The Best Places to Eat in Burlington
Where hyper-local cuisine is a way of life.
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Burlington is the biggest little city in the Green Mountain State, and it thrives on the farmers, makers, and food producers that often make Vermont feel like its own tiny country. Most locally produced (and sometimes nationally coveted) culinary gems rarely make it beyond state borders. Many don’t even make it into the next county.
While acclaimed restaurants across the US import the state’s farmstead cheese, vividly yellow butter, and barrel-aged cider, the tucked-away Vermont food world continues to quietly keep itself on the forefront of some of the coolest food and drink innovations in the country. And it does it all with a spirit of collaboration: between bread bakers and coffee roasters, cider makers and berry foragers, brewers and livestock farmers.
Those who know about Burlington know it’s one of the best places in the country to eat and drink well keeping things hyper local. When you’re able to travel safely, here is the short list of where to start.
Chef-owner Cara Chigazola Tobin was chef de cuisine at award-winning Boston institution Oleana
Boston before co-opening her own Eastern Mediterranean spot with wine guru and general manager Allison Gibson. The duo has since gained high acclaim—and James Beard nods—for Honey Road’s family-style plates like chicken wings with sweet harissa sauce, fuchsia-hued muhammara, and enormous boat-shaped flatbreads filled with cheese and meat or vegetables known as pide. Since COVID, the restaurant has been offering some of the best takeout in the area, plus homemade donuts on the weekends.
A 64-seat cafe in a basil-green clapboard house, Penny Cluse is a Vermont institution going on its 22nd year. On a typical pre-pandemic Saturday, the restaurant would often serve around 450 people, not including the 175 hungry customers coming through Lucky Next Door, Penny Cluse’s tiny attached café and espresso bar. Past patrons include famous passers-by like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mike Myers, Fiest, Nico Case, and Jenny Lewis. Chef Maura O’Sullivan has run the kitchen for 17 years, merging diner classics with Vermont ingredients. Most of the menu comes from partnerships with local farmers and makers, down to the butter, greens, and coffee beans. Turkey tortilla soup and garlicky kale with eggs fly from the kitchen from open to close, and area regulars know to stay for the griddled banana bread.
Not only does Pizzeria Verita sling some of the greatest flame-licked, bubbly-edged Neapolitan pies in the state, it does so alongside one of the best beverage programs, from creative cocktails to old-world wines to drafts of cider made a few blocks south. There’s no better place to enjoy a perfect negroni, warm made-in-house mozzarella, and a platter of local and imported cured meats—a pizza pregame that’s as enjoyable at the bar as it is on the couch, thanks to take-away.
Before opening Elaichi (“cardamom” in Hindi), brothers-in-law Priyank Shah and Sikander Badhan ran a successful New York catering business specializing in large events at Jain and Hindu temples. The food is a celebration of flavors from the chef-owners’ childhoods in different regions of India— Shah grew up in Gujarat, and Badhan is from Punjab. The result is a vibrant, delicious dive into one family’s nuanced taste memories, like tangy-sweet Bhel puri with vegetables and crispy puffed rice and spiced marinated chicken kissed with smoke in the charcoal tandoor oven.
Misery Loves Company — a local hub for cocktail-sluiced brunches and candle-lit, family-style suppers—reconceptualized in the COVID era to become one of the state’s great destinations for curbside markets and take-away picnics. Regulars might shed a tear of joy at the reemergence of the Rough Francis, a spicy, blue-cheese-draped fried-chicken sandwich that’s been a staple of Misery’s menu since they opened 8 years ago (originally, as a food truck). Save room for BBQ Pork Ssam made with local meat and all the fixings — and pick up house-made tater-tots, pastrami, and chicken liver mousse for later.
Dedalus houses one of the most extensive selections of natural and biodynamic wine
in the state, if not the country. The attached bar pays its respects to natural wines and their winemakers. The adjoined market and cheese counter is a playground of specialty cheeses, charcuterie, and dried goods from near and far. Dishes like bacalao croquettas and tailored porchetta sandwiches are influenced by Basque-country small plates and sharing boards, meant to be enjoyed slowly with some of the best wine you can get your hands on.
Winooski is kind of like the Brooklyn of Burlington, with its ever-expanding community of bars, restaurants, and cafes just over the river from the “big city.” When you get there, find Tiny Thai, a those-who-know kind of gem where The Genuine Thai Menu is the way to go—there are no telltale chili symbols, because diners are supposed to know that the spiciness of “these boldly seasoned dishes,” in the owners’ words, mean this menu is reserved “for Expert level only.” For customers still in training, though, anything from Tiny Thai’s list of fare—influenced by food carts and family tables across Thailand—hits every spot in the book.
Owner Kortnee Bush named her buzzy neighborhood hangout after her grandparents in a nod to the quirky, family-style atmosphere that would come to define the restaurant and the close-knit crew around it. The community vibe is driven further by chef Jackie Major’s take on polished yet elbows-on-the-table comfort fare, like Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie with local vegetables and a homemade butter crust; bourbon-maple milkshakes; or the Big Butch Burger made with a local beef or bean patty, American cheese, and classic fixings, on a homemade potato roll. The line-up is complemented by mulled cider, cherry lemonade, and whimsical cocktails like the Fruity Pebbles with gin, orange liqueur, cranberry, seltzer and fresh citrus juice.
Sherpa Kitchen is a cornerstone of the Burlington community, exuding the fuzzy warmth of a family restaurant with almost a decade of devoted regulars. Co-owners Lakpa Lama and Doma Sherpa showcase traditional Nepalese and Himilayan cooking with dishes like handmade momo, fried pakoras with verdant cilantro chutney, thali platters, and silky mango lassi, though the greatest part of Sherpa Kitchen’s menu might be their lunch special: $8.99 for an appetizer, entrée, and a homemade drink.
Chef-owner Frank Pace leveraged his longtime butchery training, mingled it with an all-day eatery concept, and added an attached brewery. The result is a restaurant with bold takes on Vermont’s local food chain, meaning house-smoked, handmade bratwursts; lacy-edged burgers with local grass-fed beef; and produce-packed rice bowls layered with vegetables from farms within a half-hour’s drive. With Zero Gravity Brewery right next door, the beer is as local as it gets, too.
Lan Hong has been in charge of some of the best Vietnamese food in the state for over a decade. Pho Hong opened in a former bus station in 2008, and the cozy, BYOB spot known for deep, fragrant bowls of pho has entertained lines out the door since.
For 15 years, Hen has executed—and in many ways helped define—what Vermont cuisine is to those who live out of state. That means, among many things, food and drink distilled, grown, raised, and foraged by (and for) locals, who weather nature’s seasonal playground on farms and in the mountains. Both its original Waterbury and Burlington locations are places to slip out of your hiking boots and flannel, wrap yourself in the ambience of exposed beams and soft lighting, and feast. Tuck into dishes like cotton-soft Parker house rolls, pork terrine and cornichons, griddled mushroom toasts with local hen-of-the-woods, and a cast-iron crock of fingerling potatoes with aioli. Don’t skip a finishing flight of local cheeses or homemade ice cream. Everything here, from the dream beer list to the locally focused spirits program, is forged from a close relationship to farmers and makers.
Inside this sunny spot for Northern Chinese-style handmade dumplings sits a replica of the food cart chef-owner Hong Yu wheeled on Church Street from April 2000 to June 2017. Hong was born and raised in LiaoNing, eight hours north of Beijing, and moved to the state in 1996. Seventeen years after launching her dumpling business—and after her 10th local award for “Best Street Food” by Burlington’s alt-weekly newspaper—she opened a brick and mortar spot downtown, where her famous dumplings, giant steamed bao, and jars of homemade hot chili oil sell at top speed.
Think of 88 Oak Street as a multi-use real estate co-op anchored by three of its founding members. During the day, sisters Abby and Emily Portman front Poppy’s Café, celebrating the art of the sandwich with standouts like the Nicholas Sage, a stack of spiced butternut squash, melted cheddar, pickled vegetables, arugula, and creamy sage aioli. By evening, the keys turn over to Maria Lara-Bregatta and Café Mamajuana, the chef’s ode to Dominican, Spanish, Sicilian, and Afro-Caribbean fusion. The menu, written in Spanish and English, is always changing, but show-stopping dishes like Lara-Bregatta’s canoas—one week, a sweet plantain boat stuffed with beans, roasted pork, yellow rice with pigeon peas, and salsa—have already gained her a loyal following. In the back of the building, All Souls Tortilleria has an onsite production line for Sonoran-style flour tortillas, clinching Oak Street’s growing rep as one of the tastiest spots in town.
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Beyond working in restaurants, on working farms, and as the lead recipe developer of a national food magazine, Julia Clancy writes about people and place through the lens of food and drink. She was the restaurant critic at
Boston Magazine, and currently writes freelance for publications like the
Washington Post, the
San Francisco Chronicle,
Food 52 and
Craft Beer, among others. She splits her time between Boston, Los Angeles and her lodestar for beer: Vermont. Follow her on Instagram.