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Thoughts on the Pioneer Valley

I've read many a post regarding the food in the Pioneer Valley. A lot of it I disagree with, hence me making this post. As a preface, I'm a native Californian and have lived in Italy, thus I have a familiarity and love of Mexican and Italian food. Here's my take. PS, coffee means espresso and drinks built on espresso.

My overall feeling is that the area is saturated with mediocre establishments with elevated prices. Prices tend to be much higher than the quality warrants. It is difficult to find a place that delivers good value, which is a shame in a college-dominated area.

So first, I will talk about what the Valley does well. First is coffee and cafes and breakfast. At Amherst and Northampton Coffee (same owner), you can find first-rate espresso, the likes of which would make an Italian happy. Northampton Coffee is tucked away down Pleasant Street and thus you leave behind the hipster buzz that you find at other Northampton cafes. Amherst Coffee is a much quieter place than Rao's (for example), much easier to relax and/or get work done there. Esselon cafe in Hadley is another great place, they do an excellent breakfast (best eggs benedict in the valley) and have a beautiful outdoor area for fair-weather eating. I'm told it's good coffee there, but never had it. Black Sheep in Amherst is more of a bakery/deli than a cafe, but it makes great pastries, good sandwiches, and has a good atmosphere. That said, their coffee and tea leave something to be desired. Haymarket Cafe in Northampton makes a great breakfast, good lunch/dinner entrees, serves great tea and mediocre coffee. They also get major points for delivering good, interesting food at affordable prices. Unfortunately the hipster cool is in full effect there, but once you're done dealing with the "service" you can enjoy your meal and or tea. Of places that are more breakfast joint than cafe, Sylvester's makes a good eggs benedict, but the rest of the menu can be unimpressive and the staff can be brusque to rude. Jake's is simply and hearty, but nothing special. Both Sylvester's and Jake's are overpriced. Places I've found less impressive are Rao's (Amherst), Woodstar (Noho), and Lone Wolf (Amherst). Rao's serves awful coffee. Woodstar has unimpressive sandwiches. Lone Wolf has a bad eggs benedict, and bad Mexican breakfasts.

Of delis, Black Sheep takes the cake. Hayfields in Northampton makes delicious (sweet) muffins, and good sandwiches. Terrible coffee though. The Polish deli in Northampton makes a great reuben and decent pierogi. Unfortunately you can't get a good $5 sandwich anywhere. All of the above are going to set you back roughly $7 with tax.

In short:
Best coffee: Northampton Coffee
Best pastries: Black Sheep
Best eggs benedict: Esselon
Best sandwich: Black Sheep

Now onto international foods. Mexican: the Mexican food here sucks. There's no other way to put it. Any place that puts iceberg lettuce in your burrito and leaves out cilantro is not worth your dollar. Bueno y Sano is trash. It's incredibly bland (mm, black beans and iceberg) and well overpriced. Veracruzana is slightly better, at least they have cilantro (if you ask, they will substitute it for the iceberg that comes standard) and some interesting things like nopales and (real) chorizo. That said, they are way overpriced as well and their food also tends to be bland. Autentica (South Hadley) is anything but. Mi Tierra (Route 9, Hadley) is the saving grace for those who know what to expect from Mexican food. It serves properly spiced and flavorful food for reasonable prices. I've tried multiple dishes there and all were done well, in particular the spicy pork. It's too bad they don't serve carnitas. Mesa Verde up in Greenfield does OK Californian style Mexican, fish tacos and the like. Priced properly as well.

Best Mexican food: Mi Tierra

Asian food: almost as bad as the Mexican, overpriced and boring. The good places are Osaka, Soo Ra (both in Noho), Great Wall in Florence, Lhasa in Noho, Dynasty Gourmet in Easthampton, and the Korean joint in Hadley (everyone likes it, I haven't been yet). Osaka does good sushi , but it isn't likely to impress those used to the top flight places. Soo Ra does some good Korean, in particular their fried appetizers, but I have had a couple bland entrees there as well. Great Wall serves some interesting, tasty Chinese. Supposed to have excellent dim sum. I've been to Lhasa once, and really liked their dumplings. Dynasty serves your basic, everyday Chinese, but has excellent bang for the buck. Now onto the truly mediocre: Fresh Side, Amherst Chinese, Thai Garden, Siam Square. The former is bland. The latter two can't do noodle dishes well at all, and all I'm looking for is a good pad khee mao/drunken noodles. The red curry at Thai Garden is passable, but the curries at Siam Square are really boring. Last, and least, are the places which look so similar that I'm unlikely to try any of them: Teapot, Zen, Moshimoshi, and Taipei and Tokyo (all in Northampton). In short, you can find Asian food that will make a foodie happy, but nothing exceptional.

Italian food. Bad, but so it is everywhere other than the major East Coast urban centers. Pizza, no one does a real Italian pizza (or even a good approximation like Regina's in Boston), but for American pies Joe's and Luna in Northampton are excellent. The former is deliciously oldschool in atmosphere and food. The latter has great fresh ingredients, like their mozzarella, sausage, and mushrooms (whole button, not sliced). Pizza Paradiso is decent, but I prefer the above two. Antonio's and Pinocchio's are both mediocre to crappy in my opinion, regardless of what toppings they put on their pizzas. Mimmo's is like eating a big piece of cardboard. Sam's, a new place that just opened in Northampton, is a carbon copy of Antonio's but with better crust. We'll see how well they do.

Indian food. Paradise of India in Amherst is truly awful. I've heard the same of India Palace in Northampton (Main St). India House (Northampton, State St) is reputed to be good, but $15 for a lamb vindaloo? Please.

For burgers, Packard's is excellent but sometimes will overdo your burger. Amherst Brewing does an OK burger, but clearly comes in second.

For ice cream, Herrell's in Northampton takes the cake, but I'm a gelato lover and can't get overly enthusiastic about ice cream. That said, their hot fudge is delicious and they have some interesting flavors. Bart's in Amherst is mediocre.

For beer, Moan and Dove (S. Amherst) and Dirty Truth (Noho). Both stock interesting local and international beers. The latter has about 50 taps, the former has maybe 20. This area is truly blessed by these two bars and the abundance of local brewers.

Now for all the rest:
Amanouz (Moroccan) - terrific fish dishes and vegetables. Good portions sizes, reasonably priced.
Cafe Lebanon - bleh and way, way too pricey.
Chez Albert - good but not outstanding.
Judie's - an upscale Applebee's.
Spoleto - an expensive Olive Garden.

I've yet to try Circa; Blue Heron; Night Kitchen; Sierra, Eastside, or Apollo Grilles; Tavern on the Hill; but these places are on my list.

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  1. I don't think you go to the Pioneer Valley for Mexican food...when I moved to New England, the most commonly used spice was cinnamon. Go to Atkins for the cider donuts.

    I can recommend a restaurant in Liguria for great Italian!

    2 Replies
    1. re: whs

      Oh, but you can. Mi Tierra, my friend! It's so delicious, and family-owned to boot.

      Mi Tierra
      206 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035

      1. re: zammdogg

        Seconding the Mi Tierra love - they have an off night sometimes, but these guys typically do a great job and the homemade tortillas are better than a lot of my favorite San Francisco spots. Definitely glad to have them in the Valley.

        Mi Tierra
        206 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035

    2. It's so sad that you think poorly of the Pioneer Valley. It must suck to live somewhere and hate all the food. It sounds like you are missing a few places along the way... here are some suggestions. For Ice Cream - try Flavors in Hadley (behind the malls on Rt.9 at the Farm). For Japanese try Goten in Sunderland. Breakfast, (if still open) The Roadhouse in Belchertown (on Rt.9). Fresh Pasta Bistro in Noho for Italian.

      One more thought - Rao's former owner (and roaster) opened Esselon Cafe on 9 so that he could roast the beans on the premises. So, the coffee should be good if you have been supported Rao's in the past.

      Good luck - I hope you find somewhere you can enjoy.

      28 Replies
      1. re: bbkatiebb

        I second the Roadhouse - still open, still fresh ingredients and awesome breads. Their prices have gone up over the years, but yes, it's definitely worth the drive.

        I have to disagree about Goten - it's more about the performance than the quality of the food. Their standard salads and desserts are mediocre, and the main courses are 'overwhelmed' by noodles (75 % noodles, 25% meat, seafood or veggies). And if you want to combine protein and veggies, that will jump up the price substantially.

        I think the OP provides a rather fair picture of the dining scene in the valley, unfortunately. And he has made the effort to go beyond the typical go-tos in the area, and seems to have enjoyed them.

        On that list of go-tos, I would also add Lady Killigrew in Montague, and one of my favorites as of late, the Wagon Wheel in Gill.

        1. re: jeni1002

          I forgot to mention Lady Killigrew, that place (and the Bookmill complex) is a very nice little retreat.

          1. re: famedalupo

            Lady Killigrew, IMO, has gone downhill a bit (foodwise) with the new owners. It's still a great place to hang out and sip something, but the food quality is not up to the par set by the founders.

        2. re: bbkatiebb

          I agree both with your thoughts and also that you are missing some good places (Flayvors of Cook Farm for ice cream is truly fantastic). I also wanted to point out that naming only the Amherst/Noho area as the "Pioneer Valley" and then saying food in the Pioneer Valley is sub-par is an injustice to the many other towns that make up the Pioneer Valley- such as the Shelburne Falls area, which has received many great reviews on this board. Still, your main point is taken. The area really appeals mostly for cheap student food that is delivered at all hours.

          1. re: bbkatiebb

            I also agree that it's sad the post is so negative. Many of the places where the poster hasn't been (the Korean restaurant in Hadley is called Gohyang; Apollo Grill; Blue Heron; Night Kitchen; Lady Kiligrew; Peoples Pint; Tusk N Rattle) might offer better experiences. Maybe -- depending upon what they are being compared to.

            Personally, despite some of the frustrations which I can admit to sharing, I'm happy to live in W. Mass, particularly since this area takes a lot of stock in local food production and supports small farmers *and* independent restaurants. Hadley asparagus, Old Friends Farm lettuce greens, Shelburne beef, local corn, VT cheese -- yum!

            1. re: hollerhither

              I'm with you hollerhither. While our Mexican and Asian cuisines might be lacking, (no big surprise there, especially as compared to California), and yes, sandwiches cost a lot in Northampton and Amherst, (have you checked out the cost of doing business in those communities?), this area offers so much for eating locally. It is sad that the OP insists on comparing our Asian and Mexican cuisine to California's, and our coffee to Italy's. That's pretty much setting the Pioneer Valley up for failure. i also find it interesting that the OP's list of places he has not yet been to includes many of what most of us might consider top destinations in the area, namely Blue Heron and Sienna. I would also agree with you that the Night Kitchen ought to be on that list as well.

              1. re: hilltowner

                What is wrong with criticism? Criticism leads to better future results. It's worse to praise mediocrity than it is to point out its deficiencies. Secondly, comparing the food offerings here to those elsewhere does serve a purpose, it informs those used to particular standards of cuisine that the "ethnic" offerings in the valley can be bland or worse.

                1. re: famedalupo

                  I agree that one should not praise mediocrity, but it still seems silly to me that you would point out that compared to California, our Mexican sucks. You are taking two general cuisines that, due to immigration patterns, are much more authentically prevalent in California than here. It's almost like going to the midwest and saying there isn't any good seafood there. Yes, the Northampton/Amherst area does not have very good ethnic options. There are some, but you need to search for them. Unfortunately, the Northampton/Amherst area is also not very ethnically diverse, thus the lack of offerings.

                  However, if you stop expecting California style eating, and start learning to tune in to what this little valley does have to offer, you might be pleasantly surprised. I do agree, however, that the prices can be pretty high, but once again, there are often reasons for this. I suggest you take wmassnative's advice and try branching out of the immediate, congested area.

                  Did you know that there used to be a Subway in Shelburne Falls but it closed due to lack of business? People were actively going to local places and avoiding the big bad chain. Well, that and the town is pretty dead in the winter.

                  1. re: hilltowner

                    Making decent to good Mexican food does not require a Mexican, nor a prevalence of Mexicans. It's not one of the more difficult cuisines to do, a la Italian food it is a simple cuisine that relies on fresh, well prepared ingredients. You can make decent Mexican food anywhere, being far from Mexico or Mexicans isn't really a good excuse.

                    I don't expect "California style" eating, whatever that is. I simply want good restaurants. That said, the valley does have a lot to offer (I noted several establishments that I thought were good to outstanding). My next goal is to become familiar with the places in Springfield, where I imagine the prices would be lower. I hear Pintu's is good.

                    1. re: famedalupo

                      Try Big Mamou, Pho Saigon, and Sitar in Springfield. There is a Mexican restaurant west of Enfield CT (Thompsonville, maybe?!) that seemed to be closer to the real deal, but I haven't been there in a couple of years. If you search this board, you will see that there are many who bemoan the lack of good Mexican in New England -- you're not alone there.

                      But in regard to your OP, I think that I, and possibly others, reacted to what seemed like an abundance of negative criticism. Your expectations may be a little high. I've come to appreciate the best of what's here, while understanding that my cravings for seafood, Mexican, and with the exception of Sitar, good Indian food, are best satisfied when I'm in other regions.

                      I hope you try some of the other places mentioned by others, above -- although I will also warn you that you may feel some are on the more expensive side. Good luck.

                      1. re: hollerhither

                        For Vietnamese food, I prefer Vinh Chau to Pho Saigon. I always get what I order at Vinh Chau and never do at Pho Saigon. I've been to PS many times and ordered the pho with tendons and other "bits" and every single time they send me the pho with sliced steak and nothing else. It really pisses me off. I mention it to them and they always say something to the effect that 'I didn't think you really wanted that or knew what it was.'

                        Conversely Vinh Chau (which is right across the street) has cheaper prices, a much larger menu and I always get what I order. In the summer when its really hot and I don't want pho, I usually order Bun. Its like the pho without the soup - bowl of noodles, vegies, mint, fish sauce, meat/tofu - excellent and refreshing! When I tried to order it at PS they gave me some incredibly greasy stir-fried noodle and meat dish. I have been so put off that I no longer even bother with Pho Saigon.

                        Another place not mentioned is China Gourmet in Greenfield. I haven't tried anything off the Japanese menu, but I've slowly been working my way down the Chinese lunch menu and have been quite impressed. Highlights are Lo Mein, Chicken in Black Bean Sauce, Chicken and Vegies, Garlic Chicken, etc. Their menu is really broad and so its not surprising that some of the regional stuff fails - I'm not a fan of their kung pao or their Szechuan at all. Also, I don't eat any of the deep fried dishes like sweet & sour, so I can't comment on that. All lunches are under $6 and include choice of soup, white or brown rice and hot tea.

                        1. re: Bri

                          Since my post I actually had a really bad (and bizarre!) service experience at Pho Saigon, so I haven't been comfortable returning. I will give Vinh Chau a try as it would be nice to still get my Vietnamese "fix" once in a while!

                          1. re: hollerhither

                            Vinh Chau is still my litmus test for any other Pho place that opens up. There are now 3 in the Burlington VT area and none as good as Vinh Chau.

                      2. re: famedalupo

                        There truly is a Mexican food issue in the area. Have you tried La Veracruzana? It's the only Mexican I eat in the area. I loved their fish tacos.

                        It isn't the lack of Mexicans. Even in restaurants run by Mexicans, the food isn't right. I get the feeling they are trying to cater to our tastes in the area instead of going all-out and doing traditional recipes.

                        I totally agree about Judie's being upscale Applebees! I laughed when I read that!

                        I grew up in New Jersey and I just don't like a lot of Chinese food that I find in New England. But I did eat out in Amherst a few times - there was a place near Rao's - had the word Panda in it. I liked it.

                        I lived in the Amherst area for a number of years. There are just places that have reputations that live off of them, even though their food isn't so good. but there is a lot of good food out there. I'm near Worcester now, and I miss the food of the Pioneer Valley!


                        1. re: famedalupo

                          Ditto! to 'famedalupo'. You don't need to be Italian to prepare good Italian food.
                          Caution to diners...stay away from the restaurant in the 'Old mill B&B' in Hatfield Ma. My wife and I stayed for one evening, and were tired and thought we would not drive into Noho to dine. Big Mistake! The food was mediocre, I was served a 'Braciole', and boy was I fooled. I was served a chunk of beef that was fork tender but not resembling a true Braciole. When I confronted the owner about the dish, he said that his chef was Italian.
                          hmm....I guess if he trained in Italy, therefore he knew how to cook Braciole.
                          A true Braciole should be a rolled beef-stuffed with Italian goodies: capers, pinenuts, some bread crumbs, maybe sausage. But it is not over-cooked, and is presented in slices on the plate.
                          stay away diners. ~tiaotse~

                          1. re: famedalupo

                            Agree 100%. Excellent Italian or Mexican food require nothing that isn't freely/easily available in Western Mass. What it does require is avoiding the microwave and overcooking and thinking that "it'll be awesome once I slather the 'gravy' on it."

                            1. re: DRex357

                              There is excellent Italian food in Turner's Falls at Ristorante di Paulo. Also, they are very welcoming to those who can't eat gluten - almost anything on the menu can be done gluten free, and if you can't have the fabulous delicate fried calamari, they'll saute it for you and it's outstanding.

                    2. re: hollerhither

                      Note: Tusk N Rattle is now "Ollie's Down Under Bar & Grill", which is quite good. If interested in trying Ollie's, we have a chowdown planned there for Jan 17, 2009. See http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/678995 .

                      Also, if you want to check out any number of Pioneer Valley restaurants with a bunch of people who care about good food (so you can report back here to all the other folks looking for reviews), check out http://www.meetup.com/Western-Mass-Ea....

                      1. re: hollerhither

                        Speaking of Shelburne, clearly the poster hasn't been to Gypsy Apple. Talk about fine dining, especially when the flowers are in bloom outside! Makes for a fantastic evening.

                        Gypsy Apple
                        65 Bridge St, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370

                        1. re: zammdogg

                          I did go to Gypsy Apple after writing this. Good food, not great food, but really nice ambiance, especially on a cold winter's night.

                          Gypsy Apple
                          65 Bridge St, Shelburne Falls, MA 01370

                      2. re: bbkatiebb

                        In response to bbkatiebb: If you read my post, you'd know that there are several places in the valley that I enjoy. I'm disappointed, however, with the heavy presence of mediocrity combined with elevated prices.

                        1. re: famedalupo

                          Fame: I did read your post. But the negativity was so overwhelming that the few positives that you mention aren't loud enough.

                        2. re: bbkatiebb

                          RE: Esselon vs Rao's coffee. I finally got around to having a macchiato at Esselon yesterday. It's a much better cup of coffee than at Rao's. I asked a staff member whether Rao's and Esselon have the same coffee, she replied that the two coffees are wholly different (different beans/process). She also told me that Woodstar serves Esselon's coffee.

                          1. re: famedalupo

                            About Esselon Cafe: does anyone else think that their food is a little different (I'm using 'different' on purpose here for lack of a better neutral word) than last year? I was there last week, very much looking forward to their lentil burger that I had enjoyed multiple times before....This time, it was greasy, over-burned, and slightly disappointing. Could it be that they have new people in the kitchen? Just wondering...

                            1. re: famedalupo

                              Rao's coffee now is roasted according to the preferences of the new owner. Scott Rao had different standards, for sure- and since Scott helped open Esselon the coffee there probably most resembled the original Rao's coffee. Woodstar was opened by someone who used to work for Scott Rao and that is probably why Woodstar is now using Esselon coffee.
                              I did just hear that Scott Rao is no longer at Esselon, but I don't think that would change the food quality...

                              1. re: wmassnative

                                Rao's coffee is passable, but their pastries are hydrogenated and inedible. I much prefer Woodstar.

                            2. re: bbkatiebb

                              re: Scott Rao and the Esselon Cafe: Haven't eaten there, but I stopped in for a "to-go" iced americano that was one of the best I've ever had. I'll be back!

                              1. re: bbkatiebb

                                This reply is, oh, a year and a half late, but I completely disagree on The Roadhouse. My husband and I went there a couple of weeks ago and everything about our breakfast was miserable and honestly a bit pathetic. Sausage was served cold and tasted like brawn-n-serve; homefries were tooth-breakingly overcooked, unsalted, bland, and also cold; pancakes were far too sweet and dense, plus the blueberries in my husbands pancake had the bizarre texture of play-doh; our server was mediocre at best; and the dining room was stuffy, dirty looking, and magically humid AND cold simultaneously. Needless to say, we'll NEVER go back.

                              2. You've been focusing on restaurant experience, but since you did mention food in general, what about Hungry Ghost Bread in Northampton? Wood-fired bread isn't always easy to find and I think theirs is especially wonderful.

                                10 Replies
                                1. re: thinks too much

                                  I agree! I really like the rosemary bread.

                                  1. re: famedalupo

                                    Hungry Ghost is truly great.

                                    Sadly, I don't get to Noho often enough and have yet to find any other really good bread in the Valley - am I missing anything?

                                        1. re: andytee

                                          ok, got a loaf of el jardin from the leverett coop and liked it.

                                          why don't more stores stock el jardin or hungry ghost? i'd love to buy either without making a special trip.

                                          hilltowners - if i remember correctly, tuesday and friday are el jardin delivery days at the leverett coop. just happened to pass by on friday, it was a good thing.

                                          1. re: andytee

                                            FYI - The hilltowns are west of the Connecticut River. Those towns east of the Connecticut River - just plain out of their minds. kidding.

                                            But really, are towns east of the river known as hilltowns?

                                            1. re: hilltowner

                                              hmm, i guess i don't know much about all this, but i've always figured the towns on the hills were hilltowns. i think of the ones on the east of the river as the amherst hilltowns, the ones on the west at the northampton hilltowns.

                                              1. re: andytee

                                                from Wikipedia: The Hill Towns include the areas of Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden Counties west of and above the escarpment bordering the ancient rift valley through which the Connecticut River flows. Elevations abruptly increase from about 200 feet (60 meters) to at least 1,000 feet in the escarpment zone. On top, elevations rise gradually to the west.

                                            2. re: andytee

                                              also regarding bread, i am realizing that from where i live a drive to brattleboro is about the same as one to northampton, and offers lots of good bread options right in the coop. why don't we get any of that selection down here?

                                  2. For Indian try Pintu's in West Springfield. They have an $11 lunch buffet that is excellent. And Moshi Moshi serves the best sushi in Northampton. It's pricey, but better than Osaka.

                                    For good Thai, Hattaporn's Kitchen (in Greenfield) is a step above Siam Square and Thai Garden. Their papaya salad is amazingly zesty and authentic.
                                    I'm also looking forward to the opening of Hope and Olive in Greenfield, by the former
                                    owners of a Bottle of Bread.

                                    And I disagree that Chez Albert is merely "good". Their beef tartine will change your mind about that one.

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: caughtstars

                                      I also like Moshi Moshi...It is our favorite sushi place right now (although Osaka is also very good). While we like the sushi Moshi Moshi prepares (and they have some very interesting creative offerings), it is Sam, the owner, which keeps us coming back. He is a great guy, a real character, who makes a sincere effort to get to know you and to make you feel welcome. Always an enthusiastic warm greeting (and recognition) when we come in. We often sit at the sushi bar just so we can watch him at work and talk with him while we're there.

                                      1. re: tbbbnbab

                                        That's interesting, I will have to give Moshi Moshi another try. I wasn't too impressed when I tried it a few years ago, and I never bothered to go back, but at this point I don't even really remember *why* I didn't like it. I am a fan of Osaka, though.

                                      2. re: caughtstars

                                        You prefer Hattaporn to Thai Blue Ginger?

                                        1. re: famedalupo

                                          I've never been to Thai Blue Ginger, though I've been meaning to.
                                          Do you know if the Korean place in Greenfield is good?

                                            1. re: caughtstars

                                              Korean place in Greenfield, is, sadly, not so hot. Overpriced, cash-only, slow and mediocre. Love Korean & live just down the street, very disappointing. Gohyang in Hadley is vastly superior in all respects.

                                              1. re: suchfunsuchfun

                                                I have no standards to judge Korean food by, but my South Korean friend absolutely detests Gohyang (this is different than ' oh well, it's OK, what can you expect?)

                                                1. re: jeni1002

                                                  That's nice. I've noticed lots of perfectly happy looking Korean people eating there for many years myself. Your mileage may vary.

                                                  Anyway, what kind of standards do you imagine you need to tell if you like food or not?

                                        2. For burgers you can't beat the Toasted Owl in Noho next to Fitzwillys (which is pretty good in its own right). Allegedly they use local beef and you can't beat a double bacon cheeseburger for $5 or $6. Get the chipotle ketchup for the fries.

                                          Zen has quite acceptable food, including sushi. It's hardly a cookie cutter Asian establishment. My s.o. liked their seafood fried rice better than Susanna Foo in Philadelphia.

                                          As for Tavern on the Hill. . . went there last Saturday. SLOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWW. At least there was a beautiful view until the sun went down. Food was ok but the service dropped it down several notches.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: edub23

                                            Thanks for the tip on Thai in Greenfield. I agree that Zen is very good. Atmosphere is good, and I've never waited for a table. I come from NYC and have no problem with food in the Pioneer Valley; cost is reasonable compared with major cities. My daughter really likes the Korean Restaurant on Rt. 9 in Hadley, but I haven't eaten there. I had a great meal at Circa recently. The pastries at Black Sheep are excellent. If you want to travel on a gorgeous day, go to Bizen in Great Barrington for sushi. It's probably one of the best in the country, truly. And say what you will, the chevre and arugula pizza at Spoleto....any time!

                                            1. re: april164

                                              Oops, oops, I meant Paradiso. Senile, I swear. BUT, I do like Spoleto too. And it bears no resemblence to Olive Garden.

                                              1. re: april164

                                                The Korean place on Rt 9 is very good. Delightful people too

                                              2. re: april164

                                                I must interject that Zen is the worst and most bizarre aberration I have come across in this area. Truly.

                                            2. For excellent Italian and terrific ambience, try Ristorante Dipaolo (D'Paolo?) in Turner's Falls. Posted about it awhile back. I'm surprised I don't see it mentioned more often, but I guess the location leaves a bit to be desired. Try it!

                                              1. i'm just going to chime in because it seems to me like the OP got a lot of blowback on a fairly balanced and justified overview of the area dining scene. some places (amherst coffee, moan and dove, etc) in the area are truly world class but there really is a lot of sucessful mediocrity.

                                                i do think there are some places missed (flayvors of cook farm is incredible ice cream and beats bart's or herrell's hands down) and disagree on some points (i like amherst chinese, but don't go there for noodles - rice and fresh veggies is the way to go)

                                                comparing judie's to applebee's and spoleto to olive garden may be a bit excessive, but i agree with the general point.

                                                amanouz is a gem and has been for years.

                                                looking forward to trying ristorante di paolo soon, i hear good things.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: andytee

                                                  I have since been to DiPaolo's, and while I haven't tried everything, let me say from what I can tell they are up to snuff. Go and check them out, while I won't say they are world class, I'd put them on a Pioneer Valley top ten.

                                                2. I think the original post is very clear and informative and have been dismayed by the negative reactions to it. It seems there are those who are rightly proud of what the western Mass area has to offer: locally grown and raised fresh produce, etc., but what you DO with those wonderful ingredients is another matter. I’ve eaten at any number of restaurants that use local ingredients and the food tasted blah.

                                                  I find it also curious that any number of posts lament cost vs quality of eateries in Northampton, but there isn’t a lot of discussion as to why this might be. How did the Spoleto’s Empire phenomena gain such popularity?

                                                  Also, has anyone tried Baku in Amherst . . . how is that?

                                                  17 Replies
                                                  1. re: bewley

                                                    i just moved back to the area, and when i last lived here (circa 2000) the northampton dining scene had some interesting stuff going on - green street cafe was still open, and there was a little place called ladybird (if i remember correctly) that was awesome. now, there really doesn't seem to be anything comparable. i've been asking friends about nice places to go for an upcoming anniversary dinner, and really there hasn't been a lot mentioned in noho. sierra grille, sienna, and zen come up most frequently. from what i have read on here and on their menus, zen seems to be a triumph of decor over food, sierra seems to be a diy recipe joke, and sienna, which seems to be the best of the bunch, still just sounds ok. i've just made reservations at ristorante di'paolo in turners, which at least looks and sounds like it could compete with a big city dining scene, and i'm looking forward to trying it. i'll report back, to be sure.

                                                    anyhow, it's great to see some new upscale options (tabella, chez albert) in amherst, which used to be nothing but college-kid food, but it's too bad that northampton's dining scene seems to have scaled back in response. maybe the rents are too high to take any daring risks? maybe it's too easy to make a profit on food that is merely acceptable? in any case, it seems there is definitely a niche for an inventive fine dining restaurant in northampton - something that i certainly hope will be filled.

                                                    and yeah, i'd be curious to hear about baku as well - it looks interesting and i love west african food.

                                                    1. re: andytee

                                                      green street has re-opened. i think there or circa on center street would be your best bet for your anniversary dinner in northampton.


                                                      i had a beautiful meal at circa a couple months ago...

                                                      1. re: caughtstars

                                                        oh, great news about green street. i had heard they closed and hadn't investigated further. what with that and the del raye (which wasn't amazing to begin with ) turning into a place that serves buffalo wings, it seemed a sad state of affairs.

                                                        i was in northampton yesterday and noticed circa, i was kinda stunned that nobody i spoke with had suggested it because it looked pretty great.

                                                        1. re: caughtstars

                                                          My three experiences at Green Street have left a more favorable impression than my one at Circa, for whatever that is worth.

                                                          Baku's: I have no claim to knowledge of W. African food, but the stuff I've tried there has been tasty. I'd rather eat there than at any of the other sit down places in Amherst (C. Albert perhaps the exception).

                                                        2. re: andytee

                                                          update on tabella - i've been, short story is that it was overpriced with mediocre food. a few menu items were real gems, esp. a grilled fig skewer special, but many were not so great (chickpea fries that were about a dollar per fry, a ceasar that would have been at home at applebees) and at the end of the day it was hard to justify the cost ratio. after a 4-5 plates we left and got a slice at antonio's.

                                                          too bad because there is a lot of potential there, and when they were on, they were excellent. if they could improve consistency and price more gently, it would be an amazing space.

                                                          1. re: andytee

                                                            People like to complain that there is no good food in the Valley but then when a good, innovative place like Tabella opens, they complain that it's overpriced. This is one of the shining stars on the Pioneer Valley food scene. A menu that's built around local, seasonal food, prepared creatively and offered in small plate options. Unfortunately, it seems too sophisticated for the college-town crowd with a dumbed down palette and expectation of budget prices. If Tabella were in NYC, Boston or even New Haven, people would have trouble getting a reservation.

                                                            1. re: taos

                                                              you misread me. i was complaining that tabella was inconsistent and not all that impressive, despite it's upscale price tag.

                                                              you also misread my palette. without sounding full of myself, i'll just say that pedestrian tastes are not the issue here. a tight pocketbook is not the issue either.

                                                              i'd admit that they probably merit another chance to see if things improve, but i'm not alone in my opinion, there are many similar reviews from people who had high hopes for this place and would love to see what they promise come to fruition in the pioneer valley. unfortunately, in my experience, they fell quite short. i've eaten in NYC and boston, and in the face of legitimate competition, tabella would either have to step up their game substantially or get squashed.

                                                              that's my two cents.

                                                              1. re: andytee

                                                                I think tabella, as a concept" is quite good, yet, if it is "too sophisticated" for the area, they may want to consider moving to NYC, Boston or even New Haven.

                                                                1. re: bewley

                                                                  In NYC, Tabella would be just another tapas place.

                                                                  1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                    Tabella is riding on the coattails of the sustainable/local/organic movement. I'm unimpressed by the originality of the entrees and even more unimpressed by the prices. When a food title has more than five words and three of them include the origin, birthday, and name of the goat that made your charcuterie, it's a little pretentious.

                                                                    Tabella Restaurant
                                                                    28 Amity St Ste 1G, Amherst, MA 01002

                                                        3. re: bewley

                                                          There's been plenty of discussion about this in WMA postings. High rents. Too many restaurants owned by too few people. Tourists and parents of college kids who aren't perhaps the most adventurous eaters, and they need big seating capacity during very targeted times of the year.

                                                          The more interesting places around here are smaller, owned by chefs or small business-owners who can't afford to set up shop in Northampton.

                                                          1. re: bewley

                                                            "Also, has anyone tried Baku in Amherst . . . how is that?"

                                                            SO and I tried Baku the other night. Service and atmosphere were low points - they were slow, disorganized, and generally not professional. The room was felt like it was haphazardly organized, prices were high for counter service, and it was too hot in there.

                                                            That said, the people were really nice, and the food was mostly really good. I can see myself going back with lower expectations and being happy. It seems like the sort of place where once you know the menu and learn what is good and how to order it, you could do quite well there.

                                                            1. re: andytee

                                                              Thank you for this report, I'm looking forward to trying it!

                                                              1. re: bewley

                                                                i noticed a sign in the window at baku today advertising $4.95 lunch specials. sounds like a good healthy deal - i'm excited to stop in sometime soon. just wanted to give a heads up to anyone interested in giving them a try.

                                                                1. re: andytee

                                                                  I'd recommend it, especially if you can get the curry. Try the mango drink as well, it's explosive.

                                                                  1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                    Ditto that, as well as the mango ginger beer.

                                                            2. re: bewley

                                                              I agree that the original post is spot on and got trolled for not playing nicely enough. This site exists for its informative value to others. There is a major problem in Noho related to outrageous rents and an unfortunate tendency to support shopworn and cynical food. Some of this can be blamed on tourism, but the last analysis of spending in food establishments done by the city shows that only 15% of sales are from people outside of the immediate city of Northampton. That says to me that we are supporting some of these zombies. Why?

                                                            3. You should have tried the Eastside Grill before the new owners took charge. We had dinner last night, and I have to say it's the first time of many that I did not enjoy the food. There seems to be some sort of salt phobia going on in the kitchen. Spicy fried calamari wasn't spicy and was almost as tastleless as the fried oysters, which used to be excellent. The Caesar side salads were limp, mushy and over-dressed. My husband had the swordfish special, grilled with a sauce of gorgonzola, crab and cream. Nasty thing to do to a piece of swordfish; we both found it inedible. It's a shame - we could always count on the East Side Grill for a good meal. Not anymore. Tavern on the Hill can be excellent, Circa was always my favorite but we haven't tried it since it changed owners. Adore Joe's Cafe! Hear good things about the Apollo Grill. We had a fabulous meal in Turner's Falls (!) at Ristorante di Paolo - the fritto misto with squid, sweet potatoes and leeks was phenomenal, as were the mussels with pancetta and white beans. Slop and filth at the Smithsonian in Hatfield. Excellent burger at Green Street Cafe, and pretty good one at Bistro Les Gras, both in Northampton. Don't bother with Opa Opa in Southampton, or its kin in Williamsburg (The Brewmaster's Tavern). Slop, again, unless you stick to beer and bar food.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: tatwood

                                                                Agree with everything you've listed except I didn't have a good experience at Tavern on the Hill...maybe I'll give it another shot sometime. I did eat at Circa after new ownership and the prix fixe was quite nice, scallop appetizer and a roast chicken entree. Food was cooked well, fresh. Not cutting-edge bistro food, more classic, but seasonal. Nice vibe in the dining room even though it's a small place.

                                                                Apollo Grill has always been a favorite of mine but we still haven't made it back over there post-remodel. It's on the list. As is Di Paolo's. I never think to get reservations, and I hear they're pretty much mandated to get in there, so we end up hanging out with panini and drinks at The Rendezvous -- much less formal, still tasty.

                                                                1. re: tatwood

                                                                  Took a look at Ristorante di Paolo's menu - strikes me as the typical pseudo-Italian place you find in NE. Cream in half their pasta dishes. Seeing alfredo on a fancy restaurant menu is always good for a laugh.

                                                                  1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                    You're giving a negative critique based on the menu. Or have you actually eaten there?

                                                                2. There are certainly plenty of Italians in New England. I'm one myself and probably half the residents of my town have some Italian in their genes. I'm not sure why you think that psuedo-Italian places are "typical" of NE.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: hink

                                                                    I don’t now if it’s an American or a New England “regional” matter, but many local Italian places trend to use more cream, butter and cheese in their dishes, and most of their sauces usually cover overcooked pasta that originated from a box. To say this is ubiquitous to New England may be a stretch, but I understand what fame da lupo is stating. I cannot blame places for catering to local tastes, all restaurants need to make money, but it is sad that certain foods often get “Americanized” and, thus lose something in the process.

                                                                    An even more distressing situation is that many foreign eateries in touristy locales have preferred to westernize their regional cuisine vs educating the tourist’s palate with authentic food.

                                                                    1. re: bewley

                                                                      Certainly this is NOT ubiquitous to New England, and I take your point in regard to Americanization, most places do this to one degree or another, it's particularly criminal in Italian and Chinese restaurants. But so far it sounds like andytee is the only poster on here who has actually been to DiPaolos (thanks for reporting back!)...so again with the generalizations, doesn't it make sense to dine there first?

                                                                      1. re: bewley

                                                                        I agree with you, of course. I just take some umbrage at singling out New England as having particularly bad Italian food. My state is populated with hundreds and hundreds of Chinese restaraunts, some better than others, but most decidedly mediocre. But I didn't know what bad Chinese food was until I went to a Chinese restaraunt in Salt Lake city. It was horrible. Overcooked vegetables in a gloppy corn starch goop that tasted like it was emptied from a #10 can of Chung King. In the most lily white place in America, this was what passed for Chinese food, and it made me thankful for all the mediocre places I have to choose from. Most Italian places around here are mediocre as well, but I just think that given the large numbers of Italians in this region, that our mediocre is likely better than mediocre Italian in, say, Wisconsin. I would expect Wisconsin to have better German food than we do. I would expect New England to have better Italian. Why would that not be so?

                                                                        1. re: hink

                                                                          just wanted to say my wife & i had our anniversary dinner at ristorante dipaulo last night & the food was excellent, although the service was a bit slow. it's on the pricey./special occasion side for us ($100 for two with a couple of glasses of wine), but the room was great and the specials extensive and interesting. had a very weird salad of grilled pears and mozarella that was a fine starter, as was the bean soup. but the pork chops were insanely good and the risotto and vegetables with which they were served were excellent. it was odd to be doing that kinda dining in turners (until recently the preferred drug hand-off point for dealers in holyoke and springfield, before that the home for michael metalica's renaissance church), but i won't gripe. the evening was on the cool side, but they had a full patio set up as well, and it was about half full of folks who like a smoke. dunno how late in the season they keep that open, but figured it's worth a note. anyway, not making any claims as to the reality of the place's italian experience, but the food & atmosphere are pleasant as hell.

                                                                    2. Hi all, long time lurker first time poster here (apologies for being such a downer on my first post!):

                                                                      I've lived in the "greater" PV for nine years (moved from SoCal, for what it's worth) and agree with every word of the OP. I am constantly amazed at the contrast in food quality v. price: vastly over-priced and mind-blowingly bland and generally depressing.

                                                                      As someone else pointed out, the area suffers from too high rents and too many restaurants owned by too few people. Additionally, business owners charge to compensate for the standard of living to which they aspire, rather than the actual market cost of their product, which means if they didn't have such a captive (primarily trust-fund based) audience they'd be out of business in a red hot minute. The PV has it's own little contained economy where everyone pays everyone else high prices so they can all justify their inflated lifestyle.

                                                                      There is very little authenticity in flavors (exhibit the horrendous "mexican" food made by gringos) but much hype. My last trip to Eastside was nauseating, Tavern on the Hill was slow, boring and a trendy martini menu (with ho sunset given all the rain we've had). Thai Garden was over-cooked, starchy and had a long wait. A lunch sandwich at Paul and Elizabeth's was over $7!! Northampton Brewery is run-of-the-mill. Spoleto is expensive, slow and ok, but not worth the cost. Smokin' Lil's was good, but they seem to have closed.

                                                                      I've yet to set foot in a restaurant that had kind, patient, non-attitude wait staff. All staff I've met have seemed to resent being a college student with an actual job, having to be one of the working masses.

                                                                      I'm thankful for Chowhound cuz I stay home and entertain friends rather than go out and go broke.

                                                                      23 Replies
                                                                      1. re: MsStabby

                                                                        The places you mention are,as most Hounds would agree, all lousy. But may I suggest that you may change your tune a bit if you venture out to some of the following spots:
                                                                        Night Kitchen in Montague
                                                                        Gypsy Apple in Shelburne Falls
                                                                        Ollie's Down Under in Shelburne Falls
                                                                        Side Street Cafe in Florence
                                                                        Amherst Chinese
                                                                        Great Wall in Florence
                                                                        Good luck, Moe

                                                                        1. re: Big Fat Moe

                                                                          Why does everyone posting here thinks the Pioneer Valley covers just Northampton and the surrounding area ?

                                                                          (Wikipedia) : The river valley and the neighboring Hill Towns comprise the entirety of the Pioneer Valley.
                                                                          Franklin County
                                                                          The rural Franklin County is the most rural county of Massachusetts. Greenfield is the largest municipality.
                                                                          Hampshire County
                                                                          Hampshire County is the home of five prominent colleges. Significant municipalites are Northampton and Amherst.
                                                                          Hampden County
                                                                          The mostly urban Hampden County is dominated by the cities of Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield, and Holyoke (listed in order of population).

                                                                          So, give the valley a bit more credit by posting some eating places aside from the mentioned ones.

                                                                        2. re: MsStabby

                                                                          I don't go to any of the places you've mentioned. I hope you try to extend your range a bit as suggested by Moe. Those are some pretty sweeping generalizations considering you're talking about a very small part of the valley, and only several restaurants.

                                                                          1. re: MsStabby

                                                                            I generally agree with MsStabby and Famedalupo!

                                                                            I think that while it's certainly possible to name a few decent restaurants in the area (as in Moe's list -- of which I will agree that Night Kitchen and Gypsy Apple are good), the chances are that when one does "venture out" to try a restaurant in the greater Pioneer Valley, the diner will be met with disappointment -- especially, perhaps obviously, if that person is coming from an area with a more cosmopolitan dining culture. This is certainly where Chowhound comes in brilliantly, I think --- because not only do you read detailed reviews but those reviews often give you insight about the viewer's background and thus whether or not you would be likely to agree with that person.

                                                                            I too am from the west coast (Seattle) and have lived in several other areas in the coastal urban areas of the West, and I believe Fame is from the West as well as Stabby, so I wonder on the other hand if there is a set of standards we take with us, that might result in something of a culture clash of sorts.

                                                                            Though I'm also just tempted to say that dining is objectively better in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, LA, Santa Barbara, even. :-) Some big differences between north and south but possibly fewer differences than exist between any of the places I have just named and the Pioneer Valley. Not fair to compare metropolitan areas with an area such as the Valley, you say? Well, I don't think that it is MORE legitimate to praise a place unreservedly just because it is simply not as bad as Mama Iguana's or Judie's or whatever.....just because it is only good within the context of many lousy places!

                                                                            My dining experiences here over nearly 3 years, taken as a whole, have been, to my best guesstimates:

                                                                            Poor about 80% of the time:

                                                                            (I'll wholeheartedly agree with Ms. St. about Northampton Brewery (so mediocre and served up with attitude), Eastside Grill (poorly executed, oversalted, and with terrible 80s decor). I'll add a sampling of a host more that I thought were horrible:

                                                                            --Gohyang Korean (I'm half Korean, have dined in many good Korean restaurants, and see that at this place you only get a stingy 5-6 panchan and the main dishes are overpriced and often pre-made and warmed up in back).

                                                                            --Siam Square (where are the hot chillies? where is the fish sauce? Button mushrooms instead of oyster mushrooms? I lived in Thailand, so here I also feel that I know what I'm talking about).

                                                                            --Pintu's! (I have traveled to India 7 or 8 times, cook my own Indian food and have a pretty strong grounding in Indian cultures, including culinary ones. The owner serves beef in a purportedly Indian place! In true Indian restaurants that would uh, sort of alienate many Hindu diners, some of whom may eat lamb or chicken but certainly never beef. If it was an "Indo-Pak" place catering to South Asian Muslims, the presence of beef could be ok. OH YEAH, but also, bellydancing? WTF? This is not a South Asian practice. Now I'm just feeling embarassed for them.

                                                                            To list a few more where we would never return: Big Mamou, Opa Opa, Brewmaster's in Williamsburg, Thai Corner in Amherst, Paradise of India (yikes!), that Pho place in downtown Amherst, Tavern on the Hill, the Federal in Agawam, Tony & Penny's in Ludlow, Horizons in Wilbraham (or East Springfield?), Deja Brew in Wendell, Moshi Moshi in NoHo, Caminito in Northampton, Pizzeria Paradiso in NoHo, People's Pint in Greenfield, Lhasa Tibetan in NoHo. You can see from the list that we have traveled extensively in the Valley to try out restaurants!

                                                                            15% of the time, the experiences my husband and I have had dining in the Pioneer Valley were OK, sort of acceptable enough that we'd consider going again. Sometimes we end up not so happy that we did so, sometimes it's OK. OK places, glad that they are there since their presence is better than nothing:

                                                                            Autentica in South Hadley (Hey, maybe not a great choice but I'm desperate for those chillies!), Munich Haus in Chicopee (don't know my way around German food, and the place is a little chintzy/stuffy in decor, but for beer and fattening food, not bad, I think), Primavera (again, don't know Portuguese food, but enjoyed the clams/pork combination and the place feels like a sweet little working class Mediterranean joint where the wine is cheap but drinkable and the old men stand around in back at the bar speaking Portuguese. Atmospheric.) Kristina's Kafe in Belchertown for decently prepared breakfasts with homemade breads on the side. Chez Albert made a nice beef tartine for a weekday splurge of a lunch. Pizza Luna -- simple, not authentic I think, but tasty for what it is. Baku's for the goat curry and oxtail, even though decor is lacking and again I think they must pre-cook and reheat out of necessity. Apollo Grill in Easthampton was kinda nice at one time -- menu items generally a bit on the sugary side, but I think they've have gone to a more downscale menu, so I don't know whether they're good any more. A bit outside of the Pioneer Valley I would also name the tavern portion of the Salem Cross Inn -- the bartender is a great guy and they are unpretentious and serve up quality fresh oysters, yum!

                                                                            5% I would call spot-on successes. These would be Night Kitchen and Gypsy Apple most memorably. Both were great overall experiences in lovely settings with excellent service and interesting/delicious food. At the moment I can't name another, so maybe this category is really less than 5%.

                                                                            If my husband and I had more self-control, we would stop trying to dine out in this area, and do more entertaining at home like Ms.Stabby. But we keep banging our heads against the wall in an attempt to have dining out as a part of our lifestyle here. Night Kitchen and Gypsy Apple are, to our pocketbooks, special occasion level pricing -- so what we miss is great stuff at the lower price ranges. And as MsStabby opines, we too miss authenticity. Sometimes when we need a real dining treat, we drive all the way to Cambridge. There, it's more a matter of choosing between so many good options! And, closer to home, we have had good experiences in the greater Hartford area, in central Mass (Worcester and surrounding areas), and Albany/Troy (two great brewpubs with good food!). So even with the immediate context of the surrounding areas of the Pioneer Valley, I'd say that the Pioneer Valley isn't as good as some of its neighboring towns/cities, which I guess kinda eats into my own theory about east coast/west coast differences.

                                                                            Just a final thought in response to Peter B's insight that the Pioneer Valley is being equated with NoHo and surrounding areas. I think the batting average for finding a good restaurant gets worse when you enlarge the circle! I mean, as an example, when you take Rte. 9 west from Brookfield and reach Ware, you get a sign proudly proclaiming "Welcome to the Pioneer Valley" -- but let's just say that Ware is not exactly a dining destination..... :-)

                                                                            I'll agree that like anywhere there is good and bad, of course. I also agree though that the bad tends to outweigh the good, from the birds-eye view, anyway, and compared to other areas I've gotten to know. I appreciate some of the contextual insights that have come up in this discussion (the economy/social factors discussed that help to shed light on why things are the way they are). Cheers, everyone.

                                                                            1. re: nuthatches

                                                                              You seem to imply that people who speak enthusiastically about Western MA restaurants couldn't possibly have experience dining elsewhere...and that is an overbroad, rather unfair generalization. I have had the good fortune to live and travel in many spots across the US, Canada, Europe, and Mexico, and I bet I'm not the only person on this board who has that experience and still can say he or she is grateful to be in W MA. I guess I have come to appreciate restaurants for what they are in their own context, and not bring my prejudices to the table with me. Certainly if I judged everything to the same standards as what I've had in Seattle or San Francisco, almost nothing would pass, and I'd be quite miserable for sure.

                                                                              But we are not in a large metropolitan area, and it's not an "event" to dine out at most places around here (thank goodness). And on the flip side you're just not going to find huge ethnic communities or lots of street vendors for cheap "authentic" ethnic. I look for friendly service, good quality, and local ingredients and I'm happy to say I've received all three at many of the restaurants I've praised on this board. And also these places, usually, grant easier access and are less expensive than anything I've had in a metropolitan area. Again I just don't see how you can expect the diversity of a big city. Maybe this is because I've also lived in suburban areas where you are hard-pressed to find anything that isn't a chain.

                                                                              I am in complete agreement with you on most of the places you've cited as disliking, except the Pint is my unpretentious, welcoming local pub and I'm grateful they're there, as it's a good place to drop in for a burger or salad; I think Student Prince is better than Munich Haus; Paradiso is okay in a pinch but maybe I'm just more appreciative due to their incredibly strong sangria. And lacking any other sources for bibimbap, a quick stop at Go Hyang works for me.

                                                                              When I travel I welcome the opportunity to dine out at big city spots...I'm heading to Perilla, Cookshop, and a terrific-looking Italian place in NYC in a few days. But would I ever expect those places to set up out here? No way.

                                                                              1. re: hollerhither

                                                                                Try the ahl bap at Soo Ra, very tasty. IIRC it was fish roe, kimchi, beets, and pork, which all worked very well together.

                                                                                1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                  Beets and pork?? Sorry; I am Korean, and beets and pork just do not belong in al bap!

                                                                                  Other than that, I appreciate your list and comments so far. I've moved to Noho from NYC recently and am having a heck of a time finding good places to eat. As for Korean food, I tried Go Hyang in Hadley and liked their denjang chigae and kimchi chigae. No, it is not a Queens Korean joint; but it does a few things well, and my home-sick stomach is thankful for it. Moshimoshi in Noho is pretty good; I'd try the special-of-the-day dishes that Sam (the chef and owner) enthusiastically prepares. Noho being a land-locked place, I don't expect the same quality of fresh fish sashmi and sushi I've learned to take for granted in NYC and the West Coast. Having said that, I like the veggie rolls at Moshimoshi. I think I go there mostly because of Sam. Gotta love a chef who LOVES food.

                                                                                  As for the New American and French classical, Green Street Cafe and Circa have been consistently good. Green Street has their own garden, which makes a lot of difference in terms of freshness.

                                                                                  As for Vietnamese, I loved Bamboo House in Springfield. They are definitely authentic and downright delicious. But I desperately need a recommendation for a Southeast Asian joint (Thai, Viet) near Noho! Same goes for Mexican. I tried Mi Tierra and was not too impressed. I found them rather bland. Hopefully it was just an off night. I will try again given your and other people's feedback.

                                                                                  When I first moved here, a lot of people told me to try Spoletto, and I must say I was absolutely disappointed. I had an appetizer, an entree, and a drink. Mediocre, mediocre, mediocre. Same goes for Sylvester's. Why that place is so crowded and over-priced I will never know. I would much rather go to Greenbean, a funky-hippy place on Main street in Noho. They have no-frills, hippy-earthy crunch breakfasts, and you can have them for lunch. The price is quite a bit more reasonable there, also (though cash only).

                                                                                  Questions to all:
                                                                                  -Where can I get some decent Thai or Vietnamese in Noho/Hadley??
                                                                                  -Where can I get a decent Margarita around Noho?
                                                                                  -Where oh where can I get some Chinese food that is not totally Americanized and dripping in oil?

                                                                                  1. re: gingermango

                                                                                    mattaporn's, a hole-in-the-wall thai place in greenfield is supposed to be good, though i haven't been yet. greenfield also has blue ginger, which i haven't heard much about one way or another.

                                                                                    vietnamese? nothing i know if in noho/hadley/amherst. i've been meaning to make a trip to check out places further afield, holyoke, springfield, wherever. i'd love pointers too. boston chinatown has lots of good vietnamese food, only 2.5 hours away.

                                                                                    amherst chinese is worth a try if you haven't been yet. they do some things better than others, and i think their heyday has come and gone, but getting stir-fried veggies from their organic farm is almost always a pretty good meal.

                                                                                    margaritas? good luck.

                                                                                    1. re: andytee

                                                                                      That's "Hattaporn's," takeout only unless you score the one table.

                                                                                      Thai Blue Ginger is okay but not a standout. I wouldn't make the trip just for it.

                                                                                    2. re: gingermango

                                                                                      The best pho/Vietnamese restaurant that I've tried in all of Western MA and VT is Vinh Chau in Springfield. Nothing else is really worth the drive for me. Its also the only place that serves the pho with both basil and "mint" leaves (culantro).

                                                                                      As for a decent Margarita, maybe Mama Iguana's. But that's the only decent thing there, the drinks. Owned by the Spoleto restaurant group, I can't recommend the food of any of their restaurants.

                                                                                      I love Mi Tierra but I order very selectively from their menu, mainly the soft tacos. Everything else is okay. Also, they're one of the few places that serve Bohemia beer and its cheap. So I order the guacamole, the spicy pork soft tacos and some Bohemia and it gives me my fix.

                                                                                      1. re: Bri

                                                                                        I've been meaning to drive down to check out Vinh Chau sometime.

                                                                                        As for Mi Tierra - where is it?

                                                                                        1. re: andytee

                                                                                          Hadley between Mill Valley and East Street, tucked behind the mini-strip mall.

                                                                                          I agree with Bri, ordering selectively at Mi Tierra is key. I've eaten there maybe twice a month for the two years I've lived in Northampton, and I've managed to narrow down the good from the mediocre. Good are the sopes (great tortilla), enchiladas verdes (good salsa verde, on the right day it's very good), chile relleno. The burrito with spicy pork is the best bet burrito-wise, they're happy to replace the iceberg with cilantro, making it tastier. Not the best burrito of my life, but satisfying on occasion. The mole is so-so. The meats other than the spicy pork are so-so, the spicy pork isn't quite "good" but is satisfying at times. This means that I typically don't get their tacos. Bummer is the lack of carnitas or al pastor.

                                                                                          In sum, Mi Tierra is the best of subpar options. My enthusiasm for them has always been in terms of bang-for-buck and comfort-esque food. They fill me up nicely, don't dent my wallet, and there's a nice flavor or two on the way, if not anything particularly excellent.

                                                                                          1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                            i found them the other day - the site is what used to be the hadley pub. i had missed it because it is set back from the road behind some other shops.

                                                                                            didn't eat b/c i had just had lunch (good) at esselon cafe. it looked to be about what was described - the best of the sub-par options. actually, i am excited to go back. i love mexican food and while this did not look especially good it was closer to the real deal than anything else i've seen. a note, they apparently used to do a grocery business that seems to be no more, that side of the store was empty.

                                                                                            has anyone asked them if they would try to do carnitas or al pastor?

                                                                                            do they have / has anyone tried any soups, menudo, posole?

                                                                                            1. re: andytee

                                                                                              I asked about carnitas, they said maybe.

                                                                                              1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                had dinner at mi tierra tonight, my jaded expectations were pretty low and i was pleasantly surprised. no, not anything amazing but way better than the other valley options. we had enchiladas en salsa verde and carne asada. rice and beans were good, the salad with the asada actually had chopped fresh jalapeno and cilantro in it, the enchiladas actually had white mexican cheese (cotija or similar, not velveeta or jack) on them. nothing was great but everything was good.

                                                                                                they had a lot of shrimp dishes, anybody tried them? how about the mole?

                                                                                                the tortillas served with the meal were the best i have had since leaving california, are they housemade?

                                                                                                1. re: andytee

                                                                                                  i may have posted this elsewhere, but if so, i would like to reiterate -- the river valley market (the new co-op just north of exit 20 on route 5 in northampton) currently has a very fine taco, which they make at their in-house cafe. acting on a tip from a friend, i have now made the trip several times around lunch for the chicken taco with avacado, cabbage and salsa verde. not sure what sauce they use for cooking, but man -- it's great. two corn tortillas, nicely fried, for 4-5 bucks. i also tried some of their grilled sandwiches, which were very good also. considering the paucity of good fast lunch places in noho, this is a little off the beaten path, but probably worth a check.

                                                                                                  1. re: andytee

                                                                                                    I haven't been able to figure out what the cheese is (suppose I could just ask, like I did with the peppers in the carne enchilada - guajillo and arbol, like it ought to be). It isn't cotija, which has a much saltier bite to it. It isn't a simple queso fresco, and it isn't manchego or oaxaca. I'll ask next time.

                                                                                                    1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                      Turns out it is queso fresco (Supremo brand) - $5.50 for a package. Saltier and more firm than I typically expect q. fresco - but tasty!

                                                                                        2. re: gingermango

                                                                                          Al bap: I claim no knowledge of Korean food, but the combination did make my palette happy.

                                                                                          1. re: gingermango

                                                                                            As far as I know, the ONLY Vietnamese in the Northampton/Hadley area is in Amherst: Miss Saigon.


                                                                                        3. re: hollerhither

                                                                                          You hit the nail right on the head: "Certainly if I judged everything to the same standards as what I've had in Seattle or San Francisco, almost nothing would pass, and I'd be quite miserable for sure."

                                                                                          I truly can't help but to compare one meal/one experience with another. Unfortunately, I know what good fresh Thai tastes like. I know what excellent fresh healthy Baja California food is. How can I not compare what is offered in the Valley to food in other places? How can I remove what I know to be good from the reality of what is on offer? Impossible to make eating an experience without a context.

                                                                                          Lowering one's standards to accommodate inferior product and experience is not a workable, realistic nor sane solution. I and my ex finally got over the whole "maybe it won't be so horrible this time" mindset when we realized we were doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Once we figured that out our trips to Burger King were a blast! (yeah, a BK on Rt 33 in Chicopee finally!!).

                                                                                          And I agree that we are not a metropolitan area. Why then do numerous restaurantuers go out of their way to market themselves as such? The hype around each place is obnoxious in that they'd have you believe (so you don't pass out when you get the bill) that you are, in fact, having a cosmopolitan experience here in our little slice of paradise. That's the whole schtick of Northampton, for gosh sakes! We're gay-friendly and metro!! Yeah Us!!

                                                                                          I have learned not "to expect the diversity of the big city", despite (like I wrote above) the marketing to the contrary. The Noho/Amherst area is based on the myth of diversity, but there really isn't any.

                                                                                          Very few times in SoCal (born and raised San Diego, lived in LA) did I ever make dining out "an event," and my usual young person/slacker/student haunts were affordable, delicious and healthy, and gave me enough food for two meals. The most depressing thing about this area is that the astounding rip-off prices make me expect that my meal will be an event. $15 for garbage "mexican" "food", they should be sending me home with my own mariachi band!! That just makes the whole situation that much more infuriating and miserable.

                                                                                          I now make a killer pad thai, have branched out into other Thai dishes and am working my way through a noodle cookbook.

                                                                                          1. re: MsStabby

                                                                                            Hmmm, I think we are going to have to agree to disagree given that again, I just can't see how one can can compare year-round produce seasonality in CA to what's available in New England only a few months out of the year. But there are some places in Western MA worth trying, most not in Northampton, though. Meanwhile, sounds like cooking at home is your best bet...

                                                                                    3. When we're up for pizza we feel that no one makes a better pizza in the area than Village Pizza in Greenfield!
                                                                                      Missing -those-pizzas-Catnip

                                                                                      9 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: catnip

                                                                                        hattaporn's kitchen in greenfield has pretty good thai, certainly the best in the area that i've had. it's pretty much take-out only. similarly, beijing house in greenfield is virtually take-out only, but we find it the most satisfying extant chinese restaurant in the area.

                                                                                        1. re: fatheryod

                                                                                          i'll have to try beijing house.. hadn't heard much on it yet.

                                                                                          have you been to blue ginger? any thoughts?

                                                                                          1. re: andytee

                                                                                            thai blue ginger is okay, but it's a little pricey (as most thai in the valley seems to be) & i feel as though they have a slightly heavy hand with the fish sauce. but that's one of my pet peeves.

                                                                                            also, i would say that pintu's in west springfield, although probably more fusion than "pure" indian when you get right down to it, TASTES really good. we used to prefer dhaba up in brattleboro, but i guess the patrons of the quality inn in which it was located became grumpy about not being able to order pancakes.

                                                                                            and although not mexican per se, the current best taco in the valley is the chicken with avocado & cabbage, available at the cafe in river valley market (or whatever that new co-op is called). it is nothing short of brilliant. mi tierra is pretty solid, though. although i still miss the opening days of cha-cha-cha (and unmi's, which was the best noho restaurant ever).

                                                                                            also, the one mention i saw of people's pint in greenfield was quite negative, but we have usually had fairly solid pub food there, generally made with local organic ingredients, which counts for something. it is cash-only, however, and loud and slow at meal times, perhaps to encourage more beverage consumption (which worls). their in-house cola and ginger ale are pretty pleasant. and they have recently remodeled and added more tables (also getting rid of the live music stage), so it might be worth another look.it's far better than most of the other brew pubs, although the harp in north amherst has excellent fish & chips.

                                                                                            for pizza, i would add hillside in deerfield. this used to be a company that produced thin crust hippie-style pizza as a fund raising tool for local schools, but a couple of years ago they opened a small restaurant with limited hours (thurs-sat 12-8 or something), a cash -only policy, and some really lovely local, organic pizzas. worth a stop if you're in the area.

                                                                                            also in south deerfield, i am quite fond of sienna -- whose continued existence perplexes and delights me. nouveau organic, but very nicely done and quite consistent. also low-key. oddly, also, if anyone is looking for a sorta more traditional new englandy dining experience, i recommend chandler's at yankee candle. don't laugh. i think i've eaten at every one of these places over the years i've lived in the valley, and most of them suck. some people prefer the steak and martinis at the whatley inn, but i have found chandler's a better alternative overall, and the atmosphere (entirely lit by candles) is quite different than the exterior would lead you to expect. i'm not sure i've ever eaten there without a specific reason to do so, but it is really not bad.

                                                                                            for ethnic cuisine, however, springfield is the place. but i'm not the best person to get into that. .

                                                                                            1. re: fatheryod

                                                                                              also, i should mention that the blue heron is pretty lousy, imho. i ate there several times when they were located in the montague bookmill, largely because i had a record store there and it was close. it was never very interesting, but it was handy. once they moved to sunderland, i've been only twice, and it was really rough, to my palette anyway. the selections all seemed to have been put together by flashy culinary school types who were into the concept of odd juxtapositions rather than anything particularly tasty. i dunno. not my bag.

                                                                                              i couldn't tell, also, whether the smithsonian was getting slagged or not in an earlier post, but although this hatfield bar is fairly grotty, their burgers are generally good. same can be said of the wagon wheel in gill, springfield's white hut (more a roadfood destination, perhaps) and johnny's bar & grill in the village commons of south hadley.

                                                                                              but for all the moaning that goes on, the food in the area has improved more radically here than it has in most other spots over the last 35 years. when i first came to town there were two chinese restaurants (the wok in hadley & amherst chinese, which was a take-out place in the amherst cinema building), three pizza places (joe's, aqua vita & campus pizza in hadley), and almost no restaurants at all in noho -- the red lion diner, something on green street,the hotel northampton and not much else. all the restaurants then were horrible trad new england crap from the log cabin & yankee pedlar in holyoke, right through to the lord jeffrey amherst and the williamsburg and deerfield inns and whatever. it was truly a wasteland.

                                                                                              the first glimmers of anything decent were the original vegetarian/byob beardsley's on state street and fitzwillie's on main street -- a fern bar in the era when they were just starting in the bay area. i've lived all over in the intervening years, and seen many restaurants come & go, and even though noho still is weirdly light in decent places to eat, the valley as a whole has its pleasures. and really, in noho, camanito's is decent enough for my taste, circa is excellent, and various other decent places pop up from time to time. i know in my travels i run into a lot of regions in which it's all but impossible to get anything decent to eat (witness my drive after dropping my son at school in new orleans last month -- route 81 anyone?). and my god i was in the uk last week in brighton, and it was impossible to get anything halfway decent for anything less than a king's ransom.

                                                                                              anyway, i agree with a lot of the things various people have said already, and i'm always looking for good new places. it's a drag that some of the best were pointed out to me by a friend who swore me to silence.

                                                                                              ah well, de gustibus

                                                                                              1. re: fatheryod

                                                                                                I agree that Blue Heron's menu can be overwhelming, but burger at the bar is a good bet, great grass-fed beef, aioli w/fries also good, but when you add a glass or two of wine to the tab it tends to add up so it's still a bit more "upscale" than the pub scene.

                                                                                                Big fan of the gyro platter at the Wagon Wheel as well.

                                                                                              2. re: fatheryod

                                                                                                People's Pint is my local pub and I have probably eaten there more than any place in the Valley at this point...I have a great deal of affection for them and usually come out feeling that I've eaten much healthier than most dinners, that is, if I limit my beer consumption. Very fresh salads, interesting specials, they often make their own bacon and sausage. But it is not fancy and I think some people go in expecting something...different. But I love that it's locally owned, and if I just want "dinner" I am never disappointed.

                                                                                                I will also mention The Rendezvous in Turner's Falls as a great "bar with food" spot. Less of a restaurant, more of a bar than the Pint, but it's a great place to hang out and I like their panini.

                                                                                                1. re: hollerhither

                                                                                                  YES to the 'Vous! Fun place, good food.

                                                                                                  1. re: Bri

                                                                                                    i'm a huge fan of the rendezvous in turner's falls. honestly, i don't think their food is all that great, but i love them for a great atmosphere and some of the best event programming anywhere in the valley. there is something happening almost every night, hardly ever a cover charge. great bands, poetry readings, craft nights, the best pub quiz i've ever been to, queer dance nights, laundry fashion shows, you can always find something worth checking out going on there. a warm and friendly environment with a good selection of booze at fair prices and good people is always a good time. their menu is fun and makes an effort (i.e. a couple bucks for some grilled asparagus is a great bar snack) but i am never than impressed that i think of it as a dining destination. that said, it's such a good place to hang out and eat and drink that i love going there anyhow.

                                                                                                    1. re: andytee

                                                                                                      Love the asparagus! They do have terrific event programming but more often than not I end up hanging out there when it's quieter.

                                                                                        2. OK, I've had bad food in NYC, Boston, San Fransisco as well as the Pioneer Valley. If you are trying for the best of the area, rejecting anything that is simply run of the mill or worse, there are some good places to go. Most restaurants cater to the local eating scene--the places that demand you adjust your palette to what is authentic or best in the chef's opinion tend not to last, especially outside of a major metro area where there are enough food snobs to make them work. It's hard to do authentic--even if you fly in the ingredients from Thailand or Hong Kong or Tuscany, the cost is going to prohibit casual dining. Better off to look for good interpretations using the local and semi-local ingredients. good taste is better than authentic in my book.

                                                                                          That said, try these:

                                                                                          Circa - interesting food, well cooked, well seasoned.
                                                                                          Butterfly and Great Wall's "Gourmet" menu rise above the standard issue Chinese.
                                                                                          Pintu's - the food taste good and if they have a belly dancer or serve beef, well, i can deal with that.
                                                                                          Night Kitchen - also good, interesting food.
                                                                                          Flayyvors - still the best ice cream in the area.
                                                                                          People's Pint - good beer and the food is a cut above the standard brew-pub menu.
                                                                                          Noho Coffee has the best coffee in the area, in my opinion. I kind of like to taste coffee and find the Seattle style too dense for my tastes.
                                                                                          Bistro Les Gras - can be pricey, depending on what you order, but clean, good-tasting bistro food.
                                                                                          Primavera - Ludlow - best Portuguese in the area. Sometimes a little salty, but great neighborhood style food.
                                                                                          Forget Mexican. Veracruzana is OK for a quick lunch, but not if you insist on comparing it to Californian or Texan style Mexican food.
                                                                                          Haven't been to DiPaolo's yet or Side Street in a while, but both are spoken of highly.

                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: donl149

                                                                                            good list.

                                                                                            for those of us who can't forget good mexican food, mi tierra continues to be passable, and their homeade tortillas are actually well better than that, truly delicious.

                                                                                            hope + olive in greenfield gets better every time i go, i really like that place.

                                                                                            i'd encourage you to try dipaolo's and would love to hear your thoughts when you do - i've only been once but was happy.

                                                                                            1. re: andytee

                                                                                              I finally stepped outside my comfort/craving zone and ordered the chile relleno and it was delicious. So now my go to dishes are the carne encilada tacos or burrito or the chile relleno plate. Plus $3 for a bottle of Bohemia is a STEAL!

                                                                                            2. re: donl149

                                                                                              I wanted to resurrect this thread only because we finally made it to Primavera in Ludlow and it was fantastic. Like the OP and others, I don't know much about Portuguese food, but everything we ordered was tasty and fresh: every order comes with a bowl of soup (this one had cabbage, potato, and carrot and it definitely fit the definition of comfort food). We also ordered the spicy shrimp as an appetizer - the shrimp was fresh and the sauce, which I believe was tomato-based, was spicy and so flavorful that the entire bread basket became a vehicle for removing it from the bowl....I ordered the grilled cod with green peppers, my DH the pork and our friend the grilled chicken. All portions were beyond generous (I can honestly make 3 meals out of it) - the two meat dishes came with 3 sides - rice, potatoes and vegetables. The only thing we think of was that a meal like this would never be possible in Northampton for the same price. The service was friendly and attentive, and the place had that neighborhood atmosphere that makes restaurants like this so charming. Take the drive ... it's definitely worth it!

                                                                                            3. I know I am replying to this post quite some time after its posting but I would just like to say that I agree with about 99% of your opinions especially the comment about bueno y sano!!! I've been in fights for years now with friends over how bland they are! my only arguement would be over your burger choices, I've been less than impressed by both Pakards and ABC.. as far as brew pubs go NBC has a much better burger and a short drive down Rt. 15 to Holyoke at Elizurs pub you can find an excellent burger as well. Even still there is no burger place in western mass that I know of that can even compair to the Late and the great Fatzo's that was in amherst!

                                                                                              18 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: xaius413

                                                                                                Krikey, folks, while the Pioneer Valley is a beautiful, lively, livable place, it's never had great restaurants, but there have always been a few good ones. Amherst and Northampton, with about 30,000 people each, are the largest towns around, and the others run from a few hundred to a few thousand. That's just not a large enough population to support great restaurants. (By the way, the Hilltowns are on the west side of the Valley at the beginning of the Berkshire hills. The towns on the east, like Shutesbury or Pelham are part of the Worcester Uplands.)

                                                                                                I grew up in the SF Bay Area, traveled over much of the world, and lived in Paris, Zurich, and Cologne. Isn't it natural to change expectations? Newark isn't New York and Pau isn't Paris. We dine out infrequently and enjoy the Great Wall, Green Street, and Peter Havens in Brattleboro. I agree with many of the critically negative comments from the Hounds, but the tone is too whingeing.

                                                                                                That said, there's great food to be had in the Pioneer Valley, but you'll find it in its raw state. Go to the open markets in summer and fall and join a local CISA farm to get a weekly share of excellent vegetables. Go to the River Valley Coop Market for the outstanding River Rock beef from Brimfield, MA and world-class cheese from Colrain (Hillman) and Vermont (many, many, but most of all Lazy Lady's "Barick Obama" and "Tomme Delay.") Pick up a few bottles of wine at the 3 or 4 good wine shops from West Springfield to Amherst. It's cold weather, people, so crank up the wood stove, get over to the range and start sauteeing or stir frying some of those sweet little Maine shrimp (or, better yet, fabulous shrimp risotto), open that interesting bottle of Italian white you just got, finish it off and cuddle up for the night. Go wild!

                                                                                                1. re: wiffieman

                                                                                                  What cuts do you recommend from River Rock? In the summer they sometimes come to the Farmer's Market in Lenox in the Berkshires; I'm tempted, but the meat is frozen and I don't have good luck defrosting, and in general, beef is not my strong cooking point. But I've been curious and wonder if you have any suggestions of what's really special.

                                                                                                  1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                                                                                                    On defrosting beef, dear Tsarina, golubchik, the sure-fire method is to leave it in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours (36 hrs. if it's a large roast). Best cuts? go to http://www.riverrockfarm.com/ and click on "Our Menu". The chuck steaks are marvelous, and you needn't marinate them before grilling. Their stew meat and short ribs make the best stews imaginable. I rarely go for the pricier cuts, although a River Rock rib-eye steak at 20 bucks a pound is far more worthy of that double sawbuck than most any meal in western Mass.

                                                                                                    1. re: wiffieman

                                                                                                      Thank you for the detailed information. I remember that the chopped meat which I bought once from River Rock was very good. Prices are in the realm of Guido's. Since we don't eat very much beef, when we do, I've started to splurge a little. (Guido's brisket burgers are sinful.) I don't grill (what do you expect from a Tsarina?), but the stew meat and short ribs are appealing.
                                                                                                      BTW, I see you live in Florence; if I lived there, I'd have no defrosting issues. I'd shop in Hadley and cook lots of Chinese food, and go out to the Great Wall the rest of the time, with an occasional break at Mi Tierra! Simple tastes...

                                                                                                      1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                                                                                                        i'll second that, river rock beef is great. my favorite cut is the skirt steak, which i like to put in a spicy peanut marinate and then cook on the grill.

                                                                                                        i got a brisket from them last winter and loved that as well.

                                                                                                        1. re: andytee

                                                                                                          Hey, all -- thanks for the link and tip on River Rock. My colleagues and I are going to put in a nice big delivery order after we get through the holidays!

                                                                                                  2. re: wiffieman

                                                                                                    I don't buy the argument that Northampton is too small to support great restaurants. I lived in Ashland, Oregon, population ~20,000 in rural Southern Oregon. There are numerous fantastic restaurants, and many more just plain good ones. The bar, overall, is just set higher there. They have a good tourist industry for much of the year, but a much more isolated location, so I doubt the town sees more foot traffic than even Northampton alone.

                                                                                                    1. re: memememe

                                                                                                      it's really not the case that the difference between a good restaurant and a bad one is tied to the cost of running them. plenty of restaurants thrive in the pioneer valley, northampton especially, and some are quite good. that said, plenty of bad ones continue to thrive, and these bad ones could be good ones on the same budget with only the addition of care and attention to detail.

                                                                                                      1. re: andytee

                                                                                                        Andy, agreed on your last sentence.

                                                                                                        Also, I have a small chamber in my heart reserved for Ashland, Oregon. Many years did I travel up there from Sacramento for the Shakespeare. In fact, the first occasion was my first trip away from home w/o the parents (7th grade!). I remember going to Munchies and thinking their chimichanga was the shiznittle. 7th-grade palate, heh.

                                                                                                  3. re: xaius413

                                                                                                    I have eaten several times at NBC, not of my own choosing. To call their food edible might be a long shot. It's a good place for a beer and to gather with friends, especially on the roof in the summer, but the food is at the low end of chain restaurant quality bar food. This includes burgers.

                                                                                                    1. re: taos

                                                                                                      hmm.. if that's your opinion than one has to respect it right? I would just be curious to ask, if you do not like the burgers there than what would your favorite be in noho? I love burgers and I am always looking to try a new one!

                                                                                                      1. re: xaius413

                                                                                                        Hi Xaius. Two years later and I completely agree w/ you regarding Packard's and ABC. Packard's can't be counted on to cook your meat to desired doneness. ABC's burgers are just unsatisfying. Regarding NBC, I have never liked their food. They can't even do a decent sweet potato fry.

                                                                                                        Try Local Burgers, new place on Main St. Good burger, cheaper than the rest.

                                                                                                        1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                          I did enjoy the burgers at Local.. I agree with you there! You should try the burger at Elizurs pub in Holyoke... It was a suprise to me to find a burger as good as this one in Holyoke!!

                                                                                                          1. re: xaius413

                                                                                                            I cannot agree that Local Burger is cheap!

                                                                                                        2. re: xaius413

                                                                                                          My favorite burger in NoHo is actually in Hadley -- Eselon Cafe.

                                                                                                          1. re: taos

                                                                                                            Didn't know they had burgers, interesting.

                                                                                                            1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                              I thought the same thing, but saw someone eating a burger last time I was there. Still haven't tried it, but it looked pretty good.

                                                                                                              1. re: andytee

                                                                                                                I can second them having great burgers.

                                                                                                    2. For Mexican, go to Granby CT, the style is not Tex-Mex or CA-Mex but it is VERY good and very authentic for non-border towns. Mi Tierra is in San Antonio, not in the Pioneer Valley!

                                                                                                      You are right about Northampton, several good restaurants.

                                                                                                      For Oriental, there are several very good Vietnamese restaurants in Springfield, forget the Chinese, this is MUCH better.

                                                                                                      Try Silvia's Restaurant in Enfield too, a real gem.

                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: depeters22

                                                                                                        "Mi Tierra is in San Antonio, not in the Pioneer Valley!"

                                                                                                        I'm not sure if I'm misunderstanding your comment here, but the Mi Tierra I am talking about, and I think most folks on this thread are talking about, is on Rt 9 in Hadley, MA.

                                                                                                        1. re: depeters22

                                                                                                          I'd also recommend Sarapes in Enfield, CT, for tasty Mexican food.

                                                                                                        2. I grew up in the valley, and have worked in the restaurant industry in New York, Chicago and Southeast Asia for the past number of years. Although there have been few stand-outs in the food scene in the valley, I always found Panda East in Amherst to do some Chinese dishes that were very good. The szechuan won-tons with red oil come to mind. Amherst Chinese has always done very fresh and normal cantonese sino-american dishes, but there are some traditional dishes that have always been on the menu and are spot-on and phenomenal. One example is the pork and pickle noodle soup. It makes me homesick for the chinese grandma I never had, and is nearly identical to similar versions I've had in Shanghai, Hong Kong and amongst the Chinese community in Phnom Penh. Speaking of Phnom Penh, I remember that when I was in college, there was a Khmer restaurant on rte 9. It was there that I had my first experience with Lot Char, a PP streetside favourite and an extremely hard to find noodle dish outside of the Cambodian capital. Best with a fried duck egg on top. It's not still there, is it? The restaurant. Anyway, happy eats..

                                                                                                          1. Hmmm... Only one poster has even mentioned my favorite, and that was to complain about the price of a lunch sandwich, with no comment on what it was or if it was any good. I haven't been in several years. (MA natives, I've been in St. Louis but my brother lives in Florence.)

                                                                                                            Paul and Elizabeth's is a little pricey, although for any major city it's only moderate. Fairly simple food prepared simply and deliciously. In addition to the main menus the breads, salad dressings, desserts - the first two often a side note - are great.

                                                                                                            Comments from current residents?

                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                            1. re: Richard 16

                                                                                                              I like Paul & Elizabeths fine, they are rarely surprising and sometimes bland, but they do simple healthy food well. Mostly, I'm able to like them because I discovered their lunch menu. Dinner does tend to feel overpriced there for what you get, but some of the lunch specials are lovely and can be a real bargain. Last time I was in I had broiled salmon with rice and veggies for under $10.

                                                                                                            2. Hi. Quick qual: I am a professional chef for over 35 years, lived in Yokohama Japan and traveled a lot through Asia, Central and So America courtesy of the NSA and USN in the early 60s. U. Mass. Restaurant Mgmt degree. Own a brand of Asian Sauces called Chef Myron's available in lotsa stores and sold to lotsa chefs etc. and have lived in the valley since '68. ok, right, makes me old as dirt.
                                                                                                              Here's my comments:
                                                                                                              1. Chinese, Butterfly in Hadley (next to Trans World Foods best Ethnic market) has two menus. Look at their "Gourmet" menu for the real deal. I hear Great Wall is also China Town quality. Agree that China Gourmet when in Gfld is very acceptable and they do serve some close to authentic dishes.
                                                                                                              2. AmChi: can't beat it for fresh vegetables cooked traditional home style. When I first moved here the only Chinese was a pu pu place called Kim Toy under old Amherst Cinema. Dr Chang came, opened AmChi and saved us. Not gourmet but the real deal and maybe best jiao zi, (pot stickers) in MA.
                                                                                                              3. Vietnamese: Been a long time comin' and a bit too expensive compared with typical pho houses (like Saigon Rose in Worc) but authentic and ok.
                                                                                                              4. Turkish: New place in Spfld. Brick House Pizza 220 Worthington. No beer or wine but great mezza and traditional kababs & salads. Pizzas looked good and cheap too with delightful service.
                                                                                                              5. Agree that Mi Tieara is the only Mexican worth eating. You would think someone would open a good cheap taqueria in studentville! (and Buano y ain't it)
                                                                                                              6. There is no authentic or even good Japanese. H.O.T. N. Amh is sort of ok and close to where we live so we go there. There is nothing like Goten in Japan. They would recoil in horror if a chef tossed a shrimp across the grill into a patron's mouth. Really authentic Japanese, reasonably priced is hard to find outside of CA.
                                                                                                              7. Korean, I like Gohyang on Rt 9 best but again H.O.T. has some passable dishes. But if you happen to be in Edison NJ.....
                                                                                                              8. Cafe: Check out the Cushman Cafe in N. Amh. for the real deal. Good coffee/espresso sandwiches, pastry etc.
                                                                                                              9. Italian: Ristaurante DiPaolo in Turners Falls is a better bang for the pretty big buck than all the other aforementioned upscale places in my opinion. But when you go to as many food shows as I have to, you see through a lot of the smoke and mirrors that garner the $$$ at the supposed upscale places. I have also eaten some very good meat at Carmelina's but had to pay extra for pasta to go with a very expensive meat entree there
                                                                                                              and that is NOT good value. Also their service has been haughty in the past. The food is consistently well prepared tho.

                                                                                                              Totally agree with you about Judies. Just don't get why all my profs as U Mass Hotel & Rest. Mgmt program liked it.
                                                                                                              I'm ok with ending on a negative note. this is supposed to be a rant right?

                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                              1. re: Chefmyron

                                                                                                                FYI -update:
                                                                                                                My husband took me to dinner at the Whately Inn for my birthday. 'Fresh seafood cocktail' was a mash of indistinguishable, tasteless greyish stuff that was supposed to be king crab. Salad was limp and the dressing bottled. The haddock special was slop, the 'au gratin' potatoes were the mashed potatoes my husband ordered with some cheese broiled on top, and CANNED ASPARAGUS on the side!! Need I say more? The dining room was all but deserted. Don't waste your time or your money here.
                                                                                                                The next night we went to Tavern on the Hill and had a lovely, three-course meal for $20.00. The flat iron steak is excellent, as are the mussels. Try the Artesa Meritage 'Elements' red with the steak. The place was packed on a Monday night, and we had an excellent meal and service. If you go, don't miss the fried oysters.

                                                                                                                  1. re: mjoyous

                                                                                                                    Here's their website:

                                                                                                                    If you go, try to get there in time to watch the sunset - it's very dramatic.

                                                                                                              2. There's a relatively new authentic Mexican place in Easthampton, MA called La Casita Azteca. Here's their menu:
                                                                                                                We've had great food there.

                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: mrcallhn

                                                                                                                  i've been watching reviews of this place curiously - some have been great, some dismal. from what i can tell there have been informed palates on both sides. love to hear more of what you ordered, and what you thought of it.

                                                                                                                  i'll get there myself someday, but i live on the other side of the valley and have a baby at home, so we don't get out to eat much.

                                                                                                                  1. re: mrcallhn

                                                                                                                    Looks worth trying... thanks for the tip! Still no al pastor, unfortunately, much less the menudo I've been missing so much, unfortunately... would love to see some Mexican restaurants in the area with more diverse options.

                                                                                                                    1. re: caravan70

                                                                                                                      No pastor or carnitas, sigh. With that said, it is refreshing to see things like queso oaxaca and epazote and hoja santa, core basic ingredients that at most "Mexican" places are absent.

                                                                                                                      Thanks for the heads up.

                                                                                                                  2. Having lived a few miles down the road from this area all my life, I have seen the Northampton restaurant scene from its infancy in the 70's with Beardsley's and Sze's just the beginning of a makeover of this once-dull college town. Eastside Grill was the first Cajun restaurant anywhere around when it opened in the 80's, and today it remains a respectable value for an eclectic grill menu.

                                                                                                                    For Italian, I think the entire Spoleto group of restaurants OK but not great, and my favorite Italian comes from Mulino's, on the second floor of a neat restored building near the former train station.

                                                                                                                    For Asian, I cannot recommend anything today. Even the Lhasa Cafe (Tibetan) for all its pleasant atmosphere and quiet good service cannot spark enthusiasm with its rather bland cuisine. The healthful character of Yak is not worth the experience or the cost.

                                                                                                                    Maybe I've seen too many places come and go, but for us, the "buzz" about Northampton that began over 30 years ago is now only a hum. I'd rather cook at home.

                                                                                                                    On the other hand, there is no greater town this side of Boston/Cambridge for a wide variety of fun, music and safe nightlife in general. We do need some new spice on the restaurant scene however.

                                                                                                                    14 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: longmeadow

                                                                                                                      We live down south here too, and I really have enjoyed Green Street recently. Fun atmosphere and great food. Haven't been disappointed and been several times. Another new favorite is Side Street Cafe in Florence. Also a fun place. I really do like Zen. The atmosphere in Northampton is way more social and lively than down here in the Springfield/Longmeadow vicinity. Although on a cold day when I don't feel like shlepping up to Noho, Bottega Cucina is also nice.

                                                                                                                      1. re: longmeadow

                                                                                                                        Yes- Mulino's is very good, I was wondering why no one had mentioned it. I agree also that di Paolo's is excellent. And I've spent time in Italy, and in Mexico. Also lived in the bay area of California, and I like Veracruzana. It's not the west coast, but most of the food is very good. But then, I accept that prices are different here. I think Woodstar makes the best lattes around, with Essalon as a second. Vietnamese food in Springfield is very mediocre, try the Berkshires. Butterfly in Hadley is outstanding. Blue Heron used to be great but I haven't been there i a while - the last time I was there the service was terrible. (It was excellent on many previous visits.) Pioneer Grill in Chester, the west edge of the Valley, is outstanding for inexpensive, high quality, fresh made food.

                                                                                                                        Blue Heron Restaurant
                                                                                                                        112 N Main St, Sunderland, MA 01375

                                                                                                                        1. re: nelena

                                                                                                                          What Vietnamese restaurant are you referring to in the Berkshires?

                                                                                                                          1. re: caughtstars

                                                                                                                            the best Vietnamese in the Berks was The Dragon, which has been closed for over a year now.

                                                                                                                            1. re: caughtstars

                                                                                                                              Truc's in West Stockbridge is very good. Pho Saigon in Lee is like home cooked Vietnamese - not great, but satisfying and fresh and the soups are not greasy like the ones in Springfield- and it's also 1/2 the price of Truc's.
                                                                                                                              BTW, Veracruzana has a new cook and the food went way downhill, when I see the heavyset woman cooking, I leave.

                                                                                                                              1. re: nelena

                                                                                                                                veracruzana in amherst or northampton? I was just at the one in Northampton and the food was as it always is...

                                                                                                                                1. re: corinnerose

                                                                                                                                  If La Veracruzana Amherst were to go "way downhill" they would have had to dug a hole first.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: andytee

                                                                                                                                    Is it different from the one in nohamp? Or you just don't like either?

                                                                                                                                    1. re: corinnerose

                                                                                                                                      i don't like either location but in my experience the amherst one is really especially dismal. northampton will sometimes be serviceable if expectations are low.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: andytee

                                                                                                                                      Lol. I agree. Both locations make Mi Tierra or Sarapes in Enfield look like Rick Bayless restaurants.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                                                          HAHAHHA. funny. I guess I won't bother trying the Amherst branch. I do wish Mi Tierra (and Sarapes for that matter!!) was in a more convenient location, though. Maybe they'll follow in the footstoops of veracruzana and bueno y sano and open a branch on each side of the river.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: corinnerose

                                                                                                                                            Mi Tierra is pretty central and easy to get to from either Amherst or Northamton. I like them where they are.

                                                                                                                                2. re: nelena

                                                                                                                                  Mulino's is good but very heavy fare -- I always view the misuse of the Trattoria label with some amusement, this place is definitely Ristorante in its menu.
                                                                                                                                  Have to put in a good word for Siam Square, crispy duck is fabulous; yes, as with every Thai restaurant you have to ask for extra spice if you like it hot.
                                                                                                                                  Also have to say that Rao's coffee varietals are by far the best in the region (they don't play the "Fair Trade" game but instead use the Cup of Excellence model which pays higher prices for coffee that actually deserves a price premium). Their wholesale supply business serves a lot of the Boston restaurant trade, and you can order online.

                                                                                                                              2. Circa, Blue heron amd Gypsy Apple (Shelburne Falls) all quite good but not inexpensive. Agree wholeheartedly about Mexican food and Mi Terra in paricular

                                                                                                                                1. Russell Inn, U.S. Route 20 in Russell has pretty good pizza. I haven't personally tried anything else there, but they can be pretty busy especially during ski season. Italian menu mostly. Family-run.

                                                                                                                                  Russell Inn
                                                                                                                                  RR 20, Russell, MA 01071

                                                                                                                                  1. My thoughts on the Pioneer Valley is to stay in the Northampton area. Green Street cafe is my favorite. If you're going to the Springfield area, bring something with you to eat.

                                                                                                                                    Green Street Cafe
                                                                                                                                    62 Green St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                    1. re: foodwallguy

                                                                                                                                      Green Street is excellent, but wow, is there a lot of bad food in Northampton too. And if you don't explore beyond there you miss a lot of great places - including some in Springfield. Read the thread and try something new, you probably won't regret it.

                                                                                                                                      Green Street Cafe
                                                                                                                                      62 Green St, Northampton, MA 01060

                                                                                                                                    2. Joe's?!?! You like Joe's for pizza?!?!? Joe's in Northampton?!?!?! For pizza?!?!?!?!

                                                                                                                                      you all must be off your cheese-grating rockers if you think there's any redeeming quality about Joe's pizza other than getting your colon cleansed.

                                                                                                                                      sheesh. And my name's Joe, too!

                                                                                                                                      6 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: JOEJOEJOEJOE

                                                                                                                                        Yea, looking back, that is one that I would amend. The first pizza I ate there was particularly tasty, the rest were much less so, but my warmth for the place continued mostly because of its atmosphere and the old school customers.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: fame da lupo

                                                                                                                                          I will always love Joe's. I was just there last night and had a Little Joe pizza with caramelized red onions, kalamata onions and artichokes. It was great as always. If you get a really meaty pie then it can be too greasy, but I never have any problem with their veggie pizzas.

                                                                                                                                          You also cannot go wrong with the Spanish mussels or clams, Joe's House salad, blackened scallop salad, nor the homemade fried mozzarella- it's all comfort food at its finest. And, yes the old school atmosphere and regulars are the best!

                                                                                                                                          1. re: caughtstars

                                                                                                                                            I really enjoy Joe's but maybe that's because of all the time I've spent there in the past. - everytime I go it feels like I've gone back in time as its hasn't changed a bit in the last 3 decades since I've been going. Pizza is good, (agree that the meaty ones can be greasy), as are the house salad, mussels and calamari.

                                                                                                                                            Also have had a few meals at Hope and Olive in Greenfield and really enjoyed it. Kid friendly, solid beer list and very high quality and well prepared food.

                                                                                                                                            As far as ice cream goes, I used to think that Herrell's was the only game in town, but we recently went to Flayvors at Cook Farm and it was excellent - less $$, more spacious and you can go pet the cows afterward.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: gunksny

                                                                                                                                              We love Hope and Olive. And breakfast at the new Jake's is very good.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: gunksny

                                                                                                                                                I like the ice cream flavors at Flayvors, but was recently really disappointed to get a hand packed pint there which had an ingredients lable, and find that the ingredients include polysorbate 80. Of course I don't know, maybe Herrells includes chemical stabilizers too.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: spryngtree

                                                                                                                                                  I've had that same experience and it creeped me out too. Way too many things on their list I don't love and it really is counter to their local / natural / farmy / grass fed / raw milk image. Someone should talk to them, I'd guess they are using a commercial ice cream base with lots of junk in it, and they should change their product. If Haagen Daas can make 5-ingredient ice cream, they should be able to fix this problem.