Diners perch on the Daedelus roof-deck.

Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

’Tis the season for al fresco

Warm-weather dining and drinking options abound around Harvard Square; menu, anyone?

6 min read

Now that summer weather is finally here, Cambridge has moved outdoors. Many restaurants in Harvard Square have access to a patio, roof, or sidewalk space to offer al fresco dining. An informal roundup reveals a range of offerings, from full table service for food and adult beverages (thanks to Cambridge laws that allow alcohol in areas considered part of licensed establishments) to catch-as-you-can plaza seating, where your takeout sandwich (or burrito or Mumbai street snack) is augmented by some of the best people-watching anywhere. 

Above it all

Want to touch the sky? Felipe’s Taqueria (21 Brattle St., 617-354-9944) and the Sinclair (52 Church St., 617-547-5200) both offer rooftop dining, as well as cocktails. Felipe’s focuses on its fresh Mexican fare, while the Sinclair, the restaurant part of a live music venue, reinterprets bar food from nachos to burgers. The famed rooftop of Daedelus (45.5 Mount Auburn St., 617-349-0071) is open as well, with its eclectic take on modern American fine dining. (Seating on the rooftops is on a first-come, first-served basis.)

Sinclair rooftop.

Garden parties

Urban though it may be, the square enjoys yards and yards of backyards. The patio at Harvest (44 Brattle St., 617-868-2255) is a plant-lined sanctuary, as is the tucked-away porch space behind Orinoco (56 John F. Kennedy St., 617-354-6900), where Venezuelan and other South American treats are served up in sylvan splendor. A rowdier respite may be found at Charlie’s Beer Garden (10 Eliot St., 617-492-9646), which has its own entrance alongside the venerable Charlie’s Kitchen. Although most famous for its double cheeseburger, the 65-plus-year-old pub and its dog-friendly garden also lay claim to some older local history: According to the Harvard Square Business Association, the garden’s stone wall was reportedly part of the city’s 19th-century retaining walls.

Charlie’s Beer Garden.

Street scenes

Although Grendel’s Den (89 Winthrop St., 617-491-1160) has shrunk somewhat since its 1974 opening, it arguably has the best people-watching on the square from its row of outdoor tables alongside Winthrop Park. Grendel’s, which won its right to serve liquor in a landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case, serves up idiosyncratic sandwiches and small plates, as well as a fine selection of microbrews. Across the street, the Red House (98 Winthrop St., 617-576-0605) uses its partially covered outdoor space to extend its service of upscale specialties, including lobster in forms from fra diavolo to risotto. Around the corner, Park (59 John F. Kennedy St., 617-491-9851) offers playful takes on bistro classics ­— think duck tacos or meat pie of the day — on its sheltered tables. At the other end of the square, the plant-festooned corner patio at Grafton Street (1230 Mass. Ave., 617-497-0400) has plenty of spots to watch passersby, and a menu of New England and modern classics to boot.

The Charles Hotel plaza is home to several fine restaurants. In warm weather, Benedetto’s (1 Bennett St., 617-661-5050) expands into its canopied arbor, with regional Italian specialties — note the house-made pasta. Henrietta’s Table (617-661-5005) now offers its fresh farm fare on the brick patio at the same address. Down by the street level of the plaza, Legal Seafood (20 University Road, 617-491-9400) has opened its seasonal bar outpost, with pitchers of sangria and Aperol spritz ready to accompany the requisite raw bar and other specialties from this locally based chain. Legal’s also serves diners outside the main restaurant upstairs.

Shay’s Pub and Wine Bar.

Elsewhere, although the focus is on wines, beers, and aperitifs by the glass, Shay’s Pub and Wine Bar (58 John F. Kennedy St., 617-864-9161) also serves snacks on its sunken front patio, with the accent on Tex-Mex and burgers.

Russell House (14 John F. Kennedy St., 617-500-3055) and the Hourly Oyster House (15 Dunster St., 617-765-2342) both make the most of their limited outdoor space, setting up tables in what could be called an adjacent alley if they hadn’t made their sheltered spaces look so cozy. Russell House calls itself a “new American tavern” and offers fresh takes on burgers, pizzas, and raw bar, while the Hourly augments its fresh bivalves with cooked dishes such as lobster mac and cheese.

Hourly Oyster House.

Grendel’s upstairs neighbor Parsnip (91 Winthrop St., 617-714-3206) expands onto the sidewalk in warm weather, serving an appropriately seasonal menu (such as charred corn risotto and whole-lobster lobster rolls). So does the Border Café (32 Church St., 617-864-6100), where the Tex-Mex and Cajun specialities — not to mention the margaritas — are always a draw.

Saloniki’s (24 Dunster St., 617-945-5877) Greek specialties travel to the curb of the Richard A. and Susan F. Smith Center, as does its exclusively Greek wine list, while the Longfellow Bar at Alden and Harlow (40 Brattle St. #3, 617-864-0001) has chef Michael Scelfo’s imaginative take on cocktails and snacks street-side. Think crab Rangoon nachos, and drinks like the Modern Woman, a “jostled” mix of tequila, fermented Muscat grape, and agave. 

Sidewalk service also brings the huge variety of celebrity-themed burgers from Mr. Bartley’s (1246 Mass. Ave., 617-354-6559) outdoors. A Tom Brady (cheddar, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, and red onion), anyone? This Harvard Square institution (founded 1960) doesn’t serve alcohol, but, as befitting its place in local history, it has raspberry lime rickies and frappes (milkshakes, to you newcomers).

As the square’s oldest café, Café Pamplona (12 Bow St., 617-492-0392) represents another area tradition: the coffeehouse. Choose from more than a dozen drinks to enjoy on the patio — and, perhaps, a media noche (like a mini-Cuban) or a flan to go with.

Walk on by

For those who don’t mind serving themselves, warm weather brings out tables in front of Cardullo’s that are big enough for their overstuffed sandwiches, and at the Smith Center the hungry can sit outdoors to enjoy a variety of takeout options from Pavement Coffee, Bon Me’s Asian specialties, Oggi’s pizza and sandwiches, Blackbird Doughnuts, Swissbäkers, and the veggie-oriented Whole Heart Provisions.

Sidewalk tables also await outside Tom’s Bao Bao, Shake Shack, and B. Good on Winthrop Street (near Winthrop Park), while patrons of J.P. Licks, El Jefe Taqueria, Subway, and Chutney’s can find seating along Mount Auburn Street. There are even tables in a walled-in brick space outside the Eliot Street Café, aka Dunkin Donuts. This is New England, after all.

Many of the above vendors accept Crimson Cash. See the full list