Gourmet Guide to Hartford, CT: The 10 Best Restaurants
Historic Hartford, Connecticut’s fourth largest city, boasts a dining scene that is both a nod to its historical New England traditions and still faithful to its contemporary, innovative spirit. With a range of cuisines on offer from classic Italian cooking to farm-to-table fare, The Culture Trip’s updated guide on Where to Eat in Hartford will help you choose the best cultural restaurant for you.
Carbone's kitchen and dining room | Courtesy Carbone's
A family owned restaurant that was originally founded back in 1938, Carbone’s has been passed down through three generations of the Carbone family and over the years has established itself as one of New England’s finest Italian restaurants. Offering old world hospitality in warm, rustic surroundings, owner-chef Vinnie Carbone and executive chef Paul Rafala cook up a range of cicchetti, Italian small plates, like fried eggplant sticks and tenderloin meatballs alongside heartier dishes like the grilled swordfish with tomato and caper puttanesca fresca, cauliflower, anchovy-roasted potatoes and seasonal vegetables. To finish, opt for a dessert like bananas foster, flambéed tableside and served with French vanilla ice cream.
The City Steam Brewery and Café is Hartford’s very own brewery-cum-bistro and boasts a beautiful restaurant space combining the old and the new with a rustic, wood-panelled and exposed brick interior. Established in 1997, the brewery is dedicated to creating high quality brews and lovers of beer will enjoy sampling varieties like its smooth, easy drinking dark lager Uncle Dunkel or the chocolaty Black Silk Stout. City Steam’s menu focuses on classic American fare with dishes like its best-selling entrée beer braised pot roast amongst a number of burgers, sandwiches and all-day omelettes, while guests can also enjoy the brewery’s many live music events and comedy nights.
Dish Bar and Grille offers upscale and creative interpretations of classic American comfort food from its stylish, spacious venue in the former Sage-Allen department store in downtown Rochester. Guests can relax in the restaurants luxurious interior while dining on appetisers that include Long Island duck confit nachos with crispy wonton, wasabi cream and a sesame peanut sauce, and entrees like the Sepe Farm lamb meatloaf with natural jus, squash blossom tempura stuffed with goat’s cheese and a mint yoghurt sauce. Don’t forget to try Dish’s much raved about dessert menu which includes the indulgent caramel corn sundae – popcorn ice cream with hot fudge, caramel corn, candied peanuts and whipped cream.
Contemporary fine dining with a conscience would be a good way to describe Firebox – a restaurant in the Frog Hollow neighbourhood of Hartford that is guided by a firm belief in the farm-to-table movement and, as part of the Billings Forge Community Works, in the economic and cultural development of the surrounding community. The award-winning restaurant, named the Best Hartford Restaurant of 2009 by Connecticut Magazine, offers a menu from executive chef Sean Farrell, who creates most dishes from New England crops grown just outside the city. Menu highlights include the black pearl salmon with Israeli couscous, summer gazpacho, compressed melon and herb salad.
A quintessential Hartford dining experience, Max Downtown is located in the heart of the city’s business district and as such attracts a large number of professionals who are attracted by the restaurant’s spacious, vibrant and arty interior, award-winning wine list and menu that mixes international flavours with traditional, regional dishes. Max Downtown’s stylish space is dominated by a beautiful mural-like artwork, a piano and its huge, wooden bar – the perfect place in which to enjoy dishes like cast-iron seared Berkshire pork chop with herb-roasted fingerling potatoes, Brussels sprouts, bacon salad and grilled ramps, or the lobster crusted filet mignon with bacon wrapped asparagus and a lobster hollandaise sauce.
Definitely a must-try for lovers of seafood, Max’s Oyster Bar as established in 1999 by restaurateur duo Richard Rosenthal and Bob Cooke and in that same year went on to win the Best New Restaurant title in Connecticut Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards. Executive chef Scott Miller cooks up creative and contemporary interpretations of classic American seafood with dishes on offer that include the New England quahog clam chowder with house-smoked bacon and the yellow fin tuna with a fennel crust, zucchini parpardelle, yoghurt and mint. The restaurant’s interior was designed by award-winning designer Peter Niemetz and features a spacious dining hall, high ceilings and a contemporary yet rustic ambience.
A fixture on Hartford’s dining scene for over 30 years, ON20 was established in 1983 and resides on the 20th floor of the One State Street building, providing beautiful views across downtown Hartford and out over the Connecticut River. Jeffrey Lizotte, ON20’s executive chef since 2012 and winner of a silver medal at the Bocuse D’or USA that same year, spent time working at restaurants in France – undoubtedly an influence on his traditional, yet innovative menu. At ON20 you’ll find dishes like the shrimp bisque appetiser made with Stonington red shrimps, coconut milk and kaffir lime and the oven-roasted chicken with foie gras stuffed leg and thigh, chanterelle and celery root fricasse and a pickled cherry jus.
Nestled on the edge of a pond in beautiful Elizabeth Park, The Pond House Café is a trendy, cosy eatery serving up eclectic and imaginative dishes based on locally sourced, organic ingredients – some of which are grown on-site in the café’s own herb and vegetable garden. Guests can choose to dine in the café’s stylish interior full of exposed brick, banquette seating and colourful artwork, outside next to the fire pit on its patio or stop by the café’s take-out window for a quick bite while strolling the park. Must-try lunch items include the turkey sandwich with smoked cheddar, arugula and artichoke aioli on cranberry-walnut bread, while dinner entrees include grilled salmon with walnut gremolata, sweet beets and grilled asparagus.
Located in downtown Hartford, Vito’s by the Park is an Italian restaurant offering classic, authentic dishes in a casual, fine dining atmosphere. Vito’s by the Park’s interior is warm and chic with large, street-facing windows providing stunning views over the neighbouring Bushnell Park, and guests can sample delights from the restaurant’s raw bar – which includes oysters, shrimps, clams and mussels – or order appetisers like the lobster ravioli with vodka pink sauce, asparagus and sun-dried and stewed tomatoes and entrees such as the grilled veal medallions with a parmesan and spring vegetable risotto finished with a sherry herb demi-glace.
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Vivo is a seasonal trattoria specialising in dishes inspired by the cuisines of Northern Italy and Northern California, located in a ground-floor space within the Hartford Marriot Downtown Hotel. The restaurant’s motto is ‘fresh ingredients, prepared simply’ and its focus on market-fresh and seasonal produce handcrafted into contemporary Mediterranean and California recipes certainly delivers. Vivo’s vibrant and inviting interior makes it perfect for a romantic dinner, business meeting or fun evening with friends, and guests can choose from executive chef William Reardon’s tempting dishes like the fried calamari appetiser with arugula, cherry peppers and lemon butter, or the coffee spiced hangar steak with caramelised onions, truffle fingerlings, ancho mole and crème fraiche.