“Where Should We Eat?”

By Frank Whitman

l’ostal in Darien

People often ask me for restaurant recommendations, maybe because of my 45 years in the business, or maybe because I write about eating out.  I’m flattered, but the truth is that I just can’t eat out often enough with sufficient geographic scope to know in detail what’s happening in the restaurant scene.  I don’t think anyone can. 

However, the February Connecticut Magazine’s Top Restaurants issue comes close.  It has taken to surveying a gaggle of “professional foodies” across the state – encompassing a wide range of tastes and experiences – to put together a list of best restaurants. Full disclosure: I’m one of those “foodies.” My colleagues are writers, authors, celebrity chefs, website gurus and even a TV weatherman, each with a particular perspective and preference for where and how they eat out. 

Millwrights’s is a perennial favorite

Categories include both highbrow (Overall Excellence and Most Romantic) and lowbrow (Best Tacos, Burgers, or Hot Dogs), as well as everyday (Pizza, Delis or diners).  More than forty groups with multiple recommendations in each add up to a banquet-buffet of good eating opportunities. 

Twenty-nine are named for Overall Excellence. Who wouldn’t like to spend a year touring our small state and hitting them all?  Fairfield County is rich in this category including, Bar Rosina’s in Greenwich, Çka ka Qëllu in Stamford, Esh in Fairfield, Kawa Ni in Westport, L’Ostal in Darien and Taproot in Norwalk.  Coastal towns are well represented, but the excellent restaurants are scattered around the state.  Tiny Bantam (Pop 760) claimed two – the nationally famous Arethusa al tavolo and locally famous Materia Ristorante.

Mykonos Kouzina in Norwalk is a “Best New”

New restaurants recognized by the panel range from fancy to functional.  Plush, sophisticated and French-inspired – The Benjamin in Ridgefield shares the honor alongside The Taco Guy in Norwalk. Reflecting the creativity of today’s restaurant community, cuisines range far and wide including farm-focused, vegan, seasonal and southern as well as Greek, Japanese, Indian, and multiple iterations of Italian.

The Most Romantic section will be useful for Valentine’s day, but it’s useful year round for anniversaries, significant date-nights and romantic getaways.  There are also helpful lists for Waterfront and Outdoor dining. If beverage is your interest, check the sections for Wine and Beer focused eateries. Maybe next year they’ll include the trending category of cocktails.  

Good News Cafe in Woodbury

Just about every ethnic cuisine that you can think of is represented. Breakfast, brunch and lunch all get individual attention. Types of eateries are listed separately including: Diners, Delis, Overall Value and Hidden Gems.  There’s something here for everyone and any occasion. 

If you don’t see your fave on the list, let me know. I’ll see what I can do.

I know people who return to favorite restaurants time after time, preferring the familiar and basking in the privileges of being a restaurant-regular. Others have to check out the newest and hottest places, always on the cutting edge but not repeating much. In the middle some straddle this divide, but this requires eating out a lot.

Restaurants are intensely personal.  Loud and energetic for some, quiet and reserved for others. Food or overall-experience focused, each has its partisans. Restaurants, pricey or moderate, quick or slow, narrowly defined or wide ranging all have followers.  Thankfully we enjoy a bounty of choice that was unheard of just a few decades ago. 

Yes, I do have some restaurant recommendations.  Please feel free to ask!  But whatever your style or occasion, the Connecticut Magazine experts have done the heavy lifting for you, so keep the list handy!