Vermont

Like a Local: The Best Restaurants in Burlington

by Mike Dunphy  |  Published December 6, 2016

For a city of only about 60,000, Burlington boasts an astonishing array of top-notch restaurants. The same hippie spirit that elected Bernie Sanders mayor three times also fuels a proclivity for all things organic, local, and farm-to-table. Taste for yourself at these eight restaurants that put the philosophy on the plate.

Hen of the Wood

Hen of the Wood

Hen of the Wood

Ever since this farm-to-table place took up residence in an 1835 grist mill in Waterbury, most gourmands and foodies have dubbed it the best restaurant in the state. Success and demand eventually brought a second branch to Burlington, where it blends the same approach with a more boutique, urban ambiance. There’s no change, however, in the wow factor of the regional menu, assiduously determined by what’s available daily from its network of “nearby growers, artisans, ranchers, bakers and wild crafters.”  That means dishes like braised pork with wild ramp sausage, coriander roasted cauliflower with toasted farro and golden raisins, and cast iron-seared cod with Claytonia and cured lemon. With a full meal and cocktails for two easily pushing $100, locals tend to save this for special occasions

55 Cherry St.

Guild Tavern

Just over the border into neighboring “South” Burlington, the Guild grills up possibly the best steaks in Vermont—and at about $50 a pop, possibly the most expensive. But it’s well worth the hit to the wallet,  with a selection of 30-day, dry-aged New York strip, filet mignon, ribeye, and sirloin (for two) carved from the grass-fed, grain-finished steers at LaPlatte River Angus Farm in neighboring Shelburne. The meat is as fresh as it comes, and tastes accordingly, with silky succulence emphasized by a 2,000-pound hand-cranked grill heated by Vermont hardwood. Steaks are but one part of the Vermont-sourced menu, with nearly 20 local farms and creameries providing rabbit, pork, chicken, cornmeal, veggies, and cheese to flesh out the selection. Should the steaks prove too rich for the blood, aim for the more affordable $16 burgers.

1633 Williston Rd.

Juniper (Photo: Greg Comollo)

Juniper (Photo: Greg Comollo)

Juniper

Next door to Hen of the Wood, the house restaurant of Burlington’s favorite hotel, the Hotel Vermont, serves an impressive riposte to its much heralded neighbor, along with some of the best cocktails in town. Like so many of Burlington’s top restaurants, the kitchen focuses on regional, locally sourced cuisine, served here with added organic ambiance in the woody dropped beam ceiling and wall dividers embracing the main dining area. The bar claims particular inspiration from the juniper berry, with cocktails like the Juniper Crush—a blend of Green Mountain gin, juniper berries, and mint—and the best place to enjoy it is on the outdoor patio (complete with fire pit), which looks out to Juniper Island on Lake Champlain. Starting at 3 pm, small plates (about $7 a pop) like sea-salt maple toasted nuts, fried Lake Champlain perch, and grilled sweet corn on the cob with lime and chili get the spotlight, but after 6, hungrier hipster bellies cue up for $18 dishes of cherry-smoked bone-in pork chop, popped sorghum-crusted cod, and chèvre gnocchi. Add live jazz on Wednesday nights.

41 Cherry St.

 

A Single Pebble

Asian cuisine abounds in Burlington but none are more respected than this upscale Chinese restaurant, which impresses the “vibrant flavors of the Silk Road” into dishes like potsticker style dumplings, red chili shrimp, five star anise tofu, and tangerine peel chicken. If the choice is daunting, aim for the chef tasting menu, which covers most of what’s special about the place. The mock eel (made of shitake mushrooms) earned “two chopsticks up” on the Food Network’s The Best Thing I ever Ate. Taiwan-born owner Chiuho Duval not only believes in sharing the classical Chinese cuisine of her home, but encouraging diners to share the meals by serving them family style on Chinese red Lazy Susans. Fresh local ingredients give it yet one more layer of deliciousness. The elegant setting and service make many meals here a special occasion, as does the $75—$100 bill, at least if you do it right.

133 Bank St.

Istanbul Kebab House

The 4,817 miles from Istanbul to Burlington makes remarkably little difference to the authenticity of the dishes served at this Turkish restaurant found on lower Church Street. Indeed, the $16–$20 Döner, Adana, and Beyti kebabs could have been carved from spits in Taksim Square. Güveç casseroles, baked in Turkish earthenware bowls and served sizzling hot, are another specialty, as are beef and veggie stuffed eggplants. Just be sure to start off with a piece of hot lavash bread to dip in ezme, a Turkish salsa spiked with pomegranate. The building also offers the only outdoor rooftop terrace in town, adding yet another common feature of the best restaurants in Istanbul, plus an exuberant, young, professional clientele (particularly after doses of Turkish wine and raki) on summer evenings.

175 Church St.

Penny Cluse (Photo: Holly Cluse)

Penny Cluse (Photo: Holly Cluse)

Penny Cluse

The line of customers spanning all ages, styles, and economics outside this brunch spot, especially on weekends, is the best evidence of the high esteem locals hold for it. More proof is in the menu, which comes with all the right fixings at about $10 a dish, including griddled egg and cheese sandwiches, huevos rancheros, breakfast burritos, French toast, and, of course, pancakes (buckwheat, buttermilk, or gingerbread) swimming in Vermont maple syrup (if you feel you’re not getting enough nutrition from the syrup, bananas or blueberries can be added). The most fun may be the Zydeco breakfast—two eggs any style, black beans, corn muffins and andouille sausage. The rustic wood floors and tables, and original art on the walls, make it all the more cozy. If you’re wondering who Penny is, it was the childhood terrier of co-owner Holly Cluse.

169 Cherry St.

Farmhouse Tap & Grill

Foodies in Burlington should perhaps direct the most gratitude to Farmhouse, which helped kickstart the entire foodie movement when it replaced the McDonald’s that had long served downtown in 2010. Two dollar Big Macs and Quarter Pounders transformed to $16 LaPlatte River Angus Farm beef, Misty Knoll free range turkey, and Vermont Heritage Grazers pork burgers, alongside other gussied-up comfort food favorites like mac and cheese, fish and chips, and fried chicken. Vegans and vegetarians also find equal opportunity in dishes like spiced roots and quinoa, kale salad, and black bean burgers. The draught list, one of the best in town, draws its own steady stream of customers, who come for the coveted Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s, and Heady Topper brews. Add in the sunny terrace outback (with outside bar) and it’s easy to understand why waits go up to two hours around dinner time.

 160 Bank St.

American Flatbread

American Flatbread

American Flatbread

Even before the flatbreads moved in, this space hosted family friendly restaurants a step above the rest. American Flatbread has raised it even higher with arguably the best pizza in the state, thanks largely to the wood-fired domed clay and stone oven, which the owner based on the communal ones he found in the Haute Savoie region of France. It’s also the restaurant’s centerpiece, with the minders paddling the $12 – $23 flatbreads in and out of the red hot embers in full view of the dining room. “Food integrity and sustainability” also play a role in the exceptionally fresh taste, which translates into organic flour, veggies, meats, and cheeses sourced nearby. Adults can have additional fun at the attached brewpub, Zero Gravity.

115 St Paul St.

 

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