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Princeton University

New Jersey

How to Eat Like a Local in Princeton, New Jersey

By: Lucy Di Santo

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  • States:
    New Jersey

For many people, Princeton is just the site of the fourth-oldest university in the U.S.

Savvy travelers know that it’s so much more than that ... especially when it comes to food. If you have 24 hours in town and have a hearty appetite, this guide is for you.

Breakfast

As you wait to order at Small World Coffee, you’ll hear, “Cap to go!” and “Double-iced joe to stay!" "shouted from behind the counter. The cappuccino comes highly recommended. The smooth coffee blends with creamy foam on your first sip – no airy bubbles quickly evaporating away. While sipping on your morning coffee, glance around at the other patrons. Everyone goes to Small World; you’ll see moms or dads with young children getting their morning caffeine fix, business people on their phones, students chatting with friends, and hipsters on their computers. Caffeinated and ready to go, follow Witherspoon Street to where it intersects Nassau, forming the epicenter of Princeton.

The busy traffic on Nassau serves as the dividing line between town and university. For a brief glimpse of campus, pass through the official entrance to Princeton University: the FitzRandolph Gate. The wrought-iron doorway is flanked by two columns, each topped with stone eagles, their wings partially spread and beaks open as they stare at each other above your head. Nassau Hall is centered on the lawn beyond. Completed in 1756, this is the oldest building on campus.

Two bronze tigers rest with dignity on its steps, their backs worn to a matte finish where decades of visitors have perched for photo ops. Snap a photo if you like before passing back through these symbolic gates, exiting the university, and turning your attention back to real town life.

Small World Coffee, a popular spot for great coffee

Small World Coffee, a popular spot for great coffee
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Lunch

For good people watching, make your way to Hoagie Haven on Nassau Street. Unchanged since the ‘70s, this family-run place serves huge hoagies and is known for such delicacies as the “Phat Lady,” a cheesesteak packed with mozzarella sticks and fries, and the “Big Cat,” four bacon cheeseburgers with four eggs.

If greasy hangover food isn’t for you, you can buy a sandwich at Witherspoon Bread Company. Classic, simple, and fresh, your choices include a baguette filled with prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomato, or a modest ham and butter. Regardless of your choice, take your lunch to the Albert Hinds Plaza in front of the library and once again indulge in some people watching.

Afterward, a post-lunch stroll through the nearby cemetery is in order. The graveyard is a designated historical site; the most famous dead resident is Revolutionary War captain, vice president, and infamous dueler Aaron Burr.

Hoagie Haven on Nassau Street in Princeton, New Jersey

Hoagie Haven on Nassau Street in Princeton, New Jersey
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Dinner

If you’re looking for some classic Mediterranean cuisine, be it seafood, meat, or pasta, and a glass of Sangiovese, head to Mediterra.

Cocktails have fun names like the “Great ‘Dirt’ Road Farm Martini,” which is made with farm-pickled vegetables, and the “Apple of My Eye.”

The Alchemist & Barrister is a Princeton favorite, with almost 50 beers on tap. One of the most popular of their prized burgers is the Dry Aged, topped with Irish cheddar, smoked bacon, and Guinness-glazed onions. Just across the street, Agricola advertises their farm-to-table philosophy. Waiters in plaid shirts serve your meal, whether you choose Florida frog legs or decide instead on one of the elaborate flatbreads, perhaps one topped with calamari, house-made chorizo, and fennel.

Classic Mediterranean cuisine at Mediterra

Classic Mediterranean cuisine at Mediterra
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Dessert

No stay in Princeton is complete before you’ve been to Bent Spoon and sampled some of their gelato. Flavors include lavender mascarpone, basil and chocolate Earl Grey. Vintage decor and handwritten signs make the small space warm and welcoming. To finish it all off, stroll through campus with your dessert and admire the old stone buildings as they’re transformed by the dim lights and dusk’s soft glow.

Tempting flavors of gelato at Bent Spoon in Princeton

Tempting flavors of gelato at Bent Spoon in Princeton
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