Every city has its thoroughfares, places where restaurants are plentiful, nightlife is booming and crowds throng the sidewalks. In Cambridge, we have Mass. Ave., which wends its way from south of Boston through the heart of our city, snaking past MIT and Harvard, cutting through North Cambridge and continuing to Arlington and beyond.
But outside of this artery, you’ll find some of the city’s best restaurants tucked away on side streets, away from the hustle and bustle—often just steps away from more heavily-trafficked areas.
130 Fawcett St.
Who doesn’t love a good bakery? Iggy’s has been in business since 1992 and is a familiar part of the local scene—their breads are available at an ever-growing number of grocery stores, restaurants and farmer’s markets. What you may not realize is that they also have a retail location near Fresh Pond, down a back street that doesn’t see much in the way of car traffic, let alone foot traffic. The store serves breads and pastries and also provides the lunchtime crowd with sandwiches on fresh baguettes and slices of gourmet pizza. Be sure to try their sticky buns, which have a croissant-like flakiness and are covered with caramel and walnuts.
231 Alewife Brook Pkwy.
Tucked between generic chains like CVS, Dunkin’ Donuts and Chipotle, Genki Ya is a gem hidden in plain sight. This is the place to go for all-natural, organic sushi. Their menu also offers gyoza (dumplings), kushiyaki (grilled meat on a skewer) and katsudon (breaded fried cutlet over rice). Their sushi comes with fanciful names like “Super Dragon Roll” and “Salmon Monster Roll,” and most can be made with brown rice. The signature Genki Ya Roll is a highlight—it not only includes sweet potato tempura, but is also deep-fried.
Jose’s Mexican Restaurant
131 Sherman St.
It can be difficult to find authentic Mexican fare in New England—that is, if you’re not familiar with Jose’s in North Cambridge. They have the usual range of quesadillas, burritos, tamales and tostadas, and you can order most dishes with pretty much whatever meat you want. Try the enchiladas with either mole negro (made with chocolate, chili peppers and spices) or mole verde (made with tomatillos, pumpkin seeds and herbs). As an added bonus—especially in Cambridge—they have their own parking lot next door with plenty of space.
1 Belmont St.
There are many reasons Ana Sortun is such a beloved fixture of the Cambridge food scene. Sofra, which she co-founded with pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, is definitely one of them. Their bakery is located on the Watertown-Cambridge border, just steps away from Mount Auburn Cemetery. Its menu provides a feast of flavors from Turkey, Lebanon and Greece. Their takes on Middle Eastern favorites such as falafel, hummus and chicken or lamb shawarma are all memorable. If you’re looking for something a little different, try the shakshuka—poached eggs with a tomato-curry broth and a dollop of zhoug, a Yemeni spicy paste made from chilies—or the fried cauliflower with tahini remoulade. Or, bring these worldly flavors home with the wide variety of spices and prepared foods they have for sale.
111 Harvard St.
Amelia’s Trattoria is an Italian highlight. It’s just steps away from 1 Kendall Square, but it’s down a side street and easy to miss. Amelia’s has range of paninis, salads and entrees, but you’ll want to go right for their pastas. Many have multiple meat options, and all are packed with robust flavors. For an additional price, most meals can be prepared with their freshly made pasta.
80 1/2 Pearl St.
Located in the middle of residential Cambridgeport, Baraka Cafe is easy to overlook. It offers traditional Algerian-Tunisian and North African cuisine. Although the lunch menu mostly consists of sandwiches, the dinner menu, particularly a range of hot and cold meze (appetizers), is where this spot really shines. The za’atar coca is a flatbread covered with caramelized onions and za’atar, an herb and spice mixture guaranteed to make your tastebuds tingle. Also, don’t miss their “cherbat,” a lemonade that’s made with rose petals, mint and spices.
125 River St.
Cambridge has no shortage of bars, but River Gods is a nice alternative that provides exactly what they promise: “Dinner, Drinks and DJs.” The lighting is dim, the decor is much plusher than its rivals and it has a cozy, somewhat gothic atmosphere. They have a solid menu, with an entire section dedicated to vegetarian and vegan fare that includes vegetarian tacos and a to-die-for vegan roulade. Non-vegans should go for the brie cheese and the brown butter chicken. And everyone can enjoy the music—they have a full schedule of DJs spinning everything from techno to hip hop to soul to punk to new wave.
319 Western Ave.
Basta Pasta’s slogan—”Good food, honestly prepared”—fits it to a T. Here, familiar, hearty fare like pasta with bolognese sauce or eggplant parmigiana are elevated to something memorable with fresh ingredients and careful preparation. Their expansive menu also includes paninis, pizzas and risottos, and their very garlicky garlic bread with cheese is both a delectable, gooey accompaniment to your meal and a potent vampire repellent.
Alive and Kicking Lobsters
269 Putnam Ave.
Perhaps there are so few Cambridge eateries specializing in seafood because Alive and Kicking Lobsters more than has us covered. Part restaurant and part seafood market, Alive and Kicking has an unassuming exterior, but their whole lobsters, steamed shellfish and seafood chowders are as fresh as can be. The pièce de résistance is—without a doubt—the lobster sandwich, which is served on toasted, buttered white bread instead of a roll. They also have exterior picnic table seating during warmer weather.
52 Brattle St.
It’s cheating a bit to include L.A. Burdick—after all, it’s not far from the center of Harvard Square—but we’ll take any chance we can get to highlight the best hot chocolate in town. Their hot chocolates are thick and intense, and their European-inspired desserts are legendary—the Linzertorte, an Austrian jam-filled torte, and Engadiner Nusstorte, a nut-filled torte named after a region in Switzerland, deserve special mention.