33 essential Cambridge restaurants

From brainy Harvard to creative Central and cutting-edge Kendall, there's something for every budget and taste bud.

alden and harlow
Chef Michael Scelfo’s flavors are just as bold as the colors in many of his dishes at Alden & Harlow. –Kristin Teig

With options ranging from wallet-friendly ramen to James Beard Award-winning cuisine all within a few dynamic blocks, there are plenty of dining options in Cambridge. Whether you’re looking for a Jewish deli (Mamaleh’s), creative cocktails (ArtScience Culture Lab & Café), or your classic mom-and-pop pizza shop (Armando’s), there’s something for everyone.

1. Alden & Harlow
Locals and visitors alike flock to this subway-tiled den’s cushy booths and cool high-tops based on reputation alone (for example, its inclusion in Conde Nast Traveler’s Where in the World to Eat list in 2016). It’s a reputation that’s well-founded, thanks in part to the juicy burger and its homemade bun, but also because Chef Michael Scelfo is just as skilled at making vegetables the star of the show. He was doing harissa-glazed carrots with hazelnut crunch and spiced yogurt way before other toques, and that one dish alone is worth a visit. (40 Brattle St., Cambridge)

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2. Alive & Kicking Lobsters
You can call it top shell, but don’t call it a lobster roll — Alive & Kicking serves lobster sandwiches — lobster chunks tucked between two slices of Scali bread — off the beaten path in a small neighborhood in West Cambridge. It’s no frills, no fuss, but plenty of muss, and you’ll make new friends with a few folks sharing communal picnic tables. There’s also bisque and chowder. (269 Putnam Ave., Cambridge)

3. Area Four and A4cade
Get fired up at Area Four near Kendall Square, where the pizza dough has been fermented for 30-plus hours, resulting in a crunchy, wood-fired crust. In the mornings, visit the café for java from Barrington Coffee Roasters. Half a mile east on Mass. Ave., get playful seven nights a week at A4Cade, a bar-arcade collaboration with Roxy’s Grilled Cheese and all the indulgent sandwiches that implies. The two cocktail bars here offer up plenty of interesting tipples, including tiki drinks, local beers, and wine. (500 Technology Square, Cambridge; 292 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

4. Armando’s Pizza
When two of Boston’s top chefs (Jamie Bissonnette and Tony Maws) claim your deep-dish Sicilian as one of their favorite pies in Boston, you know you’ve got something good on your hands. Grab a napkin and a slice at this old-school parlor, where classic wood paneling and orange tiling are much the same as they have been since 1971, when Benevento, Italy, immigrant Armando started his mom-and-pop shop. Although the pizza poppa has since passed, his legacy lives on with a loyal clientele. (163 Huron Ave., Cambridge)

ArtScience
Bartending mastermind Tenzin Samdo’s creations like the Titi Monkey — egg white, matcha, pisco, sandalwood, orange peel, lemon, and sugarcane — are a hit at ArtScience Culture Lab & Café. —Photo by Pat Ford
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5. ArtScience Culture Lab & Cafe
At this spot, formerly called Cafe ArtScience, expect something that looks and tastes good, thanks to Harvard faculty member and founder David Edwards. Cambridge’s innovation community in Kendall Square is the canvas for creative dinner and lunch menus that feature global flavors and sustainably sourced ingredients. (Keep your phone out for the Instagram-worthy platings.) The bar menu, courtesy of Tenzin Samdo (a Tibet native who used to helm much-beloved Tavern Road), is a mini mixed-drink passport. Picture: rum evoking Caribbean climes, Scotch that brings you to the Highlands, and Mezcal from Mexico. (650 E. Kendall St., Cambridge)

6. Beat Brasserie
Beets meet the beat at this Harvard Square haunt, where the menu pleases carnivores and vegetarians alike. Try scarlet beet hummus with dill and crispy chickpeas, beef brisket or ribs, and natural bowls filled with quinoa and topped with choice of protein or falafel. The music venue spotlights different acts and genres several nights a week. (13 Brattle St., Cambridge)

Benedetto
The pasta plates shine at Benedetto at the Charles Hotel, thanks to Chef Michael Pagliarini, who has spent lots of time in Italy. —Photo by Erik Jacobs

7. Benedetto
Any local Italian food aficionado is likely familiar with Benedetto’s “parent” restaurant Giulia, where handmade pastas shine. Benedetto offers much of the same courtesy of Chef Michael Pagliarini, but diners also rave about the secondi (rotating seasonally with steak, trout, and fish), along with dolci like house-made chocolates. Hotel restaurants sometimes get the short shrift reputation-wise, but Benedetto blows that out of the Pellegrino. (1 Bennett St., Cambridge)

8. Bisq
Everyone’s been there — the last-minute head scratch to find the perfect neighborhood restaurant for dates or client meetings that is intimate and casually cool, yet sophisticated enough to seem like you’re a trendsetter. Bisq is that place. Wear jeans and grab a stool at the communal high-top table, or scoot up to the bar for an extensive beer and wine list and a view of the kitchen. From there, Chef Alex Saenz sends out toothsome burgers, delicate fish, and indulgent fried chicken. There’s also a neat, smaller space for book club gatherings, and a menu option for large groups with whole-animal roasts including suckling pig, goat, and duck. (1071 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

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9. Bondir
You might almost miss Bondir if you’re driving past the busy thoroughfare known as Broadway. But walkers will want to peek their head into the oblong window of this small, flat-brick building — Bondir’s been making date night special since 2010. A fireplace and only 28 seats create an intimate and warm environment in which guests can feast on a fixed-price menu that typically includes homemade breads and several courses with produce sourced from Bondir Farm, a two-acre garden in sleepy Carlisle. Chef-owner Jason Bond has worked everywhere from barbecue joints to Relais & Chateaux properties, so get ready for a diverse and inspired multi-course lineup; there are also frequent wine dinners, theme nights, and pop-ups that are worth planning an evening around. (279 Broadway, Cambridge)

10. Cafe du Pays
If your French-Canadian grandma had a restaurant, this former home of popular Southern restaurant Hungry Mother would be it. Here, you’ll find home-cooking-style comfort food. The best of our neighbor to the North gets served up in all the right ways in the form of tourtière meat pie, proper poutine, sugar pie, and more. (233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave., Cambridge)

Omakase at Cafe Sushi near Harvard Square. —Lane Turner/Globe Staff

11. Cafe Sushi
Looking to treat yourself beyond the standard California roll? Experience the expertise of Cafe Sushi’s omakase chefs, who will take you through a chef’s whim menu of seven to nine courses, guaranteed to expand the culinary horizons of even the most savvy chopstick wielders. Sit at the bar, where you can also check out an extensive sake selection. The elegant platings and moderate price tag don’t disappoint, either. (1105 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

12. Catalyst
Industrial yet inviting, the lunch menu and floor-to-ceiling windows are a welcome respite for those stuck behind a desk from 9 to 5. Let memories of that painful board meeting fade away while enjoying a cocktail at the buzzy bar. Chef William Kovel brings his experience from Jardinière in San Francisco and Aujourd’hui at the Four Seasons Boston to the table with a menu that includes lots of local seafood, beef tournedos with onion bacon jam, and house-made fries. (300 Technology Square, Cambridge)

13. Craigie on Main
Dark woods, a long bar, and cushy cognac leather booths and barstools don’t exactly scream the “French rustic” of Chef Tony Maws’s menu, but it all works with aplomb. Craigie on Main’s menu changes daily for both a la carte and tasting options, but burger aficionados know that the time to arrive is 5 p.m. for one of the 18 beef patty options. The new “secret” veggie burger is served on Tuesday evenings. (853 Main St., Cambridge)

Dumplings with pork at Dumpling House in Cambridge. —Essdras M. Suarez/Globe Staff

14. Dumpling House
The prices, portions, and diversity of menu options win Dumpling House rave reviews from those looking for authentic and fast Chinese food. Besides the dumplings (including braised beef and cabbage), of course, the wok-fried spicy seafood and sautéed rice cakes with mustard greens and pork both get big thumbs ups — along with the casual, group-friendly setting. (950 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

15. Giulia
You’d be remiss to skip the pastas at Giulia, where Chef Michael Pagliarini and his wife, Pam Ralston, have been rolling them out for dinner service since opening in 2012. Their intimate eatery between Harvard and Porter is inspired, in part, by Michael’s time traveling and eating his way through France, Italy, and Spain. The reclaimed white oak pasta table — where noodles are hand-crafted during the day — can be reserved in the evening for groups of eight to 12 to dine family-style. House-cured meats and anchovies await, and lentils accompany quite a few dishes — which is fitting, as Pagliarini’s family previously owned a lentil farm in Umbria. (1682 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

16. Grendel’s Den
Generations of hungry and cash-strapped college students have rejoiced over the tasty pub grub at Grendel’s. Open since the mid-’70s, the subterranean lair is almost as much an institution as the university around the corner, and the $5.95 express lunch — featuring soups and half-sandwiches — is a quick, affordable option for a bite in between classes or to get a real taste of Harvard Square culture in a neighborhood that’s increasingly occupied by chain restaurants. (89 Winthrop St., Cambridge)

harvest
The seasons are extended at the Harvest patio thanks to its outdoor fireplace. —Photo courtesy of Harvest

17. Harvest
One of the first purveyors of farm-to-table cuisine in New England, Harvest has been putting out beautiful plates for 40-plus years — longer than wunderkind Chef Tyler Kinnett has been alive. The recently reimagined open kitchen gives cloth-napkin feasters the opportunity to check out his handiwork with locally foraged mushroom agnolotti and Atlantic seafood, plus a dessert menu from Executive Pastry Chef Joshua Livsey, who puts out imaginative and colorful nibbles like a chocolate almond cake with avocado ice cream, brioche, and chocolate ganache. (44 Brattle St., Cambridge)

18. Little Donkey
The small plates have big flavors at Little Donkey, where Chef-owners Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer have considerably upped the cool quotient of Central Square’s dining scene. Yes, you can grab a burger — but why bother when you’ve got options like short ribs with Korean barbecue sauce and kimchi, spicy Thai street noodles, and mahi-mahi nachos? The cocktail menu and cool bar space overlooking Mass. Ave. also kick it up a notch, with drinks like The One in a Grapefruit, featuring the whole melon as a “glass.” (505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

19. Loyal Nine
It’s a coffee café by day (grab a house-made yogurt or biscuit sandwich in the morning) and seafood restaurant by night (try small plates or the Shared Supper menu at $55 per person). Organic and sustainably sourced seafood from New England waters take up most of the spotlight here, including bluefish on brown bread and poached pollock with lobster broth. But the Northeast-raised meats at Loyal Nine also deserve attention, particularly the blood sausage and chicken liver mousse with apple butter. (660 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

A fish platter with a variety of cured and smoked fish, as well as a bialy and bagels, at Mamaleh’s. —Dina Rudick/Globe Staff

20. Mamaleh’s
There’s no shortage of standout restaurants at One Kendall, from longtime favorites like The Friendly Toast to newer spots like The Smoke Shop. Mamaleh’s — helmed by the same owners of nearby State Park and Cafe du Pays — is a Jewish delicatessen where industrial meets everything your bubbe would have made: rye bread, chopped chicken liver, noodle kugel, and more. For reuben sandwich fans, Mamaleh’s is a must-try, with corned beef, mushroom, and turkey options. Wash it down with an egg cream or one of many old-fashioned sodas, like the raspberry lime rickey, all made with house-made syrups. (One Kendall Square, 15 Hampshire St., Cambridge)

21. Momi Nonmi
An izakaya may typically be an informal Japanese pub, but you can expect anything but pub grub at self-described modern izakaya Momi Nonmi. After years of working for Ken Oringer, Chef Chris Chung brings elevated Japanese cuisine to Inman Square in a tucked-away wood-and-metal sanctuary. Poke, sashimi, tempura, rice balls, and dumplings all beckon; gluten-free options are also signature offerings. (1128 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

22. Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers
This restaurant has been schooling generations of tourists and Crimson about the art of the burger since 1960. Think having a bobblehead doll made after your likeness is the truest hallmark of success? At Mr. Bartley’s, celebrities from Beyonce to Vice President Mike Pence are honored with seven ounces of ground beef named after them. There’s the “wicked good” Casey Affleck burger, featuring cheddar, chili, and salsa; the Liz Warren burger has bacon, red onions, and fries; and the Tom Brady burger comes with guac, lettuce, and tomato. Don’t forget to add a side of crispy house-made onion rings. (1246 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

23. Oleana
There are Turkish and Middle Eastern flavors galore at Oleana, where Ana Sortun has been cranking out eyebrow-raising bites for more than a decade. Tarator sauce, baharat spice, and kisir are mouthwatering devices that you’re unlikely to have tried elsewhere, and the commingling of cuisines and cultures here is a stamp on the restaurant passport that Boston-area foodies must check off. Don’t miss the outdoor patio in summer, a hidden oasis north of Kendall and Central squares. (134 Hampshire St., Cambridge)

24. Pagu
Japanese and Spanish cuisines come together at Tracy Chang’s Pagu, where Iberian ham sits besides pork belly bao on the menu, and it’s easy to see where Chang’s time spent cooking in San Sebastian, Spain, melds with working the register in her grandma’s Japanese restaurant. “‘Food’ is not JUST something we eat,” Pagu’s website reads. “So what is PAGU? … It is more than a restaurant. It is more than an experience.” This mantra explains Pagu’s goal of being a warm community gathering space — with an awesome, open, horseshoe-shaped bar, too. (310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

The bar at Pammy’s. —Pammy's

25. Pammy’s
The wood-burning fireplace and oversized communal table make it easy to see why owners Chris and Pam Willis call Pammy’s an extension of their living room. (The couple lives right down the street, between Harvard and Central squares.) The neighborhood spot’s diminutive menu primarily has an Italian trattoria vibe. Eight to 10 total main dishes and pastas rotate in seasonally, and the drink menu (including a fun aperitivi list) is a cocktail connoisseur’s dream. (928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

26. Park
The book-lined shelves here give off a brainy cool vibe. Study up on the menu in four dining areas — the dining room, the classroom, the den, and the back room — with just enough nooks and crannies for intimate conversations and a cool tipple. (Try the Incubus, with jalapeño-infused mezcal and blood-orange ice cubes that give off exactly the right amount of sweetness as they melt.) The full dinner menu is served until midnight (and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights). (59 JFK St., Cambridge)

27. Parsnip
Don’t let the name fool you — sleek, contemporary Parsnip is as far from an earthy root vegetable as you can get. The menu is succulent, too: Think of North African meatballs with Atlantic cod, matzo, and spiced gingered tomato sauce; roasted bone marrow with soy lime barbecue duck confit; and eggplant tart with a black garlic shell. Executive Chef James Salomone is a former construction worker who likens his kitchen skills to working with his hands, but his résumé now also includes working alongside some of today’s best chefs, including Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, and Ken Oringer. (91 Winthrop St., Cambridge)

Puritan and Co.
Chef Will Gilson’s unique take on swordfish as “pastrami” at Puritan. —Photo courtesy of Puritan and Co.

28. Puritan & Company
Chef Will Gilson’s family owns a farm, and so much of what makes up the New England classics at Puritan are fresh-picked off the vine. Sunday prime rib dinners are a throwback, but the rest of the lineup is refreshingly hip — for instance, ‘nduja and ricotta toast with grilled strawberries, pickled peppers, and fennel; and spiced and seared broccoli with pistachio dukkah, carrot, and roasted garlic oil. (1166 Cambridge St., Cambridge)

29. Russell House Tavern
Just about any night of the week, you’ll find Russell House Tavern’s cozy, string light-illuminated patio buzzing. Join in on the fun by ordering from one of Cambridge’s most extensive cocktail lists; all-American wines and craft beers are also available. They’re perfect for pairing with small plates like grilled octopus with mango, mains including savory coffee-braised short ribs, and a raw bar with an epic shellfish tower. (14 JFK St., Cambridge)

30. Shepard
A visit to Shepard is worth it for the carbs alone — co-chef/owner Rene Becker also owns the popular Hi-Rise Bread Company. The restaurant’s no-frills interior doesn’t exactly portend the comforts of the foods, which include duck ragu, gooey bread pudding with cream cheese ice cream and caramel (rotating seasonally), and delicious burgers set on top of a Hi-Rise challah bun (available on the bar and brunch menus). (1 Shepard St., Cambridge)

31. The Table at Season to Taste
Dining here once per season is recommended, as everything in the 20-seat open kitchen space is hyper-fresh and local. Almost no menu is the same depending on what comes in from regional farms and purveyors. You might recognize Chef Carl Dooley from his stint on season 13 of “Top Chef.” If the $98 per person price tag here (which includes tax and gratuity) is a bit too much, consider instead the nifty wine bar with small plates. (2447 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

Chopped clam pizza with parsley, peperoncino, and pecorino at Waypoint. —Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

32. Waypoint
Forget the fried-clam stand at the beach — Waypoint is the place to take people from out of town who want to try the best of local seafood. Chef Michael Scelfo adds a little bit of extraordinary into the everyday via chopped clam pizza, blue crab pasta, and chopped tuna crudo served with curried chickpea socca. There’s also a cool absinthe menu and original house cocktails like the Submarine, with torched nori tequila and herbed agave. (1030 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)

33. Yume Wo Katare
Whether the summertime is as piping hot as the ramen broth here, or you’re looking to chase winter’s chill away, Yume Wo Katare’s line seems to always snake around the block in Porter Square. Generous portions and few choices await (basically, “less” meat or “more,” for savory pork), and part of the fun is encouragement from servers and fellow diners. The restaurant’s name means “chase your dreams,” so when finishing a bowl, diners are encouraged to share theirs out loud. It’s no frills here with only a few seats, but the experience sure is fun. (No seats left? Trek over to sister restaurant Yume Ga Arukara in the Porter Exchange building.) (1923 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge)