Harvard Square Meals—and Beyond

The cafés and restaurants of Harvard Square sure to impress for breakfast and lunch.

Pouring the creamy “Sai  Gon Latte” at Cicada Coffee Bar in Central Square

The creamy “Sai Gon Latte” at Cicada Coffee Bar in Central Square | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF CICADA COFFEE BAR

Making a seasonal visit to Cambridge—for Commencement Week, alumni reunions, or just to check out the old stomping grounds? Here’s a select list of cafés and restaurants favored by Harvard Magazine staffers offering a diversity of settings and flavors.

Cafe Rustica owner
Café Rustica's owner, Farouk Ramdani, welcomes everyone.| PHOTOGRAPH BY NELL PORTER BROWN/HARVARD MAGAZINE

The genial Café Rustica (356 Beacon Street, Somerville) offers an array of coffee drinks and hefty egg-and-sausage breakfast bagels, along with midday salads and stellar Italian-style sandwiches. Many regulars pop in throughout the morning for large coffees and a dose of lively banter. The owner of this Porter Square spot, Farouk Ramdani, mans the counter, relaxed and open, a real and ready smile on his lips. “We have a lot of Harvard students around here,” he says. “For 25 years, we’ve been feeding them….They keep coming back.”

Bagelsaurus’s hot smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich with pickled red cabbage and fresh dil
Bagelsaurus’s hot smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich with pickled red cabbage and fresh dill.| PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF BAGELSAURUS

A few blocks away, customers frequently stand in line for the chewy, slow-fermented sourdough bagels at Bagelsaurus (1796 Massachusetts Avenue). Get the typically seasoned bagels (“everything” is the best) or be adventuresome and try a daily special flavor, like French toast or chocolate chip pretzel. Spreads include earthy basil hummus and not-too-sweet honey-rosemary cream cheese. The ample bagelwiches include classic fried egg, ham, and cheese—or the funkier T-Rex (almond butter with bacon, banana, and honey).

In Harvard Square proper, the organic food at Life Alive (22 John F. Kennedy Street) is as good as it looks. From grain bowls, wraps, and noodle dishes to customized juices and smoothies, the menu delineates vegan as well as gluten- and dairy-free dishes. Try the brothy shiitake udon and vegetables, Mexicali salad with jalapeño ranch dressing, or the breakfast hash (fried egg with sweet potato, quinoa, and sauteed vegetables with salsa verde). The coffee drinks are fine, but warm weather warrants a watermelon cooler or, for a real kick, a shot of fresh-pressed ginger.

Japanese food at Café Sushi Shoten
Pick up Japanese food at Café Sushi Shoten, and head to the Charles River for a picnic. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Café Sushi Shoten

Zoe’s (1105 Massachusetts Avenue), just outside the Square, offers Greek and American diner food—breakfast all day!—amid old-time Formica tables and vinyl booths. Settle in for pancakes, waffles, and omelettes, the lemony chicken-and-rice avgolemono soup, or a strapping Reuben sandwich. With its technicolor décor and lively atmosphere, Zoe’s is especially good for a crowd. Next door, at the same address, Café Sushi Shoten makes some of the freshest bento boxes and maki rolls around—all for take-out. The salmon sushi combo includes seared salmon belly, while the “amigo maki” pairs spicy crab with juicy eggplant, salmon, and avocado. Farther down the street is the casual, quiet Dado Tea (955 Massachusetts Avenue), offering Japanese- and Korean-style dishes, including bi-bim bap, ramen noodles, and curried rice, as well as chicken salad, turkey, and tuna sandwiches. Drinks include an iced jasmine, hot sage, and Indian chai bubble tea.

The gem-like Cicada Coffee Bar (106 Prospect Street), in Central Square, features beautifully crafted Vietnamese food, along with pastries, teas, and coffees. The foamy iced “sea salt Shaker” brew with sweet condensed milk is a treat; the “Sai Gon Latte Vietnamese Peaberry Expresso,” a caffeinated launching pad. Try either with a charred eggplant salad tossed with tofu and noodles in a cashew-herb pesto. Roasted salmon, mushroom, or eggplant banh mi (sandwiches) come laced with cilantro and house-made green papaya pickles. Take a seat inside amid flowers and delicate lights or head to the leafy rear patio—and top off lunch with a shared cherry and dried apricot puff pastry cheesecake.

For authentic Middle Eastern fare, head to Andala Coffee House (286 Franklin Street) on the far side of Central Square. The converted brick rowhouse offers a colorful, homey environment (and grape-vine-covered patio) for reading, relaxing, or socializing. Open all day, the restaurant’s ample menu includes fatoush salad with pomegranate dressing, the merguez sandwich (spicy sausages with onions and pickles), and chicken shawarma plate. Order a pot of strong hot tea (like the fresh Moroccan mint) or the iced hibiscus, or choose the Turkish coffee or Nutella cappuccino.

Any of these restaurants promise fine food and drinks but, perhaps most importantly, also serve to bolster the unique character of Harvard Square and its environs. Enjoy! 

Read more articles by Nell Porter Brown
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