Establishment neighborhood
Sofra Bakery and Cafe
1 Belmont St., Cambridge
Should you be lucky enough to find yourself in the charming, redbrick suburb that is Cambridge on a Sunday morning, Sofra is your place for brunch—even if you’re not a brunch person. With not a piece of maple-glazed bacon in sight, this is Middle Eastern cuisine that transforms breakfast into the most exciting meal of the day. Diners go wild for the shakshuka (eggs baked in a harissa-heavy tomato sauce), but we would argue for the Turkish-style breakfast (a plate of boiled eggs, cucumber and tomato salad, thick yogurt, and hunks of feta). The space looks like a cozy cabin and operates as a café-meets-general-store. The beautifully packaged herb and spice blends and a box of orange-and-rose-scented pastries make great gifts. The divine cardamom and orange blossom buns will make you rethink your feelings on cinnamon and sugar. The same goes for the coffee: The Turks like it dense and unapologetically strong.
Craigie on Main
853 Main St., Cambridge
Craigie on Main is one of those old-world restaurants where you order a cocktail at the bar before dinner, where the the food is coursed (not a small plate to share in sight), and where you do not steal glances at your phone. A farm-to-table, sort of French but mostly New American interpretation of a bistro, this place leans into the trappings of an old-school classic: starched white tablecloths, redbrick walls, and wood-shuttered windows. The menu is packed with comforting mainstays. Sweet, licorice-y fennel cuts through the richness of Craigie’s olive-oil-poached salmon, and the slow-cooked, thoroughly indulgent Vermont pork belly is a meal made for cold Boston winters. Either way, a side of white corn grits infused with peppery Pecorino is essential.
159 First St., Cambridge
Considered by many to be best ice cream in America (it’s been around since 1981), Toscanini is another example of a small business in Boston that has stood the test of time. Not much has changed since those first scoops almost forty years ago: Toscanini is still a family business, and all the ice cream is still made, churned, and chilled in-house. There are generally thirty-two flavors at any given time, ranging from classics, like French vanilla, rum raisin, and cookies and cream, to the wild cards, like orange khulfee (India inspired), Earl Grey, and salty butter. The coffee is as good and admittedly, we are not averse to ordering a scoop of vanilla and drowning it in espresso for a do-it-yourself affogato. The homemade silky chocolate ganache whipped into steamed milk is every bit as good as it sounds.
Les Sablons
2 Bennett St., Cambridge
Les Sablons may be the prettiest dining room in Boston, set within the narrow confines of an old railway conductor’s building from 1912, in Harvard Square. Start with cocktail at the bar and enjoy the elegant brick and marble interior before sliding into a mustard-yellow booth for three courses of French cuisine. Seared scallops with white asparagus and a lemony parsnip purée or a retro brioche-crusted cod makes an excellent main course. If you’re looking for something less formal but equally tasty, head downstairs to the oyster bar. Given that this is the same team behind Row 34 and Island Creek Oyster Bar, it's unsurprising that the place is a hit. Some advice: If you’ve reached peak oyster consumption, the equally briny Spanish sardines on crackers with whipped goat's butter (a little sour), radishes, and sea salt are a great alternative.
Little Donkey
505 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
We always wonder what chefs really eat when they’re off the clock. Little Donkey is one restaurant to address this question. James Beard Award winners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette have created a menu of food they eat at home (or dishes inspired by their travels). The result is a series of international, tapas-style small plates not wed to one culture or cuisine. This mishmash includes charred avocado with sharp yogurt and sweet-and-sour pomegranate molasses, manti (a kind of Turkish ravioli that resemble little pinched parcels) stuffed with meats and dolloped with garlicky crème fraîche, and biryani (a South Asian spiced curry-and-rice mix layered in a pot and baked for celebrations). For those craving good old American comfort, order the fried chicken sandwich. The menu could easily be classified as a roundup of the world’s culinary greatest hits. If you’re curious about the name, consider that donkeys are beloved, hardworking, and reliable—not unlike the owners themselves.
One Kendall Sq., 15 Hampshire St., Cambridge
"Mamaleh," a Yiddish term of endearment for a child, sums up how this deli makes you feel–cherished, maybe a little bit spoiled, and certainly well fed. Deli classics are served up in this roomy, diner-style space, most lovingly prepared the old-school way (the pastrami is spiced, cured, and smoked for days), some dishes with a little modern flair thrown in. The bagels and the bialys are all made in-house—ready to be slathered in herby cream cheese and every variety of smoked fish. The blintzes, oozing with not-too-sweet raspberry preserves, are heaven-sent and especially good with an egg cream (syrup, seltzer, and root beer).
134 Hampshire St., Cambridge
It goes something like this: An American chef lands in Turkey and is seduced by the vibrant spices, the assertive flavors, the sheer freshness of the food. And that was enough to convince her. Ana Sortun decided to carry the exotic flavors of the Middle East 6,000 miles west. And Bostonians cannot get enough. The food is bright and refreshing—herbs and spices and salt stirred into strained yogurt dolloped on practically everything. Much of the produce is grown on Sortun’s farm by her farmer husband (Chris). When a dish is called farm-to-table here, it is. Bread is the cornerstone of Arabian meals, and the pita here does not disappoint. It's toasty and chewy and served with sweet-sticky pomegranate molasses and nigella seeds—get a few servings and dip the crunchy corners into the smoky eggplant and spiced lamb you’ll inevitably order. There are no bad choices here.
J.P. Licks
1312 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge
In 1981, at the age of twenty-six, ice cream-lover Vince Petryk opened J.P. Licks in his Jamaica Plain neighborhood outside of Boston (hence the initials J.P.). Today, there are thirteen locations in and around Boston—including the original in Jamaica Plain, Beacon Hill, Mission Hill, and Fenway/Kenmore—making this a go-to spot for locals and visitors alike. Part espresso bar, part bakery, part ice cream shop, J.P. Licks's awesome rotation of soft-serve frozen yogurt may be its best selling point, particularly in a city where scooped ice cream largely dominates the scene. Although...the ice cream cakes and chipwhiches at J.P. Licks are really good, too.
1255 Cambridge St., Cambridge
Bostonians are loyal creatures, and that stereotype holds true when it comes to ice cream. Christina’s has been a Cambridge institution for more than thirty years now, and it’s built up some die-hards fans who will wait out in a snowstorm for a scoop. The homemade ice cream is light and fresh-tasting, and Christina's is known for flavors that are inventive without getting too outlandish, like coffee Oreo, banana, carrot cake, and a seasonal Concord grape sorbet that’s available for only a few weeks a year. For occasions, the shop makes beautiful ice cream cakes that (blessedly) can be ordered same-day.