This is part one of a Flyby series with advice for the Class of 2021. Part two can be found here and part three here. Check back for future installments on cheap eats, Boston excursions, the best coffee spots, and so much more.
Harvard Square is brimming with food options, particularly in comparison to most college towns. But you’ll find that unless it’s someone’s birthday or you’re going on a date, many of the restaurants will be out of your price range. Luckily, the affordable food scene is vibrant and nuanced. From speedy lunch fare to late-night grease binges, Flyby has you covered.
So what are your choices? Think of it as a pyramid: The key food groups of the Square are burritos, pizza, burgers/breads/meats, ice cream, and The Kong. The pyramid is not designed to tell you what you should eat (it’s all basically unhealthy), but more of a breakdown of what you will eat.
If you’re worried about the Freshman (or Sophomore, Junior, or Senior) 15, don’t despair—consuming this food isn’t required. But you’ll probably get bored of the dining hall every once in awhile, and the pyramid will get you up to speed quickly.
THE FOUNDATION: BURRITOS
The number of burrito options in the Square has spiraled out of control in the last few years—two new national commercial outfits have entered what was already a crowded market. Sometimes you’ll feel like it’s hard to find cheap food that isn’t a burrito, so knowing your tortilla-wrapped meat and/or vegetables is essential for a prospective Square eater.
Qdoba and Chipotle are those big chains that you’ve probably heard of or sampled at some point. They’re not bad for a solid, calorific meal, and are practically mirror images in terms of store layout and ingredients (chicken, steak, rice, beans, salsa, etc.), though Chipotle’s slightly cheaper. Devotees will argue that Chipotle’s burritos taste significantly better, while others say there is little difference between the two. We come down somewhere in the middle—Chipotle’s meat seems to have a marinade that makes it slightly more flavorful, but the difference is often not enough to keep us from the several-blocks-closer Qdoba outpost. However, if you truly cannot decide, El Jefe’s, a new burrito joint near the Garage, is a perfect split between the two. It’s closer than Chipotle, and better than Qdoba—a perfect balance.
Felipe’s is the old-line, late-night, simple-and-tasty choice. The super burrito is a mouthwatering melange of basic ingredients prepared and rolled in under five seconds by a guy who will pay only passing attention to your requests to deviate from the basic recipe. Want black beans instead of pinto? Better say it loud, early, and often. Aside from the Ford assembly line-esque service, Felipe’s provides a generally delicious (if perhaps unhealthy) burrito experience. Heck, maybe he does know what you want in your burrito better than you do.
Border Cafe is one of the most popular restaurants in the Square, and as a consequence it’s adopted a hey-you-can-take-your-customer-service-and-shove-it attitude. Oh, are only four of the five people in your party here? We can’t seat you until the fifth arrives. What’s that you say about it being lunchtime on a Wednesday in the summer, and the restaurant being less than a quarter full? Next in line, please.
Aside from these quibbles, Border has an hour-long wait on most weekend nights for two key reasons: It has the twenty-something bar scene nailed down, and it serves the burro. The burro, while not technically a burrito, hits the spot like no other dish in the Square. It’s basically a burrito slathered in melted cheese and a little bit of enchilada sauce. While some complain that they can “still feel the burro the next day” and “feel like they’re sweating burro for weeks,” nothing will address hunger pangs like a burro. Nothing.
—Cecilia R. K. Barron and Grace R. Ramsdell contributed to this piece.