Eateries in Manchester and Brattleboro made the Top 100 Places to Eat in New England, according to Yelp and its discerning Yelpers.
Local favorites on the list include Yalla Vermont, of Brattleboro, at 26th and Moonwink, of Manchester, at 57th. Yelp is the online company that connects consumers with businesses, which are rated by the people — or Yelpers — who use them.
Zohar Arama, owner of Yalla Vermont, was excited to hear about being one of Yelp's 100 esteemed restaurants.
"It's great to be recognized," said the purveyor of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. "The restaurant business isn't easy. The support we get being in a place like Brattleboro gives us energy to do the job."
When asked how his crew of six kept the notoriously tough Yelp crowd happy, his answer was simple (though not necessarily easy to execute).
"We keep a small menu, and we keep everything fresh. We make everything from scratch and don't outsource anything," he said. "We are a team. We're like a family. We don't cut corners."
May and Wes Stannard, owners of Moonwink, in a statement to Vermont News & Media, said the big standout for their food is that it's different from most new eateries in the area and consistently good. May Stannard originally hails from Myanmar, the former Burma.
They said critics, like "our Yelpers," appreciate the quality and freshness.
"We make everything to order and all dishes are prepared daily in-house, down to the hot sauces," the couple said.
Moonwink a family endeavor
Veteran Manchester Journal and Bennington Banner columnist Bob Stannard knows a thing or two about Moonwink. He's not only a patron; he's also the proud father of Wes.
When his son and daughter-in-law first told him about their idea of doing a Burmese restaurant in Manchester, he said, "I was not real hot on the idea. Restaurants are tough and I had every fear a parent could have."
Stannard said they were determined, and he was impressed with the results when they opened.
"I will always remember the long lines out the door on their opening week," said Stannard.
He said the community has really rallied around the restaurant and shown great support.
"May’s cooking is unbelievably good, which is why they get such high marks on sites like Yelp. As a team, May and Wes have proven that they have what it takes to run an exceptionally successful restaurant," said Stannard. He noted that it's a family endeavor, with his grandkids growing up right alongside their parents in the restaurant business. Even his out-of-town grandkids look forward to hanging out with their cousins and getting a taste of Burma.
Six other Vermont eateries made the list, including No. 3 Butler’s Pantry Breakfast in Stowe and 76th Mangalitsa, of Woodstock.
Yelp notes that its list features restaurants with meals priced $30 or under per person.
Beyond offering a forum for regular folks to drop their reviews — sometimes warm, sometimes cold, sometimes hysterical or maddening — Yelp offers businesses and consumers deep data dives. For its methodology for the Top 100 New England eateries, Yelp researchers identified all of its restaurants in the region, and then ranked those spots by total volume and ratings of reviews between Jan. 1, 2017, and July 27. All businesses on the Top 100 list had a passing health score as of July 27, Yelp notes.
Also named as favorites elsewhere in Vermont were Butler’s Pantry Breakfast, of Stowe, 3rd; Mangalitsa, of Woodstock, at 76th; Pho Hong, Burlington, at 79th; Penny Cluse Cafe, in Burlington, 97th; and Rustic Roots, of Shelburne, at 99th.
In the nearby Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts, Lili's Restaurant, in Amherst, was 12th; Pita Pockets, Amherst, was 54th; and Sunny Side Up Breakfast and Lunch, of West Springfield, was 85th.