Central Square: A Destination for Special Diet Dining in Cambridge

by Grace Goodwin

One of my favorite parts of Friedman is that when I tell people about my special diet, they are not quite as stymied as the rest of the world. Normally, when I tell others about my gluten, egg, and dairy intolerances, the response is “How do you LIVE?!” But from Friedmanites, I get an understanding nod. This is because in addition to being more knowledgeable about food in general, there are a number of Friedman students that follow special diets themselves.

Randomly yet conveniently, I ended up living in one of the best Boston locations for special diets: Central Square, the Cambridge neighborhood midway between MIT and Harvard. There are myriad spots for special-diet diners around the Boston area, but this particular stretch of Mass Ave is particular dense with them. If you are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, vegan, or just curious, read on for some restaurant suggestions in Central Square that cater to your needs.

Life Alive

(765 Mass Ave, www.lifealive.com)

In the bleak midwinter, Life Alive is a humid green oasis, literally. The two-story restaurant next to Cambridge City Hall is packed with plants – and usually people, given the restaurant’s booming fan-base. Life Alive is extremely friendly to special diets and specializes in bowls of grains topped with steaming vegetables and addictive vegan sauces. Almost everything at Life Alive can be made gluten-free, and the staff are well aware of the distinction between Celiac customers and those that are gluten-free by preference. With the exception of a couple dishes with cheese, everything is dairy-free; most importantly the creamy almond- or coconut-based shakes that satisfy your craving for the ice cream you might miss.

Veggie Galaxy

(450 Mass Ave, www.veggiegalaxy.com)

This spot is the gluten-free and vegan version of a diner, right out of Grease. Just like a traditional diner, dishes range from breakfast all day to meatloaf and burgers. Gluten-free customers get to enjoy favorites that they may not have had in decades, like pancakes with caramelized bananas or savory breakfast sandwiches, all from a separate yet ample gluten-free menu. If you haven’t tasted eggs or dairy in a while, you can get a similar experience from the tofu scrambles and omelettes with either Daiya or house-made dairy-free cheese, none of which disappoints. Like Life Alive, Veggie Galaxy has thick coconut-based milkshakes in awesome flavors and served in old-fashioned tall glasses. If you want a warmer dessert, check out the gluten-free and vegan cakes and pies.

Tavern in the Square

(730 Mass Ave, www.taverninthesquare.com/location/central-square-0)

When you’re dining with pickier friends or those that just want a traditional cheeseburger, Tavern in the Square is a go-to. This chain restaurant is a traditional sports bar yet works well for those with food intolerances—particularly to gluten—because its menu is enormous and very well labeled. Gluten-free dishes are clearly marked with “GF,” making the menu scanning process much easier than it usually is for Celiacs. Thanks to Tavern in the Square, a fellow gluten-free Friedmanite and I had tater tots (so crispy and golden) for the first time in ages. You can also get all of the normal burgers and sandwiches with gluten-free buns or breads, so you can get the full experience again.

Four Burgers

(704 Mass Ave, www.fourburgers.com)

This burger joint is similar (and coincidentally, right next door) to Tavern in the Square: a great place to go with your gluten-loving, cheese-craving friends, where you can both enjoy your favorite foods in parallel. Four Burgers’ burgers can be made gluten-free in two ways: they offer gluten-free buns, or you can opt to have your burger atop a lofty pile of fresh greens with a tasty vinaigrette dressing. Additionally, both their white and sweet potato fries are gluten-free. Unfortunately, as of now there is no dairy-free cheese here.

Dado Tea & Coffee

(955 Mass Ave, www.dadotea.com)

Dado is a bit of a walk away from Central, towards Harvard, but it’s worth it if you are looking for a cute and quiet spot for lunch. The specialty here is the huge variety of teas, and of course the fact that it is yet another spot where those of us with restrictions can find options. The dairy-intolerant can enjoy 16 different flavors of bubble tea with soymilk. For both the gluten-free and the vegan, there are multigrain bowls that are similar to Life Alive’s but with a Korean twist, like Bibimbap. The rice here is not boring and white – it is a mix of organic brown rice, sticky brown rice, black soybean, yellow soybean, adzuki bean, and green peas that will fill you up.

Grace Goodwin is a second-year FPAN student from Alexandria, Virginia. Despite her food intolerances, she has worked at both Ben & Jerry’s and Georgetown Cupcake, making her either the best or the worst employee ever.

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