The 12 best Harvard Square restaurants

For great brunch, fine-dining, New England fare and more, these are the best Harvard Square restaurants to visit
Harvest
Photograph: Courtesy Harvest Harvest
By Eric Grossman and Time Out contributors |
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Visiting Harvard Square may be one of the quintessential things to do in the Boston area, but the iconic Cambridge neighborhood doesn’t always get its due as a dining destination. The loss of some stalwart Harvard Square restaurants, combined with the glare of flashier culinary counterparts elsewhere, has made the neighborhood fall down the foodie pecking order. But there’s good reason to return regularly, be it the square’s longstanding mainstays or its flashier newcomers. Here is our guide to the best Harvard Square restaurants so you can rediscover this delicious slice of Cambridge. Make a night of it by pairing dinner with one of the best free things to do in Boston, or check out our guide to the best live music in Boston. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston

Best Harvard Square restaurants

1
Harvest
Photograph: Courtesy Harvest/Dan Salafia
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Harvest

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

For more than 40 years, this 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 and homemade pastas are meticulously and imaginatively prepared; even a simple starter like turnip soup gets the four-star treatment. 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.

2
Alden & Harlow, Restaurants, Bars, Boston
Photograph: Kristin Teig
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Alden & Harlow

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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.

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3
Henrietta's Table, Restaurants, Boston
Photograph: Courtesy Henrietta's Table
Restaurants, American

Henrietta’s Table

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

When you’re in the mood for a farm-to-table experience, Henrietta’s Table is the place to do it. Killer weekend brunch service proves popular, as does the sunny courtyard patio (whenever the weather allows). The lengthy menus are filled with local, seasonal ingredients, even right down to flavorful, garden-themed cocktails. Expect a mix of locals, out-of-town business types, and eclectic guests of The Charles Hotel.

4
Waypoint
Courtesy Yelp/Cristina R.
Restaurants, Seafood

Waypoint

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

Chef Michael Scelfo of Alden & Harlow opened Waypoint, his second Cambridge restaurant, on the other side of Harvard Square. The menu applies Scelfo’s forward-thinking approach to coastal-inspired fare, resulting in an expansive and inviting menu. Starters run the gamut from raw bar and delicate crudo to classic caviar service with modern touches (plankton and white corn blini, anyone?) Seafood items are woven through an assortment of pizzas, pastas, and composed plates. The cocktail menu places a focus on absinthe, and the beer and wine lists are populated with inviting, hard-to-find options.

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5
Cafe Sushi
Photograph: Courtesy Cafe Sushi
Restaurants, Japanese

Cafe Sushi

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

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. 

6
Parsnip
Photograph: Courtesy Parsnip/WEC Photos
Restaurants, Contemporary American

Parsnip Restaurant

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

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.

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7
Russell House Tavern
© Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
Restaurants, American creative

Russell House Tavern

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

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.

8
Santouka
Photograph: Courtesy Facebook/Santouka
Restaurants, Japanese

Santouka

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

The Harvard Square location of this Japanese chain is a prime spot for students and tourists to get a fast, nourishing bowl of ramen. The signature tonkatsu is made by simmering pork bones for 20 hours, resulting in a deeply flavorful broth. Santouka also offers the lesser-known toroniku ramen, made with pork cheek meat. The vegetarian option—featuring menma kikurage mushrooms, soy marinated wheat gluten, and umeboshi—is also a worthy choice.

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9
Mr Bartley's Burger Cottage
Photograph: Michael Ascanio Peguero
Restaurants, Hamburgers

Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers

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There’s barely room to move amid the memorabilia that clutters this Harvard Square institution (est. 1960), never mind the crush of diners scoffing thick, juicy burgers and even thicker frappes (New England–speak for milkshakes). But don’t let that stop you; the tight squeeze is all part of the fun at a joint that features more than 20 burgers named after local and national pols and celebs (Melania Trump, Kim Jong-un), all accompanied by kitschy comments.

10
The Maharaja
Photograph: Courtesy The Maharaja
Restaurants, Indian

The Maharaja

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

You’ll feel like a maharaja dining here, amidst ornate Indian decor and place settings, with a view of Harvard Square through floor-to-ceiling, second-story windows. Traditional Indian hospitality means you’ll be well taken care of as you enjoy authentic cuisine. The menu features dishes like murgh malai kebab (chicken marinated in herbs and cream) and bhindi do pyaza (sauteed okra), not often found on other Indian menus. Check out the daily lunch buffet, packed with delicious options including vegetarian and vegan.

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11
Orinoco
Photograph: Courtesy Orinoco
Restaurants, Latin American

Orinoco: A Latin Kitchen

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

This cute, colorful Harvard Square haven isn’t fancy, but the setting—in a 19th-century bow-front building—is charming and the varied Venezuelan menu exudes authenticity and passion. Tuck into savory empanadas and arepas at wooden tables in the low-lit dining room, which retains its original tin walls, or settle into a summer evening on the secluded back patio. Either way, it’s the perfect prelude to a romantic flick at that date-night staple, the Brattle Theatre. 

12
The Hourly Oyster House
Photograph: Courtesy Yelp/Matthew S.
Restaurants, Seafood

The Hourly Oyster House

icon-location-pin Harvard Sq

Cheery, boisterous Harvard Square restaurant aims to deliver all of your most desired seafood dishes, prepared impeccably. Clam chowder, lobster bisque and fried oysters give way to classics like fish ‘n’ chips, seared scallops and whole roasted branzino; there’s also a separate lobster menu that includes a lobster roll and lobster and shrimp scampi. In the summer months, request a patio table in the charming hidden alley a couple of doors down.

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