Welcome to Lancaster! Our favorite standbys include: Cocina Mexicana (across from the Fulton Theater), Taj Mahal (Rohrerstown Road), Saigon Cafe (Manheim Pike), Cafe East (Centerville Road), El Serrano (Columbia Ave), Jethro's (1st Street). Slightly more upscale, but with a wonderful bubbly atmosphere is Fenz (Harrisburg Pike); we like to sit at the bar and nibble: try their fried dill pickles, French fries in a cone, and tasty little desserts.
We've lived here for 10 years, and we have young children. My husband is morally opposed to spending a lot on food, so we tend to go to inexpensive, family-friendly places. Here are some of the ones we like.
-The best breakfast around is the Country Table in Mt. Joy.
-Smith's Hotel in Columbia is a dive, but has good cheesesteaks.
-Our kids love Ichiban on the Fruitville Pike, near KMart. It's hibachi-style. The food is pretty good, and the service very pleasant.
-Central Market has a number of really good food stands, as well as reasonably-priced produce. Wendy Jo's Homemade and Ric's Bread have yummy baked goods. Senorita Burrita has good burritos. There's an African (Kenyan maybe?) stand that has good salads.
-We like El Serrano's for Mexican, the Taj Mahal for Indian, Olive and Jasmine's for Asian fusion, and Fiorentino's for Italian. One of the Fiorentino's locations is in the Lancaster airport, which our kids get a kick out of. Also, Cafe Chocolate in Lititz is interesting.
-There are Isaac's in a number of locations. They have pretty good sandwiches.
-The Creamery in Strasburg has good ice cream made on-site. Avoid this in the summer! Strasburg is a major tourist draw, and the creamery gets really crowded.
This summer, you should also check out all the farm stands. Cherry Hill Orchard on Rt 741 near New Danville Pike offers lots of pick-your-own fruit--cherries (sweet and sour), peaches/nectaries, plums, and wonderful apples. Try cruising around Strasburg and Gap on side roads for great, just-picked corn-on-the-cob.
For fine dining, my favorite is still Gibraltar. I love the atmosphere and the food. Some of the best and most consistent food I've had anywhere. I second all of the recommendations so far. For vietnamese, I'd add Siagon Cafe on 72 in the shopping center just north of the rt. 30/283 interchange.
A couple of (non PA Dutch) suggestions:
Rice and Noodles on Lititz Pike (Vietnamese restaurant transplanted from New Orleans post Katrina),
Jethro's, 1st St., in the West End of the city, American fusion,
Wish You Were Here, for breakfast, on Orange St. in the city
3 of my favorites. With time, I'll add more.
A couple more locations I'd recommend:
For finer dining, I've heard very good things about Effie Ophelia on Prince St. in the city. The Lancaster Arts Hotel (Harrisburg Pike) also has a chic dining room. The old standby in the county is The Log Cabin, in Leola, I think (google all for directions), which recently trotted out a small plates menu.
The best deck that I know of is at The Cove, off of New Holland Pike, overlooking the Conestoga. Decent seafood, palatable prices (the interior is a bit dark, and in spite of the revamp, dated). Outdoor dining - it's coming, it's coming - is the point.
SukoThai on Columbia Ave. just outside of Mountville has decent Thai food but their prices are a tad high; Wasabi in Willow St. offers acceptable sushi and Thai dishes, priced slightly lower, I think.
I like Rosa Rosa on Harrisburg Pike for pizza; there's another good place on Prince St. whose name I can't recall.
For ice cream cones this summer, try Pine View Dairy on New Danville Pike near Millersville or The Jigger Shop, forty minutes from the city in Mt. Gretna.