I hadn't really thought much about local Chinese food with an actual Chinatown so close to home, but when Jason asked me to suggest a good Chinese restaurant in Central or Harvard, I realized that I'm living on a boulevard of pretty unimpressive Chinese restaurants stretching for miles!
Let's start at Harvard and head North first.
Yenching, 1326 Mass Ave. There are plenty of positive reviews, but I am not impressed.
Changsho, 1712 Mass Ave. Grand and imperial looking, but not that exciting. Plus, they slipped slices of ham into their vegetarian eggplant. And it looks like part of a chain now.
Wok n Roll, 1908 Mass Ave. Right in Porter, but never seems to make the list. Maybe it's the name.
Qing Dao Garden, 2383 Mass Ave. We're most of the way to the Arlington line and finally, an agreeably low-key joint with fresh and interesting dishes.
Back to Harvard now, heading South...
Hong Kong, 1238 Mass Ave. OK, I get it, it's a comedy club and they have really big scorpion bowls. That in itself should disqualify it. Do not eat here unless already drunk.
New Asia, 1105 Mass Ave. Meh. But they do deliver!
(note the 600+ house numbers of nothing right through Central square)
Mary Chung, 460 Mass Ave. Almost Halfway to MIT, we find the other border of the desert. Mary Chung is an institution for good reason. I think they have one of the highest food to decor rating ratios (over 3:1) in all of Zagat. Don't miss the suan la chow show. (And when a dish has its own wikipedia page that mentions a restaurant, that should speak volumes)
It's 3.2 miles along Mass Ave - give or take - between Mary Chung and Qing Dao Garden, and as far as I'm concerned, there's not much to eat Chinese-wise along that strip, which encompasses three of the major squares of Cambridge. Sort of disgraceful, don't you think?
Just for yuks, let's venture past Mary Chung for a bonus round heading towards MIT and swerving on to Main Street a bit.
All Asia, 332 Mass Ave. Known for music not so much for food.
Pu Pu Hot Pot, 907 Main Street. Divey, but I like this place in spite of or maybe because of the name.
Royal East, 792 Main Street. Fancier than Changsho and with more culinary chops to back it up if you ask me.
I'm sure plenty of differing opinions will surface, but I do want to recognize a place that I've omitted because it's a bit off the beaten track of Mass Ave, but well worth the trip if you're stuck in the 3.2 mile Chinese Rut: Zoe's, at 289 Beacon Street, next to Petsi Pies. I'm not even 100% sure they're still in operation, but especially given the above, I'm going to make a point to seek them out again soon.