Welcome to EAT THIS CITY, your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
You’ve been to Boston with us before, now join us as we dive deep and check out all that nearby Cambridge’s kitchens have to offer! This week we’re thrilled to have Chef Tracy Chang of PAGU leading us on our culinary exploration of this storied college town, as she shares quite a culinary-based history with the city. Chef Tracy cites her fondest childhood memories as those made in her grandmother’s Japanese restaurant in Cambridge. There, she saw opportunities opened to immigrants and a spirit of community fostered through beautiful meals.
Today, Chef Tracy honors those same principles in her restaurant, PAGU (and as a teaching fellow with the Harvard Science + Cooking program). A restaurant, cafe, and bakery, PAGU offers a menu that nods fondly to nostalgia but isn’t afraid to play. It’s your stop for dishes like curry crab croquetas, squid ink oyster bao, and chocolate cake served with sichuan peppercorn ice cream. Stick around for after-dinner drinks, as the cocktail menu is not to be missed!
Who’s ready to eat? Let’s check out Chef Chang’s picks for the best food of Cambridge!
Jamie Bissonnette and Ken Oringer’s enoteca in the South End is teeming with soul-warming dishes. I love the housemade pastas and pizzas here. In 2009, when I worked nearby, I’d go once a week and get the margarita pizza with blood sausage — simple and satisfying!
I always take chef friends from out of town here and we love to share the squid ink pasta with lobster and the campanelle with pesto and peas…when the season’s right ;)
I don’t often eat tacos but I like Mexican. I’ve been frequenting Felipe’s in Harvard Square since high school; it has since moved around the corner and expanded with a roof deck with prickly pear slushies! I always get guacamole and a quesadilla with steak, carnitas or al pastor, depending on my mood. Nachos are a hit too.
My best friend’s mom led me to a hidden gem in Chinatown – Great Taste. They have the best dim sum in Boston, in my opinion, if you order the ‘right’ things. They aren’t huge, but they are bustling. My favorites include har gao, shiu mai, turnip cake with XO, preserved egg congee, charsiu bao, and the rice cake stuffed with fried cruller.
Otto’s in Harvard Square for the pizza. It’s tiny, you don’t need much more than a large slice of pepperoni and a pinch of elbow room at the standing bar. It’s not too greasy and the pizza flies fast out of the oven. Go heavy on the chili flakes.
Eldo Cake House in Chinatown: As a kid, my grandmother used to take me here every week after helping her with groceries for family dinner and her restaurant, Tokyo. We’d get the egg tarts, a strawberry birthday cake (it was always somebody’s birthday…), and the swiss cake rolls. My brothers liked the savory curry beef puffs. Now that I’m busy running my own restaurant, PAGU, I try to find excuses to be in the area so I can sneak in for an egg tart or slice of cake :)
O Ya: It’s hard not to pick sushi, especially sushi with imaginative sauces and pairings, unlike anyone else in town. The nostalgic smell of the dining room and the glow of the torched nigiris also hold a special place within me.
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Mamaleh’s in Kendall Square: It’s a newcomer, but this Jewish deli feels and tastes like it’s been here forever. The reuben is my go-to; if I’m smart I’ll invite a friend to split it so we can save room for “dessert”, aka the raspberry blintzes, followed by an affogato.
Kava in the South End: It’s a cozy, neighborhood joint that makes food I want to eat over and over again. The vegetarian options are tasty, and not only do I feel healthy and clean eating them, but I’m not left hungry afterwards, wanting a steak. Although, their lamb is very tasty.
My musts: kolokithakia (zucchini chips with tzatziki), saganiki tiri (pan seared cheese), scordalia (whipped potatoes).
Shanghai Fresh for soup dumplings, crispy duck, pea pod stems, and sweet and salty soy milk. It’s tiny so when you score a table, you’re already winning. The food doesn’t try too hard, it’s just done simply and done well.
ICONIC FOOD OF THE CITY
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Everyone (tourist, local, industry chef/cook) knows to go to Neptune Oyster for the warm lobster roll, johnny cakes, and wine list. What they may not know is the curry mussels with cashews and grilled bread is divine. Go for the iconic lobster roll, but don’t forget about the mussel power.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Sichuan Garden in Woburn is spicy sichuan food + innovative cocktails + spooky old mansion in the suburbs. It’s pretty odd, but wicked delicious. I like the dan dan noodles and crispy fried chicken. Not too long ago, they opened a hidden bar lounge upstairs, The Baldwin & Sons Trading Co. There are large format cocktails to share, dragons, smoke, upholstered leather, old books, etc. Yes, the mansion indeed houses wonky yet tasty combinations.
Several of these examples (pizza, burgers, etc.) are my guilty pleasures. But my guiltiest pleasure of all time = potato chips. My favorite potato chips are at Formaggio Kitchen, in a large tin, not filled with popcorn, rather thinly sliced, fried in olive oil potato chips from Spain by Bonilla a la Vista. Crunchy, light and so satisfying.
The Eastern Standard burger sets the standard — ground chuck, brioche bun, skinny herb fries, pickles. The cocktails and wine list are excellent, I always bump into someone I know there, and I know better to avoid the Sox game rush…
Select Oyster Bar. Oysters, crudo, octopus with tomatillo and snap peas, and the bouillabaisse. I come here and let my friend Michael Serpa and his crew take care of me. Bubbles and all the aphrodisiacs. It’s great for date night, or when chef friends come to town, and he saves the back room/patio for us to pop bottles, graze all night, and hang out until close.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
Cafe Sushi: Having grown up in my grandmother’s Japanese restaurant, this is the food I always crave: sushi, beautifully and thoughtfully prepared by brothers Seizi and Kenshi Imura. I can go here and find comfort no matter my mood, my appetite, whether it’s a celebration or a stressful day, I always feel at home at the counter in front of these guys, who take care of me like family.
Thank you Chef Chang, for taking us on a culinary tour of Cambridge!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans,Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!