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Nine Places to Eat and Drink in Vermont’s Mad River Valley

Head 45 minutes south from Burlington and indulge in local beer, cheese, smoked meat tacos, and more

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A few trips to Vermont’s largest city — Burlington — and it doesn’t take long to become intrigued and hungry for more of this sophisticated rural state. Head another 45 minutes south, over rolling hills and past silos and farms, and you’re in the Mad River Valley area.

The region attracts tourists year-round, drawn in winter by the ski resorts, and in summer by the mountainous hiking trails, waterfalls, and tide pools. At first glance, the area may appear to be nothing more than a clustering of centuries-old farm houses and barns. But look a little closer and you’ll find everything from fine dining to bustling breweries, craft cocktails, parking lot bbq pit tacos, ramen noodles, and more. Here are the nine best places to eat and drink in Vermont’s Mad River Valley.

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The Mad Taco

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In a strip mall nestled between a grocery store and gas station lies the valley’s best (and only) taco shop. Vermont is not known for its Mexican food, but the Mad Taco stands out for anyone craving some spice. This casual local favourite has been pleasing hungry skiers and snowboarders since 2010, known for its tender smoked brisket and carnitas, slow-cooked in a smoker that sits in the parking lot. Diners can also enjoy an array of mouth-numbing salsas, filling burritos, and local beer on tap.

The Pitcher Inn

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A Relais & Chateau property, The Pitcher Inn is a stunning 11-bedroom inn that boasts the areas’s most luxurious accommodations. Its recently renovated green-walled dining room offers a cozy fireplace space with colonial-style chairs, cherry wood tables, and a thoughtful, yet simple menu of locavore fare. An award-winning 500-bottle wine selection and craft cocktail program pairs well with Chef Jacob Ennis’ creative cooking (he regularly uses the dining room’s fireplace to roast ingredients, for example). For a more casual experience at the inn, head downstairs to Tracks for bar food, couches, and cocktails.

Chez Henri Restaurant & Bistro

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This old guard mountainside French bistro at the foot of Sugarbush hasn’t changed much in 50 years. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is unclear. But as far as retro “fancy” dining goes, Chez Henri is as charming as it gets. Classic checkered tablecloths, a lengthy wine list, and all the classic French bistro food a hungry skier could dream of make it clear why this spot’s been around so long. It’s hard to go wrong at a place where fondue and escargot sit on the menu, alongside a range of nightly specials. But if you’re stuck, Chez Henri’s French onion soup is iconic — so we recommend starting there.

Lawson’s Finest Liquids

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This brand new brewery, taproom, and retail store draws crowds for its dozen or more fresh brews on tap and comforting beer garden fare. Fluffy pretzels with maple mustard come with beer cheese for dipping. A Vermont cheese plate and charcuterie that was likely produced within a few miles of the taproom are all served in a lofty post-and-beam space with soaring ceilings and plenty of seating both indoors and out. In colder months, cozy up around an outdoor fire pit while sipping a pint of Lawson’s famous Sip of Sunshine IPA.

Heather Platt/Eater Montreal

Blue Stone Pizza

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There are a handful of pizza places in the area, but Blue Stone’s hand-tossed crust is likely the best. Its Waitsfield location, which opened in 2015, is the second of three locales. Its success is unsurprising considering its classic cocktail menu, an extensive list of non-pizza menu items, and the kind of rustic and cozy atmosphere one craves while nestled amongst the green mountains.

Canteen Creemee Company

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In Vermont, a cone of soft serve is called “a cremeee” and the ones at Canteen Creemee Company are enjoyable even when temperatures dip below freezing. This snack-bar style eatery attracts lines for its fried chicken, local VT beef burgers, hot dogs, and maple sundaes.

Big Picture Theater & Cafe

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This down-home café, located in the lobby of the area’s only movie theater, is a favourite not just for its convenient dinner-and-a-movie offerings. Locals also flock here for buttermilk pancakes, thick French toast, and hearty breakfast sandwiches long before any films are projected. That said, the dinner menu is also worthy and nothing beats food and entertainment under one (heated) roof.

Mad River Distillers (Mad River Taste Place)

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More of a store than a place to dine, Mad River Distillers’ Taste Place has lined its shelves with many of the finest food products from around the state. Its walk-in refrigerator is a museum of local Vermont beer, cider, and wine. The cheesemongers are as friendly, informed, and helpful as you would expect a Vermont cheesemonger to be. Ask for a taste of cheese like Shelburne Farms Cheddar or Von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma, all from the utters of local cows. They invite visitors to relax fireside with a “European ploughman’s”  lunch of cheese, charcuterie, and bread, a pint of local Tin Hat hard cider or a French-pressed pot of locally-roasted Awake coffee.

Stoke Ramen Bar

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This ramen bar, from wife-and-husband team Mimi Bain and Chef Colby Miller, opened last year. Bain, who previously managed The Pitcher Inn, and Miller, who helmed the kitchen at The Mad Taco for five years, change the menu frequently, offering Vermont-ingredient variations on chicken or mushroom broth-based noodle bowls. The menu also offers impressive cocktails, sake, beer or wine. Choose-your-own adventure ramen or opt for Chef Miller’s carefully-curated combinations.

The Mad Taco

In a strip mall nestled between a grocery store and gas station lies the valley’s best (and only) taco shop. Vermont is not known for its Mexican food, but the Mad Taco stands out for anyone craving some spice. This casual local favourite has been pleasing hungry skiers and snowboarders since 2010, known for its tender smoked brisket and carnitas, slow-cooked in a smoker that sits in the parking lot. Diners can also enjoy an array of mouth-numbing salsas, filling burritos, and local beer on tap.

The Pitcher Inn

A Relais & Chateau property, The Pitcher Inn is a stunning 11-bedroom inn that boasts the areas’s most luxurious accommodations. Its recently renovated green-walled dining room offers a cozy fireplace space with colonial-style chairs, cherry wood tables, and a thoughtful, yet simple menu of locavore fare. An award-winning 500-bottle wine selection and craft cocktail program pairs well with Chef Jacob Ennis’ creative cooking (he regularly uses the dining room’s fireplace to roast ingredients, for example). For a more casual experience at the inn, head downstairs to Tracks for bar food, couches, and cocktails.

Chez Henri Restaurant & Bistro

This old guard mountainside French bistro at the foot of Sugarbush hasn’t changed much in 50 years. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is unclear. But as far as retro “fancy” dining goes, Chez Henri is as charming as it gets. Classic checkered tablecloths, a lengthy wine list, and all the classic French bistro food a hungry skier could dream of make it clear why this spot’s been around so long. It’s hard to go wrong at a place where fondue and escargot sit on the menu, alongside a range of nightly specials. But if you’re stuck, Chez Henri’s French onion soup is iconic — so we recommend starting there.

Lawson’s Finest Liquids

This brand new brewery, taproom, and retail store draws crowds for its dozen or more fresh brews on tap and comforting beer garden fare. Fluffy pretzels with maple mustard come with beer cheese for dipping. A Vermont cheese plate and charcuterie that was likely produced within a few miles of the taproom are all served in a lofty post-and-beam space with soaring ceilings and plenty of seating both indoors and out. In colder months, cozy up around an outdoor fire pit while sipping a pint of Lawson’s famous Sip of Sunshine IPA.

Heather Platt/Eater Montreal

Blue Stone Pizza

There are a handful of pizza places in the area, but Blue Stone’s hand-tossed crust is likely the best. Its Waitsfield location, which opened in 2015, is the second of three locales. Its success is unsurprising considering its classic cocktail menu, an extensive list of non-pizza menu items, and the kind of rustic and cozy atmosphere one craves while nestled amongst the green mountains.

Canteen Creemee Company

In Vermont, a cone of soft serve is called “a cremeee” and the ones at Canteen Creemee Company are enjoyable even when temperatures dip below freezing. This snack-bar style eatery attracts lines for its fried chicken, local VT beef burgers, hot dogs, and maple sundaes.

Big Picture Theater & Cafe

This down-home café, located in the lobby of the area’s only movie theater, is a favourite not just for its convenient dinner-and-a-movie offerings. Locals also flock here for buttermilk pancakes, thick French toast, and hearty breakfast sandwiches long before any films are projected. That said, the dinner menu is also worthy and nothing beats food and entertainment under one (heated) roof.

Mad River Distillers (Mad River Taste Place)

More of a store than a place to dine, Mad River Distillers’ Taste Place has lined its shelves with many of the finest food products from around the state. Its walk-in refrigerator is a museum of local Vermont beer, cider, and wine. The cheesemongers are as friendly, informed, and helpful as you would expect a Vermont cheesemonger to be. Ask for a taste of cheese like Shelburne Farms Cheddar or Von Trapp Farmstead’s Oma, all from the utters of local cows. They invite visitors to relax fireside with a “European ploughman’s”  lunch of cheese, charcuterie, and bread, a pint of local Tin Hat hard cider or a French-pressed pot of locally-roasted Awake coffee.

Stoke Ramen Bar

This ramen bar, from wife-and-husband team Mimi Bain and Chef Colby Miller, opened last year. Bain, who previously managed The Pitcher Inn, and Miller, who helmed the kitchen at The Mad Taco for five years, change the menu frequently, offering Vermont-ingredient variations on chicken or mushroom broth-based noodle bowls. The menu also offers impressive cocktails, sake, beer or wine. Choose-your-own adventure ramen or opt for Chef Miller’s carefully-curated combinations.

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