The Best Food and Drink in Vermont for 2019
December 20, 2018
Besides Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, of course
The Best Food and Drink in Vermont
One visit to Vermont and you'll realize that its culinary scene involves a lot more than maple syrup! Vermont’s residents are outdoorsy and have taken their love for traditional, small-scale farming to the big stage by leading the nation’s farm-to-table movement. We’ve rounded up the best of the state’s eats as part of our second annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
The state may be small and the farms might be even smaller, but the people from Vermont are strong, independent, and not to be trifled with. The tough and ever-changing land of steep hills and rocky soil has forced Vermont residents to reinvent the state’s food and drink industry time and time again, most recently by devoting efforts to growing some of the country’s best produce. And from the Ben & Jerry’s factory to the plethora of craft breweries to tour and the unbelievable excess of dairy (there’s one cow in Vermont for every 3.8 people) it’s basically a foodie’s dream come true.
Over the course of the past year we’ve honored everything from its best hot dogs and brunch spot to its best bar and craft beer in our comprehensive and wide-ranging lists and rankings, compiled through extensive research and with input from a wide network of site contributors, bloggers, journalists, and chefs.We’ve compiled these into individual slideshows celebrating the best food and drink in every state, and you can find our Vermont gallery here.
Best All-You-Can-Eat Deal: Lucky Buffet (St. Albans)
Located inside a nondescript building across the street from the St. Albans train station, Lucky Buffet serves a varied and ample buffet with a rotating selection of frequently restocked, freshly prepared dishes. The 5-year-old restaurant offers just about everything you’d expect from a Chinese buffet, including General Tso’s chicken, dumplings, shu mai, shrimp, lo mein, fried rice, and the like. It’s not blazing any new territory, but it does what it does extraordinarily well, for a price that tops out at $9.45.
Best Bar: Ye Olde Tavern (Manchester)
Ye Olde Tavern/Yelp
Ye Olde Tavern is an extremely apt name for this Manchester pub. It was built circa 1790, back when Vermont was that pesky new state on the block that crashed the original 13 colonies’ party. Although the tavern has changed hands numerous times since — and a major renovation was undertaken in 1975 — the uneven floors, slanting doorways, and antique furnishings have remained undisturbed. The tavern has since been listed on the Vermont Register of Historic Places, adding further authenticity to a place that serves Prohibition-era cocktails, an extensive and expertly curated selection of wine, and a 1790 Taproom Ale brewed especially for the bar.
Best Beer: Heady Topper, The Alchemist (Stowe)
Yelp / BostonBestEats X.
Between the brewery juggernauts of Hill Farmstead and The Alchemist, picking the best beer in Vermont is quite the task. But we had to go with the true classic: The Alchemist’s Heady Topper. This flagship IPA is not overrated, though it can be hard to find outside of Stowe, Vermont. It’s perfectly floral yet complex, and every drinker has his or her own experience of flavors, making this a simply glorious brew.
Best Brunch: Penny Cluse Café (Burlington)
Burlington’s popular Penny Cluse Café, which was founded by Charles Reeves and Holly Cluse (and named after Holly’s dog, Penny) in 1998, opens at 8 on weekends, when you’re going to want to get there early to avoid the massive lines for a table. This is the kind of place where just about everything on the menu looks delicious: buttermilk, buckwheat, or gingerbread pancakes served with Vermont maple syrup; biscuits and gravy; house-made banana bread; eggs with grilled polenta, black beans, and salsa ranchero; a full English breakfast (minus the black and white pudding); chorizo and egg tacos; sourdough French toast; and home fries with melted cheese, salsa, sour cream, green onions, and eggs. And for the vegans, all eggs can be replaced with tofu scramble. And if you’re more in the mood for lunch, opt for chicken and biscuits, posole, braised beef tacos or sandwich, roast pork shoulder with corn muffins and salsa verde, turkey cobb salad, or an Orb Weaver Vermont Farmhouse Cheese sandwich. Make sure you order a glass of fresh Vermont apple cider.
Best Burger: Al’s French Frys (Burlington)
If you live in Burlington, Vermont, you’ve heard of Al’s French Frys. The sprawling burger joint, located just south of downtown, started as a French fry stand run by Al and Genevieve Rusterholz in the late 1940s, and over the years it just kept growing. The latest incarnation still has a distinctly 1950s vibe, and a menu that appears to not have changed (in either offerings and price) in years. The patties are small, and sit between halves of a soft white bun. If you don’t order any toppings, which cost extra, all you get is meat on a bun, which certainly implies that they stand behind its quality. The never-frozen patties are indeed high-grade beef, but some lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, cheese, and ketchup (as well as a second patty to balance out the meat-bun-toppings ratio) never hurt. This is a seriously good old-school burger, and a seriously tasty one at that.
Best Chinese Restaurant: A Single Pebble (Burlington)
Photo by Rory M. via Yelp
This family-style Burlington institution is the brainchild of chef/owner Chiuho Duval, who grew up in Taipei and left a career in photojournalism to chase her dream of running a restaurant. And by all accounts, she’s succeeded with flying colors. (Just ask Alton Brown, who called her shiitake-based mock eel his “all-time favorite chopstick food” on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate.) The menu is wide-ranging and expansive, but must-orders include daily special dumplings, barbecue hanging pork, steamed fish of the day, salt and pepper tofu, and steel pot sha cha beef. If you can’t make up your mind, the chef’s tasting menu is always a good option.
Best Chocolate Shop: Lake Champlain Chocolates (Burlington)
Lake Champlain Chocoaltes/Yelp
Considered to be some of the very best chocolate in all of New England, this Burlington staple carries wonderfully executed gourmet chocolates. What they lack in outrageous flavors, they make up for in elegant execution. Plus, their drinking chocolate is some of the most indulgent and delicious of its kind.
Best Coffee Shop: Maglianero (Burlington)
Getting direct trade coffee beans from Counter Culture Coffee, Maglianero is a café that looks to be yet another hub of creativity in Vermont's answer to Brooklyn. Art decorates the walls, and there's even indoor bike parking, all perks to a place that's already home to great coffee and wonderful locally baked treats.
Best Craft Brewery: The Alchemist Brewery (Waterbury)
This family brewery, situated in small-town Vermont, specializes in unfiltered IPAs. It was opened in 2003 as a modest brewpub, and expanded to include the Alchemist Cannery in 2011, which is closed to the public but produces the brewery’s famous double IPA, Heady Topper, which is sold in limited production. In 2016, Alchemist Stowe was opened in Stowe, Vermont; the new facility produces Focal Banger IPA and various seasonal beers in addition to Heady Topper, and includes a visitor center.
Best Cupcake: My Little Cupcake (Burlington)
Photo by Eeka S. via Yelp
Trust us: Despite the fact that these sweets are baked in miniature, there is nothing “little” about these cupcakes. They’re perfect bits of heaven piled high with frosting or, when the cupcake calls for it, smothered in it. The flavor is big-time as well, with a wide variety of options — from Almond Squared and Lemon Raspberry to Piña Colada and Maple Pumpkin — sure to appeal to everyone.
Best Donuts: Mrs. Murphy's Donuts (Manchester)
Mrs. Murphy’s is a quaint little shop with a granny on its logo, and their delicious yet simple doughnuts live up to the old-fashioned promise. The maple cream doughnuts, cinnamon cider doughnuts, and cookies and cream doughnuts are the definition of homemade comfort.
Best Farmers Market: Burlington Farmers’ Market (Burlington)
The Burlington Farmers’ Market takes advantage of the many goodies produced in Vermont year-round by moving to an indoor facility during the brutal winters. From wine, mead, honey, and hummus to vegetables, flowers, breads, and meats, Burlington’s market sources producer-only goods for locals and tourists alike.
Best Food Truck: Farmers and Foragers (Burlington)
Farmers and Foragers/Yelp
The Farmers & Foragers truck epitomizes Vermont food culture. Fresh ingredients are made into a variety of light yet flavorful dishes, spanning all types of cuisines. Owners Sol and Lauren incorporate local ingredients into dishes like their pork-belly bahn mi, peppery udon noodles, and Vermont cheesesteak. Pair one of these yummy sandwiches with a cold, Vermont craft beer and enjoy the good life.
Best Fried Chicken: Misery Loves Company (Winooski)
What started as a popular Vermont food truck in 2012 went brick-and-mortar in 2013, and today it’s one of the Burlington area’s most popular restaurants (with its own farm, to boot!). The focused menu boasts handmade pastas and plenty of seasonally-inspired items, but convince everyone at your table to order the family-style fried chicken, because it’ll be worth it. The locally-sourced bird is coated in a crunchy crust that shatters when you bite into it, revealing moist, flavorful meat underneath. It comes with two vegetable sides; make sure you dunk everything in to the honey butter it’s served with.
Best Grocery Store: City Market, Onion River Co-op
Photo by City Market Onion River Co-Op via Yelp
“Out of every grocery store around the country and the world that I have gone to, this is the best one yet. The Onion River Co-op offers huge amounts of fresh, organic, and local produce, dairies, meats, spices, grains, and almost everything else that you can think of. What they do not have from local farms, they make sure to buy the best goods they possibly can; just talking about it gives me that rare rush only a great grocery store can,” one Google reviewer said.
Best Hotel Restaurant: The Inn at Weathersfield (Perkinsville)
This eighteenth-century farmhouse is a perfect retreat, and its restaurant is one of the state’s best. More than 75 percent of the ingredients used here come from within a 25-mile radius of the hotel, and a root cellar helps get it through the winter. Breakfast is only open to guests, but dinner is served to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays. The menu lets those local ingredients sing: heirloom carrots and beets are served with housemade ricotta, greens, and maple Champagne vinaigrette; charcuterie is made in-house and served alongside local artisan cheese, and local lamb and chicken is simply roasted and served alongside accompaniments like butternut squash risotto, heirloom cranberry beans, and roasted root vegetables.
Best Ice Cream Stand: The Village Scoop (Colchester)
Best Italian Restaurant: Trattoria Delia (Burlington)
One of Burlington’s most romantic restaurants, 26-year-old Trattoria Delia occupies a charming basement space and warms the cold night with a fireplace and traditional regional Italian fare. It’s been going strong since 1993, and all pastas are either hand-rolled and cut or made using an Arcobaleno extruder with traditional Italian brass dies. So we definitely suggest you sample some pasta dishes — the chitarra all’Amatriciana (with house-cured guanciale) and tagliatelle al terre e mare (with local scallops and porcini mushrooms) are standouts — but entrées like prosciutto-wrapped Vermont rabbit and slow-braised short rib are also spectacular. Make sure you sample the house-made gelato for dessert.
Best Mexican Restaurant: El Gato Cantina (Burlington and Essex Junction)
El Gato is providing Burlington and Essex Junction residents with a fun and relaxed environment in which to enjoy a couple margaritas and some high-quality Mexican fare made with local ingredients and based on the owners’ old family recipes. Tamales are homemade; tacos and burritos are available with proteins, including marinated carne asada, slow-braised carnitas, chicken mole, beef barbacoa, braised tongue, and grilled or fried fish; fajitas are sizzling and delicious; and the pozole is killer.
Most Outrageous Restaurant Dish: Chuck Norris (Handy's Lunch)
Breakfast sandwiches can come in all types, and Handy's Lunch has plenty of options for those stopping by for a morning meal. Named for actor and martial artist Chuck Norris because it really packs a punch, the Chuck Norris is made of four layers of French toast sandwiching four eggs, five meats, and cheese.
Best Pancakes: Maple Sugar and Vermont Spice (Mendon)
Sure, this place may be a little touristy, but when an authentic, working sugar house in Vermont is making pancakes, it’s all but guaranteed that these flapjacks are going to be good. And at Maple Sugar and Vermont Spice, located a stone’s throw from Killington’s legendary slopes, they definitely are. They’re available in a variety of styles, including blueberry, sugar and spice (with cinnamon and maple sugar in the batter), maple walnut, chocolate chip, and the super-popular pumpkin. All pancakes come with pure maple syrup, and in one of the great “only in Vermont” moves, if you want artificial syrup, it’ll cost you extra.
Best Pizza: Pizzeria Verita (Burlington)
At Vermont’s best pizzeria, pizzas are made in the traditional Neapolitan style, cooked in a 900-degree Acunto oven. The owners of Verita, which has been in business for five years, have built relationships with some of Vermont’s finest local farmers and food producers, and the end result is a product that combines the best of Italy with the best of Vermont. Try the Margherita for simple perfection, try the Salsiccia e Rapini (with house-made sausage, tomato, fior di latte, broccoli rabe, grana padano, and fresh basil) to see how skilled the kitchen is, and try the Burrata (with local Maplebrook burrata, pecorino Romano, grape tomatoes, and fresh basil) to sample great local artisan cheese. And make sure you finish with a pizza alla Nutella!
Best Sandwich: Hot Italian Meats, Gill’s Delicatessen (Rutland)
Photo by E W. via Yelp
Opened in 1964 by Ned and Veda Gilligan and today run by their daughter, Kathy, Gill’s is a beloved Vermont institution that’s turning out some truly spectacular grinders. Bread is baked fresh daily in house, deli meats and cheeses are high quality, and it’s all best experienced in the Hot Italian Meats grinder. Spiced ham, peppered ham, and Italian salami are tucked into a loaf and topped with cheese, shredded cabbage, tomatoes, pickles, onions, hot peppers, and mayo or seasoned oil.
Best Soup: Zabby & Elf’s Stone Soup (Burlington)
Yelp/ Sarah C.
Stone Soup prides itself on making everything from scratch, and along with great soups, salads, burgers, and sandwiches, it’s also a haven for vegetarians. Ingredients are sourced locally and soups change according to what’s fresh and in-season, but you can always depend on there being a wide variety of meat-based, vegetarian, and vegan options. Favorites include chicken soup, beef stew, curried yellow split pea, tomato, and Tuscan red lentil.
Best Steakhouse: Guild Tavern (Burlington)
A custom-built wood-fired grill is the centerpiece of the kitchen at Guild Tavern, presided over by chef-owner Philip Clayton, who honed his skills at some of Vermont’s finest restaurants and is dedicated to serving only the finest local ingredients. Beef comes from LaPlatte River Angus Farm, located about 15 minutes away from the restaurant, and it’s really allowed to shine when grilled over Vermont hardwood. New York strips, rib-eyes, and fillets are all on offer, as well as a crazy good burger and a sirloin for two, carved tableside.
Absolute Best Thing to Eat: Sugar on Snow, Bragg Farm (Montpelier)
Sugar on Snow is one of Vermont’s favorite foods, and there’s nothing else quite like it: a mound of crushed ice (or “snow”) with some fresh maple syrup drizzled onto it so it firms up like taffy, served with a doughnut and a pickle on the side. The combination may not make sense… until you try it. The best place to experience this uniquely Vermont food is at a sugarhouse like the one at Montpelier’s Bragg Farm.
Best Taco: Chile Colorado, The Mad Taco (Waitsfield)
Photo by Amanda M. via Yelp
Located in a quiet corner of central Vermont, The Mad Taco is serving wildly good tacos and craft beer to crowds of thankful locals. Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible, and they even smoke their own pork and chicken. There are some surprising menu items, but sample them and you’ll be rewarded. The Chile Colorado, for example, is made with rich and flavorful shredded pork topped with onion, cilantro, and avocado; it’s a must-order. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2019.