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Clockwise from left: Amanouz Cafe's Tagine Fish, Royal Feast, and pita. [Photograph: Elizabeth Bomze]

Every time I visit a college town, I play the same game in my head: If I had been a student here, which of the local restaurants would have been my go-to?

To my mind, the place should have more than one great dish going for it, which might rule out the local house of pizza and the ice cream parlor. It should be on the cheap side—a place where you can afford to be a regular on a student budget. And ideally it should have some local character. That means that even if the Applebee's is a particularly nice one, it doesn't count.

Fresh off my second visit to Northampton, I'm ready to cast my vote for Amanouz Café. The small North African café fits the bill on all counts: The food is flavorful, fresh, and satisfying. I'm hooked on two dishes in particular: the Tagine Fish ($10.50), a conical clay pot of steaming rice topped with three tender, fragrant fish "meatballs" and just as many lemon wedges for squeezing over the stew; and the Royal Feast ($6.95), a really good version of the typical Middle Eastern vegetarian spread with crisp falafel, creamy hummus, tabbouleh that's heavy on the parsley, eggplant salad, and pita. If you're a milkshake fan, the avocado and strawberry versions are both terrific. The Loubia (white bean stew) and Tagiz Fez with lamb and prunes are on my list for next time.

Other bonus points: The prices are right—especially given the generous portions. The menu is very vegetarian-friendly. The vibe is quirky and academic, which suits NoHo very well. It has WiFi. And it's open straight through from breakfast until late snack break time. Think: dining hall convenience, with food that's way better and much more interesting.

Amanouz Cafe

44 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060 (map)
413-585-9128; amanouzcafe.com

About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.

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