Best New Restaurants in Greater New Haven, CT 2013
New Haven is thought by many to be Connecticut’s top restaurant town, although the Gold Coast also offers a wealth of dining opportunities and Greater Hartford is definitely up and coming.
Despite the strength of our dining scene, Greater New Haven took its hits during the recent economic downturn, and even though the economy is said to be expanding again, that hasn’t prevented some notable restaurant casualties.
Smaller dining concepts seem to be in vogue. Savvy restaurateurs look for ways to lower costs, so a restaurant can prosper with fewer fannies in seats. Arising phoenix-like from the ashes of ventures that have crashed and burned is a new breed of restaurants, better adapted (we hope) to survive. And of course, there are still a few high-stakes players who follow the no-guts, no-glory approach.
We bring you 52 of the more interesting openings of the last 18 months or so. Our list is meant to be exemplary, not exhaustive, and while we’ve visited many of the listed eateries, we haven’t made it to every single one. We’ve tried to select restaurants calibrated to survive, but the risky nature of the business (one in four restaurants fails within its first year) means the odds are that we’ll list a restaurant or two that no longer exists by the time this article comes out. Similarly, the odds are that a couple of new restaurants will have opened in that time (in New Haven, look for Bronx Burger and Chipotle Mexican Grill, in Clinton, The Bistro at Chamard Vineyards). As always, we recommend you call in advance before venturing out.
Most of us have our favorite dining spots to which we like to return.
But we also have a restless nature that compels us to try something new now and then. For those occasions when wanderlust strikes, hang onto this list—and you’ll have a suggestion for every week of the next year.
Lenny & Joe's Fish Tale
The personable Goldberg brothers from Hamden have opened a third Lenny & Joe’s, operated by Brian Faye, in the prominent harborside space previously occupied by Leon’s Restaurant and the Rusty Scupper, following earlier installations in Madison and Westbrook. Water views from the dining room and wrap-around porch are well-matched to the fried and broiled seafood theme. 501 Long Wharf Dr., New Haven, 203-691- 6619, www.ljfishtale.com.
We think Café Vincenzo at Gateway Community College is one of our more intriguing, if not terribly practical, dining suggestions. Café Vincenzo is the reallife laboratory in which Gateway’s food service and hotel management students practice what they have learned. Meals typically include house-baked rolls, soup, salad, a main course and a dessert. Guests can bring their own wine or beer. The café is open to the public only on Thursdays and the cost of the meal is $20. Reservations are required, and seating takes place between 6:15 and 6:30 p.m. 20 Church St., New Haven, 203-285-2269.
Elm City Market
Another interesting option is Elm City Market. It’s a cooperative, but you don’t have to be a member. And you can have your parking validated for up to an hour in the attached garage. Most people carry their food away, but they don’t have to. There is a small seating area, even if it’s a little difficult to spot. There are 16 sandwich combinations, made-to-order sandwiches, a salad bar, a hot bar, soups and stews, and a grab-and-go case. 777 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-624-0441, www.elmcitymarket.coop.
Dee Asian Kitchen
At Dee Asian Kitchen, which bills itself as an authentic noodle, soup and dim sum emporium, a picture is worth a thousand words and a thousand pictures must be worth a million words. We wondered what was the national origin of the folks behind the colorful, scrupulously photographed, 114-item menu.
After all, it lists dim sum (Chinese), tom yum soup (Thai), udong noodle soup (Japanese), chicken satay (Malaysian or Indonesian), and any number of Vietnamese soups. The answer appeared to be Vietnamese, based on proprietor Chongdee Leroux’s last name and the admonition that “pho” rhymes with “duh”—but it turned out to be Thai. Now we know. 163 Temple St., New Haven, 203-776-0007, www.deeasiankitchen.com.
After the success of its first Connecticut venture in Westport, Shake Shack, an offshoot of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, decided to bring its popular product to a city with a serious yen for hamburgers. Shake Shack is known not only for its tasty, freshly ground, 100 percent all natural Angus beef burgers, but for its flat-top dogs, crinkle-cut fries and frozen custard. Be there, or be Union Square! 986 Chapel St., New Haven, 203-747-8483, www.shakeshack.com.
The Naked Oyster
The Naked Oyster joins a cluster of restaurants like Barcelona, 116 Crown and Cask Republic that think “drinks first, food second” but still serve creative fare. Brainchild of Abe Ozeck, the Naked Oyster offers an insane selection of vodkas, a pleasing assortment of martinis, and a dubious selection of wines. Two food threads run through the menu—seafood and Cajun/Creole. Oysters—deliciously cooked, gloriously raw or in shooters—are omnipresent. 200 Crown St., New Haven, 203-745-4804, www.thenakedoysternh.com.
In a college town like New Haven, there’s no such thing as too much affordable Thai food. Located next to a mochi ice cream shop, Jeera is tiny but cute and welcoming, with tall counter seating and a single communal table. The place may be small but the menu isn’t. We’ve made up our mind to try this one, including the Thai buffalo wings with spicy pomegranate dressing. Jeera does a good takeout business and also delivers for free within one mile of the restaurant. 216 Crown St., New Haven, 203-777-7230, www.newhavenjeerathai.com.
New Haven Meatball House
Smart restaurateurs like Bob Potter, who owns c.o.jones and Prime 16 in New Haven, are thinking small—smaller concepts and smaller overhead.
New Haven Meatball House takes a single thread—that early childhood love of meatballs that no one completely outgrows—and expands it into a winning formula. There are four types of meatballs, four types of sauces and three ways to eat them (served with choice of sauce and starch, as sliders or as brioche sandwiches). The college students are eating it up—and so are we. 1180 Chapel St., New Haven, 203- 772-3360, www.nhmeatballhouse.com.