Where to Eat in Burlington
For such a small city, Burlington is blessed with a lot of great restaurants, almost all of which are locally-owned and operated and many of which are part of the Vermont Fresh Network (meaning they use locally-sourced meat, cheese, bread, produce, etc.). Many of them offer full dining at the bar, but don’t hesitate to ask for a table for one.
Here is a list of some of my favorite restaurants in the area, both downtown Burlington and within a car, cab or bus ride away. I haven’t mentioned chains unless they don’t really feel like chains. If you’re looking for the comfort of a familiar chain restaurant, you’ll have to head out of town toward Williston or down Shelburne Road for those.
Farmhouse Tap and Grill: Located on Bank Street, just off Church. I remember when this place used to be the diviest McDonalds ever. What a transformation! It now offers really excellent locally-sourced foods. If you want to try a restaurant that really provides a “Vermont vibe” and is also located downtown, this is a great choice. There’s patio dining during summer months. There’s also a bar/lounge located down in the basement. It’s very dark down there.
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 bar seating for solos. Because it’s located on Church Street, it gets crowded at times. But it’s definitely a solid dining option if you’re dining downtown.
The Daily Planet: 15 Center Street. Blink and you’ll miss Center Street, which is only one block long, linking College and Bank Streets, one street down from South Winooski. Even if you don’t eat here, you at least have to walk past the building; there’s a fun mural on the side of the building. The food is good. There is a sizable bar if you’d prefer to dine there. Lots of locals hang out here, and it’s a magnet for artsy types.
Windjammer/Upper Deck Pub: Located at the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center: Williston Road, South Burlington. The Windjammer (downstairs) is the more formal restaurant, and it does not have bar seating. However, its upstairs Pub (The Upper Deck Pub) does. The Upper Deck Pub is a great spot to watch a game if you like sports. The main reason I love both of these places, though, is the salad bar. It is terrific.
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 plenty of counter seating here, so it’s very solo-friendly, and the prices are good, given the degree of creativity they show in their food offerings and the portions.
A Single Pebble: Best Asian restaurant in town. Located on Bank Street. They do offer a full menu at the bar. While part of the fun of dining here with friends is sharing plates, you can also get a dinner for one easily enough.
Tiny Thai: For outstanding Thai food, head into Winooski. This restaurant is right on the Main Street going through town. I love their ginger chicken.
India House: 207 Colchester Ave. 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 at excellent prices. Service is quick. I have eaten here many times and never had a bad meal. They make great naan bread.
Mirabelles: 198 Main Street. They serve up a good breakfast and great sandwiches for a light and tasty lunch. Their pastries and desserts are the best. This is a very busy little cafe, great for people-watching.
August First: Located in a renovated garage space on South Champlain Street, just off Main. They serve breakfast and lunch, pastries, sandwiches, and coffee. Everything is made from scratch. This is a locals favorite. Be forewarned, though, they implemented a “screen free” policy here this year: No wifi is available, and laptops and tablets are not allowed.
Red Onion: Church Street. This is more of a deli and sandwich shop than a bakery, but close enough. The Red Onion is known for their great sandwiches on thickly sliced homemade bread.
Leunig’s 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’ve never had a bad meal here. It gets very busy at night.
Coffee and Tea
Sometimes, there’s a fine line between “coffee shop” and “bakery cafe”. Some people might categorize New Moon, for instance, as more of a bakery cafe, but I primarily think of it as a coffee shop that happens to offer food items. You say potayto, I say potahto.
Muddy Waters at 184 Main Street, is 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, intellectuals, and college students. It is essentially 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.
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, as well as sidewalk tables out front in the summer 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.
New Moon Cafe, located at 150 Cherry Street, is another great cafe downtown. 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.). It’s closed on Saturdays.
Dobra Tea: For those of you who prefer tea over coffee, this tearoom is located at 80 Church Street (though the entrance is on Bank Street). It feels local, but Dobra actually has six locations around the U.S. They offer a large variety of teas from around the world. But their food is locally sourced–which is a bit surprising, since so many of their menu items are Middle-Eastern. Definitely a nice change of pace from the usual coffee shop experience.
Bluebird Coffee Stop: If you just want a great cup of joe to go, try the Bluebird Coffee Stop on Church Street.
I’m not sure you can really call this “French” food, even though it’s crepe-based. More like Vermont-French fusion? Hey, many of us are of French Canadian descent, so it makes sense.
The Skinny Pancake: 60 Lake Street. For a fantastic, inexpensive breakfast, lunch or dinner, try this creperie. They make savory crepes as well as sweet crepes and the portion sizes are HUGE. They also offer a full bar. 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 and the bar. You can ask them to substitute a vegan batter or gluten-free batter for their regular batter. Make sure you have plenty of time when you eat here, though, as service can be very slow. If you fly into and out of the Burlington International Airport, the Skinny Pancake has outlets there now in both terminals.
Hen of the Wood: Located at Hotel Vermont on Cherry Street. I haven’t eaten here myself yet, but I hear great things about it. I normally don’t recommend places I haven’t personally tried, but I didn’t want you to think we have no fine dining restaurants in Burlington.
Leunig’s (see Bistro, above)
Papa Frank’s – 13 W. Center St., Winooski. For downhome Italian cooking like papa used to make (assuming your papa was Italian), Papa Frank’s is the place to go. It’s a small, cozy space, very down-to-earth and friendly. Good food at great prices.
Trattoria D’Elia – 152 St. Paul Street. I’ve only ever had dessert here and that was pretty good. This restaurant is in a nice, cozy space with decent bar seating.
Pulcinella’s – 100 Dorset St., South Burlington (next to Small Dog Electronics). I love the sunny space of this restaurant, with its huge front windows–especially in the winter time. Open for lunch and dinner. If you prefer to dine at the bar, theirs is a good sized one. I’ve only eaten here once, but I found the food to be very good.
El Gato Cantina: Located on lower Church Street. El Gato has the best Mexican food in town, as far as I’m concerned. Not only that, but they make excellent margaritas. Bartop dining is available. It’s located right around the corner from the Flynn Center, so if you want dinner before a show, this is a great place to get it.
Mexicali: This is a very casual, family-friendly Mexican restaurant located at Maple Tree Place in Williston. (It’s a great spot for a meal before or after a movie at the Majestic 10.) There’s bar seating if you’d rather join some others, and plenty of tables. The food is good and very reasonably-priced.
Madera’s: Located on Battery Street. This is also a good place for Mexican food. It also has large sunny windows looking out onto the street. They offer a limited menu of wheat-free options, too.
There are a lot of pizza places in the area (this is a college town, after all), but these three are my top picks (mainly because they offer some very creative pizzas beyond your typical “pepperoni” and “veggie”):
American Flatbread/Burlington Hearth: Located on St. Paul Street across from City Hall Park. They have a bar area serving a great variety of craft beers, too. As far as I was concerned, this was the only place I would go out to eat pizza for many years. Until these other two places came along:
Pizzeria Verita: Located a block away on lower St. Paul Street, this pizza restaurant has a smaller space, but equally excellent pizzas. They also have counter seating where you can watch the staff make the pizzas, which is kind of fun. The service here is very good, too.
The Vermont Tap House, Williston: This will require you to drive out of town (or take a bus or cab), but believe me, it’s worth it. Whenever I’m in the mood for dinner and a movie, I head to the Majestic 10 Theater at Maple Tree Place and then come here for some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Try the Vermonter; it’s amazing. They also have a huge beer menu.
Pubs and Taverns
Vermont Pub & Brewery: Located on the corner of College and St. Paul Streets. This is one of my favorite restaurants for a casual meal out. The food is good, prices are inexpensive, 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 twotop tables in front of windows and patio seating when the weather is nice. If you like microbrews, you should definitely check this place out. I’m not typically a dark-colored beer fan, but the Red Burly Irish Ale is fantastic. You can’t go wrong with their Angus burger and sweet potato fries.
Bluebird Tavern: 86 St. Paul Street. Bluebird is a very well-regarded brand of restaurants and cafes in town (they have a BBQ place on Riverside Ave, and coffee stops at the Innovation Center on Lakeside Ave and on Church Street in addition to this tavern). The food quality is above average, and so are the prices. If it weren’t for the “Tavern” in the name, I just would have categorized this as American. Side note: The “coffee stop” at the Innovation Center is more of a lunch stop than just a coffee place. Their muffalettas are fantastic.
RiRa Irish Pub & Restaurant: 123 Church Street. RiRa is a small chain with similar pubs in Providence, RI; Portland, ME and Las Vegas, NV, among other cities. But it fits so naturally into the Burlington landscape, 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). If you’re in the mood for Irish fare, like Shepherd’s Pie, they’ve got it here. They often have live Irish music, which can be fun. There is outdoor dining in the summer months on Church Street, which is great for people-watching. Lots and lots of bar space for solos.
The Guild Tavern: If you’re looking for a quality steakhouse experience, head out to 1633 Williston Road to the Guild. You can smell the wood fire from a block away. I’ve been here a couple of times, though I’ve never had an actual steak here, because well, steaks in actual steakhouses tend to be pretty pricey, and I’m pretty frugal. But both my meals, composed of less expensive menu items, were very good. They make their drinks good and strong here, too. It’s a lovely space and you can dine at the bar if you’d prefer.
The Scuffer Steak and Ale House: 148 Church Street. A good restaurant for red meat eaters with reasonable prices and a large variety of draft beers. Patio seating is available on Church Street during summer months, and bartop dining is available all year long.
You can find vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free items on many restaurant menus around town. But when I feel like eating a meatless meal, here’s where I go:
Zabby & Elf’s 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: This is another health food store, located at 222 Dorset Street next to Trader Joe’s and across the street from the University Mall. They have a fantastic deli/buffet, with lots of onsite table seating. Great food at reasonable prices.
One Final Note. . . .
Just because a restaurant doesn’t show up here, doesn’t mean it’s not good. If I want to keep traveling, I can’t afford to eat out all the time, so I haven’t tried every restaurant in the area, you know? But I’ve heard Pine Street is becoming the hottest new dining neighborhood, so you might want to do some research on restaurants (and breweries) on the South End of Burlington before finalizing your dining plans.