Where to Eat & Drink in Harvard Square

By Scott Kearnan  |  June 17, 2014

View 12 Must-Try Harvard Square Restaurants in a larger map

Heading to Harvard Square? From newcomers to longtime staples, here are a dozen definite stops on any proper food crawl.

Alden & Harlow. It opened about four months ago, but chef Michael Scelfo's American subterranean eatery (pictured) of subway tile, farmhouse chic and shareable rustic American plates is still one of the hottest restaurants in the city. Definitely try the rotating draft cocktails (consistently killer) and the only-somewhat-secret "Secret Burger." It's listed on the menu, but you may still want to follow Scelfo on social media, since there are occasional hashtag hints about new variations. (40 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-864-2100)

Beat Hotel. Live music, eccentric decor and an eclectic menu come together at this Cambridge cousin to The Beehive. As with that South End spot, the vibe is Franco-American and bohemian, a quirky hideaway for digging into unique brasserie fare (like heaped-high Earth Bowls of grains and veggies) amid gypsy-chic environs. (13 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-499-0001)

Daedalus. A rare rooftop dining option in the area, and one of the 10 Hottest Around Boston, if you ask us. On a breezy night, soak up the fresh air, views of picturesque, ivy-covered university buildings, and maybe a few cocktails like the On the Bloom, a creative combination of vodka, Kahlua, and Coca-Cola on the rocks, topped with an Irish stout.  (45 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge; 617-349-0071)

Harvest. Some restaurants thump their proverbial chest - and wind up being big, expensive disappointments. Not Harvest, one of the area's most reliably excellent experiences under chef Mary Dumont. Tucked away down Brattle Street, its farm-to-fork philosophy was in place long before that became de rigueur. And the contemporary New England cuisine in classic, contemporary digs is the perfect combination of Harvard Square sophistication and modern allure. (44 Brattle St., Cambridge; 617-868-2255)

Henrietta’s Table. A recent renovation spruced the joint up a bit, but Henrietta's country-chic atmosphere still manages to capture the bucolic best of rural New England inside Harvard Square's Charles Hotel. The "fresh and honest" approach to food veers toward maple-smoked free-range duck breast, ale-braised lamb shank and Yankee pot roast.  (1 Bennett St., Cambridge; 617-661-5005)

Mr. Bartley’s. For more than 50 years, Bartley's has been the bar to which all other quirky  burger joints have been compared. The cash-only hole-in-the-wall doesn't look like anything special, but the menu is always full of unique offerings named in reference to local politics (the "Marty Walsh" boasts horseradish-chive cheddar cheese, coleslaw and Dijon) and pop-culture personalities. (Care for a "Mark Zuckerberg"? The "richest geek in America" gets a sandwich with Boursin cheese and bacon). There's rarely a dud in the bunch, and you can see how it compares to some other area patty purveyors by checking out our Harvard Square Burger Smackdown. (1246 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge; 617-354-6559) 

Nubar. An inconspicuous gem tucked away in the Sheraton Commander Hotel, this dim and cozy New American restaurant is a hidden secret worth discovering. You won't find lines or high prices, just thoughtfully prepared plates and cocktails in a chic but unostentatious setting. It's worth the quick walk beyond the immediate Square. (16 Garden St., Cambridge; 617-234-1365) 

PARK Restaurant. It looks like a gentleman's parlor (a den with low ceilings, bookcases filled with leather bound tomes) with midpriced plates that are slight reimaginings of classic comfort food. Take the weekly changing Meat Pie of the Day, inventively prepared Bacon 3-Way and indulgent Patty Melt, a griddled burger on rye with spicy onions and American cheese. (59 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge; 617-491-9851)  

Rialto. Star chef Jody Adams has been turning out impeccable Italian at this Harvard Square institution for 20 years. Each menu update visits a different region of the boot, but all capture a similarly sophisticated balance between the classic and contemporary, the surprising and the civilized. It's worth checking out the regular cooking classes, among other special events that give guests a chance to get more up close and personal with one of Boston's best toques. (1 Bennett St., Cambridge; 617-661-5050)

Russell House Tavern. This glossy gastropub is a fine spot to unwind with a creative cocktail or craft beer at the upstairs bar, or hunker down for chef Tom Borgia's upscale tavern fare, which includes an ample amount of small plates (like housemade terrine, torchon of foie gras and smoked lamb-belly meatballs) and hearty but elegantly presented entrees. (14 John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge; 617-500-3055) 

Shake Shack. The suburb of Newton was our first local outpost of the NYC-born burger chain, which has earned a cultlike following over the last few years. Then in January a Harvard Square spot began flipping the fabulous fast-casual patties. We love our locally raised burger guys like Tasty Burger, a small Boston chain that keeps its Harvard location open until 4 AM. But this import stands out thanks to quality ingredients (like Pat Lefrieda beef) and nods to local color: the Crimson Red Velvet Concrete nods to Harvard's school colors, and the cake is made at Boston's South End Buttery. (92 Winthrop St., Cambridge; 617-758-8495) 

The Sinclair. A rock club that doubles as a restaurant. (Or is it a restaurant that doubles as a rock club?) Originally opened under the culinary direction of star chef Michael Schlow, The Sinclair is now grooving along with recently appointed exec chef Matthew Cunningham, who offers up a cool array of comfort-food twists like Buffalo cauliflower, chorizo gravy-covered tater tots and fried pickles with jalapeño remoulade. (52 Church St., Cambridge; 617-547-5200)