Best Bites: Where to eat dinner right now: The top 35 Valley spots for dinner and what you should order

The grilled oysters with garlic butter, parmesan and panko at Gombo Nola Kitchen & Oyster Bar on Main Street in Northampton.

The grilled oysters with garlic butter, parmesan and panko at Gombo Nola Kitchen & Oyster Bar on Main Street in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

The bone-in ribeye steak with loaded mashed potatoes at Texas Roadhouse in Hadley.

The bone-in ribeye steak with loaded mashed potatoes at Texas Roadhouse in Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Diners enjoy scenic views from both indoors and on the deck at Tavern On The Hill in Easthampton.

Diners enjoy scenic views from both indoors and on the deck at Tavern On The Hill in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

A Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier at Wurst Haus in Northampton.

A Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier at Wurst Haus in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Customers enjoy a hibachi meal at Osaka in Northampton.

Customers enjoy a hibachi meal at Osaka in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Lovebird Kitchen inside Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton.

Lovebird Kitchen inside Luthier's Co-Op in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO

The lively bar at Lovebird Kitchen in Easthampton.

The lively bar at Lovebird Kitchen in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO


For the Gazette

Published: 02-09-2024 12:36 PM

Modified: 02-09-2024 12:47 PM

If I were writing the Pioneer Valley chapter of a travel guide to New England, this would be its section for “dinner with table service.” I list restaurants first that I feel are most essential to the local dining scene, the ones we can’t live without, with extra points for live music, late-night service, and nostalgia.

Key to icons:

🎒 Also good for lunch.
🍷 Good for wine.
🍻 Good for beer.
🍸 Good for cocktails.
T-O Good for take-out.
🌠 Kitchen open late (Sunday through Thursday after 9 p.m. or Friday and Saturday after 10 p.m.). Always call ahead and ask how late you can be seated.
🎵 Live music.
Price categories: $, $$, $$$

🎵🍸 Lovebird Kitchen, Easthampton ($): Luthier’s musical instrument shop by day turns into a romantic, live-music-enchanted, reasonably priced culinary haunt by night. On a recent visit, I was amazed by miso-infused shrimp and grits with a dropped egg that got cooked by the steaming cornmeal, like carbonara by spaghetti. What a gift.

🌠🍻 Packard’s, Northampton ($): The classic loud late-night bar and grill, whose walls collage Northampton’s retail past. Lately I love the expertly battered, fried BBQ chicken sandwich with bacon and spinach. Wings past midnight on weekends: hallelujah!

🍷 Calico, Easthampton ($$): A warmly lit dining room and downstairs dining cellar at this relative newcomer each have their own kind of Valley elegance. On the short but sparkling menu, I love most the buttermilk fried chicken, which you can get as an add-on to rich, coconut-milky yellow Thai curry. Great date place.

🌠🍷🍻T-O Joe’s Café, Northampton ($): It wouldn’t be Northampton without Joe’s. Generations of local families have crammed in since the 1930s for the lively red-sauce Italian-American: meatballs, sausage casserole, crusty eggplant parm, oozy pizza, cheap light Italian wine, and a home away from home.

🍷🍻 Tavern on the Hill, Easthampton ($$): This rebuilt aerie in the shadow of the old Mount Tom ski area has sweeping views from the warm, wood-paneled dining room and scenic patio. Satisfying BBQ comes out of a big-time smoker, but the chef’s legendary Pasta Jambalaya, with shrimp, andouille, and Cajun-spiced tomato sauce, is even better.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

🌠🎒🍻 Fitzwilly’s and the Toasted Owl, Northampton ($$): Fitzwilly’s is the city’s most venerable restaurant, where 1920s steampunk speakeasy gear hangs from soaring brick walls. Open later is the adjoining sports bar, the jovial, TV-lined Owl. Reliable pub fare at both includes first-rate Reubens and deeply body-warming French onion soup.

🍷🍻🍸 Eastside Grill, Northampton ($$): At this lively, intimate downtown institution, the raw bar is fresh, sweet potato ravioli rich, seductive gumbos deep and mysterious, and the wine list solid (sometimes including locals). A stellar Gorgonzola-vinaigrette house salad or Caesar comes with every full main; and refreshingly, half portions are served.

🍻🎒 Northampton Brewery, Northampton ($$): One of New England’s first brewpubs, with a bustling bar flanked by beer tanks, a fireplace, a seasonal beer garden, and a workhorse kitchen serving pub lunch and dinner daily, including solid fried fish and pulled pork. The malty, English-style Old Brown Dog is a pre-IPA craft anachronism.

🌠🍷T-O Texas Roadhouse, Hadley ($): Leave your snobbery at home, choose your steak from a butcher counter, and an enthusiastic server will bring you oven-fresh bread with honey butter and the Valley’s best ribeye.

🌠🍻🍸 Wurst Haus, Northampton ($): This easygoing English-style pub with world-class Bavarian taps is my favorite local for beer. Friendly staff give it a comfortable Northampton vibe and serve inexpensive Wisconsin-German mixed sausage platters, deep-fried cheese curds, and big soft pretzels with irresistibly creamy beer-cheese dip.

🍻🍸 Johnny’s Tavern, Amherst ($$): Start with the ideal neighborhood bistro vibe (warm buzz, cozy seating, lively bar); add a kitchen that’s adept with anything, burgers, soups, squid; and you’ve got Johnny’s. Their top work is with judiciously precisely al-denterigati and other homemade pastas, coated with just the right sheen of sauce.

🌠🍸🍻 The Tunnel Bar, Northampton ($$): The long, narrow underground service tunnel of our magnificent old train station houses this Prohibition throwback. Raw oysters headline the varied menu. Craft cocktails, in sturdy martini glasses the size of soup bowls, are sweet and strong.

🎵🍸 Gombo, Northampton ($$): a vibey New Orleans-themed restaurant with sensational grilled oysters and blackened fish, a spot-on Sazerac, and a live jazz series that kicked off this month.

🍻🍸 West End Pub, Shelburne Falls ($): An all-time classic of a New England tavern, hanging off the river with great views and well-prepared unpretentious American pub-food standards, cocktails, and fresh craft beer. Limited hours.

🌠🎒🍷T-O Oriental Taste, Northampton ($): The tasty Chinese lunch specials here — pork with chili pepper, ma po tofu — come with soup and rice, and they’re priced like gifts. À-la-carte there’s cumin lamb and “Special Sichuan Spicy Chicken,” with crispy red chilies.

🍷🍸 Hope & Olive, Greenfield ($$): one of the warmest and most inviting of all dining spaces in western Massachusetts, and downtown Greenfield’s best-kept secret. Good food, good tunes, good drinks, good vibes, every time.

🍸 Goten of Japan, Sunderland ($$): Old-school knife-flipping hibachi antics, juicy steaks drowned in butter and soy sauce, and brightly colored Mai Tais in the company of a boisterous university crowd.

🌠🍸🍷 Homestead, Northampton ($$$): This downtown fine-dining stalwart is now serving their expertly made cocktails (e.g. egg-white mezcal sours) at the bar Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m., plus small bites (soon to include their famous whipped ricotta?).

🍷 Gypsy Apple, Shelburne Falls ($$$): This cozy French bistro, a few steps from the Bridge of Flowers, is a refined platform for one of the most talented, creative chefs in the area.

🎵🍻🎒 JJ’s Tavern, Florence ($$): This neighborly burger-and-beer bar, attached to the historic Miss Florence Diner, has entertainment including trivia, comedy, and live local bands. Great summer lawn for dining and concerts.

🍻 The People’s Pint, Greenfield ($): If you aren’t tickled silly by all the hilltown charm at this old-time craft brewery, then you might as well move into a van and drop acid for the rest of your life. Good people, hearty beers, and soulful, locally sourced food.

🌠🎒🍸T-O Osaka, Northampton ($$): a longtime downtown standby for reliable sushi and kitschy hibachi. Seatings until 10:10 p.m. weekdays, 11:10 p.m. weekends. As far as I know, these are the latest hours in the city for a full table-service dinner.

🍸🍻 Blue Rock, Buckland ($$): A gracious old house and porch lording over Shelburne Falls with craft cocktails, local beers, artistic platings, and a warm, lively dinner.

🍻🍸T-O High Brow, Northampton ($$): Here there’s a warm din, a climate-controlled patio, and a big, strong brick pizza oven that sears blustery black bubbles into personal-sized pies and singes the romaine hearts in a Caesar. Great bar too. But oh, that name.

🍷T-O Roberto’s, Northampton ($): Antipasto salads with crispy fried pepperoni, giant eggplant parm plates, cheesy pizzas, and even cheesier garlic bread have been served in these family-friendly digs for years, just the same way.

🍸 Mission Cantina, Amherst ($$) and its sister in Easthampton: Both are go-tos for fresh margaritas, tacos, and a vibrant Tex-Mex feel.

🎵🍷 Alina’s, Hadley ($$): Celebrate third dates or 30-year anniversaries with live piano serenades and three-course Italian dinners that leave you grinning.

🍷🍸 Notch 8 Grille, Northampton ($$$): This flashy new restaurant in the old Union Station has the best steak in Northampton: a 28-day dry-aged sirloin. Or maybe not: I haven’t yet tried their $115 Tomahawk. It better be good.

🍷🍸 Mulino’s, Northampton ($$). I’ve had delicious blue crab ravioli, chicken parmigiana, and steaks recently from a kitchen that seems to be rejuvenated. The atmosphere is upscale and a bit corporate, but it’s always a nice night out.

🎒🍸T-O El Comalito, Easthampton and Amherst ($): You can count on hearty enchiladas suizas, meaty carneasada, and nice big margaritas at this festive Mexican-Salvadoran pair.

🍸 Tellus & the Satellite Bar, Northampton ($$): This sleek, fun hipster cocktail bar would be at home in Oakland. The food, served Wednesday through Saturday 5 to 9 p.m., is thoughtful, varied, and well prepared, but a lot of people come just to drink and hop to the DJs.

🎒🍸 India House, Northampton ($$$): Upscale Indian dishes, cocktails, and attentive service in an exquisitely decorated old house.

🍷 Osteria Vespa, Amherst ($$$): Reliable Italian food and wines and careful service. Fine-dining vibe, proper but not quite snobby.

🍻🍸 Dirty Truth, Northampton ($$): Here is the geekiest craft beer tap program in town. Wines and cocktails are good, too. So is the fried-chicken sandwich, and some of the rotating starters.

🌠🎒🍸🍻T-O Chili’s, Hadley ($): You should be deeply suspicious of anyone who doesn’t appreciate Southwestern Eggrolls. But this Texan family dining chain wins the final slot on my list for its late hours: you can sit down for weekday dinner at 10 p.m.

I would be very excited to go to any of these 35 restaurants for dinner, any day of the week, and I would take any one of my friends or family there too — or a food critic visiting from New York. It’s an honor to be able to write about a restaurant scene that is so deep, so delicious, and above all so heartfelt.

Robin Goldstein is the author of “The Menu: Restaurant Guide to Northampton, Amherst, and the Five-College Area.” He serves remotely on the agricultural economics faculty of the University of California, Davis. He can be reached at