My biggest hobby at Harvard is finding good food (and here is why). Having spent three years here, I have gotten so familiar with the restaurant scene here that I feel compelled to pass on my knowledge for those new to the area.
Below is a review of nearly 100 food places at Harvard Square and surrounding areas (including Central Square, Porter Square, and Chinatown), including tips for free food. Scroll to the bottom of the post or click here to see an interactive map of these places.
Here’s a table of content to help you navigate this very long post:
Pizza and Italian
Coffee, tea and hot chocolate
Ice cream and frozen yoghurt
Vegetarian and vegan
- Dumpling house (950 Massachusetts Ave)
When the Chinese student groups at Harvard hold gatherings at this restaurant, you know it’s authentic. Every time I come here I run into friends from China. This is probably the best northern Chinese food within a 5 mile radius of Harvard. Don’t just eat dumplings here—try the lamb skewers, the spicy fish, and the three-cup chicken. Pay the bill with cash to get a small discount. Good for large group gathering/celebration of Chinese festivities.
- Cilantro (1105 Massachusetts Ave)
Chinese restaurant with a good selection of dim sum and Sichuan food. They have bubble tea, too. Try the scallion pancakes. Dim sum on weekends.
- Hong Kong (1238 Massachusetts Ave)
The first thing to know about Hong Kong is that you must never address it by its actual name; instead all Harvard students refer to it as “The Kong.” The Kong is where students go for late night “post-gaming” after a night of drinking and partying, because it’s open until 4 a.m. The most iconic drink is the gigantic and sharable scorpion bowl, a concoction that is deceptively fruity and surprisingly strong.
- Flame Hot Pot and Sushi (1001 Massachusetts Ave)
Sichuan food, hot pot, and sushi in a subterranean restaurant. Anime themed paintings on the wall.
- Tom’s BaoBao (84 Winthrop St)
Chinese meat buns for around $3.50 each. Good for quick bite between classes. Try the juicy pork. The skin is too thick and the filling too small for my taste (but I grew up in China).
- Savory Food Truck (33 Oxford St)
A food truck in front of the Maxwell Dworkin building of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Serves weekday lunches only, from 10:30am to 2:30pm.The food is prepared quickly, and the truck usually has much shorter lines than the Science Center food trucks. A typical lunch costs $8.
- Happy Lamb Hot Pot (see Central)
- See Chinatown
- Santouka (1 Bow St)
Authentic Hokkaido ramen. Go between 2 and 4pm to get a 10% off. Usually has a line during peak hours, but you can drop by early to put your name down, leave, and get a notification when a table is available.
- Gyu-Kaku (16-18 Eliot St)
Japanese BBQ restaurant that is part of a real Japanese chain. Even though Gyu-kaku is only a mid-range restaurant in Japan, it is considered a fancy place in Harvard Square due to the scarcity of authentic Asian food. It also serves Lady M green tea crepes, a dessert that many Asians are crazy about. Great for birthday celebrations (they give the birthday person a “Happy Birthday” placard for free).
- Dado Tea (50 Church St)
You can enjoy a bowl of Japanese-style curry rice for only $5. Good for quick bite between classes, coffee chats.
- Cafe Sushi (1105 Massachusetts Ave)
Your usual Americanized sushi.
- Takemura (18 Eliot St)
O.K. Japanese food. Usually not busy.
Note 1: There is a mini Japan Town at Porter Square, located in the shops in the Lesley University building. You an find a great cluster of Japanese restaurants there. See the Porter Square section below.
Note 2: Do not go to Wagamama. Few real Asians go there.
Pizza and Italian
- Pinnoccios Pizza and Subs (74 Winthrop St)
Affectionately called Noch’s (rhymes with jokes) by Harvard students, this institution has been feeding the university with its superior pizzas for 50 years. If you are feeling lazy, you can order delivery through Foodler or Doordash. Great for late nights since it’s open until 1 am.
- Otto (1432 Massachusetts Ave)
Pizza by the slice at good price and great location. Try the mashed potato and bacon, or the pulled pork and mango. Gluten free option available. Open until midnight. Great for a quick bite between classes.
- The Just Crust (49 Brattle St)
Pizza by the slice on Brattle Street. Crust is thin and crispy. 10% student discount.
- Toscano (52 Brattle St)
The only proper sit-down Italian restaurant in the Square. The real reason I go there is their signature dish, which is a dessert: blue berry white chocolate tart (it used to be the profile picture of the restaurant’s Yelp page). Probably the best dessert in Harvard Square. Great for semi-fancy dates.
- Boston Burger Company (1105 Massachusetts Ave)
Decadent burger, fries and shakes in hearty portions.
- Tasty Burger (40 John F. Kennedy St)
The food is cheap and mediocre. However it has a bar in the basement and is open until 4 am on weekends.
- Shake Shack (92 Winthrop St)
- Mr. Bartley’s (1246 Massachusetts Ave)
Probably the most touristy restaurant in Harvard Square. Very few people go there once they actually get into Harvard. There is always a line in front.
- Kaju Tofu House (57 John F. Kennedy St)
My go-to place for Korean comfort food. Try the spicy tofu soup.
- Bon Chon Chicken (57 John F. Kennedy St)
My other go-to place for Korean comfort food. Make sure to have the chicken wings with soy base.
- 9 Tastes (50 John F. Kennedy St)
Americanized Thai food. Try the duck.
- Spice Thai Cuisine (24 Holyoke St)
Thai place with a little more class. I once saw Yo-Yo Ma eating here.
- Le’s (35 Dunster St)
Pho at great price (a whole meal can cost around $7). Make sure to try the roasted quail as an appetizer.
- Border Cafe (32 Church St)
Raucous Mexican restaurant with a lively bar. Don’t go here if you want to conduct a deep conversation because you won’t be able to hear the other person very well. Great food in huge portions at reasonable prices.
- Orinoco (56 John F. Kennedy St)
This Venezuelan restaurant is in my opinion the most under-appreciated gem of Harvard Square. It was once named the best restaurant of Harvard Square, which I totally agree, yet many Harvard students haven’t even heard of it. This is partly due to the unassuming nature of its location: it’s tucked away in a little courtyard on JFK St. It’s so not obvious that some people can’t even find it when they follow Google Maps. The food is simply awesome. Try the lamb dish and an appetizer of bacon-filled dates. I have brought many Harvard friends to this place; all of them kept coming back. Great for a first date (the food comes very slowly, giving you more time to talk).
- Various burrito places
- Boloco (71 Mt Auburn St)
- Qdoba (1280 Massachusetts Ave)
- Felipe’s Taqueria (21 Brattle St)
- El Jefe’s Taqueria (83 Mt Auburn St)
- Chipotle (One Brattle Sq)
Everyone disagrees on this, but my personal favorite is Boloco. They have a very nice breakfast burrito that comes in different sizes.
- The Maharaja (57 John F. Kennedy St)
Authentic Indian food for sit-down meal. Try the naan and the mango lassi. Has a buffet on Sundays.
- Tanjore (18 Eliot St)
Has a $10 lunch buffet, with a student discount.
- Chutney’s (36 John F. Kennedy St)
Indian fast food located in The Garage.
- Grafton Street (1230 Massachusetts Ave)
Place to go for a nice, American dinner. Open until 1am on some days and 2am on others.
- Park Restaurant & Bar (59 John F. Kennedy St)
Tasty, meaty American food and creative cocktails. Good for dates.
- Russel House Tavern (see Brunch)
- Alden and Harlow (40 Brattle St)
Great (though pricey) food in a subterranean space. Has brunch on weekends.
- The Boathouse (49 Mt Auburn St)
Good seafood selection. Relaxed atmosphere with nautical theme.
- The Red House (98 Winthrop St)
For slightly fancy occasions. Come for the oysters and lobster.
- Cambridge Common (1667 Massachusetts Ave)
Located between Harvard Square and Porter Square, only a 10 minute walk from the Quad. Comfy atmosphere with a large beer selection and live music at night.
- John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House (33 Dunster St)
Go for burgers and beer and brownies.
Coffee, tea and hot chocolate
- Tealuxe (0 Brattle St)
Has over 100 kinds of loose-leaf tea. Great for doing work or coffee chats. Very convenient location.
- L.A. Burdick Chocolates (52 Brattle St)
The only chocolatier in Harvard Square. The only hot chocolate in the area that isn’t made with water. So rich it almost tastes like Paris. Pricey.
- Cafe Pamplona (12 Bow St)
This place is at a very good location (intersection of Bow St. and Arrow St.) but it is so inconspicuous that many Harvard students have walked past it many times without noticing it. When it opened in 1959 it was the first café in the Square. It has a homey feel with outdoor seating. Good for a coffee chat or a cheap lunch (you can have a sandwich for a few dollars). Open until midnight.
- Algiers Coffee House (40 Brattle St)
Great atmosphere. Has Middle Eastern food. Good place to chat or read.
- Dado Tea (see Japanese)
- Gato Rojo (1443, 1351 Massachusetts Ave, basement of Dudley House)
A cafe run by Harvard students, located inside Dudley House (a graduate student facility). This is actually a great location if you’re a freshman living in the Yard, since it’s literally right opposite Matthews. I lived in Matthews freshman year and came here for breakfast when I didn’t have the time to go sit down in Annenberg. You can use Crimson Cash here (but sadly not Board Plus), so it feels like free food (even though it’s not). Not a bad place to do work or read.
- Crema Cafe (27 Brattle St)
Great breakfast, but it’s always crowded.
- Zoe’s (1105 Massachusetts Ave)
Great, hearty American and Greek brunch. Breakfast served all day. There may be a line in the morning on weekends.
- Russel House Tavern (14 John F. Kennedy St)
Good ambience, good oysters, decent drinks.
- Henrietta’s Table (The Charles Hotel, 1 Bennett St)
The weekend brunch is amazing (though expensive). Make sure to reserve ahead. Great for: Valentine’s celebration, fancy date.
- Cafe Luna (see Central)
- Cilantro (see Chinese)
- Darwin’s (148 Mt Auburn St and 1629 Cambridge St)
Good sandwiches, relaxed atmosphere. Suitable for work or coffee chats.
- Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe (6 Brattle St)
Specialty food and wine shop that has a sandwich counter. The sandwiches are a little overpriced.
- Alive & Kicking Lobsters (269 Putnam Ave)
$17 lobster sandwiches. Cash only.
- Petsy Pies (31 Putnam Ave)
Ice cream and frozen yoghurt
- Berryline (3 Arrow St)
Best froyo in the square, in my opinion. The flavors change from time to time. Great toppings, great smoothies. Open until 11 pm. There is another shop near the Quad, at 1668 Massachusetts Ave.
- Pinkberry (1380 Massachusetts Ave)
Pricey froyo that tastes O.K. Popular because of its convenient location.
- Boston Tea Stop (54 John F. Kennedy St)
One of the very few places at Harvard Square to get bubble tea. But I really go there for their mochi ice cream (my favorites are the green tea and red bean flavors). They can be quite pricey. To save money, go to H-Mart at Central Square and stock up on mochi ice cream in bulk.
- J.P. licks (1312 Massachusetts Ave)
O.K. ice cream at great location.
- Toscanini’s Ice Cream (see Central)
- Zinneken’s (1154 Massachusetts Ave)
Belgian waffles made by real Belgians. Great for a slow brunch (the food takes a very long time to come). They recently started selling macarons on weekends, with a different flavor every week (the flavor is posted on the door). Note that the only food option they have is waffles. Open until midnight on weekends.
- Mike’s Pastry (11 Dunster St)
Famous for their cannoli. They are too sweet and in-your-face for my taste. Many student organizations order the cannoli here for study breaks.
- Sweet (0 Brattle St)
Cupcake shop. Good for a last-minute gift for a friend’s birthday that you forgot about.
- Insomnia Cookies (65 Mt Auburn St)
Decadent, freshly baked cookies. Omnipresent at study breaks. They do late-night delivery. Their cookies have supported many Harvard students through all-night study sessions.
Vegetarian and vegan
- Clover (1326 Massachusetts Ave)
Vegan fast food that actually doesn’t taste bland. My favorite is the eggplant and egg sandwich. Great fries and great coffee.
- Life Alive (see Central)
- Daedalus (45.5 Mt. Auburn Street)
- Felipe’s Taqueria (21 Brattle St)
Rooftop bar with margaritas.
- Charlie’s Kitchen (10 Eliot St)
Beer garden. Good burgers.
- The Kong (see Chinese)
- Formaggio’s Kitchen (244 Huron Ave)
Great wine, cheese and specialty food at this gourmet grocery store that’s only 10 minutes walk from the Quad. I have yet to find another wine shop that sells my favorite riesling cider.
- C’est Bon (1436 Massachusetts Ave)
Where Harvard students go to buy alcohol before parties.
- IHOP (open until 4) (16 Eliot St)
- The Kong (open until 3 on weekends)
- Insomnia Cookies (open until 3)
- Market in the Square (24 hours) (60 Church St)
- Tasty Burger (open until 4 on weekends)
- Border Cafe (open until 2 on weekends)
- Pinnochios (open until 2:30 on weekends)
- Daedalus (open until 2 on weekends)
- The Boathouse (open until 1)
The Science Center plaza has a rotating selection of the seven following food trucks. Check this link for the food truck schedule. Note that the lines are always long at lunch time, so try to go at odd hours. My personal favorite is Bon Me, a Vietnamese sandwich truck, and their best option is the pulled pork. It usually runs out first at around 1pm, so I recommend going before 11am to both avoid the line and get your pork (they are usually open from 8:30am to 7pm).
- Bon Me
- The Chicken and Rice Guys (Best food truck in many people’s opinion, but only comes on Fridays and Sundays. Always a line.)
- Rhythm ‘n Wraps
- Roxy’s Grilled Cheese
- Whole Foods
- Cod Squad
- Ben & Jerry’s
Another food truck that is not located at the Science Center Plaza is the Savory Food Truck (Chinese food, in front of the Maxwell Dworkin building at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences).
Only one T-stop or a 20-minute walk from Harvard Square. You also can take the M2 shuttle here for free (get on at Lamont Library) as long as you show your Harvard ID. It stops right in front of H Mart. Check this link for the M2 shuttle schedule.
- Rangzen Tibetan Place (24 Pearl St)
The hidden gem of Central Square. They have a delicious lunch buffet for $12 with a great selection of Himalayan food.
- Toscanini’s Ice Cream (899 Main St)
The New York Times has wrote that Toscanini’s was deemed “the world’s best ice cream” (It’s written on the shop’s window). I can’t totally agree (as someone who has sampled ice cream in Paris and Tokyo), but it is definitely the best ice cream you can get within 10 miles of Harvard Square. Definitely worth the trip to Central Square. Try the Burnt Caramel.
- Thelonious Monkfish (524 Massachusetts Ave)
Fun Thai place. They have live jazz nights. And sushi too.
- H Mart (581 Massachusetts Ave)
Korean supermarket. Where I go to stock up on my Asian snacks; where Asian student groups go to buy food supplies before retreats. Try their mochi ice cream in green tea or red bean flavors. There are also quite a few Asian restaurants at the entrance of H Mart, including Go Go Curry, Sapporo Ramen (though this one doesn’t taste as good as the Porter Square location), and Paris Baguette (which is actually a Korean bakery chain, despite its name).
- Flour Bakery + Cafe (190 Massachusetts Ave)
Famous bakery founded by Harvard alum, pastry chef Joanne Chang (she was an Applied Math concentrator). I totally wish it were in Harvard Square (there is no real bakery in Harvard Square). The iconic item is the sticky bun. Please note that even though it’s called a bakery, you can actually have a full meal there (they have sandwiches). May have line on weekends.
- Happy Lamb Hot Pot (485 Massachusetts Ave)
Best hot pot in Cambridge, newly opened a few months ago. Their broth is so flavorful you don’t need to dip your food into any sauce. Clean interior.
- Shanghai Fresh (735 Massachusetts Ave)
Authentic Shanghaiese food in large portions. Reserve ahead or prepare to wait in line.
- Life Alive (765 Massachusetts Ave)
You’d be surprised vegan food can taste this good. Many creative smoothies. Reasonable prices. Very spiritual, hippie, and relaxed atmosphere. May have a long line. Great for bringing your vegan/vegetarian friend out, or eating a guilt-free meal.
- Cafe Luna (403 Massachusetts Ave)
They specializes in panini sandwiches and flatbread pizza, and serve Blue Bottle Coffee exclusively. Popular for weekend brunch. Make a reservation before going.
Porter Square is only one T stop away from Harvard Square and 15 minutes walk from the Quad. There is a mini Japan Town in the shops in the Lesley University building.
- Cafe Mami (1815 Massachusetts Ave)
Authentic Japanese curry. Try the green tea milkshake. Cash only. May need to wait in line during peak hours.
- Sapporo Ramen (1815 Massachusetts Ave)
Personally my favorite ramen around Harvard, because I like spicy ramen. Come here if you are fan of strong flavors. There is always a line.
- Yume Wo Katare (1923 Massachusetts Ave)
There is always an explicably long line. Go at 5pm right when it opens; otherwise expect to wait for over half an hour. They have weird opening hours; make sure to check the website before going. There are two things on the menu: ramen with 2 pieces of pork, and ramen with 5 pieces of pork. The restaurant is structured like a classroom; eating there can feel a little stressful. First, the waiters expect you to wholeheartedly focus on eating your ramen (since there’s usually a long line of people waiting outside). I got scolded last time when I checked my phone in the middle of slurping my noodles. Second, you are expected to announce your dream to everyone in the restaurant after finishing eating (Yume Wo Karare means “tell the dream” in Japanese). Third, depending on how much ramen you leave in the bowl when you are done, the waiter/waitress will announce to the whole restaurant “excellent”, “very good” or “not bad”.
Take the T to South Station, NOT Chinatown station.
- Q Restaurant (660 Washington St)
Great hot pot and sushi. They don’t take reservations so prepare to wait during peak hours.
- Beard Papa’s (31 Harrison Ave)
Amazing cream puff. Try the chocolate lava cake.
- Kung Fu Tea (66 Kneeland St)
Real milk tea with many options. There’s a location in Davis Square, too (only 2 T stops away from Harvard).
- Hot Pot Buffet (70 Beach St)
For $17-23 per person. Good spicy broth. Open until 2 a.m. Doesn’t take reservations so may need to wait in line.
There is an enormous amount of free food at Harvard. It is possible to have three meals a day, plus snacks in between, without ever going to the dining halls or paying for food.
- House open houses
In every house, the house deans host open houses about once every two weeks or so. These are events where students in the house can gather in a relaxed setting and chat with the deans and with one another over great food. Each house has a different style and frequency, but my favorite one is Lowell Tea. Many people attending Lowell Tea are actually not from Lowell. This usually crowded event features an unlimited supply of freshly baked goods, monkey bread, and of course, tea. The brownies were some of the best ones I’ve ever had. Lowell Tea is usually every Thursday at 5 pm. Check the calendar on the Lowell House website just to be sure.
- Ticknor Lounge
If you go to Ticknor Lounge in the evening on a weekday, 8 out of 10 times you will find free food. This is a popular location for study breaks and various events.
- School of Engineering Sciences (SEAS)
The CS department regularly hosts ice cream socials at 3:30PM on Thursdays in Maxwell Dworkin.
- The Law school library has free coffee
Free coffee is available after 9pm on weeknights and all day on weekends in the coffee room located next to the Casperson Room on the library fourth floor.
- Board Plus
All Harvard students receive $65 of BoardPlus dollars per semester that can be spent at any any HUDS-operated cafe. Here is a list of them.
Hillel is an often overlooked conveniently located dining hall. Almost everyone agrees that the food there is better than the average dining hall food. All Harvard students are welcome to eat there. Note that it only serves dinner, Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 7 pm. The weekly Friday Shabbat dinners are also worth checking out.
- Events and study breaks
Sign up for lots of mailing lists. If there are too many emails to read through, just search, for example, “Insomnia cookies” in your Inbox. Chances are you will find an upcoming event serving free Insomnia cookies.
View Zara’s Food Map of Harvard Square and Beyond in a full screen map