Ah, life in Connecticut. I tend to complain about it to my friends, but it’s really not so bad. In fact, there are so many gems that I realized I missed when I was living abroad. I have been living in the New Haven area since I began college, but now I’m actually downtown and it’s been a blast. I like being able to walk to my favorite spots and I’ve gotten to know some cool local people! I get messages on instagram from people asking me for recommendations in the Elm City, so I created a little list of my favorite coffee shops, places to eat, and things to do. Enjoy!
Koffee is easily my favorite coffee shop in New Haven. The first time I came here, it felt familiar – it’s lived in, comfy, and full of warm colors and kind people. There’s a variety of seating, art, and board games. They even transform into Koffee After Dark for drinks. It’s just quirky and perfect. I constantly rave about their flavored roasts which change frequently, and they also have some of the best espresso I’ve had in Connecticut. Their muffins are delicious, and they have GF, vegan, and vegetarian options all day. It’s usually pretty busy, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how awesome this spot is.
East Rock Coffee
This tiny spot in East Rock is such a pleasant place to start your day. They have managed to adhere to a strict no-electronic policy and because of that, you can really feel a sense of presence and connection in this space. Leave a doodle in the community sketchbook while you sip a delicious espresso drink and enjoy a pastry. Just don’t expect to find seating every time since it’s so small.
Book Trader Cafe
Up on Chapel, there is this little spot that I fell in love with a few years ago. I haven’t been in a while but it never disappoints. It’s part used-bookstore and part cafe, with seating in an atrium style room with big windows and a bookshelf wall. I’ve been told that they get their bagels brought in from NYC, so they are the real deal. Their books are all organized and reasonably priced. Book Trader is the perfect place to get lost in a book for a few hours, or to get some work done.
Claire’s Corner Copia
If you have talked to me for over 20 minutes, you’ve probably heard of Claire’s. I constantly rave about it. In fact, at work last week I heard one of my coworkers talking to a guest who was holding a cup from Claire’s – “That’s Juliette’s FAVORITE!”. Claire’s is a cozy little spot that feels like home. All of their dishes are vegetarian, sustainable and organic. Their dishes can be made vegan and gluten-free, too. They have really yummy and wholesome hot foods, as well as salads, smoothies, and an entire display filled with baked goods. They are known for their Lithuanian Coffee Cake. MSNBC calls it “One of the 10 best heart-healthy restaurants in America”. I’ve come to adore the kind people who work here. If you’re lucky, you might even see Claire herself here!
WHAT I GET: for breakfast I opt for a hazelnut coffee and a make your own smoothie with allll the greens. Their avocado toast is delish and filling, and if you like a sweet treat for breakfast try any of their muffins or scones! For dinner… oh boy, where do I start… the roasted organic vegetable salad is a dream! I add buffalo soy chicken. The best part are the loaves they give you with your dinner. You guys know I take bread very seriously. The mini bread loaves are so good. I’ll never turn one down. Their Mexican entrees are also really yummy and the portions are huuuge.
The best Mexican food in New Haven. It’s traditional and the inside decor is fun and authentic, lots of papel picado (paper banners), Frida Kahlo, and colorful Mexican sayings plastered around the room. The chips and salsa are yummy and everyone loves the margaritas. If you ask your waiter about the massive glass tequila gun, be ready for a shot or two. The place has great energy overall, and it’s in East Rock so it’s away from the craziness downtown. There’s another Mexican spot downtown but Mezcal blows it away! WHAT I ORDER: Ensalada Mezcal without cheese, or I’ll share the fajitas. Both are soooo good. Now I’m craving Mezcal…
The New Haven Pizza debate continues. I mean clearly New Haven Pizza is better than New York Pizza, but people argue which is best (Pepe’s, Sally’s, Modern…). Modern will always have my vote. Their New Haven style thin crust is my favorite, and they are known for the Italian Bomb. Expect a wait, but it moves fast. It’s part of the experience. Also this is a hot-take but I actually prefer the GF crust as opposed to the normal crust. I like the veggie bomb (without cheese), but honestly, you can’t go wrong with anything.
The go-to date night/happy hour spot. This noodle house has both pho and ramen, and is the best to cozy up on a winter night. There’s some communal seating and a bar, as well as booths and tables so it’s pretty versatile for whatever your vibe is. I was researching what the actual “type” of food they serve is called, and they are against the term fusion and call themselves “American-Vietnamese-Japanese-Thai-Chinese-Korean-New England-Momofuku-Totto-and-Ippudo-inspired.” Cool. I usually get the Pho Ga or the Kale Salad which I know that probably sounds SO boring… but it has both fresh kale and kale chips so it’s super yummy. They also have thai tea!
While Mamoun’s is known for being open until 3am and being BYOB, they actually have a really interesting backstory. Mamoun’s calls itself America’s first falafel restaurant and they haven’t changed their recipes for 50 years since their founder (Mamoun) came from Syria and opened his first NYC location. I stand with many others when I say it’s the best falafel I’ve had. Second to the mouthwatering Middle Eastern flavors, the best part is how inexpensive it is. Note: I love pita bread and hummus and could probably survive on just that. Anyone else?!?!
The Juice Box
The Juice Box is a cool smoothie/juice/acai place. This place has a lot of personality and the fruits and vegetables they use are always SO fresh and flavorful. There’s not a lot of seating inside but it’s right across from the Yale Art Gallery so there is plenty of outdoor seating. When I go, I order either a smoothie or acai bowl. For smoothies, I get the #3 and add MACA! And as far as acai bowls, I opt for the almond butter bowl.
SWEETS & Drinks
Local ice cream / dairy shop right on Chapel. Made with fresh milk and cream from the Arethusa Farm in Litchfield, CT. Their ice cream is the richest around, and the single scoop is massive. I’m a pistachio girl, but I must advise you… get your lactaid pills ready if you are sensitive to dairy.
This lively dive bar is one of the only bars I like to go to as someone who doesn’t really drink. However, I know that they have a rotating beer selection and good cocktails. The ambience is enough for me it’s hip but not pretentious and they have live music some nights (without cover charge!) They are locally known for their bar food, there are vegan and non-vegan options. Fried pickles, anyone?
Another amazing vibe but totally different than anything else around. The interior is sooo cozy and rich with oak-paneling and wood carvings, complete with a fireplace. It reminds me of a speakeasy. I would recommend this for a date spot – it’s suitable for the first or fiftieth date. Great service and unique cocktails.
THINGS TO DO
Yale Art Gallery
I’ve been going to the Yale Art Gallery for years. The building itself is a work of art and it’s full of different types of art, both from antiquity and modern eras. It checks off everything on your list ranging from Ancient Greek and Roman busts to the works of Van Gogh and Picasso. The special collections are always really interesting too. Not to mention – it’s FREE.
You can spend hours just wandering around this scenic and historic campus. I have taken many alternate routes walking home just to see what is hiding around the corner. I would recommend parking on College Street or Elm Street and walking through Old Campus if you want to see the main part of Yale. However, Hillhouse Avenue is my favorite section of the campus. Lined with nineteenth century mansions, Charles Dickens and Mark Twain both called Hillhouse the most beautiful street in America.
On Broadway there are a number of shops: lululemon, J Crew, Urban Outfitters, Patagonia, and a couple more. There aren’t too many shops, but it’s nice to walk around and see what you can find. There are also some boutiques on Chapel Street.
Let me know what you would add to this list! I’m surely missing some spots, but these are my favorites. XO J