Best restaurants in Cambridge
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.
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.
Since 1975, this refined Harvard Square stalwart has led the farm-to-table charge, celebrating regional ingredients with an elegant, seasonal menu. The kitchen personifies a sophisticated approach to New England dining; locally-sourced seafood and meats, plus homemade pastas, are all meticulously and imaginatively prepared. The two-or three-course business lunch provides one of the area's best fine dining deals. Come summer, a seat on the garden terrace is one of the most coveted in the Square.
You’d never guess that beyond the nondescript brick façade 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. Guests sip an aperitif in front of the fire before heading to their table where old church pews (with cushions!) serve as seats.
There’s a shabby-chic vibe at this restaurant located near Inman Square; kitchen towels serve as napkins, and the dining room is dotted with vintage furniture. (The host stand is a vintage Glenwood oven.) Chef-owner Will Gilson’s menu is packed with locally-sourced ingredients and New England touches. House-made Parker House rolls are served with butter that's been whipped with yogurt and sea salt. Highlights include swordfish pastrami, a griddled turnip cake with smoked ham, and an entree of baked cod with lobster stew, salt cod fritters, and wax beans.
Surrounded by world-class research and scientific offices, Café ArtScience is a one-of-a-kind restaurant—half familiar dining experience, half sensory trip. It’s not a laboratory in the traditional sense of beakers and lab-coat technicians, though servers wear white shirts and bartenders extract “alcohol paints” with a fractional distiller. The brainchild of Harvard University professor David Edwards, it’s the food and beverage arm of his adjacent art/design/scientific innovation hub, Le Laboratoire. The bar produces some of the city's most inventive, unusual cocktails, while the kitchen churns out attractive dishes that exude modernist flair, never sacrificing flavor or quality. Cozy couch seating (along with marble tables and chairs) encourages chemistry between guests.
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.
Duck into this subterranean hideaway 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.
This 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.
Smart diners know to go where the chefs go. Cafe Sushi attracts many of the area’s best cooks as they look to kick back over affordable plates of perfectly prepared maki and nigiri. All the standards are here, from salmon skin rolls to hamachi sashimi, at prices rarely seen inside city limits. But the signature makimono is where things get interesting: ceviche maki, spicy salmon citrus roll, hamachi Ssam Jang temaki and oshiiyushi (pressed sushi), complemented by side orders of salmon roe and seared avocado. Then there’s the kama (broiled fish collar) menu, a rarity ‘round these parts and a revelation to anyone usually dismissive of lesser known seafood cuts.
Parsnip offers a sophisticated, adult dining environment filled with modern art, neutral colors, and sleek marble. The menu is as modern and progressive as the design, and changes hyper seasonally, every few weeks. For a funkier, more casual option, head upstairs where the lounge impresses with inventive bar food and an adventurous cocktail list.
In Central Square, Pagu is helmed by Tracy Chang, a wunderkind who got her start at O Ya. The sleek, two-story loft space is patrolled by familial servers. Even the name is a treat: Japanese for “pug” and a homage to Chang’s own canine master, Phoebe. But it’s the food that’s the ultimate revelation here: ikura avocado toast, pork belly bao, sea scallop sashimi and comfort fare like Chang’s childhood fried rice. Order the prix fixe menu or go à la carte. Chang’s famed ramen features house-made alkaline noodles, pork belly, umami oil, nori, and a six-minute egg.
With patio seating, a stylish tavern upstairs and a cozy subterranean dining space below, Russell House has a place for everyone. In summer months, sip a cocktail from their list of classics and enjoy the prime people-watching location of the patio and the breezy open windows of the upper level. In chillier months, slip downstairs for slow-cooked chicken or a burger. Russell House is also a popular brunch destination, serving up favorites like eggs benedict and stuffed brioche french toast alongside more inventive options such as a slow-roasted pork loin with hoisin-ginger sauce and a “dirty” caesar salad made with black kale.
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.
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.