Hidden Restaurant Gems

logos of New Haven restaurants

Being from a small town where everything is pretty spread out between open fields and farmland, coming to Yale where everything is within walking distance was a total paradigm shift. Suddenly, I didn’t have to get in the car any time I wanted to go somewhere. And it’s a good thing, because I didn’t bring a car to campus (paying to park in a garage nowhere near my residential colleges? No thank you.) My new ability to just walk down the street to go to a store or grab a quick bite to eat almost felt like a superpower. And in my quest to discover all of New Haven’s delicious food, I’ve curated a list of a few favorite restaurants that I think any foodie-Yalie should know about. These aren’t the fancy places you see downtown, across the street from campus buildings. No, these would be considered “off the beaten path” by most Yalies, and yet they’re still incredibly easy to access on foot. Here are three hidden gems I’ve unearthed in roughly three and a half years in New Haven.

​#1. Ricky D’s Rib Shack: 22 minute walk from the center of campus.

​First up on my list is a place that always does a good job of giving me a taste of home. If you agree that “barbecue” is a genre of food and not a type of social gathering, Ricky D’s is the place for you. I’m not sure exactly how this place got started, but I think someone once told me that it used to be a food truck before moving to its permanent home in Science Park, an area of town just north of the main part of Yale that houses a few hip new restaurants and apartment complexes, a Crossfit box, and several R&D companies.

​A huge catering tray of Ricky D’s pulled pork, slathered in their house-made BBQ sauce

My first taste of Ricky D’s was at a “sneak preview” event for the new colleges during the summer before they opened (I snuck into it, don’t tell my Head of College). They had platters upon platters of racks of ribs, pulled pork, and buffalo wings. It felt like I was eating at my beloved Mickey Pigg’s, a hole-in-the-wall barbecue joint back in northeast Georgia. From then on, I’ve made it a point to make the trek up there every so often when I want that authentic barbecue experience. 

My recommendation: Half Slab and 6 Wings Combo Platter, $19.50 (Don’t let the price scare you, it’s easily enough food to make two meals.)

​#2. Blessings II Go: 22 minute walk from the center of campus.

​If there’s one kind of food that I love, it’s unapologetically inauthentic, Americanized-to-death Chinese food. I am perfectly aware that sesame chicken, crab rangonns, and those incredible sugar donuts don’t actually exist in China, but they’re delicious, and I love them. This one might be kind of cheating, because Blessings II Go delivers through all of the main platforms (UberEats, Grubhub, Snackpass), but it’s also nice to go in person and then walk to eat your order in the nearby neighborhood park. The last time I was there, I met a cat! The restaurant itself does have “seating”, but it’s really just two tiny, shaky tables in front of the counter where you order. The place is a true hole-in-the-wall, but I’m convinced that’s what makes it so good.

​Truly a hole-in-the-wall (and that’s how you know it’s going to be good!)

Blessings II Go is only one of the countless delicious restaurants in the State Street area of New Haven, the furtheast east that Downtown goes before going under the highway and then becoming Fair Haven. It’s most definitely worth your while to check out the area and see what kind of food tickles your fancy, but if you’re in the market for that sweet, sweet American Chinese taste, you know where to go.

My recommendation: General Tso’s Chicken Combination Plate: $9.25 (Comes with pork fried rice and an egg roll.)

​#3. Mezcal: 28 minute walk from the center of campus.

​Go on a leisurely stroll down Edwards Street through the beautiful historical neighborhood of East Rock and admire all of the old mansions, and the first thing you’ll probably do is lament over how many of them have been broken up into apartments catered toward Yale graduate students. But the NEXT thing you’ll do is be faced with a charming corner building with a stucco facade and colorful mural painted along the side. You’ve found Mezcal, home of the best chips and salsa in New Haven, among other delicious authentic Mexican dishes. Sure, downtown has Chipotle, Salsa Fresca, and Tomatillo (RIP Moe’s, 2012-2019), but those build-your-own-burrito places have nothing on Mezcal.

​A plate of chicken nachos from Mezcal (and at $10.99, you can’t go wrong with these. I always have leftovers!)

This is a place I go to when I want to celebrate something, or welcome a friend back to campus, or just treat myself. The only truly “sit-down” restaurant on this list, Mezcal is best enjoyed with your closest friends. I’ve never gone alone, but I would probably just order take-out in that case. There’s not enough I can say about the chips and salsa: they are truly divine, and they just keep coming and coming. But don’t fill up on them too much: your entree will be sure to amaze.

My reccomendation: Alambres (chicken or steak strips, grilled onions and bell peppers, rice, beans, and bacon, all topped with melted cheese and served with flour tortillas): $16.99.