee may well be number one. Young and Yee's food may not be great, but it is always reliable. The chow mein is passable but the best food Young and Yee has to offer are the specialties listed on the back of the menu. The servings are generous in size and relatively low in price. Two people can eat there for about $5.
Charlie owns two gathering places in Cambridge: one for workers, especially subway workers, and one for students. Located across from the entrance of the about-to-be-demolished subway barns, Charlie's Kitchen serves some of the best bar fare in Cambridge. The food is cheap, the waitresses pleasant and the atmosphere quiet. Charlie's Place, at 1 Bow St., is a lot louder. The food is downplayed, and the music turned up. Last year it emphasized the golden oldie tunes of the fifties routine, and was a place to have a good time. This year it will probably remain the same, and it will still be a better place to meet people than to eat meals.
75 Winthrop St.
Tucked away in a cramped but opulent cellar on Winthrop St., Casa Mexico is one of the best restaurants around. Go there for spicy Mexican food, candle-lit atmosphere, and fine service. Bring a lot of money.
Everything on the menu is spicy, and expertly prepared. Casa's straight-forward fare is based around enchiladas and tostadas (mainly combinations of meat, chicken or cheese rolled in dough, and usually served with beans and rice) and a few seafood dishes.
The fruit desserts are especially good, and the restaurant's unique blend of coffee is excellent. No liquor is served, but you can bring your own, and the restaurant staff will chill your wine and provide you with glasses.
All this comes at a price, however. The restaurant's cellar room is over-crowded with revenue-producing tables, and the floor arrangement allots little space to groups of two or three. Casa's prices, already high, have been raised by 10 per cent in the wake of recent increases in food prices, and a $4 minimum per person has been decreed, even though it is difficult to wheedle a $4 meal out of the menu. An average meal runs close to $8 a person, excluding tip.
237 Hampshire St.
For law-abiding seafood lovers Legal Seafood in Inman Square is the place to go. There are not many seafood houses in Cambridge but this one is excellent and probably the most reasonably priced around Boston. It is advisable to get there early since a two-hour wait later in the evening is not unusual. But if forced to wait, the clam bar upstairs is not a bad place to do it. The shrimp in garlic is one of the menu's highlights, and a bucket of steamers is always a good and relatively inexpensive dinner. All the salt water entrees are fresh, of course. The Legal Sweetshop is also worth a visit.
617 Concord Ave.
The best Japanese food in Cambridge can be had for a short trip to Fresh Pond. The prices are by no means low, but the food is good enough to make you forget how much you are shelling out.
The restaurant, patronized by the area's Japanese population, is divided into three parts roughly according to the kind of food served in each. The most exotic, and least crowded, section is the raw fish, or sushi, bar. Osaka's sushi is as good as any you are likely to find in the Northeast.
In the most popular section, Osaka offers teppan yaki, a preparation of bite-size pieces of tender beef broiled in front of you on an open stove. The third section, with standard restaurants and chairs, serves the traditional Western favorites--sukiyaki, teryaki and tempura. All full meals are accompanied by a delicious Japanese soup called miso, sunemono, a crab meat salad, and all the green tea you can drink. Of the liquors, the sake and plum wine are particularly worth trying.
33 Dunster St.
Spaghetti Emporium offers many good things to the Cambridge diner: the food, according to popular consensus, probably is not one of them.
The decor is the most attractive thing. While waiting for your order, wander around and look at the bizarre stained glass windows of Bobby Orr, Germaine Greer and other public heros. The tableau "How Spaghetti Grows" on the hall leading to the bathroom is worth its own trip to the john.
The spaghetti, although considered unimaginative by most, is occassionally bright and spicy. All meals include salad, dessert and coffee. A carafe of wine (the table red is excellent) brings the tab for an average meal for two to about $8. The Happy Hour--two drinks for the price of one--lasts from 4-10 nightly.
1 Winthrop Square
Interesting restaurants and reasonable prices are a rarity around Harvard, but both can be found in Grendel's Den.
Grendel's serves a European fare, either in their small dining room or outside on the patio. For lunch, the restaurant offers a buffet with two choices--"soup and salad" for $1.50 or "the works" for $2.25. The dinner menu includes shish-ke-bob variations and an eggplant dish, and the desserts are worth more than the price. A pleasant place where a meal costs under $5.
1236 Mass Ave
The Hong Kong has gone through an interesting metamorphosis: two years ago its food was generally lukewarm, usually greasy, and always mediocre. With its building renovation last year, however, came a renovation in food, and for a quick, relatively cheap Chinese meal, Hong Kong is now a good deal.
Lunch is recommended: low prices, more than you can eat, wide selection, reasonably fast service. Prices are higher at dinner, as is the caliber of the food in many cases, but it remains a pretty good buy.
500 Memorial Drive
Good Chinese food requires hours of preparation, and as fewer smuggled-in aliens find their way to restaurant kitchens, lovers of Oriental cuisine can expect their eating expenses to skyrocket--and even achieve parity with the prices of a less-interesting European diet. Joyce Chen, who long ago began providing Chinese food to Cambridge students wary of a venture into Chinatown, is leading this drive to respectability and the higher prices that come with it.
In short, the food is consistently good and the prices are just as dependably painful. Genuine Chinese delights can be found under Westernized names--"Peking Ravioli" is a delicious appetizer difficult to find outside New York. For a sampling generally satisfying to the most American of palates, the buffets are good occasions to run wild (Tuesday and Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons). Unfortunately, they will set you back $4.75 a head.
6 Bow St.
If its only distinction were that Underdog is the only place nearby where you can get a Hebrew National hot dog, that would be enough. But there's more: a wide variety of excellent sandwiches--including such delicacies as hot New York pastrami, corned beef, and combinations thereof--homemade desserts and other nasherai.
Prices may seem high at first glance, but your taste buds will overrule your wallet by a longshot. The people are unusually friendly, and Underdog's pinball prices are lower than most places in the Square. (It also has the distinction of having a copy of Outer Space undoubtedly the best machine ever made.)
If you're passing by, you might also check out the Underdog cart in Forbes Plaza--regular hot dogs only, but the same high quality.
The Blue Parrot
123 Mt. Auburn St.
For a lunch of reasonably good taste and moderate expense try The Blue Parrot. The Parrot is a hang-out for artsy types who linger over their meals, and if you don't mind waiting for a table or sharing your table with an artsy type this is as nice a place as any to get a sandwich or a snack of cheese and crackers. The luncheon menu is varied--the offerings range from a simple BLT sandwich to Hungarian goulash. Beer and wine is served, but the coffees are your best bet. The Parrot Viennese Velvet (coffee with ice cream, brazilia, and whipped cream) is the best of them. The Parrot stays open at night with a slightly more expensive version of the lunch menu.
1274 Mass Ave
Only a chain restaurant like La Crepe would promenade its waitresses in French costume and headdress to impersonate an intimate cafe. The effort, needless to say, fails miserably.
La Crepe's specialties are limited to crepes and omelettes, which are not well-concocted, not satisfying, and not cheap--considering the $2 to $3 a la carte price. If you find yourself trapped at La Crepe, take refuge in the onion soup grotinee and be sure to get a table in front so you can watch people walking to better restaurants in the Square.
These reviews were edited and compiled by Dwight L. Cramer, and written by the Crimson staff: Amanda P. Bennett, Andrew P. Corty, Lewis R. Clayton, Robin S. Freedberg, Geoffrey D. Garin, Jeremy L. Halbreich, Thomas H. Lee, H. Jeffrey Leonard, Steven M. Luxenberg, Richard J. Meislin, Peter I. Shapiro, Charles E. Shepard, and Emily Wheeler.