[UPDATED] Unofficial Orientation Series 2016: Middletown Eating

This post is a ~fresh update~ of astag_rocky‘s repost of a repost of a repost. Please note: this is by no means an exhaustive list of eating options in Middletown, as this perfunctory Yelp search will show you. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. 

baby-turtle-eats-strawberry

Middletown has so many fantastic dining options that at first you might feel like this turtle: faced with an almost insurmountable mountain of deliciousness. Much like the above turtle, though, you’ve got to start somewhere. We’re here to give you a head start.

From coffee-shop casual to awkward-family-dinner upscale, there’s food in Middletown for every occasion. This is Part 1 of our guide to some of the best places to eat in town, to be continued tomorrow.  Prices are on a $ to $$$ scale. Also worth noting is that a lot of Middletown restaurants accept Middletown cash, so save up some of that laundry money for your dining excursions. Read all of our food list after the jump!

 

redpanda10O’Rourke’s Diner: American Diner, $$$

Family-run since 1941 and still going strong, O’Rourke’s is the place to go for the ultimate hangover cure a damn good brunch and a bustling, friendly atmosphere.  With a vast menu of omelets, pancakes, and other breakfast delicacies to choose from, you can’t go wrong—unless you try to order the Graduation Omelet, which is reserved for Wes grads only. Hang in there! The place is fairly small and is only open from 6AM to 3PM, so you should plan ahead and be prepared to wait a bit to get a table. Located on the North End of Main Street, it’s a bit of a walk from campus, but you’ll be happy for the trek back once you’ve inevitably eaten too much.

New England Food Emporium: variety, $$

The New England Food Emporium (or just Emporium for short) is one of my favorite places to grab food in Middletown, mostly because it’s so versatile. Located in the Main Street Market (386 Main Street), Emporium offers a variety of sandwiches, salads, crepes, and breakfast foods, as well as some interesting coffee and juice options.  Their grilled cheese selection is wonderful, as is their homemade falafel–as long as you haven’t been overdoing those 3AM falafel truck runs.  The place is spacious and nicely decorated, with plenty of long tables, window seats, and comfy couches to choose from. While it’s a great place to bring your family or a large group of friends for lunch, it’s also totally acceptable to bring your laptop there to do some work. (I fell asleep on one of their couches once, though, so beware of that.) Emporium is also home to a great store filled with novelty candy, cooking appliances, and specialty foods.

Luce: Italian style, $$$ 

I’ve eaten at Luce twice. The first time, I got dinner with my family and the families of both my roommates (yes, I lived in a forced triple my freshman year, and yes, the dinner was sufficiently awkward). The second time was a few months later, when a bunch of my hallmates and I dressed up and set out to have a “fancy” evening. The food was very good, as far as I can remember, and worth the fairly expensive prices. If you’re looking for a nice Italian place to go on a date, or to take your folks when they come to visit, this is definitely an option to consider.

cute-slow-lorisAthenian: diner, $

Sometimes you just really need a diner, and sometimes you really need a diner at 4 in the morning. Athenian provides that vital resource. I can vouch for Athenian’s great food and service in the daylight hours, but as pyrotechnics sagely noted in the past: “4am trips to Athenian for milkshakes and gravy-fries is something every Wes kid should experience.” You’ll need a car to get there, since it’s located up Washington Street, but the wide selection of diner food that awaits you there is worth the ride.

Osaka HachiJapanese style, $$

Although the building at 320 Main Street looks basically the same as it did a year ago and serves the same type of food, it’s now under new management and with a new name. Hachi (literally the Japanese word for ‘eight,’ which I don’t understand) serves a standard array of reasonably priced Japanese food. They also have a hibachi, which is cool.

[updated 8/11/2016, 8pm est by maya]

Klekolocoffee shop, $

Conveniently located on Court Street just off Main, Klekolo is a neat little place with a bit of an edgier atmosphere than your run-of-the-mill coffee shop. It’s home to a fantastic selection of fair-trade coffees and pastries. I’ll let this “rabid coffee addict” from last year’s post tell it like it is: “Klekolo is the salvation of students who can’t choke down Usdan coffee without spiking it love a good cup of free trade coffee for about a dollar a cup. Klekolo offers Starbucks-esque extras (amaretto shot in your mocha, anyone?) but their simple cup of joe is better than anything you’ll find in Middletown. Common patrons include a recent Connecticut politician, local artists, disaffected mid-twenties with piercings (not yet confirmed if these are Wes grads) and an ambitious Middletown chess club. Caution: cash only.”

Brew Bakers: coffee shop and brunch place, $$

Brew Bakers has two different locations — both on Main Street, but on opposite ends. The first, located at 169 Main Street, is much bigger than the second, a café that opened last year at 506 Main Street, but they both offer a similar selection of sandwiches, bagels, all-day breakfast, and something called an omelette sandwich?? The first location tends to be pretty popular for brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, especially among Wesleyan students, so be prepared for a bit of a line.

[updated 8/11/2016, 8pm est by maya]

81413866Café 56: ‘American’ style, $$

Serving “fresh creative food of the Americas,” Café 56 also seems to be like a hidden gem. I only heard of it this past year, when I saw various friends posting cozy pictures of their Café 56 brunches on Instagram. They only serve breakfast and lunch, but all the Yelp reviews are pretty glowingly positive. The head chef is from Guatemala City (and is apparently a sweetheart), and her culinary background comes out with things like the “El Mexicano Tacandwich” (roasted chicken, citrus slaw, avocado and salsa), which seems to be a cross between a taco and a sandwich and I am intrigued.

[updated 8/11/2016, 8pm est by maya]

NoRA Cupcake Companydessert, $

Just over a year old, NoRA Cupcake Company has already made a huge name for itself inMiddletown and the greater Connecticut area. With deliciously elaborate cupcake flavors ranging from PB&J to Strawberry Peach Lemonade to Mexican Wedding Cake, the NoRA store (located next to O’Rourke’s on the North End) is a fun place to snag the perfect dessert. Even if you don’t make it to the store, you’re sure to encounter “Lil’ NoRA,” the company’s decked-out cupcake truck, parked on William Street on weekend nights. You can even vote for the truck’s weekly flavor selections. Nothing like some good cupcake democracy.

Check out their Facebook page to see what’s on the menu for the day/start drooling in advance.

Tandoor: Indian style, $$

Tandoor provides quality Indian food at reasonable prices. You can order takeout or delivery by phone or online, which is super convenient. I’d also recommend going there for a sit-down meal, though; the restaurant itself offers good service and a fairly quiet and peaceful atmosphere. I’ve only been there for dinner, but apparently their lunch buffet is pretty good, too.

Froyo World: dessert, $

Froyo World has been open for just under a year, but it’s already been a huge hit among Wesleyan students and in the Middletown community. It’s everything you could ask for in a self-serve frozen yogurt joint: lots of flavors (I’ve enjoyed their s’mores, samoa, and salted caramel varieties), endless toppings (they have a whole dispenser of Lucky Charms marshmallows! And a Nutella gun, for crying out loud), and a large space to sit down and enjoy. My one warning is that their cups only come in two sizes: huge and huge-er. You will inevitably get too much yogurt. But you probably won’t regret it.

Typhoon: Thai style, $$

Typhoon caters a lot of small Wesleyan events and student-group functions, so you’ll probably be eating their food sometime in the near future, even if you don’t go to their restaurant on Main Street. Everything I’ve had from there has been really good; you certainly can’t go wrong with their Pad Thai. I’d recommend eating at the restaurant, too: it’s a huge space with lots of tables and a fairly laid-back atmosphere.

how-animals-eat-their-food-1-11481-1365613410-0_bigIt’s Only Natural Restaurantvegan, $$$

I’ve somehow never been to It’s Only Natural, a now 100% vegan restaurant on Main Street, but I’ve only heard good things about it. Its menu boasts an impressive selection of creative vegetarian dishes, using plenty of locally-sourced ingredients. It’s on the pricey side, but it’s an enticing alternative to your WesWings seitan burger or the Usdan vegan station. You should also check out the It’s Only Natural Market, a health food supermarket across the street from the restaurant’s new location.

Tibetan Kitchen: Himalayan/Nepalese, $$

Apparently people who live in the surrounding area have noted that Tibetan Kitchen is a good spot for “sightings of Wesleyan students.” And for good reason — the place is incredibly popular among us college-age whippersnappers and has proved since it opened in 2011 to be home to some of the best food on Main Street. Tibetan food is pretty hard to describe if you’ve never had it, and I’m not really going to try to do so. There are lots of curries, soups, spicy things, and a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan dishes, but honestly, just check it out yourself. They’re also cash-only, so stop by an ATM before you head out there.

[updated 8/11/2016, 8pm est by maya]

Udupi BhavanIndian/vegetarian, $$

Udupi Bhavan offers a fully vegetarian menu of food from the Udupi region of India. Located at 749 Saybrook Road, it’s about a 10-minute drive from campus. I keep hearing great things about this place, but I’ve never been there myself. A quick scan of the menu revealed a lot of delicious-looking options for reasonable prices, but if anyone wants to elaborate more than I can on the restaurant itself, by all means do so in the comments.

Javapalooza Sweet Harmony Café and Bakerycoffee shop, $$

Javapalooza is dead. Long live Sweet Harmony. Javapalooza, like Klekelo, was where you went for coffee that’s not whatever Pi Cafe is serving. Now, replaced by a relocated local bakery and café, the now-Sweet Harmony seems to do just about the same thing, except without many drinks and with lots and lots of food. beccahope and I were dismayed when we found out about the change, because Javapalooza was damn good. It was one of my favorite places in town to chill and maybe get some work done, because the couches were comfortable and the background music playlist was top notch. Sweet Harmony is only just getting off the ground, so I haven’t been there yet, but they have an extensive menu of sandwiches, salads, and obviously desserts and baked goods. As long as they keep their music the same, it’s probably still worth checking out.

La BocaMexican style, $$

Middletown is filled with delicious places to get your fill. La Boca is one of the more popular restaurants, and rightfully so: the more Americanized Mexican food is good, and the ambiance too. Their lunch specialties are killer, and although their dinner options are a little more pricey, the selection is not to be scoffed at, and apparently their burritos are quite filling. And don’t forget the wide assortment of drinks.They changed to a nice new location on Main Street, with more space for activities like in-house music performances. As a bonus, La Boca regularly hosts fun events during the week, such as open mike nights and Trivia Tuesday on (you guessed it) Tuesday nights.

stock-footage-squirrel-eating-breadIguanas Ranas: Mexican, $

Let’s break it down: Really, really delicious and really, really authentic Mexican food. Iguanas is another hole-in-the-wall eatery, an informal taqueria, smaller and a lot different from La Boca, which some would count as more mainstream fare. Iguanas Ranas has the real deal, and it’s pretty cheap too: all kinds of tacos imaginable, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), burritos, you name it, mostly without any frills. But you can also order specials loaded with all sorts of creative (read: awesome) sauces.

Thai Gardens: Thai, $$

One of the most popular Thai restaurants in Middletown, Thai Garden has affordable prices, a kick-ass Pad Thai, and (reportedly) a free Thai iced-tea drink if you present a WesID. Middletown Cash is accepted here, so use your card for this instead of laundry, which is really less fun than panang curry.

Haveli India: Indian, $$

Haveli is probably one of the best restaurants in Middletown, and has one of the best reputation among students. Good Indian food is necessary for many of us to even make it through the semester, and Haveli is pretty well priced, which makes it the go-to catering option for a lot of events at Wesleyan. Haveli is a sit-down Indian restaurant about a ten-minute drive from campus down South Main St. The restaurant itself is a very warm and cozy set of dining rooms in an old little inn right on the road. They also serve a lunch buffet matching their dinner for quality, which is saying a lot. You can look at about $15 or $20 dollars per person all told, depending how many you bring along with you (protip for amateur group eaters: the more people you bring, the less it costs, and a good way of ordering Indian is ordering one less dish than you have in your party). Don’t worry about being hungry: it’s lot of food and almost no one finishes their plate. Don’t forget to order naan.

Mondo’s PizzaGourmet pizza, $$$

Mondo’s is a short walk away from campus and a good use of your time and Middletown cash. When you’re tired of ordering Dominos pizza, Mondo’s has the more gourmet alternative— which also means it’s sort of pricey. Bring a few friends along, however, and it’s totally worth it: I recommend splitting a few of the smaller pizzas, mixing up between the Mondo Bianco (white sauce pizza with spinach or broccoli covered with ricotta & mozzarella, garlic and fresh basil) and something of your own creation (sun dried tomato tastes good on everything). I have friends who like their paninis and pastas, but I go there to get my pizza on. If you have a large party, you might want to reserve a table because they often get pretty busy.

funny-animals-eating-17-e1301675270439Neon DeliDeli, $

Neon Deli is not technically part of Wesleyan University, but it’s practically an institution, and most likely the most-frequented non-Wes non-mobile food option. Located at the corner of Cross and Vine streets (across from Freeman Athletic Center, practically on campus) and offers great subs/sandwiches and a fair array of grocery-type items. Pro tip: Lobster roll. Even if you’re not eating in (seating is limited and it’s not exactly a dining atmosphere), a lot of people come here to get cooking supplies they can’t get/don’t want to pay for at WesShop. The building in which the deli resides is owned by Wesleyan (the abandoned store to the right used to be Club Liquors but closed a several years ago). The university had planned to turn the whole building into an expanded WeShop, but it seems those plans have been shelved for the time being. Some Neon Deli history, courtesy of The Argus. (2013: After a bunch of debate and Wesleyan community outcry, the WSA has withdrawn its proposed tobacco ban resolution, which would ban the sale of tobacco on Wesleyan-owned property, mainly Neon Deli. The Deli is the closest place for students to get cigarettes, and a poll sent out the student body came back with 64% in favor of dropping the ban. If you smoke, you’re welcome. Read more in this Argus article.)

Mikado: Japanese, $$$

Mikado is an underground but upscale place just off of Main Street near Exit 16 (the door is in the back of the buildings on Main Street) that offers an extensive variety of sushi and other Japanese food like udon, soba, and tempura. The booths are pretty comfortable and good for larger parties, but this is not exactly a regular destination for an easy meal. While everything is high quality and well done, the prices are a little prohibitive on a college budget. Maybe a nice place for a date, a fancy birthday celebration, or to make your parents take you out on Homecoming weekend.

AmiciItalian style, $$$

Just like Luce, Amici offers nice Italian food for a slightly lower price without as strict of a dress code. You’ve got your salads, your paninis, chicken and veal dishes, steaks, a good selection of seafood, and pasta pasta pasta out the wazoo. Amici is located on Main St near the Police Station and the other dozen restaurants in that area. According to my sources, Amici’s bread basket is to die for.

: American, $$

The artist formerly known as the Nest, more formerly known as Cardinal’s Nest, is now Vines on Church. Located right next to Junior Village on Church street, it gets pretty busy on Wednesday Bar Nights. On any other night though (or during the day for lunch) it’s not too crowded, and apparently a fun place to grab some grub. With pretty reasonable prices, Vines on Church keeps a simple yet varied menu, including sandwiches, wings, pizzas, salads, etc. Your typical American restaurant, really, which is nice to have around. And for when it’s nice outside, there’s a pretty chill patio to eat on, as well as chill bar to grab a beer at if you’re 21+.

Eli Cannon’s Tap Room: Restaurant-bar, $$$

I’ve got to leave this to gabzalot to explain: “For those of you over 21 (especially those who love beer, but even for those who don’t), this place is yet another must. Located at the end of the downtown area, it’s a slight walk away from campus, but well worth the trip. Throughout the year, this place rotates through dozens of different ales in order to always have the 36 freshest ones available to you, many of which you have probably never heard of. Their extensive and ever-changing tap menu tells you where each beer is from and what style it is to help you out. And if you’re still unsure of what (or how) to pick a beer, just ask a waiter and they’ll hook you up with something really good. And what really makes the place is the fabulous indoor decor and the back outdoor patio, so be sure to check both the inside and the outside out. It’s this sort of place that makes being 21 really worth your while…”

 

That’s about the North and South of it, folks. You have four years to explore all of Middletown’s diverse and really quite wonderful, locally-owned restaurants, and there are plenty that even we haven’t covered. Feel free to help add to our list, but this should start you off pretty nicely. Happy eating!

[8/11/2016, 8:40pm: The first version of this post included restaurants that are now out of business, and this guide has been edited to remove businesses no longer open and to add other popular options (Brew Bakers, Tibetan Kitchen, Café 56, Hachi).]

  • Copy Editor

    Lizzy B’s is also no more, but there’s a second froyo place basically across the street from the other one. Also Brew Bakers is great for breakfast/lunch, and Tibetan Kitchen is clutch

  • Foodie

    Anoho and Osaka have been closed for ages and replaced by other restaurants.