Just an hour train from New York Penn Station straight to Princeton Junction (where I grew up) lies the breathtaking campus of Princeton University. What takes my breath away are all of the possibilities to grab a bite for such a tiny town. Here are some of my top picks if you ever decide to take a day trip down to Princeton.
The early bird definitely catches a pancake or five at this popular location! Not to worry if you have to wait in line on weekend mornings, because between the heavenly scent of maple syrup caressing your senses and the copious amount of adorable dogs on their morning walks, the time will no doubt fly by. Whether you have their classic buttermilk pancakes stacked sky-high or any one of their riffs on the ole classic like tiramisu or spicy apple pancakes, know you’ll leave feeling full and comforted by the classic service and the tell-all bar that has inscriptions in the wood from all its previous benefactors.
Jammin’ Crepes ($$)
I first came upon this farm-to-table hotspot at the West Windsor Community Farmers Market (every Saturday from 9am to 1pm) which introduced me to the best crepes in town! It offers a delectable range of sweet to savory options: from a savory bahn mi style crepe to lemon lavender crepes (my personal favorite), jamming crepes has a crepe recipe for everyone to enjoy.
Witherspoon Grill ($$$)
This restaurant is always packed to the brim, so be sure to make reservations in advance! Once you do get a foot in the door, their sirloin steak salad or short rib mac n’ cheese is always a crowd pleaser. Do note, however, that their outdoor dining menu has become shortened and is not conducive for vegans/vegetarians, although they do substitutions.
Hoagie Haven ($)
Did you even visit Princeton if you didn’t try a hoagie from hoagie haven? Their claim, ‘we serve the best hoagies on earth or anywhere else’ rings true once you try one of their classic sandwiches; I recommend the Body Bag if you want to order a classic, which they say is their number 1 hoagie, made from cheesesteak, hash browns, egg, ketchup, and of course hot sauce.
Subway? We never knew her.
Nomad Pizza ($$)
With their age-old wood-fired oven front and center, Nomad pizza offers a special yet authentic experience of Italian pizza. Try their gorgonzola and pear pie with candied pecans and caramelized onions or their tartufo pizza that’s topped with black truffle oil for that extra touch of indulgence. Best of all, they proudly “feature locally grown organic produce and responsibly-raised meats when available to support a sustainable food community.”
Think American cuisine with an ethnic twist. Walking into a Mistral is always like a breath of fresh air: small menu but every choice is a good one. There's a focus on not only the food but the experience of eating and most importantly enjoying it with those with whom you came.
Cafes / Quick Bites:
Typically, a dog is hanging around the front waiting for its owner to pick up a quick brew, and once you step inside, the light chatter of fellow students and workers busily typing plus the wafting scent of freshly baked goods makes for one of the most cozy cafes I’ve ever been to and you might agree once you take a step through its doors.
House of Cupcakes ($$)
Most well known for winning Food Network's Cupcake Wars, House of Cupcakes is the perfect place to pick up a scrumptious treat including but not limited to over 35 flavors of cupcakes (vegan options absolutely available), cookies, and donuts and more!
Halo Pub ($$$)
Although founded in 1992, walking into Halo Pub feels like walking into a different time period. Perhaps its the old-timey font on their ice cream cartons, or the wood-panneled walls, maybe the antique velvet booths, or the idyllic landscape paintings of cow farms hanging in the background. Regardless, the creamiest ice cream and the delectable hot chocolate and espresso drinks is sure to either cool you down on a hot summer day or warm you up on a chilly night. Either way, it's never the wrong moment to stop by Halo Pub.
Tiger Noodles ($)
Already well-versed with outdoor seating, some of my best memories of Princeton is eating Chinese food as the sun sets on a cool summer night. Looking to get a class box of Chinese takeout without sacrificing quality and authenticity? Tiger Noodles should be the stop for you. From Chinese-American classics like orange chicken to authentic Chinese moo-shu, you’ll find it all.
Papardelle ragù alla bolognese topped with parmigiano-reggiano (left) & roasted garlic, mushrooms, thyme, sottocenere & mozzarella wood-fired pizza (right)
Despite all the changes due to pandemic restrictions, eating at Mediterra was still as magical of an experience as ever. With gracious service, and a diverse and well-curated mouth-watering menu, the twinkling of the outdoor string lights is enough to reel me in to sit outside in the chilly fall weather to indulge a in right hearty meal with friends and family.
Walking past Agricola itself was always an experience: as you pass the windows littering the storefront, peering into the intimate conversations of strangers seated at a dimly lit bar with a bartender shaking up some novel concoction, you move onto the main prize: staring open-mouthed in front of their larger-than-life window carried a glimpse into the world of professional chefs, as they worked efficiently yet calmly creating modern farm-to-table American dishes right in front of your eyes.