Harvard Square, Cambridge guide
An area that includes the present-day Harvard Square was founded in 1630 as the Puritan village of Newtowne, which would become Cambridge in 1638. Many of the original narrow and cobblestone streets still exist, including parts of Church, Story, Eliot, Arrow, and Mount Auburn Streets. And a few early 18th-century wood-frame houses on Winthrop, Dunster, and South Streets remain as well.
The name Harvard Square did not become popular until the middle of the 19th century. In fact, Harvard Square was always a hot bed of culture, and it exploded in popularity in the 1960’s, which has only grown stronger especially as transportation strengthened. In fact, on February 20, 1950, the Cambridge City Council approved a recommendation to extend the Boston subway to Alewife which then forever changed the Square when it came to fruition in the 1980’s.
The sunken area next to the MBTA subway entrance was called “The Pit” and became a prime area for artsy, marginalized populations such as political activists, beggars, skateboarders, and street performers. Historic Brattle Street has also always been festive, where people like Tracy Chapman performed as a busker. In fact, the music scene of Harvard Square has always been strong, with Joan Baez being discovered at Club Passim and Bob Dylan playing there as well.
The food scene has changed quite rapidly with the skyrocketing rents which drove out such favorites as The Tasty, Mug N Muffin, The Greenhouse, Patisserie Francoise, Finale, and even the famous Au Bon Pain. However, if you search hard enough you’ll find some unique concepts and items that still exist, some independent cafes and restaurants, and lots of things that are very “Hahvahd.”
Crema Cafe (27 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)Crema Cafe, one of the few independent cafes left in the Square, is always buzzing! It was started by two recent University of Michigan college grads, Liza and Marley, in 2005. They came up with the idea while exploring European cafes on their semester abroad. Marley’s dad Tom is their third business partner who also owns Flat Pattie’s and Felipe’s Taqueria next door.
What to orderTheir triple chocolate cookie and rooibos latte are to die for, among other delicious treats and quality beverages.
Flour (114 Mt. Auburn Street, Harvard Square)Renowned chef Joanne Chang started Flour Bakery in 2000 after graduating from Harvard. Back then, she was an unusual addition to the rough-and-tumble restaurant scene but has now earned global and local acclaim with a series of restaurants, this one opening in 2016. She is also a winner of the James Beard award for Outstanding Baker (2016.)
What to orderWe love their sticky buns and delicious tuna sandwiches, but basically anything here is likely to please including their cookies and yummy paninis.
Club Passim (47 Palmer Street, Harvard Square)This famous music venue is where Joan Baez was discovered. Started by two young Brandeis women grads, Club Passim has been a fixture in the Cambridge music scene since 1958. Besides a stellar line-up of music acts of all genres, Club Passim also offers a delicious and fun music brunch on Sundays from 10am – 2pm.
What to orderWe love their Bangkok Street Bread, brunch items, and their selection of local brews.
Black Sheep Bagel Cafe (56 JFK Street, Harvard Square)This multi-use space was started by an area couple who has a penchant for local and a dog-friendly patio.
What to orderTheir bagels are delicious, but we love their brownies – a family recipe of owner Shoshannah.
Tom’s Bao Bao (84 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square)A welcome addition to the Square, this restaurant is the only one in the Boston area aside from Providence, RI and they serve up large, handmade bao that’s bursting with flavor.
What to orderWe especially love their rotating seasonal specials like their warm mini fudge brownie bao which can’t be beat!
Dado Tea (50 Church Street, Harvard Square)This Harvard Square favorite was founded by former Harvard grad students in 2003. They offer a variety of healthy and organic Asian-inspired foods.
What to orderWe love their matcha as well as their bubble tea, lunch specials, and pho.
Cardullo’s (6 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)Frank Cardullo was an important figurehead in Harvard Square, and he was a master merchandiser. His trick? Showcase a variety of affordable items in the window so customers would step inside to see more and not feel intimidated. Even today, although no longer run by his family, Cardullo’s has so much variety and often has a live TV blaring sports games facing the street out the window. Come in and peruse their 100+ chocolate varieties from all over the world.
What to orderDelicious chocolate from all over the world, other imported items like jams and jellies, and yummy deli meats and cheeses.
Cabots (1300 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square)The owners of the jewelry store Zinnia also own Cabots, which is an old-timey candy shoppe in the heart of Harvard Square. Together at their Cape Cod Provincetown, MA location, they produce over 1000 pounds of salt water taffy a day in the summer using salt from Cape Cod oceans in a copper kettle and also delicious handmade fudge that uses Belgian chocolate.
What to orderWe are partial to their salt water taffy and fudge, but there are also other delicious treats from local makers like Chocolate Therapy.
Salt and Olive (1160 Massachusetts Avenue, Harvard Square) Walk into this specialty shop and you can tell that the owners are true foodies and passionate about cooking and eating. They curate the best local, fresh, and organic spices, teas, oils, vinegars, salt, and other yummy items.
What to orderTry their incredible aged balsamic vinegar and delightful and fresh fleur del sel salt which can make anyone feel gourmet.
Swissbakers (1350 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square)Originally from Sweden, the owners of Swissbakers are hard working and their staff is too (they’re called guest huggers!)
What to orderWe love their chocoweggli which has delicious swiss chocolate enveloped in a buttery roll.
Lizzy’s Ice Cream(29 Church Street, Harvard Square)Owner Phil was once an ice cream scooper at Lizzy’s and continues his passion for the small business to this day.
What to orderOf course we love their chocolate selection, including the rare chocolate cookie dough.
Milk Bar (3 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)This NYC favorite has found its way to Harvard Square, with its only Massachusetts location in the heart of our college town.
What to orderWe love their birthday truffles which are rich and sweet and make you feel like a kid again.
Beat Brasserie (6 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)This fun, underground restaurant really captures the spirit of Harvard Square. At the site of the former Tannery leather goods store and The infamous Spa, which started the global frozen yogurt craze, visit here to enjoy great food and sights.
What to order
They do special occasions up well here as well as nights-out before the A.R.T.: try their brisket or short rib.
Border Cafe (32 Church Street, Harvard Square)This tex-mex place does everything up big, and we adore it here! Opened in 1987, the Harvard Square location is the original in the small chain. They are committed to delicious food, and a friendly and festive atmosphere. Sometimes there can be a long line, so come early before a show at Club Passim next door.
What to order
Their homemade tortilla chips are to die for, and we love their extra-large beverages and incredible fajita salads.
Grendel’s Den (89 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square)Opened in 1971, this bar is an original on Winthrop Street. Grendel’s took up more of the building than it occupies currently. They had a sixty-item salad bar in the 80’s. They also served lots of delicious fondue. You could get an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for only $2. On a single weekend day, they’d serve close to 1000 guests. The basement bar still exists as Grendel’s Den and often has happy hour half-priced food.
What to order
We love their bar snacks like homemade pickles and quesadillas with yummy beverages like their rotating CBC (Cambridge Brewing Company) beer that’s on draft.
Brattle Theater (40 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)In 1870, the Cambridge Social Union (CSU) was founded, which was the reason why this lovely theater exists along with the adult education center next door. In fact, Brattle Street is one of Harvard Square’s most famous streets. With its storied past, it’s now owned by an organization called Running Arts and still shows Casablanca there every Valentine’s Day.
What to order
Check out their schedule for what interesting movie or documentary to watch and consider taking a theater tour!
Cambridge Center for Adult Education (42 Brattle Street, Harvard Square)The CCAE is one of our places and also has a rental kitchen at their amazing facility, which was the house of William Brattle and women’s rights activist Margaret Fuller, that was purchased in 1889 by the Cambridge Social Union (CSU.)
What to order
We are honored to be part of their Winter 2018 calendar of events, with our Somerville tours. Check out all of their offerings!
Central Square, Cambridge
Abide (317 Mass. Ave., Central Square)This incredible brother-sister duo creates the most inventive and colorful drinks this side of the river. This pop up is here to stay inside the ‘sex Lounge (okay Middlesex Lounge but still), and we are excited to stop here and try all the bubble teas, hot and cold!
What to order
Any beverage and stay for a while.
Whole Heart Provisions (298 Mass. Ave., Central Square)We love this spot with our whole heart. Ready to celebrate veggies? We thought so! Founder Rebecca and her boyfriend James wanted to start a cafe where you didn’t feel gross after eating the food. Count us all the way in.
What to orderWe love the seared avocado snack and signature bowls.
Mainely Burgers (704 Mass. Ave., Central Square)These 20-something Babson grads are proud to be from Maine, and they purchase only local ingredients in this popular burger hot spot. Their first brick and mortar shop after five successful food trucks, we are lucky to have them!
What to orderYou may be surprised to hear about their phenomenal side dishes including grilled cauliflower and handmade potato chips.
Bao Nation (575 Mass. Ave., Central Square)Tucked away in a convenience store, Bao Nation serves up delicious and fresh bao in a tiny counter inside Dosa Factory.
What to orderWe love their eggplant bao!
The Middle East (472 Mass. Ave., Central Square)
The Cambridge music scene got started by the likes of The Middle East but not everyone knows that it also serves up delicious meals from brunch to lunch to dinner to late night eats.
What to order
We love their Lebanese food including savory meat pie.
A4Cade/Roxy’s (292 Mass. Ave., Central Square)
Well, we don’t want to spoil the entire surprise, but take our word for it and enter the “freezer” of Roxy’s — which takes you into a secret arcade.
What to order
Our favorite is the short rib grilled cheese, but also note they have both dairy and gluten-free versions.
Graffiti Alley(575 Mass. Ave., Central Square)This city-sanctioned graffiti wall changes daily and is an exciting spot for local talent to express themselves.
What to orderGrab some graffiti paint and make your mark!
Kendall Square, Cambridge
Mamalehs (1 Broadway, Kendall Square)Finally a proper Jewish deli in Boston! From the front lobby that’s full of delicacies and swag to the occasional Bubbe’s Basement comedy nights, this place is charming and delicious.
What to orderWe love their babka, matza ball soup, and corned beef.
Za (350 Third Street, Kendall Square)If you love Kendall Square, you have Evoo and Za to thank. They were some of the first to move into the newly zoned neighborhood and bring thoughtful, seasonal fare to the city. Hello delicious pizza!
What to orderAny of their seasonal thin-crust pizzas.
Commonwealth Kitchen (350 Third Street, Kendall Square) Chef Nookie is always cookin’ up something – from using antiques to decorate this gorgeous spot to adding unique items to the marketplace to delicious dishes.
What to orderOn Sunday’s they have yummy fried chicken, but we also love their large salads and their yummy unique ice cream.
Dumpling Daughter (73 Ames Street, Kendall Square) Started by Sally Ling’s daughter Nadia, this spot has the best dumplings in town – we know it because her mother started her namesake restaurant which was one of the first Chinese restaurants in Boston.
What to orderThe dumplings of course!
Vester (73 Ames Street, Kendall Square) Nadia’s sister Nicole started Vester, inspired by her time spent in Vesterbro in Copenhagen, Denmark.
What to orderTheir smorrebrod Danish-inspired toast and also pastries
Evoo (350 Third Street, Kendall Square)If you love Kendall Square, you have the folks at Evoo to thank for helping revitalize the area. They even have a rooftop garden and outdoor plants that they use to flavor their yummy dishes.
What to orderAny of their farm-to-table seasonal specials.
Sulmona (608 Main Street, Kendall Square)Have you ever been to Sulmona, Italy? Step inside and you can imagine you have — their decor is inspired by the chef’s favorite city. And the dishes are bursting with flavor!
What to orderAny of their Italian street food and their meat sauce just like grandma’s.
Glass House (450 Kendall Street, Kendall Square)You know that Kendall was once a manufacturing hub, but did you hear about the glass manufacturing that happened here? Some of the unique designs created here are on display at the MFA, and the Glass House pays homage.
What to orderWe love the cushy seats at the bar, unique cocktails, and trivia nights.
State Park (1 Broadway, Kendall Square)This dive bar is a fun hang out from brunch to late night – after midnight they start bringing out a late night menu including Frito Pies.
What to orderWe are partial to the pickled eggs and beers on tap.
Kendall Square Rooftop Garden (325 Main St., Kendall Square)This rooftop garden sits on top of a building where Android was first created and is a fun stop to view the city of Boston and stroll through the rooftop urban garden. If you can’t find the secret location, you’l have to take our tour!
Cambridge: Affiliate Discounts With Food Tour Purchase
Cabot’s Candy (1300 Mass. Ave., Cambridge):Show your food tour ticket confirmation email to receive 10% off any order the day of the tour.
Tom’s Bao Bao (84 Winthrop Street., Harvard Square, Cambridge)Show your food tour ticket confirmation email to receive 10% off any order within 7 days of the tour. Not valid on combos.
Neighbors Offer Discounts Too:
Taza Chocolate Tours (561 Windsor Street, Somerville)Invites you to their “Intro to Stone Ground Chocolate” tour with $3 off the tour ticket using the code “BEATPATH” at check-out so ticket prices will now be $5 each. Enjoy!
Gracie’s Ice Cream (22 Union Square, Somerville)Mention food tour for a free upgrade to Fluff cone with the purchase of ice cream.
Q’s Nuts (349 Highland Ave., Somerville):Show food tour tickets confirmation email to receive 10% off any purchase within six months of the food tour date; valid at Somerville store only.
Opa Greek Yeeros (378 Highland Ave., Somerville): Show same-day food tour tickets confirmation email to receive 20% off any purchase that day.
Bloc Cafe (11 Bow Street, Somerville): Mention food tour to receive a free coffee with the purchase of a bag of Intelligentsia coffee.
Red Apple Farm at the Boston Public Market (100 Hanover Street, Boston): Mention Off The Beaten Path Food Tours to receive 10% off any item including their famous apple cider donuts.
Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (2020 Mass. Ave., Cambridge) Invites you to ignite your culinary passion and use the special code OFFPATH15 for 15% off any single day cooking class
Acupuncture Together (2464 Mass. Ave., Cambridge) Invites you to show your food tour ticket confirmation email for $5 off your first or follow-up treatment within seven days of the food tour ($30 first visit (regularly $35-55) or $15 follow-up (regularly $20-40))
Camberville Dog Treats(561 Windsor Street, Somerville) Invites you to use code “cdttour” for 15% off all natural dog treats made in Camberville on their website.
Rhode Island Red Food ToursInvite you to try a food tour of Newport or Providence, RI and use code “RIMAFOODIES” for 10% off the booking fee. We’ve been on their food tours, and they’re wonderful too!