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Getting to Know Your Neighborhood: Kendall Square

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


Few Boston neighborhoods have been transformed as often 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

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 was named “Best Cinema of Boston” five times by Boston magazine. 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 pancakes, French toast made from a choice of homemade bread, numerous egg entrées, and a caramel apple waffle (Belgian waffle with caramelized apples, crushed nuts, and a house-made caramel sauce). 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 a Napa cabbage salad with SarVecchio frico, apples, candied pecans, and mustard vinaigrette. 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 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.). The Lord Hobo Boom Sauce, a hoppy double IPA, is especially popular, and a long cocktail list offers drinks with attention-grabbing names like the Tom Foolery and the Drop Dead Legs. New American cuisine predominates, with creative spins on comfort food like fried chicken, mac and cheese, and rabbit pot pie. 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 long-time 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 bread-and-butter pickles, Grafton cheddar served on Ritz crackers, and a “Frito Pie from Hell,” a bag of Fritos covered with chili, cheese, and hot sauce. Other notable items include a special tiger salad made with long horn peppers, cilantro, and sesame chili oil. There are also plenty of sandwiches, skewers, and late-night eats, as well as a creative list of beers and cocktails, including the Automatic Martini: gin with a lemon-thyme brine.

The Automatic interior

The Automatic, 50 Hampshire St. Photo by Cydney Scott

Firebrand Saints
One Broadway

This gastropub specializes in American fare like beers, burgers, and deep-fried appetizers, but every dish has a sophisticated flair. Check out the lamb and sirloin burger with harissa aioli and spicy pickles or the smoky BBQ pulled chicken sandwich with peach barbecue sauce, sweet pickles, and red cabbage and cilantro slaw.

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 help you forget that you’re in the middle of a city, much less atop a six-story parking garage. This roof garden atop the East Garage at 4 Cambridge Center 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. The garden is a local secret, so you won’t find many signs. Get to the garden using the parking garage stairs.

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
268 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, that named themselves after the Squirrel Brand candy in 1933.”

Bondir Restaurant
279A Broadway

Bondir’s 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 charred savoy cabbage with green crab hollandaise and Korean chili, and black bass sashimi with Alaskan huckleberries, dulse, and mushroom soy. The drink menu includes a wide selection of American and European wines and beers.

Bondir Restaurant exterior

Bondir Restaurant, 279A Broadway. Photo by Cydney Scott

Longfellows Café and Lamplighter Taproom
284 Broadway

By day, this spacious 10-thousand-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 Taproom Brewery, 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 uses only products raised and harvested locally using sustainable methods. Best known for its pizza, A4 was recently 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: an array of salads, sandwiches, and soups; dinner entrées focus on comfort food: mac and cheese, pork ribs, and whole roasted trout. 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 healthy ingredients like whole-wheat tortillas and nonfat yogurt. A second cabana takeout hut is at 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 crispy pork belly tacos, roasted blue cod with bacon and mussels, and pork shank served with baby carrots, apples, rutabaga, onion, and spinach. 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.

4 Cambridge Center

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 wurst platter with house-made bratwurst and duck sausage served with spaetzle, braised cabbage, and potato salad. With 100 draught lines on the main floor and 10 more in the upstairs mezzanine area, Meadhall is also a haven for beer drinkers.

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 and Sage expanded to Kendall Square in 2014. Vegetarians will love the wide variety of meat-free options, like a Mediterranean hummus sandwich and a T.L.T. (tofu, lettuce, and tomato) sandwich. Carnivores, don’t despair: the place offers a delicious pesto chicken panini and an equally yummy Cuban sandwich (marinated roast pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard) pressed on a grill.

291 Third St.

Proclaiming itself “Kendall Square’s neighborhood spot,” Abigail’s may live up to that with a kitchen that stays open until midnight. 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 a ratatouille crepe and a grass-fed, dry-aged rib eye, 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 Starf*cker (house-made 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

300 Third St.

Fuji brings flair to Kendall Square with its Asian fusion cuisine. It has an extensive selection of nigiri, sushi, sashimi, and maki, and its hot entrées encompass a variety of lo meins, 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 four-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. Sea scallops served with cavatelli and a smoky pigskin ragú; sous vide chicken breast served with roasted potatoes, spaghetti squash, and a zesty salsa verde; and garlic-and-parsley-studded beef tenderloin are representative of the 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: serrano ham with toast points, broccoli and cauliflower fritters, and scallops in saffron cream, 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’s characters or titles. A selection of salads and sandwiches is available for lunch.

Commonwealth Cambridge
11 Broad Canal Way

This restaurant-market hybrid serves up 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 lobster fettuccine is one of the unique signature dishes. 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 standing paddleboard, all at affordable prices. A double kayak costs $20 an hour; a single kayak is $15 an hour, standard two- or three-person canoes $20 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.

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 by-product of the scientific method. Chefs create 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 Bahibe milk chocolate ganache is made with sweet potato, candied walnuts, and toasted marshmallow ice cream, and the hazelnut praline parfait is made with tres leches, hazelnut sablé, and apple fennel sorbet.

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 St. Café, the Squeaky Beaker offers a variety of “sane food,” defined by Miller as “healthy, fresh, non-preprepared food, without gimmicks, at a reasonable price.” Breakfast, lunch, and dinner (the dinner menu depends on the chefs’ whims) are served. For breakfast, try the three-egg omelet or one of the breakfast sandwiches. The mom’s meatball grinder sandwich and the grilled Reuben are a good choice from 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 1981 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, a Cambridge Science Festival. But the best days to visit are the second Fridays of each month, when the museum hosts programs geared toward college students, with titles like The Art of Electronic Music or The Science of Bad Relationships and is open until 8 p.m.

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 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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