Where to Eat in Burlington
Don’t just eat in your hotel when visiting Burlington. We are ridiculously blessed for such a small city to have some amazing cuisine, including a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, and most are locally-owned and operated. Like elsewhere in the U.S., most Vermont restaurants offer full dining at the bar, but as I’ve said before, don’t hesitate to ask for a table for one.
I have included a list below that is not comprehensive but provides a large selection of possible solo-friendly dining options for your visit. This includes restaurants in Burlington, VT as well as surrounding towns within easy driving distance. I won’t go into detail about the chain restaurants we have here, since you probably are familiar with them, but we have a Longhorn Steakhouse (Tafts Corner, Williston), a Chilis (Tafts Corner, Williston), The Outback Steakhouse (Dorset Street), Texas Roadhouse (Tafts Corner, Williston), Applebees (University Mall, Dorset Street), and an Olive Garden (Shelburne Road). There are also some fast-food restaurants around, and food vendors with carts on Church Street if you’re just looking for a quick bite on the go.
Vermont Pub & Brewery: This Burlington brewpub is located on the corner of College and St. Paul Streets. This is one of my favorite restaurants for a casual meal out. The prices are inexpensive, the menu looks like a little newspaper, and it’s got a very friendly, down-to-earth vibe. There are two bars (one outside the restaurant, facing the front windows, and one inside the restaurant); there are also twotop tables in front of windows and outside seating when the weather is nice. If you like microbrews, you should definitely check this place out. I’m not a beer connoisseur, but I have friends who are, and they generally order the Dogbite Bitter, the Red Burly Irish Ale, and the Grand Slam Baseball beer. The Pub offers a sampler of six tasting sizes of their microbrews. The food is very good pub fare, too. They have a 1/3 lb. angus burger that’s locally raised, pesticide-free, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free for just $4.95. Get it with a side of sweet potato fries or brewhouse fries, they’re the best! There are lots of good quality vegetarian options, such as the veggie mushroom philly, veggie burger, portabella mushroom sandwich, and vegetarian lasagna.
Sweetwaters: 120 Church Street (corner of Church and College Streets). This restaurant’s most consistent strength has always been its patio seating which becomes an atrium during colder months (so you’re still sitting in what little sunshine Vermont has in the winter). There’s also a really neat mural inside, that I can’t even begin to describe, and bar seating for solos. The food has sometimes been hit or miss over the years, but never so tragically bad that I wouldn’t go back there again. They hired a new chef a year or so ago and it shows. The food is much better than I remembered it. I have not been there in recent months, but the last time I was there, I had the Harvest Tortellini (tortellini tossed with toasted pinenuts, mushrooms, dried cranberries, sweet peppers, and spinach in a garlic-basil sauce), and it was terrific. This is always a very busy restaurant; allow plenty of time for your meal if you need to be somewhere afterwards.
Leunigs Bistro: 115 Church Street (corner of Church and College Streets). This is truly one of the loveliest little restaurants in downtown Burlington, and great for people-watching. It has a quaint, European feel to it that really transports you, temporarily, out of Burlington to say, Paris or Quebec City. I have been fortunate enough to have eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner here and have not had one bad meal. If I had to choose only one meal here, it would be breakfast. By Vermont standards, it is on the pricey side, with only 2 dinner entrees costing less than $20, and it’s fancy food, so if you’re a basic meat-and-potatoes type, this probably is not the restaurant for you. There is a small bar for solo diners, and plenty of two-top tables with window views of either Church or College Streets. There is also sidewalk dining in the summer months. They have live jazz every Tuesday through Thursday night from 7-10pm.
Miguels on Main: In my opinion, this is the best Mexican restaurant in Burlington, VT. Located on the corner of Main and Battery Streets, they have outdoor seating during the warmer months. See my full review here.
Windjammer (downstairs) at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center: Williston Road, South Burlington. The Windjammer does not have bar seating, though its upstairs Pub (The Upper Deck Pub) does. However, I am not recommending the Upper Deck Pub, because it has always felt very uncomfortable to me as a solo. I’m not sure why, I just haven’t found the staff or other diners to be very friendly. However, I love eating at the Windjammer, which has one of the best salad bars in the area. So I can definitely recommend that. Just ask your server for a booth.
The Daily Planet: 15 Center Street. I love this building, it has such a fun design. Even if you don’t eat here, you at least have to walk past the building. It’s located on Center Street, a tiny street linking College and Bank Streets, one street down from South Winooski Ave. There is sidewalk dining here, and a solarium, as well as a sizeable bar. Lots of locals hang out here, especially in the bar area. It’s a magnet for artsy types.
Penny Cluse Cafe: 169 Cherry Street. This is by far the most popular breakfast spot in Burlington (especially with college students), so don’t be surprised if there’s a line out the door and down the sidewalk. Seriously. The biggest negative about this place is the long wait time, especially on weekends. There is counter seating here, so it’s very solo-friendly, and the prices are quite good, given the degree of creativity they show in their food offerings. That very creativity is why I should love their food, and yet, I have to admit, I am probably the only person in town who doesn’t. I have yet to try anything there for breakfast that I like, including their coffee. I mean, they cook with tons of vegetables, tofu, black beans, you name it, what’s not to love? I believe in everything they stand for. And yet….the taste just doesn’t do it for me. Go figure. I’m an anomaly. Everyone else loves them. You probably will, too. Give them a try.
Three Tomatoes Trattoria: 2 locations: 83 Church Street, Burlington and Maple Tree Place, Williston. They offer over 30 wines by the glass (at least at the Burlington location). Booth and bar seating available in Williston. Bar seating and sidewalk dining in the summer months in Burlington. I haven’t eaten here in awhile, but it’s good Italian food. I’ve always liked it. Others must as well, or they wouldn’t have been able to expand to two locations.
The Skinny Pancake: 60 Lake Street. (They also have a cart on Church Street.) For a fantastic, inexpensive dinner, try this creperie. They make savory crepes as well as sweet crepes and the portion sizes are HUGE. I had dinner here the other night for about $8 and couldn’t finish my crepe. When the weather is nice, grab one of their outdoor tables and soak up a little sunshine. There are plenty of two-top tables in the restaurant itself. You can ask them to substitute a vegan batter or gluten-free batter for their regular batter. Check out their menu on their website, and if that doesn’t convince you to give them a try, I don’t know what will. Make sure you have plenty of time when you eat here, though, as service tends to be slow. Very slow.
India House: 207 Colchester Ave. 802-862-7800 (no website). There is no counter seating here, but plenty of two-top tables. I’ve only ever eaten here at lunch during the week, and it’s never full. I would not be uncomfortable eating here alone at that time. The busier it is, the more I might feel like the “odd woman out”. Your mileage may vary. This is fantastic Indian food. I have eaten here many times and never had a bad meal. There are plenty of vegetarian options, and lunch prices are very inexpensive. My favorite dish is the Shahi Paneer. (There is another good Indian restaurant in Burlington, Shalimar of India, located at 16 N. Winooski Ave., but I have not been in the restaurant itself, so I can’t say if it’s solo-friendly or not. It is certainly much more convenient to downtown than India House, which is past Fletcher Allen Health Care on the hill.)
Mirabelles: 198 Main Street. They make great sandwiches for a simple, yet satisfying lunch. They also serve breakfast, but I haven’t tried it. Their pastries and desserts are the best. This is a very busy little restaurant.
New World Tortilla: 2 locations: 696 Pine Street (between Lakeside and Flynn Avenues) and the Davis Center on the UVM Campus. Very good Mexican-fusion food. The Thai Chicken rice plate is fantastic. Very inexpensive, good food. They have their own mini-bakery and make all of their own tortillas (in seven different flavors) from scratch. Diners can watch the tortilla-making process in action every day from 8am to 2pm. See website for more details.
Rira Irish Pub & Restaurant: 123 Church Street. Okay, so this isn’t a home-grown restaurant. It’s part of a small chain with similar pubs in Providence, RI; Portland, ME; Bethesda, MD; Atlantic City, NJ; Arlington, VA; Charlotte, NC; and Evansville, IN. But it fits so naturally into the Burlington landscape, that it really doesn’t feel like a chain. The Burlington location is in the former Merchants Bank building (I have lived in Burlington long enough to remember going in there when it was a bank). Happy hour food and drinks are cheap. Otherwise, the food is okay, nothing to write home about. I have eaten at the bar alone and was fairly comfortable; the bartender was friendly. They often have live Irish music, which can be fun. There is also outdoor dining in the summer months on Church Street; great for people-watching.
Stone Soup: This casual little cafeteria-style restaurant at 211 College Street is very popular with the locals. It has a menu that changes daily. They bake all their own bread and pastries, and include vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free offerings. The staff is very friendly, and it’s just a great example of what Burlington is all about.
City Market: 82 South Winooski Ave. This grocery store/health food store is run by the Onion River Co-op. It has a deli and buffet with great salads and hot foods for takeout or to eat on site. Table seating is somewhat limited. But the food is very healthy, inexpensive, and very, very good. It’s one of my favorite lunch spots. As is…..
Healthy Living: 222 Dorset Street. This is another health food store, bigger and better than ever in its new Dorset Street location (site of a former car dealership). They have a fantastic deli/buffet, with lots of onsite table seating. Great food at reasonable prices.
Trader Duke’s: Williston Road, South Burlington (at the Doubletree Hotel). Counter seating available. I recommend breakfast or lunch here. The food is good, nothing fancy.
Junior’s Italian: Full service bar, patio dining, lots of two-tops. Very, very popular Italian restaurant. Good food, friendly staff, good prices. Not a lot in the way of vegetarian offerings, but some. I recommend making reservations. More information available at the website.
There IS a Starbucks on Church Street, and sure, you’ll know what to expect there. But you can have Starbucks anywhere. Do yourself a favor and grab a coffee somewhere else. My favorite downtown coffee shops are: 1) Uncommon Grounds at 42 Church Street. There are some nice counter seats in the front window for people-watching or just reading the paper in the sunshine (or at least daylight), as well as sidewalk tables out front and plenty of two-tops. This place can get crowded at times, and the atmosphere is a little “Anytown, USA,” but their coffee is the BEST. The huge coffee roaster sits in a place of honor right at the front of the shop. 2) New Moon Cafe, located at 150 Cherry Street, is a new coffee shop and already one of my favorites after my first visit. This is the most spacious coffee shop I’ve been to in town, with comfy couches, lots of two-top tables, a huge window that allows lots of light in as well as opportunity for people-watching, and in addition to great coffee products, they serve reasonably priced food (sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries, etc.) as well. They are members of the Vermont Fresh Network, buying as many locally-produced foods as possible. So be sure to grab lunch here while you’re savoring a cup of java. 3) Muddy Waters at 184 Main Street, a down-to-earth, cozy space that vaguely reminds me of having coffee in a friend’s living room. It is extremely popular with hippies, artsy types, and intellectuals. It is the anti-Starbucks. They serve coffee, pastries, teas, vegetable juices, cider, and more. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough tables here and so it’s often hard to get a seat.
Disclaimer: If you know of a restaurant in Burlington that doesn’t appear on this page, it might be an honest oversight on my part, or it might be me practicing what I was always taught as a child: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” More likely is that I consider the restaurant more appropriate for couples and/or families and groups than solos. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about this.
For more reviews of Burlington, VT restaurants, check out this restaurant review site called 7 Nights.