For many people, one of the best places to eat in all of Cambridge is the Asian food court within the Porter Exchange building (also known as the Sears building or University Hall) on the southern edge of Porter Square. The focus here is on Japanese fare, with several excellent eateries such as Sapporo Ramen and Tampopo calling the food court their home. And at the start of the food court (or the end, depending on which way you enter) is a place called Cafe Mami, which has a somewhat different menu from the other spots here, including some items that will probably get the attention of lovers of red meat who are looking for something to eat in this building.
Like most of the other eateries within the food court, Cafe Mami is a very tiny spot, with only a handful of seats and tables set up in front of the counter and the little kitchen area that is behind the counter. A few stools can also be found by the counter, though they are set up along the hallway of the food court, so expect some bumping and jostling if the area is busy (which is often the case at lunchtime and dinnertime). Because Cafe Mami is the first restaurant along the left side of the food court, it is a shade less hectic-feeling then some of the others, as the dining area faces toward the quieter (and wider) walkway that leads toward such spots as Shaking Crab and Bourbon Coffee, though it really isn't the type of place where you want to go for a quiet date or a business meeting.
For such a small spot, Cafe Mami has a pretty large menu, with soup, salads, appetizers, rice bowls, noodle dishes, curry items, beef plates, and more offered. Included here is a wonderful miso soup that is salty, slightly sweet, and fragrant, and without the overload of tofu that some restaurants have; fried shumai, or shrimp dumplings; a tofu salad with scallions, bonito flakes, and a house-made soy sauce; a pork cutlet don, which is a rice bowl with a savory mix of breaded pork, egg, and onions in a sweet soy-based broth; a ninniku chicken set that includes pan-fried chicken with lemon and garlic in a zesty ginger sauce; a wafu cutlet set with deep-fried chicken cutlets, grated Japanese radish, and scallions in a bright-tasting ponzu sauce; an outstanding chicken cutlet set with a thick and sweet tonkatsu sauce and spicy horseradish; a rich and spicy veggie curry that can have meat (or tofu) added to it; and what may be Mami's signature dish, a hamburg set which includes ground beef steak that tastes a bit more like a salisbury steak or meat loaf, and can be ordered with a deep and hearty tomato sauce. Prices at Cafe Mami are very low, with most items being under $10.
It can be pretty difficult to choose which restaurant to go to in Porter Square's Asian food court, but if you like meat, Cafe Mami might be the spot to choose above all the others, especially with its hamburg sets and variety of pork and chicken dishes. It may not look like much--and it can be tough to get a seat at times--but this is definitely one of Cambridge's true hidden gems in a building that has several such spots.
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