American

New Haven: Lots of Grilled Cheese, Lots of Pizza & Some Other Stuff Too

June 11, 2015

Every week we'll be asking you to come with us to some of our favorite small towns and cities—and we'll show you the places, secret spots, and nooks we love. 

Today: If you're visiting New Haven, you likely won't have papers to write or exams to study for—and that means you can take advantage of all the charming places, Gothic-style buildings, and cheese.

For the sake of being honest with myself—and for fear that my college friends will call my fib in the comments—I must admit that I spent 90% of my four years in New Haven in the library.

But, if I could go back and do it again, I'd spend less time poring over Spenser and more time on a picnic blanket with a pizza; I'd spend less time running awkwardly between classes, my 50-pound backpack flopping up and down behind me, and more time scurrying to the top of East Rock to catch views of the city at sunset; and I'd spend less money on espresso and more on eating out. 

Lucky for you, if you're visiting New Haven, you likely won't have pressing paper deadlines or looming exams, and that means you can take advantage of all the charming streets, Gothic-style buildings, and ways to eat cheese. These are the New Haven coffee shops, restaurants, parks, and markets—mostly within walking/biking distance of Yale's campus—that I miss the most and that I hope you visit. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below!

If you need caffeine, a muffin, and/or a good book:

  • Blue State Coffee: If you’d like a seat at Blue State on York Street or Wall Street, you’ll have to get in line for your latte early—really early. During the academic year, these centrally-located campus hubs are packed with students who use the cafés as library offshoots. Get the chaider (chai plus apple cider) in the fall and a grilled cheese with tomato in the summer. Or, get a face-sized chocolate chip cookie, grab a seat, and take in the frantic energy. 

  
Chaider from Blue State Coffee and Cheese Truck grilled cheese with tomato soup (photos courtesty of Rebecca Levinsky via Instagram)

  • Koffee?: If Blue State is mainstream pop music, Koffee? is the grunge scene. Farther from campus, it’s a quieter space decorated with local artwork and photography. Their menu includes the rarely-ordered “747” (7 shots of espresso, 4 shots of cream, 7 teaspoons of sugar, and a liability waiver). I opt for the muffins (which come in regular size, as well as mini and micro) and a coffee. Come back after 5 P.M. when Koffee? serves wine and alcohol.

  • The Book Trader Café: Browse the selection of used books, then order a sandwich with a literary name: My favorite is the Tempesto, but you might opt for the Sense & SensiBLT or Melville’s Tuna F’ish-mael. Insider tip: Ask for your sandwich to be grilled (it's not advertised on the menu).

  • Atticus: Skip the $1 coffee and focus on the shiny, beautiful books, letter-pressed cards, and small gifts like stationary and fancy teas. The hummus is exceptional—grab a container and a loaf of bread to go. Cross Chapel Street and have an impromptu picnic near the art museum. You can also sit down at the café, but be warned that the service can be slow.

If you need a quick, cheap bite to eat, or groceries:

  • The Caseus Cheese Truck: These sandwiches are so good that they inspired our very own mrslarkin to come up with a copycat recipe. Say yes when they offer you cornichons and grainy mustard on the side. If you fall in love with a certain sandwich combination, maybe you’re ready for the Cheese Truck Challenge: Create a sandwich, order ten, and eat them all within one hour. Not only will you eat for free, but you'll also get to name the sandwich. If you lose, you must pay in full. 


Mrslarkin's Ode to the Caseus Cheese Truck (photo by Joey De Leo)

  • For such a small city, New Haven has a disproportionate amount of good food trucks. On weekdays, they congregate on Science Hill (Prospect Street north of Grove Street) and near Yale-New Haven Hospital. Try Ay! Arepa for arepas, burritos, and quesadillas, Fryborg for hand-cut French fries, and Jasmine Thai Cart for pad thai. 

  • Seek out fresh produce at Wooster Square Farmers Market, where there is live music on most summer Saturdays (fun fact: our very own Kenzi Wilbur used to organize and book this music). Arrive hungry: The Cheese Truck is known to park nearby and New Haven's most famous pizza restaurants (see below) are in walking distance. In the springtime, Wooster Square is abloom in cherry blossoms—the perfect spot for a picnic. 

  • Sababa and Tikkaway Grill are both inexpensive, make-your-own style restaurants, for falafel and Indian wraps respectively. I like to get a $4.79 falafel sandwich from Sababa and eat it while walking north on Whitney Avenue towards East Rock. If you're craving falafel late at night (maybe after Toad's?), don't worry: Mamoun's is open until 3 A.M. 

  • Claire's Corner Copia: Some people love this vegetarian institution that's been serving New Haven since 1975, and some people don't. I am one of the lovers. I broke Passover my senior year of college with a Claire's pizza bagel, and I still ask my New Haven friends to bring the mini bread loaves that come with soups and salads to New York. If you're only going to order one thing, get the Lithuanian coffee cake with extra frosting. I'm convinced that no one graduates from Yale without having at least two slices of this cake.


Extra icing on my "Claire's cake," please! (Photo couresty of Elizabeth Eats)

  • Ashley's Ice Cream: New Haven has a lot of frozen yogurt places, but skip that and head straight for the ice cream. I like to get one scoop of Nutella Chip and one of Coffee Oreo. If you're with a big group, get the "Downside Watson": 7 scoops of ice cream and 9 toppings, served in a frisbee.

  • Pick up a half-dozen square donuts from Orangeside Luncheonette. I repeat: square donuts. 

If you're willing to wait in line or spend a little money:

  • PIZZA! I would argue that New Haven pizza (which, according to Wikipedia, is known is pronounced "a-BEETS!"—use that information at your own risk), with its charred and chewy crust, is the best pizza in the United States. I like Modern Apizza, which is a bit off-the-beaten-path compared to Pepe's and Sally's (both located on Wooster Street, near the farmers market). Go to Modern at off-hours (or on a weeknight) and you just might get a table without waiting.

    If you have a car, drive to Zuppardi's in West Haven. It's where I ate my first slice of white clam pizza and with it, my first piece of seafood. For less traditional, but still delicious, pizza, try Kitchen Zinc or BAR (where you should get one topped with mashed potatoes and a pitcher of Toasted Blonde beer). 

Mrslarkin was also inspired to recreate Pepe's famous White Clam Pizza (photo by James Ransom) 

  • Miya's Sushi: Devotees flock to take advantage of Miya's late-night specials of their consciously wacky sushi rolls. Night owls, arrive for specials between 10 P.M. and midnight on Thursday through Saturday, and 9 P.M. to 10 P.M., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday.
     
  • Caseus: The same people who run the Cheese Truck also operate Caseus Fromagerie and Bistro, where you can pick up smelly cheeses and olive oils, charcuterie, and spices before sitting down to eat in the cavernous restaurant. The grilled cheese is bigger and badder than the mobile rendition; one sandwich is made with an entire 1/2 pound of cheese. 

  • If you're staying downtown and willing to walk (or drive) to brunch, commit to The Pantry in the East Rock neighborhood or Lena's, located in Westville. You're likely to wait in line at both, but the cinnamon roll pancakes and hashbrowns (at The Pantry) and the omelettes (at Lena's) are worth it.

  
The Pantry's blueberry pancakes; Beinecke Rare Books Library

If/when you need a drink:

  • Ordinary: Small and wood-paneled, this is a romantic spot for an after-dinner drink. Order some cheese (it's from Caseus), a warm, salt-flecked chocolate chip cookie, and a bottle of wine. 

  • Rudy's: Former New Haven resident Kenzi Wilbur says, "For beer and burgers, belly up to the bar and drop 'Old Rudy's' into a sentence; you'll be treated like a local." Insider tip: Rudy's also serves one of the best brunches in New Haven.

  • 116 Crown: With mod booths and a huge cocktail menu, this bar would be right at home in a much larger city. Don't skip out on the food, either. 

If you brought your walking shoes and need some fresh air:

  • Yale Campus: Walk through Old Campus, where freshmen live, and peek inside the newly-renovated Sterling Memorial Library. Don't miss the free (!) museums: Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Center for British Art (temporarily closed until spring 2016), and the Beinecke Rare Book Library. If you can, get an undergraduate to let you into the Branford courtyard (the fictional home to Rory Gilmore of "Gilmore Girls" fame). 

  
Sterling Memorial Library (image courtesy of intexp7 via Flickr); Beinecke (image couresty of Lauren Manning via Flickr) 

  • East Rock Park: This is my favorite place in New Haven. Walk north on Orange Street past lovely blocks of Victorian-style houses and stop by Nica's Market for a pressed sandwich. In a couple of miles, you'll reach a sharp rock face. You can either walk alongside a stream for something more leisurely, hike up a steep path to get to the top, or follow a meandering road to the peak. If you do reach the top, take in the views while having a picnic. 


View of Hamden, CT from East Rock Park (image courtesy of chrissam42 via Flickr)

  • In the East Rock area, you'll also find the smaller Edgerton Park. Get there by walking down St. Ronan's Street, where you'll admire some of the grandest houses in New Haven. You can also walk up Prospect Street, which will take you past Yale's science buildings, the Divinity School (which looks like it belongs at the campus of Yale's not-to-be-named rival), and the college greenhouses.


Lighthouse Point Park (image courest of versageek via Flickr) 

What are your favorite spots in New Haven? Share with us in the comments below!

28 Comments

John K. November 5, 2017
Supreme Eatery, is among the brightest of New Haven's hidden jewel food hotspots. Supreme Eatery is the home of the "Come Back"... so named, 'cause you will 'come back' and order it again. This featured sandwich sports a generous portion of perfectly crisp fried and savory whiting fish that sprawls between Supreme Eatery's toasted signature in-house baked whole wheat sub rolls, with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and finished with that famous "Come Back" sauce. As fish sandwiches go... this is a marvel. Supreme Eatery is an open kitchen concept with a sunshine spirit you feel from the staff. <br />Although Supreme Eatery is a stone throw from Yale's Payne Whitney Gym, they do deliver. Go there and pick up a menu and see the hummingbird paintings on the walls of this sparkling neighborhood take-out eatery that hosts a vibration that brings you back for more.
 
Steve S. July 15, 2016
How can you leave out Louie's Lunch (home of the original hamburger sandwich), or Jimmies of Savin Rock in West Haven for lobster roll and fried clams (with the bellies is the only way). Unfortunately, it's a long commute from the left coast.
 
Lolly August 11, 2015
We discovered the most wonderful French toast in the world at Bella's in Westville 12 years ago when our granddaughter was born and we have been going there regularly ever since. Whenever we come to New Haven to visit the grandchildren, we first see them and then go to Bellas. It is a very small place, but it is worth the wait. They have this marvelous gourmet brunch menu, which I read and drool, and then I always order the French toast. I prefer the Italian bread version, but any French toast there is better than any French toast in any other restaurant. Our grandchildren each order the "full stack" (so they can take home the leftovers) one poached egg (they also make great poached eggs!) crispy bacon, and one little 8 year old grandson orders the fried potatoes as well. We used to go on our own, but now we need a table for 5 (not easy in a small place). Try Bella's for breakfast or lunch. It is amazing!
 
Mackenzie M. July 10, 2015
Is it normal that this list made me tear up? #feelings
 
Regan C. June 29, 2015
This travel section is honestly the best please, please always do it!
 
Kacee June 18, 2015
Love the piece but not sure how you missed New Haven's own Willoughby's Coffee & Tea. They are the original (and the best) on New Haven coffee roasters.
 
susan G. June 13, 2015
Thali Two (or II?) - reasonable, light, not the usual Indian restaurant.<br />And I see many more we haven't tried yet.<br />
 
ksull June 12, 2015
Thank you so much for recommending Zuppardi's of West Haven in your article. I grew up on it and it is worth the trip! You obviously know your "a-beets"!
 
Bevi June 12, 2015
Way back in the mid 70's, I bartended at The New England House on the north end of town, and at a jazz bar on State St called Erica's. The New England House had some of the best lobster bisque I have ever tasted, made daily by the chef. Those were the days of liquored up weekday lunches, with Manhattans and Martinis flowing before the clients returned to work. A few Yale professors showed up as well.
 
dymnyno June 12, 2015
OH MY! The only problem I have with this post is that New Haven is the home of YALE...we're a PRINCETON family!
 
kitkat June 12, 2015
eh, doesn't matter. :P
 
dymnyno June 12, 2015
It does if you're a Tiger!
 
jbban June 12, 2015
This is a great roundup!<br />I have to say my favourite New Haven pizza is at the Yale Farm.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 12, 2015
OH! How did I forget that? Thanks for the reminder!
 
Nozlee S. June 12, 2015
This makes me so happy -- I have worked as a Yale Farm pizzaiolo many times over the years!
 
katherin June 11, 2015
No, no, no, not Modern. DA LEGNA!! Right down the street. and *so* incredibly superior. Try the patate, clark street, rosemarino...or the true mark of a good pizza place, their margherita. (I would prefer a DaLegna pie to a Roberta's pie, just saying).
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 11, 2015
I have to try it!!! NOW!
 
Lauren June 11, 2015
New Haven is my favorite city for eating in Connecticut. I also spent my college years there, and enjoy living only an hour away now, so I can stop in frequently. Two weeks ago, I ate at Claire's for lunch and Miya's for dinner, which were both favs back in the day. Was disappointed by my meals, especially at Miya's, where I did a 16-course tasting dinner that included some food that was just plain awful (made my very sad). I'd like to add Ivy Noodle to the list, although it's now Ivy Wok (grr); the Owl Shop for killer coffee drinks (and cigars, obviously); Zaroka for Indian (the 1st place I ever ate Indian, on my 18th birthday, what a formative experience! Back then it was called Nirvana); and Libby's Italian Pastry Shop, for amazing post-Pepe's desserts/cappuccino.
 
mrslarkin June 11, 2015
Excellent round up of New Haven spots, Sarah. I feel like I should head back up just to see what else I could recreate at home.
 
TheDivaOnADiet June 11, 2015
Well done, Sarah! I grew up in Hamden and expected the typical New Haven article, mentioning only Pepe's and Sally's, but your leading with Modern is spot on. It was and still is my family's go to for pizza. My husband and I have been known to drive from NYC to CT of a Saturday morning, simply to eat at Modern. It's worth the trip! <br /><br />Your other suggestions are excellent as well. I'm passing this on to friends and family still in the area. Thanks!<br />
 
Lesley S. June 11, 2015
My husband and I were married in New Haven almost exactly 4 years ago (6/16). We had a sweet little elopement at the courthouse, delicious burgers at Louis' Lunch, and a nice walk around the park before heading into NYC to celebrate with friends. We've talked about going back and actually spending a night or two in New Haven (we wish we had thought to do this after our wedding - sharing a futon in a sweltering bedroom over a late night Chinese restaurant in Greenpoint while your host very sweetly sleeps on the floor isn't the most romantic way to spend your first night as husband and wife). Happy to have all these recommendations! Very interested in white clam pizza and the rare book library!
 
gandalf June 11, 2015
Wall Street Pizza. On Wall Street, of course.
 
Nozlee S. June 11, 2015
Ughhhh I visited New Haven literally two weekends ago and this is making me want to go back again already. Tempestos!!! Miya's!!! Arepas!!!
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 11, 2015
I cried while writing this.
 
Kenzi W. June 11, 2015
I cried a little while reading it.
 
kitkat June 11, 2015
I'd always order the tempesto at least an hour before I wanted to eat it in order to let the balsamic/pesto goodness get all mingled in with the bread and the mozz.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. June 11, 2015
Definitely a pro tip.
 
kitkat June 11, 2015
be still, my heart. ahh new haven pizza cravings!