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Lancaster and the vicinity.. what to eat? where to go?

My husband and I are planning a get away to Lancaster this weekend and could use some suggestions. We are staying at the Doneckers Inn on Ephrata. We heard that the rstaurant there is really good and want to eat there on Thursday. The chef tasting menu looks amazing.. multi course meal with each course paired with wine. It looks good and seems almost too good to be true.. a seven course meal with wine for only $65/person. Has anyone does the chef tasting menu? Is it good? Is it really only $65 with wine.. or is there some fine print I’m missing?


Besides eating at Donecker’s, we’re not sure where to eat or what to do. I went to the pa dutch country website and saw they have a “Flavor Fest” promotion going on. We might go wine tsting one day and they have some breweries we might try (though I’ve heard mixed reviews about Bube’s Brewery.. anyone been)?


Does anyone have any suggestions for us? We are not into the whole “Amish experience” which seems a lot of other visitors to that are are looking for? We’re really just looking to relax, have a few good meals.

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  1. Hey AmblerGirl - I have not eaten at Donecker's, except for a banquet, so cannot comment on that.

    I work in Ephrata, so I'll give you a heads up about Lily's, since you might get that rec. It's used to be good, but since about 2 years ago, it's been mediocre. Not sure what happened, but I've had a few people voice agreement with me on that.

    Just west of Ephrata is the Udder Choice, a place with good soup and sandwiches, as well as ice cream. They've been kinda slow lately, but the food is great. Just East of town in Shade Maple Smorgasbord, which is decent as far as that category goes. Breakfast there is awesome though - you won't need lunch.

    I was a Bube's a long time ago, and breweries can change dramatically over time. It was not good at all then. A better choice might be Stoudt's in Adamstown. They have awesome beer and very good food, both pub style and semi-fine dining.

    I'll let other make recs regarding other parts of the county.

    1. The tasting menu at Doneckers is excellent...wine is included with 3 courses.

      I was just there Saturday evening and the soup was a sweet corn
      bisque with apple and carrot julienne. Really good !

      1. Hi Ace

        I agree about Lily's being just so so for awhile, but I think there's a new chef. Did you see the review in the Reading
        paper ? We went last week and had the Lobster Macaroni and Cheese and it was excellent !

        1. http://www.haagshotel.com/home.html I ate here when I was a kid and I can't vouch for it today-but man--as I recall this was the real thing

          1. Here are a couple of suggestions since you'll be in
            Ephrata. If you head out of Ephrata on 322 West, you
            will run into Mt. Gretna. I think its about 10 miles
            or so. The drive is really nice, and Mt. Gretna is a
            neat little community tucked in the mountains. There
            is an ice cream shop there called the Jigger Shop. Would
            be a nice place to go for lunch.

            From Mt. Gretna, you could hop on 72 South for a few miles
            to the PA renaissance faire. I wouldn't go to the faire
            itself, but they do have a winery there with wine tastings,
            which is kind of fun to do.


            1. On Breweries:

              I have never been impressed by Bubes, and consequentially haven't been there for some years. Two I would reccomend are Stoudt's,in Adamstown which was a pioneering Pennsylvania microbrew whichhas always concentrated on German style brews and Lancaster Brewing Company on Plum Street in Lancaster. Although I've never eaten at their brew pub I've always enjoyed their brews- particularly their Milk Stout and Strawberry Wheat ale.

              As you probably already know,Adamstown has a number of Sunday only antiques markets. If you are interested in antiques, by all means go. If not then go to Stouts on any day BUT sunday, since the crowd will be less.

              1. I would also second the Mt. Gretna reccomendation. Mt Gretna was founded as part of the Chatauqua circuit and there is still an active arts schedule.

                Unfortunately it appears that the Playhouse is in Hiatus during your visit. but it appears there is a Jazz pianist playing Saturday night, and a classical pianist Sunday. The comminity is charming 9cottages in the woods) and as mentioned the Jigger shop has good ice cream in a lovely period detting.

                1. As a bi monthly visitor to Lancaster for my job, I've pretty much given up on the effort of trying to find a really great place to eat. Now I end up at a local diner that serves average food but it's close to the hotel and I'm out of there for under $10. Don't have high expectations.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Rick

                    Hi Rick. Which places have you tried so far that have been dissapointing? Maybe those of us that live in the area could give you some recommendations for places you haven't hit yet.


                    1. re: sballard

                      Hi Shawn
                      since you live in Lancaster..how is the food inside
                      Clipper Stadium ?

                      1. re: Marilyn

                        Unfortunately, I haven't made it there yet for a game. Its one of those things I've been intending to do, but never seem to get around to it. I do remember reading an article about the food in the newspaper and thinking it at least sounded like good ballpark food, but I have yet to experience it for myself.


                  2. Please try ANY restaurant in Lititz, PA. All mom and pop, all home-made, all amazing. And while you're there, stop in at the Wilbur bud chocolate factory and the Sturgig pretzel factory for hot out of the old oven pretzels. Just go. Enjoy it. Try the tea room on Main street or window shopping. Its an amazing town packed with lovely people.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Erin1020

                      I agree that you must go to Lititz, but not for the food! The shops are truly beautiful and the people are very friendly. We do most of our Christmas shopping in these quaint and lovely shops.

                      interesting fact: Wilbur chocolate in Lititz provides the chocolate for Godiva.

                      1. re: Erin1020

                        Wilber buds! I love those things...a friend of mine who has since moved to New Jersey (we grew up on the Berks/Lancaster line) had wilber buds in little pink origami boxes for her wedding favors. Mmmm...I stole extras that people had left on their tables. Bridesmaid's privilage.

                        As for everything else, I second Stouts and the Belevdere (see post below). I only ate at the Belevedere once for a semi-special occasion, but it sticks out in my memory as a great meal.

                      2. As a Lancaster native, I have to tell you there a very few tremendous restaurants. My hubbie and I travel to Manhattan and philly to get our "foodie" needs met. But, Doneckers is certainly in my top three in the Lancaster area.

                        Chef Greg Gable (Doneckers) is a graduate of the Le Bec Fin kitchen. His wife, Heidi, is the sommelier. My husband and I go for their very reasonably priced tasting menu WAY TOO OFTEN. It is $65 for the base, but you don't want to miss the fois gras and cheese courses, for an extra ~$20 or so. Chef Gable does magical things with fois! As far as ambience goes, they are usually underbooked, and you could request a table by the fireplace - beautiful! Also, on Friday nights (and I think Saturdays), they have a pianist that is just lovely!

                        Other restaurants in Lancaster that are worth the visit:
                        Carr's in Lancaster city. Not only is this one of the top restaurants in the area, it is right by the historical Lancaster Central Market, which is open on Friday and Saturdays. Fresh local farm produce, real Amish crafts, meat and cheese stands, fresh herbs and coffee - pretty cool! Here's a link to Carr's: http://carrsrestaurant.com/ (Zagat rating: Food score 24, Decor score 23, Service score 23, (all score are out of 30)


                        There is a brand new restaurant and chef near the Clipper Magazine stadium. The Arts Hotel with restaurant: John J. Jeffries. I have not been there, but I understand Chef Sean Cavanaugh puts Chef Carr to shame. He uses seasonal, local ingredients (I believe he considers his menu to be organic.) I can't wait to get there. Here's the link: http://www.lancasterartshotel.com/din...

                        Finally, two others that are worth mentioning. One of my favorite menus in town is at Strawberry Hill. Terrific wine selection, and a very creative menu. But, let me warn you, it is a family-run business, to love the restaurant, you have to love the quirky father and son team that run it. Link: http://www.strawberryhillrestaurant.c....

                        And Gibraltar's. The ambience is airy and contemporary (For the 90's!) The wait staff is friendly. But more importantly, the seafood is wonderfully prepared, and you can't get a better dessert anywhere in the vicinity. Link:http://www.kearesrestaurants.com/gibr...

                        In addition, if you like art or antiques, you should visit Lancaster city. There has been a great revival to the arts in the area. You can take a walking tour of the galleries and quaint shops in the "city." Here is a link to the gallery locations: http://www.downtownlancaster.com/arts...

                        I hope you have a great time!
                        A Lancaster Loyalist

                        1. Hi. One of the usual suspects is Log Cabin. Although I haven't eaten there in a few years, I was never impressed by the quality for the price. But I have friends who like it.

                          In Lancaster City, the Belvedere Inn is usually very good. It is around the corner from the stadium. http://www.belvederepa.com/index.htm

                          I have always wanted to try the Nav Jiwan Tea Room at Ten Thousand Villages in Akron near Ephrata. Every week they feature a different world cuisine. Here is their site, although they haven't updated their website for this week: http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/ph...

                          Friends also swear by Mazzi's in Leola for a romantic dinner out. Again, I haven't been there yet, but you might want to check them out.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: aekb2006

                            Just a quick correction - Ten Thousand Villiages is actually in Ephrata, just north of the intersection of 322 and 272. The building you may have seen in Akron is their offices and warehouse.

                            Even if you don't make it to the tea room for lunch, that place is amazing. Well made items, and not just crafts, fairly traded and much of it affordable.

                          2. I am setting up dinner for a group of professional people attending a retreat in the Strasburg area. It would be about 12 peope. Any suggestions for restaurants which are nice but no more that $40 per person?

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Smilinatwork

                              As soon as you mentioned Strasburg, I thought of the Historic Strasburg Inn, which is now the Netherlands Inn & Spa. I have not personally been there, but I hear good things, and the website for "the Bistro" is lovely. Here's a link: http://www.netherlandsinn.com/dining.htm


                            2. The Stradsmoor Inn is lovely.

                              1 Reply
                              1. Stoudt's in Adamstown is great! I have been there many times on both the pub side and the dining room and have always enjoyed both.

                                Ten Thousand Villages is a great place to shop for those interesting gifts, but I would not recommend the food. Their so-called international cuisines seem to bear little resemblance to the authentic cuisines they are claiming to be. It seems almost like somebody is trying to make a dish from a cookbook with ever having actually tried it.

                                1. If you're there on a Friday, definately check out the Green Dragon Market in Ephrata. It has tons of vendors of good local produce, meats, crafts, etc. Mostly Amish, not in the tourist-trap way. Bring cash.

                                  Green Dragon market
                                  955 North State St., Ephrata, PA 17522
                                  Fridays 9am to 9pm

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Joe MacBu

                                    Hi everyone! as a Philly native transplanted to Lancaster about 3 years ago, I have to agree with the people here who say there are VERY FEW good dining choices out here. My husband and I are huge foodies and virtually everywhere we have gone has left us disappointed. armartin's post hit the nail on the head, as far as places to go that we completely agree with.

                                    We actually have our first reservations at John J Jeffries restaurant, so I'll let you know how that goes. Friends of ours went and said the food was very good, but it had just opened and the service was poor. When we want an all around good meal, from appetizer to dessert, we go to Gibraltar. It is not 5 star dining, but as close as you can get to it in Lancaster. Its where we go when we are hungry and don't want to risk having a bad meal. Some of the wait staff seem to have sticks up their butts, pardon my french, but we got over that quickly because we enjoy eating there. They do have a kids menu, which also surprised me. Don't order the grilled chicken, it was dry and tasted like it was cooked from frozen. (on the kids menu). I had one meal there where they served the best seafood dish I ever had anywhere in Philly or NY. It was a special, and unfortunately, I have not seen it again. That is the other problem with Gibraltar. The menu changes so much that just when you find something you like, its not there the next time you go. They made a delicious Halibut dish so good that 2 weeks later I went back to get the same dish. It was gone. I understand some fish are seasonal but C'mon!

                                    Carrs was also surprisingly good. Those are the two places we'd return to if we wanted a guaranteed good meal. I got the Beet and Goat cheese Napoleon which was very good, although the person who cooked it burned the tempura. It still was pretty good. The Jail Island Salmon was delicious. My husband got a special, some seafood gumbo with Sea Bass on top. The Sea Bass was delicious!!!! Cooked to perfection.

                                    Bube's brewery was a HUGE disappointment. We went there last May and had a very disappointing meal. The atmosphere was very cool in the catacombs, but they couldn't make a filet right to save their lives. My husband's swordfish was frozen in the middle. The service was very good and the waittress was so embarassed at the mistakes in the cooking. We realized it was not her fault! It is the perfect place to go after the Renaissance fair, if you haven't already stuffed up on soup-bowls and turkey legs, just for the atmosphere alone.

                                    We were disappointed with the Belvedere. My husbands filet was raw, when he ordered 'medium rare' and then burned when they brought it back (you know the story). I got the 'famous' grilled Romaine salad with chicken on top. The chicken tasted like it was reheated, but it was ok. The Lettuce was wilted and rotted at the ends. This was a Saturday night. I wanted to love this place and it is really cozy. We might try it again sometime.

                                    Strawberry Hill was good, but extremely OVERPRICED. Keep that in mind. They have no business charging what they do for the food they serve. I also felt the same way about Stoudt's Brewery in Adamstown. Way overpriced and the meal was less than memorable both times I was there.

                                    And please don't think my husband and I are the high maintenance types, because we aren't! Just spoiled from living in Philly. And not too happy to be paying Philly prices at numerous restaurants here for mediocre food. Has anyone else noticed that? The restaurants that are half decent must know it and charge an arm and a leg.

                                    I must be the only person who thinks this way, but I am not a fan of Wilbur buds OR Godiva chocolate. I think it tastes 'cheap'. My favorite melting chocolate buds are Merkens Wafers. They put Wilbur buds to shame. And they melt fantastically! You can get them online somewhere, if you google 'merkens wafers'.

                                    So in a huge nutshell, those are our dining experiences.

                                    Hope it helps!

                                    1. re: StacieM

                                      I went to college in Lancaster, so know the restaurants pretty well from my time there. I have to say my FAVORITE place to eat has been 2 places. The first place is the Log Cabin, it is set off a main road with incredible food. The atmosphere is beautiful and relaxed, the service, amazing EVERY TIME and the food is something I almost dream of (and I'm from NYC...which some people consider one of the food capitals of the world, though I disagree after being in PA for so long). The other place is the restaurant at the Leola Village Inn and Suites...just as good, even better prices (I had a very indulgent meal there for 2 with drinks, dessert, etc...and it was under $100. The restaurant's name is Mazzi. I saw someone posted Gibraltar, which is right across from my college. Be forwarned that there is a large amount of construction going on right around the restaurant b/c the college is building a few new buildings. It is also really not one of my favorite places to eat, but then again, I am not a fish person. I hope this helps! Enjoy Lancaster, it has so much to offer.

                                  2. We live in the area and we like the following places in the Lancaster:

                                    The Belvedere Inn - N. Lemon Street - Lancaster
                                    Gibraltar - @ Franklin and Marshall College (same owners as Lily on Main)
                                    Mazzi - in Leola

                                    Also - I forgot John J Jeffries at the Lancaster Arts Hotel


                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: BRI328

                                      what about a good breakfast/brunch choice in Lancaster or the area?
                                      anything in the Central market area? We will be there Saturday