The city of Cambridge has several squares that are loaded with restaurants and bars, and one of the best--and perhaps most underappreciated--is Porter Square. A number of hidden gems can be found along or just off the stretch of Mass. Ave. that cuts through here, including several that are buried away in Lesley's University Hall. This historic structure--which used to be home to a Sears & Roebuck store--includes a commercial/retail area called the Porter Exchange, which is where a handful of inexpensive Asian restaurants can be found, including such outstanding spots as Sapporo Ramen, Tampopo, Ittyo, and Cafe Mami. And while the food court is made up almost exclusively of Japanese eateries, there is a Korean restaurant there called Cho Cho's that is quite a bit different from the others not only in cuisine, but in size, and it seems to get overlooked by the crowds of people going to the often-packed Sapporo and Cafe Mami even though it is only a few feet away from those spots.
Most of the restaurants in the Porter Exchange food court are about the size of a walk-in closet, which is one reason why a place like Sapporo sometimes has lines that extend back toward the middle of University Hall, and, indeed, all of the eateries on the left side of the food court (right side if you're coming from the back of the building) only have a few seats, with Mami, Sapporo, Tampopo, and Ittyo all being tough takes depending on what time you go. Cho Cho's sits on the other side of the narrow walkway and doesn't really share that side of the food court with anyone (a sushi spot is around one corner and a little frozen yogurt place--which is owned by Cho Cho's--is around the other corner), so it is noticeably roomier, with more tables, more elbow room, and more of a feel of a true full-service restaurant. The bright and simple space includes pictures of many of the food items offered on the menu, while an ordering counter for takeout and pickup sits off to the right.
Japanese restaurants often include some items found at Korean dining spots, while the opposite is true as well, and Cho Cho's indeed offers a few options that diners can also get across the food court's walkway, such as edamame, steamed dumplings, tempura, udon, teriyaki, and katsu. The heart of the menu, however, includes Korean dishes that aren't found at the neighboring restaurants for the most part. A few of the highlights here include maandu gook, which is a savory soup with either pork or veggie dumplings; a sublime bibimbap with marinated beef, vegetables, and a fried egg, with the best version of this dish being the okdol bibimbap, which is served in a traditional hot stone bowl; a tremendously flavorful dish called yuk gae jang, which includes lean shredded beef and potato noodles in a spicy broth and comes with kimchi and toasted seaweed--and which may be one of the best items ever tried for this site; a wonderful salmon tartare bibimbap with a mountain of veggies and a fried egg; a solid version of japchae, a dish that includes sweet potato noodles and vegetables stir-fried in sesame oil; and a number of versions of a Korean classic--soft tofu stew, with the fiery broth being absorbed into the tofu and the egg served on the side being dropped into the bowl for added richness. Cho Cho's also offers a few versions of pad Thai, and their version gets a bit of extra sweetness from the addition of whole cashews. Like most of the other eateries in the food court, the prices at Cho Cho's are extremely reasonable, with most dishes being on either side of $10.
Korean food seems to be all the rage these days, with a lot of Korean dining spots opening in the Boston area (especially in and around Allston). And many of them fly well under the radar, including the very underrated Cho Cho's. The Porter Square area of Cambridge has a lot of options for good dining, which makes it tough to decide exactly where to go, but for those who like spicy Asian fare, Cho Cho's should definitely be a place to consider.
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