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Feed your brain in these tasty college towns

In addition to having plenty of casual spots serving coffee, pizza, and cheap beer, these cities have all sorts of tasty hideaways where chefs are using local ingredients to create thoughtful dishes.

A hanging pine cone marks the start of Atwells Avenue in the Federal Hill neighborhood in Providence, a dining destination.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

Whether you’re a parent with children visiting colleges this fall, are a current student, or just an intrepid foodie, these college towns stand out for their culinary offerings. In addition to having plenty of casual spots serving coffee, pizza, and cheap beer, these cities have all sorts of tasty hideaways where talented chefs are using locally grown and sourced ingredients to create thoughtful, market-fresh fare.

Burlington, Vt.

Vermont has earned accolades for its farmstead cheeses, maple syrup, cider, and produce farms, all of which area chefs parlay into terrific, seasonally inspired dishes. In Burlington, home to the University of Vermont and Champlain College, there’s a plethora of excellent restaurants, including three on Cherry Street.


Juniper Bar & Restaurant, 41 Cherry St.,

Inside the edgy Hotel Vermont , you’ll find this breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot courtesy of chef Doug Paine, who was born and raised in Vermont. In addition to well-made cocktails, Juniper offers a down-to-earth menu that might kick off with Vermont goat meat empanadas and local perch tacos followed by larger plates like BBQ porchetta and goat cheese gnocchi with wild mushrooms.

Bleu Northeast Seafood , 25 Cherry St.,

Known for its sustainably caught New England seafood and Vermont-grown produce, this teal-colored eatery inside the Courtyard Burlington Harbor is chef Doug Paine’s newest baby. Look for dishes like mussels with chorizo and tomatoes; seafood chowder; cornmeal-crusted Lake Champlain perch; and a grilled swordfish sandwich with caponata and lemon aioli.

Hen of the Wood, 55 Cherry St.,

This is the second location of the original Waterbury, Vt., restaurant offering lusty, farm-driven dishes on a menu that changes daily. Depending upon the week and month, you might find gem lettuce salad with a local blue cheese, candied pecans, and honey vinaigrette; fried rabbit with sunchoke cream; and braised lamb for two with feta and golden chickpea fries.


The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vt.NYT

Honey Road, 156 Church St.,

Oleana alum and chef/co-owner Cara Chigazola Tobin brings her small-plate Middle Eastern expertise to this restaurant, a three-time James Beard Award semifinalist (twice for best chef Northeast and once for best new restaurant). Expect over two dozen toothsome small plates, like grape leaf dolma with lamb and yogurt; tahini lamb kebab with grilled apricots and chili peanuts; and honeyed-walnut beets with ricotta. Save room for the equally tantalizing desserts, such as the chocolate tahini ice cream bar with honey caramel and peanuts.

Portland, Maine

Often referred to as “Brooklyn of the North,” Portland has become a hipster’s paradise with its stunning waterfront, sophisticated restaurant scene, and abundance of breweries, outdoor adventures, and cultural opportunities. Maine College of Art, Southern Maine Community College, and the University of Southern Maine bring a lively student population to the city, while the 200-plus restaurants offer plenty of ocean and farm-to-table fuel to locals and visitors alike. Here are a sampling of some of the tastiest spots.

Scales, 68 Commercial St. ,

Chef Sam Hayward of Fore Street fame, the locavore restaurant that put Portland on the foodie map, co-owns this upscale fish house on Maine Wharf. Beyond fresh-shucked oysters, clams, and tartars, you’ll find a medley of warm starters, like fried oysters with spicy aioli and crab-corn chowder. Entrees range from casual fish and chips to pan-roasted lobster in its own herb-flecked juices. Only a handful of meat offerings are available, so carnivores might want to head elsewhere.


Central Provisions, 414 Fore St.,

Chris Gould, who previously worked at Uni in Boston, opened this small-plate restaurant (with his wife and business partner, Paige Gould), which in 2015 was nominated for best new restaurant in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. It’s been busy ever since, serving brunch, lunch, “rations” from 2 to 5 p.m. (like smoked white fish dip, and Korean-spiced fries) and dinner selections, such as local halibut with green Romesco; sucking pig with brown butter apples; and crispy cod cheek tempura.

Chaval, 58 Pine St.,

This Spanish-French bistro is the latest incarnation from chef-owners Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez, who own the wildly popular Italian eatery Piccolo. With a chunky wooden bar, wooden tables, and French-blue chairs, Chaval turns local ingredients into plates, like whipped salt cod with pickled chilis; warm mushrooms with chorizo and duck egg; and local pollock with Swiss chard, golden raisins, and pignoli.

Miyake, 468 Fore St.,

A finalist in the James Beard Foundation’s best chef: Northeast award in 2015, Japanese-born and -raised chef-owner Masa Miyake tries to use as much locally harvested fish and seafood as possible on his lunch and dinner menus. Look for such options as grilled sea urchin with mascarpone and enoki mushrooms; Maine mussels steamed in dashi and sake; and lobster with spicy mayo rolled in an edible soy wrapper. For stellar ramen, head to the sister restaurant Pai Men Miyake.



Once a manufacturing and innovation center, Worcester now focuses on education, with nine colleges and universities within its city limits, including Assumption College, Becker College, Clark University, College of the Holy Cross , Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Quinsigamond Community College, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and Worcester State University. More recently, Worcester has upped its culinary game.

Deadhorse Hill , 281 Main St.,

All brick and warm wood, this seasonal American restaurant helped kicked off Worcester’s culinary renaissance when it opened in 2016, thanks to co-owners Sean Woods and chef Jared Forman, who saw potential in this educational hub. Both men previously worked at the now defunct Strip-T’s Restaurant in Watertown — Forman in the kitchen and Woods out front — and then at the shuttered Ribelle in Brookline with Forman cooking and Woods bartending. In this venture they’ve created a crave-worthy menu of dishes, like mustard spätzle with sweet corn and crème fraiche; Southern fried chicken thighs with honey hot sauce; and steak with poblano almond Romesco.

Craft Table & Bar, 50 Franklin St.,

Nestled in the lower level of an apartment complex, once home to the historic Bancroft Hotel, this casual restaurant offers a global mix of comfort food, such Jerk chicken empanadas; seared duck breast quesadilla; and fish & chips.

BirchTree Bread Company, 138 Green St., Suite 5,

A terrific spot for breakfast, lunch, or pizza on Wednesday and Friday nights when there’s also live music, this spacious bakery on the second level of the Crompton Place Building has gained fame for its rustic, naturally leavened breads, thanks to baker and co-owner Robert Fecteau, who cooked at Four Seasons Hotel Boston and Boston’s Ames Hotel. These loaves form the basis of the toast menu, complete with homemade jams, nut and seed butters, and all the hearty sandwiches, like corned beef and kraut with Gruyere. Soups and salads feature local veggies and greens and the coffee drinks use micro-roasted beans from Worcester’s Acoustic Java.


Volturno, 72 Shrewsbury St.,

It’s the Neapolitan pizza cooked in a 900-degree, wood-fired, Italian-fabricated oven that draws crowds to this trattoria with a sister property in Framingham. Over two-dozen pillowy pies fill the menu, including the Pistachio, a mouthwatering mix of homemade pork sausage, pistachio pesto, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano. There are also starters like grilled octopus with spicy aioli, salads, house-made pastas, like linguine with spicy clams and tomato, and entrees, including brick chicken with caper-shallot brown butter.


Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the nation, but it abounds with superb culinary options, especially in Providence, home to Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design, University of Rhode Island Feinstein Providence Campus, and the world-class culinary school Johnson & Wales University. Providence’s diverse mix of neighborhoods means you’ll find a wide range of ethnic offerings, along with plenty of local seafood. The city has over 60 food trucks, has more doughnut shops per capita than any other US city (favorites include Knead Doughnuts and PVDonuts ), hosts a January and July Providence Restaurant week, and recently opened Plant City, a vegan food hall and market. Here are a handful of restaurants to try.

Oberlin, 186 Union St.,

Chef Benjamin Sukle opened this snug, terroir-driven wine bar restaurant in early 2016 following the smash success of his 18-seat, farm-to-table eatery Birch. While it’s not always easy to snag a table at Oberlin, when you do, you’ll be rewarded with crudo topped toasts, pastas, and small plates vibrating with bold, luscious flavors, like beef tartar with Rhode Island mushrooms and pickles, and potato gnocchi with garlicky braised duck.

North, 122 Fountain St.,

Tucked inside the hip digs of The Dean hotel, this locavore eatery has drawn quite a following for its earthy, vibrantly flavored small plates, many with Asian accents. To wit, offerings might include raw littlenecks with nori-ginger mignonette, curried noodles with lamb meatballs, and crispy confit half chicken with beet horseradish sauce.

Persimmon, 99 Hope St.,

A James Beard semifinalist for best chefs in America multiple times, Johnson & Wales University graduate Champe Speidel owns (with his wife, Lisa) this ingredient-driven restaurant with wood-plank floors, bare wood tables, and white walls. Look for elegantly composed dishes, like exotic mushroom ragout topped with a soft duck egg and Béarnaise sauce; cavatelli with tender lamb meatballs, local greens, and sheep’s milk cheese; and pan-roasted duck breast with smoked cherries and hazelnuts. The cocktails are as creative as the wine list.

Kleos, 250 Westminster St.,

Transport yourself to Greece via this cozy Greek taverna with wooden tables, rush seat chairs, and homey dishes like flaky spanakopita; grilled lemony octopus with the restaurant’s own olive oil; pastitsio (Greek lasagna); and fall-off-the-bone garlicky lamb shank. Add some Greek wine and you’re all set.