Visiting it may be one of the quintessential things to do in Boston, but Harvard Square doesn’t always get its due as a dining destination. The loss of some iconic Harvard Square restaurants combined with the glare of flashier culinary counterparts elsewhere sometimes leave the Cambridge neighborhood an also-ran. But there’s good reason to return regularly, be it the square’s stalwart mainstays (Rialto, Harvest) or its flashier newcomers (Alden & Harlow, Parsnip)—and you can also get some of the best brunch in Boston in these parts. Here is our guide to the best Harvard Square restaurants so you can rediscover this delicious slice of Cambridge.
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Best Harvard Square restaurants
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.
Jody Adams (James Beard Award winner, Top Chef Masters contestant) provides one of the city’s most memorable dining experiences, proving she’s earned all the accolades. The dining room is breezy and elegant, with sheer curtains and splashes of orange. The menu, or should we say menus, are just as sensual and revealing of Adams’ passion for—and frequent travels to—Italy. Guests can choose from à la carte dining, four-course fixed-price menus that focus on an Italian region each month ($75), or the bargain-buyer’s three-course teatro menu, which is offered in the bar/lounge area only for $40 (or in the dining room upon request). It’ll get you in for a song, and that’s all that counts.
For 40 years, the refined Harvard Square restaurant has led the farm-to-table charge, celebrating regional ingredients with an elegant, seasonal menu that personifies “event dining.” This is New England cuisine at its finest: lobster, pork loin and homemade pastas are all meticulously and imaginatively prepared; even a simple starter like turnip soup gets the four-star treatment. The two-course “business lunch” is one of the Square’s hidden gems, while the three-course prix-fixe brunch is a decidedly grownup affair (no hangover hash here). Come summer, a seat on the garden terrace is one of the most coveted in the city. The term “institution” is bandied about way too frequently, but Harvest more than earns the honor.
The whole city mourned the departure of Upstairs on the Square, such was the iconic status of the 30-year-old institution. Comfort came in the knowledge that something notable would have to take its place, and Parsnip ably answers the call. Gone are Upstairs’ bright colors and zebra stripes; the new restaurant prefers neutral colors and sleek marble. The menu changes regularly but includes regular dishes like noisettes of lamb, veal tenderloin and potato and artichoke terrine. Don’t skip dessert—outre offerings like the dark chocolate brownie with popcorn ice cream deserve attention. The funkier, fireplaced upstairs lounge impresses with inventive bar food and an adventurous cocktail list.
The Sinclare offers a killer brunch: three Benedicts, three omelettes and four different waffle offerings (eternal dilemma: berries, bananas and Fluff or fried chicken and butter?) You’ll find a few surprises as well, including turkey hash, pork and beans, and breakfast tacos. A bacon Bloody Mary aperitif with a side of brioche donut holes never hurt anyone. Perfect hangover-killing food (er, we mean, study fuel).
Clover has quickly become something of an empire. Their food truck fleet has expanded handsomely, and you’ll find brick and mortar food labs in Burlington, Brookline and all over Cambridge. Healthful concoctions are Clover’s calling card, and while waiting in line, you’ll hear a lot of chatter about the chickpea fritter: golden-fried falafel, hummus, a drizzle of tahini and red pickled cabbage overflowing from a round, hearty bun. You can also score a soy BLT and barbecue Seitan. Alongside your feel-good selection, sip a brown-sugar lemonade or hibiscus iced tea.
When you’re in the mood to splurge on brunch, Henrietta’s Table is the place to do it. Two different brunch options are on offer, both of them elegantly presented and made from fresh, local ingredients. On Saturdays, you can pick three items from a selected collection of dishes on the breakfast and lunch menus for $35 per person. On Sundays, indulge in the decadent all-you-can-eat buffet for $45 per person: a raw bar, omelet and salad stations, fresh waffles, grilled vegetables, a number of hot entrées and several desserts are all featured. Orange juice, coffee and tea are unlimited. Brunch served noon–3pm Sat–Sun. Reservations for Sunday brunch are recommended but not required.
Whether or not you’re drawn in by the ’60s bohemian theme, there’s plenty to like about the Beat Brasserie. Like its South End sister the Beehive, this retreat from the bustle of Brattle Street features thoughtful cocktails and daily live music in a cavernous room with plenty of space for all.
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. Anyone looking for classier late-night fare will love their $1 oysters, available every night of the week after 11pm.
When you think Harvard Square, you think clubby, chic, understated. Park gives you all of that in a subterranean space full of leather seating, vintage ephemera and a well-heeled homey vibe. The menu plays with hearty New England classics like a meat pie, slow-roasted brisket, lobster and crab dip, and a patty melt. The bacon three-way—three different bacon-centric appetizers—is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, as is the extensive whiskey list. Brunch is an unapologetic booze-and-carbs affair: fried chicken and waffles and corned beef hash benedict are just two of the highlights.