When we first started Boston's Hidden Restaurants more than a decade ago, we soon came to realize that some restaurants are, well, just a bit MORE hidden than others. A few that come to mind include Apsara, which is an Asian restaurant on the west side of Providence (we have been there several times now and have gotten lost almost every time), Winthrop Arms, a hotel spot in Winthrop, and Taqueria El Amigo, a tiny Mexican eatery in Waltham, along with a few others that have been featured here. And you can probably add one more to the list of Boston's "Very Hidden" Restaurants: Desfina Restaurant in East Cambridge.
Desfina, a quiet little Greek restaurant, is in a mostly residential working-class neighborhood more or less between Kendall Square, Inman Square, and the Lechmere area. It is a true neighborhood dining spot, populated mostly by Cambridge locals, many of whom seem to know the owner and waitstaff. Tourists and businesspeople do not seem to know about Desfina, which makes it appealing to those looking for a good restaurant in East Cambridge that does not have lines out the door or a complete lack of parking anywhere nearby.
The atmosphere inside Desfina is simple and plain, with a light blue ceiling, a tile floor, exposed brick, and Greek artwork along the walls. There are a handful of tables in the main dining area to the left, and a few more by the tiny bar to the right. The Spartan surroundings contrast quite a bit to the rich, hearty meals served here. Indeed, while the food at Desfina is a bit more simple and basic than what is found at more formal Greek and Mediterranean restaurants in the Boston area, it is mostly very good, and much less expensive than the food at the aforementioned places. A few standouts include a thick and rich avgolemono, or egg lemon soup; a simple but delicious feta and olives plate; horta, or steamed dandelions in olive oil and lemon; saganaki (a dense kefalograviera cheese) that is floured and pan-fried, then set on fire right at diners' tables; a solid Greek salad with lots of sharp-tasting feta cheese on top; a heaping helping of pastichio, which is baked macaroni with ground meat, cheese, bechemal sauce, and spices such as nutmeg; rich and tender roast lamb that is among the best in the entire Boston area; an equally great baked lamb that is sauteed in wine; a hearty mousaka that has layers of ground meat, potatoes, and sauteed eggplant all topped with bechemal sauce and mixed with spices; warm and tender dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves, that are filled with meat and rice; and for those who have room for dessert, great versions of baklava and kataifi (a pastry filled with nuts and topped with shredded wheat), both of which have a good amount of honey syrup. Drinks include a decent selection of beers, a number of wine options, several special mixed drinks, and (of course), ouzo. Though Desfina is generally a rather sedate, laid back place, they do have entertainment on Friday nights in the form of live Greek music.
Several longtime Cambridge residents have mentioned that they have never heard of Desfina Restaurant. This is not surprising; The section of Third Street where the dining spot resides is perhaps the last place in which you would find a restaurant. But one is indeed here, and really not that far from some of the busier sections of Cambridge when you come down to it. The next time you are over at the Cambridgeside shopping development or visiting the Museum of Science, head in the direction of the former courthouse (the only tall building in the area) and grab a table at this friendly little Greek restaurant. It may be more hidden than even the most obscure restaurants in the Boston area, but it is well worth seeking out.
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