The Best Restaurants In Cambridge
photo credit: The Mad Monkfish
There aren’t many cities in the world where you can find yourself walking past a Nobel Prize-winning physicist on one block and a world-famous professor-turned-podcaster on the next. But Cambridge is one of them, which is why there’s a lot of great food here to fuel all that brainpower.
You’ll find all the Boston staples here: new and old Italian spots, lobster rolls, and plenty of places that brag about their immaculate New England seafood and produce. And yet, our favorite places tend to do things you won’t find anywhere else in the city, like an Afghani spot that’s been making mantwo for over 30 years and a ramen joint where you’ll be asked to profess your dreams at the end of the meal.
We’re obsessed with how much Pagu is obsessed with pugs—there are tons of little statues hidden around the restaurant, along with pictures in the bathroom of cartoon pugs dressed up as superheroes. The theme is reason enough to visit this Japanese-Spanish spot in Central Square, but you’ll end up staying for (and loving) the togarashi-sprinkled boquerones, squid-ink oyster bao, and perfectly marbled koji-marinated wagyu striploin. You should probably make a reservation, but it’s easy to walk in and grab a seat at the warmly lit bar for a few small plates solo. Save room for the caramel-drizzled matcha soft serve and creamy Basque cheesecake.
This Middle Eastern counter-service cafe and bakery in West Cambridge, which comes from the same team behind Oleana and Sarma, is one of those places where you can easily walk in and linger for hours. Snack on mozzarella-stuffed börek and date turmeric rolls for breakfast, and then toss out any other plans you might’ve made for the day in favor of muhammara, whipped feta, and tahini hummus with beef for lunch. Before you know it, you’re getting some to-go spinach falafel and lamb shawarma for dinner. Oh, and now you have to catch up on all the errands you didn’t get done.
What we love most about Bar Enza is that it can be anything you want it to be, whether you’re celebrating an anniversary, meeting a client, or having a reunion with your rowdiest friends from college. The menu has things like tomato focaccia served with whipped ricotta, baked pasta brimming with pork shoulder and fontina, and a fish stew with generous portions of monkfish and mussels. The soft lighting and cozy touches like pink velvet upholstery create a fun, laid-back mood where you’ll want to hang out and nurse Negronis all night.
Japanese izakaya, meet New England ingredients. The menu at this spot goes heavy on shareable seafood plates like monkfish katsu, lobster miso soup, and soy sauce-seasoned scallops that are all great for pairing with a sake flight while sitting by the crackling fireplace. Think about the place like a casual izakaya meets a cocktail bar, which means you can walk in on any weeknight for a post-work bite with colleagues or go for an impromptu date night, and still make it home in time to do your full skincare routine.
This Inman Square bistro serves peak New England-style food, with some modern remixes. Clam chowder gets a drizzle of chive oil and a sprinkling of sugar-cured bacon, while bluefish is smoked and turned into a creamy pate spread across toasted rye. The restaurant leans heavily on local produce, mostly from the chef’s family farm in nearby Groton. Even the vibes feel very New England—you’ll feel like you’re eating dinner in a renovated farmhouse that just happens to be in Inman Square.
The dining room at Pammy’s, a restaurant located between Harvard and Central Squares, is a little fancy. Maybe that's because of the wood-burning fireplace or the almost-lifesize statue of Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest, resting on the back of the bar. But thanks to the easygoing service and buzzing crowd, it’s relaxed enough to make that blind date your aunt set up (and has been talking about for months) a little less awkward. The three-course, $79 prix fixe is mostly Italian, but incorporates ingredients from all over the world—think a tripe mafaldine pasta drizzled with chili oil and a gochujang-laced lumache bolognese.
At Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square, the only decision you have to make is whether you want two or five slices of chashu in your ramen. The only menu item is a giant bowl of thick, chewy noodles swimming in rich pork broth, which is absolutely worth the inevitable wait to get in. After you finish, the staff will ask you if you’d like to stand up and share your dreams out loud with the other 15 to 20 diners in the tiny shop (Yume Wo Katare loosely translates to “tell your dream” in Japanese). Yes, this is a real (and kind of lovely?) thing that happens here.
The smoky, sour, fiery-hot food of China’s Hunan province isn’t easy to track down in Boston. Thankfully, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen in Kendall Square exists. All the dishes on the enormous menu are served family-style, and almost everything is spicy, whether it’s braised frog, cumin-y sizzling lamb, or green pepper with century egg. Come here with a group that relishes heat, or that friend with a low spice tolerance who you love to torture. The cocktails are pretty unique too, especially the drinks made with the Chinese sorghum-based spirit baijiu, which you can put away while listening to the live bands that perform here on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Split-top buns filled with fresh lobster meat are as central to Boston’s identity as Dunkin’, or Ben Affleck, or Ben Affleck drinking Dunkin’. But Alive & Kicking takes a different approach to the classic. Instead of a roll, this tiny seafood counter hidden away on a residential street (in the driveway of the owner’s home) serves its “lobster sandwich” on two slices of buttered toast, and it’s one of the best bites of crustacean in the area. Pick one up for an on-the-go lunch, or grab a picnic table for an outdoor seafood feast that should also include chowder, bisque, and steamed shellfish.
Boston can’t compete with New York City’s wealth of Jewish delis. And that’s OK, because at least we have this incredible Kendall Square joint. The staples like whitefish salad, chopped liver, pastrami, and lox are all excellent, and you should always prioritize some kind of carb like house-baked bread, bagels, bialys, and babka. Come here the next time you’re looking for a casual lunch spot, a breakfast to take on the go, or just want to order from a brunch menu that doesn’t have eight pages of eggs—the crispy latkes and matzah ball soup are soul-nourishing any time of day.
Once you try this Inman Square restaurant’s namesake hearty Brazilian seafood stew, you’ll want to make this dining room your second home—or at least become a faithful regular, especially on cold winter nights. The dish is impossibly comforting, with generous portions of tender fish, shrimp, and calamari. But the seafood-heavy menu, with must-orders like deep-fried red snapper and shrimp bobo, is a treat year-round. And don’t miss Muqueca’s sleeper hit: the non-alcoholic juice line-up, which has stuff like a pineapple-and-mint concoction and a mango-and-papaya blend.
First impressions are important—just ask Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice—and Gustazo Cuban in Porter Square knows this. You’ll immediately notice the art-house film posters and salsa-heavy playlist coming out of the speakers, which makes it a place for a fun dinner, with dishes highlighting the Spanish, Caribbean, and African influences on Cuban cooking. Get the crispy fried yuca, mussels with a chorizo sauce, and savory-sweet guava-glazed ribs, and pair it all with one of the cocktails or non-alcoholic drinks that feature ingredients like tobacco spray and lapsang souchong tea. And while you can make a reservation, you don't really need one—the seats at the mosaic tile-lined back bar are usually open and are our favorite place to be.
A meal at Little Donkey is like booking a flight to every continent, except you don’t have to deal with extreme jetlag and you’ll be eating nonstop the whole way through. Start with hamachi sashimi and Filipino-style ceviche, move on to pupusas with honeynut squash and Turkish manti, and end on a high note with the cocoa-nib cookie dough and pandan brownie sundae. This place is laid-back and doesn’t take itself too seriously—you won’t be embarrassed about bringing your loudest friend who likes getting shots for the table, but you’ll be equally comfortable coming here with your second cousin you’ve only met twice.
Is it a jazz lounge? Is it a sushi restaurant? Mad Monkfish is a combination of both, and one of our favorite group dinner spots in the area. Come on a Friday or Saturday night when you can listen to a trumpet solo while eating a spread of rolls, Thai curries, or seafood fried rice. There’s the Sleeping Beauty with yellowtail and pineapple, not to mention the Gaga’s Monster Roll which has more ingredients than we can count on two hands. The atmosphere is upbeat, the sushi boats are gargantuan, and the bigger plates like delicious roast duck lychee curry and tom yum fried rice are also worth ordering.
Named after Afghanistan’s longest river, The Helmand in Kendall Square hasn’t changed much over the nearly 30 years it’s been open. Plus, they have consistently good dishes you won’t easily find elsewhere in the Boston area, like mantwo served on a bed of yogurt, the fried-then-baked pumpkin dish kaddo, and leek-filled aushak dumplings. The fireplace and wood-burning oven make the atmosphere extra cozy, so it’s nice that the friendly servers won’t mind if you post up for a while.