Travel

10 Tasty Reasons This Upstate NY Gem Is the Perfect Weekend Getaway

The best restaurants in Ithaca.

April  5, 2019
Photo by bobistraveling/Flickr Commons

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.

Here’s why:

1. The Farmers Market

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.

2. The Ithaca Ale House

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.

3. Collegetown Bagels

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.

4. The Moosewood Restaurant

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.

5. The State Diner

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.

6. Bar Argos

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?

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7. Just a Taste

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.

8. Taste of Thai

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.

9. BoL

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.

10. The Boatyard Grill

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.

Locals! Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

20 Comments

MA April 19, 2019
Very interesting restaurant selection. Certainly wouldn’t have been my list. Maybe more time, research & dinning experience would have resulted in an accurate review. Too many overlooked.
 
cookbookchick April 15, 2019
Delicious (SO good!) Beef on Weck (a local specialty) at the Ithaca Bakery, another not-to-be-missed spot for great food in Ithaca! And it’s just down the street from Purity Ice Cream.
 
Picholine April 14, 2019
Upstate NY to those of us who live upstate is Albany and north . A special culinary and artsy gem of a city of Saratoga ,also known for horse farms and beautiful countryside . Most famously the Saratoga raceway for thoroughbred horses.
I guess we have to describe ourselves as up-upstaters.
 
Dana E. April 9, 2019
I grew up in Upstate NY (not Ithaca) and I love when it gets some culinary kudos! Most people think of NYC when you say you're from "New York", and Upstate gets forgotten about a lot. But it has lots of diverse and yummy foods :)
 
DonnaG April 7, 2019
You also forgot to list Purity Ice Cream for amazing ice cream, cookies, and cupcakes, as well as a great place for weekday lunch and weekend brunch.
 
Lizzie G. April 7, 2019
I went to school at IC! There are so many great spots it’s hard to name all of them. The city has also changed a bit since I graduated in 2011. Glenwood pines is a must go to! Viva on 96b is great for tacos. Sticky rice for authentic Thai!
 
Jennifer April 7, 2019
Or you could do what folks in Ithaca do--drive over to the east side of Seneca Lake and dine at Dano's Heuriger (Dano himself was a James Beard nominee)--in the summer months, another good option is Stone Cat Cafe, also overlooking Seneca Lake. And yes, the food will be local, and seasonal, and delicious... and the views outstanding, especially the sunsets.
 
Caitlin G. April 7, 2019
Definitely have to shout-out Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg – a diamond in the upstate rough :-)
 
Chris G. April 6, 2019
I'd recommend the Glenwood Pines or the late night at the Shortstop Deli or Brunch at the Carriage House over the Boatyard Grill or BoL.
 
Chris April 6, 2019
Interesting that you never left Ithaca to talk about the "finger lakes". That's like saying the 10 best restaurants in New England but all of them are in Providence.
 
Nancy April 11, 2019
Yes. Not to mention the area wineries.
 
John C. April 6, 2019
I would add Fat Jacks best bbq around
 
Spencer W. April 6, 2019
I would add The Rook. That should definitely be above BoL. https://www.rookfoodanddrink.com/
 
tripletree April 6, 2019
I live in the Finger Lakes and this article misses the mark on so many things, but I'll keep my comments down to one epic omission: Maxie's Supper Club! Such consistent great food, and the best staff anywhere!
 
Margogo55 April 6, 2019
I can’t believe y’all missed Rio Tomatlan.🙄❤️
 
Jess April 6, 2019
Where'd my comment go
 
Jess April 6, 2019
Hi there are all these places in Ithaca or Watkins? That's not the only part of the finger lakes region that has the best places to eat. Maybe those are the best places in that city. But there's Geneva, Seneca Falls, Canandaigua and so many more places in the finger lakes that have restaurants too
Just saying not trying to be mean. You have to cone to other cities too. The cities I listed are on the North end of the lakes. Don't want to miss out up here.
 
bernie N. April 5, 2019
I worked in Ithaca back in the 80 s at Joes if anyone remembers it... Ithaca was always a foodie town graduation weekend was a fun time !!!!!!!!
 
JH April 5, 2019
Whoever wrote this article hasn’t been to Ithaca in a few years. Firstly, BOL is a revoltingly inauthentic excuse for ramen (the broth is SWEET! Ew!), compared to Maru Ramen, which is outstanding quality and ALWAYS packed. I ate Maru Ramen 3x last week. Its addictive. Second, the most incredible high-end restaurant in Ithaca is called Gola Osteria and it was nowhere to be found on this list. Which shocked me because Boatyard Grill has gone down in quality SO MUCH over the past few years, and it was never anything special to begin with. Food-quality-wise, its basically a glorified Applebees. GOLA OSTERIA on the other hand is some of the best, most authentic, deliciously gourmet Italian food I have ever tasted in my life. And I spent the first 30 years of my life in NYC, and have traveled across Italy!) If you are a foodie and you come to Ithaca, and you eat at BoL instead of Maru Ramen, or if you skip a trip to Gola Osteria, you will deeply regret it.
 
Gola April 9, 2019
Thanks JH for recognizing Gola Osteria. We pride ourselves in being a “go to” establishment while visiting Ithaca. They must have missed us this go around. We appreciate the kind words and support. Come see us soon.
Thank you!
Kami and Sam ~ owners