Rural New Hampshire isn't exactly known for its culinary prowess, but spending four years exploring the Upper Valley led me to a few favorite spots I have to share. I've got your stops for ice cream, diner food, a rustic dinner experience, a fancy meal, and Chinese. Happy eating.
For Ice Cream: Ice Cream Fore-U
While Morano Gelato will always be the best frozen dessert in the state (and the country), sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned sundae smothered in hot fudge, whipped cream, and topped off with a cherry. Ice Cream Fore-U is the place "fore" all that and more (including mini-golf, hence the pun). You can enjoy both hard and soft serve ice creams as well as the traditional range of frozen sweets like banana splits, sundaes, and milkshakes. They even serve food like hot dogs. Hands down the best thing about Ice Cream Fore-U is how much you get for how little you pay. The portions are HUGE and the prices are TINY. I struggle to finish a baby. A baby!! I am slightly embarrassed by this, but I can't complain, because it's really just so cheap. Note: It's cash only. Avoid paying in all quarters like I've had to do. In addition to ice cream and mini golf, there are also batting cages and a driving range. Pro-tip: Usually open until late October, ice cream is free on the last day of the season while it lasts. That's right, free. Like their Facebook page to find out when you need to be there.
While I love Lou's, Four Aces has a magic all its own (and significantly lower prices to boot). While there can still be a line on peak weekend times, it's nothing like the Lou's madness. As I got older, I began to prefer to drive the 10 minutes down the road to Four Aces in West Lebanon for the cheaper prices, homemade breads, inventive specials, popovers, and wide array of meat selections (from chicken fried steak to Irish sausages). Their corned beef hash eggs benedict reminds me of my mom's corned beef on St. Patrick's Day in the best way, and their hollandaise sauce is delicious. I'm not a huge fan of home fries and don't ever order them at Lou's, but at Four Aces, I always want extra.
"The Lodge" is one of the first parts of Dartmouth new students encounter when they arrive as part of our outdoor orientation trips for freshmen, and for me, it was one of the last places I said goodbye to before I graduated. The Lodge has been a part of Dartmouth life for decades (and is finally getting a much-needed rebuild that will unfortunately render it closed from September 2016-August 2017) and became a grounding place for me my senior spring. I spent half a dozen nights among friends in the cabins and ate over a dozen meals along the wooden tables in front o the fireplace. Nestled in the shadow of Mount Moosilauke, the Lodge offers home-cooked, family-style meals from May-November. Reservations must be made in advance and you can even choose to stay the night in one of the Lodge's newly built and beautiful cedar cabins. In addition to individuals affiliated with Dartmouth, the general public is encouraged to visit. Dinner is only $16 for large portions of bread, soup, salad, an entree, a side, and a dessert, plus coffee, hot chocolate, and tea. It's often vegetarian-friendly and the staff, which is made up of current and former Dartmouth students, are extremely accommodating of any and all dietary restrictions. Pro-tip for Dartmouth students: while all the Lodge rates are cheaper for students (It's only $8 for dinner), the Season Pass is an awesome deal and will ensure you maximize your time at the Lodge.
Ariana's is my favorite hidden gem up the road from Dartmouth in Orford, NH. It's a New American restaurant with extremely high quality food and reasonable prices. Everything I've had is amazing, from appetizer to dessert. My favorites are the duck confit and the spaghetti bolognese - there has got to be a special ingredient in the bolognese sauce, beyond the local meats used in there because it's unlike any other sauce I've had. There's also an extensive wine list which is always fun! Martin, the chef at Ariana's, is also extremely accommodating of any allergies or dietary restrictions, so this is a great place to go if you are concerned about that. We went for Valentine's Day last year and had an mind-blowing meal - from a tuna appetizer to our entrees to two mini molten chocolate cakes paired with artisan Norman Love chocolates. This year, I had an intramural ice hockey game on Valentine's Day and Matt cheered me on, and instead of doing dinner we took a cooking class at Ariana's during senior week. The theme was Mediterranean Flavors and we learned how to make three different dishes: a seared scallop salad with roasted tomato vinaigrette, veal with melted asiago and prosciutto, and ahi tuna with white beans, radicchio, and lemon aioli. All paired with many glasses of Pinot Noir wine. We had front row seats to the chef's table in the kitchen! While it was fun to learn how to make (and eat) these dishes, we learned so much more from Chef Martin about cooking (such as which oils to use when in cooking) and how he sustainably sources his seafood and gets ingredients like veal and vegetables from local farms. Definitely a Valentine's Day gift to ourselves that will keep on giving. Whether you're looking for a nice place to take your parents for dinner or a cooking class to learn how to make something new, Ariana's is a wonderful place. Definitely call for a reservation, it's a small restaurant and very popular among locals.
Best Chinese: Gas Station Chinese
There's nothing like curling up on a Friday night with a movie and Chinese takeout. Sometimes MSG is literally all I'm craving, and Gas Station Chinese is the place to go. While there's a Chinese restaurant in Hanover where I went to college, Gas Station is worth the 10 minute drive/extra delivery time. It's actually called Oriental Wok Express, but known locally as Gas Station Chinese because of its peculiar location inside a Mobil Gas Station along Route 10 in West Lebanon. There is a more authentic feel to this place than other takeout Chinese I've been to (weird, I know, because of the whole gas station vibe that's competing with the we-really-know-what-we're-doing-here-vibe) While we used to have to ask our Chinese-speaking friends to order for us, they've developed an online ordering system now which means salty, fried, delicious Chinese takeout is only a few clicks away.