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New Haven, CT Top 5 Favorites

restaurants, why and what dishes to order. Also bakeries or ethnic markets? Thanks. Ethnic is great!

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  1. A couple of my favorites in and around New Haven are;
    1. Mamoun's on Howe St. (anything, but I always get the Ful Mudammas)
    2. Sally's Pizza on Wooster St. (try the Pizza Bianca - baby clams, no tomato)
    3. There was a Mexican place on Rte. 1 near the W. Haven/Orange town line called
    Baja. I don't know if it's still open though. The food was good, and they had a salsa bar with about six choices from mild to explosive. I can't say how authentically Mexican it is (or was) though because I haven't eaten much in the southwest or Mexico.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RIChowderhead

      Goodfella's for Italian.
      Sally's for Pizza.

    2. Bentara for the mussles, panang, and roti with the beef in it. Oh, I miss Bentara!
      Union League for, well almost anything
      Pepe's for pizza (I am a Texan and we simply don't get pizza like that down here)
      Roomba for the tuna and fou fou (spelling?)
      Thai Taste...great thai food
      Bella Luna for brie stuffed french toast...coma inducing.

      5 Replies
        1. re: ElizabethHenton

          That's a tough one given the wide variety of really good food in New Haven. If you are referring to fine dining, then they'd be:
          Ibiza
          Bespoke
          Roomba
          Zinc
          Union League

          For casual dining:
          any of the "big 3" pizza (Pepe's, Sally's, Modern)
          Mamouns
          Rice Pot

          1. re: lsnhc

            -roomba is amazing for latin-inspired fusion. they have excellent drinks, fabulous appetizers (i recommend the chivita), and such great desserts (the semi-freddo might be my favourite dessert ever).
            -bespoke is owned by the same people as roomba, and is supposed to be the best restaurant ever, although i've never tried.
            -lupi legna's is this adorable bakery. they bake breads on site, sell various loaves (mostly italian) in addition to personal pizzas, stuffed breads, and 2 desserts (chocolate chunk cookie and Sfogliatelle), and pizza doughs.
            -zaroka serves probably the best indian food in new haven, pricier than the others, but definitely worth it
            -and now i'm stuck on a fifth. there are so many great options. barcelona is a new wine bar with great appetizers and desserts. mamoun's is delicious, cheap, and open all the time. kudeta has promise.

            also for ethnic grocery stores, there is an awesome turkish/gourmet grocery store called limon in hamden, on state street. it's pretty well-priced and has tons of options for turkish items, and just general ethnic and gourmet items. and in new haven, there's the oriental pantry, which houses a million different asian items in this little little room. it is a pure wonder.

            1. re: shoogirl49

              shoogirl49, where is lupi legna's? I haven't been able to buy sfogliatelle outside of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx!

              1. re: kooby

                hey kooby. lupi's is at cedar and washington streets, down near the yale medical school.

      1. Don't come to New Haven expecting a world-class dining scene: it simply isn't New York, Chicago or SF. I've lived in two of the three and trust me, it simply isn't even close, even when you adjust for size, regardless of what people here say. That said, there are a few places worth trying.

        Bespoke isn't bad, but its over-done. There's too much on every plate: restraint is a virtue. But there are still exciting dishes (like a cauliflower puree accented with sultanas, a nice touch). Roomba is okay as well, although I've never seen much reason to fuss.

        Pacifico is good.

        Union League isn't bad, although a bit over-salted.

        Thali for Indian food, see also Bentara (Malaysian), and Miso (Japanese). They're all within about 2 blocks. And Skapo (Italian small plates) isn't bad either. There's also a great ethnic market (J-Mart, Asian products) next door to Miso.

        Zinc is ok. I sometimes see flashes of inspiration (the use of tea leaves to add a hint of smokiness to chocolates), but other times they stumble of seemingly basic items (rapini so bitter as to be almost inedible). That said, it seems to have a cult following.

        And if Baja is the same one I'm thinking of, it's a chain. And not a good one. I'd try to avoid Mexican here, I've not had good luck. Stick to CA (or Mexico). Southwestern food is quite different (although tasty).

        14 Replies
        1. re: the scribbler

          Just curious. Where is (or was) the Baja you're thinking of? The one I knew of did not seem at all like a chain-type restaurant.

          In fact, now I'm not even sure if the place I'm thinking of was called Baja. All I know is it is (or was) in Orange (almost on the W. Haven line), on the south-bound side of Rte. 1 (or Boston Post Rd.), next to a tire place, across the road from a plaza that is bound by Rte. 1 on the north side and Bull Hill Lane on the west side. It's also nearly across the road from the Walmart, and about a 1/4 mile south of the light at Meloy Rd.

          1. re: RIChowderhead

            That must be the Baja's that they're talking about (it is near W. Haven/Orange line). Not a chain and the food is good. Good fish tacos which isn't true at very many places around here (although last time I went they weren't great for some reason).

            As for my top 5 in NH:
            1. Bentara (just consistently good. although service can be slow -- beef two soy is favorite)
            2. Roomba (maybe it's slipped a little and doesn't live up to some people's expectations, but I've had good food every time -- bbq salmon)
            3. Pacifico (skirt steak)
            4. Pepes (again, maybe not as good as it used to be, but still the best pizza around in my opinion -- best peperoni pizza anywhere)
            5. Thali (better each time I eat there -- chicken kori gasi)

            1. re: RIChowderhead

              Baja's is not a chain.. I grew up on Mexican food in the Bay Area and when I moved here 15 yrs ago I couldn't stomach the Mexican restaurants until Baja's opened. It is genuine, run by two Mexican families from the San Diego area. What i really miss here is the taquerias (Mexican delis with cheap burritos, tacos, and taquitos), kind of like the taco trucks that park along the water on Long Shore Blvd.

              1. re: pjk24

                Baja in Orange is actually owned by a man named Bob, not Mexican families (although many Mexican people work for him). He used to have a restaurant in New Haven too (also called Baja's) but shut it down because it was too hectic to run 2 places.

            2. re: the scribbler

              Thali is excellent - on a different level than any other Indian in the NH area and most Indian places you find in NYC as well. Interesting, innovative food - not your typical Tikka Masala place at all. The NYTimes reviews they have up on the wall name a number of special dishes that are all worth ordering.

              I love the totally unsung, underappreciated Pizza House, on Edgewood and Howe - a neighborhood dive that's been there for 30 years selling Greek-style pizza that's my favorite in NH - totally different from the super-thin-crust Italian places like Pepe's but, to my taste, equally speclal.

              1. re: the scribbler

                Scribbler,

                "it simply isn't New York"
                It is silly to compare a city of just over 100,000 to a city like New York with over 8 million residents. No one in the thread suggested New Haven can hold its own against NYC or Chicago. However I challenge you to find a city of the same size as New Haven outside of the Northeast that has such a diverse chow scene. I can go to New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, really any Connecticut city and find a huge selection of "ethnic" eats...Brazilian, Peruvian, Polish, Italian, Dominican, Mexican, Vietnamese, Ecuadorian, Trinidadian, Jamaican, Guyanian, and of course pizza to die for.

                "I'd try to avoid Mexican here....."
                Now, when it comes to Mexican you should be aware that the majority of Mexicans in Connecticut are from Puebla, Michoacan, and a few from Oaxaca so those are the cuisines that are going to be found in the local Mexican restaurants. Lovers of Mole should rejoice because that dish originated in Puebla. Tortilleria la Michoacana on Grand Avenue not only serves food but on the weekend it is a dancehall as well with Mexican musicians coming in from the tri-state area and from Mexico. If you dig around a little bit you will find some great places, no need to travel to California.

                And for pjk24 who is looking for a taqueria there is one in West Haven and one in Wallingford.

                1. re: JohnnyCT

                  JohnnyCT, this info the regional origins of NH's Mexican cooks is really interesting and I wonder if you could elaborate (since you seem to know something about the topic). I spent part of my growing-up in Southern California and I've always been pretty disappointed by the Mexican food I've found since moving back East. I had the vague notion that a lot of what I was eating in New York, New Haven, etc., was Pueblan, but I never knew much about which dishes are real Pueblan standouts - I just kept ordering the carnitas and chuletas I liked growing up and then wishing they tasted more like the SoCal versions. It never even occurred to me to order mole in any of the places I investigated in NYC - even though I love mole - because I think of it as a "fancier" dish. Now I definitely will. But if you've got suggestions for other areas where Pueblan, Oaxacan and Michoacan cooking shine, please share them. I'd love to get better at appreciating those regional cuisines in their own rights, rather than continuing to compare them, unfavorably, to the Cal-Mex I miss.

                  1. re: GDSwamp

                    Some dishes to look out for from Puebla are mole, chalupas, cemitas(a type of torta), and tacos arabes which are tacos al pastor but with different spices and a different thicker tortilla.

                    Michoacan is known for their carnitas. I've been told they make tamales with blackberries which I would try but I don't know if that is my style. They are also said to make a mean pozole.

                    1. re: JohnnyCT

                      Sounds good. Next time I'm in NH I'll try Baja or Tortillera la Michoacana with this stuff in mind.

                      1. re: GDSwamp

                        They offer tacos arabes at La Poblanita on Park Avenue in Bridgeport.

                  2. re: JohnnyCT

                    just saw this thread - where are some great dives/taquerias in waterbury or bristol? i'm up there periodically, but haven't seen much outside of italian...

                    1. re: bob gaj

                      Bob,

                      Here is a thread on Waterbury:

                      www.chowhound.com/topics/379816

                      Mi Pueblito is the best for Mexican.

                  3. re: the scribbler

                    I second the sentiment that it's pointless to compare NH to NY and other major cities, but I've lived in quite a few other smaller cities and NH has them beat in quality and variety in a relatively small area. You can park downtown and walk to at least 3 dozen good restaurants with cuisines all over the map. Some are better than others, but the scene is getting more competitive and bad places don't tend to last, so quality overall is pretty high. Prices are also good and not wildly out of sync with local salaries.

                    1. re: the scribbler

                      I know this is an old post, but I am surprised that it stood unchallenged. How can this poster say Union League "isn't bad"?
                      New Haven does have a few restaurants that compete well with other cities with reputations for fine dining. Just read. Why do NY Times food critics keep coming here?

                    2. 1. Mamoun's (anything, really, but the falafel is fantastic)
                      2. Pepe's (white clam pizza--you just can't this kind of pizza anywhere else).
                      3. Sultan's Delight at Istanbul Cafe

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: rmmcgrath

                        Sally's also has the Pizza Bianca (white clam pizza).

                        And Sally's is better than Pepe's. Just ask Doonesbury.

                      2. You've got a lot of great choice here.
                        But one of my favorite places is overlooked.
                        Ivy Noodle across from the Yale Bookstore on Broadway.
                        Always jammed.
                        Community tables or counter seating.
                        This is hole in the wall, not upscale dining, but, REALLY GOOD NOODLES.
                        They cater to the Yale College crowd so the prices are very reasonable and they are open very late.

                        I recommend the Coconut Curry Tofu Soup with whatever noodles you happen to like.
                        Also for appetizers try the shrimp pancakes, turnip cakes, and wontons in hot oil.

                        They are so good that a second noodle place opened about a year ago in the same area.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: WannaBeFoodCritic

                          Sorry, I've had very bad meals at Ivy noodle, greasy, bland and overpriced. There are much better noodle places now: York Street Noodle House, East Melange on Howe (new this year) and Dozo on Whalley (brand-new in last month). All kick Ivy Noodle's butt. But East Melange is a standout in that it has all kinds of down-home Chinese stuff and lots of Chinese people eat there. Excellent Singapore Chow Fun.

                        2. The taqueria in Wallingford, are you talking about the Mexican Grocery store on Quinnipiac with the little restaurant in the back?
                          I thought the wife and I were the only ones who knew about that.
                          If not, now everyone ele does.
                          Again, hole in the wall, caters almost exclusively to the local hispanic population for lunch.
                          Haven't been there in years but remember it being as authentic as you can get.
                          Had taquitos and fresh avocado slices.

                          1. 1. Sally's--best pizza in the world (certainly than NYC). Get the plain tomato pie (no mozz), plan (w/ mozz), or an onion. The plain (no mozz) is my favorite pie in town. Period.

                            2. Rocco's Bakery--Go for the stuffed breads. Any of them. Get a cinnamon roll to eat in the car before you tuck into the stuffed bread.

                            3. Som Siam in Guilford is delicious no-frills Thai.

                            4. Coromandel in Orange has probably the best Indian in the area. (One category where NYC still has New Haven beat, I'll concede.)

                            5. Union League, and Petit Cafe are, I think, overrated French, though at least the latter isn't overpriced. For the best French meal, buy a few Judy's baguettes, some cheese, and open a bottle of wine.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: horchata

                              I have to say I disagree with the negative comments about New Haven dining. Almost every meal I have had at Union League is better than many I have had in Manhattan. And the pizza blows New York out of the water.

                              Bajas is the best mexican food! And since they close for two months every winter to go back to Mexico to see their family, I trust that it is authentic. Try the fish tacos or mole.

                              Bespoke, I think, has a lot of potential but it is new and needs a little tweeking. I loved everything I had, but it hasn't lived up to the service or atmosphere of Roomba yet.
                              The top restaurants are still Union League, Le Petite Cafe, and Roomba.

                            2. French: Le Petite Cafe (Branford)
                              Small Plates: 116 Crown
                              Italian: Goodfellas (New Haven), Antonios (East Haven), Pasta Cosi (Branford)
                              Pizza: Sally's or Pepes
                              Chinese: House of Chao
                              Japanese / Sushi: Daiko
                              Exotic: Bentara
                              Middle Eastern: Alladin
                              Thai: Pad Thai
                              Fried New England Seafood: Lennys Indian Neck

                              1. Frank Pepe's New Haven
                                Frank Pepe's Fairfield
                                The Spot (Next to Frank Pepe's New Haven)
                                Libby's Bakery (On the other side of Frank Pepe's
                                Frank Pepe's Manchester (when it opens)

                                Sorry only my humble opinion....

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: robertjsweet

                                  Had pizza at Pepe's...drove 3 hours for lunch. The clam pizza was very good. Chewy crisp crust, large succulent clams. Tons of garlic. The pepperoni pizza was so so. We came home and tossed the leftovers which we never do with other pizza. Too greasy and the sauce was bland. The waitress was great.

                                  Went to Libby's for dessert. The pistachio cannoli at Libby's was soggy / stale. The filling ok. Nothing to rave about. Too full to try the biscotti.

                                  Was it worth the drive?? Not to me..but it was a fun adventure.

                                  1. re: luci

                                    Next time stop at Lucibello's on Grand Ave. for cannolis. If I make it to heaven, a big table full of Lucibello's cannolis will be waiting for me there.

                                2. Tough choice but here's an off-the-cuff list:
                                  Modern--excellent pizza without the hassle of Wooster St.
                                  Thali--oustanding Sunday buffet.
                                  Miya's--consistently inventive and tasty neo-sushi.
                                  East Melange--Great range and quality Chinese.
                                  Ahimsa--expensive but often outstanding vegan.
                                  (This list reflects the fact that I'm poor so I don't get to many of the fancier places and I like Asian food.)

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: newhavener07

                                    Sally's
                                    Pepe's
                                    Modern
                                    Yankee Doodle
                                    Louis Lunch

                                    done... enjoy fb

                                  2. Fine Dining:
                                    1. bespoke, hip decor, amazing food
                                    2. union league, high class french
                                    3. thali, amazing creative high end indian
                                    4. barcelona, fun chic environment, nice tapas
                                    5. fosters, good food, good times
                                    (6. bistro basque, but it is in milford)

                                    Casual dining:
                                    1. Mezcal, mexican, better than baja
                                    2. York Noodle, warming soups, and noodles for $5
                                    3. Mamoun's, a classic, open til 3am 365
                                    4. Modern, just as good as wooster st., easier to get
                                    5. Sushi Palace (hamden)

                                    ethnic markets:
                                    1. J-mart (pan asian)
                                    2. Wozniaks (polish)
                                    3. Limon (a full size supermarket with Middle Eastern leanings)
                                    there are good indian markets on the berlin tpke.
                                    the a-dong market in west hartford is the best asian market in the state.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: EastRocker

                                      The best restaurant in New Haven is definitely Ibiza

                                    2. We ate at East Melange last night. Finally, a great Chinese restaurant in New Haven. It is a melange of cuisines, but the specials on the board are in Chinese and the owner is from Hong Kong. The soups are fantastic and the stocks are not 'one size fits all'. The only loser was the salt baked shrimp. The prawns themselves were very tasty, but they were in a thick breading, very deep fried. Watercress dumplings fantastic & short rib noodle soup. Many more dishes to try!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: tarte tatin

                                        Modern is the way to go for pizza. Excellent pie and no hassle of Wooster Street. And maybe I'm no foodie but I Love Brazi's and don't think they get the attention they deserve.

                                        1. re: jesoda

                                          I'm with you on Modern. It was great pizza and no waiting for a booth. Walked in and sat down. The place was crowded and the takeout was booming but the turnover was fast so the time I went, there was not waiting.

                                          I did Pepe's and waited outside for over 30 mins. Not doing that again.

                                      2. AVOID MANOUN'S. I'm sitting in Mamoun's right now forcing myself to eat (rather than leave, gotta make it last to cover the rent on my table- I have to kill). It's easy to nibble because each bite is awful. Got the falafel combo. The falafel were pre-cooked and reconstitued by (baking?) until they are miserable rocks- not hot either. The menu promises 3 falafel balls, there are 3 halves (thank goodness). The pita is barely warm and excessively hard - probaly reheated as well. I cannot swallow it. Baba ganoush and hummus have way too much salt. It drowns out any flavor and is inedible after a couple of bite. The little salad is fine. This is lunch time - NO excuse.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: tarte tatin

                                          tangiers in west hartford for fresh falafel, always cooked to order

                                          http://hartford.citysearch.com/profil...

                                          1. re: goodbyeohio

                                            Wife, sis-in-law and myself just had lunch there the other week. The genuine article. I had stuffed eggplant with beef over rice. Pungent, aromatic, yum. Tried my wife's falafel, crisp on outside spicy on the inside. Smooth tahini. Harif and hummus optional. A half a dozen different kinds of string cheese. Same number of feta cheeses. Many other delicacies. Family owned and run. The matriarch's recipes are available in a cookbook for sale. Stands up to Sahadis' or any store on Atlantic Av in Brooklyn. AMAZING! Like a souk in W. Hartford.

                                          2. re: tarte tatin

                                            mamouns doesn't even have an oven, their falafel is always made fresh.
                                            they are a classic, certainly not high end, but classic anyway.
                                            and what does this have to do with your top 5.

                                            east melange was shut down for health violations.

                                            1. re: EastRocker

                                              eastrocker; have you been to sally's recently? go to sally's. order anything with onion... Not that it's worth the 3 hour wait except every once in a while, but i really think it's the best. And nobody likes bar? I actually prefer it to modern, though I understand why some don't—especially since bar pizza is usually underdone on busy nights, and is sometimes ruined by the ridiculous volume of toppings they're prone to piling on when they're in a hurry. As for pepe's? it keeps the tourist crowd out of sally's.

                                              1. re: SinisterSloth

                                                Arguing Pepe's or Sally's is the same as arguing Yankees or Red Sox (or Palestine Israel!) - you are never gonna get anywhere trying to get the other side to agree! ;-)

                                                1. re: Pigeage

                                                  That is so true! I am a sally's person. I love the pepperoni they use and I secretly love the abuse you have to go through by waiting outside in the cold rain/ snow to get in. It is sooo worth it.

                                          3. From the "impoverished student vegetarian" perspective:

                                            Miya's
                                            Thali Too
                                            Modern/Bar/Pepe's - I care more about not having to wait in line than about which place I go to. Probably Modern more often because it's close by.
                                            Bentara

                                            Tough choice for the last one. Perhaps Rice Pot/Thai Taste, or Sushi Palace in Hamden, or Kasbah Garden (which gets more points for the patio than the food).

                                            Honourable mention to Bespoke and Soul de Cuba for drinks and dessert. Haven't tried meals at either one because the menus are pricey and not vegetarian friendly.

                                            Another honourable mention would have gone to East Melange Too. Even though it's been about 6 months, I am still mourning their demise.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: humuhumu

                                              Fancy Dinner Date: Barcelona
                                              Pizza: Pepe's White Clam
                                              Cuisine *and* Happy Hour: Mezcal
                                              Dirt Cheap Protein: Mamoun's Chicken Kebab Platter

                                              1. re: zoe p.

                                                Brunch if you've got the time: Bella's

                                              2. 1. bentara - really, really great Malaysian food
                                                2. modern - though i also enjoy pizza at Bar (does that make me a heretic?)
                                                3. Thai Awesome - best Thai in the area, hands down. it's a little hole-in-the-wall place, but great.
                                                4. Darbar India - in branford. this thread remind me i have to finally check out thali . keep meaning too...
                                                5. also in bfd, Lenny's Indian Head for seafood. it's nowhere close to fine dining but i love it!

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: andyatkins

                                                  You are welcome to your opinion, but you have mentioned only two that are in New Haven.
                                                  Bentara is very good, but I have trouble squeezing it into my top five.
                                                  No pizza will even make it into my top ten list and I don't think I'd base my list just on fine dining.. it just happens when I look at quality, atmosphere and service for the kinds of food I prefer.

                                                  1. re: Scargod

                                                    i see. i guess i mistakenly read "new haven" as "the new haven area" sometimes without realizing.

                                                2. Union League
                                                  Ibiza
                                                  Thali
                                                  Guadalupe La Poblinita
                                                  Modern

                                                  Honorable mention:

                                                  Bentara
                                                  Zinc and Zinc Kitchen
                                                  Barcelona
                                                  Torterilla Michoacan
                                                  Caseus

                                                  -----
                                                  Bentara
                                                  76 Orange Street, New Haven, CT 06510

                                                  Thali
                                                  87 Main Street, New Canaan, CT 06840

                                                  Union League Cafe
                                                  1032 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06510

                                                  Caseus
                                                  93 Whitney Ave, New Haven, CT 06510

                                                  1. Relatively New to NH and since this info is kinda old (related to Mexican) I wanta ask what is the best now? Does anything make your top five favs? Anything new? I'm apizza'd out already and want good Mex or Tex-Mex. thanks! Okie Annie
                                                    BTW, I can't drive far, my car is crap

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: meatzaaa

                                                      You're in pizza central and you're pizza'd out? If you were reletively new to mexico city, would you wonder where the best place to get peking duck or a great falafel? Appreciate Frank Pepe and his wonderful gift to the pizza world. Nobody gets tired of living in Big Sur and looking at the mountains fall into the Pacific, nobody gets tired of having a villa in the south of France, nobody puts baby in the corner, and nobody gets tired of Frank Pepes in New Haven!!!!!

                                                      1. re: meatzaaa

                                                        And....You live in the birthplace of the burger. Go and get "burgered out" at Louis Lunch.

                                                        1. re: foodwallguy

                                                          I practically have an IV drip of Pepe's apizza and love Louis' on occasion. Still, Woman cannot live on pizza alone...
                                                          How about those burgers at Prime 16? Yummmm (Oh yea, and the beer.)

                                                          1. re: meatzaaa

                                                            That's a solid point. Is Prime 16 a good lunch place? People outside New Haven associate your city with two really great things. Frank Pepe and Yale. I suppose I became a little emotional about the apizza'd out thing, and for that, I apologize. I'm sure New Haven has great spanish and Indian food and Albertus Magnus is an excellent center of education.