Finding a place to eat in Burlington was nearly impossible last weekend. My sister Margaret and her family were visiting us for the holidays, and we made a last-minute decision to go out to dinner. No problem, right? How hard could it be to get a table for seven people on the Saturday night after Christmas?

After several phone calls and repeatedly checking Open Table, we lucked out and found ourselves at a wonderful new restaurant in Burlington called The Gryphon. Halfway through our delicious meal, my sister – who went to UVM and now lives outside of Boston – said she was amazed by the number of incredible restaurants in Burlington and across Vermont.

It’s true. In the eight years since I moved back to my home state, Vermont’s food scene has completely transformed. When Dave and I arrived in 2006, the restaurant landscape was very different. Vermont had good restaurants — great restaurants — but nothing compared to now. In fact, only one of the restaurants on the list below was around when we arrived. These days, it’s hard to keep up with all of the options out there. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Over the past 12 months, I’ve visited a few new restaurants for the first time (as relatively new parents, we’re still getting our restaurant groove back).

Here are some of the best Vermont restaurants:

The Worthy Burger

The Worthy Burger (56 Rainbow St., South Royalton, VT; 802-763-2575; worthyvermont.com) is a craft beer and burger bar located off-the-beaten-path along railroad tracks in Vermont’s Upper Valley. The restaurant, which opened in 2012 in a 19th century railroad freight house, serves an assortment of burgers — beef, turducky (a blend of turkey and duck confit), fish’wich, and veggie, as well as hand-cut fries cooked twice in beef tallow. The beef and buns are local, and so is the beer. The Worthy Burger features an ever-changing list of 15 draughts, with a focus on Vermont’s most sought after breweries, including Hill Farmstead, Lawson’s Finest, and Lost Nation. Worthy, indeed.

Hen of the Wood

On our once-in-a-blue-moon date nights, Dave and I usually opt for sitting at the bar at Hen of the Wood (55 Cherry Street, Burlington, VT; 802-540-0534; henofthewood.com). We sip on cocktails and sample oysters, beef tartar, and local cheeses from Twig Farm, Grafton Village Cheese, and Jasper Hill Farm. If we’re still hungry, we’ll order the hanger steak or Gulf of Maine hake. The original Hen of the Wood opened in Waterbury (92 Stowe St., Waterbury, VT; 802-244-7300) in 2005, and the Burlington location came along eight years later. Chef Eric Warnstedt is a multiple James Beard Foundation Award nominee, and his food reflects Hen of the Wood’s commitment to local farmers and food producers. If you’re in Burlington, put Hen of the Wood on your must-must-must list.

Seasons Restaurant

Seasons Restaurant (4566 Main St, Manchester Center, VT; 802-362-7272; seasonsvt.com) is located in a former retail outlet in what used to be a Sox Market. You would never know it though. The atmosphere at Seasons is warm and relaxed, and the space feels like it’s always been a restaurant. The menu offers everything from comfort food – mac and cheese, burgers, and pizzas – to more classic entrees, including salmon, scallops, chicken, and steak. Come for the good food, stay for the inviting vibe.

Citizen Cider

Vermont is famous for its craft beers, but hard cider is quickly becoming another favorite libation in the Green Mountain State. Some of the tastiest hard ciders around are made by Citizen Cider (316 Pine St., Suite 114, Burlington, VT; 802-497-1987; citizencider.com). Founded in 2011, Citizen Cider opened its Pine Street location in Burlington earlier this year, complete with a tasting bar and food menu that features cider braised brisket, poutine, burgers, and fried chicken. Hard ciders with names like The Full Nelson, Northern Spy and The Dirty Mayor, are sold on tap, by the bottle or growler. You won’t be disappointed.

The Gryphon

The Gryphon (131 Main St., Burlington, VT; 802-489-5699; thegryphonvt.com) is a classic American eatery that is one of Burlington’s newest restaurants. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived last Saturday night on the first floor of the Vermont House building – where multiple restaurants have come and gone over the years. But The Gryphon, which only opened in September, feels right at home. The menu features seafood grits, sesame-ginger chicken, bison hanger steak, burgers, gnocchi, salads, and more. The cocktail menu is excellent, too, with martinis, beers, wine, and cordials. Let’s hope The Gryphon becomes a mainstay in Burlington.

Still, when it comes to finding more of Vermont’s best restaurants, there’s plenty of ground to cover.

Here’s my list of restaurants I need to check out in 2015:
SoLo Farm & Table in South Londonderry
Junction in Essex
Ponce Bistro in Manchester Center
Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock
Prohibition Pig in Waterbury (I know, right? How have we not been there yet?)
Guild Tavern in South Burlington
Waterworks in Winooski

What would you add to the list for 2015?

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