Lareau Farm Country Inn
46 Laureau Road (off Route 100)
Waitsfield , Vermont
Tel: 802 496 8856
A 800-degree clay and stone oven dominates the center of this 19th-century barn-cum-restaurant, which serves inspired pizza combos. The Punctuated Equilibrium flatbread (kalamata olives, red peppers, and Vermont goat cheese—it's named for an evolutionary theory) is a favorite, and the New Vermont Sausage (made with local pork, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, caramelized onions, and mushrooms) is irresistible. The wait is as famous as the food, especially during ski season, when it seems all of Sugarbush is jamming the place. An hour is common, but they'll stick a beer in your hand and point you outside, where a bonfire sends sparks overhead and keeps you warm. Outposts in Middlebury (137 Maple St.; 802-388-3300) and Burlington (115 St. Paul St.; 802-861-2999; open daily) lack the farm charm but maintain the culinary standards.
Open Fridays and Saturdays 4:30 to 9:30 pm.
133 Bank Street
Burlington , Vermont
Tel: 802 865 5200
The best Chinese food in Vermont, without question. Chef-owner Steve Bogart has cooked at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing and regularly tours China in search of new inspiration. The mock eel (dangly strips of braised shiitake mushrooms in a sweet-spicy ginger sauce) is a classic, one of many spectacular vegetarian options using centuries-old Buddhist recipes. Lemon sesame shrimp and red-pine chicken are stellar choices for the more meat-minded. A Single Pebble is deceptive—the atmosphere is so casual and the prices so reasonable that it takes a few visits to get just how good the food really is.
Open Mondays through Fridays 11:30 am to 1:45 pm and 5 to 9 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 5 to 9 pm.
98 Mill Street
St. Johnsbury , Vermont
Tel: 802 748 8400
Inhabiting a renovated mill on the banks of the fast-flowing Passumpsic River, Elements is all brick, golden wood, and gleaming glass, reflecting the graphic-design background of co-owner Keith Chamberlin. The menu is enlightened American nouveau, with an emphasis on local ingredients and seasonal variation (it takes part in the Vermont Fresh Network). The smoked trout and apple cakes are a perfect celebration of what's good about Vermont, and the venison pie and pumpkin risotto also have local roots. Vegetarians will be pleased with the shiitake–blue cheese dumplings.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 5 to 9 pm.
92 Stowe Street
Waterbury , Vermont
Tel: 802 244 7300
Just as some of France's Michelin three-star restaurants are found in the most obscure country towns, so, too, has Hen of the Wood outshined its humble surroundings. Opened in 2005 in the town of Waterbury (a tourist trap for Stowe-bound skiers) and housed in a 19th-century grist mill, Hen of the Wood defines Vermont farm-to-table dining. Chef Eric Warnstedt, formerly of Burlington's Smokejacks, now forages for the freshest local ingredients and cooks them with co-owner Craig Tresser. Down a double set of stairs, the rustic-elegant dining room mixes exposed beams and fieldstone walls with white linens and tea lights. Servers are professional—not the distracted college students of some other Green Mountain eateries—and subtle, allowing the cuisine and boutique wines to sparkle. Hen of the Wood's menu changes with the season, but if Warnstedt is cooking up smoked LaBelle Farms duck breast with mustard spaetzle, don't miss it. And save room for the artisanal cheeses and the desserts (like lemon-curd tartlets) crafted by Mystic Pie pastry whiz Laura Nedich (877-588-7437; www.vermontmysticpie.com).
Open Mondays through Saturdays, seatings from 5 to 9 pm.
2594 Depot Street
Manchester Center , Vermont
Tel: 802 362 2817
We'll refrain from commenting on the tongue-in-cheek name of this place, or the T-shirts and panties it sells. Instead, we'll focus on the food, which has won the Perfect Wife a cultlike following among Manchester locals. Owned by chef Amy Chamberlain and located about five minutes from downtown, it has two floors and two different menus. In the restaurant downstairs, stone walls and a greenhouse space are the backdrop for dishes such as Peking-duck mandarin pancakes and poached king salmon over black beluga lentils. The upstairs tavern is ski-town cozy—beer bottle collections, dartboards, foosball, and a jukebox—and has a pub-like menu of burgers and wings. It's also where you'll find an outdoor patio, Vermont beers on tap, and dozens of perfect wives dancing to live rock 'n' roll.
Open Mondays through Fridays 5 to 10 pm.
Route 114, Main Street
East Burke , Vermont
Tel: 802 626 3514
The River Garden Café is the kind of place that inspires Vermonters to drive long distances for dinner, just to eat its simple but perfectly cooked New American food. Located in East Burke, it's on the same road that leads to Burke Mountain ski area and also the Kingdom Trails mountain biking area. For lunch, chef Steven Hartwell serves fresh bruschetta with toppings that change daily (sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke pesto, for instance). At dinnertime, owners Bobby Baker and David Thomas dim the lights, turn on the jazz, and offer such dishes as roasted pork tenderloin stuffed with wild mushrooms and prunes, and rainbow trout stuffed with bacon and caramelized onions. Prepare to be stuffed yourself.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays 11:30 am to 2 pm and 5 to 9 pm.
65 Main Street (Route 2)
Plainfield , Vermont
Tel: 802 454 1246
River Run answers the eternal question: "Where can I get good gumbo for breakfast in Vermont?" Okay, maybe not that eternal, but owner Jimmy Kennedy's bayou-inspired food is a happy respite from the usual up-north fare. An hour from Burlington on the way to nowhere, really (except Maine), it serves three meals a day. Breakfast includes vegetable fritters with a sweet-potato hollandaise; dinner always has a catfish dish or two.
Open Wednesdays through Saturdays 7 am to 2 pm and 5 to 10 pm, Sundays 7 am to 2 pm.
152 St. Paul Street
Burlington , Vermont
Tel: 802 864 5253
Step through Trattoria Delia's massive oak door and you enter what could be a dimly lit farmhouse outside Siena, complete with wooden rafters and a fireplace. The menu won't puncture the facade: handmade tagliatelle in a creamy porcini mushroom sauce, filet mignon braised in Barbera wine with white-truffle butter. The fare isn't exactly light, but that's what the great outdoors is for—working it off tomorrow.
Open daily from 5 to 10 pm.
4080 Upper Mountain Road
Stowe , Vermont
Tel: 802 253 8480
Brothers Giancarlo and Tony DeVito have created the kind of casual joint they most loved in their native Rome, complete with checkered tablecloths and the sharp smell of garlic. Yep, those are locals lining the long bar, knocking back Chianti and calamari, and that's Tony by the door kissing familiar faces as they walk in. Don't be misled by the homey feel, though: The all–Italian wine list has been a Wine Spectator favorite for years, and the food is serious. A winter meal might start off with a blood–orange–fennel salad and continue with pork loin stuffed with spinach, roasted red peppers, and Gorgonzola. Summer dishes lean toward seafood. The $35 five–course prix–fixe dinner is a tremendous bargain, and the location—on the Mountain Road in Stowe, across from the Topnotch resort—is ideal for meeting up at the end of the day.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 5:30 to 10:30 pm.
4935 Main Street
Manchester Center , Vermont
Tel: 802 362 4204
A hangover does not mix well with a flight of steep stairs, a long line, and a hot room. But once you finally get seated at this Manchester café, all is well again. Scrutinizing the expansive menu—wild-turkey hash, lingonberry pain perdu, Cajun frittata, red flannel omelets—may hurt your head a bit, but the venison blueberry sausage and fresh-squeezed orange juice will sort you out. As you wait, look jealously at the Appalachian Trail through-hikers, tourists, and flannel-clad Vermonters who are busy tucking into their own heaping plates of grub. Some of them are probably hungover, too.
Open Mondays through Fridays 7 am to 12 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 7 am to 1 pm.