Cheap eats: Japanese comfort food at bargain prices
Cheap Eats: Café Mami
One of the greatest perks of being a foodie on a college budget in Greater Boston is having unrestricted access to Porter Square’s The Shops at Porter (AKA Porter Exchange). Why, you ask? The place is the closest thing that we have to a Japantown—the single building boasts a Japanese bakery and a petite Japanese gift shop that sells everything from stationery to hand painted ceramic mugs. Best of all, Porter Exchange features a stretch of tiny Japanese restaurants that specialize in all kinds of Japanese staples, from affordable sushi to katsu curry.
Speaking of katsu curry, Café Mami is probably the first restaurant that you will notice at Porter Exchange due to its location at the front of the strip. The place is small, and with no more than three or four small tables, you will likely have to wait to be seated. While it has the tiniest storefront even when compared to its similarly little neighboring restaurants, the variety and quality of its menu make up for it.
Café Mami delivers curries, donburis, dons, and Hamburg steak sets, all served with a side salad and miso soup. Basically, the place serves up a bunch of comfort food that Japan adopted from other cuisines over the years, in addition to the more classic dishes. That being said, the Hamburg steak and curry dishes are are as Japanese as sushi or teriyaki, and totally distinct from their Western and Indian counterparts. For weekday lunch, they have a specials menu where pretty much everything offered on that list costs five dollars, including miso soup but excluding tax. Note that all dishes are served with unlimited refills of rice, so you might want to consider coming early and hungry. Sadly, Café Mami does not do delivery; but take out is definitely an option.
My go-to’s are Tokyo Hamburg set and chicken cutlet curry. The former consists of marinated slaps of ground beef slathered in a thick, tomato-based sauce served with baked potato, and the latter is self-explanatory—fried chicken cutlet served with a rich chicken and beef broth curry. The Japanese curry (karē) may taste slightly spicy to some, but it is definitely not as spicy as and sweeter than most Indian curries. Its deliciousness is further enhanced when you savor it along with a fried egg for an extra dollar. Then again, I’m always a proponent of runny yolks in my food.
I am no expert in Japanese cuisine, but I think I could safely say that Café Mami offers solid, and not to mention substantial portions of Japanese comfort food at bargain prices. Everything I’ve had there is fresh, tasty, and made-to-order, and the quality is pretty consistent. My only complaint about the restaurant is the lack of seating, but other than that, I would recommend Café Mami to anyone in a heartbeat. A word of advice is to end your comforting meal with a glass of their matcha (green tea) milkshake, which my matcha-loving friend described as a “heaven-sent mood booster.” Itadakimasu!
Food (taste): A
Food (presentation): B+
Price: Approximately $10/person
1815 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02140
Neighborhood: Porter Square