On Dec. 17, 2012, Local fast food chain Tasty Burger opened a location in Harvard Square. Cambridge burger enthusiasts were excited about the spot — the chain’s Fenway location had received generally positive reviews, and students were in favor of the new location’s late hours (it’s open until 4 a.m.). But I, a burger enthusiast and denizen of Cambridge myself, simply felt overwhelmed.

As it stands, there are at least ten places you can order a hamburger in Harvard Square, from old school square staples like Charlie’s Kitchen to the much-lauded burger at Russell House Tavern. I’m all for red meat and sesame buns, but this strikes me as an embarrassment of riches.

So I set forth to create a guide to the neighborhood’s ever-expanding list of burger joints, with the driving motive that no one with a craving should have to make their choice uninformed.

View Harvard Square Burger Joints in a larger map

The Rules:

1)   To qualify as a burger joint, you must have more than 2 or 3 burgers on the menu. This disqualified the aforementioned Russell House Tavern and a few other snazzy restaurants, like Tory Row. This criterion whittled the list down to 6 restaurants.

2)   At each restaurant, I ordered a cheeseburger, medium rare, with cheddar cheese and fries. That is, if I had options — some restaurants have just one cheeseburger formula. Why a cheeseburger? Because I was guaranteed to be able to make a side-by-side comparison among the restaurants. And because I don’t think that many humans eat plain hamburgers. Correct me if I’m wrong.

3)   Six burgers, one day, no excuses.

4)   I’m relating my reviews in the order I ate at the restaurants — think of this article not as a ranked list, but one of those educational pamphlets you sometimes see at nonprofits or doctor’s offices.

Charlie’s Kitchen

10 Eliot St. Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-492-9646

Quick Facts: 17 burgers on the menu, with the most eye-catching being the Double Guinness Burger — the burger patty is made with beer. Charlie’s has a full bar and table service — it’s cash only, but there’s an ATM on hand in case you forget. The price of a cheeseburger and fries was $7.25.

Ambiance: Charlie’s isn’t really the sort of place one goes when seeking a gourmet experience. Instead, you might choose it for its vibe — a grungy diner with neon signs and tiled walls where you can seat yourself and listen to “Love is a Battlefield” while you eat. It’s also worth noting that you can sit outside in their beer garden during the warmer months.

Food: The Charlie’s cheeseburger is a thin patty, pink in the middle, on a white bun, served with lettuce, tomato, and pickles. A bite into the burger turns up the taste, primarily, of fresh vegetables and a hot grill. The fries are thin-cut, crispy, pale, and slightly lukewarm. In short, you get exactly what you’d expect from a $4 cheeseburger at a local dive — a meal that could be the perfect end to a recent bender.

The Verdict: Don't go for the burger, go to feel like you're Sid Vicious the day after a show. 

Flat Patties

33 Brattle St. Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-871-6871

Quick Facts: 7 types of burgers on the menu, with the most eye-catching being the Sunday Morning — a burger with a fried egg, ham, and smoked tomato jam. Flat Patties has no booze and counter service. The price of a cheeseburger and fries was $6.74.

Ambiance: The small square footage of Flat Patties means it runs a bit short on personality — but there is an open kitchen, a lofted second floor with a few sit-down tables, an exposed brick wall, and al fresco seating for good people watching when it’s warm. If you can’t find a seat, you can order your burger to go.

Food: The Flat Patties’ cheeseburger is a ¼ pound burger with lettuce, tomato, and “house sauce,” which to my best approximation is a mild aioli with some sort of ketchup component. As the name of the restaurant would imply, the burger is very thin, and it is delivered well done — i.e. brown all the way through — but that doesn’t stop the patty from being incredibly juicy. The standout of this burger is its bun — a buttery, fluffy roll that enhances the flavor of every bite. Oh, and the fries? Hand cut, deep in color, and fantastic.

The Verdict: Delicious burger — but eat it on the run or take it home. 

Tasty Burger

40 JFK St. Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-425-4444

Quick Facts: 15 burger varieties with the most eye-catching being the Blue Collar — a batter-fried patty, sweet and spicy mustard, and a pickle. It’s also worth noting that you can get a “sack” of 5 hamburgers for $18.75. Tasty Burger has a full bar, and counter service. The price of a cheeseburger and fries was $6.70.

Ambiance: Tasty Burger is definitely trying to create an aura — one perhaps best described as “futuristic Johnny Rockets.” The restaurant looks like an old fashioned diner (your food even comes on a tray), but one where everything is exceptionally clean, bright and light — and that has modern amenities like touch screen Coke machines. If you head downstairs, you’ll find the bar, as well as pool tables in case you get bored.

Food: The Tasty Burger Cheeseburger is a thick patty that comes on a white sesame bun with lettuce and tomato. The standard on any order is medium, which comes fairly browned, so pink-heads, travel elsewhere. But the patty is substantial, well-seasoned, and tastes refreshingly like beef rather than griddle — not something you’d necessarily expect from a fast food joint.  The fries, in the best possible way, taste like they’re going to kill you. You can sense a loving dose of fat in every bite — they’re especially delicious when dipped in Siracha, which the restaurant has on hand.

The Verdict: This place is cool, no doubt, and the food is good. Come here if you're trying to impress a new friend/date. If you don't care about being a cool kid, wait three months until the lines die down.

John Harvard’s Brewery & Ale House

33 Dunster St. Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-868-3585

Quick Facts: 6 burger varieties, with the most eye-catching being the Black and Blue — a burger with blackening spice, blue cheese, mustard ale, melted onions, and smoked bacon. John Harvard’s has a full bar (they serve their own brews) and table service. The price of a cheeseburger and fries was $9.99.

Ambiance: John Harvard’s is a pub, and it feels like one. The tables and floors are a glossy dark wood, and it sports stained glass windows. The wait staff is very attentive, and during lulls in your mealtime discussion you can read the helpful timelines about Harvard that line the walls. The soundtrack when I visited was the only surprise — a 90s alt-rock playlist that featured Better than Ezra and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Food: John Harvard’s cheeseburger is a ½ pound patty that comes with pickles, lettuce, tomato, and the cheese of your choice (cheddar). With a patty this thick, a burger ordered medium-rare is perfectly hot pink in the middle — if you want lots of succulent beef, this is the burger for you. The fries are piping hot, crispy, well salted, and plentiful. The problem is that you likely won’t come to John Harvard’s for its burger — you’ll come because your friends want somewhere to sit down, or for the beer, or because someone wants to order a salad. 

The Verdict: Order the burger if you end up here, don't end up here for the burger. 


24 Dunster St. Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-354-6500

 Quick Facts: 7 burger varieties (you can swap between a beef, turkey, veggie, or chicken on each one), with the most eye-catching being the seasonal special — a patty with local chilies, bacon, caramelized onions, and pepper jack.  b.good has no booze and counter service. The price of a cheeseburger and fries was $9.98.

Ambiance: b.good is the sort of place that wants to make you feel good about yourself — the walls display photos of the local farmers who grew the potatoes and raised the cattle you are about to eat, and there are plenty of pictures of fresh produce. The kitchen is open to the restaurant so you can watch the cook flip your burger, and the whole place is filled with natural light.

Food: The b.good cheeseburger comes on a whole-wheat bun with lettuce and tomato — the patty is thick, and the meat is well done. The burger is runs salty, and to my palette the beef tasted a little like what you’d prepare to mix into your kids’ mac and cheese — i.e. sautéed or lightly steamed instead of grilled. One of my tasting companions said that b.good has a great turkey burger, so maybe the lesson here is that if you’re going to try and be healthy, you should skip the beef. The fries, on the other hand, are fantastic. With a thick cut, they are deep in color, crispy on the outside, and actually taste like potato.

The Verdict: If you're going to be healthy, be healthy — skip the beef at b.good.

Mr. Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers

1246 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02138, (617) 354-6559

Quick Facts: 61 burger varieties (if I counted correctly), with the most eye-catching being The Skip Gates — a teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple and onion rings. Bartley’s has no booze and table service — it’s cash only, so bring your ones. The price of a burger and fries was $11.45.

Ambiance: Part of what they slightly overcharge you for at Bartley’s is the personality — even though the lid was blown off this place long ago (Guy Fieri has dropped by) it still manages to feel like a locals-only hotspot. You’ll be seated at long tables so close you your neighbors that you touch elbows, and there’s about a square inch of free wall space in the entire space. The rest is covered in bumper stickers, “This is Your Brain on Drugs” posters, and a surprising amount of Elvis memorabilia.

Food: The Bartley’s cheeseburger is a 7 oz. patty that comes with lettuce, onion, tomato, and the cheese of your choice (cheddar). The burger was perfectly medium rare, and incredibly juicy — so much so that the bun actually melts into the patty and seems to disappear. This one’s all about the meat — which has a thick grill crust on the outside and tastes like the burger you always imagined you could make at home. The fries are medium cut and crispy; they’re good, but they’re no reason to visit.

The Verdict: I won't venture to say that it's the best, but it's certainly my favorite.