I'm at the NBER summer institute. By quirk of fate I ended up spending a week here, with my son, so we ended up exploring a lot of local restaurants. There's no NBER wiki for "summer institute restaurants" so we'll start one here. There is now a rent a bike stand right in front of the Galleria which makes getting some places a lot easier.
So, here are our best finds. Use the comments to post yours. Perhaps Cambridge locals will have good suggestions or comments on these.
My tastes run to mid price, small, good food, don't need reservations, and within walking distance, rather than really fancy places and needing to cab to get there. I.e. when at the institute the sort of place that you can grab a few friends and go.
A+ : Helmand, First and Bent street about two blocks from the Sonesta. Afghanistan food, really yummy. The spinach dish stood out. It's a nice quiet spot too.
A+: Courthouse Seafood, 6th street and Cambridge. It's about a mile down Cambridge. Great fish, in a really simple local storefront. This is an order at the back, pick it up, and sit on benches kind of place, not even a restaurant. Clean though, and the staff are really friendly. Did I say great fish? This is what Legal Seafood was in the 1970s.
A+: Trattoria Di Monica, Prince Street, North end. About a mile and a half walk, but worth it. Very small, a bit loud, Italian place, a bit off the track of the huge touristy north end restaurants. You go here for pasta, excellent home-made pasta.
A+ : Tatte Bakery and Cafe', third street just past Binney. About half a mile from the Sonesta. Ditch the hotel, ditch the Starbucks, walk a few blocks and get your annual carbs for breakfast here. The egg dishes and muesli that the people next to us were eating looked great too. Opens at 7.
A-: Fuji at Kendall, 3d and Munroe, about 4 blocks from the Sonesta. Straightforward sushi place, with somewhat Americanized other dishes. Good plain sushi, nothing fancy. Clean modern new restaurant in the Kendall Square style. Very nice service.
Of course when in Cambridge you go for ice cream after dinner. The places have all changed since I was a grad student.
A+: Toscanini's Main street and Mass. Ave. A bit more than 1 mile from the Sonesta. Nice walk back through MIT
A-: Christina's in Kendall Square. A longish walk, and not as good as Toscanini's, but worth the variety.
When bored, try the Kayak rental just up the river from the Sonesta. Oh, and the conference is darn good too.