Few Boston neighborhoods have undergone as many transformations as Cambridge’s Kendall Square. Originally a Charles River salt marsh, by the middle of the 19th century it was a bustling industrial center that housed distilleries, factories, and the expansive Kendall Boiler and Tank Company, which gave the area its name. After World War II, most businesses had shut down or moved, leaving much of the area deserted, except for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which had moved to Cambridge in 1916.
During President John F. Kennedy’s race to space, the area was under consideration for NASA’s mission control center, but Vice President Lyndon Johnson successfully lobbied for Texas. At about the same time, the area became home to a US Department of Transportation hub, the John A. Volpe Transportation Center, a 14-acre parcel of land that MIT is set to redevelop into a mixed-use site that will most likely include a combination of housing, retail, office, and lab space.
Kendall Square languished until Biogen arrived in the 1980s, beginning the area’s transformation to what it is today: a thriving center for life sciences, biotech, pharmaceutical, and information technology firms. It also has some of the highest commercial and residential rents in the Boston area.
The Cambridge Innovation Center, launched in the late 1990s, is home to more start-ups than any other building in the world. Industry giants like Amazon, Biogen Idec, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Novartis also have a presence there. The Broad Institute, Draper Laboratory, Forsyth Institute, Koch Institute, and the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council have made the area a premier research hub.
Kendall Square has also seen the arrival of dozens of cafés and restaurants, many that use locally and sustainably grown ingredients.
BU Today has listed some of the square’s best places to visit, street by street.
Landmark Theatres Kendall Square Cinema
One Kendall Square at 355 Binney St.
True to its name, this movie theater is a Kendall Square landmark. The cinema sports nine screens and shows new releases, independent films, foreign language films, and documentaries. It has won numerous awards since its 1995 opening, and recently underwent a major renovation that included all new seats, carpet, tile, and flooring, and the construction of a bar serving beer and wine. View show times and get tickets online here.
The Friendly Toast
One Kendall Square, Building 3101
In search of an awesome brunch? Look no further. This restaurant is known for its imaginative breakfast fare, served all day: drool-worthy pumpkin cakes, French toast made from a choice of homemade breads, numerous egg entrées, and chicken and waffles, served on a bed of mashed chipotle sweet potatoes and topped with hot honey and maple sour cream. There are also burgers, sandwiches, burritos, and comfort food available for lunch and dinner. Expect long lines for weekend brunch.
Cambridge Brewing Company
One Kendall Square, Building 100
A staple since 1989, Cambridge Brewing Company is in a refurbished mill building. Brewers here have a passion for beer, and it shows. With wood-aged beers, experimental hybrids, special seasonal brews, and a commitment to creativity and sustainability, it offers one of the best selections of American craft beer in the Boston area. It also has a seasonally driven food menu for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Many of the ingredients are locally sourced. Enjoy a brew or a meal on the outdoor patio in warmer months.
One Kendall Square, Building 300
This relaxed, unpretentious eatery serves up “food, drinks, and amusements,” in a kitschy dive bar atmosphere, complete with retro pinball machines and pool tables. It offers lunch, dinner, and a weekend brunch, and on its eccentric menu you can find an appetizer of local oysters on the half shell with cocktail sauce and mignonette, cornmeal-crusted catfish, and fried chicken served with garlicky kale and bread-and-butter pickles. It’s also known for its innovative cocktails, where you can order by the pitcher, including Pimm’s cup, Tom Collins, and Bon Echo Buck (rye whiskey, ginger beer, lime juice, and bitters)—ideal for large groups.
50 Hampshire St.
This retro bar-restaurant opened to great expectations in 2016. It’s helmed by two longtime Cambridge restaurateurs, Chris Schlesinger of the late, lamented East Coast Grill and Dave Cagle of B-Side Lounge. Their new bar has an eclectic, relaxed vibe with chalkboard walls listing the daily specials and vinyl records providing the soundtrack. The 76-seat eatery offers bar snacks like grilled street corn, roasted jalapeño hummus and pita, and a “Frito Pie from Hell,” a bag of Fritos covered with chili, cheese, and hot sauce. Other notable items include grilled steak tips and a sweet potato falafel burger, and the arugula and shaved fennel salad, with roasted beets, pickled onions, goat cheese, and champagne vinegar. There are also plenty of sandwiches, skewers, and late-night eats, as well as a creative list of beers and cocktails, including the Automatic Dirty Martini: gin with a lemon-thyme brine. Stop by and find out why the Improper Bostonian named the Automatic winner of best late-night food and drink haunt.
92 Hampshire St.
With a draft selection that’s updated hourly, Lord Hobo is a favorite among MIT students. The restaurant offers an array of local beers, including some of its own brews (it has a brewery in Woburn, Mass.). There are dozens of beers on the menu: draft, lager, and wheat, IPA, and ciders, and a long cocktail list offering drinks with attention-grabbing names like the Godfather (GrandTen Distilling South Boston Irish whiskey, Amandine, and black walnut bitters) and the Pineapple Punch (GrandTen Distilling Fire Puncher, pineapple, cranberry, and citrus). New American cuisine predominates, with creative spins on comfort food like mac ’n’ cheese and rabbit pot pie. Lord Hobo also offers a popular weekend brunch. Rotating exhibitions of work by local artists enliven the walls.
82 Ames St.
This fast-casual Mediterranean chain based in Washington, D.C., recently arrived in Kendall Square. Diners can create their own personalized meal choosing from a list of fresh seasonal ingredients. CAVA boasts that you can create 58,978,800 combinations (they counted). You choose your base (including salad, grains, pita, or soup), spread (tzatziki, hummus, eggplant and red pepper dip, feta, and harissa), protein (falafel, lamb, beef meatballs, grilled chicken, or seasonal vegetables), toppings (pita crisps, cabbage slaw, diced cucumber, and more), and a dressing (Sriracha Greek yogurt, Greek or date vinaigrette, lemon herb tahini, yogurt dill, or green harissa). The house-made juices and teas complement the food.
Cambridge Center Roof Garden
90 Broadway/4 Cambridge Center
In the spring and summer, the bright sun, blooming flowers, freshly cut grass, and welcoming benches in this secret rooftop garden help you forget that you’re in the middle of a city, much less atop a six-story parking—the East Garage, at 4 Cambridge Center. The garden is free and open to the public. Bring a picnic lunch, or just enjoy the excellent view and some time away from the traffic below. It’s a local secret, so you won’t find many signs. Use the parking-garage stairs.
Meadhall is an impressive gastropub with French and Belgian influences. The ever-changing menu offers enticing eats like hand-cut Belgian frites smothered with herbs, Parmesan cheese, and roasted garlic aioli; Belgian ale meatloaf, topped with a brown ale tomato glaze—a pub classic with a European twist; and a house-made sausage sandwich: sausage, braised cabbage, and stout mustard, served on a French baguette. With 100 draught lines on the main floor and 10 more in the upstairs mezzanine area, Meadhall is also a haven for beer drinkers. The beer selection rotates weekly.
The Garment District
The Garment District is Cambridge’s go-to store for men’s and women’s vintage and gently used clothing. A magnet for budget-conscious and savvy shoppers, the store bills itself as an alternative department store housing “today’s clothes at yesterday’s prices,” and sells contemporary and designer casual and business attire and accessories, as well as apparel from every decade from the 1920s on. Since new items arrive daily, expect to see different merchandise every time you shop. The truly budget-conscious will want to check out the select clothing on the first floor that’s sold by the pound ($2 a pound) daily with an additional discount on Fridays ($1 a pound). If you’re willing to rummage through the disorganized piles, you can find some real deals. The 12,000-square-foot space offers an estimated 40,000 items for sale at any given time.
The Garment District’s sister store, Boston Costume, houses one of the largest selections of costumes in the Boston area. Whether you’re looking for the perfect Halloween outfit or something for a themed party, you’ll likely find it here. It also offers couple and group costumes, as well as costume accessories (think crazy beards, colorful wigs, makeup, funky glasses, hats, masks, and capes). Costumes are available to rent and to buy.
Squirrel Brand Park and Community Garden
Behind the Squirrel Brand Building, a former candy factory best known for its Squirrel Nut Zippers, lies a quaint park and community garden featuring nearly three dozen plots. A path winding through the pocket-size urban park commemorates some of Squirrel Brand’s best-known confectionaries, including its Vanilla Nut Chews and the aforementioned Nut Zippers, with engravings with fun facts such as that the swing band the Squirrel Nut Zippers named themselves after the Squirrel Brand candy in 1933.
Bondir looks like something out of a fairy tale, with pots of flowers lining the restaurant’s large windowsill and tree stump–shaped seats in the waiting area. Artisan chef-owner Jason Bond makes a point of introducing diners to ingredients they’ve never tried before, including rare vegetables. Much of the produce is raised at a two-acre farm, Bondir Gardens, in nearby Carlisle, Mass. For dinner, patrons can opt for either a five-course meal or à la carte. The menu, which changes daily, offers such delicacies as Beef Strip Loin served with parsnip, yellowfoot mushrooms, or nettles of sakura-cured fluke, served with kohlrabi, black radish, and a chestnut vinaigrette. On the drink menu are a wide selection of American and European wines and beers. The cozy farmhouse-style restaurant seats only 28, so it’s best to make a reservation. Bondir is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Longfellows Café and Lamplighter Taproom
By day, this spacious 10,000-square-foot building is Longfellows Café, a laid-back place where customers can order a coffee, tea, or pastry while working on their laptops. The second floor offers books for perusing and board games that customers can play. At night, the space (a former auto repair shop) becomes the Lamplighter Taproom and offers full- and half-pours, tasting flights, and chef and brewery collaborations. The bar serves up beers made at the adjacent Lamplighter Brewing Co., known for producing funky, flavorful ales. Windows separate the bar from the brewery, so you can actually see your drink being brewed. The taproom has a small menu featuring bar food, but guests are welcome to bring their own food. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays, and customers who bring their own growlers can have them filled during taproom hours.
Niche Urban Garden Supply
This wonderful garden supply shop is overflowing with a diverse array of plants, pots, and ceramics, and other garden paraphernalia. The friendly, knowledgeable staff will help even the brownest of thumbs find something they can grow. Offered are a variety of workshops and classes on design and plant care, and it also designs urban gardens and containers.
500 Technology Square
Area Four believes that great food comes from great ingredients, and it uses only products raised and harvested locally using sustainable methods. Best known for its pizza, A4 was featured on the Food Network series Best. Ever. The homemade dough is fermented for over 30 hours. Pies are topped with hand-pulled mozzarella, and you can choose from a large selection of fresh toppings. Among lunch offerings are salads, sandwiches, and soups; dinner entrées focus on comfort food, like mac and cheese, lamb and pork meatballs, and herb-roasted organic chicken. You’ll also find creative cocktails Area Four is co-owned by former music video producer Michael Krupp (COM’02).
Mexicali Burrito Co
500 Technology Square
MexiCali prides itself on its high-quality, fresh ingredients, vegan-friendly soups, and delicious homemade guacamole. It’s so good, President Obama stopped there during his visit to Cambridge in 2015. A family-owned taqueria in the style of the San Francisco Mission District, the restaurant dishes up mouthwatering burritos, enchiladas, tacos, quesadillas, and nachos featuring your choice of fillings like carne asada, achiote citrus chicken, chile Colorado pork, and more. MexiCali also operates a burrito cabana takeout hut at nearby 350 East Kendall St.
300 Technology Square
Catalyst serves locally focused, modern American cuisine with a French influence. The constantly changing menu has seen dishes like Crystal Valley chicken served with pommes puree, baby root vegetables, and chicken jus; pan-roasted blue cod with bacon, local clams, and mussels; and cider-braised Berkshire pork shank with sumac spaetzle, glazed parsnips, broccolini, and pork jus. The covered outdoor patio, which is heated when necessary, provides a comfortable dining spot.
Entrepreneur Walk of Fame
Begins on Main Street, by the outbound side of the Kendall/MIT Red Line T stop
Kendall Square’s version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame is homage to some of the nation’s leading entrepreneurs. When it was established in 2011, stars went to seven honorees: Thomas Edison, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, Genentech’s Bob Swanson, Lotus Development Corp. founder Mitch Kapor, and Hewlett Packard cofounders Bill Hewlett and David Packard. Names are added each year.
Bailey and Sage
5 Cambridge Center
This is an ideal destination for those seeking a healthy fast-food alternative. You can choose from specialty sandwiches, quinoa bowls, and chopped salads. First opened in Boston’s Financial District, Bailey & Sage expanded to Kendall Square in 2014. Vegetarians will love the wide variety of meat-free options, like the buffalo cauliflower sandwich and the B.L.T. (beets, lettuce, and tomato) sandwich. Carnivores, don’t despair: the place offers a delicious pesto chicken panini and an equally yummy Cubano sandwich (marinated roast pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard) pressed on a grill.
Shabu & Mein
148 First St.
Those looking for a modern take on Japanese hot pot and ramen will love Shabu & Mein. Patrons cook their own meal at their table, choosing from a wide variety of ingredients, including a soup base, meat, seafood, noodles, vegetables, and more. There’s a wonderful selection of small plates, bento boxes, and unique ramen dishes, like original tonkotsu (pork) ramen, soup noodles topped with char-siu pork, mushrooms, menma, scallions, nori, black sesame garlic oil, and a soft-boiled egg. The full-service bar has several flat-screen TVs for viewing sports and there’s a lovely courtyard as well.
291 Third St.
Proclaiming itself “Kendall Square’s neighborhood spot,” Abigail’s may live up to that with a bar that stays open until 1 am. The popular Sunday brunch features griddled banana bread topped with whipped cream and a brunch burger with a sunny egg, bacon, American cheese, lettuce, and special sauce, served on a soft potato bun. Dinner offers hearty entrées like bone-in sirloin steak and pork schnitzel, as well as sandwiches, burgers, pastas, and raw bar selections. Among the standouts on the impressive cocktail list are the Kentucky Waterfall (bourbon, Cardamaro, house cinnamon syrup, and Old Time bitters) and the Star F*cker (house-infused vanilla and orange vodkas, Parfait Amour, and fresh-squeezed lemon). Abigail’s also hosts special culinary events like whole animal roasts and barbecue brunches.
300 Third St.
Fuji brings flair to Kendall Square with its Asian fusion cuisine. It has an extensive selection of nigiri, sushi, sashimi, and makimonos, and its hot entrées encompass a variety of lo mein, fried rice, and chicken, beef, and shrimp dishes. Try to save room for dessert: the tempura-style fried cheesecake, with vanilla ice cream and strawberries, and the fried ice cream (flavors include red bean, mango, coconut, and vanilla) are a tasty end to a delicious meal.
350 Third St.
EVOO (an acronym for extra virgin olive oil) is for diners who like to know where the food they eat comes from. The restaurant, a five-time Zagat winner for Best Eclectic Restaurant in Boston, provides sourcing information for all ingredients on its menu, which changes daily—a reflection of just how fresh and local the ingredients are. (Some of the produce is even grown in the restaurant’s rooftop garden.) Chermoula-marinated blue cod fillet with couscous, spiced carrots, strained yogurt, raisins, herbs, and toasted almonds, and the Hubbard squash goat cheese enchiladas served with cumin-scented toasted rice give a hint of the inventive cuisine you can expect to find.
5 Broad Canal Way
This eatery in the Watermark Building draws on the films of Pedro Almodóvar for inspiration, exuding a Brazil circa 1970 vibe. It specializes in modern Spanish tapas: broccoli and cauliflower fritters, sizzling garlic shrimp, and goat cheese–stuffed prunes in bacon, for example. It also offers traditional tapas and sangrias from Spain as well as Latino-inspired dishes. For something more substantial, try the Spanish paellas. Many of the craft cocktails are named for Almodóvar’s film characters or titles. A selection of salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.
11 Broad Canal Way
This restaurant-market hybrid offers hearty comfort food and ever-changing daily meal selections made with local produce, New England cheeses, and farm-fresh eggs and dairy. The expansive seasonal brunch, lunch, and dinner menus are infused with personality. The dinner menu’s sweet potato agnolotti and carrot and farro salad attest to the family restaurant’s attention to serving up the freshest ingredients. The market carries a number of brand favorites, such as Grillo’s pickles, Joe’s chips, and Cabot cheese and butter.
Charles River Canoe and Kayak
15 Broad Canal Way
Get your paddle on: during warm-weather months, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard at affordable prices. A double kayak costs $21 an hour, a single kayak $16 an hour; a stand-up paddleboard is $19 an hour; standard two- or three-person canoes cost $21 an hour, and extra-large canoes for four or five people, $30 an hour. Rentals include life jackets and paddles for each person. There is a one-hour minimum charge on all rentals and reservations are required unless you have a season pass and have previously been approved for a harbor rental. Day rates, tours, and classes for children and adults are offered. There are two-hour Skyline and Sunset tours, as well as a two-and-a-half hour barbecue tour, which ends with a catered picnic on the banks of the Charles. Coolers and food may be taken on the boats, but no alcohol is permitted. Season passes are also available.
450 Kendall St.
This Kendall Square restaurant lives up to its name: it’s in a beautiful glass-encased building and pays tribute to East Cambridge’s former history as the center of the nation’s glass-making industry. It serves lunch Monday through Friday and dinner Monday through Saturday, along with an excellent seasonal Sunday brunch. With an emphasis on seafood, Glass House features an expansive raw bar and appetizers and entrées ranging from fish tacos and a charred octopus and grits dish to a pan-seared salmon served with a crispy quinoa cake, wasabi-edamame emulsion, and a pea shoot and papaya salad. Not a fan of what’s under the sea? Fear not. Glass House also offers options like steak frites, pan-roasted half chicken, and a very good house burger.
650 E. Kendall St.
Kendall Square is an appropriate backdrop for this innovative café. Conceived as a place where culinary art, science, and design meet “the sustainable future of food,” Café ArtScience advertises itself as a “café for the sensorium.” Here, cooking is a byproduct of the scientific method. Chefs concoct each menu item using intricate culinary experiments to ensure that each dish is creative, flavorful, and most important, delicious. The result: one of the most inventive menus anywhere. Be sure to save room for dessert: the banana cream is made with angel food cake, satsuma tangerine sorbet, sesame, and passion fruit yogurt, and the chocolate hazelnut mousse with dark chocolate, maple, juniper hazelnut streusel, and coffee ice cream.
Le Laboratoire Cambridge
650 E Kendall St.
Sharing a space with Café ArtScience, this “interdisciplinary cultural lab” was founded in France by inventor, materials scientist, and Harvard professor David Edwards. Now based in Kendall Square, the lab seeks to draw the public to take part in the “experiments and discoveries of world-renowned artists, designers, scientists, and culinary masters” by offering a range of lectures, exhibitions, and food and drink events. The flagship of ArtScience Labs, Le Laboratoire was hailed by the Boston Business Journal as an “art and design center for creativity, invention, and boundless learning…dedicated to igniting fundamental change in education, culture, industry, and society through its three pillars: cutting-edge exhibitions, dynamic public programming, and immersive food and drink experiences.” It also has a sound lab for concerts and shows and hosts free youth workshops as well as free ArtScience talks with visiting artists, chefs, musicians, biologists, and more.
605 W. Kendall St.
This café is the square’s go-to restaurant for Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine. You’ll find a variety of pita roll-ups, salads, falafel, shawarma, and kababs. You can mix and match to create your meal: start with a base (salad, roll-up, or rice plate) and then add a protein and sides. All the food is made from fresh ingredients and extra virgin olive oil; Aceituna serves gourmet fast food that is both satisfying and healthy.
The Squeaky Beaker
675 W. Kendall St.
The second establishment of Anthony Miller, operator of the East Cambridge favorite 2nd Street Café, the Squeaky Beaker offers a variety of “sane food,” defined by Miller as “healthy, fresh, nonprepared food, without gimmicks, at a reasonable price.” Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (the latter is to-go only and changes daily depending on the chef’s whims) are served. For breakfast, try the three-egg omelet or the breakfast sandwich. You won’t go wrong with the mom’s meatball grinder sandwich or the grilled Reuben on the lunch menu.
Mâe Asian Eatery
781 Main St.
This tiny new restaurant (opened in December 2018) serves Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese cuisine. Chef Yuri Asawasittikit draws inspiration from her mother’s recipes (“Mâe means “mother” in Thai). Some of the most popular dishes include pad Thai with rice vermicelli, shrimp, and chicken made with palm sugar, and Chinese street noodles topped with pieces of pork belly and fish cake, slices of roast pork, bean sprouts, crisp wonton wrapper, cilantro, and ground peanuts. Stop by for lunch or dinner, but don’t leave without trying the desserts. The fried banana spring roll topped with caramel sauce and the fresh mango over sticky rice topped with coconut milk are delicious. Mâe Asian Eatery is between Central and Kendall Squares; it closes from 3 to 5 pm before serving dinner and closed on Sundays.
265 Massachusetts Ave., Building N51
The MIT Museum focuses on the institute’s impact on research, teaching, and scientific innovations on society. Founded in 1971 as the MIT Historical Collection, its original mandate was to collect and preserve MIT’s scientific and technological artifacts. It was renamed in 1980 and since has featured exhibitions on such diverse topics as the internet, robotics, holography, and photography. The museum also hosts public school vacation activities, evening discussion series, and in mid-April, the Cambridge Science Festival.
Getting there: By subway, take a Green Line trolley inbound to Park Street, then a Red Line train outbound to the Kendall/MIT station. By foot, walk down Comm Ave to the Mass Ave Bridge, walk across, turn right onto Vassar Street, and walk past the MIT campus.
Click on the points in the map above for more information on the places listed in our guide to the Kendall Square area.
This story was originally published on March 24, 2016; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.
November 15, 2019
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October 10, 2019