For those who haven't been to Harvard Gardens in Boston for a number of years, be prepared for a shock; this former hole in the wall is now a comfortable and slightly upscale neighborhood restaurant and lounge that no longer attracts Suffolk University students looking for cheap drinks. Indeed, Harvard Gardens now attracts nearly everyone else in this Boston neighborhood, including Beacon Hill residents, professionals from the Government Center area, workers from Mass. General Hospital (which is across the street), and, yes, perhaps a few stray Suffolk students.
Harvard Gardens is probably not all that well known for a couple of reasons: First, as mentioned earlier, this restaurant used to be a total dive, with low-priced beer and zero atmosphere; second, the often hectic Cambridge Street can be a white-knuckle ride that makes drivers tend to focus on the road ahead. As a result, many of the restaurants on this street, such as the Hill Tavern, Antonio's Cucina Italiana, and others are known mostly to locals only.
The food at Harvard Gardens can be mostly separated into two categories: Comfort food and full dinners. There are some great options in the comfort food category, which includes a plate of pork dumplings that comes with a deceptively hot (and sweet) sauce, a truly sublime macaroni and cheese (one of the best in Boston, in this writer's opinion), a juicy and flavorful wagyu cheeseburger, twin Kobe beef hot dogs, and a Mediterranean-style grilled cheese sandwich with mozzarella, basil, and red sauce. The menu also has more upscale dinners, including pan-seared salmon, roasted chicken, steak frites, and pork chops. In addition, Harvard Gardens has a late-night menu that is filled with cheap eats, and a weekend brunch menu that has endless options. Drinks include choices from extensive beer and wine lists (a number of local brews are offered) as well as cocktails.
For longtime Boston residents, the name "Harvard Gardens" may still conjure up memories of cheap beer and missed college classes, but it has made a very smooth transition to an upscale American bistro--and one that isn't all that well-known outside of Beacon Hill. If you like gastropubs and higher-end beer bars, don't miss this spot.
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