By Molly McDonough · 02/14/2018    Cambridge · Asian Fusion · Tapas · $$$

The food is Spanish, but it’s also Japanese. You can linger over prix fixe, or swing by for a bag of granola. The din of the dining area promotes private conversation, but the same room morphs quickly into a bustling community space. Pagu is a series of juxtapositions—the result of a curious soul channeling her eclectic formative experiences into a passion project.

Late-night popup star chef, gastronomic science teaching fellow, and “ramen wave” hairstyle icon Tracy Chang opened her first brick-and-mortar restaurant between Central and Kendall squares in early 2017. The young local was ready; equipped with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, she’d also spent time in the kitchen at Restaurante Martin Berasategui, a three-star Michelin spot in San Sebastian, Spain. It’s no surprise, then, to see the leg of jamón Ibérico proudly festooned to along the chef’s bar, waiting to be sliced and splayed atop tomato-rubbed pane, or steaming plates of crispy, hot, melt-in-the-mouth croquetas being ported to diners sipping gin and tonics.

Squid ink oyster bao from Pagu

But Chang also draws from experiences closer to home. Growing up, she worked the cash register in a Japanese restaurant owned by her grandmother Chin-Fun Shuie, a Taiwanese immigrant. (Maybe we have Chin-Fun to thank for the Childhood Fried Rice, a nostalgic mix with Taiwanese sausage, egg, diced carrot chunks, and peas.) Chang ventured back into the culinary world while studying finance in college, landing a stage and then a line cook position at acclaimed sushi restaurant O Ya—not bad for a first kitchen gig. Years later, she’d team up with O Ya coworkers to found Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, a popup offering the famous pork belly and homemade noodle soup that’s now a permanent fixture on Pagu’s menu.

Gucchi's midnight ramen from Pagu

Izakaya and tapas already have plenty in common—snackability, vibrancy, compatibility with booze—but Pagu fuses them further to hammer the concept home. Our favorite example might be the Cedar Campfire Cod: The fish is baked between sheets of cedar and presented exuding aromas of smoky Spanish wood—with an umami boost from shiro miso and an accompanying seaweed salad. The menu never crosses the line from fusion to kitsch; plenty of other plates, like the salmon crudo or the tortilla, keep things relatively simple. Meanwhile, dishes like the Squid Ink Oyster Bao and Cheesy Wafflato, conceived with a healthy dose of creative instinct, are solidifying Pagu’s position as a local classic.

Salmon crudo from Pagu

Come here in the daytime for coffee, pastries, bottomless congee, and avocado toast, and don’t leave without a bag of Chang’s signature granola—a not-too-sweet mix that includes puffed rice and kamut, organic oats, and maple syrup.

Pagu will roast a suckling pig for you. Order at least a week ahead for 10 or more people.

The restaurant can be transformed into a series of smaller rooms of varying sizes available to rent out for parties and events.

Must Haves

  • Made with potatoes, cheese, and pastry dough for extra softness, Pagu’s perfect bar snack is everything for fans of browned-to-a-crisp waffle edges.

  • You can’t go wrong with either rendition of Pagu’s pillowy buns. Stuffed with fried oyster or pork belly, each bao is a savory study in color and texture.

  • A mix of three broths, homemade noodles, and the most perfectly cooked egg, this ramen has become a cult favorite. Can be slurped solo, but the staff will also split it if you want to share alongside other tapas plates.

  • Buttery, savory, and falling apart flake by flake, this filet is served on your own personal tableside palo santo (a smoking sheet of cedar wood).

Fun Fact

Self-proclaimed “crazy pug lady” Tracy Chang made her pet Phoebe the mascot of her restaurant. ("Pagu" also means “pug” in Japanese.)

Tastes of PAGU

So good we can't stop writing about it. Read more about PAGU!

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