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one dinner in Rochester

Traveling for work and will be in Rochester Wednesday night. I've done a little research including searching recommendations on this site, which are a little out of date so wanted to get your recs. Open to all cuisines, love ethnic and seasonal/sustainable. Have a food allowance so money isn't an issue.

Am considering:
Sal's Birdland
Guido's Pasta Villa
Mario's Via Abruzzi
Black & Blue

I love Dinosaur, but am planning to go the Syracuse location on the drive back Thursday.
thanks for your guidance!

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  1. My three Rochester area faves are:
    Philip's European - French & Continental cuisine
    The Olive Tree - Awesome Greek & Middle Eastern
    The King and I - Thai (in Henrietta near the Marketplace Mall)

    1. You've assembled a wide range of choices; while I'm not sure of Guido's (never been), all of the others have something to recommend them. Sal's is essentially a take out place (a few tables) and a messy (albeit delicious) experience in fried and sweet / hot sauce-slathered chicken. Tastings is known more for being attached to the Wegman's "mothership" supermarket than for the quality of its food. If you have never been to a Wegman's, dinner there plus a run through the store would make for a neat experience. Mario's and Black and Blue are each examples of the best of their kind in the area. Mario's is upper-end Italian (although it has moved somewhat away from its Abruzzi focus and is now known as Mario's Italian Steakhouse, a somewhat regrettable change in my opinion). Black and Blue has a great, classic steakhouse menu, prepares it all very well, and would be my choice. Lots of seafood on its menu, too. It's in the same plaza as the Tastings / Wegman's.

      If you like "neighborhood style" Italian, I'd suggest the Northside Inn in East Rochester. Table 7, downtown on St. Paul, is a fun place with an eclectic menu. If you want to do some BBQ comparison tasting (or good Cajun), try Beale Street Cafe in Rochester before you hit the Dino on your return trip (superior food and none of the hype-induced waiting for a table). (And in typical Rochester fashion, it's on South Avenue (at Gregory Street). I don't think we even HAVE a street named Beale Street ...) If you are entertaining thoughts of Sal's Birdland, you should probably add Nick Tahou's for the classic Garbage Plate experience. Finally, I can't argue much with Sra. Swanky's thoughts, although Phillips is better known for its deserts than for its dinner menu. Happy eating.

      3 Replies
      1. re: budgetrick

        Boy, there's a large area of disagreement here. With the possible exception of Black and Blue ( a good generic steakhouse which every larger city has), there is nothing on your list which I would recommend. Sal's Birdland is OK for the novelty effect if you want take out. Go to Wegman's and buy the bottled sauce to take home if you must. Tastings can be good depending on if they have a guest chef. But generally it's overpriced and just so-so. I do not consider Mario's to be a particularly good Italian restaurant. The portions are huge, but the food is really quite mediocre. I have not been to Pasta Villa but I have not heard anything good about it.
        If I had just one meal in Rochester, and money was not object, I think I would pick Rooney's, Bacco, or Lucano. If I were watching my wallet, I would consider Eros, Veneto, or its new sister spot, The Social. Avoid Nick Tahou's unless your idea of good eating is measured by the amount of grease the food floats on.

        1. re: tuttobene

          Okay, so my initial thoughts were tempered by sound advice from hounds, which I appreciate. I want a good dinner, not wings or pizza.

          Based on advice and more research, here is my short list:
          Olive Tree -- Greek
          King and I -- Thai

          Sound good to me, and how about to others?
          If you have other ideas, it would help me to know the bases of your recs. thanks!

        2. re: budgetrick

          So what *is* the garbage plate? Seems to be a culinary experience unique to Rochester, and not so proudly named . . .
          As for Beale Street, I thought it was a Maine chain since there are two in Maine -- in S. Portland and Bath. And there ain't no Beale Street there either, though there is a Beale's island, but that's way far north, er down east. Not bad, not great IMHO. It held me over when I was living in Maine.

        3. I'm down in the Tampa Bay area now, but grew up in Rochester and can recommend that you try the two best versions of wings in the area. 1) Country Sweet. Though the Monroe Ave location is more of the "scene", I recommend trying the Mt. Hope location on West Henrietta Rd. They are more serious about the mission of providing possibly the world's best chicken wing. For under $5.00, try the "Wing and Mac Snack", four huge wings with macaroni salad. If you like it spicy get it with the Habanero sauce (which isn't really that spicy). You will either love it or hate it, but I promise you will have a strong opinion. This is the very soul of Rochester. In the Winter, Rochester is the Winter wonderland. In the late Spring, when you will be there it is positively gorgeous.
          2) Timothy Patrick's, located at 916 S. Panorama Trail, in Penfield, NY. These are also large wings, every bit as large as Country Sweet, but the savory counterpart. Get the "Waterford Wings" with the "Glow in the Dark" spicing. This place is a true suburban Rochester treasure, with thick stone walls and fine beers on tap. An authentic Irish pub with great burgers as well. The wings come with delicious waffle fries and blue cheese.

          1. The King and I is in a strip mall in Henrietta, and the food is, to me, very average. I have not been to The Olive Tree, but I've lived here for 6 years and it's never been recommended to me. Tastings was good, but not great, when I went.

            Although Rochester does not excel at fine dining, I really think you can do much better than wings.

            If you care at all about ambiance and you're near downtown, I'd try The Social on East Avenue (mentioned earlier here by someone else). It's right next door to Veneto's, but is so new it isn't listed anywhere. (Call Veneto's for directions.) They offer small plates, of which I've had about 8 so far, and a small but decent wine list. Everything I've had has been terrific--nearly impeccably prepared and presented. They focus on fresh, local ingredients, and both the food and the place itself are really chic and visually engaging, as well. Although it's certainly more fun with lots of people, I think it'd also be a great place for a solo meal.

            Also very local and hip, but way more casual, is John's Tex-Mex on South Avenue. It's a tiny, brightly colored place with some straightforward tacos/burritos on the menu, as well as a few surprises--although I feel the fresca taco is the best showcase for their great steak, fresh salsa, and that homemade smoky red hot sauce. They also serve booze and various oddball sodas and juices, and should consider charging for the great people-watching value.

            For fancy schmancy, Rooney's is the local hidden gem (near the Highland Diner in the Swillburg neighborhood). I've never been there, but it has gotten raves from everyone I know who has. They have a fairly traditional but apparently beautifully executed menu. 2 Vine (downtown, next to the Little Theatre) is also excellent, with creative food and a gorgeous interior.

            Either way, I'd follow up your dinner with a visit to Solera, a terrific, laid-back wine bar on South (this will be a 2-block walk if you go to John's, a 2-minute drive if you go to Rooney's, and a 4-minute drive if you go to Social). They have extremely knowledgeable and personable staff, an eclectic and up-to-date wine list, and now, a cheese plate! This is one of my favorite places in Rochester.

            If you want coffee and dessert afterward, great spots are Java's (for the desserts and the arty ambiance, if you can stand the bitchy service and the uneven coffee), Boulder (for the good coffee and the okay desserts, if you can stand whatever unbelievably loud live crap they're showcasing that night), Equal Grounds (for the cozy surroundings, if you can stand the gay teen drama), and Starry Nights (for the good desserts, good coffee, and nice ambiance, if you can stand the inexplicable and very sad absence of cool people). Avoid, at any and all costs, The Chocolate Bar.

            And if you end up having lunch instead of dinner, go to Open Face.

            You eat now!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Special_K

              Excellent suggestions Special K. I always forget about Rooneys. It's been years since I've been there, but it is excellent.

              My favorite coffee/dessert place is Spin on Park Ave. The best frozen cafe mochas anywhere, and their desserts are good too.

              I like King and I but can barely tolerate a trip to Henrietta...

              And I'm glad to hear you liked The Social. I have to tell you a funny story about that place. I asked our waitress at Venetos one night what they were putting in down there and I thought she told me a "topless place." I nearly fainted! I was SO mad at the city - I almost called them to complain. Then when it was open, I asked our waitress (I eat at Venetos a lot) if she had been there, and she said yes, she'd worked there recently. I thought, Oh! So I said, "Well, is it a topless place?" She said, "Yeah, it's basically a tapas menu..." Wow. I need my hearing checked!

              Here's some info on The Social:

            2. How about Dinosaur BBQ . Not fancy but great Q

              1 Reply
              1. re: tk467

                I love me some Dinosaur when I visit Ra-cha-cha!

              2. Okay, here's my report back (and many thanks for your suggestions):

                Dinner at the Olive Tree. It's lovely and bright inside, and when I saw a woman sitting at the bar eating meze (filo cigars) and sipping wine, I should have taken a cue and done the same -- and then moved on for the main course.
                The 3 of us out of towners ordered mezes of those filo cigars, yummy roasted eggplant and the moussed up roe w/ wonderful tender warm pita. They were wonderful, and were the highlight of our meal. We ordered a bottle of very decent Greek white wine.

                The mains were less than stellar -- I had the grouper special which was okay -- topped w/ tomato mixture, served w/ plain rice and peas. My colleague had the lamb chops from the menu which were good and tender (I had a taste). My other colleague ordered the salad which was redundant since we were served a small salad (quite passable) before the mains, and fried calamari which were heavily breaded (not a plus). I ordered pea soup which was a special thinking (silly me!) that it might be fresh pea soup. But I didn't ask, it was winter type split pea. So-so. We were too stuffed for dessert.

                So, not a bad meal, especially the appetizers.
                Thanks for the lead. If I'm ever back in Rochester and return, I'd just concentrate on the mezes. Or try an eclectic/local/organic oriented restaurant.

                After dinner we took a stroll through the mothership Wegman's. Awesome. We hustled back for lunch the next day which was magnificent -- sushi, shrimp bisque, panini, grilled vegs. I love that store! All in all, I was favorably impressed w/ the cosmopolitanship of Rochester.

                Oh, and we hit Dino in Syracuse on the way back east and no waiting for a table for those dynomite ribs! One ordered the sampler of chicken, brisket & ribs, which were all very tasty. I devoted myself to ribs. We tried the fried green tomatoes which were pretty good, though I bit too heavily breaded. I wanted wings as well but my colleagues dissuaded me 'cause of long drive on very full stomach. Even w/o the wings, I napped in the car.

                P.S. If you're giving recs to out-of-towners it's helpful to say the reason for the rec (type of cuisine, etc.) and give the location.

                3 Replies
                  1. re: NYchowcook

                    Glad you liked Olive Tree's mezes - those were always my favs too.

                    1. re: Sra. Swanky

                      Obviously this is a little late but I would love to put my 2 cents in and i posted this on another board before seeing this one. There are some great suggestions here!

                      2 Vine is tasty and not CRAZY expensive. Definately a little on the higher end. Order their seafood b/c it is excellent. Any kind of pan-seared tuna dish will be to die for.

                      We tried "The Social" and loved it. It is owned by the same owner as "Venetos" (also great food) on East Ave and is located next door. It is a tapas or "small plates" restaurant and we went with a group of 5. We ordered about 10 plates and shared everything. Everything was tasty and great thought was put into every detail. The lamb lollipops were cooked to perfection as was the flank steak. The menu has several quesedillas such as a crab and brie one that had a hidden spice that we tried to figure out all evening (lemon zest, tartar sauce?). The wine list could use a little more imagination.

                      Sinbads on Park ave is excellent Medditerranean food. Everything is very light and fresh but still filling. Sitting outside is fun because you can people watch but the inside still needs a little more atmosphere even tho they have recently redesigned. It is still not quite cozy.

                      Taco John's Eatery on South Avenue is a new Mexican restaurant. Not necessarily authentic but everything seems to be made from scratch and very reasonably priced (a huge burrito for $6 and beer for $3).

                      Tapas 177 on St. Paul is fun. I love going down the stairs into the dining area b/c it's like entering a deep dimly lit cave. Very romantic (but dark so bring your mini flashlight if your eye sight is failing!) It is also a "small plates" restaurant but it has a more spanish feel. The food is extremely ecletric, pulling it's ideas from all over the world. The wine list is very nice too with some extra thought going into tasty yet reasonably priced selections.

                      And of course my favorite open-all-night dive is Mark's Texas Hots on Monroe Ave. Great chocolate milkshakes (even tho the servers hate to make them), chicken fingers, and turkey reubens.

                      Luccano's i agree is delicious. Rooney's I haven't tried (practically live next door but don't always have the money to do EVERYTHING I desire). Same with Tastings but do have a gift card so might be getting over there in the next few weeks. I actually have been one of the few who have had a good experience at Black and Blue. I especially am happy with sitting at the bar and trying their appetizers but the one full-fledged meal I had there was also good.

                      King and I is still my favorite Thai spot but then again we don't have that many to compare to. House of Thali is my new favorite Indian place....and has a Monday night buffet which is great.

                      Open face is delicious for a yummy lunch, I would have to agree (I had the best carrot and ginger soup there a while back).

                      We just went to Solera's last week (who doesn't want to support what is happening in the Southwedge?....it's AWESOME) and had a fun time. The people watching there is some of the best.

                      All in all...I would say Rochester is getting better and better in the food department.