This family-owned Japanese restaurant has satisfied Harvard Square’s sushi cravings for nearly 40 years. As such, Cafe Sushi has long-standing relationships with New England and Japanese seafood purveyors and is famous for five-piece chef’s-choice sushi samplers sporting fresh fish and flavor combinations. Recent spring specials have featured Firefly Squid nigiri with vinegary su-miso and scallion; young Japanese sea bream; and a maki roll of eel, avocado and cilantro topped with salmon and gochujang aioli. Takeout-only since reopening in 2020, Cafe Sushi still offers great food and sake to-go.
The Best Places to Eat around Harvard Square
The Best Restaurants in the South End
Where to Eat in Boston's Back Bay
As one of the Boston area’s most well-known neighborhoods, Harvard Square caters to its many students and tourists with a growing number of out-of-town chains. But with historic sites, good shopping, and live music and theater, this Cambridge community is so much more than flashy brands—restaurants and fast-casual counters included. From cool cocktail bars and bakeries to the family-owned restaurants thriving for years, here’s where to find the best places to eat around Harvard Square.
Stoked Pizza Co. has long been a favorite food truck, takeout option, and vegan pizza-go-to, and its original Brookline location has a bar with a casual, retro vibe. Still, it was a pleasant surprise in 2021 when Stoked debuted one of the grooviest cocktail bars in Cambridge. Located in a new building near Lesley University on Massachusetts Avenue, the restaurant is a mid-century mood of sculptural brass chandeliers and booths tucked into nooks with woven-wood panels. To pair with pizza and wings, the drinks go tropical, such as the strawberry-rum Birdie served up in a blown-glass bird, and The All Nighter of aged rums, spices, roasted pineapple, and cold-brewed coffee. Like Stoked’s signature New York-Neapolitan style of pies, it’s a match that just makes sense.
There are 20 Boston-area locations of Tatte Bakery & Cafe and counting, but this is a Harvard Square chain worth singling out. (Not only because indie Harvard Square coffee houses like Algiers, Cafe Pamplona, and Crema have all closed permanently in recent years.) A staple in the square since 2016, this two-story Tatte location offers plenty of space for studying—whether from your own books, or the efficient moves of Tatte’s pastry team working in the open bakery or baristas on the coffee bar. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can never go wrong with Shakshuka or a hunk of not-too-sweet, cinnamon-sugar Monkey Bread.
Wusong Road is a portal to a tropical paradise hidden in the Harvard Square Conductor’s Building, whose uniquely long levels are ideal for big, bustling bars. The first-floor Lantern Room serves up casual, Hong Kong café-style lunch plus boba tea and sake. The upstairs Tiki Bar menu of 12 classic cocktails is set in the style of the Chinese Zodiac: Jungle Bird for the tiger, Mai Tai for the dragon, etc. Chef Jason Doo is a Menton alum and a second-generation restaurateur who’s inspired by the connection between Tiki drink culture and American Chinese cuisine. It’s a good time with Pu Pu Platter essentials, including bao on house-baked milk buns that are guaranteed to delight by their cuteness as well as tastiness.
Dim lighting, hanging plant life, and a chill hip-hop soundtrack contribute to the laid-back vibe of this subterranean spot, but the menu at Alden & Harlow is anything but mellow. Chef Michael Scelfo’s food layers flavors for maximum craveability. Known for a burger crowned with crispy clothbound cheddar and small plates such as ravioli soaked in smoked chicken gravy, Pickled Corn Pancakes, and a Ubiquitous Kale Salad with creamy pistachio dressing, Alden & Harlow is veggie-forward for omnivores and a good time for brunch. Pro tip: head upstairs to Longfellow Bar for a post-dinner drink and more of Scelfo’s ostentatious style in bar food form.
Japanese import Santouka helped introduce Boston to really good ramen when it landed in Harvard Square in 2015, bringing with it long-simmered tonkotsu soups in the Hokkaido style. Shio Ramen, topped with springy noodles, tender pork, and a range of ready-to-dunk extras, is rightfully Santouka’s signature: The light and cloudy, salt-bolstered broth gives all the flavor without the heaviness that some bowls of ramen inflict. When we’re wanting something punchier, Spicy Miso is the move. The medium-sized restaurant on Bow Street often has a wait, but things move quickly and the dining room is comfortable.
Indirectly, we have Harvard University to thank for the Boston area’s best bakery chain: Flour Bakery + Cafe founder Joanne Chang graduated with honors before pivoting to cooking. Her Ivy League education in math and economics probably set her business up for success, but Chang’s mastery of flavor and pastry technique (she was named Outstanding Baker by the James Beard Awards in 2016) is why there’s a Flour in nearly every corner of Cambridge and Boston. A signature Sticky Bun, Mile High pies, super-moist banana bread, sandwiches, and more make Flour an indispensable breakfast and lunch spot in Harvard Square.
When you settle in at an elegantly set table overlooking the heart of Harvard Square, it’s easy to understand how The Maharaja became a special-occasion dinner standby. Since 2011, the second-floor restaurant has offered traditional Indian cuisine in a stately setting, with authentic recipes and decor on display and wall-to-wall windows. Garlic Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala are some of the most popular dishes for good reason, but don’t overlook the house specialty Maharaja Dal Makhani, a vegetarian dish of richly spiced, creamed lentils; or the tender, boneless Kadhai Chicken in a tangy tomato sauce stir-fried with bell peppers and onions.
At Waypoint, chef Michael Scelfo is doing for seafood what he did to vegetables at Alden & Harlow: Make flavors pop with often-local ingredients. The menu is a choose-your-own-adventure book featuring fruits de mer, from spicy Chopped Clam Pizza and silky, smoky Uni Bucatini to small plates and roasts to share. The airy, cool-neon-lit dining room has a raw bar dishing up punchy crudos and $1 oysters every Monday through Thursday evening. An absinthe-focused bar program, meanwhile, mixes cocktails that are every bit as inventive as they are potent.
Forgive us if we also put Pammy’s on our guide to Central Square dining. Situated on Massachusetts Avenue between the two Red Line stops, this “new American trattoria” is well-worth walking a block beyond either well-worn square for great food. Chef Chris Willis is inspired by Italy in important ways, like hand-making pastas and sourcing excellent produce, proteins, wine and amari. In overlapping ways—see: spicy-gochujang Lumache Bolognese, a seasonal Hiramasa Crudo with vibrant citrus segments and green garlic tofu—this romantic, comfortably elegant restaurant embodies the best of Cambridge.
Eric Twardzik contributed reporting.