2021 Best of Boston in Harvard Square

Best Barbecue

The Smoke Shop

With the pandemic-time addition of a fourth Smoke Shop location — this one in Harvard Square — we’re now never more than a fork’s distance away from Andy Husbands’ tender pulled chicken or best-in-class burnt ends. The chef recently released his sixth cookbook, The Smoke Shop’s Backyard BBQ, but we’ll still leave our smoked-meat cravings to the pitmaster as often as possible.

The Smoke Shop, 8 Holyoke Street, (617) 547-7427

Best Brunch


Out of Town News? Folded. The Curious George store? Closed. Harvard Square has lost many landmarks, but Harvest endures through all seasons — likely because its brunch remains the best reason around to get out of bed. The 46-year-old institution’s new chef, Nick Deutmeyer, carries on the very civilized tradition, serving up tempting weekend treats such as fried chicken and waffles dripping with foie gras butter, burnt honey, and wild-apple purée. The Ivy League eavesdropping is timeless, too. 

Harvest, 44 Brattle Street, (617) 868-2255

Best Ice Cream

J.P. Licks

Good thing J.P. Licks launched a new line of ice cream cakes in time for its 40th birthday. Now we can properly celebrate the small chain of Boston-area scoop shops, which has gifted us over the years with countless creative flavors served in cones and cookie sandwiches. All of them are still handmade at Licks’ home base in Jamaica Plain, including a few boozy varieties — like caramel-bourbon-fig or cherry-amaretto — that would feel particularly appropriate for raising a ruby anniversary toast.

J.P. Licks, 1312 Massachusetts Avenue, (617) 492-1001

Best May Festival

Boston Calling

Get ready for some really cathartic moshing: After two years of heartbreaking cancellations, our marquee music festival recently announced its return for 2022 — and it did so with a bang, bringing back 2020’s promised headliners Foo Fighters and Rage Against the Machine.

Boston Calling, Harvard Athletic Complex

Best Milkshake

Tasty Burger

Boston’s homegrown burger chain offers the perfect shake, too. The hand-spun delights — which come in varieties like classic vanilla, strawberry, and the peppermint “Green Monster” — are mixed from Tasty Burger’s own high-percentage milkfat base, yielding the richest, thickest shakes in town.

Tasty Burger, 40 John F. Kennedy Street, (617) 714-1590

Best Pandemic Improvement Over the Old

Outdoor Dining

The decision to let restaurants reclaim parking spaces for al fresco tables was a pandemic-era marvel that almost certainly kept some of our favorite spots from going belly-up. It also changed Boston’s dining scene, and its streets, for the better (can you even remember the days when restaurants didn’t spill out into their own elegantly decorated parklets?). Filling all of that space with people rather than lifeless hunks of metal was good for the soul — let’s keep it going in the future.

Patios in Bloom; Al Fresco Dining in Harvard Square article

Best Virtual Author Series

Harvard Book Store

It may not have been the same as huddling shoulder to shoulder by the greeting-card racks, but for the bookishly inclined, this Harvard Square mainstay’s online offerings still provided the respite of a Cambridge literary evening during COVID’s darkest days. If anything, going digital-only expanded its impressively boldfaced roster, with everyone from Roxane Gay to Margaret Atwood and Carmen Maria Machado stopping by the virtual reading salon

Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Avenue, (617) 661-1515