Yesterday, E. Tey made a Firestorm presentation on food options around MIT. I felt I’ll also lay out my opinions on various food choices as well. Mines fairly differ from his at certain points.
There is no food in the student center.* Don’t look for food there. Particularly the Subway and La Verde’s. Eww.
*Shawarma Shack is actually food. And it is actually decently priced, for the things with obvious price tags. The things without obvious price tags tend to be surprisingly expensive given the price of other things there.
MIT Campus Establishments
There are no viable food options in the various food stores on MIT’s campus. Occasional food is not that bad, but they are pretty much universally overpriced for campus food (often $10+ for a lunch at Forbes Café, even more at Koch Café). The closest options to viability are the soups.
MIT Dining Halls
If you want an even worse option than eating at the Student Center or the food service locations on MIT’s campus, enroll on a dining plan. If you’re on something like a 5000-calorie diet, at which point the all-you-can-eat nature might pay off, maybe it’s worth it. If you’re not, you’re spending restaurant-level money on dining hall food. Sit back and evaluate your life.
MIT Campus Food Trucks
This is by far the best choice* for food one can obtain on MIT’s campus. There are several food trucks offering very tasty food at decent prices, most particularly Saté (previously momogoose), a southeastern-Asian food truck, with many delicious curries. The Chinese food truck (called “Savory Food Truck”) on Mass. Ave. is also very decent, though note their website has automatic sound, if you ever decide to visit it. The Chinese food truck also has a second window for falafel. I’ve never tried it. There’s also Jose’s Mexican food truck, which has much better Mexican food than Beantown**. In most of these food trucks, a nice, hearty meal is $7 to $9.
*Excepting the next section.
**I appear to be very unusual in the MIT community in having this opinion.
This is the other best choice for food obtainable on MIT’s campus. Just subscribe yourself to the free-food mailing list. Get notifications of when free food appears on campus, or just happen to stumble upon it when strolling through campus. Free food appears often enough during the school year that one could reasonably live off of it. Help fight food waste while keeping your wallet happier.
Supermarkets Around Campus
There’s a store behind Random Hall called Shaw’s while being called Star Market (the brands are owned by the same people, and nearly everyone uses the names interchangeably, which can get quite confusing for people not accustomed to it), interestingly integrated into the building of a hotel. It’s an okay standard place to shop; though prices in nearly any other market around are slightly cheaper.
A bit more north of whatever-you-call-the-above is H-Mart, probably the best option on this end of Cambridge for Asian groceries. They have lots of free samples and even accept TechCash. Note that only one counter has a TechCash processing machine, so ask where it is before you get in a line.
[CORRECTED ON EDIT] On the other side of the street, there’s the Harvest Co-Op. The options here are pretty good in quality, but prices are quite high. They accept TechCash. Membership here is one of the most headscratchingly nonsensical things I’ve ever seen; I’ve not even saying it’s a ripoff—in fact it almost certainly isn’t—it’s just that it might cause me to scratch my brains off.
[CORRECTED ON EDIT] Also around here, there’s a Target in Central Square which has a surprisingly decent groceries section for, well, a Target.
Trader Joe’s near the western end of Cambridgeport (and thus somewhat north of the west end of MIT’s campus) is my strongest recommendation. There’s lots of high-quality options for very reasonable prices. They also have free samples and are good with being allergen-informative with their samples.
A bit north of Trader Joe’s is a Whole Foods. I strongly recommend Whole Foods to anyone who derives pleasure out of watching their wallets shrink at unimaginable pace from the buying of items pretentiously differently worded to look massively fancier than they really are, living a deluded belief that doing this is better for their bodies.
If one’s willing to take a longer walk west, there’s a Hong Kong Supermarket/Super 88 (once again a Shaw’s/Star Market nomenclature situation) a whiles west in Boston (specifically in the Allston neighborhood). I strongly recommend this supermarket, especially if you’re willing to deal with the derpiness of derpy Asian markets that do things like pile way too many products in rather crowding locations (which I very much am willing to deal with). Unlike H-Mart, the restaurants in front of this supermarket are generally actually worth it. Prices at this supermarket are shockingly nice, and it’s in Boston instead of Cambridge, so at least for now you don’t get charged for bags for your groceries. (But please still bring your own reusable containers. The Earth is a nice place.)
Restaurants in Cambridge
The following is the complete list of restaurants in Cambridge I consider worth it to dine at: Saloniki, Veggie Galaxy, Pepper Sky’s, Rangzen, Friendly Toast, Dumpling House. I’ll talk about these first.
Saloniki is a fairly new Greek fast-food restaurant just a block north of main campus at MIT, thus making it convenient from a campus perspective. Service is really fast and friendly. If you show them your MIT student ID you can get a free box of Greek fries with your order. Most food is very refreshingly flavored, and the place even smells nice. I just wish the containers they served their food in were more conducive to stirring. Most meals are $8-$10.
Veggie Galaxy is a vegetarian restaurant where all their options can also be made vegan (and their entire dessert menu is vegan). Their food is on average highly tasty, although I’d also say with high variance. Never substitute onion rings here: it costs more and they only give you three; if you must, order a side of onion rings instead. Most meals are $11-$15.
Pepper Sky‘s is a pretty good Thai restaurant. Most meals are $11-$14.
Rangzen, a Tibetan restaurant, in terms of food quality by itself, by far earns my highest marks of any restaurant I’ve been in in the area. The food is utterly gorgeous and feels ethereal to my taste buds. It even combines well with the calm music they provide for the setting to really nourish a place to momentarily feel happy and content. My strongest recommendations go to dishes involving eggplant or yucca, the egg noodles, and the deshi. The chicken broth soup is very fulfilling. They have lunch buffet on weekdays, for $14. Other meals tend to cost $11-$17. These are price tags I’d usually scream at, but here I consider it absolutely worth it for this particular food. I treat it as a place to occasionally dine where I’m willing to spend much more than I typically budget on food for the special experience.
The Friendly Toast is a rather weird restaurant north of Technology Square (around Kendall Square) that is generally diner-like. They serve many really weird combinations of ingredients that often come out admirably well. Meals tend to cost $9-$15.
Dumpling House is a Chinese restaurant that I’d say barely makes the mark for being worth it. There’s plenty of tasty options, but food portions are kind of small and there’s also some not-so-tasty options. It’s a typical Chinese restaurant in being family-style, so I could only estimate how much a dinner will be, which is…$10-$16?
Now for the not-worth-it options.
A lot of people at MIT really like Flour. I can see it: quite some food there is quite delicious, particularly the soups. It just doesn’t get delicious enough for me to feel it’s worth it often, though. Sandwiches are $9, soups are $5. Usually when I eat at Flour it’s more for the convenience of location, which is just slightly further from main campus than Saloniki.
Along similar lines is Clover. I find food at Clover even tastier than at Flour, but whereas Flour’s pricings feel expensive, Clover’s are outrageous. Their sandwiches are tiny yet $7.5-$11 [CORRECTED ON EDIT], and other items are even more not worth it. Clover brands itself as a “Food Lab” (and, incidentally, sprang out of MIT), and it really provides that impression, with how they concoct their foods. There are some drinks, though, that though still overpriced, are just really tasty. Top notch goes to the Coriander Soda.
Darwin’s is a sandwich restaurant a bit north from Random Hall. Its prices are similar to Flour’s, and…I never understood what the niche of this restaurant really was.
Beantown is the absolute worst Mexican food I’ve ever had in my life.* A lot of people actually really like this restaurant. I don’t get it. There’s about nothing redeeming here. Even their guacamole tastes like it is subpar, and that’s guacamole.
*I appear to be very unusual in the MIT community in having this opinion.
I have never eaten at Chicago Pizza, but people I talk to who have nearly universally consider it inedible beyond belief, and the worst pizza they’ve had in their lives. Maybe it says something that their hour of peak traffic is 1am, when people are desperately hungry in the middle of the night and everywhere else has closed.
Bailey & Sage seems to like to brand themselves as a place with really healthy options. Unfortunately, their food tastes like cardboard.
Bon Me is a Vietnamese-ish restaurant next to The Friendly Toast. The food is actually fairly good, but like Flour, the food is not good enough for its price.
Patty Chen’s Dumpling Room is an often-reviled restaurant at the Central Square end of Main Street. Despite most people considering this one of the worst options for Chinese food, I actually think it’s fairly okay. It’s not great, but I don’t find it bad. But it’s still just okay.
Dosa Factory is just slightly less than worth it in my opinion. There’s some good choices for Indian street food here. I’ll occasionally go there for variety.
Mary Chung has both terrible food and terrible service. Just never eat there.**
**This is also an unusual opinion, but unlike my opinion with Beantown, there’s actually substantial quantities of people that agree with me regarding Mary Chung.
Thelonius Monkfish’s most redeeming quality is its name really. It serves Thai food and sushi. It’s not particularly good at either.
Shanghai Fresh is an okay restaurant. That’s all.
Boston Burger Company is also just slightly less than worth it in my view, like Dosa Factory. Their food is generally quite good; it’s just not worth it.
There’s probably also a bunch of other restaurants I’ve eaten at that I didn’t even find good enough to remember.
Restaurants outside Cambridge
The one that most comes to mind is Fu Loon in Malden. There’s nice hearty and delicious Chinese food there.
Allston in Boston is the place to go to find a fascinatingly high concentration of Korean restaurants, many of which serve really good Korean food. But as always, disclaimer: Korean is my favorite cuisine.
EDIT1: I can’t put H-Mart, Harvest, and Target in south-to-north order, apparently.
EDIT2: Oops, I used post-tax amounts for Clover.