The best restaurants in Ithaca.
When people hear about the Finger Lakes Region, most know about Watkins Glen, but there are so many other hidden gems in the area. You can learn to fly a plane in Cortland, drink wine out of the castle wall in Geneva, or track down a six-story treehouse in Trumansburg. The entire region is worth seeing, but if you’re looking to eat and drink, Ithaca should be at the top of your list.
The market there is overlooking Cayuga Lake and has a wide range of international foods like Persian, Thai, Sri Lankan, Cuban, Ethiopian, Cambodian, and more. They also have these delicious breakfast sandwiches (with waffles as buns!) that are worth trying with a cup of coffee. After eating your way around the world at the market, picnicking next to the lake watching the boats go by, you can head back in to purchase anything from hard cider and hand pies to artisan bread, produce, and a beautiful bouquet of flowers.
The Ale House has, hands down, the best burgers I've ever had in my life. A bold statement, I know, but I stand by it. They're everything a burger should be. They're giant, juicy, flavorful, and there's an entire menu of options to go with the local beers they always have available. You can try the build-your-own-burger options, the specialty burger of the week that’s always over the top in the best way, and even one called the Perfect Burger made simply with tomato, onion, lettuce, crispy bacon, ketchup, cheddar cheese, mayo, mustard, and crunchy pickles on grilled brioche buns. No substitutions allowed (or it would no longer be perfect). If burgers aren’t your thing, the they have sandwiches, apps, wraps, flatbreads, and even salads like the Sesame Seared Tuna.
CTB, as the locals call it, serves a variety of breakfast food, lunch, coffees, and ice cream at their three locations throughout Ithaca. The Big Red Pizza Bagel is coated in marinara sauce with sausage, crisp bacon, pepperoni, ham. Chicken with mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite things to get, but they have plenty of wraps and breakfast sandwiches available with a selection of jams like raspberry-jalapeño and grape.
The famous restaurant released multiple cookbooks to encourage others to try their vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free dishes around the world. By taking inspiration from international cuisine and putting a vegetarian spin on it, they’ve managed to create exciting meat-free dishes that actually make people want to eat more plant-based foods. They do have the occasional entrees with shrimp or salmon available, but a majority of their food is plant-based, like linguine smothered in a creamy sauce of roasted garlic, rosemary, asiago cheese, cauliflower, and white wine topped with local microgreens, a sprinkle of Parm, and torched cherry tomatoes.
Since the diner opened in 1936, they've been delivering generous portions of American dishes along with some Italian and Greek food, as well. If you’re looking for pancakes that hang off your plate, good coffee, and even better conversations, then you can head to the State Diner for breakfast, where you’ll feel like you went back in time. There’s nothing better on a Sunday than strolling to the State Diner for a slow-paced morning filled with good food and hot coffee.
The bartenders at Bar Argos create craft cocktails that change seasonally, made with unusual ingredients like mushrooms, activated charcoal, flower bitters, and even mocktails like the honeydew jalapeño or pear chai shrub syrups mixed with soda water. I had the honor of visiting Bar Argos when I was staying at the Argos Inn, and the bar has left a lasting impression on me. The cocktails are innovative, and the bartenders are knowledgeable. Who knew activated charcoal actually tasted good?
Just a Taste is a cozy tapas bar that carries out the Spanish tradition of sampling and sharing small plates with friends and family. Their romantic patio setting, with twinkling lights and mismatched furniture, makes it the perfect spot to reconnect with a friend or a date. The menu never gets old because the chefs are constantly changing things up, adding new and exciting bites to try. Their charcuterie plate is always interesting, with nontraditional snacks like creamy apricot chicken liver mousse, head cheese, and smoked duck breast. Regardless of what you decide to try, the rule of thumb is to always save room for the warm bourbon pecan banana bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream. Always.
Sometimes you just need a good Thai takeout place on standby to get your curry fix for a late-night dinner. Their yellow and red curries are so flavorful with hearty ingredients, spices, and creamy coconut milk. They’re spicy enough to coat your tongue and throat with a little bit of heat, but not to overpower the other delicious flavors and ingredients. I generally go with the yellow curry with potatoes, carrots, and onions. You can switch up the protein you add to it, but I'd recommend the beef, seafood, or even rich buttery duck.
At BoL, you start with a base of either greens, noodles, or grains for the cold salad bowls or a base of ramen or rice noodles for the hot bowls. From there, you just select what ingredients you want included. For the hot bowls, you can fill it up with scallions, peppers, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, dumplings, and proteins like soft-boiled eggs, braised beef, shrimp, and more. If you're craving something lighter in the summer, you can fill the salad bowls with hot peppers, kimchi, pickled carrots, fresh veggies, and even some crunchy elements like nuts, noodles, or seeds for a filling meal.
Enjoy the view of the lake while enjoying some delicious surf and turf. This is the place in Ithaca where you go when you want a perfectly cooked steak or a plate of fresh fish (and you don't want to cook it yourself!). After selecting the kind of fish you want, you then get to choose the preparation. They have pan-Asian, Creole, “go naked” (which is just olive oil, lemon, and fresh herbs), or mango salsa. If you go the turf route, you get to choose between horseradish cream, Maker’s Mark bourbon, black and blue, or house-made Worcestershire for your sauce.