Off the Beaten Path Dining IN Inman Square

On an unassuming street, a mere mile away from Harvard Square, you’ll find Inman Square’s impressive cornucopia of international cuisines. Clustered together within a few blocks on “Restaurant Row”, this stretch features some hidden and unpretentious gems of the Cambridge dining scene. We’ll introduce four restaurants and an ice cream parlor- all well-worth the short trek away from the run-of-the-mill options just outside of campus. Inman is a less than $10 cab ride away from campus or take your own ride as parking is usually available. With its diversity of foods and lively, authentic restaurants, check out Inman Square for your next refreshingly unique dining adventure.

Olé Mexican Grill
11 Springfield Street
(cross: Cambridge Street),
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 492-4495

Hours: Mon-Thurs 5:30pm-10pm;
Fri and Sat 5pm-11pm;
Sunday brunch 10:30am-2:30pm; Sunday dinner 5pm-9:30pm

Upon walking into Olé, you are immediately engulfed by room of festive, vibrant walls and artwork and tables adorned with classic Mexican tiles. The restaurant has captured the aura of a fiesta perfectly, and the party doesn’t stop with the decor. The menu at Olé offers proper Mexican entrées such as chicken with mole, chile rellenos with handmade corn tortillas and served with an eye on presentation. We’re not talking Tex-Mex here- the dishes are creative while embracing the traditions of the Mexican kitchen. Don’t forget the homemade guacamole- chilies pack a punch and the generous portion is served in a traditional stone bowl. This is the perfect shared starter to go with the complimentary corn tortilla chips (served warm).

I dined at Olé with a large group of sectionmates who thoroughly enjoyed the plus-sized margaritas to add that extra pizzazz to our fˆte, which was housed in Olé’s back seating area. Olé offers a few vegetarian options but mostly features a plethora of seafood. Two of us ordered the sea bass and were blown away by it- flaky, perfection featuring the fish’s natural oil. Similar reports came of the enchiladas and shrimp tacos. Lastly, the strawberry trés leches cake, a traditional Mexican dessert and a personal favorite of mine, was exactly as it should be- lusciously drenched in rich sweet milk, soaked up by a generous portion of soft vanilla cake plus an unconventional twist of strawberry.

For take-out, also try Olecita- Olé’s mini-kitchen across the street that brings you the restaurant’s taste. Overall, Olé is authentic fine Mexican cuisine- a rare find in the Northeast- packaged in an upbeat and fun dining experience. Although it is pricey for Mexican, I think it’s worth the splurge to get beyond Border Cafe offerings to dine at a place with enough pizzazz for a special occasion.

1093 Cambridge Street
(cross: Elm Street),
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 787-4242

Hours: Sunday: 12pm – 9pm; Closed Mondays; Tues to Sat: 11am – 9pm

Muqueca is the brainchild of Fafa and Antonio Gomes, the owners of this homey Brazilian restaurant in Inman Square which specializes in the delicacies of the state of Espirito Santo. While Brazil is mostly known for satisfying the most aggressive of carnivores with its famous churrascarias, Moqueca is the name of one of the most classic Brazilian seafood dishes, specially prepared in clay pots to be served up bubbling and sizzling hot.

Muqueca in Inman Square is a tiny corner restaurant – introduced to us by Old Section I’s very own Paul Yeh – that specializes in seafood dishes, prepared in a variety of sauces and stews ranging from tomato based to creamy yucca flavors. We started with the Fried Calamari with Passion Fruit Sauce – deliciously crispy with generous portions in a creamy passion fruit sauce that is both tart and sweet at the same time. A perfect way to start off any meal. For a more authentic start to the meal, a recommended appetizer is the Fried Yucca – but only if you are with a big group as it is quite rich, making it perfect for just a small taste. For our main dishes we ordered a couple of the House Specials, the Shrimp Bobo and the Mariscada – a “Must Try” of the restaurant. Both came in sizzling black clay pots – so hot and steaming they will burn your tongue if you aren’t careful!

The Shrimp Bobo has a generous serving of shrimp, bathed in a thick yellow creamy sauce made of tomato, yucca cream, onion and a touch of cilantro. The shrimp was cooked tender and the sauce was to die for. Creamy and delicious.but not suggested for those on the ever popular “no carb” diet. The Mariscada on the other hand is a much lighter dish with a mixture of seafood – shrimp, crabmeat, mussels and squid in a stew of tomato, onion, and coconut milk. The stew is lighter than the Shrimp Bobo, and the flavors blend together for a pleasant, yet sharp taste which is nicely diffused with the complementary rice, farofa & plantain moqueca. If you want to take a ride on the wild side, try the Lasagna de Banana – made with plantain, 3 cheeses sauce & oregano. Sources tell us it is very sweet and rich – maybe best to order with a large group to share!

Finally.go for the juice bar. Fresh fruits abound – and with choices like the Passion Blue – Blueberry, Mango & Passion Fruit, and Mango Sambo – Mango, Papaya & Orange Juice, how can you resist? Relive summer over and over again with the Brazilian Summer – A delicious mix of pineapple and mint. One last tip – Be careful of the tiny quarters – reservations are necessary or you might be in for a long wait. And given the restaurant closes at 9pm, you might be a kid outta luck if you arrive too late.

East Coast Grill & Raw Bar
1271 Cambridge Street
(cross: Prospect Street),
Cambridge, MA
(617) 491-6568

Hours: Sun-Thurs: 5:30p – 10:00p;
Fri & Sat: 5:30p – 10:30p; Sunday Brunch: 11:00a – 2:30p

I had heard about East Coast Grill for ages and finally made it there on a regular Tuesday night with my buddy Ankush. From a block away, the neon glow from inside East Coast Grill is already apparent, and intensifies upon approach. Once inside, you are transported far from metropolitan New England. The locals are out in full effect, even on weeknights, at this extremely laid-back neighborhood favorite. With the open kitchen, we could peer beyond the stainless steel shelves to watch the flames fly and hear the din of delicious creation. East Coat Grill features BBQ cuisine, specializing in seafood and served with Southern sides and hospitality. Situated next to the sizeable bar, there’s also a raw bar showcasing fresh oysters on the half shell on ice.

So let’s get to the food. It’s an impossible feat to avoid indulging in the Southern comfort sides of cornbread and mashed sweet potatoes. They are delicious and warm your belly just in time for the real deal. The entrée menu is divided into sections: “fresh seafood”, spit roasted and grilled”, and “oak smoked pit BBQ”. The menu selection is large (entrées range from $15-28)- there were many other temptations available (leading contenders for my next visit: “Wicked Hot!!! Scotch Bonnet Sausage Stuffed Banana with inner beauty hot sauce & sweet n’ sour slaw”, “1/2 Pound of Buffalo Fried Gulf White Shrimp”, and the BBQ offerings). Reports from other friends also highlight the tuna so keep that in mind. And just to keep patrons on their toes, the menu also offers specials such as Cuban carnitas, Korean Sirloin Skewers, and a piecemeal item called “Extremely Hot Crispy Hell Bone”. Ankush and I ordered the spit-roasted chicken (served with South Caroline BBQ sauce, garlicky greens, and mac ‘n cheese) and coriander-crusted grilled salmon plus a heaping portion of really well-done French fries.

Our dishes came in giant, heaping portions which we enjoyed while taking in the upbeat, lively atmosphere. The casual atmosphere buzzed with rushing waitstaff, shouts from the kitchen and most seats packed were even on a random weekday night. I highly recommend this spot for a fun and rollicking dinner- it should be able to accommodate larger parties too (reservations taken for 5 or more only but not on weekends). Check out the website for special fun events- brunch is Tex-Mex themed and there are often special tastings scheduled. But don’t take our word for it- get out and try the inventive dishes offered by East Coast Grill’s adventurous and good-humored chefs.

Casa Portugal
1200 Cambridge Street
(cross: Tremont Street),
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-8880

Hours: Mon-Thu 11:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm;
Sun 12pm-10pm

Stepping into Casa Portugal is akin to being transported into a little coastal town in the wine country of Portugal. The country’s pride in its Port wine and succulent seafood lives on in this homey enclave in Inman Square. Upon first glance, the decor is quite authentic- checkered tablecloths, walls packed with Portuguese kitsch- paintings, flowers, and trinkets, and small tables filling the room with lively conversation. In fact, it feels closer to a Portuguese kitchen than a restaurant- probably due in part to the efficient service and constant hustle and bustle.

Bread baskets and olives arrive promptly (just in time to feed my very hungry pal Heidi who had run a half marathon that same day!) As we examined the bountiful menu, Heidi and I decide to go family-style. We share a fresh cheese and prosciutto plate (sizeable enough for at least 3 people to share) showcasing barely-aged fresh mozzarella, razor thin slices of salted ham and accented with onions and tangy tomatoes. Next up, amˆijoas … bolho pato (littlenecks sautéed in olive oil, garlic and parsley, $9)- steamed to tender perfection with onion adding some extra texture. As an added bonus, our dishes also come with Portuguese chips- thin slices of potato fried in olive oil that are heartier than regular old potato chips but less greasy. Heidi and I are more than half full when our entrée arrives- we’re sharing a large portion of the traditional Portuguese seafood stew (Caldeirada … Portuguˆsa, $13)- lobster, clams, whitefish, shrimp, and squid bathed in a light but flavorful broth tinted with tomato. It’s enough to feed both of us and more- and at a very reasonable price (another perk of Inman Square). Lastly, don’t forget to try their reasonably-priced wines with your seafood.

Casa Portugal is regarded by Portuguese denizens of metro Boston as one of the most legit purveyors of their native cuisine- in short, it’s a quaint local establishment that feels like a real find, both in terms of food quality and genre. It was busy on a Sunday night for us- call ahead for a reservation and prepare to be whisked away to Iberia by some really excellent seafood.

Christina’s Homemade Ice Cream
1255 Cambridge Street
(cross: Prospect Stret)
Cambridge, MA 02139

Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 11:30am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-12am

To round out the evening, head on over to Christina’s for some late night homemade ice cream! Just like an old fashioned ice cream parlor, Christina’s has a huge selection of homemade ice creams, sorbets and yogurts to be served up with fresh waffle cones, classic toppings, or even a fresh baked cookie!

Flavors range from the classics like Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Vanilla Bean, to interesting selections like Ginger and Carrot Cake. Flavors that will bring you right back to 1950’s ice cream fountains include Malted Chocolate, Sweet Cream, Butterscotch and Maple Walnut. On the lighter side, sorbets include Apricot, Lychee and Pear.

While the number of flavors are endless and can satisfy even the most discerning of ice cream palates, I have a personal shout out to the Mexican Chocolate – a sweet and interesting blend of cinnamon and chocolate.

For those watching their waistline, Christina’s non-fat, sugar free vanilla yogurt is actually a quite delicious low-carb option. I know you may be skeptical, but it’s pretty good. Actually really good.

Christina’s also sells by the pint or quart, and takes wholesale orders for those of you planning huge ice cream parties to finish off the year!

November 24, 2008
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