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.
531 Farmington Ave., Hartford

The Nutshell Cafe - Waaaaaaay back in my college days, we used to play darts here, downing Guinness with one hand and devouring peanuts with the other. (Well, when it wasn’t our turn anyway.) These days, I prefer to remain seated for a crisp glass of Vinho Verde and a great meal. If you’re there for lunch, try the Bitoque — a N.Y. strip steak served with ham, a fried egg, and gravy. Or the Chourica — a Portuguese-style sausage sandwich. And if you’re there at dinnertime, don’t miss the Fish Strew. Made with clams, mussels, shrimp, salmon, swordfish, and squid, it’s terrific.
229 White St., Hartford, 860-956-2836

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? Drink a Durian fruit shake. It’s better than good.
144 Shield St. Plaza, West Hartford

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

Facebook @ Primavera Pub

Tangiers International - Just over the border in Hartford, Tangiers is the place to go for lunch — and some awesome falafel. Made from a generations-old family recipe, it’s uniquely seasoned and served with tangy, herby tzatziki or tahini. (I usually have seconds.) The gyros are authentic and flavorful. The pita is baked daily. The hummus is superb. The service is always friendly. And their display of imported groceries is an intriguing bonus. What more could you ask for.
550 Farmington Ave., Hartford

Connecticut Organic Pasta - Open since early 2019, Connecticut Organic Pasta is already enjoying great success — and that’s because they see things a little differently. Indeed, they describe themselves as “curators of inspirational foods for all different diets,” saying so confidently that once a new customer has tasted their uniquely fresh fare, they’ll be back. And they’re right. Offering dine-in service or take-out convenience, breakfasts feature such distinctively wholesome selections as tartines, (breads with a sweet or savory topping)…protein bowls that aren’t simply good but good for you…smoothies as rich as they are satisfying…and pastries made with real butter. (Yes, real!) Lunches include soups vivid with flavors and textures…composed salads that taste as amazing as they look…and lots and lots of fresh, handmade pastas. And the dinner menu? Anything you choose to take home with you — which is just about the best way to end any day. Need catering? Just ask. Your guests will thank you!
1142 New Britain Ave., West Hartford

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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 the Chili-Passion Fruit margarita. The Lobster enchiladas — and a Mexicali take on Ensalada Caesar, featuring manchego cheese, roasted corn salsa, and homemade Chile-Caesar dressing — are proof positive that rules are meant to be broken.
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 and enough paper napkins to cope, and I’m in my glory. But I’ll take anything, because it’s all tasty — 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

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. It’s terrific.)
85 Arch St, Hartford, 860-246-7610

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. 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

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 burgers, sandwiches, street tacos, omelets, pizzas, soups, and salads. But the dinner menu’s entrées include a Bistro Steak you won’t want to miss. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday, be sure to stay for a performance at their Brew-Ha-Ha Comedy Club. And Sundays, enjoy Pizza and a Pint. Sunday mornings, head here for brunch.
942 Main St., Hartford, 860-525-1600

Firebox - If you haven’t been to Firebox, expect exceptional farm-to-table gourmet fare served in a renovated factory located in an adventurous urban-chic setting on the fringe of downtown. Their forte is seasonally inspired offerings made with ingredients fresh from farms listed right on their menus — and a generous pinch of creativity. Their soups are always a good bet, as are the Tavern Burger or Seared Tuna Tacos served at lunch. For dinner, try the Pan Seared Scallops, with seacoast mushroom and pea risotto, watercress salad, and fennel. There’s a “Tavern” menu, as well, with more casual fare. A nice selection of white wines or a bottle of New Zealand MoMo will go well. Enjoy.
539 Broad St., Hartford

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 Slow-Roasted Ribeye Sandwich, with gruyere cheese, wild mushrooms, green peppercorn aioli, and hand-cut fries — or a Grilled Niman Ranch Pork Chop, with Swiss chard, hot honey and pistachio, charred corn, and radish salsa verde 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

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, because it’s on the 20th floor of One State Street, which the venerable Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company calls home. The service is polished and unobstrusive, 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

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

Feng Chophouse - Since 2006, when Feng Asian Bistro opened, sushi lovers have known exactly where to go for amazing sushi. But when it 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 — nor 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 edomae 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

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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

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

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 be a true find for Thai aficionados and a real pleasure for many who are new to the cuisine.
23 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford

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 will be overjoyed to hear about the opening in August 2018 of Pho 135 in West Hartford. The same family who ran all three earlier restaurants is back, under the leadership of Tiffany Nguyen, niece of the original owners, with a fresh new emphasis on Pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, and many of the same great recipes we have enjoyed going back to the 1980s. 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 Shrimp Egg Rolls, the Rare Beef Pho, the House Special Vietnamese Crepe, Salmon Clay Pot, Filet Mignon Shaking Beef and the Sweet and Sour Fish Soup. 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

Top 10 WinnerBlack 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. That’s okay, because the quality of the food is unmatched. Choose from 31 dinner specials for the best-value-in-town price of $10, or go to the regular menu where entrees range from $10 to $16. With food this good it’s all a bargain. 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

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Arugula Bistro - The warm lighting, brightly colored French artwork, and rustic touches — all lightly 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 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 Crispy Duck Leg Confit, though I still have strong feelings for last week’s entrée, which was the Mediterranean Fish Fry. If you tasted it, you’d understand the attraction.
953 Farmington Ave., West Hartford

Top 10 WinnerÁvert Brasserie - Hungry for some joie de vivre with your meal? Then come here to what could for all the world be a vintage Parisian brasserie with a 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, Herb Breaded Trout, or Veal Sweetbreads. Allons enfants de la Patrie! This is where it’s happening.
35A LaSalle Rd., West Hartford

Barcelona 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 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. I order an Ensalada Mixta with olives, onions, and tomatoes…Paella Salvaje, with pork cheek, gaucho, and morcilla…and a glass of Verdejo. I am happy.
971 Farmington Ave., West Hartford

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-a-while atmosphere to the tried-and-true generations-old recipes, everything here is simple and sensational. 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 créme brulée should be considered its own food group.
78 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford, 860-233-0220

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse - There is simply nothing like a great steak. And here, they serve great steaks — all prime, all straightforward in presentation, and all cooked perfectly. The Over the Top and Beyond Steak entrées ensure that everyone’s happy. The service is professional and high-spirited. The ambience recalls the warmth and clubiness 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 WinnerZohara Mediterranean Kitchen - The newest 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 Moroccan Seafood Stew, the Persian Lime Swordfish, or The Feast, featuring “a culinary tour” of everything this wonderful place has to offer. This place is zohara.
991 Farmington Ave., West Hartford

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. But 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 8-ounce Max Classic on a just-baked artisan roll with a secret sauce that I can’t quite figure out. And they serve top-notch onion rings, big fresh salads, and an extensive selection of beers.
124 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford

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. Start with cornmeal-dusted fired oysters with egg salad, truffle pearl, and truffle butter. The Crab Tartine, with grilled asparagus, avocado, radishes, hard boiled egg, hazelnut, piquillo pepper aioli, and sour dough bread. Or the Jamaican “jerk” chicken wings, with scallion and lime. From there, work with the wine (or beer, or cocktail). Proper pairing, as you know, is key.
63 Memorial Rd., Blue Back Square
West Hartford, 860-206-4648

Top 10 WinnerTreva Restaurant and Bar - Treva’s 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 Artisanal Flatbread, served with fig jam, prosciutto, and arugula, followed by the Lattuga salad, with Bibb lettuce, apple, Gorgonzola, and almonds. For my entrée I made a splendid choice: Pettini, prepared with scallops, polenta, wild mushrooms, and asparagus. And since it was late, I just had a nice digestive: Amaro — no ice. I slept well.
980 Farmington Ave, West Hartford

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, the halibut special, 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

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

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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

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 37 different cheesecakes. Or maybe all 37 at once. Because cheesecake rocks. It just does.
71 Isham Rd., Blue Back Square
West Hartford, 860-233-5588

Top 10 WinnerCora 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 Cau Cau de Pollo — a yellow pepper and chicken stew. 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

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, 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

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 the Veal Patty Parmagiana. 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

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

Pokeworks - 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 Jalopeno, orange slices, or sweet onion) and your choice of flavor (from Pokéworks Classic and Srirachi or Wasabi Aioli to Sweet Chili Gochujang). Add some toppings (like avocado, green onion, spicy Furikake, or Wasabi Tobiko ). And 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

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, 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 a good Ribeye steak. And pretty soon, I intend to try the Irish Nacho Burger and the Apple Pie Taco. It’s smart to have a goal.
1046 New Britain Ave, West Hartford

Ocho Cafe Tacos y Tequila - This is the kind of place that makes you smile the second you open the door. Partly, it’s 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). And as expected, there’s a wonderfully creative selection of Tacos, Enchiladas (the Enchiladas Con Mole sounds awesome), Fajitas, and Chimichangas guaranteed to satisfy those who savor authentic Mexican cuisine — as well as those just getting acquainted. They also have a Happy Hour menu and some 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

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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

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

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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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