New Haven is known for 3 things: Pizza, Yale, and unfortunately, crime. It has long been a popular day trip destination for New Yorkers on a quest to try better pizza than what they can find at home ;) But this city steeped in early-American history has more to offer to both day-trippers and local residents beyond just America's best pizza. Despite its small size, New Haven boasts a top notch food scene with globally-inspired cuisine from French and Cuban to Indian and Ethiopian. Many of the best restaurants here are concentrated in the walkable downtown area, and to a lesser extent, Wooster Square and Orange Street.
Over the years, I've slowly gotten to know the city's diverse restaurants. My Italian-American parents weren't the type of people to explore or eat out often when I was younger. And when we did go to a restaurant, we had two unsurprising choices: Italian or American.
The food scene here is evolving quickly. There's a growing list of new and established places I haven't had the chance to try yet, while a few of my past favorites have shuttered their doors in the time I moved away. Writing this evokes feelings of nostalgia for a place I haven't lived in for almost four years now.
Before I move onto my recommendations, I want to emphasize one last thing: New Haven's reputation as a dangerous city is, for the most part, unwarranted. Petty crime is an issue here like any city, but the violent crime that discourages some people from visiting is largely confined to certain areas. In my 20 years here, I can't remember feeling unsafe. Be aware of your surroundings and practice basic street smarts like you would anywhere. The most dangerous thing you will probably encounter are drivers shamelessly blowing through red lights.
Read on for my favorite places to eat in New Haven that I look forward to every time I return.
A guide to New Haven wouldn't be complete without at least one mention of pizza. Which restaurant has the best? It's a never ending debate that continues to spark arguments between locals and visitors alike. While Pepe's and Sally's deservedly top best pizza in America lists year after year, Modern Apizza is my personal favorite for classic New Haven brick oven, ultra thin crust pizza. Their menu also features select Italian appetizers and entrees, but I can't say I've ever tried any of them in the many times I've been here. When in New Haven, order pizza and only pizza.
Tip: Get here early if you want to dine in. Modern might not boast the national recognition of its counterparts in Wooster Square, but its a popular local spot with long lines at peak dinner hours.
If you order one thing at this unassuming diner style restaurant in North Haven, make it the french toast. It's worth the short drive. In my boyfriend's words, "I didn't know french toast could taste this good." We thought it was a fluke, but it was just as well done the second time we tried it. Their lunch food, in contrast, isn't anything special.
This casual, unpretentious spot serving classic American brunch staples fell a bit short of my unfairly high expectations. It's still good enough to recommend, though. You can never go wrong with bacon and home fries! One thing to note is that its location just beyond the East Rock neighborhood means the surroundings look drab. If you're in the mood for something a little more sophisticated and visually inspiring, this isn't the place.
One of the city's newer restaurants, Crepes Choupette serves delicious sweet crepes and savory galettes in a charming space decorated with French accents. The tartiflette with potatoes, onions, and lardons got me hooked my first time here. I nervously brought my boyfriend right after he returned from living in Europe for two years, and he loved it! The simple butter and sugar crepe is perfection, plus their friendly staff makes it an inviting place to linger. I have yet to try the fondue at their Swiss sister restaurant, Au Chalet.
Tikkaway serves fast-casual indian food perfect for a quick but delicious lunch. Create your own rice bowl, salad, or wrap with a variety of fillings and sauces to choose from. The rice bowl with chicken or potatoes, masala sauce and raita is my lunch of choice. It's a great alternative when you're looking for something affordable other than a standard sandwich.
Miso is my favorite Japanese restaurant for sushi in New Haven. It's not as renowned as Miya's, known for their inventive, sustainably-made rolls with unconventional ingredients like Mexican grasshoppers. Miya's is closing at the end of 2020, so if you haven't tried it, now is your chance! If you prefer more traditional sushi options like me, Miso is the place to go.
This quaint yet lively restaurant in downtown New Haven introduced me to Cuban food and remains my favorite non-pizza restaurant in town. The first time I ate at Soul de Cuba, I made the mistake of ordering the most boring dish on the menu— black bean soup. It was perfectly good for black bean soup, but not nearly as good as my cousin's healthy portion of ropa vieja. I still haven't explored much of their menu because I can't help but order the yucca fries and ropa vieja every time. I've heard their salads are a menu highlight as well.
This modern Spanish restaurant and wine bar in downtown New Haven serves small plates made with seasonal ingredients. I love coming here to share classic tapas dishes, like patatas bravas and Spanish tortilla. Full disclosure: Barcelona is now in a number of locations across the US, but it manages to feel more like a stand alone restaurant. With limited alternative options in town, this is still a solid choice for Spanish food enthusiasts. Or maybe I'm just a potato enthusiast, if you've caught on to the common theme of this list so far.
Alternatively, opt for August, an intimate, upscale wine bar with small plates that I haven't had a chance to try yet. Oak Haven, a small gastropub with tapas and farm to table entrees, looks like another good alternative option.
As someone who doesn't drink coffee, I still appreciate this local favorite coffee shop for its warm, relaxing atmosphere and focus on sustainability. This was my preferred place downtown for good conversation with colleagues and friends over (non-caffeinated) drinks and light bites. For those who do need their caffeine fix, their organic coffee is widely considered to be top notch.
In New Haven's residential East Rock neighborhood, I love East Rock Coffee, especially for their breakfast sandwiches.
A longstanding New Haven classic, Libby's is known for their Italian ice available in a variety of flavors including lemon, blue raspberry, and coconut. Or at least, that's what I've always known it for. After all my years living here, I didn't notice it wasn't named Libby's Italian Ice until writing this. The pastries and other baked goods were always an afterthought for me, though they apparently have good cannoli. If you can get past the old-fashioned interior, this is an ideal spot to enjoy a refreshing icy treat on a warm summer evening after pizza in Wooster Square. The step back in time is part of its character!
As a textbook introvert who doesn't enjoy most alcohol, I have never been a bar person. That said, I enjoyed the lively (but not rowdy) ambiance at Barracuda the time I came here to watch a soccer game with friends during happy hour. Their modern American food with Latin flair was better than expected. For groups dining in, they also have a limited number of small tables.
Prime 16, a tap house known for craft beer and gourmet burgers, is also highly regarded.
With so many restaurant options in New Haven, there are a few more still on my list to try:
Zinc: Pricy, sustainability focused restaurant serving modern American food with Asian flair.
Rubamba: Latin American restaurant known for their arepas.
Lalibela: Ethiopian restaurant that comes highly recommended.
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