Local needs advice on where to eat in Princeton, NJ
January 21, 2012 4:43 PM   Subscribe

IShouldKnowThisFilter: What are some restaurants with nice atmosphere and good food to go to in the Princeton/Trenton, NJ area for Valentines?

My girlfriend and I are going to be celebrating Valentines this year by going out to lunch. We both have classes, but I can make time to see her before my evening class at five and after her morning class that ends around 11:30. She goes to TCNJ, and I live in Hillsborough. I'll be driving down to her, since she doesn't have a car on campus, so places that take more than an hour or so to get to are kind of pushing it.

So, what places are worth considering near Ewing/Pennington or Princeton for a meal that's around $20-25 or below per person? Good atmosphere is kind of something we're going for. I'm leaning towards Rats at Grounds for Sculpture, but I'd like to consider all my options.

I'm asking because my familiarity with restaurants is more with casual places I can afford on a more regular basis, especially in the Princeton area.
posted by mccarty.tim to Travel & Transportation around Princeton Township, NJ (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rats doesn't appear to be open for lunch on Tuesdays (Feb. 14 is a Tuesday). You could try Triumph Brewing Company in downtown Princeton or Brothers Moon in Hopewell. Both are about 20 minutes from TCNJ. Triumph is interesting architecturally and has good food; Brothers Moon will likely be quieter, but less atmosphere. I've only had dinner at Brothers Moon, but it was excellent. You could also look at Elements in Princeton. They're at the pricier end of your scale. Never been, but it gets good reviews.
posted by booksherpa at 5:25 PM on January 21, 2012

I like Triumph Brewing Company, but it's not really the kind of place that screams "special date lunch". For something slightly fancier, but still on the more casual end, I've enjoyed the times I've eaten at Teresa Caffe. The atmosphere is a little more intimate, and the food is tasty and affordable. It's also close enough for a chilly stroll over to The Bent Spoon or Halo Pub if you're in the mood for really good ice cream afterwards, or head over to Olive's for their desserts (Fantastic chocolate chip cookies!).
posted by Diagonalize at 8:10 PM on January 21, 2012

I moved away 7 years ago, but for special date lunch I'd do Acacia in Lawrenceville. The food is better than any of the upscale places in Princeton proper, and it's a little more date-y than Teresa's, MUCH more date-y than Triumph.
posted by escabeche at 9:38 PM on January 21, 2012

Back in my TCNJ days, I frequented Sumo Sushi for Japanese food or Piccolo Trattoria for Italian. Both restaurants have consistently tasty food, and more importantly, they're within 15 minutes of campus. Of the two, Sumo probably has the atmosphere you're seeking (quiet, intimate), and it's attached to a cute gelato place you could go to for dessert.

I'd also like to second the recommendation for Teresa Caffe. The seating can be a little close for comfort, but it's worth it for the food.

Just throwing these in, I checked Yelp for restaurants in the Pennington area, and Avanti has pretty good reviews. The Blue Bottle Cafe also seems to have an impressive lunch menu.
posted by constellations at 8:20 AM on January 22, 2012

Best answer: I can personally vouch for Elements, in Princeton; it's superb, and you can get a two-course lunch for $22. I have heard from a source whose food judgments I trust that El Tule in Lambertville is also excellent if Mexican and Peruvian cuisine is an appealing idea.
posted by languagehat at 4:34 PM on January 22, 2012

Yes, Teresa's would also be good. The tables are fairly close together, though, so maybe not quite as intimate. I also second Bent Spoon for after, though if it's really too cold (something I cannot picture; Bent Spoon is always the right choice), Teresa's makes a yummy dessert pizza. At least, they did when I was there last.
posted by booksherpa at 8:46 PM on January 22, 2012

Not that I'm in the area anymore but: I actually caution a little against Teresa's. Not because of the quality---it's quite good and fits your price range---but because it will not take reservations. Walk-in only.

Princeton for lunch with atmosphere...that's tough.
- Triumph has delicious beer but is fundamentally a not-so-romantic pub, same with Winberie's; Alchemist & Barrister is a little less pubby if you can get seated in the dining room rather than the bar or patio.
- Some of the better choices are ruled out: Sotto, Lahiere's, and the Cafe Underground apparently all closed down, and Blue Point Grill is only open for dinner.
- I've never been to Elements, as it opened after I left, but it does sound promising. Mediterra (on Hulfish) is decent, same with Mezzaluna (on Witherspoon); both do have the ambiance you're looking for. Perhaps either of these would be a good Plan B.
posted by Upton O'Good at 11:07 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot to let this thread know: We decided on Elements. It's a Sunday, so we're getting brunch, but the menu looks promising and within our budget.

Thanks for the recommendations everyone!
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:51 PM on February 11, 2012

Response by poster: PS: Forgot to mention, we decided to celebrate on a Sunday, just more practical.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:52 PM on February 11, 2012

Response by poster: Elements was great, thanks everyone!
posted by mccarty.tim at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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