This is part two of a Flyby series with advice for the Class of 2021. Part one can be found here and part three can be found 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.
Cheap pizza in the Square is an ongoing battle between the Sicilian-style king of the hill and a number of thin-crusted foes.
Pinocchio’s, more commonly known as Noch’s, is the Goliath of the pizza scene and has been serving up thick square slices of pizza to inebriated college students for decades. Tomato basil and pepperoni are popular, classic choices, and the subs are a stealthily good option for a lunchtime meal. Until a few years ago, Noch’s reputation was such that it held a near monopoly on speedy and inexpensive slices in the Square. Competition is always good, though, right?
The Just Crust lives up to its name with tasty ultra-thin and massively wide slices. You’ll balk at the $3+ cost per slice, until you see one. Let’s just say four of them would probably make a very good sized pizza. This award-winning chain is picking up steam across the Boston area, and for good reason. The ever-rotating slice of the day provides nice variety from the standard cheese and pepperoni, and you can get full pizzas delivered in case you’re concerned you might burn off a hundredth of the calories in your meal on the walk over.
Oggi is another entrant in the thin crust category. It’s basically the Qdoba to the Just Crust’s Chipotle—not quite as good (but good enough), and closer. You won’t go wrong eating here, but it won’t blow anyone out of the water.
Otto Pizza, which snagged one of the best pieces of real estate in Harvard Square, features 24 specialty pizzas. Some have potatoes. Some have squash. But all of them have too much of one thing: grease. Otto is no replacement for Noch’s, but it certainly presents a good alternative when you’re tired of Noch’s characteristic thick crust.
Cambridge 1 is probably the best first-date restaurant in the Square, and it serves a mean thin-crust pizza to boot. It won’t break the bank despite its gourmet, fairly healthy toppings, and it has that perfect fancy-but-not-too-fancy ambiance. The grilled chicken and lobster are particular favorites, and you can share two half-pizzas with a lucky lady or gentleman. If you landed a dinner date with that cute girl from class, go here. Trust us.
The Hong Kong Restaurant is the only eatery to get its own layer, and with good reason. Harvard’s social scene practically mandates weekly 2 a.m. Kong visits, and you will probably go here more than most of the restaurants on this list combined.
Picking “your dish” at the Kong is an essential decision to be made early this summer, as you will likely stick with it for years (and perhaps decades) to come. Scallion pancakes, crab rangoon, and egg rolls are popular “smaller” dishes, but those who play to win go for one of the massive combination plates.
You’re not really a pro until you know the number of your order at the Kong and can recite it coherently in slurred speech. An unfriendly visit to the Kong bathroom—often brought on by the lethal “Scorpion Bowl” brew—is a Harvard rite of passage.
—Cecilia R. K. Barron and Grace R. Ramsdell contributed to this piece.