Ever since the first settlers arrived in New Haven, Connecticut in 1637, the city’s immigrant history has shaped its dining landscape. For culturally minded travelers, New Haven is both the home of delicious local fare that’s stood the test of time and of brilliant chef minds that have conceived some of the States’ most popular dishes today. Here, our favorite (and unpretentious) places to get a taste of history and cultural innovation.
New Haven’s biggest claim to culinary fame is arguably its unique style of pizza known as “apizza,” which is pronounced “a-BEETS” and derives from the original Italian dialect spoken by early Italian immigrants. Apizza is baked in coal- or wood-fired brick ovens and features a crispy, thin, and extra-charred crust. A number of New Haven pizzerias routinely make it onto many “best pizza in America” lists, and some may even argue that New Haven’s apizza is among the best in the world. To see for yourself, Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is one of the oldest pizzerias in America — and, even after 90 years in the business, Pepe’s continues to be one of the most beloved restaurants in New Haven. For a more modern take on apizza, try Bar, a pizzeria, brewery, and weekend nightclub that is known for their mashed potato and bacon pie. (It’s not as heavy as you’d think!)
The Italian influence on New Haven dining didn’t just stop with pizza. Basta Trattoria takes old-world Italian cuisine to new heights using fresh local, organic, and sustainable ingredients. Basta is so serious about traditional cooking that they don’t even use a refrigerator onsite. In fact, vegetables aren’t even cut until an order has been placed. The result? Some of the best Italian on this side of the Atlantic.
Who knew? The now-ubiquitous hamburger was created by New Haven resident Louis Lassen in 1900. And though the current Louis’ Lunch isn’t located at the original restaurant established in 1895, the Lassen family continues to churn out the same delicious original recipe — a special blend of five different cuts of steak and cooked to order on original 1898 cast-iron grills, just like when Louis originally worked behind the counter. The result is a juicy hamburger so flavorful the proprietors don’t offer any condiments besides cheese, tomatoes, and onions. Stop in and you’ll see why this is what many still claim is the best burger in all of America.
Sustainable sushi? Yes, please! The first restaurant in America to boast that label is Miya’s Sushi, which opened in New Haven in 1982 and continues to be a pioneer in environmentally conscious dining. Each dish on the menu is not only locally sourced and beautifully presented, but is also carefully created with the goal of using the States’ “abundant but underutilized” species and avoiding overfished ones. We’re especially intrigued by Chef Bun Lai’s newest “invasive species” menu, an equally ingenious and environmental-friendly concept that transforms organisms that harm the ecosystem — like Japanese knotweed — into tasty treats. Choose from a combos and sushi dinners (from $35), entree dinners, and an a la carte menu that covers everything from Japanese appetizers to sashimi and negiri to onigri rice balls.
A Presidential Bar
Despite it’s name, Ordinary is a phenomenal bar that’s anything but. Located at the same site where the first beers were brewed in New Haven back in 1646 (which eventually became the historical Taft Hotel), Ordinary’s past is filled with a number of historical visitors — including General George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and Albert Einstein. These days, Ordinary still plays host to a crowded bar, serving timeless cocktails with a modern twist and an excellent selection of bar snacks hearty and appetizing enough to comprise an entire meal (think cheese plates, smoked trout dip, sausage rolls, and more).
Bonus: Want to learn more? The gut-busting Taste of New Haven tour gives hungry visitors a more comprehensive, educational look at New Haven’s diverse culinary history. Tickets are $55 per person for a four-hour tour.