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Bargains - Asian - Classic - Contemporary - Pizza - Downtown/Hartford

 

El Nuevo Sarape - El Sarape is a tiny place where everyone’s a friend. In fact once, I actually joined somebody else’s Christmas gathering. Not that I was invited, but like I said, it’s tiny — and everyone’s a friend. It’s got this funky Mexican look, with bright orange walls and pictures hung this way and that. And it serves great meals. I recently had the Pollo en salsa de espinacas — or slices of chicken breast and potatoes covered with a sauce of chile pobano and spinach molé poblano, and it was excellent. (Their molés are superbly authentic.) The Carne Enchilada De Puerca, a grilled spicy pork, is tasty, too. But try everything.
931 Broad St., Frog Hollow
Hartford, 860-547-1884

Facebook @ ElSarapeHartford

Monte Alban Restaurant - With Tex-Mex burrito places pretty common, good Mexican food isn’t hard to find. But truly authentic Mexican — indeed, the genuine Oaxacan dishes Monte Alban prepares from original family recipes — is a rarity. The molé is luscious but not overpowering, with just the right amount of spice. Fish tacos and tortilla soup are equally good and best enjoyed with a cold cerveza. Sabroso!
531 Farmington Ave., Hartford
860-523-7423

Pho Boston Restaurant - Never mistake the Pho in their name with the word faux, because this little gem features deliciously authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Have the Shrimp Salad (Vietnamese coleslaw) for your appetizer — and load it up with the fish sauce dressing. It’s enough for two — and a feast for one. Or try the Chicken Pho, a steaming bowl of savory noodles, shoots and shredded chicken. Adventurous? Order a Durian fruit shake. It’s better than good.
144 Shield St. Plaza, (Shield Street Shopping Plaza), West Hartford
860-953-8678

Tangiers International - A while back, Tangiers relocated — and while it was only a little ways down Farmington Avenue, just over the border in Hartford, its legions of fans worried. Well, we’re glad to report that the only thing that changed was their address, because everything else is as great as ever. At lunchtime, order the falafel, which is made from a generations-old family recipe. It’s uniquely seasoned and served with tangy, herby tzatziki or tahini. Or try a gyro, authentic and flavorful. The pita bread is baked daily. The hummus superb. And the service always friendly. And while you’re there, browse their intriguing selection of imported groceries. Good stuff.
550 Farmington Ave., Hartford
860-233-8168

Primavera Pub - The Primavera Pub is an authentic Portuguese tavern — completely no frills, entirely good spirited, and precisely the kind of place where it’s fun to sit at the bar watching a soccer match or a baseball game. Once when I was there, I must have looked lost because an Irish guy ordered all my food for me, and what a meal. More recently, I’ve gotten hooked on the Primavera Mix, featuring shrimp, pork, and steamed clams. But it’s all good. And so are the prices. The wine won’t set you back, either.
283 Newington Ave., Hartford
860-953-7411
fb @Primavera-Pub

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Downton

Agave Grill - Offering a wonderful selection of Especiales, Agave is all about enjoying something different. And from their Antojitos (appetizers) to their Postres (desserts), you can’t miss. The fresh Guacamole is prepared tableside and goes nicely with any Margarita. The Spicy Chorizo Sausage enchilada with pasilla chile sauce is terrific — and order a Mexicali Ensalada to go along. (The Grilled Salad — which features mixed greens, tomatoes, rajas, mixed cheeses, guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream, all served with chipotle honey mustard dressing — is great and they pair nicely for an awesome meal.) But other combinations await and surprise, so try them all. Just be sure to pace yourself. Good food should be savored.
100 Allyn St., Hartford, 860-882-1557

Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ - Everybody’s bullish on Bear’s — pun intended. Especially me. Just bring me some awesome Baby Back Ribs with enough paper napkins to cope, and I’m in my glory. But I’ll take anything, because it’s all fantastic — from the chicken and turkey to the brisket and kielbasa. The Burnt Ends are heaven. And don’t skip dessert. The peach cobbler is yummy.
25 Front St.., Hartford
860-785-8772

Arch Street Tavern - This old tavern — with its brick walls, oak furnishings, and polished brass — has long been one of my favorites. The wait staff is terrific. I usually visit the kitchen or talk directly to the owner when I’m ready to order, and you can do the same. Good people, one and all. And good food, too. Very good food. For lunch, ask for the Reuben. It’s their signature sandwich — and melt-in-your-mouth tangy. Or try something new and order a Fried Egg Burger. Even their salads are a treat. (Try the apple Gorgonzola or the Brussels sprouts and arugula. Amazing.)

Bin 228 - Located conveniently across the street from Theaterworks, Bin 228’s classic Vinoteca Toscana — or Northern Italian wine bar — is a perfect place to begin an evening out downtown. Whet your appetite with the Carpaccio, or try the fig jam and prosciutto bruschetta, adding lots of bread to these small plates. Any of their reds by the glass are outstanding, or choose a bottle of Le Volte Super Tuscan. And if you stop in after a show for dinner, try the Paella, featuring chorizo sausage, sweet peas, greenlip mussels, little neck clams, calamari, and red peppers. It’s superb. You’ll agree with me on everything.
228 Pearl St., Hartford, 860-244-9463

City Steam Brewery Café & Restaurant - Old brick and wood paneling make City Steam’s historic digs warm and welcoming, while twenty-first century touches, including bright colors, art deco paintings — and their award-winning brewery — give it a truly distinctive character. Their most famous beer is the “Naughty Nurse,” thanks to its uniquely spicy taste and nice, smooth finish. Meals are casual, with plenty of great entrees, burgers, sandwiches, street tacos, omelets, pizzas, soups, and salads. But the dinner menu’s entrées includes a Bistro Steak you won’t want to miss. And no kidding, if you’re there on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to stay for a performance at their Brew-Ha-Ha Comedy Club. It’s a good time.
942 Main St., Hartford, 860-525-1600

Fornarelli’s Ristorante & Bar - No matter where you’re coming from, a trip to Downtown Hartford to visit the new Fornarelli’s Ristorante is a must! Owner John Fornarelli, who was born and raised in Bari, Italy, opened this extraordinary restaurant in 2019, featuring his mother’s authentic Italian recipes. Vito — his son and her grandson, has now joined the family business as manager and co-owner, and together are proud to ensure that everything, including the pasta, is house-made and fresh to order. For appetizers, the Fried Calamari and Eggplant Rollintini are not to be missed. For entrees, you can’t beat Giovanni’s Special Pastas — but both the Lemon Chicken and the Veal Saltimboca are awesome, and the Frutti di Mare, featuring lobster, scallops, and clams over linguine, is superb. And do not leave without trying the Tiramisu. In fact, plan to try everything — over time, of course. Because for those of us who have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed the best food Italy has to offer in Italy, a visit to Fornarelli’s tastes like a trip across the ocean. Go. Apprezzare!
283 Asylum St., Hartford
860-244-2016

Max Downtown - Self-described as a contemporary “Chop House & Whiskey Bar,” this is the place to go if you closed that big deal. And if someone else closed that big deal, come here anyway. You can soothe those frayed sensibilities with a Pappy Van Winkle on the rocks. (Hey. We’ve all been there.) Then move on, literally and figuratively, to the lucious Pan Seared Colossal Shrimp for lunch — or the Filet Mignon Oscar, featuring sliced tenderloin, lump crab, and asparagus with hollandaise for dinner. Need something more earthy? Order a Chop House classic, for steaks exactly as they should be. The Wedge Salad pairs nicely. And order dessert. They’re too good to miss.
185 Asylum St., Hartford, 860-522-2530

Salute - Confession: I adore lusty Italian cuisine. And this is where I go for it, because the owners, who created Hot Tomato’s back in the day, have brought the same warm, welcoming spirit here — along with their flair for creating a menu that’s just plain hot stuff. The only issue I have with the place is that when the weather gets hot, the hot crowd moves outside, and I’m left to enjoy my Spicy Fried Calamari, a lovely homemade Meatball Salad with cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, the rich Shrimp Fra Diablo over linguine with a side of grilled asparagus, and a nice glass of Spellbound Petite Sirah (which is always perfect with everything) all alone. But I’m willing to suffer. Very willing.
100 Trumbull St., Hartford
860-899-1350

ON20 - There isn’t a lot of New York style haute cuisine in the Greater Hartford area, largely because Greater Hartford isn’t New York. But there is one downtown restaurant that is rather hauty without being haughty — and it’s called ON20, It’s called that because it’s on the 20th floor of One State Street, which the venerable Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company calls home. But it’s location is just part of the story. The service is polished and unobtrusive, while the culinary team, led by Chef Jesse Powers, prides itself on serving an innovative menu that changes constantly but is well known for such amazing entrees as a 50-day Dry-Aged Côte de Boeuf and a piquant Confit Filet of Arctic Char. Needless to say, the view is extraordinary.
400 Columbus Blvd., Hartford
860-722-5161

Feng Chophouse - When Feng Asian Bistro — a favorite of local Sushi lovers — closed in the fall of 2017 for “major renovations,” who could have guessed that an elegantly updated bar and cocktail area, its new wine room, a private dining space featuring conference-level conveniences, and the introduction of windows offering superb streetscape views would not be the only changes — or the best. Finally realizing his longtime dream, owner John Chen added a room lined with bricks of Himalayan sea salt for dry-aging steaks and fish — a process that makes the finest cuts of beef even more tender and flavorful, while giving exceptional edamame sushi a uniquely savory umami flavor. And so, Feng Asian Bistro reopened as Feng Chophouse, where a deliciously reimagined menu of sushi and steak, plus many other entrees, such as citrus Salmon, house-made pasta, and the taste of Korean BBQ challenge diners to make even more difficult decisions than before. Fortunately, Feng Chophouse serves nothing but the best, so order with confidence. Of course, you’ll want to return so you can try everything. But then it’s good to have a goal.
93 Asylum St., Hartford
860-549-FENG (860-549-3364)

Casona Restaurant - I’d say Casona is just plain wonderful — but serving their guests the exotic flavors and superb selections from over seven different Caribbean and Latin American countries, along with a generous side of fun and flare with every visit, it’s anything but plain. Indeed this place features appetizers like Puerto Rican and Columbian Empanadas, an unbeatable Cerviche Trilogia with three different tastes in one dish, and the Casona Sampler, which combines wings, quesadillas, and tostones. And the entrees — including Mofongo, the signature dish of Puerto Rico…their Churraso Skirt Steak, served with a chili pepper sauce, roasted potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and yellow rice…and a Paella that is not to be missed — continue
the culinary journey. But in between, you’ll also enjoy Casona’s soups (try the Seafood Soup, which is described as aphrodisiacal), salads, desserts, and drinks. And yes, there is a menu for the kids. But don’t leave when your meal is done. With of no less than two lounges featuring music and two DJs —one that plays Salsa, Bachata, and Meringue music and one that’s a Top 40 favorite, with Hip Hop, Reggae, and hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s — this is the kind of place where you simply must linger awhile, listening and dancing. And because it’s impossible to resist dancing, Casona has been know offer Salsa lessons so you can really strut your stuff. What a time you’ll have. What a place!
681 Wethersfield Ave., Hartford
860-519-5590

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Asian

Top 10 WinnerPrai Kitchen - We’ve always loved great Thai food, but from our first visit to Prai, we’ve felt that we were experiencing a new level of creativity and excellence — indeed, a gourmet Thai. In our many trips back, our favorites have included the Duck Tamarind, Prai’s Chicken Basil, and the Siam Beef. Prai kitchen will prove to be a true find for Thai aficionados — and a real pleasure for those new to the cuisine. Don’t miss it.
23 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford
860-232-1817

Ichiban - Since Korean and Japanese culinary connoisseurs usually head for Ichiban, so do I. Sam, one of the twin brothers who works behind the sushi bar, designs fantastic fresh rolls with just about any ingredients you choose. (Fact is, both Sam and his sushi are very engaging.) And here’s a tip: Korean foods tend to be assertive and spicy, with some dishes — such as kimchi jjigae, a pickled cabbage stew — for “advanced palates” only. So either stick with what you know or take Sam’s advice. He’s absolutely terrific. And so is the food.
530 Farmington Ave., Hartford
860-236-5599

Pick & Mix - Admit it. On nights when you know cooking isn’t an option but you want something fresh, healthy, and flavorful, good Chinese take-out fills the bill. And Pick & Mix is good Chinese take-out. The concept here is simple: pick your base (sweet potato noodles, white or brown rice), as many vegetables as you’d like (mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, radish, and so on), add an egg, throw in some protein (beef, chicken, tofu), and finish up with a sauce (hot paste, teriyaki, soy lemon, sesame). The name of this signature Korean dish is Bibimbap. And the result is always delicious.
1234 Farmington Ave., West Hartford, 860-521-1521
Facebook @ PickMixKoreanRestaurant

Sweet Chilli - You’ll find this worthy little place on Park Road,along with some interesting shops that you might want to visit — including a topsy-turvy rug and vintage furniture store, an antique store, and a classic bookshop. But eat last so you can savor your meal because Sweet Chilli Thai is good Thai, with standards elevated to well above expectations. And they don’t skimp on the portions here, either. My favorites are the beef sauté, the Pad Thai, most of the curries, and all of the sautéed dishes. And I always order the outstanding Papaya Pok Pok salad.
312 Park Rd., West Hartford
860-233-7780
  

Top 10 WinnerPho 135 Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine - Those who remember as far back as Que Huong Restaurant in Hartford, Bamboo Grill in South Glastonbury, and much more recently Bamboo Grill in Canton were overjoyed to hear about the opening in August 2018 of Pho 135 in West Hartford. Indeed, the same family who ran all three earlier restaurants is back under the leadership of Tiffany Nguyen — niece of the original owners, and featuring many of the same great recipes we have enjoyed all the way back to to the ‘80s, along with a fresh new emphasis on Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup. The result is not just the best Vietnamese cuisine we have ever had the privilege to enjoy but one of the best restaurants of any kind. If you go with a large group, try ordering in the traditional Vietnamese family style and share everything among the group. If you go with a small group or alone, you will have to return many times to sample everything on the menu, including some of our favorites, like the Shrimp Egg Rolls, the Rare Beef Pho, the House Special Vietnamese Crepe, Fish Clay Pot, Filet Mignon Shaking Beef. Large group or small, we think you will go back time and again to enjoy a truly remarkable culinary experience.
135 South Main St., West Hartford
860-904-5547

Black Bamboo Chinese Restaurant - First of all, forget about everything you know about Chinese take-out. We’ve been to “the best” Chinese restaurants in the big Northeast cities, and Black Bamboo is better. If you want to eat in, there’s table space for about 12 people, but nearly all of their business is take-out — which is okay, because the quality of the food is unmatched, the menu abundant with choices, and everything is priced reasonably. Fact is, with food this good it’s all a bargain. So next time you’re driving down Farmington Avenue, don’t think you’re passing just another Chinese takeout place. Stop in at Black Bamboo for the best quality and the best bargain.
844 A Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-236-8888

Somewhere in Bangkok - Somewhere in Bangkok may be new to Avon. But having already built quite a fan base at their Southington location, their reputation has preceded them, and the Avon location of this family-owned Thai restaurant is quickly becoming yet another local favorite. Just reading the menu, with its exotic combination of sweet, sour, hot, salty, and bitter flavors, awakens the taste buds. Because the family grows their own vegetables, including as much as a 1,000 pounds of chili peppers each year, their dishes are made from freshest ingredients possible for the finest tastes possible. And since every savory meal served is made to order, guests with spiciness or ingredient preferences, as well as allergy, gluten-free, or vegetarian/vegan lifestyle-diet requirements, can be easily accommodated — which means that everyone who comes to Somewhere in Bangkok looking for an authentic Thai experience will have the pleasure of enjoying an authentic Thai experience. Start by trying the Sweet Volcano Shrimp, featuring deep-fried tempura shrimp skewers served with a homemade Thai sweet sauce, followed by the Chicken Got Mad, with its crispy stir-fried chicken cooked with chili peppers, bell peppers, garlic, cashew nuts, and crispy holy basil. And don’t forget dessert. The Thai Young Coconut Cake is a good choice. You’ll see what I mean.
136 Simsbury Rd., Avon
Riverdale Farms Shopping
860-470-7822

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Contemporary

Arugula Bistro - The warm lighting, brightly colored French artwork, and rustic touches — all delicately whisked with a pinch of panache — give me great pleasure as I sit at my special table near the window. From here, I can observe the couples in the springtime of their lives (and early stages of romance), their eyes fixed on each other until the arrival of their meals interferes, forcing them to actually eat. Ahhhh…young love. But then I am in love, too — with my latest favorite: The Grilled Bistro Steak, though I still have strong feelings the Crispy Duck Leg Confit. If you tasted either, you’d understand the attraction.
953 Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-561-4888

Top 10 WinnerÁvert Brasserie - Hungry for some joie de vivre with your meal? Then come here to what could for all the world be an authentic vintage Parisian brasserie with its sophisticated, modern facade and a menu that follows suit with traditional French entrées. Order what appeals. Everything is merveilleux — especially the Braised Short Rib Bourguignon, Trout Meuniére Amandine, or Shrimp Provençal. Allons enfants de la Patrie! This is where it’s happening.
35A LaSalle Rd., West Hartford
860-904-6240

Top 10 WinnerBarcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant - Centuries ago, Andalusian taverns served a tapa — a bit of bread or slice of meat — to cover one’s glass of sherry so that the fruit flies wouldn’t find their way in. Practical. But a handy snack, too. And while Barcelona’s tapas dishes are not designed to protect one’s drink, all are prepared with a beverage in mind: salty chorizo to balance acidity or a fresh and tangy sheep’s cheese to tone down a sweeter varietal. My favorites? An Ensalada Mixta with olives, onions, and tomatoes…Paella Salvaje, with chicken, chorizo, chick peas, and smoked pepper aioli…and a glass of Verdejo. They make me very happy.
971 Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-218-2100

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse - here is simply nothing like a great steak. And here, they serve great steaks — all prime, all straightforward in presentation, and all perfectly cooked. That said, they also go “Over the Top” and “Beyond Steaks” to provide those with a craving for pork, chicken, and seafood an equally fair shot at an awesome meal, as well! The service is professional and high-spirited. The ambience recalls the warmth and clubbiness of the wood-paneled era, minus the pretense. The desserts are wickedly tempting. (Give in. Everyone does.) And there’s a nice big, comfortable bar.
44 S. Main St., West Hartford, 860-676-9463

Top 10 WinnerRestaurant Bricco - Drawing from memories of all the foods and fun at their family’s big Sunday dinners, the Grant brothers (Mike, Tony, and Chef Billy) have made Restaurant Bricco the place to go for “genuine Italian.” From the warmth of its sit-and-stay-awhile atmosphere to the tried-and-true generations-old recipes, everything here is simple and sensational. The menu changes daily, but the appetizer menu includes such treats as a generously sized Antipasto for the Table and Aunt Josie’s Meatballs. The fresh, crispy salads are creatively varied. (Try the one featuring warm pistachio-crusted goat cheese.) Wood-fired brick-oven pizzas range from delightfully traditional to wildly imaginative. (The Bianco Pie is amazing.) Pastas like Grandma’s Ravioli promise an authenticity you won’t soon forget. Entrées like the Day Boat Georges Bank Scallops and the Spice Glazed Long Island Duck Breast are truly special. And never leave without dessert. The pistachio crème brulée should be considered its own food group.
78 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford, 860-233-0220

Top 10 WinnerZohara Mediterranean Kitchen - The fourth member of the DORO Restaurant Group — already well known for Treva and Àvert here in West Hartford, as well as Artisanal Burger Company in Manchester — is Zohara, which means brilliant in Hebrew. Offering an innovative Mediterranean- and Israel-inspired menu, everything features wholesome fresh vegetables, grains, fish, and lean meats transformed into mouth-watering meals before your very eyes. Literally. And that’s because it’s kitchen, spacious and bustling, is surrounded by comfortable booth seating, where diners can watch it all happen. Try their Seafood Targine, the organic Salmon grilled with pomegranate molasses, or their Feast, featuring “a culinary tour” of everything this wonderful place has to offer. This place is zohara.
991 Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-955-0300

Max Burger - How do you know when a burger is perfect? Some say it’s the quality of the meat…others where it came from…many the way it’s cooked…and still more focus on the bread or toppings. Personally, I think it needs just the right blend of everything, plus a little bit of intrigue — and Max has figured this out. Whatever your criteria for the perfect burger, you’ll find it here. Delicious, unexpected bites result from even the most basic of offerings, like the Max Classic on a just-baked artisan roll with a secret sauce that I can’t quite figure out. Their weekday Chalk Board specials include a Buffalo Mac Attack and a little chicken number called the Spicy Mother Clucker! And they serve top-notch onion rings, big fresh salads, and an extensive selection of beers!
124 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford
860-232-3300

Vinted Wine Bar & Kitchen - Now here’s a unique kind of place. You can order a bottle at the sommelier’s recommendation — or go by the glass, with 1oz., 3oz., and 6oz. portions available. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see couples conversing at the sleek marble-top bar over a dozen tasting glasses. And small plates are not only created to complement your choices but listed categorically according to main ingredient. Try starting with some Confit Duck Wings cooked in house-made sweet and sour sauce. Then give the Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops a go. (Work with the wine or beer or cocktails. Proper pairing, as you know, is key.) And finish with some Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake. It’s awesome.
63 Memorial Rd., Blue Back Square
West Hartford, 860-206-4648

Ruth's Chris Steak House - Maybe the steakhouse trend came. And maybe the steakhouse trend went. But Ruth’s Chris doesn’t care, because it’s definitely here to stay — and that’s because their signature prime beef is legendary, as are their perfectly cooked rib eyes, their tender Porterhouse for two, or their full-bodied New York Strip. Fact is, everyone knows that when it comes to beef, Ruth’s Chris does it best. Just follow the sizzle.
2513 Berlin Tpke., Newington
860-666-2202

Top 10 WinnerTreva Restaurant and Bar - Treva’s is where I usually go later in the evening, since the happy hour is always crowded, reservations are a must for prime-time dining, and I never make a reservation. That leaves me a rather small window of opportunity for my lovely repast — but I take full advantage of the opening. Recently, I began with the Chef’s Calamari Sauté with capers, garlic, shallots, and cherry tomatoes, followed by the Lattuga salad, a favorite with its Bibb lettuce, apple, Gorgonzola, and almonds. For my entrée I made a splendid choice: Veal Milanese with shaved fennel, arugula, fingerling potatoes, and lemon. And since it was late, I just had a nice digestive: Amaro — no ice. I slept well.
980 Farmington Ave, West Hartford
860-232-0407

Max’s Oyster Bar - When I’m feeling the need for a little validation, I head over to Max’s Oyster Bar. With its dimly lit urbane atmosphere, high ceilings, big booths, and white-aproned wait staff, it exudes confidence and doesn’t hold back. A half dozen oysters with the recommended wine, some plump sea scallops, Max’s Paella (featuring shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, Chorizo, calamari chicken, and saffron rice), and a slice of blueberry cake from nearby East Hampton (or some key lime pie) usually sends me home optimistic — ready to take on the world. But then, so does everything they serve. Brings me right out of my shell.
964 Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-236-6299

Doro Marketplace - Well, the Doro Restaurant Group has done it again, opening a fifth little gem you’re really going to love. Inspired by Europe’s traditional cafes and bakeries, Doro Marketplace is the place to go to experience the local community’s best foods and beverages. There’s a great selection of espressos, coffees, draft beverages, and other tasty liquid refreshments…breakfast sandwiches like the South Main, featuring bacon, egg, and cheddar cheese on a house-made brioche roll — and toasts like the Smashed Avocado and Zohara Market Humus. For lunches, choose from among sandwiches, soups, salads, bowls, polenta, and Rotisserie Chicken with all sorts of gotta-have sides and sauces. And never leave without a stop at The Bakery, with its freshly baked breads, croissants, stuffed breads, sweetbreads, and rich desserts. Go as you are and stay until you’re full. A great spot.
1253 New Britain Ave., West Hartford
860-310-2181 Reservations/860-578-8416

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Classics

Cheesecake Factory - I’m not sure why they call this place a factory. It looks more like the lobby of an international hotel — and the crowd is a lovely palette of global hues. But I go with the flow. Same with the menu. I try food from all over: Thai Lettuce Wraps, Jamaican Black Pepper Shrimp, the Americana Cheeseburger, or Cajun Jambalaya Pasta, to name a few. I’m never disappointed. And no matter what, I always enjoy their Original Cheesecake — though frankly, I’d be happy with just about any one of their 39 different cheesecakes. Or maybe all 39 at once. Because cheesecake rocks. It just does.
71 Isham Rd., Blue Back Square
West Hartford, 860-233-5588

Cora Cora - Occasionally, I get delivery or take-out and watch a movie — and when I do, I enjoy ordering from this wonderful Peruvian restaurant. Of course, dining in at this delightfully welcoming and colorful little spot is even better. But either way, I always opt for the fresh Fish and Shrimp Ceviche, a classic dish of soft fish marinated in lemon and special Peruvian spice sauce, served with red onion, corn, sweet potatoes and boiled potatoes. Then I move on to a classic beef dish like Lomo Saltado or the Chicken Chaufa. A glass of Chicha Morada followed by wine is perfect. And the desserts are so beautiful, I often hesitate to eat them. But I do..
162 Shield St., West Hartford
860-953-2672

fb @coracorarest

Bombay Olive - While I love the immediate and unwaveringly attentive service here, it’s the Persian/ Indian/ Nepalese cuisine that’s got me hooked. My favorite is the lamb kebab masala that comes with Nepalese fluffy Basmati rice or a Persian Polow with charcoal-grilled veggies, nuts, and chicken or lamb. It all has the spicy kick I not only expect but look forward to. There’s an all-you-can-eat buffet every day. And not only do they deliver. They cater.
450 S. Main St., West Hartford
860-561-3000

Effie's Place - This place is comfort food heaven. There for breakfast? Don’t bother looking at the menu. Just have the Hungry John. It has everything you could possibly want and you don’t have to worry about food for the rest of the day. But if lunch rolls around and you’re hungry again, try the Spinach Apple Salad, a Triple Decker Club, the Homemade Falafel Wrap — or Build Your Own Burger. My dinner favorites are a meatloaf (from the Just Like Mom’s section), maybe the Liver and Onions, or the Baked Stuffed Shrimp. And they serve breakfast all day. Bravo!
91 Park Rd., West Hartford
860-233-9653

Fernwood Restaurant - Call it old-fashioned. Or simply retro. Either way, this place serves good food. I always sneak in through the backdoor (which is, for all intents and purposes, the front door anyway). Then I slide into a dimly lit booth at the back of the dark dining room and order the super-cold Stella or house red. And when I’ve had a few minutes to unwind, I have a little pea soup or clam chowder — both excellent, before moving on to either the Fried Scallops with fries and coleslaw or a nice Rib Eye steak. And I always order dessert. Just remember: When you leave, go out the back door, the same way you came in, but in the opposite direction.
1113 New Britain Ave., West Hartford
860-233-6662

fb @Fernwood-Restaurant

Top 10 WinnerShish Kebab House of Afghanistan - I met Najia on a trip to Kabul — and I still have visions of her selling those beautiful rugs and spices on Chicken Street. Sometimes, I see her radiant smile in the face of one of the young waitresses who offer me a drink at this authentic Afghan restaurant. It’s like déjà vu all over again. Understandably, I always start with the house infused vodka drinks, such as the Persian Princess or Blue Monk. Their pea soup is thick and rich. The sautéed catfish is fragrant with spices. All the Kabobs are worthy. And even though I always seem to find myself missing Najia, this place satisfies my taste buds and soothes my spirit. Simply put, I love the drinks, the food, the people — and occasionally a little Hookah.
36 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford
860-231-8400

Pokéworks - Tired of same old/same old? Then head for Pokéworks for some Poké, a staple of native Hawaiian cuisine — and the authentic taste of the islands. First, you choose your base (a Poké bowl, burrito, or salad), followed by a protein (be it tuna, salmon, shrimp, scallops, chicken, or tofu). Next come the mix-ins (including chopped shiso, cilantro, cucumber, diced mango, Edamame, fresh Jalapeno, orange slices, or sweet onion) and your choice of flavor (from Pokéworks Classic or Srirachi/Wasabi Aioli to Sweet Chili Gochujang). Add some toppings (like avocado, green onion, spicy Furikake, or Wasabi Tobiko ). Last but not least, it’s crunch time (garlic, onion, and wonton crisps or Macadamia nuts among the favorites). And there you are! A Poké bowl, burrito, or salad so rich with heavenly textures and blissful tastes that you’ll be transported! Maybe not to Hawaii. But to Nirvana for
sure — and that’s close enough!
1445 New Britain Ave., West Hartford
860-521-8888

The Corner Pug - Why am I not surprised that this place is so popular? Just thinking of going there brightens my mood. And not just because I love the name (though I do) but because The Corner Pug lives up to its claim of being an honest pub, with just the right kind of old style pub décor, including a lot of Pug pictures, and serving up hearty pub grub, with everything tasting just the way it should taste. My favorites are the Fish & Chips and the Yankee Pot Roast. But it’s hard to pass up their great meatloaf, a hearty Reuben, the grilled Cajun Burger, or the Prime Pork Ribeye steak. And pretty soon, I intend to try the Irish Nacho Burger and the Apple Pie Taco. I know they’ll be amazing.
1046 New Britain Ave, West Hartford
860-231-0241

Top 10 WinnerOcho Cafe Tacos y Tequila - This is the kind of place that makes you smile the second you open the door. That’s partly because everything is so brightly colorful, from the walls and artwork to the tableware. But it’s also because Ocho Café welcomes its guests as family by offering authentic award-winning South of the Border dishes made with the finest ingredients — and their signature Magaritas. The appetizers, soups, and salads are hearty and tantalizing. The dinner menu is extensive, featuring entrees such as Molcajete (a mixed grill of steak, chicken, carne al pastor, and Mexican sausage served in a heated stone with queso asadero, salsa, avocado and scallions, plus onions and colorful peppers and a choice of beans and red rice). As expected, there’s a wonderfully creative selection of Tacos, Enchiladas (the Enchiladas Con Mole are awesome), Fajitas, and Chimichangas guaranteed to satisfy those who savor authentic Mexican cuisine — as well as those just getting acquainted. And they also have some seriously amazing desserts. So go! After all, tu estas cordialmente invitado — which means you’re invited.
330 North Main St., Bishops Corner
West Hartford, 860-310-3063

Saybrook Fish House - Anchored at the junction of Routes 44, 179, and 202 in Canton, Saybrook Fish House is an excellent fish house, featuring all the best seafood that’s easy to crave — and hard to find, including Fish and Chips, crispy and hot. Some of the most amazing shrimp cocktail that you will ever enjoy. Authentic chowders, both fish and clam. Whole belly fried clams. Amazing sea scallops fresh from New Bedford, MA. Mussels, sole, scrod, and salmon. Crab cakes, Baked Stuffed Shrimp, Lobsters. And yes, for the folks they call Fish Frowners, there’s pasta, chicken, and some excellent steaks. Need a taste of summer-by-the-sea right now? Make this your destination.
460 Albany Tpke., Canton
860-693-0034

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Pizza

Top 10 WinnerHarry's Bishops Corner - Go on a Tuesday night around 7:30 when there’s no line. Order a bottle of affordably priced Cabernet. Have a glass before you order. And don’t look at the whole menu. Just order one of the 3 specials, which usually feature local produce. Sip the wine. Eat slowly, savoring each bite. And don’t ever forget the complimentary lemon ice. It’s really good. Just remember to give owner Kevin Plaut a round of applause. I always do, even though I’m alone. He’s right there in front of you in the kitchen. And he’s earned it.
732 North Main St., West Hartford
860-236-0400

Luna Pizza - Pizza and kids are only as good as their makings. You know — good ingredients make good results, better ingredients make better results, and so on and so forth. Kids vary, so who knows. But I can promise that at Luna, they use excellent ingredients, so they have excellent pizza — and they have for years. Enough said.
999 Farmington Ave., West Hartford
860-233-1625

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About The Inside Diner

Being something of a regular at almost all of the restaurants he comments on, The Inside Diner provides no-nonsense assessments of the many establishments in the West Hartford area that he (or she) frequents.

If the food is good, you’ll hear about it. If it’s not, she (or he) figures you can find that out on your own. And according to The Inside Diner, mashed potatoes and meatloaf can be every bit as good as a meal of steak frites with truffle butter. Bottom line? Trendy spots get no special consideration for being trendy. In fact, the Top 10 rankings are in random order, so the first is not necessarily number 1 — and so on. Discovery is, after all, half the fun.

And remember: Having access to his (or her) insights is a big deal, because you won’t find The Inside Diner’s commentary in our other books. She (or he) — believing that too much al fresco and salt air can spoil the taste of good food — avoids the Shoreline. Glastonbury is across the river. And the Farmington Valley? Well, they’ll just have to make do. No matter how much a person likes to eat, you can only go out to dinner just so often.

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