Lunch, Anyone? Cafeteria
Casual comfort food with a Newbury Street twist
Don’t let its name fool you. At the popular Back Bay eatery Cafeteria, you’ll find no plastic trays, flimsy plastic forks, or lunch ladies wearing hairnets. This popular restaurant at the corner of Newbury and Gloucester Streets specializes in the kind of classic American comfort food you only wish your high school had served.
Cafeteria’s motto—“tray chic”—captures the spirit of the place. The restaurant boasts an impressive outdoor patio for summer and early autumn dining and people-watching. Inside, the décor matches the menu: contemporary, casual, and decidedly all-American. From the giant fork and spoon hanging on the wall to the sunlight streaming in through the second floor bay window to the quirky sayings on the chalkboard behind the full-service bar, it’s easy to feel at home at Cafeteria.
What’s not so easy is deciding what to order. The extensive menu ranges from ordinary lunch fare (grilled cheese sandwich, $9.50) to ritzier indulgences (braised short rib, $23.50). The one thing Cafeteria’s dishes have in common is their modern take on American classics. The curried chicken salad sandwich ($10.50) comes with grapes, almonds, and curry aioli on a ciabatta roll, while the spaghetti and meatballs ($16) features all-natural grass-fed beef. Fontina, cheddar, and parmesan mac-n-cheese ($14 to $20) makes an appearance and can be ordered the old-fashioned way or with peas and carrots, bacon, chicken, shrimp, or lobster for added flavor. Burgers can be had both old-school (the Cafeteria Burger, with cheddar and house-made Cafeteria sauce, $12.50) and new-fangled (the lamb burger, with tzatziki, olives, and feta for a Greek flare, $14). The Greek salad sandwich ($10), cheeseburger pizza ($14.50), and Cafeteria taco salad ($14.50) attest that the lines between sandwiches, salads, and pizzas are blurred. An apt description of the food is comfort cool—offering the familiarity of that served at family dinners with a dash of Back Bay chic.
After perusing the menu, we decided on the cheeseburger spring rolls ($12), which came with ketchup and Cafeteria sauce, a tangy homemade take on Thousand Island dressing. The rolls were fried crispy on the outside, but were still surprisingly light. They were filled with hot, juicy hamburger and a thin layer of cheddar cheese, a delicious combination with the flavor enhanced by the sweet yet zesty Cafeteria sauce. Although technically an appetizer, the four spring rolls were packed with beef and cheese, more than enough for a lunchtime meal.
A friend chose the meatloaf sandwich ($12), which was served with bacon, cheddar, tomato, and Cafeteria sauce layered with meatloaf on a panini. The sandwich was large—two of us were unable to finish it all—but not so unmanageable that it fell apart. It was delicious: the meatloaf tender, with a barbecue undertone, the tomatoes fresh, the bacon cooked well, and the gooey cheese held it all together. It came with French fries coated with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese, which, while addictively flavorful, were slightly too crispy.
Cafeteria is an ideal lunch spot for Newbury Street shoppers needing to refuel (or anyone interested in good food). The service is fast and polite, the restaurant is clean and well-decorated, the portions are generous, and the food is fresh and satisfying. The varied menu is an agreeable marriage of classic and contemporary. We can’t wait to go back and try something else.
Cafeteria, 279a Newbury St., Boston, is open Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.; phone: 617-536-2233. View the menu here. Cafeteria accepts all major credit cards. By public transportation, take an MBTA inbound Green Line trolley to Hynes Convention Center.
This is part of a weekly series featuring Boston lunch spots of interest to the BU community. If you have any suggestions for places we should feature, leave them in the Comment section below.
Samantha Pickette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.