Dear new college students,
If there’s anything that I can say for sure about your upcoming year in college, it is that you will absolutely get your fill of pizza and burritos. So, whether it’s for your school’s official Family Weekend or simply an impromptu delivery of a much-needed winter coat, you should make the most of mom and dad’s visit with an A+ meal, courtesy of the ‘rents. Think beyond the box of mac ‘n’ cheese. Save the cheap eats for late night study binges, and embrace the family meal like you never fully could during those last awkward weeks of summer at home. Bust out your best threads and make a reservation at one of these fine establishments. No doubt, you’ll thank me in a few weeks when you’re all hopped up on Pop Tarts and Skittles.
Here are 11 awesome college town restaurants for a family meal to remember.
L’Etoile, Madison, Wisconsin
Local and carefully sourced ingredients take center stage at the much-revered Madison eatery L’Etoile. A pioneer in the sustainable food movement since 1976, Badgers fans can expect to learn where their food came from before discovering how delicious it is. While mom and dad are perusing the wine list, quickly put in your order for the seven-course prix fixe meal. They’ll forgive you by the time you graduate. Find more great restaurants near the University of Wisconsin at Madison here. [Photo by Samantha Egelhoff]
Goosefoot, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago is a food lover’s paradise. And it’s home to some of the nation’s best colleges. Goosefoot, in Lincoln Square, is well within Uber distance of Northwestern and DePaul universities (heck, it’s even worth the trek from the University of Chicago on the south side), and it offers a nine-course menu that changes regularly. What doesn’t seem to change are the stellar reviews. Drinks are BYOB, and Goosefoot recently added an adjacent shop — Goosefoot Food & Wine — from which your parents are welcome to buy a bottle before your reservation. Corkage fees will be waived for wines purchased there. Find more great restaurants near Northwestern University here. [Photo by Anna Knott]
Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
College is a fine time to become a vegetarian. But before you do that, students from Butler University or IU Purdue (and, if you’re up for a drive, IU Bloomington) really owe it to themselves to reserve a table at Fogo de Chao Brazilian Steakhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Here you will find sturdy gauchos well versed in the art of cooking all manner of meat. And they’ll serve it to you with expertise at your table until you fight them back and demand dessert. So, boost your iron levels one last time before you start to think of ways to explain to mom and dad why you won’t be eating turkey at Thanksgiving. Find more great restaurants near Butler University here.
Palme d’Or at The Biltmore Hotel, Miami, Florida
Heck, you’ve already managed to convince your parents that pursuing your degree in Miami is a good idea, so getting them to take you to the Palme d’Or shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Pro tip: Just tell them you want to brush up on your French. Book a table with enough room for your friends and get your folks there before they figure out it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant. Find more great restaurants near the University of Miami here.
Café Monarch, Phoenix, Arizona
Escape the stacks of the library at ASU and skip on over to Scottsdale and let yourself be treated to the elegant luxury of Café Monarch. This place has won the hearts of many with its oft-changing prix-fixe menu and gorgeous ambiance both indoors and out that make it easy to steer the conversation away from your GPA. Leave your dining hall meal card at home and score some food memories and bragging rights to last you through next semester. Find more great restaurants near Arizona State University here.
Bleu Northeast Seafood Restaurant, Burlington, Vermont
Chef Doug Paine banks on his tight relationships with the people and purveyors of Vermont to bring the ocean’s best products to diners at Bleu Northeast Seafood. The focus here is on fresh, local, and sustainable seafood cooked within hours of catching. Bleu also features a sumptuous breakfast and brunch menu, a boon for early risers who want to skip the dining hall lines and stale French toast. Students from UVM and St. Michael’s College will do well to add this to their parents’ GPS favorites list. Find more great restaurants near the University of Vermont here.
Harvest, Boston, Massachusetts
Whether you’re at Harvard, M.I.T., or Le Cordon Bleu, you’ll have no shortage of fantastic restaurants to choose from in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among these, Harvest provides some of the finest dining New England has to offer. From fresh oysters, scallops, and tautog, to seasonal vegetables and housemade pasta and charcuterie, Harvest makes a bold statement in contemporary American cuisine. And compared to the cost of your college tuition, your folks will think it’s a great bargain. Find more great restaurants near Harvard University here.
Morimoto, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
This flagship restaurant of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto will dazzle the school daze out of any Temple, Penn, or Drexel freshman with a love for exquisite Japanese cuisine. The omakase (chef’s choice) menu at Morimoto thrills the eye and the palate, while the extensive wine, saké, and specialty cocktail offerings will make your parents more than willing to pick up the tab. Find more great restaurants near Temple University in Philadelphia here.
Minetta Tavern, New York, New York
All right, already! You can order a burger. But only here. The legendary Black Label Burger at the clubby Minetta Tavern will blow your mind, never mind the $30 sticker price. Be sure to share your perfectly fried pommes frites with your folks. For a less beefy option, the Filet of Trout Meunière with jumbo lump crabmeat and brioche croutons is never a bad choice for a seafood-loving NYU or Columbia University student. Find more great restaurants near NYU New York University here.
Counter 3. Five. VII, Austin, Texas
The one issue I have with tasting menus is that one size does not always fit all. Counter 3. Five. VII remedies that with its unique take on outstanding food experiences: If you can decide whether you are peckish, hungry or starving, you’re good to go. Just choose from their three-, five-, or seven-course options and you’ll be experiencing culinary bliss in a portion size just right for dad, mom, and baby sister. Find more great restaurants near the University of Texas at Austin here.
The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse, Palo Alto, California
Surf and turf get the royal treatment at Palo Alto’s The Sea by Alexander’s Steakhouse. Stanford University students and their families can start their evening with a six-pack of hamachi shots and carry on with fresh Alaskan halibut, Dungeness crab, Wagyu beef, and truffle fries. Consider this course Business Meals 101. Also, go, Trees! Find more great restaurants near Stanford University here.
Wherever you attend college, OpenTable can help you connect with a fabulous dining experience, so you can reconnect with your family. Book a table and share your meals and memories with us here or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.
Michael Rice is a New York-based writer, musician, and food enthusiast whose work has taken him to China, Japan, and throughout the United States. You can follow him on Twitter @mricenyc.