7 Epic Restaurants in the Pioneer Valley

JujuBEAN is taking a break from her usual sociopolitical commentary in order to focus on her first love: food.

The Pioneer Valley, namely Northampton and the Amherst area, are chock-full of tasty spots to eat, drink, and engage in all sorts of debauchery. I’ve been here for four years and haven’t yet experienced all of what the area has to offer, but here are my favorites thus far:

1. Mission Cantina: I’ve had a lot of Mexican cuisine in my lifetime, and I’m fairly certain that it doesn’t get much better than Mission Cantina. Located by Hampshire College on Rt. 116, it features outrageously tasty margaritas, fish tacos, salsa & guacamole, enchiladas, and the list goes on and on. A recent find was the Cantina’s Chili Raspberry Margarita, spicy, sweet, and sinfully delicious. Go immediately, but the high garlic level in some of their best dishes prevent this establishment from being a first date destination…

2. Osaka Sushi and Steakhouse: I happen to be addicted to sushi, and from what I can tell Osaka has the best in the area, followed closely by its neighbor, Zen, both located in Northampton. My favorite combination? Osaka’s Golden Roll (avocado, salmon, cucumber, topped with fresh peach slices) with a gigantic glass of plum wine. Or, if you’re planning on getting really crazy you can set up shop in the hibachi station and get sake shot into your mouth.

3. High Horse: A recently converted vegetarian, I’ve long been on the prowl for a good veggie burger. Some are dry, some too wet, others break in half if you drop them. Fear not, fellow wanderers- High Horse hosts the most delicious veggie burger I’ve had in all 21 years of my existence. Homemade, hand-shaped patties that are just moist enough to hold on to all the pickled onions, mixed greens, ketchup, melted pepper jack cheese, or anything else you want on it all held together with a buttery-smooth brioche bun. On the side? A perfectly portioned stack of handcut fries, perfectly seasoned and textured. Add a glass of High Horse’s featured brew and you’ve got yourself a winner.

4. Antonio’s Pizza: Avocado quesadilla, please. I’m convinced that my parents only visit me in Amherst for a slice of Antonio’s, and I myself had what I assume to be a religious experience at Antonio’s this week after Senior Bar night (why I had never gone to Antonio’s late at night before is beyond my comprehension), as did the 2,000 other students who lined up around the block to get in on the action. So good. So fresh. So Amherst.

5. Fresh Side: My bid for Fresh Side actually has more to do with the ambiance than the food, which, while certainly tasty, (and outrageously cheap) is made even tastier by the opportunity to people-watch in Amherst center all day long. My latest order includes the spicy bean or tofu pad thai tea rolls and a large iced ginger honey tea or Vietnamese coffee. And, of course, any newspaper and a pair of sunglasses.

6. Tabella’s: This place is sneakily located behind the Bank of America, right next to GoBerry and Amherst Coffee. It features slightly expensive ‘farm to table’ items, meaning that all the meat was raised and humanely slaughtered in a local farm as well as the produce and dairy products, which are also locally raised/grown. This is a great date place, what with all the fancy cocktails, candles, and sensually-articulate wait staff. Chick pea fries are always a crowd favorite- you can play Jenga with them while still looking classy. They also have an outdoor section, which I plan on testing out over commencement weekend.

7. Eastside Grill: The least pretentious steakhouse I’ve ever been to. Located in Northampton, it features a delicious and extensive menu of items that are cooked/prepared to perfection, many of which are vegetarian/vegan friendly. I’ve been to a lot of similar places that end up coming off as somewhat uppity, but this place is special- just great chefs, hosts, and waiters/waitresses cooking and delivering great food for the sake of pleasing your taste buds. They have a great drink selection too,  I sampled my first cosmopolitan (flavored with huckleberry) there when I turned 21 last summer. Epic.

Runners-up: The Lone Wolf, Amanouz Café, Haymarket

Still to experience: The Lumberyard, Johnny’s Tavern, Green Bean

Bon Appetit!