By Anushka Wirasinha

Photo courtesy Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Recently I returned to my college town, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and went in search of the places I used to love when I was a student at Harvard. Some are still around, and I share these with you; and some are gone, but there are great replacements. All are welcoming and budget friendly and cater to the lifestyle and pockets of students.

It was the unique local homey cafes and restaurants I remember looking back on my days roaming around Harvard Square. These one of a kind little cafes and eating places served menus with many delicious options unavailable elsewhere. But they were more than just a place to grab a decent meal for a great price;it was the friendly atmosphere that was served on the side that made a homesick student remember and treasure these small local cafes. They were a place of relaxation, friendly chats, a place to study, meet friends, play a game of cards and watch the world go by but most of all a place where you were surrounded by friendly serving staff that were there to give advice, listen, create the perfect blend for your taste buds to enjoy and make you feel at home whenever you entered through their doors.

Many of these charming little cafes have now unfortunately disappeared partly with the springing up of large chain stores and coffee shops and partly because of the economic recession sending them out of business. My craving for unique homemade taste made me want to visit one of my favorite places in the world once more- Harvard Square and discover the hidden treasures that were still around waiting to be discovered and delight the taste buds.

There was a particular café that grabbed my attention in Harvard Square because of its quaint whimsical décor. Sweet is relative newcomer to the area, but fits right in. Inside black and white elegantly patterned wallpaper blankets around a few white tables and chairs to sit and enjoy cupcakes while watching the happenings in Harvard Square. The General Manager of the store, Erin, said, “the cupcakes do not include any nuts at all in them and kids don’t have to worry about getting allergies as the products are completely free of nuts. Even the recipes that generally have nuts such as almonds included in them as part of the ingredients are made here without the addition of any nuts.”

My favorite is the Boston crème pie cupcake followed by the dark chocolate small cupcake. The varieties are endless and even the most picky cupcake enthusiast can find his/her match. The icing is subtly crunchy while the cake is moist creating the perfect blend that satisfies the sweet toothed and the health conscious alike. Erin says “all the products including the batter, fillings and frosting are made from scratch and when I want to give myself a treat I get a cupcake.” I was amazed at how she single handedly managed the café. While I was there at least 50 people came in and she says “on a busy day there are about 100 or more visitors.” When she was not serving customers she was cleaning the store. Yet always with a smile.

Charlie’s Kitchen is a hungry student’s delight. The scrumptious house special double lobster roll at $12 was enough to fill up anyone. The clam chowder was another favorite, and if you truly want to taste the authentic New England clam chowder, you need to try it at Charlie’s Kitchen. One of the waitresses, Jessica explained, “In the evening there is karaoke and Monday night is band night. There is also a trivia night.” If you want to watch a game of sports and get some drinks, they have a great bar. According to Chef Jose Valle, “All the ingredients are fresh and made here. I eat at the restaurant twice a day most days and enjoy the meals as I know it’s fresh and healthy.”

Lizzy’s Homemade Ice Cream is a quaint little ice cream café, nestled within the old redbrick surroundings of its neighbors and serves a great selection of ice creams. The ice cream is made by one person in the basement of their Waltham café and distributed to the cafes in Needham and Harvard Square. Brenna Feeley who works part time at the Harvard Square café showed me around. She says, “I just love the ice cream here so much that I eat it all the time.” Kristian Gonzalez is the manager of the Harvard Square store and said, “During last summer business was slow but now it is catching up.” Their creamy unique flavor and fresh fruity taste sets these ice creams a part from anything else I have tasted and the dark raspberry/strawberry for $4 was fantastic, and so huge that I couldn’t finish it quickly enough and had to transfer the ice cream on the cone to a cup to prevent it melting in the heat.

These charming little hidden away café delights are what makes Harvard Square the perfect place for eager taste buds to explore. You cannot quite equal the unique flavors served in these one of a kind eating places or the local eager to please people that serve you. After all there is nothing in the world more delicious and enjoyable than the perfect taste served with a great big smile.

And now, a word from the locals:

Aaron Butler, Bar Manager, Russell House Tavern (
1) Charlie’s Kitchen – I go there a lot, but especially in between doubles. Their Guinness Burger with beer battered fries gives me the energy to go for another 9 hours.
2) Crimson Lounge – I go there for trivia on Thursday nights. They have a great beer selection and all my favorite liquors behind the bar.
3) Daedelus – The food and beer are delicious, but what is best about this place is the rooftop patio during the summer. It can’t be beat.
4) Noir – Late night debauchery at its best.

Garrett Harker, Owner, Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks and Island Creek Oyster Bar
( and

1. Pinocchio’s for cult following pizza
2. Darwin’s is a great coffee shop
3. Rialto is fantastic for Jodi Adams’ soulful Mediterranean fare…

Adam Sperling, GM, Hotel Commonwealth (
1. Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers – a Harvard Square institution
2. Legal Sea Foods – great place to bring the kids
3. Russell House Tavern – great brunch

Charlie’s Kitchen
10 Eliot Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Crimson Lounge at Tommy Doyle’s
96 Winthrop St, Cambridge, MA 02138

45½ Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

148 Mt Auburn Strseet, Cambridge, MA 02138

Eastern Standard Kitchen & Drinks
528 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston 02215

Hotel Commonwealth
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215

Island Creek Oyster Bar
500 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston 02215

Legal Sea Foods
20 University Road, Cambridge, MA 02138

Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers
1246 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138

1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

74 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

1 Bennett Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Russell House Tavern
14 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138