Harvard-Area Restaurants: A Yelp-Based Analysis

An investigation of key factors for dining out in Boston via publicly available Yelp review data.

By Lei Hanna, Sophia Scott, Jeslyn Liu & Alex Heuss

What Lies Beyond the Square and Across the Charles?

At the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, Brattle Street and John F. Kennedy Street is Harvard Square, a business district that Harvard students, tourists, and western Cambridge residents frequent year round. Adjacent to the historic heart of Harvard University often referred to as “the Yard,” those in the area can find a diverse range of options for dining out. However, many quickly find out that many of these restaurants are notoriously expensive - not shocking as the Square is considered a tourist trap. With parents’ weekend around the corner, our team sought to find the best restaurant alternatives in Boston, so  students, families, and tourists looking to avoid overpaying for food can explore the wide range of exquisite food Boston has to offer. Our investigation included analyzing pricing differences, Yelp reviews, and distance from campus in order to determine the best spots for off-campus meals.

Figure 1: Bar graph reflecting most popular cuisine types in Boston via Yelp reviews

Before investigating which restaurant alternatives there may be in Boston, we sought to investigate what the most popular types of cuisine and restaurant settings are in the area. Our research found that Boston’s favorite cuisine is American food. Coming in second, we have the category of Other, which includes the restaurants serving cuisines other than the ones listed; this category has a slight advantage due to its aggregated nature. Taking home third, we have sandwiches. And honorable mention goes to Italian food.

Metrics and Overall Rating across Boston Restaurants

Figure 2: Bar graph reflecting Boston neighborhoods and average Yelp star rating.

First, we looked into the relationship between Yelp star ratings and the neighborhood where the restaurant is located. We found that restaurants in Cambridge, Brookline, and Sommerville have the highest average ratings among 23 Boston neighborhoods, respectively. Furthermore, Pembroke and North Waltham had the lowest rating averages. These differences could be due to a number of factors, some of which we outline in our article.

Next, we sought to understand if there was a relationship between star ratings and restaurant pricing (on a scale of $ to $$$$, as determined by Yelp and outlined in more detail in the table below). All restaurants we analyzed, regardless of price range, have an average star rating between 3 and 4 stars.

Figure 3: Bar graph reflecting Boston restaurant Yelp price point scale and overall review star rating.

Finally on our restaurant exploration journey, we hoped to find a relationship between restaurant tag, which describes the type of food a restaurant serves, and Yelp reviews. As can be seen in the graph below, there is very little variation between Boston’s wide variety of cuisines, suggesting that the type of food a restaurant serves might not be a great predictor of Yelp review. Good news for students looking to try a little bit of everything.

Figure 4: Bar graph reflecting Boston restaurant cuisine types and setting and overall review star rating.


Despite what many may believe about Boston, the city has a wide range in types of cuisines at various price points that go beyond the stereotypical clam chowder and baked beans. From the data, we see that there are plenty of international influences to discover, with some concentrated pockets of food from specific countries in certain neighborhoods like that of Chinatown or authentic Italian food in the North End. We see that there are many neighborhoods to explore new foods, from pubs and bars in Downtown Boston to more formal settings in nearby suburbs. With that, our investigation leads us to conclude that there are many affordable and highly rated spots that students looking to venture off campus should try, and tourists should avoid the trap that is Harvard Square and consider exploring.

In the crafting of visuals and the article, we used a dataset aggregated by the Boston Area Research Initiative, a collaboration between Northeastern and Harvard University, containing 2,664 restaurants in Boston that were reviewed on between October 13th, 2004 to August 17th, 2020.

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