Welcome to Middletown! It may not be New York City, but there’s plenty to do in your new hometown. Here’s a sampling of 11 Argus-approved places to eat, shop, or just have fun—all within walking distance to campus.
Pho Mai (570 Main Street)
This Vietnamese eatery offers excellent pho soup, spring rolls, Vietnamese crepes, and “salty lemonade.” The entrées are mostly under $10.
From the Argus’ review (May 1, 2009): “The restaurant is small and comfortable—and it’s always filled with the perfect mix of Wesleyan students and cute Middletown families…the food is very tasty and filling, and includes many sauces to sample with the order. The restaurant’s main drawback is that it’s cash only, so prepare ahead.”
Iguanas Ranas (547 Main Street)
Conveniently located next to Pho Mai, this taqueria has a wide variety of tacos, from familiars like rice and beans, beef, and steak, to more adventurous offerings like tripe. The tacos are only $2, so order two or three, and the huge burritos are more expensive at $8. The tortilla chips come hot from the fryer and the guacamole is fresh.
From the Argus’ review (April 21, 2009): “Iguanas Ranas offers a cheaper, more authentic alternative to La Boca (also on Main St.)…There’s nothing sophisticated about it, but the tacos are as delicious as the ones you would get out of a trailer on some Southwestern roadside. This place is only expensive if you make a terrible mistake and don’t get the tacos, which are a great deal at two bucks each. I particularly recommend the barbacoa (slow-cooked beef) or the carnitas (fried pork).”
Pattie Palace (344 Main Street)
Continuing the theme of international and cheap food, Pattie Palace offers Caribbean classics, and free delivery. The entrées are $6-12, and include jerk chicken, curried goat, oxtail and for the brave, cow foot.
From the Argus’ review (Feb. 21, 2006): “Aside from a few American items like fried chicken, the meals are authentic Caribbean food served with cabbage, rice, and plantains…The curried goat, on the other hand, was delicious. To my knowledge, this was the first time that I had eaten goat, but, so help me God, it won’t be the last…I can confidently say that Pattie Palace makes some of the best [jerk chicken] around. For those of you who have never had jerk chicken, it’s chicken spiced with a dry-rub of Jamaican jerk seasoning, made from pepper, chilies, and a few other spices. The result is an incredible smoky flavor that’s a little spicy but not so hot that it’s a distraction.”
Desa Vintage (534 Main Street)
Desa Vintage is a new arrival on Main Street that’s sure to please the fashion-obsessed. Desa Vintage also sells clothes in Usdan about once a month. The store has vintage mainstays like cowboy boots and floral dresses, but the prices are more reasonable than you would find in New York. Tops are $10-18, skirts are $12-18, and dresses are $20-60. The small men’s section has pants for $20-26 and tops for $14-20. New items come in every Tuesday. A short drive away on Washington Street is the Goodwill store, another used clothing source, but be prepared to spend time picking through the racks.
Dollar Tree (416 Main Street)
Spruce up your next dorm room party with some balloons, piñatas, water guns and streamers. The dollar store is great for some cheap thrills, such as plastic kitchen supplies, tacky Obama t-shirts, and other items you never realized your life was missing.
It’s Only Natural (575 Main Street)
Feeling some Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s withdrawal? It’s Only Natural will provide for all your vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and ailment-curing tea needs. The market has a good selection of groceries and Wesleyan-friendly extras like reusable water bottles, organic soaps, and toiletries. If the bi-monthly Wesleyan farmers’ market isn’t enough for you, there’s a farmer’s market in front of the store every Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Embrace Your Inner Child
Middletown Roller Skating (547 Main Street)
A hidden gem of Main Street, the rink rents out roller skates, in-line blades, and some good clean fun. Your blast to the past will only set you back $6 for skates (blades are an extra $2). The rink is open from 6-9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 2-6 p.m. on Sunday.
A New World Laser Tag (423 Main Street)
Feeling nostalgic for your grade school birthday parties? Middletown offers its very own laser tag center. The Argus recommended it for date night (Feb. 15, 2008): “It’s perfect for those passive-aggressive couples looking for ways to express that special brand of love that slowly kills them on the inside: ‘I’d love to go to the South Asian feminist lecture series with you!’ BAM! ‘Believe me, it was fine when you passed out in my bed and vomited on my back…’ BAM! BAM! ‘No, really, laser tag was a great idea for Valentine’s’…BAM! BAM! BAM!”
Where to Ask Your Parents To Take You For Dinner
Thai Gardens (300 Plaza Middlesex Main Street)
Thai Gardens is a little more pricey than its rival Typhoon, but the restaurant offers a more quiet and elegant atmosphere for your parents to bombard you with questions during Parents’ Weekend. Pad thai and pad si-ew are delicious, as are the various curries, and students enjoy a complimentary Thai iced tea.
O’Rourke’s Diner (728 Main Street)
O’Rourke’s is loved by students and parents alike. You’ll bond over the joys of small town diners and debate the merits of the steamed cheeseburger. Owner Brian O’Rourke serves up his own twist on the classics and can charm you, even after the longest wait. Also, don’t miss the gourmet omelets and Irish soda bread, but it’s hard to go wrong here.
“The first time I went there, when I was waiting in line, he came out and brought homemade desserts to us hungry patrons. It shows the character of O’Rourke’s—that good, friendly community feeling,” said Jeff Hardin ’11 in a previous Argus article (Oct. 14, 2008).
Javapalooza (330 Main Street)
This coffee shop has free wi-fi and lots of comfy seating and students are welcome to stay a while.
“I’m a big fan of Wesleyan students,” said owner Neal Dinerman. “They’re a nice group of smart kids who do good things in the world.”
Dinerman shows the love with a 10 percent student discount new this year. All the coffee and espresso is ground locally, and the tea comes from Connecticut-brand Harney and Sons. The store has lots of sugary latté flavors like gingerbread, pumpkin pie, and cinnamon bun. Vegan and vegetarians can always find soup and sandwiches. Local musicians perform on weekend nights, and once you’re 21, you can indulge in the local microbrews.