Cafe Navarre
Cafe Navarre, South Bend/facebook.com

23 College-Town Restaurants That Are Worth a Splurge

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Cafe Navarre
Cafe Navarre, South Bend/facebook.com

Grade A Treat

Though college students have better meal options than they used to, most are still eating on a budget. That's why parents love to treat them to dinner when they visit, and what college kid would say no to free food? Instead of settling for a chain restaurant or someplace they frequent, try these college town eateries recommended by dining critics and online reviews that might be beyond a typical student budget — but aren't so expensive that the parents are scared off.

Mani Osteria & Bar
MANI Osteria & Bar/facebook.com

Mani Osteria & Bar

Ann Arbor, Michigan
Italian restaurants are crowd pleasers, whether you're college age or approaching 60. Mani is just off the University of Michigan campus, making it an easy jaunt from the dorms. It serves a long list of antipasti, wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas, and pastas in an energetic atmosphere, and has even made Eater's list of essential restaurants in Ann Arbor.

Kelly's Steak and Seafood
Kelly's Steak and Seafood/yelp.com

Kelly's Steak and Seafood

State College, Pennsylvania
The area around Penn State is full of restaurants you'd expect to find near a huge campus: chains, diners, and takeout. Head a few miles east to Kelly's for a more distinguished experience with reasonably priced 28-day dry aged steaks, fish, and even half-pound burgers. Check out the $25 early dinner special with choices such as lobster ravioli and seared filet mignon medallions.

Cafe Sushi
Cafe Sushi/facebook.com

Cafe Sushi

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Located between the Harvard and MIT campuses, Cafe Sushi has been serving innovative Japanese cuisine since 1984. It made the Boston Magazine list of best restaurants in the city for being "the place for exquisite nigiri and maki" and undergoing a recent, much-needed dining room renovation.

Home.made
home.made/facebook.com

Home.made

Athens, Georgia
Home.made serves up an amazing Saturday brunch menu until 2 p.m. that just might get your Bulldog out of bed. The menu isn't long, but it's filled with affordable biscuits, pimento cheese, fried chicken, and smoked ham with pepper jelly glaze. Thrillist named it the best option for brunch near the University of Georgia.

Graze
Graze/facebook.com

Graze

Madison, Wisconsin
Just across from the Wisconsin Capitol and a few blocks from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Graze is a critic-touted restaurant serving everything from a fantastic burger to raw oysters, with entree prices averaging around $25. The chef and owner, Tory Miller, has won a James Beard Award as best chef in the Midwest and operates the exclusive, expensive L'Etoile next door.

Lupo
Lupo on Arlington/facebook.com

Lupo

Columbus, Ohio
Spanish restaurant Lupo has been open about a year just west of the Ohio State University, serving tapas such as grilled octopus with chorizo and piquillo peppers and beautiful cheese and charcuterie plates. Sharing the small plates makes for a fun meal, and sharing Spanish vermouth and sherry is even better (for those over 21, of course).

The Mediterranean Restaurant
The Mediterranean Restaurant/facebook.com

The Mediterranean Restaurant

Boulder, Colorado
The Mediterranean serves up some of the best food in Boulder according to publications such as 10Best and The Infatuation. The menu is a mix of Greek, Spanish, and Italian, so everyone can find something to enjoy, from paella to pizza. Though prices are reasonable, your student may be interested to know that happy hour includes a large menu of cheap tapas.

RedSeven Kitchen + Cocktail
Red Seven Bar & Grill/facebook.com

RedSeven Kitchen + Cocktail

Lafayette, Indiana
The area around the Purdue campus isn't exactly swarming with fancy restaurants, but RedSeven just east of the river in downtown fits the bill with sophisticated decor and well-plated food. There are burgers made with a short rib and brisket blend, a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye, and truffled lobster mac and cheese. Yelp reviewers recommend the bruschetta chicken medallions.

Merchants Pub + Plate
Merchants Pub & Plate/facebook.com

Merchants Pub + Plate

Lawrence, Kansas
The menu at Merchants consists of reimagined classic dishes with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients. Though the space is casual and comfortable, it's gorgeous, with soaring ceilings and vintage light fixtures. Try the crab cakes with a dill mustard sauce, smoked pork chops with bourbon peach chutney, or the saffron fettuccine with shrimp. And if your University of Kansas student is now vegan, this is a great spot for all kinds of dietary requirements.

La Note
Tiffany F./yelp.com

La Note

Berkeley, California
Dinner at the acclaimed Chez Panisse is a little out of reach for most University of California, Berkeley, students, but La Note down the street is a satisfying consolation prize. The French bistro is quaint and homey and dishes top out at $25 for dinner. Try an open-faced sandwich called a bagnat with grilled tuna steak, or a classic seafood bouillabaisse.

Sakanaya
Sakanaya/facebook.com

Sakanaya

Champaign, Illinois
Your Illini may already be familiar with Sakanaya thanks to its late-night chicken wings, but this Japanese spot right off campus has a lot more to offer. Sushi is tops here, and ranges from simple California rolls to the VIP roll topped with grilled salmon and lobster tempura, decorated with a lobster shell, and served flaming. Anyone not fond of seafood will still find something to enjoy, with a large selection of ramen, teriyaki, and katsu.

Grit
Grit/facebook.com

Grit

Eugene, Oregon
The kitchen at Grit is in the middle of the dining room, so it's perfect for anyone who loves watching chefs at work, especially if you sit at one of the bar seats facing the kitchen. The farmhouse-style restaurant — located just a short drive from the University of Oregon campus — is rustic but elegant, with a seasonal menu that includes homemade bread and pastas. Eater particularly recommends Grit's "jaw-dropping" salads.

Lantern
Lantern Restaurant/facebook.com

Lantern

Chapel Hill, South Carolina
Entree prices on the Asian-influenced menu at Lantern are around $30, but they're so worth it. Over the years it's been featured in Southern Living, named as among the 101 Best Restaurants in America by The Daily Meal, and owner/chef Andrea Reusing won a James Beard Award for best chef in the Southeast. The wok-seared scallops in a homemade yellow curry with spicy grapefruit salad is so good that neither you nor your UNC student will forget it.

Veritas Wine & Bistro
Veritas Wine and Bistro/facebook.com

Veritas Wine & Bistro

College Station, Texas
Veritas is chic, modern, and great for wine lovers — including those who also happened to be Texas A&M parents. The menu mixes French, Asian, and Southern influences into a unique blend that will impress you and your student alike. There's garlic and soy grilled salmon, roasted lamb, and chicken fried venison with gravy (because this is Texas, after all).

Zinc
ZINC New Haven/facebook.com

Zinc

New Haven, Connecticut
A sophisticated university such as Yale deserves some sleek, sophisticated restaurants. Zinc has been right next to campus serving up modern, Asian-inspired fare since 1999. Make a meal out of small plates such as duck nachos, or try the Vietnamese grilled chicken with purple sticky rice. Fodor's says it "turns heads with its artfully prepared and globally inspired farm-to-table cooking."

Cafe Navarre
Cafe Navarre, South Bend/facebook.com

Cafe Navarre

South Bend, Indiana
Located in downtown South Bend, Cafe Navarre is housed in a historic bank building with an elegant but unstuffy atmosphere. It serves a seasonal New American menu that changes often based on what's available. Expect items such as mussels, lamb shanks, and pan-seared walleye. To save a little extra cash, sit in the bar and order from the bar menu, which includes a burger topped with pecan-smoked bacon and grilled shrimp with mango chutney.

House of Tricks
House of Tricks/facebook.com

House of Tricks

Tempe, Arizona
Though House of Tricks isn't exactly cheap — expect around $30 per entree — it comes highly recommended and is right next to campus. The cozy space has a secluded, lush patio with a fire pit and its own bar, so you can soak up the sun with your Arizona State University student. Check out their "hours of tranquility" menu, aka happy hour, for a light meal for less cash.

Copa
COPA/facebook.com

Copa

Durham, North Carolina
What began as a little Cuban sandwich shop near Duke has blossomed into a Cuban-inspired tapas restaurant that bakes its own bread, grows much of its own produce, and has an atmosphere of old world sophistication. Copa serves traditional dishes such as ham croquetas and and medianoche sandwiches, but there's more unusual fare too, including a Cuban-style pork terrine. The News & Observer says that "it's hard to go wrong here, no matter what you order."

Embers
Christopher M./yelp.com

Embers

Gainesville, Florida
Eater calls Embers a "Gainesville go-to for upscale dining," and it's not kidding. Embers is such a popular spot to celebrate University of Florida graduations that reservations for the 2020 graduation weekend open at the beginning of February. No matter when you go, you can gorge on crab cakes, sesame-crusted tuna, and wood-grilled steaks.

Parrain's Seafood Restaurant
Parrain's Seafood Restaurant/facebook.com

Parrain's Seafood Restaurant

Baton Rouge, Louisiana
When you're visiting your student at LSU, you may as well treat them to some Cajun seafood. Parrain's has a large menu of fresh fish and shellfish. Crawfish etouffee, New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, and all kinds of fried seafood are customer favorites.

Vincenzo's Italian Ristorante
Vincenzo's Ristorante - Lincoln/facebook.com

Vincenzo's Italian Ristorante

Lincoln, Nebraska
There aren't many college students who don't love big plates of pasta. Embrace those carb cravings at Vincenzo's, an Italian restaurant that's a serious step up from Olive Garden. Most of the menu costs less than $20, including classics such as lasagna, chicken marsala, and fried calamari.

Blackbird
Blackbird Kitchen/facebook.com

Blackbird

Bozeman, Montana
Head to Blackbird in Bozeman for an incredible Neapolitan-style pizza served in a space that feels like an industrial loft but is still cozy and inviting. Bozeman Magazine long ago gave it a glowing review, especially recommending the freshly baked bread and lamb. Pizzas come in huge variety, but the traditional margherita is a classic for a reason.

Moosewood Restaurant
Moosewood Restaurant/facebook.com

Moosewood Restaurant

Ithaca, New York
Moosewood is a famous restaurant near Cornell that's been serving up vegetarian cuisine since 1973. It's spawned 17 cookbooks so far, but you can just visit the source and let staff do the cooking for you. The menu changes all the time, but you can always expect a number of soups, pasta, and rice-based entrees, and the option to add seafood.