There’s some good eating out to be done in Cambridge – if you avoid the town centre (mostly) and avoid the high end – guidelines which probably apply in most cities.
The places I’d choose and recommend are not gourmet temples, and most are quite low key, but all are small and and independent, and have a good mixture of decent food and drink, friendliness, unpretentious decor, and a commitment to what they do. In no order at all:
Efe’s and Meze, respectively on King Street and Mill Road, two roads worth visiting themselves for their variety of shops, for quick, friendly Turkish food.
The Black Cat Cafe, another Mill road stop, with undoubtedly the best cakes in Cambridge, also worth visiting for soup, scrambled egg, smoothies and coffee; the perfect place to pass time on a dull day.
The Rainbow Cafe, the first exception to the avoid-city-centre: this one is slap opposite King’s College, but buried in a basement and far from mainstream in its all-vegetarian meals.
Indigo’s is the another exception, coffee and bagels right behind King’s Parade, and one of the only places to feel part of the jumble of old buildings of the medieval city behind the grander facades. Also one of the smallest and cosiest, just a few tables over two floors and precarious staircase, with orders being shouted down to a basement kitchen.
The final city-centre stop is, flagrantly breaking the no-chains rule, Marks & Spencer’s 2nd floor cafe, for the sole reason of having the best (and only) architectural view of them all – west-facing, so particularly good when the sun is setting over King’s College Chapel.
Back to Mill Road again, the ever-welcoming Kym Moy serves various fast, fresh noodle and rice dishes, with a £5 lunchtime special
Not far along is the Cafe Adriatic, run by Croatians and serving my favorite Italian style food in Cambridge.
Cazimir, after a dip and a temporary name change, is back with a Hungarian theme, notably the soup, and still a good place near the city centre to escape for a meal, coffee and cake.
Further along King Street, go to Clowns for a great Italian welcome, and fresh, ready-made, filling (if not gourmet) food.
The Polish Club is somewhat out of the way but worth the trip for down to earth, well cooked Polish food and a good selection of beer and vodka.
The Free Press and the Kingston Arms are the places to go for the right mix proper pub and decent food; no gastro-pub makeovers here.
The best food on the list, and somewhat more expensive but well worth it, is at Cotto. On the decidedly un-pretty East Road, and the ideal antidote to the over-priced tourist trap eatery, it is best approached from the west along Elm Street and Prospect Row.
Finally, for the best cup of coffee, everyone agrees Savino’s is the place, always busy and bustling, next to the bus station.