New Haven Cuisine

November 1, 2010 - 12 AM

H. J. X., 3L

Did you know that New Haven is the home of many great food "firsts"? Like America’s first hamburger, cooked at Louis’ Lunch in 1900. Or America’s first lollipop, invented in New Haven in 1892. Or the first pizza in Connecticut, baked by Frank Pepe in 1925. And all these food treats and more can still be found in New Haven today.

New Haven has great restaurants, of all cuisines. You name it, New Haven’s got it: Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Spanish, American, Middle Eastern, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Mexican, Latino, and Italian. But New Haven is probably best known for its pizza.

Pepe’s is one of the oldest and most beloved pizzerias in the United States. Every time my family visits, everyone demands to go to Pepe’s, even if that means waiting in line for a table. Pepe’s is the originator of the famous New Haven-style pizza, which has historically drawn the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ronald Reagan. Today, Pepe’s thin crust pizzas are still baked in brick ovens fired by coal, and the pizzas come out with a nice brown crispy crust. Pepe’s signature White Clam Pizza is a perfect combination of a taste of New England seafood with a New Haven flair.

Other pizzerias in New Haven, like Modern or Sally’s, also serve delicious New Haven-style pizza. The restaurant, bar, and nightclub aptly named “BAR” not only brews its own ales but also dishes out some truly unique pizzas. Its signature: mashed potato & bacon, a thin-crust white pizza. Absolutely weird, absolutely delectable.

All this talk about pizza doesn’t mean New Haven’s other eats aren’t equally appealing. Right across the street from BAR is Louis’ Lunch, still grilling its famous hamburgers with onion and tomatoes. Asking for any condiments at Louis’ gets you kicked out, but the burgers are so juicy that you won’t even notice the difference. For dessert, Claire’s Corner Copia has the best buttercream frosting I’ve ever tasted, and its signature Lithuanian Coffee Cake is a staple for law school birthdays. For the gourmet palate, New Haven boasts numerous fancy restaurants, including my favorite Spanish restaurant, Ibiza, rated by one N.Y. Times critic as the best Spanish restaurant in the United States. A couple of weeks ago I was blown away by the ingenuity of Ibiza’s raviolis infused with fois gras, sweet potato, and zucchini. During graduation weekend, Ibiza is fully booked, and for this reason, Ibiza begins taking reservations in the fall. And finally, for the students: the food carts that appear around Yale's campus during lunchtime offer food from all cuisines and are pretty darn good for about $5 or less. No growling tummies here!