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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Kendall Square

A guide to navigating through the Boston area’s smartest square

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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 InstituteDraper LaboratoryForsyth InstituteKoch 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

Landmark Theatres Kendall Square Cinema, One Kendall Square at 355 Binney St. Photo by Nailya Maxyutova (COM’14)

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 & 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 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.

Lord Hobo, 92 Hampshire St. Kendall Square

Lord Hobo, 92 Hampshire St. Photo by E.S. Ro

State Park
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, and tabasco honey-fried chicken. It’s also known for its pitchers of cocktails, including Pimm’s cup, Tom Collins, and a blanc vermouth mojito.

Lord Hobo
92 Hampshire St.

With a draft selection that’s updated hourly, Lord Hobo is a favorite among MIT students. Open since 2009, the restaurant offers an array of local beers, including some of its own brews (Lord Hobo has a brewery in nearby Woburn, Mass.). There are dozens of beers on the menu including draft, lager and wheat, IPA, and ciders, and a long cocktail list offering drinks with attention-grabbing names like the Scorpion’s Sting (gin, spicy honey, and lemon) and the Gwonde Lyon (aged rum, allspice dram, grapefruit, lime, and bitters). New American cuisine predominates, with creative spins on comfort food like mac n’ cheese and steak frites. Lord Hobo also offers a popular weekend brunch. Rotating exhibitions of work by local artists enliven the walls.

The Automatic
50 Hampshire St.

This retro bar-restaurant opened to great expectations in November 2016. It’s helmed by two longtime Cambridge restaurateurs, Chris Schlesinger of 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 the Arugula and Shaved Fennel Salad, which includes roasted beets, pickled onion, 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.

The Automatic interior

The Automatic, 50 Hampshire St. Photo by Cydney Scott

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 garage. Situated on the roof of 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. Get to the garden using the parking-garage stairs.

Meadhall
90 Broadway

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 made with 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 Garment District
200 Broadway

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 1950s on. Since new items arrive daily, expect to see different merchandise every time you shop. Early each morning, clothing is also sold by the pound ($2 a pound) with a discount on Fridays ($1 a pound), which means that those willing to rummage through disorganized piles can really luck out. The 12,000-square-foot space offers an estimated 40,000 items for sale at any given time.

Boston Costume, 200 Broadway Kendall Square

Boston Costume, 200 Broadway. Photo by Nailya Maxyutova (COM’14)

Boston Costume
200 Broadway

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. The store 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 both to rent and to buy.

Squirrel Brand Park and Community Garden
260 Broadway

Directly 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 Squirrel Nut Zippers, with engravings that include fun facts such as the swing band, The Squirrel Nut Zippers, which named themselves after the Squirrel Brand candy in 1933.

Bondir Restaurant
279A Broadway

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 constantly changing menu offers such delicacies as Beef Strip Loin served with parsnip, yellowfoot mushrooms, and nettles of sakura-cured fluke, served with kohlrabi, black radish, and a chestnut vinaigrette. The drink menu includes a wide selection of American and European wines and beers. The cozy, farmhouse-style restaurant only has seating for 28, so it’s best to make a reservation in advance. Bondir is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Bondir Restaurant exterior

Bondir Restaurant, 279A Broadway. Photo by Cydney Scott

Longfellows Café and Lamplighter Taproom
284 Broadway

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 away 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 offers only 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
286 Broadway

This wonderful garden supply shop is overflowing with a diverse array of plants, pots, ceramics, and other garden supplies. The friendly, knowledgeable staff will help even the brownest of thumbs find something they can grow. They also design urban gardens and containers for terraces and patios, and offer a variety of workshops and classes on design and plant care.

Longfellows Cafe and Lamplighter Taproom exterior

Longfellows Cafe and Lamplighter Taproom, 284 Broadway. Photo by Cydney Scott

Area Four
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. Lunch offerings include an array of salads, sandwiches, and soups; dinner entrées focus on comfort food, including mac and cheese, pork ribs, and whole organic chicken. You’ll also find creative cocktails to accompany your meal. 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 March 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 filling 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.

Catalyst
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 barley risotto, charred lemon spring onions, chermoula, fiddleheads and ramps; roasted blue cod with bacon and mussels; and top sirloin lamb with sugar snap peas, labneh, and Za’atar spiced fregola sarda. 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

Entrepreneur Walk of Fame. Photo by Nailya Maxyutova (COM’14)

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 a 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. The restaurant offers unique ramen dishes, including original tonkotsu (pork) ramen, which features 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.

Abigail’s
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.

Bailey and Sage, 5 Cambridge Center Kendall Square

Bailey and Sage, 5 Cambridge Center. Photo by E.S. Ro

Fuji
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, is a tasty end to a delicious meal.

EVOO Restaurant
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 right on its menu, which changes daily—a reflection of just how fresh and local the ingredients are. Baked Thai herb–marinated haddock fillet with crispy jasmine rice balls, shiitake mushrooms, charred peppers, onions and sweet potato red curry sauce, and the buttermilk-brined fried chicken thigh with shredded lettuce, pickled peppers, and BBQ ranch dressing served on a bun give a hint of the inventive cuisine you can expect to find at EVOO.

Kika Tapas
5 Broad Canal Way

This eatery in the Watermark Building draws on the films of Pedro Almodovar 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. Those seeking something more substantial should try the Spanish paellas. The craft cocktails are named for Almodovar’s film characters or titles. A selection of salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.

Commonwealth Cambridge
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 spring pea ravioli and beet and blackberry 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 Kendall Square

Charles River Canoe and Kayak, 15 Broad Canal Way. Photo by Nailya Maxyutova (COM’14)

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, all 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 no reservations are required. 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.

Glass House
450 Kendall St.

This new Kendall Square restaurant lives up to its name: it’s housed in a beautiful new glass-encased building, and pays tribute to East Cambridge’s former history as the center of the nation’s glass-making industry. The restaurant offers breakfast to go Monday through Friday, lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner seven days a week, along with an excellent Sunday brunch. With an emphasis on seafood, Glass House features an expansive raw bar and appetizers and entrées ranging from fish tacos and charred octopus 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 yummy options like steak frites, pan-roasted half chicken, and a very good house burger.

Café ArtScience
650 E. Kendall St.

Kendall Square is an appropriate backdrop for this innovative café, opened in 2014. 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 Azelia milk chocolate ganache is made with miso, banana pudding, and pine-nut ice cream; and the coconut tres leches is made with Thai basil, coconut jam, finger lime, and cinnamon Thai basil.

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, exhibits, 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.

Aceituna Grill
605 W. Kendall St.

This café is Kendall Square’s go-to restaurant for Mediterranean and Lebanese cuisine. Here 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 the dinner menu depends 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.

MIT Museum
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.

Explore other neighborhoods here.

This story was originally published on March 24, 2016; it has been updated to include new locations and current information.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Kendall Square

  • AAS on 01.26.2017 at 11:53 am

    You should add The Smoke Shop in One Kendal Square. Best BBQ in the Boston area!

  • Robert Munafo on 01.27.2017 at 6:52 am

    Inasmuch as you have the MIT Museum as being “founded in 1981” and “renamed in 1980”. I assume they have an exhibit of time-travel devices. ;)

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