As much a local gathering spot as a place to find something to eat, Capitol Grounds (27 State St., 802/223-7800, www.capitolgrounds.com , 6:30 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Wed., 6:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs.–Fri., 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat.; 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.; closes daily at 5 p.m. in winter, $6–10) whips up made-to-order sandwiches, offers free wireless Internet service, and froths fair-trade cappuccinos all day long.
Healthy eaters rejoice to find Rhapsody (28 Main St., 802/229-6112, 11:30 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri. and 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Mon.–Sat., $8–13), which offers an organic and all-natural menu full of sushi, vegetarian pastas, and maple syrup–sweetened desserts.
The New England Culinary Institute runs a small handful of esteemed restaurants in the area, all of which are worth a visit—particularly La Brioche (89 Main St., 802/229-0443, www.neci.edu/labrioche , 6:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 7 a.m.–4 p.m. Sat., 8 a.m.–2 p.m. Sun., $9–16), the European-style café that bakes up scrumptious pastries and beautiful rustic breads and churns out a daily spread of creative sandwiches on them all.
Another don’t-miss is the school’s Main Street Grill (118 Main St., 802/223-3188, www.neci.edu/main-street-grill , 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat.; 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Sun.; 5:30 p.m.–10 p.m. Tue.–Sun., $12–19), a swanky and professionally run place that’s as likely to feed you a pulled-pork sandwich as it is a plate of carrot, hazelnut, and tofu sausage.
One part music lounge to two parts hipster pizza joint, Positive Pie (22 State St., 802/229-0453, www.positivepie.com , 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun.–Thurs. and 11:30–10 p.m. Sat.–Sun., $9–12) is a great place to hang out for the night over homemade pastas (like the fettuccine with broccoli and ricotta) and a beer.
An emphasis of purity of flavor and easygoing fare pervades at Ariel’s Riverside Café & Bar (168 River St., Montpelier, 802/229-2295, www.arielsriverside.com , 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $6–9). The friendly eatery spotlights ethnic specialties like Moroccan chicken with almonds and apricots, moussaka, falafel, and great, big salads, complemented by an impressive wine list.