It’s a Cambridge Burger Showdown! Tasty Burger and Shake Shack are located in Harvard Square, but which restaurant has the best burger? When my boyfriend Alvaro and I decided on a Sunday night that we craved hamburgers, we weren’t sure which to choose: locally founded, Boston favorite Tasty Burger, or Shake Shack, the NYC chain that opened in January 2014. We decided to try both restaurants and record the winner. You know, so other Cambridge-goers don’t have to eat two burgers, fries, and shakes in a day. Read on to find out who has the best burger in Harvard Square.
92 Winthrop Road, Harvard Square
We were a little biased. We’d already been to a Shake Shack in New York, and if “repeating customer” doesn’t tell you anything, we liked it. The Cambridge Shake Shack opened in Harvard Square in January, and the building is state-of-the-art. Two floors, their signature light green everywhere, and some upbeat pop music. Everything about Shake Shack is geared towards a fresh, design-centric population; they’re the Apple of the Apple vs. PC debate, if you catch my drift. We were a little put off by Shake Shack’s large line, but the cashiers moved rather quickly.
Shake Shack Fries
I was impressed by the changes Shake Shack has made since we last tried their food in NYC. We went there in February 2012, and when we ordered we were wary about getting fries because, well, they weren’t great. Too oily and greasy.
But we knew we had to compare, so we ordered them anyway. It took about ten minutes for our orders to be ready, which definitely beat the half hour we spent in New York.
Lo and behold, the fries turned out to be hand-cut and salted. Shake Shack in Cambridge was the first of their locations to start using hand-cut fries, and it really made the difference. We went back and ordered a second round.
Shake Shack Burgers
On to the burgers. We ordered plain cheeseburgers. The burgers were $4.85 each for a single stack, and I liked that Shake Shack lists all of their calories on the menu (490 for the typical “Shackburger”).
The Shake Shack buns were fantastic: golden brown, fluffy, and buttery all at once. The cheese was exceptional. The burger, while tipping to the small side, was grilled Medium Well just as we asked for, and when we were done Alvaro looked at me and said, “I think we’ve found our winner.”
I liked that the Shake Shack burger tasted healthy. I’m not a big fan of those whopping, greasy burgers, the ones that make you feel like taking a juice cleanse afterwards. Shake Shack didn’t taste like it was supposed to be “healthy” (I’m pretty sure it’s not!) but it certainly didn’t make me feel bad.
That’s because Shake Shack burgers are 100 percent Angus beef, humanely raised and with no antibiotic or hormones “EVER.” Alvaro liked it because the meat tasted quality. Definitely no Burger King.
Shake Shack Menu
Shake Shack has a large menu beyond cheeseburgers, including hotdogs, frozen custard, shakes, beer, wine, and even snacks for your favorite canines back home.
There are also vegetarian options such as the ‘Shroom burger with crisp-fried portobello mushrooms and melted muenster cheese, as well as unique-to-Cambridge dishes, like the “MInT Chocolate” frozen custard named for MIT and the “Lobstah Shell” custard. There are tons of options to mix in to the desserts too, like chocolate truffle cookie dough, marshmallow sauce, and strawberry purée.
Shake Shack Setbacks
The only setback at Shake Shack was the lack of seating. Although the two floors are great, people often looked at us and tried to calculate how long we’d stay. A girl who went to college with me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could have our table when we were done, even though we just started.
So now that we had a seat, we very nearly stayed at Shake Shack and ordered more food. But we decided to head out to Tasty Burger. After all, what’s a Burger Showdown without some competition?
40 John F. Kennedy St, Harvard Square
Right across the street from Shake Shack is Tasty Burger, also known as “the official Burger of the Boston Red Sox.” Tasty Burger is as locally Massachusetts owned as you can get. There’s three locations in total: Fenway, Harvard Square, and Southie, or the South End.
Alvaro and I actually went to the Fenway restaurant a few months back but were turned off by its outdoor-style venue and walked away in favor of Boston burgers that were situated in more of a sit-down atmosphere. Harvard Square’s Tasty Burger, however, is all indoors. Like Shake Shack, it has two floors, one downstairs and one upstairs. The difference, however, is that while Shake Shack has one floor at ground level and one above ground, Tasty Burger has a ground level and a level downstairs.
Tasty Burger Menu
There were less people in line at Tasty Burger which meant we got our food faster. We ordered the same thing again: two cheeseburgers, one set of fries. At $4.75 a burger, they were only 10 cents less than Shake Shack, but Tasty Burger makes use of combos with fries and onion rings for an additional price.
Tasty Burger also has more ingredients than Shake Shack, such as melted bleu cheese, pineapple, and teriyaki sauce, and they have a burger special that changes every day, such as this one to the right with chicken parmesan.
Tasty Burger Atmosphere
The atmosphere at Tasty Burger was built more for a college night than grab-and-go, at least downstairs. There were ping pong tables, wines, and beers lining the wall, with fun home-y decorations that were very old-school Cambridge. It was a different vibe than Shake Shack, with its glossy black and light green, but a good different, too. Tasty Burger is open late until 4 am, so it’s a great place after those Harvard final exams.
We were impressed by Tasty Burger’s insulation system, which ensured the burgers were hot. They were wrapped up in lots of paper (pictured below, with our selfie) and even though I spent some time washing my hands and drinking water so as to get rid of Shake Shack taste, they were nice and steamy.
Tasty Burger burgers
First bite in and I could tell this was no Shake Shack. Tasty Burger had more meat in the burger, but it also felt a little greasier, which is more of what a typical burger is like.
The flavors were still fresh, though: delicious melted cheese, a bun with sesame seeds. I love sesame seeds, so the fact that Shake Shack’s came without them was a little step up for Tasty Burger.
Tasty Burger has a veggie option and a turkey burger, too. They also have crispy chicken sandwiches, 1/4 lb hotdogs, nuggets, hummus and guacamole, chips, chili, salad, onion rings, brownies, cookies, and shakes.
They also have great deals for students such as the “Starvin’ Student” deal. With a valid college ID, students get a beer, fries, and hamburger or cheeseburger all for $10.
After devouring two cheeseburgers, fries, and splitting a chocolate shake, it’s safe to say Alvaro and I sat in the Tasty Burger booth a while, wondering exactly why we’d decided to eat so much in an evening. But it had come down to this: deciding which restaurant had The Best Burger in Harvard Square. So we divided it up by category.
Location: Shake Shack. Although there wasn’t a lot of seating, views on the second floor beat out Tasty Burger’s seating on the ground level. Also, now that it’s getting warmer the burger joint will start to have seating outside overlooking the good ol’ Cambridge green. This one was a clear winner: Shake Shack!
Price: Although the burgers were relatively the same price, this one we had to hand off to Tasty Burger. With their student discounts and combo meals, Tasty Burger was the more affordable option.
Options: This was a draw. Tasty Burger had more options and toppings for their burgers, but Shake Shack won in shakes, custards, and desserts. Which should’ve been a given to begin with if you take a look at their names!
Atmosphere: Tasty Burger. That is, if you’re looking for a fun place to hang out, often late. Shake Shack’s atmosphere is edgy and crisp, but Tasty Burger has ping pong tables, and who can beat that?
Burger: At last! Who has the better burger in Harvard Square? Alvaro and I looked at each other and nodded. “Shake Shack,” we both said. From their buttery golden buns to fresh and local ingredients, it seems like we’re still in favor of the NYC burger. That doesn’t mean we don’t love Tasty Burger, though. Next time we’re in the mood for burgers, we may just end up at whichever line is shortest.
– Erinn Pascal, Editor-in-Chief