Dining options in the near vicinity of Lehigh can leave much to be desired – Molly’s gets tired quickly, and the atmosphere of Broadway Social can transform from a pleasant restaurant to a busy nightclub in the blink of an eye during weekend evenings. But fret not! As a native of the Lehigh Valley, I can assure you that there are a plethora of diverse and affordable dining options within a short drive of campus. And, in case you are wondering, many of these are out of sight of the University, by which I mean the Sauron-esque bell tower of the University Center that reminds us all of the work we should be doing.
The South Side
If you want to remain in the South Side of Bethlehem, the Thai Kitchen offers excellent Thai cuisine, Tulum and La Lupita are excellent choices for well priced Mexican fare (La Lupita being one of the few places you can find glass bottle Coca-Cola with real sugar), and Jenny’s Kuali serves up delectable Malaysian dishes, all within a short distance from campus.
The North Side
The options continue across the river into the North Side – if happy hour specials are your thing (especially with the approach of the warmer months), the Twisted Olive and Edge are both off of West Broad Street. The Melting Pot is also in the same area, and if you are a lover of fondue (or cheese in general), I highly recommend it, especially if you are looking for a more group-oriented restaurant since you will all be sharing a central fondue pot…so it’s like a melting pot in both the figurative and literal sense (actually just realized that and the name makes a lot more sense now).
My personal favorite eatery on the North Side is McCarthy’s (or the Red Stag Inn) located right off Main Street – although it originally started off as a small tea-house that served breakfast and lunch, they have since gotten their liquor license and expanded to offer outdoor seating as well as dinner. Besides being one of the few places where you can get good loose-leaf tea, they also offer trivia on Sundays and frequently host various whiskey and Guinness beer tasting events.
Down Route 378 or Route 412
But say you just need to get out of Bethlehem but you don’t feel like driving to Easton and Allentown – in that case I advise you to head over the mountain and down Route 378 or over through 412. There are hidden gems all through the area, one of which is Asia, a Chinese restaurant located on East Susquehanna Street that received an award for being one of the top 100 Chinese Restaurants in the United States. Located nearby is Bolete, which is built inside of an old Stagecoach Inn and offers seasonal dishes – it is a bit pricey due to it being farm-to-table but it is absolutely worth the price. You will need to make a reservation, but it might be the perfect place to go and celebrate something special! Like finishing a dissertation, getting published, or just simply surviving another semester. If you’re a fan of beer and pub food, I also recommend Taps on Rt. 378 – not only is it a short walk to a bowling alley (always important), it also has a large selection of local craft beers as well as trivia on Saturdays at 9:30 PM.
The Promenade Shops
Traveling further down 378 will bring you (via the exit onto Center Valley Parkway) to The Promenade Shops, another staple location of the area. I have mixed feelings about the Promenade – on the one hand, it has a great movie theater, but on the other hand, it can become quickly crowded, particularly with young teenagers looking for something to do on a Friday or Saturday night. But don’t let that discourage you – if you have off on a Tuesday afternoon and want to go see the newest Star Wars film, I highly encourage you go to the Promenade since it will most likely be deserted; I’ve eaten in an empty Red Robin before going to see a new movie in an empty theater. The short distance between said theater and the various restaurants also makes for a convenient night out – the classic “dinner and a movie.” Cosi, Bravo!, and Melt offer excellent food (again, it is a bit pricey and you will need to make a reservation on nice days and weekends), and Torre is a recently added Mexican restaurant and tequila bar.
I personally believe that the gem of the Promenade, and there are many who would disagree, is Kome, a restaurant specializing in Japanese cuisine. They offer hibachi for lunch and dinner, and it is one of the few places around where you can get a good piece of Tuna or Red Snapper. For the more adventurous, I recommend the unagi (freshwater eel) or uni (sea urchin) – I’m a sucker for some good eel. I’d say that many of the restaurants in the Promenade are slightly above average price and reservations are a must, but most offer outdoor seating, and there is nothing like getting a good meal and then wandering aimlessly through a Barnes and Noble (which also has recently increased its record collection).
Ultimately, however, if you find yourself feeling homesick for, or want to experience, small-town America (as well as see my old (and current) stomping grounds) you should make the short trip to Hellertown (fun fact: Vonnegut was a fan). Numerous small, albeit delightful, restaurants have sprung up along Rt. 412, or as us locals call it, Main Street. Sagra and 1774 Inn are both wonderful places to stop in for dinner, both providing intimate and relaxing atmospheres with affordable pricing. Braveheart Highland Pub is another regular haunt of mine, and they offer trivia on both Tuesday and Thursday at 8 PM. If you’re in the mood for drive-in style food, whether it be their famous buffalo-chicken cheesesteak or a burger and pierogi, I highly recommend stopping by Vassi’s Drive-In, which can be found right outside the entrance to I-78. For those interested in in-house craft beer and a more modern atmosphere with live music, I urge all to go visit Lost Tavern Brewing; they are open Wednesday through Sunday with ample outdoor seating and, even though they don’t sell food, they have food truck schedules available on their website. But, if you can only eat at one place in Hellertown (I don’t know why this would be the case, but in a hypothetical situation), I would hands-down say you should stop at Limon. I never had Turkish food before, but Limon changed my life – their kebaps and tabbouleh are out of this world and it has already become a popular place for some of the folk on campus.
I encourage everyone to check out all the places mentioned above, and please don’t let this be the end of your culinary adventures in the area! There are many more wonderful eateries in the Lehigh Valley than I can recall here, and even more that I don’t know about. If you don’t have a car, let an unfamiliar eatery serve as a reason to get a friend and go, and if you don’t have a friend, let an unfamiliar eatery serve as a reason to make one! Breaking bread as a symbol of new friendship is one of the oldest traditions – or at least that’s what Game of Thrones has cemented in my mind.
Let us know in the comments if you know of a place that should be added to the list. Where else should people go?