Cambridge Central Square is a true culinary crossroads – here, you’ll get everything from rich Ethiopian stews to hamachi crudos to hand-rolled pastas (hello, lobster ravioli). Before heading there, take a look at our list of must-visit restaurants that are at the center of our attention.
Injera bread at this staunch Ethiopian and Eritrean eatery, which has been live since 1986, is worth a visit on its own. Bread made of wheat, soft and cheerful, is part of the meal as well as the pot; Use it to soak up every last drop of rich sauces, from a mild yellow curry with fresh tomatoes, to a spiced butter sauce with onions and peppers in Asmara Tepsi’s signature beef. (Go ahead and lick your fingers too – we promise no one will notice.) While you’re welcome to pull out a chair at a standard table, you can also make the most of the communal experience by dining while sitting on the floor around the mesob, a traditional woven basket that holds your party feast.
739 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-864-7447, asmararestaurantboston.com.
Cloud and souls
Inside the pits lush with a wall of foliage and exposed pine beams, Executive Chef Ron SH throws bold flavors onto seasonal menus that fuse Western and Pacific-inspired cuisine: Check out the bright Hamachi Crudo with delicious sun-roasted tomatoes. Like Hainan Chicken Arancini, which marries an Italian fried rice ball to rich Chinese provincial spices. Meanwhile, creative brews are a breath of fresh air — consider Cloud 9, an old-fashioned spin topped with a tuft of cotton candy. One of those and you’ll feel like you’re floating.
795 Main Street, Cambridge, 617-945-1158, 617-945-1158, cloudandspirits.com.
Donut Villa Diner
This nostalgic restaurant serves breakfast and lunch in a relaxed, diner-like setting. In particular, their namesake scones gain starring roles – they’re not just brewed with coffee, but dipped in honey and grilled like French toast, used to prop boiled eggs for a “penny donut,” and cut into two for a bacon cheeseburger . On top of all that, a wide range of vegan meals, from whipped toppings with house-made seitan sausage to waffles topped with coconut whipped cream, make Donut Villa a trusted home for vegetarians.
20 Prospect Street, Cambridge, 617-714-5018, donutvilladiner.com.
At Dial, Executive Chef Justin Urso ups the flavor by drawing inspiration from around the world: local favorites, like cod cheek fillets and crushed pea chips, and sharing menu space with feasts far away, like wok Thai. Roasted scallops with coconut rice and green curry broth. On the other hand, the interesting interior in the lounge is the kind of place where you want to relax with your friends as you feast on small plates and move on to the cocktail menu. Is margarita your mainstay? Get the mutiny going with “Rage Against the Tajin,” which sees tequila tricked with mango kicking up ghost pepper tincture and tagine seasoning. Enjoy it on the spacious patio, or travel upstairs to the Blue Owl siblings’ place, an industrial rooftop bar overlooking Central Square.
2 Columbia Street, Cambridge, 617-349-2967, thedialcentralsq.com.
James Beard Award-winning chefs Jamie Bissonnett and Ken Oringer pack small plates with a big punch in this bright, stone-walled beauty. Come for Istanbul’s cult-favorite meat ravioli, pockets of perfection topped with sour cream and red pepper butter, and light Parker House rolls with green goddess butter; Stick to the bar’s creative raw selections, including the Hamachi crudo with sweet-sour spike of pickled Japanese plums. Oh, and the oysters? Top it with caviar—you know, when you’re not packing roe in a potato sandwich with whipped butter and chives. This ass knows decadence.
505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1008, littledonkeybos.com.
Are you a fan of sushi, ramen and pan-Asian dishes in a relaxed atmosphere? It’s music to our ears. then there actual Music: Live jazz sessions on the weekends, where you can pair steamed pork with shrimp shumai to act like a Sonny Barbato Trio. Thai curry is a symphony of flavor, too—panang fritters sparkle to a spicy spike thanks to the red curry cut with peanuts and kaffir lime leaves. Chef Ginger Foamgon’s inimitable skills in the kitchen also shine through with his fairytale-themed sushi selections, such as the Sleeping Beauty Yellow Tail Roll, salmon and ripe mango that will keep you feeling full and happy always.
524 Massachusetts Ave. , Cambridge, 617-441-2116, themadmonkfish.com.
Chef Tracy Chang’s Japanese-Spanish cuisine charts a course for Tokyo via Toledo. On the itinerary: Black cod croquetas enhanced with chili aioli, bright salmon ceviche with yuzu, golden paella with shiitake mushrooms and an array of other veggies. If there was any one stop on the menu, it might be the cheesy waffle – a delicious cake topped with caramelized leeks and smoked mozzarella. Sounds a little weird? Sure, but it’s a home trip full of honey drizzle.
310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-9290, gopagu.com.
At Chef Chris and Pam Willis’s New American Trattoria, rustic salvaged wood and a pristine white fireplace are an elegant but homely backdrop to Italian food that changes regularly, depending on what’s in season. Sure, you can enjoy it in the cart, but do yourself a favor and reserve a seat for the triple prix exploits. what are you expecting? Perhaps delicious lobster ravioli swimming in nettle broth, a stale steak pie alongside Sardinian flatbread, and – with a bit of luck – lamb chops topped with buttered apple couscous. Whatever chips land on, be sure to bet on a decadent chocolate torta for dessert.
928 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1761, pammyscambridge.com.
In most restaurants, meat is the main event. (See: Heaps of hash, bacon on top of it all.) The twist at Veggie Galaxy is that all of the star dishes are all vegan—and can be tweaked to go vegan—without sacrificing the desire for comfort foods that draw diners in first place. How do you choose one shining star from the all-day breakfast and lunch-through-dinner menu? Start with homemade biscuits in Southern-style seitan broth, or swing by for a special Wednesday-only special: a hot Nashville chicken sandwich (it’s Seitan, too) with just enough spicy hot sauce to get you stagnant on Sunday. Finally, give in to the menu’s “coli’s corner” appeal, where the versatile fish and chips cauliflower is vegan with homemade rennet, buffalo cauliflower with vegan blue cheese, and more.
450 Massachusetts Ave. , Cambridge, 617-497-1513, veggiegalaxy.com.
We called this gem one of the best neighborhood eateries in town, but don’t take our word for it. The house-made pasta dishes — spaghetti dipped in a vibrant green sauce of English peas and mint, and snail-shaped loach swimming in a clam-studded seafood broth — testify to themselves. (Dishes of wood-grilled steak and parsnips, plus octopus shredded in scallion sauce, come with help.) The word may be on the Viale, but its tiny patio, flanked by graffitied walls, is still a bit of a secret. Discover it in the warmer months with a breeze at lunch, where you can sample breakfast sandwiches made with homemade fluffy English muffins, as well as shrimp and grits with Spanish chorizo with paprika.
502 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-1900, vialecambridge.com.