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The 10 best restaurants in Cambridge

The best restaurants Cambridge has to offer, from great pizzerias to fine-dining restaurants to top brunch spots

Photograph: Courtesy Loyal Nine/Cody O'Loughlin

It’s strange but true: Boston’s best restaurants are now in Cambridge. If your list of things to do in Boston is dominated by thoughts of filling your belly, then the student Mecca is where you want to be. It’s here that you will find some of the best pizza in Boston, as well as great brunches and buzzy, envelope-pushing fine-dining. On the hunt for Boston’s most inventive restuarants? Cambridge should be your first stop.

RECOMMENDED: See the best restaurants in Boston

Best restaurants in Cambridge

1

Craigie on Main

The buzz surrounding this upscale culinary hot spot is centred on local “snout-to-tail” pioneer Tony Maws. The chef-proprietor uses the best local and organic ingredients for his Franco-American creations. While there are plenty of à la carte choices, the eight-course tasting menu, which might include such dishes as crispy-fried Florida frogs’ legs, hiramasa sashimi salad or rhubarb-hibiscus mousse, provides an overview of Maws’s seasonal cuisine. But the Chef’s Whim, a six- or four-course tasting menu offered Sunday evenings after 9pm, is an affordable alternative that won’t break the piggybank. The (off-menu) grass-fed beef burger is the stuff of legend.

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Central Square
2

Oleana

Two tiny, coolly pretty dining rooms and an enormously popular garden patio provide a showcase for chef-owner Ana Sortun's passion for and mastery of the hauntingly aromatic cuisines of Turkey, Greece, Armenia, Morocco, Egypt and Sicily. Most of the small plates are memorable, while many of the desserts are downright extraordinary.

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Cambridge
3

Study

We always knew the Journeyman folks would strike again. Study is the second full-bore restaurant effort from the team of Diana Kudayarova and Tse Wei Lim, who also have Backbar and Ames Street Deli under their belts. Like the nearby Café ArtScience, Study is downright experimental with its menu, which means you’re regularly encountering dishes unlike any others in the city. A handrolled pici pasta comes with both lamb heart ragu and sea urchin; duck is accompanied by a rye pasta; chicken is smoked instead of roasted. A $69 rib-eye is a once-a-year treat, but the strange-ingredient desserts (green tea, potato) are a must. If you’re feeling adventurous, turn yourself over to the kitchen and and let the chefs prepare a $110-per-head feast for the whole table.

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Kendall Square
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4

Alden & Harlow

Duck into this subterranean hideaway—the former site of Harvard Square institution Casablanca—and discover a bustling multi-room dining and drinking destination that balances a rustic laid-back vibe with an industrial edge. The reclaimed wood and brick walls add warmth to the sprawling space, as do the honey-colored glass lanterns that hang over the bar. There’s a small atrium dining room; high-top tables in the bar area; and the main dining room, where guests can glimpse the open kitchen through metal shelving stacked with cookbooks. The American cuisine of chef-owner Michael Scelfo reflects a similar juxtaposition—chef-driven home-cooking with an edge, such as smoked lamb belly ribs with carrot and cashew tahini and sour orange glaze. Most main courses are under $20, unless you entertain the 16-ounce Creekstone Farms New York strip.

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Harvard Square
5

TW Food

Perhaps the most under-sung restaurant in Boston. For years, chef Tim Wiechmann has quietly celebrated his rock-solid relationships with regional fisherman, farmers and foragers, turning out two nightly tasting menus—one three courses, one six—that commend rather than obscure the daily sourced ingredients. Wine pairings are highly encouraged, as Wiechmann and his wife and co-proprietor, Bronwyn, highlight tiny and lesser-known vineyards; at the end of the meal, Bronwyn will happily tell you where to pick up a bottle of your new favorite rosé. Brunch is another find, with rutabaga eggs Benedict and what-the-hell desserts like maple pound cake and a daytime sundae.

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Cambridge
6

Shepard

At the end of the day, our tastes are simple: we all love grilled food. Restaurant warhorses Rene Becker and Susan Regis have taken that knowledge and translated it into a cooking philosophy. Their neighborhood spot in the former Chez Henri space just outside Harvard Square celebrates our seasonal bounties with French flair but zero pretension. The menu changes according to season and daily bounty, but the woodfired stove plays a central role in both preparation and presentation (the kitchen is partially open to diners). The half-chicken, plated in pre-cut slabs, is one of those simple marvels that makes you wonder why every restaurant in town isn’t executing the staple dish as well.

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Harvard Square
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7

Giulia

Chef-owner Michael Pagliarini and his wife Pamela Ralston pamper their guests with a warm welcome, friendly, professional service and killer pastas that are hand made by day on a custom-made table used to accommodate large groups at night. Brick walls and candlelight keep the vibe romantic and rustic. The all-Italian wines pair well with the dishes, which are often inspired by the chef’s travels to Italy. Diners who gawk at others’ plates quickly get recommendations. Try the popular pappardelle with wild boar or spaghetti alle vongole—both are al dente, flavorful and prove Pagliarini’s mettle. As good as the pastas and secondi are, though, you won’t want to forgo dessert—in particular, the chocolate terrine.

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Cambridge
8

Bondir

You’d never guess that beyond the nondescript brick façade are an enchanting farmhouse dining room, a roaring fireplace and a daily edited menu that takes full advantage of the ebb and flow of seasonal and local ingredients. Chef-owner Jason Bond spent 20 years in New England restaurant kitchens before showcasing his talents via local produce, seafood and meats. It shows in the small yet careful selection of four courses—Maine halibut with baby brussels sprouts and shellfish emulsion, pistachio steam cake with poached figs, for example—and house-made breads. Presentations are elegant, not stuffy. Guests sip an aperitif in front of the fire before heading to their table where old church pews (with cushions!) serve as seats.

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Cambridge
9

Area Four

This Kendall Square brick oven pizza purveyor is known across town for its signature flatbreads, made with a focus on back-to-basics recipes using simple, high quality ingredients and 30-hour-fermented dough. The weekend brunch menu is a hearty affair with pastries from the A4 cafe like orange matcha scones and blueberry cornbread making a welcome appearance.

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Kendall Square
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10

Loyal Nine

“Colonial-inspired fare”? Doesn’t that mean baked beans and brown bread? As it happens, Loyal Nine has a terrific bread program and a delicious bean appetizer (fried soldier beans), but this is not your great-great-great-great grandmother’s cuisine. Rather, Loyal Nine takes inspiration from yesteryear preparations. Ham is roasted with chicories and fermented molasses; fluke gets poached in duck fat; a vegetarian entrée starts with a grain porridge as its base. Befitting a spot so reverential of New England ingredients, seafood gets more than its fair shake, with poached shrimp, marinated mussels and scup tartare just three of the “on ice” appetizers. If you’re feeling at all intimidated, simply opt for the shared supper—the kitchen will choose dinner for the entire table. The popover-centric brunch and takeaway morning café will both expand your before-noon repertoire.

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Cambridge

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