Dining in the Pioneer Valley: The Local Paper’s Picks to Eat
The Valley Advocate has been publishing news and arts and reviews about the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts since 1973. Many people have discovered the upper Pioneer Valley, namely the towns of Amherst and Northampton, and they’ve moved here. For good.
Among them are musicians like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, and Ray LaMontagne, Kurt Vonnegut, plus dozens of world-famous writers, artists and people who loved their time at UMass and didn’t want to leave. GoNOMAD’s editor Max Hartshorne is a transplant of 30 years from New Jersey.
The Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts is also a great destination for visitors. Here’s a guide to the best restaurants in the area, covering just about all of the bases, and that gives you all you need to know about where to eat, and what to expect when you get there.
By Kristin Palpini
You know how it takes forever to figure out where you and your mates want to eat? Yeah, just pick a restaurant off this list. You’re welcome.
For yummy American fare: Paul and Elizabeth’s in Northampton’s been doing farm-to-table since before it was cool. The restaurant, which overlooks downtown, is especially well known for its fish and vegetarian dishes. The family-owned eatery works with BerkShore, a Holyoke-based company that connects restaurants with small-batch fishermen.
Blue Heron Restaurant in Sunderland is a romantic, upscale restaurant that delivers on the promise of excellent food. The Alvah Stone in Montague is a drive, but the staff’s attention to detail and the restaurant’s incredible dam view sets it apart.
Center Square Grill in East Longmeadow has fine dining and deliciously creative cocktails.Coco & The Cellar Bar in Easthampton is a chic restaurant that has the best damn fried chicken with mashed potatoes. Seriously, you can’t get that shit without a reservation — even on a Tuesday.
Ginger Garden in Amherst is authentic Chinese cuisine. The spices used at the eatery alone are hard to get — they have to be specially shipped. The establishment boasts a new sushi chef hailing from a Michelin-star restaurant in Manhattan. The Great Wall in Florence is beloved by the community and Oriental Flavor in Amherst is a favorite among the late-night crowd.
Family Recipes at Alina’s
About 80 percent of the items on the menu of the upscale Hadley eatery Alina’s Ristorante are family recipes, mainly traditional Italian dishes. Mulino’s Italian Restaurant in Northampton produces classic Italian dishes with a modern twist. Don’t know what to get? Order the Pappardelle Bolognese, aka Italy in a pan. It’s prosciutto, beef, pork and garlic sauteed in tomatoes and red wine with bright oregano.
Spoleto in Northampton also serves up some great Italian cuisine in a cozy atmosphere. Parthenon in Agawam has yummy American/Italian comfort food and Figaro’s, with locations in Enfield, Connecticut, and Springfield, is legendary.
If you ask anyone who has been in Northampton for a while where to get good Japanese food, they’ll probably mention Osaka Japanese Restaurant on Old South Street in Northampton. The fusion kitchen has been killing it for decades. And if fish sushi isn’t your thing, you’ve got to try their tasty veggie sushi platter. Also they’ve got a small, charming outdoor eating area that’s worth a visit.
Moshi Moshi Japanese Restaurant on Main Street in Northampton has a fun and celebratory atmosphere. Sit at the sushi bar and dish with ebullient Chef Sam. If you order the “Sam I Am” roll, the chef will make you something unique and unbelievably wonderful on the spot. K’s in Westfield is also awesome.
Sometimes all you want is some good grub, you know, like Mom used to make. For that, you’ve got to hit up one of the area’s excellent diners. First up, a pillar of local history: Bluebonnet Diner on King Street in Northampton originally opened in 1950 and is open every day, except Sunday, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
You can’t miss the iconic Miss Florence Diner, the neon sign will see to that. The Main Street (Florence) restaurant has been slinging sandwiches, eggs, and hash for so long, they’ve got it down to a science. With a new owner, the diner has vastly improved, locals say.
Got a sweet tooth? Sate it at Cerrato’s Pastry Shop in West Springfield, Tart and Woodstar, both of Northampton, Old San Juan Bakery in Holyoke or Koffee Kup Bakery or Mercolino’s Bakery, both of Springfield.
Breakfast often comes with eggs, cheese, maple syrup, bacon, sausage, fried potatoes, fresh bread, muffins, bagels, et. al. so, yeah, it’s the best meal of the day. Get a good base going at Sylvester’s in Northampton. After 33 years of business on Pleasant Street, Sylvester’s and breakfast go together like bacon and eggs — organic eggs, to be precise.
Jake’s, also of Northampton, is another great breakfast place. Located next to the Calvin Theater, Jake’s serves up plate-sized pancakes and stone cut oats. They are also located in North Amherst. Don’t forget the Stables, in Hadley, for an old-time bacon and eggs feast.
I say near because really nothing is perfect, but Esselon comes so close. The food is great, the atmosphere is chill, the coffee is supreme, and the outdoor eating area makes you feel like you’re munching in the Secret Garden.
Local Burgers and More
If you love burgers you must get yourself to a Local — they’ve got spots in Northampton and Williamsburg. The burgers are made with local, grass-fed, hormone-free beef and hell, yeah, you can taste the juicy difference. Also locally sourced are the restaurant’s fries and milkshakes.
Of particular delicious interest are their brownies — best in the Valley, according to Advocate staff — and smoothies. And, if you’ve been on campus in Hampshire County for more than five minutes, you’ve probably heard of Antonio’s, an excellent NY-style pizzeria with funky toppings. They’ve got locations in Easthampton and Amherst. In Springfield Peppa’s,Primo’s, and Red Rose are at the top of the pizza food chain.
No Pioneer Valley guide of any kind would be complete without a section telling you where to get the best BBQ and ribs: Bub’s BBQ in Sunderland, Wildwood Barbeque in Hadley, and Theodores’ Blues, Booze, and BBQ. Order the Burnt Ends for an app — they’re the most tender pieces of Theodores’ legendary brisket. Wish I was eating it right now.
Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou
This place isn’t BBQ, but it’s outstanding and you should go because Chef Wayne isn’t getting any younger and keeps telling us that every time we interview him: Chef Wayne’s Big Mamou in Springfield is a hidden — I’d say gem, but that doesn’t do this place justice — it’s a hidden diamond coated in other more valuable diamonds, then shot into space turned into a meteorite and shot back to Earth even more bedazzled and valuable than before.
The food is stick-to-your-ribs good and succulent. You will lick this plate of Creole soul cuisine clean. It’s BYOB and the chef does a killer brunch. Whenever you decide to go, get there early, it’s a small place on Liberty Street and after 6, there’s going to be a line.
We’ve given you the knowledge you need to make the most out of your time in the Valley. Now get out there and live it!
Kristin Palpini is the former editor of the Valley Advocate, published in Northampton, Mass every week. Visit their website. Kristin now works for the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA.