Perhaps you’re headed west of Boston to see an art exhibit at Smith College, or to go leaf peeping along the country roads, or to visit Amherst College for a football game versus longstanding rival Williams College. Maybe you’re heading to the Emily Dickinson Museum or the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to enjoy some of Western Massachusetts’s favorite cultural attractions. Whatever the occasion, the region offers an incredible food scene to complement your travels.
Western Massachusetts’s Pioneer Valley, in particular, is an attractive destination for food enthusiasts. If you’re visiting one of the schools of the Five College Consortium — Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke, Smith College, or UMass Amherst — you are in the Pioneer Valley. The nickname encompasses towns and cities such as Amherst, Northampton, Easthampton, and Hadley, which embody New England charm. With plentiful farmland throughout the area, the Pioneer Valley is a buzzing hub not only for students but also for excellent food and drink with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.
From Boston, drive under two hours west for a perfect day of dining and drinking. Here’s a recommended itinerary.
Coffee and Breakfast
To kick off a day in the Pioneer Valley, start at Amherst Coffee, a stylish coffee bar that is a must-stop for expertly poured espresso drinks and baked goods. (It also converts into a chic, boozy bar at night.)
Share Coffee Roasters is another good stop for ethically roasted and locally brewed coffee paired with fist-sized scones; there are cafe locations in Amherst and Northampton and a roastery in Hadley.
For an adventurous morning, go for a hike at the Notch at Mount Holyoke Range State Park; next, get doughnuts at Atkins Farms Country Market. The apple cider doughnuts — a fall staple, but also available year-round — are the quintessential New England treat. Cushman Market is another gem, beloved by students and locals alike, that offers groceries as well as fresh baked goods and breakfast foods like omelets and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches in a cozy cafe tucked in the back of the store.
In an area teeming with this many colleges, brunch deserves its own category. For a leisurely (and perhaps hungover) meal in the area, the egg dishes at Jake’s in Northampton reign supreme. Walk off your meal by exploring the town, which is rich with early American history and eclectic shopping.
Or, head to Hadley. Along Route 9, Johnny’s Roadside Diner provides classic diner fare. The ideal meal might include an omelet or eggs Benedict, pancakes, a milkshake, and even a cocktail; it’s impossible to leave hungry. Esselon Cafe is also a sure bet for fluffy pancakes doused in local maple syrup, or French toast made with challah or chai bread. (On the weekends, go early or expect a wait.)
For lunch, head to the town of Amherst for sandwiches and salads at the Black Sheep Deli. The Black Sheep’s sandwiches are unique creations, such as the Southern Comfort (Buffalo chicken, bacon, pepper jack cheese, spicy mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion on a baguette), Green Monster (roasted chicken, basil pesto, lettuce, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers on a baguette), and C’est La Brie (brie, roasted red peppers, spinach, and raspberry mustard on a baguette). Don’t sleep on the baked goods, either; they’re also made in-house. Or, stop by Chinese restaurant Lili’s along the town’s main road for excellent regional Xi’an dishes, including spicy, hand-pulled biang biang noodles and a hearty stewed pork noodle soup.
The Montague Bookmill is another great spot to enjoy all day long. Set in a scenic location on the edge of the Sawmill River, it’s home to a delightful cafe and used bookstore where it is easy to lose track of time browsing and reading.
When dinnertime approaches, the options are plentiful and offer a range of dining experiences. In Northampton, Local Burger is a fast-casual spot in for a burger, fries, and a milkshake. Steps away, Amanouz Cafe is well-known for its excellent North African food, from simmering tagines to couscous plates and kabobs.
Or head to Easthampton, where beloved neighborhood favorite Coco and the Cellar Bar, which closed down in 2021, has been reborn as Calico, with former Coco employees leading the project. Don’t miss the buttermilk fried chicken, a Coco staple that has reappeared at Calico in all its crispy glory, alongside equally excellent sides of jalapeno slaw and creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Bookend the dinner with drinks at Gigantic, a vibey cocktail bar a short walk away.
Dessert and Late Night
Wind down a perfect Pioneer Valley day by hanging out with cows and enjoying ice cream at Flayvors of Cook Farm in Hadley. It’s a fully operating dairy farm, so the ice cream is made right onsite.
But save room for more, because without a doubt, Antonio’s Pizza in Amherst is the last but most crucial stop on a Pioneer Valley food tour. Visit at the end of the night, perhaps after bar-hopping in Amherst from Monkey Bar to Stackers Pub to McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern. Antonio’s is beloved for its late-night slices; must-try pizzas include the chicken bacon ranch, beef taco, and tortellini pesto.