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Eating in Ithaca, NY?

Hey Chow folks, I'll be spending the weekend in Ithaca and am wondering if anyone has dining recomendations. Am already familiar with Moosewood, of course, so no need to mention that fine establishment. I'll certainly be hitting the farmer's market too but beyond that, I'm curious what your favorites are. Thanks!

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  1. Hello-

    A few personal favorites:
    -Dijon Bistro- Nice plats du jour. Every time I've been there, the portions have been quite big, so something to consider if you don't have a fridge.
    -Just a Taste- Tapas and great brunch menu.
    -Willow- Upscale American. They do a great promotion Tuesdays-Saturday with Fall Creek Cinema next door- early 3-course dinner (5-6 PM) and a movie ticket for $25
    -Taste of Thai on the Commons is my favorite Thai place

    If you're willing to drive a little out of town:
    -Dano's on Seneca is a beautiful place to unwind and enjoy food. They are closed this Saturday for a private event, but you may want a reservation if you do plan to go.
    -Doug's Fish Fry in Cortland has really fresh seafood in a casual atmosphere.
    -Dinosaur Barbeque is about an hour out near Syracuse, but they're quite well-known for food (though ambiance is a little biker-bar- that doesn't scare me away from good food :)

    Have heard mixed reviews on Olivia's (focus on local foods) and Smart Monkey Cafe (focus on organic foods). Sarah's Patisserie in Community Corners might be a nice stop to pick up something sweet. Someone the other day mentioned to me that there's a decent Mediterranean place and pizza place in Community Corners as well, but I haven't investigated.

    Note that Cornell's move-in weekend starts tomorrow (maybe that's why you're in town? :) so it's going to be a little crazy. Wegmans (if you aren't familiar with them, they're a great grocery store chain based out of Rochester) has decent prepared foods. You may want to sample some of those while in town or pack some up for a picnic or eating in....though they're likely to be slammed this weekend as well.

    Good luck deciding and getting around town! Almost all these places have websites so you may want to check out their menus and also call ahead in case there are closings for special events.

    5 Replies
    1. re: 4Snisl

      Excellent! Thanks for the tips, and for the heads-up about Cornell move-in days. That's not why we'll be there, my partner and I have friends in Ithaca and try to make it out there once a summer or so. I'm familiar with Wegmans. The super Wegmans in Ithaca is one of the biggest grocery stores I've ever been in! It's mind-boggling.

      1. re: lescaret

        Oh, one more thing....buses of students will be shuttled to and from the Farmers' Market starting at 11 AM Sunday morning, just as a more specific heads-up. (Sunday's usually the quieter day, but maybe not this week ;)....)

        1. re: 4Snisl

          Ditto 4snisl's recommendation on Just a Taste. Tasty food and great wine list that offers very affordable flights of wine. They have nice outdoor seating in the back. I particularly like this place for Sunday brunch. Casual, affordable, tasty.

          I've always liked Viva Taqueria for casual, lively Mexican and good cocktails. Likewise, The Nines up on the Cornell hill has great pizza and beer. If you are a beer fan, don't miss the Chapter House. If you like dive bars, don't miss the Chantecler. It's not nearly is scary as it looks, has a couple of good pool tables and decent beer given the price/general atmosphere. If you want a burger with your beer head to the Pines, just outside of town on Cayuga Lake.

          4Snisl may know better, but John Thomas's Steak House was a favorite of mine before I moved out of Ithaca a few years ago. I still live in the area and eat in Ithaca often but haven't hit JT's in awhile. It used to be first rate.

          I also agree with 4Snisl on Dano's if you are looking to travel into wine country. Also on Seneca Lake are the Stone Cat Cafe and Red Newt Bistro, both of which are excellent. In Skaneateles, about 50 minutes away and an adorable town, there are several great restaurants, most notable Mirbeau (high end but fairly casual atmosphere with an amazing tasting menu of New American delights) and Roselli's, a lively, upscale and very tasty Italian restaurant.

          1. re: gmunno

            Wow, how have I not heard about John Thomas's Steakhouse until now?! Well, it's on my list of places to try- I hope it's as good as you remember! Glad to know of some other good options around Seneca Lake, too. Thanks gmunno!

      2. re: 4Snisl

        Was there a few months ago for a wedding and had lunch at the Smart Monkey Cafe. I really liked the vibe and the selection was great. Food was quite good (veggie wrap and a smoothie), but a bit expensive.

      3. Shortstop deli for pizza subs.
        The ice cream shop at cornell is awesome and cheap.
        Fried fruit pies and breakfast burittos at farmers market.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jmax

          good call on the Shortstop and the ice cream, although Purity is pretty good too. The Shortstop is 24-hours, and after a night in Ithaca my friends and I usually grab a sub there before heading back to Auburn, NY. Good Chicken parm sub.

          1. re: jmax

            I haven't tried the fruit pies at the Farmers' Market yet...maybe this weekend! Glad to see another fan of the Cornell Dairy.....I also like to buy cheese from there. Not really remarkable, very basic selections but decent and nicely priced.

          2. Aside from the already mentioned Moosewood and Taste of Thai, I've had 2 wonderful meals at Pangea. Also, at the Farmer's Market, there's a macrobiotic stand that makes amazing corn fritters.

            1. Boatyard Grill--dinner starts at 5 pm--get there early--fills up fast!

              1 Reply
              1. re: lnearth

                lnearth, I've heard mixed reviews on the place....but I'm glad you've had good experiences there, and I should try it out before winter sets in so I can enjoy outdoor eating by the water! ')

              2. I suppose you've already gone and come back, but I can't resist adding to an Ithaca food thread!

                My favorites: Taste of Thai, Maxie's Supper Club (Cajun/seafood cuisine), Viva Taqueria (relatively cheap and everything always tastes delicious and fresh), The Nines, Just A Taste, Collegetown Bagels or Shortstop Deli for a sandwich, Sangam (Indian in Collegetown), Aladdin's (also in Collegetown, many delicious pasta dishes, Greek dishes as well, lots of vegetarian options)...those are just the first few that come to mind! I miss Ithaca restaurants so much...apparently I have a lot of favorites!

                7 Replies
                1. re: Solstice444

                  Solstice444, just wanted to say your posts were a good guide for me when I was moving the area and dipping my toe in the dining scene! Any other decent Indian places in Ithaca? Maybe I went to Sangam on an off day, but it wasn't the best IMHO.....

                  1. re: 4Snisl

                    I've had so-so meals recently at Moosehead, I think their better days may be behind them. I would second Collegetown Bagels and Shortstop for carry out sandwiches (Shortstop has good soup, too, as well as macaroni and cheese right next to the soups) and I liked Just a Taste. I also am a big fan of Gimme Coffee, and while they don't have much food, just a few sweets, they make a dynamite Macchiato, the real way, not the Starbuck's way.

                    1. re: 4Snisl

                      Glad to hear it! :) Embarrassingly, I never made it to other Indian restaurants in Ithaca. I have heard that New Delhi Diamond's is good, 106 West Green Street. Not sure if there are any others.

                      1. re: Solstice444

                        I like New Delhi Diamond's.

                        I think Moosewood is overrated (soups and desserts were good, but I can make their main courses better at home using the cookbook).

                        Best ice cream I've found in the area is north out of town on Rte 89 at Cayuga Lake Creamery (www.cayugalakecreamery.com). It's richer and less oversweet than what you get at the CU Dairy Bar and at Purity.

                        Just my 2 cents.

                        1. re: origamifreak

                          Mmm, those flavors at Cayuga Lake Creamery look amazing! I'll be in Ithaca in a couple of weeks, and just might have to drive up there to try some!

                          1. re: Solstice444

                            I live nearby and find it hard to drive by Cayuga Creamery without stopping!

                            1. re: MaryishSally

                              I JUST went there this weekend! Took me over a year to finally stop there, but I made it. The people who I assume own/run the place were very friendly and helpful. I had the Ultimate Chocolate Brownie (maybe it was Ultimate Fudge Brownie?) in a homemade waffle cone, and it was delicious! I hope people will continue to stop there on their tours of the wineries.

                  2. Just ate at Smart Monkey Cafe tonight. Don't waste your time. The food was mediocre at best, and the service was very, very slow despite the place not being crowded. In contrast, we had lunch at Moosewood, which was wonderful.

                    1. Ithaca NY is a Great Food Town. Some spots enjoyed during visits

                      ABC Vegetarian Restaurant - If you are frustrated with Moosewood or just need a change
                      Blue Stone Restaurant - Good Food and Drinks (Try a blueberry infused Rum)
                      Maxie's Supper Club - Exceeded expectations - the grits were AMAZING!
                      Moosewood Restaurant - Different Menu everyday - Amazing Chocolate Brownies
                      The Ithaca Bakery - So many yummy things - cheddar chive biscuits
                      Just a taste is AMAZING, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere - get a wine flight and try every tapas on the menu!
                      For ice cream the Cornell Dairy Store is good have tried the - Mango Sorbet - Berry and Espresso which was with full beans
                      Although I have not been here I hear another fun place to eat is the Farmers Market on the weekend.

                      1. Was back in Ithaca NY This past weekend.

                        Some additions to my previous post:

                        The Ithaca Farm Market was AMAZING! There are lots of small stalls that serve breakfast, homemade breads, and snacks. Gimme Coffee has a stand there as well!
                        Suggest taking a road trip to two towns in the area if time and transportation permit.
                        Each is about 20-30 minutes outside of Ithaca.

                        Crooked Rooster Brew Pub/Wildflower Cafe Watkins Glen NY
                        The beer selection is excellent.
                        They had the most AMAZING special black bean chipolte chocolate soup!
                        A great stop before or after a wine tour.

                        For dinner we made reservations at the Hazelnut Kitchen Trumansburg NY
                        The entire meal here was exceptional! Wonderful fresh food and presentation!
                        Exceeded expectations in every way! Wish we had something like this back home.

                        1. As an update, Olivia's closed a while ago (sometime in 2008?) and just last month, the wonderful Willow restaurant shuttered as well.

                          Also, I have managed to try the Boatyard Grill- just this past May. My first visit will perhaps be my last, if I can help it. The "lump" crabcakes were little grease-bombs of crab-flavored stuffing- reminded me of what you might find in cheap deviled crabs. The beef on weck was OK, but mighty greasy and more salty than flavorful. However, the steamed broccoli was good, the view was lovely, the key lime pie was wonderful and and our server, a student at Ithaca College, was great.

                          1. Just another update. ABC Cafe is currently closed as well. The folks at EatingIthaca.com keep abreast of all food news through their site and podcasts. It's quite helpful if you're in the Ithaca area and want to learn about local eateries and vendors. And no, I'm not affiliated with them.

                            Tried FineLine Bistro recently and was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. My black pepper seared scallops were enormous and tasty. The place is a little noisy with the open kitchen and cavernous space, but it's a welcome addition IMHO.

                            1. Man I miss Ithaca - some of the best food per capita than anywhere else in NY.

                              Here were some of our favorites:

                              Pangea - our favorite - really excellent and well cooked food, never over-crowded

                              Just a Taste - tough to get a table, but good food

                              Willow - I guess they shut down? a shame.

                              Olivias - Also shut down? phooey.

                              We found Moosewood to be overhyped and kind of plain. By far not the best in the area, just the most famous.

                              3 Replies
                                1. re: Sop

                                  Too bad. It was an odd location - always had a hard time descrbing where it was when recommending it to someone else.

                                  1. re: jmoryl

                                    It's now a barbecue joint - Hog's Back.

                              1. I'm surprised noone mentioned the Heights. I miss Ithaca too...


                                1. A personal favorite - When the weather is lovely In Ithaca, most recently during this past Labor Day week, my husband and I have always enjoyed Kelly's Dockside Cafe where we can sit outdoors in dappled shade, on the large deck overlooking the Inlet and watch ducks, ducklings (depending on the season), and kayakers paddling by while we eat sandwiches or omelets. Kelly's is located shortly before the turnoff from Rte 89 N that leads into the Boatyard. The food is not unusual, but is good. I would NEVER go there to sit indoors. The outdoor ambiance is much of the attraction, and the food is always very good in that setting. So, you should probably go now before it's too cold for the deck. Otherwise wait for spring. The indoor areas always seem dark and dreary to me; they do have some tables near the glass wall opening to the deck so it might be nice there. But I have never sat indoors, and we've been going to Kelly's for many, many years whenever we visit from NYC.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: pkslp

                                    I have to disagree about Kelly's--while the setting is indeed pleasant, I wasn't at all impressed by the food--our fries were the standard came-in-a-massive-freezer-bag fries and were lukewarm to boot. Our entrees were similarly borderline. I would go back to drink beer on the patio, but I wouldn't eat there again.

                                    The former Willow has now reopened as North Star Public House. The new proprietors inverted the seating arrangements, so that the bar area now holds tables and the former dining room functions as a bar. So far I've only had fries there (and I promise I eat more than just french fries!), which were great. They come with house-made ketchup (delicious) and a garlic aioli that is delightful. I'm looking forward to having dinner there.

                                    Visitors to Ithaca will also miss the much-beloved Lost Dog, now freshly transformed into Wildfire--I haven't had the chance to visit yet.

                                    1. re: vitapilcher

                                      Lost Dog is closed? That is sad. :-( Maybe the next time I'm up there I'll check out Wildfire.

                                      1. re: vitapilcher

                                        Lost Dog is closed? That is sad. :-( Maybe the next time I'm up there I'll check out Wildfire.

                                        1. re: vitapilcher

                                          Thank you for the heads-up about Northstar! I had dinner tonight with a friend. The atmosphere was very warm and inviting- walls and decor now shades of blue, and there was tropical music playing in the background. Might have been trying to get the customers in the right frame of mind- when we asked for a table, the host kindly informed us that the heat was out for the evening, but they'd be happy to have us if we'd like to stay. The restaurant was nearly full, so we decided to risk it.

                                          The menu is split into "small. medium and large" selections. My friend and I both ordered "mediums", which were PLENTY in portion size. She ordered "seared tofu scallops with a curry sauce" (I think this was about $12), which produced a large plate with steamed rice, and a nicely balanced sauce that is on par with the wonderful spicing at numerous authentic Thai places in town. The round slices of tofu did look quite a bit like scallops when covered in sauce- they had very little color to them, and I was actually happy to see that they weren't deep-fried tofu chunks with leathery exteriors. I ordered the roasted garlic cheeseburger ($10), which is one of the best burgers I've had in Ithaca. i ordered it medium rare (which was described to me as hot and pink in the center), and it came out the 1st time deep red and barely warm in the middle. When I asked for a little more time on the griddle, I was delivered a brand-new burger in a matter is minutes (which I felt a little guilty about- I'd assembled it all and cut it before realizing it was less done than I'd desired). They were very friendly about it, though, and said that "I should have my burger the way I like it". The griddled meat (locally raised) was blanketed with a melted slice of sharp cheddar, and crowned with a handful of salad greens, two fairly thick slices of tomato, slivers of red onion, and what I believe was a roasted garlic mayo. It was flavorful, juicy, hefty (probably a 6-8 oz patty) and just about perfect. The bun was a bit much for me (pulled out some of the interior before capping) and while I don't like buns slicked with a lot of oil or grease, it would have been nice if the bun had been lightly toasted and warm. Instead of the offered fries or pasta salad on the side, they obliged my request to have roasted broccoli on the side. I have to admit that I had a little plate envy towards other tables with fries....they did look delicious! And while I'm glad florets were browned without being mushy, I would have preferred if it had been pulled out of the oven just a few minutes earlier and slicked with just a tad less oil.

                                          The restaurant was packed, but service was lovely and careful. Would certainly return again- hopefully with a bigger group to get a sense of what the different categories mean and to try more delicious-sounding dishes. The menu appeared to have lots of vegetarian options even some gluten-free choices...the feel and food of the place seem very promising and geared towards the diverse Ithaca community.

                                          1. re: 4Snisl

                                            Really sad to hear about all these closings (Lost Dog, ABC, etc.) Another good one that I hope is still open is Four Seasons in Collegetown. It was definitely the best Korean food when I was last there in '07, and one of my favorite restaurants in Ithaca. FYI, bring your own booze (if they still don't have a liquor license).

                                            1. re: 4Snisl

                                              I will double that recommendation! We've eaten at the North Star 4 times and have had amazing food and excellent service every time.

                                              Now be sure to try their Sunday Brunch. It's a menu, not a buffet, the meals are gourmet and under $13 each and as lovely as any meal you'd find in a Manhattan upscale restaurant.

                                              North Star Restaurant
                                              85 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge, NY 10576