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How would you describe the Syracuse scene?

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Hello all,

My husband and I are considering the possibility of relocating from our current home (in western Massachusetts) to Syracuse. We would have the chance to live close-in, near the university, in what we hope to be a lively (if smallish) urban setting, with decent dining options.
We have been very very disappointed, often disgusted/exasperated, with the dining scene in this area (UMass/Amherst/Northampton/Valley). Our time spent living elsewhere (Seattle, Santa Barbara, DC, and London) does, I'll admit, color our evaluations of places we encounter today, so are we destined to be unhappy with the options in Syracuse?

For those of you who know the city, especially if you have context for comparison, can you tell me how you would characterize the place? (e.g. -- "strives for mediocrity" is how I would describe the Pioneer Valley dining scene here in MA). Are there trends that are promising or disheartening? Do "ethnic" restaurants deliver authenticity or try to please the non-native's palate instead? Are dining spaces the dowdy-stuffy-grandma's dining room kind of place we have too often encountered in New England, or something else?

I realize that generalizations have their limits, but am hoping for the birds-eye view. Thanks in advance for your insights!!!!

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  1. Syracuse has few ,if any,restaurants worthy of eating at.
    Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is one of the few places even mentioned on Chowhounds.
    The "mediocrity"you sense in the Pioneer Valley(our boy went to prep school there)is minimal in what you can expect in Syracuse.
    The PLUS where you are is that you can hit the Berkshires in a hr. or so,you can go East to Boston,ect. for fine dining and ,if you look at all the reccs for New England at this site you can find numerous places that are truly gourmet,or very good at the least.
    We've been following the New England reccs here for years and we've been told about great restaurants from Vt. over to N.H.,up the Maine coast,and down to Ct.
    If you draw a radius around Syraucse there is viedtually nothing in all directions worth eating at.
    True there are some decent places in the Finger Lakes area but Syracuse is a food wasteland!!!!
    The city is run-down,with industry having moved out(GE,Carrier,ect.) and the really good restaurants left town as well when the good-paying jobs that supported good food in Syracuse moved out.
    I can't tell you of one decent restauant near the university worth going to twice.
    The university used to have 20,000 students tht supported fine restaurants but the enrollment is down to 10,000 or so;again,a lack of support for fine dining.
    There is little authenticity in ethnic restaurants(a lot of chinese buffets),and the place has more than its share of "grandma's dining rooms---I'm sorry to say.
    Sorry to be so negative.
    I've lived in this area for over 35 yrs. and I'm sorry to say the place has gone downhill since the mid-70's---food-wise.
    Sad-to-report-this-Catnip

    2 Replies
    1. re: catnip

      Hi catnip, Really, thank you for your frankness. This is what we need to know. I did not realize this bit about Syracuse University's enrollment -- and if we are to take jobs at the U. and stake our place in the city we'll want to investigate this further to avoid disaster.
      Another question for you, considering your longterm residence in the area -- I have been reading elsewhere about the urban revitalization -- Armory Square, urban loft condos and the like. Is this just so much hype, or has it happened in the midst of the decline in the restaurant scene (and I'm guessing, other cultural offerings)?

      1. re: catnip

        I respectfully disagree. There are fine and economical places in the university area and on Westcott street.

        University Area:
        Kim's Seoul Buffet (Korean)
        Blue Monkey (Sushi)
        Unique Tea House (Bubble Tea and other modern Asian beverages)
        Syrajuice (food, shakes, and smoothies for vegetarians and vegans)
        King David's (Mediterranean)
        Faegan's (Pub grub)
        Funk n Waffles (specialty waffles, coffee, and desserts)
        AppeThaizing (Thai)
        Samrat (Indian)
        Oishi (Sushi)
        ** There are others like Mokhwa (Korean), Panda West (Chinese ), Baja Burrito, Holy Crepes, but I don't care for them.

        Wescott Street:
        Las Delicias (Latino)
        Second Story Books (Coffee and desserts)
        Munjed's (Mediterranean)
        Alto Cinco (fusion Mexican)
        Metro (sushi)

        And actually, for the past 2 years, Syracuse University has had "over enrollment," to the point that students have had to be housed at the Sheraton Hotel.I don't know where you are getting your information catnip. I for one actually work at the university so I know your statements are not true. The campus is also attracting more and more international students, faculty, and domestic racial minorities which is why these types of establishments are thriving.

      2. Log on to the Syracuse Post Standard newspaper and spend a bit perusing the restaurant lists and reviews. Some are old but... We go to lunch in a number of places in the city with my sister, some ethnic, some not but all interesting. We do not seek out high level restaurants but find a wide variety of "chowhound" worthy sites. Mostly, we rely on my sisters life long residence in the city but some of the paper reviews help direct us. In any case, don't sell the city short - look around.

        1 Reply
        1. re: feelinpeckish

          Exactly what I was planning to do. My husband's uncle (the econ. prof. mentioned above) speaks well of the dining scene as well as other aspects of life in the city. We like to first gather impressions and information, and then decide for ourselves with open eyes. Thanks for your comments and encouragement, too.

        2. Saratoga Steaks
          Scotch & Sirloin
          Coleman's
          Danzer's
          Arad Evans House

          All of the above are good restaurants. They are not fancy, do not have micro-portions but are genuine good eats.

          1. Sadly, the negative reports are valid. I have had to visit Syracuse regularly since 1965 - my wife grew-up there and her family family still lives there. A culinary black hole. My first meal there was homemade "lasagna" made by the person soon to be my sister-in-law since she understood that I was Eye-Talian. It consisted of noodles, cottage cheese, Campbell's Tomato Soup and chunks of Velveta! The Syracuse natives thought it was the best Eye-Talian food the ever had! I became the Black Sheep of the family for refusing to eat it! Bread? It's pitiful. Bagel, croissant, scone? Forgettaboutit! Even the much ballyhooed Wegman's can't get bread right up north.

            The best meal I ever had in Syracuse was at Stella's Diner - a greasy spoon breakfast place. I don't know it it's still there.

            The only thing that terrifies me more than my wife saying "Let's visit Syracuse" is getting there and my in-laws saying "Let's eat out!"

            The GOOD NEWS is this: it is unbelievable cheap to eat out in Syracuse. I've lived in NYC Metro area all my life and by cheap I don't mean the rural parts of Pennsy cheap, I mean dine out frequently cheap. Housing - even when the economy was solid - is cheap. (I could get 2 houses in Syracuse with the equity in my NJ place even with today's depressed market) Groceries are cheap - I complained to the NJ Dept' of Argriculture several times because NJ blueberries in season are usually a dollar ($1) a pint cheaper than in NJ!

            I second catnip's suggestion - Finger Lakes region for food out. It's an easy ride from Syracuse (except when it snows) and the winery tours are first rate! Local groups often charter a bus to tour the wineries so you don't have to worry about driving. If wine is an interest, that's the place to be.

            In short - mixed news. BTW - NY State Fair is in Syracuse around Labor Day - it's by far the biggest and best in the US and you can get some great street eats there.

            2 Replies
            1. re: CompareFranco

              I'm not sure if you were joking, but as someone who was raised in the region, I have to mount a defense. People from Syracuse would not consider a lasagna made from noodles, cottage cheese and Tomato sauce to be either good or authentic! Except if by "natives," you meant your sister-in-law, i.e. the chef.

              There are some good Italian spots 45 minutes east in Utica, which has a huge Italian population.

              You are right, however, about the bread.

              1. re: Erikaleelee

                The bread at Columbus bakery is as good as you can get ANYWHERE!

            2. like any small "city", Syracuse is what you make of it and as a resident, you carve out a niche with places you like. I grew up in Syracuse, went to SU, and my parents still live there. it's one of those places that has like 1 good place of each type of food, but that is all you need really: places you can rely on.

              some of my favorites are:
              Mexican: Juanita's (Liverpool), The Mission (Downtown)
              Italian: Pastabilities (Downtown), Antonio's (South side, i think)
              Deli: Brooklyn Pickle ,(Thompson Rd), Clark's Ale House (Downtown-more of a bar than a deli, but good sandwiches)
              Local faves: Stella's diner near Carousel Mall, Eggplant diner on Bridge St, Dinosaur BBQ downtown, Heids hot dogs (screw NYC hot dogs, these are the business)
              SU area: King Davids for hummus, Alto Cinco for burritos, Varsity pizza

              There is no way to put Syracuse in the same category as a major metro area like Boston or Seattle, it just can't compete size-wise and diversity-wise, which affects the food choices. It sounds like you are adventurous and willing to try new places, so don't let disenfranchised former residents knock on your future hometown!

              You know there's always Wegmans, the greatest supermarket on the planet, to help you become the home chef you've always dreamed of.

              1 Reply
              1. re: HazeL4844

                It's been a long time since I've lived in Syracuse, but I remember Juanita's, Pastabilities, Brooklyn Pickle, Heids, King David's - and most especially, THE EGG-PLANT, very, very fondly.

                But most of all, the farmer's market was the best I've ever had access to! I'd go just about every Saturday morning, and spend my whole weekend cooking! (To me, that's a good thing ...) I've lived in various communities throughout New York State, and often visit the markets wherever I travel. (No, sadly, I've never been to Seattle.) But I have been to Union Square and found it disappointing compared to Syracuse. If you love food, you really should visit and consider the farmers' market as well as the restaurants!

                A little off topic - but I really enjoyed living in Syracuse from 1981- 1994, and I think you should give it a try!

                Oh! I can't believe I almost forgot! You'll have to ask the natives about this one - it may not still be there and I have no idea what the name was - on the west side, there was a tiny place (a converted house, really) where all day long the ladies made fresh pierogies. Heaven in butter!

              2. If you'd like to check out an offering of the restaurants see http://www.cnymenus.com . It has a pretty good list of Syracuse and area restaurants plus menus. Since moving to SYracuse from Toronto, I've really enjoyed: bc restaurant, Blue Tusk, Arad Evans, Alto Cinco and truthfully many others. The food scene has definitely improved over the last couple of years and I bet it will continue.

                1. I agree the negative comments are overblown. There are a number of great restos on the CNY area, thought I wouldn't call it a great dining "scene". My rec's in Onondaga County would be:

                  Riley's (northside)
                  Asti Cafe (northside)
                  Juanita's (northside)
                  Biscotti's- dessert (northside)
                  Mai Lan- vietnamese (northside)

                  Georgios (east)
                  Casa di Copani (east)
                  Tokyo Seoul (east)
                  Erawan Thai
                  Little House of Thai - for lunch (east)

                  Ambrosia (Armory Sq.)
                  bc (Armory Sq.)
                  The Mission (Armory Sq.)
                  Bistro Elephant (Armory Sq.)
                  Empire Brewing Co (Armory Sq.)
                  Pastabilities, with fresh bread across street at Daily Bread (Armory Sq.)

                  Alto Cinco (Univ area)
                  King David's (Univ area)
                  Phoebe's (Univ area)
                  AppeThaizing (Univ area)
                  Faegan's (Univ area)
                  Funk n Waffles (Univ area)
                  Munjed's (Univ area)

                  Eva's- Polish (west)
                  Colemans- decent food, fun place to see (west)

                  Burbs and further:
                  Retreat- Liverpool
                  Bangkok Thai- Liverpool
                  Sahota Palace (indian)- Liverpool
                  Waterfront- food decent, views are great (brewerton)
                  Circa- fresh, mostly locally grown ingredients (Caz)
                  a few others in Skaneateles

                  I do agree that there are also great resto's in the finger lakes region, particulary Ithaca. As far as the downtown area being dangerous- My parents (age 60+) just moved to a refurbished downtown condo (from Fayetteville) and they love it. Westcott is also a neat area to live (especially for SU employees).

                  1. Thoughts on Eating in Syracuse...

                    I have lived in Syracuse for about 4 years and am currently out of state. My wife and I dine out regularly have discover many great places in Syracuse. First, you most know that Syracuse is one of a few dozen refugee resettlement sites around the US, so many of the "ethnic" restaurants are the real deal. For the Northside there is large Vietnamese community that supports 3 restaurants, two pool halls and several grocery stores. The best Vietnamese restaurant is "New Century" located on Kirkpatrick & Carbon St. This is our favorite place, forget Downtown & Little Italy. Also, there is a pool hall on Lodi St. that a elderly woman sales Vietnamese Bun Sandwich at Lunchtime. However, many of the ethnic communities have only been there for a short time and have yet to establish themselves enough to own business. We have found that best restaurant are located on the fringes, not downtown. In Mattydale, there is a place called "China Road" that is on par with the "Real" Chinese Food you can get in Flushing Queen much better than any NYC Chinatown place. The owner Simon is actually Taiwanese and was chef in NYC during the 1960s and 1970s. Taiwan is known for its vegetarian meat product and Simon's are amazing in taste and texture.

                    If you must go Downtown:
                    Dinosaur (Dinosaur is King, never disappoints, all the out-of-towners are there though)
                    Kitty Hoynes (Only Real Irish Pub in town, Run by IRISH people, not Irish-Americans)
                    L'Adore (Good French food, run by a French family)
                    BC (Good NYC contemporary-fusion)

                    Gentile's (Best Kept Secret in Hawley-Green)
                    Scotch/Sirloin (Best Steaks around and amazing selection of single-malt scotchs)
                    Riley's (Great Neighbor Bar, Menu changes daily)
                    Heid's Hot Dogs in Liverpool (Classic CNY place, hasn't change since the 50s)
                    Funk 'n' Waffles (All I can say is, get really stoned and order a brownie waffle, OMG!)
                    Alto Cinco (Tiny place, great food, Catfish Burrito is outsanding)
                    Gannon's Ice Cream in the Valley (Real Homemade Ice Cream)

                    Super-Secret Place:
                    "The Welcome Inn": Ukrainian Place run by "Pit-Master John": self-proclaimed King of Pork (he also makes amazing BBQ) and his 90-year old Mother. They make everything from scratch Peirogis, Sausages, Borcht, Sauerkraut, even the Mustard. Its cash only and has strange hours, no weekends M-Th 11-2, F 5-8

                    Happy Eating if you decide to move...

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: super_sling

                      That's it! I miss The Welcome Inn!

                    2. Folks, we've had to remove some posts about living in Syracuse. Chowhound has a narrow mission -- where to find great chow today. Posts about culture, neighborhoods, crime rates and the like are off topic for our discussion. Please keep your responses focused on the Syracuse food scene.

                      1. Well . . . I actually live in downtown Syracuse, am an Asian woman in my 30’s raised on the West Coast, and am a lover of ethnic cuisine. I refrain from labeling food “authentic,” since who am I to judge. All I can tell you is that these places have great tasting food and the patrons of the establishments represent the ethnic or regional background of the cuisine type.

                        **By the way, downtown is not bad at all. I have a condo down here and the only people who mess with me are drunk locals visiting the nightlife from the suburbs. People around here are pretty racist against Blacks and Latinos so they see them around here in concentrated groups and tend to negatively stereotype the community, but if this doesn't reflect your worldview, then you'll be pretty satisfied with the selection. Most my favorite places are hidden mom-and-pop shops in ethnic enclaves. **

                        Korean: Chorong House, Kim’s Seoul Buffet, and Secret Garden (Bi-Won) Restaurant.
                        Chinese: China Pavilion (serves Dim Sum on Sundays) and Bamboo Garden (in Cicero)
                        Vietnamese: New Century
                        Sushi: Sakanaya, Blue Monkey, and Oriental Star ($20 all you can eat)
                        Indian: Sahota Palace (also has a great buffet)
                        Latino/Caribbean: La Casa Del Te, Las Delicias, El Canelo, and Jerk Hut
                        Thai and Laotian: Erawan and Lao Village
                        Soul Food: Thomas' Kitchen
                        Ethnic Fusion: Dante’s (Chinese/Italian/Spanish tapas) and La Cena (Latino and Mediterranean)

                        The only thing missing around here is Ethiopean, but if you're willing to drive 1 hour to Rochester, there is this great spot called Abyssinia on 80 University Ave.

                        For Drinks:
                        Modern Asian Tea Houses: Unique Tea House and Roji's
                        Coffee Houses: Second Story Books, The Kind Coffee Company, and Freedom of Espresso
                        Wine: Dante's, Al's Wine and Whiskey, and Liquor City (best selection and best prices)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MzKim

                          I love Chorong House. I only got their once because I discovered it as a senior while at SU, but it was fabulous. And quite the quaint experience (we had a backroom floor table). And Oriental Star was a staple for us poor college kids. For a $20 all you can eat it is pretty satisfying sushi (I'm pretty sure I ate about 35-50 dollars worth each time). And because it was so plain looking, it was never crowded.

                        2. I know this thread is waaaaay old but I'd just like to say for anyone who might read this in the future if I was taking someone to Syracuse and could hit three places they would be, in order, Clark's Ale House (the beer! the sandwiches!), The Welcome Inn and Gannon's for dessert. This food is as good as any I've had in Montreal, where I live and New York City which I visit frequently.

                          Also, I'm glad someone mentioned New Century. Their pho was as good as any I've had, as well. In fact, my only gripe as far as food in Syracuse goes is the "poutine" I had at the State Fair. You never know unless you try, so I had to try. I just wish they hadn't called it poutine.

                          1. I moved to the Syracuse area from the Boston-Providence area over 20 years ago and would never move back. In addition to the many fine restos mentioned already, I'm surprised no one mentioned the fine Japanese fare at Kyoko in Fayetteville.

                            We can't forget the western suburbs. Yes, there is some good ding out here.

                            In a shopping plaza on RTE 57 in Liverpool you have Bangkok Thai, as well as pretty good Italian right next door at Canale's. Across the street you can find decent food at reasonable prices and good service at Kirby's and Pier 57.

                            Venture out to Camillus, you'll find Cora D's in the Elm Hill Plaza. Less than a mile west of there on Milton Ave, decent "diner food" can be had at Papa Chubb's.

                            From spring thru fall you will find Boom Boom Mex Mex on Howlett Hill Rd.

                            The Inn Between is only a mile or so west of the village of Camillus on Rte 5. Elderberry Pond is worth the trip to the Auburn area.

                            Venture down Milton Ave. in Solvay and you will find great Polish food at Eva's.

                            Looking for more pedestrian fare? Po's Deli, across from Fairmount Fair, has never disappointed yet.

                            Yes, the Syracuse area has it's share of chains and mediocre locally-owned joints, but you don't have to look too far find some decent food. A friend has a son who moved to the Albany area. He claims the food scene is better here than in the Capital Region.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: al b. darned

                              I second some of al b. d.'s recs. Bankok Thai is a regular stop. Have only had beans and greens at Pier 57 but it was delicious. Cora D's, Boom Boom and Elderberry Pond rate yes,yes and YES. Haven't tried the others but will make a point to. If one were to venture south west of Syracuse I'd suggest Rosalie's in Skaneateles, I'll add that my wife doesn't care for it because it's loud. The 1820 House in Spafford on Rte. 41 and in Cortland the Star Bistro.

                            2. Having lived in the Pioneer Valley and having grown up 1/2 hr from Syracuse I think you'll find the dining scenes similar. Although I thought that the PV placed a bit more emphasis on local ingredients.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: timwhoeatsalot

                                I agree with Old Red that Rosalia's Cucina in Skaneateles is very good.
                                We've had good lunches at Elderberry Pond there as well.
                                We also enjoy the tap room at the Sherwood Inn in Skaneateles.
                                We love the Sunday brunch at both the Springside Inn in Auburn and the brunch at the Brae Loch in Cazenovia.
                                Kitty Hoyne's in Syracuse used to be very good as well but we haven't been there in a while.
                                Scotch n' Sirloin has been a Syracuse staple for years.
                                Danzer's (when they were on Butternut) ,used to be great.
                                We're not all that impressed with the newer place.
                                When you make sandwiches with "portion control" you lose us as customers.
                                Charge what you will but at least fill the space between the bread with mounds of meat and fillings.
                                JMO---based on eating around lately.
                                The original post ws several years ago.
                                I wonder if Genovapernoi ever moved to Syracuse and what her impressions are.
                                Catnip