New Haven

And you thought it was just Louis’ Lunch

An introduction to the hot New Haven food scene.

Rhea Hirshman, a freelancer, writes, teaches, and eats in New Haven.

Once upon a time, New Haven’s claims to culinary fame centered mostly around its pizza and its rumored status as the birthplace of the hamburger. Today, the city is a certifiable food mecca. Livability, a website that focuses on smaller urban areas, gave New Haven top honors in 2014 as America’s number-one foodie city: “Students attending Yale University can get a culinary education simply by walking through downtown New Haven and sampling the cuisine found in the city’s eclectic restaurants.” Expedia, the travel site, listed New Haven among its top 15 foodie cities for 2016: “New Haven’s restaurant scene is sizzling. The dishes are almost as prestigious as the town’s Ivy League status, as some of the most sought-after restaurants in town use fresh ingredients from local farms. . . . Feed your appetite at the most mouth-watering restaurants in Downtown, Wooster Square, and East Rock.”

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Crêperie Choupette on Whitney Avenue grew out of a popular food cart. View full image

The variety in and around downtown New Haven is hard to beat. Memorable food can be found in places barely the size of a studio apartment—Crêperie Choupette offers sweet and savory crêpes crafted from traditional recipes; Junzi Kitchen presents fast, casual northern Chinese cuisine—as well as in larger, elegant venues like Union League Café, Harvest, and Heirloom. Ethnic cuisines include Latin American (Barracuda Bistro) and Ethiopian (Lalibela) and Turkish (Midpoint Istanbul Restaurant).

Beloved stalwarts like Atticus, Claire’s Corner Copia, and Yorkside Pizza have seen generations of students come and go. (Claire Criscuolo remembers one young man who listed her vegetarian fare in his college application essay as one of the reasons he wanted to come to Yale.) Cheese rules at Caseus, whose owner, Jason Sobocinski, is as passionate about educating customers as he is about the quality of the food he serves. At Miya’s, Bun Lai carries on his mother’s pioneering work in promoting the use of sustainable seafood; the place has achieved a national reputation for its eco-friendly and creative sushi offerings. Coffee shops, classy cocktails, hole-in-the-wall finds, and late-night options abound.

In fact, one can choose from over 130 places to eat within walking distance of the New Haven Green. Yes, a few chain establishments appear here and there (including Halal Guys and Shake Shack), but, for the most part, what you get in New Haven are the creativity and hospitality of local people sharing their love of good food with their community.

 

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

A group of recent Yale alums founded Broadway’s Junzi Kitchen in 2015 after bonding over their native Northern Chinese cuisine. View full image

About three dozen of the eateries, some long established and some new, are part of The Shops at Yale, the university’s brand for its retail real estate holdings, primarily on Broadway and Chapel Street. Over the past two decades, Yale has worked to strengthen New Haven by recruiting attractive, high-quality retail and restaurants to the area. Bruce Alexander ’65, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development, is generally acknowledged as the mastermind behind this effort. “By increasing dining options,” he says, “we brought in people who would spend more time when they came for the art and theater. More people spending more time, in turn, is good for retail.” Partly because Alexander and his staff are choosy, some storefronts sit empty for several years at a time, waithg for the right tenant. But the downtown has undeniably been transformed. Returning alumni—especially of the 1970s and ’80s, hard times for the city—are often amazed by the changes.

Michael Morand ’87, ’93MDiv, a devoted New Havener, saw the transition firsthand during his 15-year stint in Alexander’s department. He is now the public relations and communications officer at the Beinecke Library, and he gets frequent questions from Beinecke visitors about where to eat nearby. Morand can tick off the possibilities at high speed, starting with “the fantastic classic places”—Mamoun’s, Mory’s, Claire’s, Yorkside. He is enthusiastic about the two-year-old Roìa, which draws on French and Italian traditions, offering small plates and haute cuisine. Zinc, with a locally sourced menu, is another frequent recommendation. And, he says, don’t forget its younger sibling, Kitchen Zinc, an attached artisanal pizza parlor with a full bar: “Who says there isn’t room for more pizza in New Haven?”

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Atelier Florian specializes in seafood “with a Belgian flair.” View full image

Not far up Chapel Street is Atelier Florian, another recent arrival. Billing itself as “new American with Belgian flair,” it tempts seafood fans with offerings ranging from bouillabaisse to fish tacos, and a weekend brunch menu that includes three different mussels dishes. Just two blocks away on Park Street, you can find the third and latest incarnation of Tarry Lodge, owned and operated by prominent chef Mario Batali.

In addition to Claire’s, vegetarians can check out B Natural or the Indian-style Thali Too. Carnivores, no longer limited to Louis’ Lunch, have Ricky D’s Rib Shack, a Kansa-Lina barbecue place. (Kansa-Lina is what happens when you combine Kansas City with Carolina.) Mediterranea on Orange Street offers authentic Middle Eastern food. Pasta lovers who can splurge a bit will find fresh, handmade pasta dishes at L’Orcio and Skappo. Several bars offer excellent fare, including Ordinary, Three Sheets, Trinity Bar, and 116 Crown. A little out of the immediate downtown area are gems like Caffè Bravo, near the East Rock end of Orange Street, and Shell and Bones at City Point. And we haven’t even mentioned the food trucks near the School of Medicine and Ingalls Rink.

Part of the strength of New Haven’s restaurant scene, says Jim O’Connor, creator of the documentary Food Haven, is collegiality and cooperation among the chefs, owners, managers, and staffs of the various establishments. In his film, Sobocinski (of Caseus), Lai (of Miya’s), and John Brennan (of Elm City Social, which prides itself on its crafted cocktails) travel around town together, happily sampling and discussing pizzas: the classic pies at Sally’s and Pepe’s and Modern, the bacon-and-mashed-potato pizza at Bar, the specialties—including dairy-free pies, gluten-free pies, and pies with salad on them—at Da Legna, the new kid on the pizza block.

O’Connor became smitten with New Haven’s restaurants when he worked as a bartender and, like Morand, was repeatedly asked about places to eat. His exploration of some two dozen establishments became the documentary—a 70-minute love letter to New Haven’s food, and the people who make and serve it, which debuted at this summer’s New Haven Documentary Film Festival. “I wanted to showcase the amazing diversity and flavors of New Haven,” O’Connor says, “and to have passionate locals talk about what food and culture mean to them.”

Try any of these places, or just set yourself on the New Haven Green and walk half a mile or so in any direction. You can’t go wrong.

1 comment

  • Bill
    Bill, 3:55pm September 01 2017 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    You forgot to mention... STOP STIFFING YOUR BARTENDERS AND SERVERS! We in the New Haven service industry would like to offer you great service. In turn we expect A PROPER TIP!

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