This is part three of a Flyby series with advice for the Class of 2021. Part one can be found here and part two 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 FOURTH LAYER: BURGERS, BREADS, AND MEATS
Burgers, sandwich shops, and meat eateries, while popular with tourists and wide-eyed high-school visitors, will probably comprise less of your diet than they did at home (especially if you come from In-N-Out country).
Tasty Burger is a more recent addition to Mt. Auburn St., but judging from the long lines that clog the restaurant every weekend night, it feels like it has been here forever. The two-floor restaurant offers classic burger joint food, along with several combo options. The first floor offers a traditional diner atmosphere with polished counters and tables, while the downstairs features a cavern-like bar with additional tables.
We admit these aren’t the tastiest burgers in the world, but you can’t go wrong with the $10 Starvin’ Student deal that includes a hamburger, beer, and fries—especially just before last call at 4 a.m.
Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers, a renowned Square institution, has an extensive and very good menu of high quality burgers named after politicians, professors, and other notables. Make no mistake, these are tasty burgers—we like the simple “Mitt Romney” with cheese and grilled onions, but there are options to suit any fancy.
The frappes, fries, and onion rings are similarly scrumptious. So why does Bartley’s not play that big a role in the consumption of the average undergraduate? They’re just a bit too expensive ($10-$13, usually) and visits take a bit too long (45 minutes, at least). Most of the time you’ll be on the go and won’t want to drop that much money or time. Grab Bartley’s when you get the chance, though, as the burgers are iconic.
Flat Patties is a quick, cheap (less than $4), and very greasy burger. It’s generally overlooked as a food option, without reason, and should be considered strongly if you’ve got that deep cheeseburger craving.
Boston Burger Company makes the most exotic burgers in the Cambridge area, with options like the “Bahama Mama,” made with a conch burger, mango salsa, and jerk mayo, and the “Green Monstah,” complete with guacamole, pico de gallo, and cheddar jack cheese. Just a short walk down Mass. Ave., this burger joint is worth the walk (and calories). The burgers are a little spendier than most of the Square options ($10 to $15 each), but your taste buds won’t be disappointed.
If you really want to go for it, add on one of their signature milkshakes. These things are piled high with treats, from cookies to candy to even a piece of red velvet cake. Maybe hold off on the “Artery Clogger,” their signature deep fried burger with bacon and barbecue sauce, if you are trying to avoid the Summer Ten.
Another member of the Harvard Square burger joint club, Shake Shack, while overrated, should still be visited by every student at least once. Shake Shack, a national chain, is overrun by tourists in New York City, so appreciate the shorter lines and room to breathe at the Shake Shack in the Square. Sure, the burgers are thin and expensive, but the special shack sauce is delicious and you’ll get to say you visited the landmark burger stop (and then never have to visit it again).
—Cecilia R. K. Barron and Grace R. Ramsdell contributed to this piece.