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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Eating Around the Upper Valley

One writer investigates students’ favorite restaurants outside of Hanover.

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There’s a reason why we call Dartmouth a “bubble.” With many students lacking a car of their own on campus, it can be difficult to find a short reprieve from Hanover. Grabbing meals with friends can be an excellent way to de-stress  — but while Foco is open seven days a week, and there are a handful of restaurants to choose from in Hanover, eating at the same spots year after year can get repetitive. 

Venturing off campus is sometimes arduous and time-consuming, but for readers who are willing to journey off the beaten path, here are three Upper Valley establishments to consider eating at for your next outing.

Stella’s Italian Kitchen (Lyme)

Upon entering Stella’s, customers are welcomed to a quaint front-house marketplace, while the restaurant’s formal dining space is located in the back. The ambiance of Stella’s is homey and inviting — a feeling which was amplified when I met Morgan Lory, who owns and operates the business, and the waitstaff. 

According to Lory, who took ownership of Stella’s after first working as a chef there from 2009 to 2012, he acquired the restaurant five years ago. The original owners sold the establishment after they “fell on hard times” and struggled to keep Stella’s open, he explained.  

Lory admits that, at first, the situation was tenuous, but Stella’s has managed to navigate and survive — in part due to its marketplace. Despite its initial hard times, Stella’s was “already generated for takeout,” an aspect that helped it just before and during the pandemic.

Three years after the start of the pandemic, Stella’s opened again for dine-in service. The restaurant attracts patrons from both Vermont and New Hampshire, especially customers from the Lyme community, which Lory emphasized “helped [us] get through the pandemic.”

“The professors, the lawyers, the doctors, they don’t want to necessarily live right in Hanover. It’s the surrounding areas that they live [in],” Lory said. “They’re in here a lot. They helped us get through the pandemic.”

Though owning a business has been complicated, to Lory, it has also been a beneficial profession because there are “a lot of people who care” about Stella’s.

“It’s bittersweet,” Lory said. “You know, there’s a lot of wonderfulness, and then there’s a lot of stress and risk.” 

Students won’t find Stella’s located on DoorDash or UberEats, as the business takes pride in its low-tech, mom-and-pop roots. If they make the drive up to Lyme, though, they will always be met with smiling faces and consistent service. 

“We’re not trying to be the best. We’re not trying to be the place to go,” Lory said. “We just want … simple stuff done relatively well, consistently. If it’s consistent, they come back, and we see a lot of the same faces.”

Lalo’s Taqueria (Lebanon)

Lalo’s Taqueria is a small restaurant located in Lebanon that serves decadent street-style tacos and Mexican cuisine. One such dish, the pork street taco, is shift manager Shonna Moulton’s favorite menu item, who added that “the habanero salsa really gives it the extra flavor, but it’s super spicy.” 

Beyond dishing up delicious street food, Moulton consistently interacts with Dartmouth students — who make up a large part of the business’s customer base.

“We probably get the largest groups of people from Dartmouth every day [who are] happy about the food,” Moulton said. “It’s always an experience for them every time they come in.” 

Moulton also emphasized the respect and kindness students show towards Lalo’s staff. When Dartmouth students come “in big groups, they’ll put our tables together, and they never fail to take them apart and put them back how they were, and that’s so appreciated,” Moulton said.

For future Lalo’s customers, Moulton said new patrons should know the establishment is a welcoming environment. 

Lalo’s is “open and accepting of everybody … We love everybody that comes to the door,” Moulton said. 

Ice Cream Fore-U (West Lebanon)

Founded by sister duo Meredith Johnson ’98 and Jennifer Johnson, Ice Cream Fore-U first opened in the summer of 1998. The Johnson sisters continue to own and operate the ice cream spot today. 

As customers graze the plethora of ice cream and sweet treat options, from hard serve to Italian ice, it becomes clear why Ice Cream Fore-U’s customer base is so vast. 

According to Jennifer, the establishment offers 50 hard ice cream flavors, soft-serve, non-dairy options such as Italian ice and sorbets, shakes, flurries, pup sundaes and even steamed hot dogs, which have proven to be a big hit with Dartmouth students. 

Though the ice cream stand attracts an array of customers, the sisters expressed their fondness for the Dartmouth community in particular.

“For Dartmouth students, we try [to] offer a business that … has a great fun outside activity, something you can do with friends,” Meredith said. “It’s very social waiting in line, or then it's a good place to hang out just off campus.” 

Jennifer added that the duo has been “very fortunate to be on the radar of Dartmouth students,”  who have continually supported the business. 

“We’re very appreciative because you could certainly take your business elsewhere and do other social things,” Jennifer said. “We really appreciate all the Dartmouth classes every year coming in, the rite of passage.”

Though the stand only operates during the summer months, the Johnson sisters have a reliable staff and consistent number of patrons every season. Many of the stand’s customers return during the warmer months, when the shop draws in crowds, according to the Johnson sisters. 

Though the days are long and the sisters said they have worked almost over 100 hours since the shop’s seasonal opening last week, the experience of owning the stand for the last 26 years has been “a fun community to be a part of.”

“I think Jen has been in teaching and you know, we had grown up around this, but it was fun to add the ice cream stand and put our touch on our family business … and [run] a business that so many people really find enjoyable,” Meredith said. 

For Jennifer, much of her gratification in terms of owning the ice cream stand stems from the impact the sisters have on their young employees. 

“It’s been really enjoyable to get to know so many young people in the Upper Valley and make a difference in their lives,” Jennifer said. “Obviously, this isn’t going to be their lifelong career … but it’s so much fun to see the directions they take.”

From pizza to tacos to ice cream, and everything in between, the Upper Valley has many dining establishments just waiting to be explored by the Dartmouth community. There are many restaurants — foodie or not — that lay just outside of these campus streets if you only know where to look.