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Mar 11, 2014 05:08 AM

Foodie Spots in Princeton

We're heading to Princeton for a tournament this weekend, and my husband says that he has been unsuccessful in finding good options in and around Princeton in the past. I noticed that most of the Princeton-specific threads are quite old.

First off, we arrive on Thursday evening, and have a dinner reservation at Elements. I had noticed that the chef was on the shortlist for the Beard regional rising chefs award, so I thought that would be a good spot for right before the tournament.

The issue for us is that we are frequently looking for quick meals after matches, and late meals after the end of the day. Often, the last match isn't over until about 10PM, and many spots are not serving by then.

In the middle of the day, we're looking for pizza, or sushi, or burgers or good sandwiches that my son can eat and not have a bomb in his stomach when he goes back for his next match in a couple of hours. Because of our time constraints in the middle of the day, we cannot go to far afield.

At night, we are looking for a good meal for all that isn't going to break the bank, though in desperation we have sometimes opted for expensive steak house meals like a Ruth's Chris, of which I understand there is one in the area.

Thanks in advance for any help or direction you can provide!

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  1. a short drive from Princeton, in Hopewell, is Blue Bottle Café. It is BYOB, contemporary American cuisine, entree's generally in mid-20's. I was just there last weekend and it never disappoints. However, it is a small place and you may not be able to get a res on short notice.

    3 Replies
    1. re: BeeZee

      I like Blue Bottle, but the OP should know it's only open from 5 to 10. Plus, it's not a place I would've wanted to go to between wrestling matches as a seventeen year old.

      roxlet, you might want to try Shanghai Bun, just east of town: It's related to the place in Matawan and has soup dumplings for Mom and Dad.

      Frankly, when I was in your kid's spot, I would've wanted bulk stuff from a place like Whole Earth ( and a quiet spot to reflect and eat it in. Then again, I would never have spent time with my parents during the day - just asked for money.

      As to pizza in Princeton proper, there is Conte's. See, It's worth a try, if for no other reason than it's part of local lore and one of the classic NJ pizza destinations.

      Along the same lines, there is Hoagie Haven for sandwiches

      Good luck to the boy. And feel free to follow up if you have other questions. (Oh, and, Elements was a great choice!)

      1. re: MGZ

        Funny you mention Whole Earth. My husband and son frequently stop at a Whole Foods on the first day of a tournament and get stuff to keep in the room. I think my son usually gets sushi or pizza there.

        These sound like interesting choices, and I'll certainly check them out.

        1. re: MGZ

          For Pizza, don't forget Osteria Procaccini, just north of Princeton in Kingston:

      2. Olives deli serves up good sandwiches quickly. I'd go back.

        1. Some more options to fit your request:

          Quick Lunch nearby:

          Olives as mentioned by ebchower. Great for lunch. Something for everyone. Note, there are 6 stools at a small counter in the back but 99% of their business is take out. If the weather's nice, you can dine a block away at the outdoor tables in the square adjacent to the library, or on Palmer square, also a block away or on campus.

          Mo C Mo C sushi.
          Nice spot. One of our favs. Full service. 1/2 block from the Spring St garage for easy access.

          North End Bistro
          On Nassau (Princeton's main st). Full service. Good burgers, sandwiches and more. Parking adjacent for convenience.

          Bon Appetite
          Specialty foods and café. Nice selection of sandwiches, salads and wraps all made to order. Café tables inside to dine at. In the Princeton Shopping Center on Harrison.

          Wegmans Market Cafe
          Not your typical grocery store. Similar to Whole Foods in the variety and quality of prepared foods, sushi, made to order subs, pizza by the slice, buffets, made to order salads, etc. Has a large café dining area upstairs. Something for everyone, quick and nearby - just off Route 1 south. We have lunch here often.

          Late Night Dinner - until 11 pm:

          Center of town on Witherspoon Street. Everything from flatbreads to full dinner using what's grown on their farm or sourced locally. Dinner served until 11pm. Our go to - for late night dining in town. Also serves a really great burger for lunch, but you may not get in and out real quick.

          The Bent Spoon
          maybe not for dinner(!) but they're open until 11 on Palmer Square west in the center of town. Great spot for outstanding gelato and sorbet.

          11 Replies
          1. re: Foody4life

            Excellent list! Thank you. Is there a Wegman's supermarket in the area? I've heard a lot about them, and I'd love to see what the fuss is all about...

            1. re: roxlet

              You're welcome! Hope your family has a great weekend.

              The link above is for the closest Wegmans - located about 10 mins away from campus, just off Route 1 south.

              Their market café is at the right end of the store. It's not the biggest or newest Wegmans in NJ (it was their 1st), but we still love it!

              1. re: Foody4life

                I consider it the left side. It's only right if you're outside facing the building.

            2. re: Foody4life

              If you are still looking for a late night dinner, definitely try Agricola. We went in December, 2013 and were really impressed with the food and service. The next night we went to esca in NYC and all agreed that Agricola was superior.

              1. re: beetlebug

                i don't think agricola is very good. would not recommend. uneven food quality -- some things are very good, but others not good at all. service is amateurish, very slow, and very disappointing.

                surprised by the esca comment. esca is a far superior restaurant to agricola.

                1. re: freshmanjs

                  Can't dispute Agricola's service issues, but we've never had a problem with the food. We overlook the spotty service in favor of the food and ambiance.

                  OP asked for a place to dine in Princeton after 10pm. Agricola is the best of what's open late.

                  Other's serving past 10pm include Winberies's on par with a TGIF. A&B and Yankee Doodle Tap Room both have a limited late night menu and I can't remember the last time we dined at either. Mediterra has lived off it's location and outside dining option in warmer weather. Teresa's is ok for pizza and pasta options but is often overcrowded. Witherspoon Grill would probably be our 2nd choice. It's is a nice room, food is good but hit or miss with service.

                  What would you recommend?

                  1. re: freshmanjs

                    I'm a bit surprised by this response. I was in Princeton for one night, on my way to NYC. I found Agricola through this board and saw that it was listed numerous times as a good choice for Princeton proper. My parents, spouse and I had a superlative meal and the service was fantastic. Our server was very attentive and enthusiastic. We were all impressed. It was so good I was shocked at how low the final bill was.

                    Esca, the next night didn't even come close. The service was fine, but not as good as Agricola. And, the food, while delicious, was a hair lower then the night before. The big problem was the bill was probably twice as much but the experience wasn't twice as better then Agricola. Yes, I understand the difference between NYC and Princeton. But, the difficult thing is when the meals are back to back it's harder to get perspective on individual meals.

                    1. re: beetlebug

                      I'm glad you liked it!

                      I'm not the only one who has had issues. If you read the other threads about Agricola and Princeton, you will see very mixed views. In particular, we had a tomato soup (was a daily special) that was perhaps the blandest food i've ever encountered. It was as if they completely forgot to season it. No excuse for letting that go out of the kitchen.

                      Our waitress dropped silverware on or next to our table 3 times, dropped a plate, and spilled a drink.

                      The meal took about 3 hours. We watched our dessert make 3!!!! laps around the restaurant while the clueless runner tried to figure out where it should go. By the time it got to our table, the ice cream on the cobbler was completely melted. We'd been sitting for so long, though, that we just got out of there.

                      I have the opposite view on the prices. Agricola is trying to charge like nyc fine dining and doesn't deliver at that level.

                      1. re: freshmanjs

                        I'm not doubting server issues and watching my dessert go by would drive me batty. Actually, I probably would have flagged the runner and grabbed it before it made the third lap.

                        I wonder if it's because we went in between Xmas and New Years. Our dinner was on the earlier side (6 pm) and the restaurant filled up while we were there. It was also clear that our server, while a student, was very experienced. Really, she was just lovely and really catered to my older parents (which we all appreciated). If all restaurants could clone her, no one would have any complaints. Maybe this woman should train everyone else at the restaurant.

                        There is no excuse for bland soup. Especially for summer tomatoes.

                        1. re: beetlebug

                          I had an equally bland carrot soup earlier this month. It was supposed to have curry-infused oil, but I couldn't discern any hint of curry or salt or pepper--or much carrot. (As a contrast, the last batch of carrots that I got from my CSA farm last fall are still in my vegetable cellar and are amazingly sweet and carroty.) My mother was not happy with her "sous vide" fried chicken--at least that was the explanation she got for why it was uncooked in the middle (from a very condescending manager). To their credit, they took the chicken off the bill, which was generous because her grandson was happily munching on his share and even had the leftovers packed to take home!
                          There are some things on the menu that I love--the butternut squash flatbread for one. And their cocktails are very well made if expensive.

                2. re: Foody4life

                  Bent spoon, sooo good! I don't really like sweets and love their gelato, especially the Earl Grey! I spent way too many calories there in college.

                3. Another place to consider for dinner just north of Princeton is Eno Terra, which is open to 11pm on Friday and Saturdays. Much better than Ruth's Chris. If you get out a little earlier and like fish, Blue Point Grill is a casual place with good food open to 10pm. During the day you can get take-out from their fish market next door (Nassau Street Seafood).

                  1. Well, the trip to Princeton turned out to be a bust, both in terms of the squash and the food. We never got anywhere interesting at all. It's all according to what the young athlete wants, and one night it was just Chipotle, and the other night it was a streak, so Ruth's Chris. (We skipped the night I had the Elements reservation, and went out the next morning.) Apparently, since I haven't been to a tournament in a long time, they have developed unbreakable routines.

                    So, thanks everyone for the great ideas, and here's hoping that this updated list of great places in Princeton will prove to be useful to others.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: roxlet

                      No worries. When I was that age, steak ruled. If you want to nudge your boys out of their Ruth's Chris routine, show them a pic of the prime ribeye at Agricola...


                      Hope you have a chance to return.

                      1. re: Foody4life

                        Maybe some time in the future. The son is off to college in the fall, and will be playing in college, so he definitely will be back in Princeton every other year. We'll see if we want to make the trip.