Ithaca, New York is beloved for its stunning gorges, lush hiking trails and stellar wineries. But did you know this college town has a ton of next-level restaurants too? Whether you’re on the hunt for a quick sandwich, saucy pad Thai or the best damn steak you’ve ever eaten, you can find it in this upstate darling that’s nestled on Cayuga Lake and surrounded by mountains. Read on for 11 of our favorite spots for all your foodie needs.
11 of the Best Restaurants in Ithaca, New York, Whether You’re Craving Vegetarian Curry or a Dollar Slice
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Best for Breakfast or Lunch
- Reservations: walk-ins welcome
- What to Order: Vegetarian Bagel on Rosemary Salt, Pizza Bagels, Round House Breakfast Sandwich, Tour de France Sandwich, Cayuga Coffee
With three locations spanning both Ithaca College and Cornell University territories, this deli and cafe is a favorite among students. They have plenty of meatless handhelds, grain bowls and gluten-free breads and bagels, so just about anyone can find something to enjoy. Their bagels are smaller than those in NYC, but they’re pretty darn delicious nonetheless (we’re partial to the Rosemary Salt variety). Outside of summertime, mornings are pretty chilly in Ithaca, so warm up with a Cayuga Coffee, a 50/50 mix of freshly brewed drip java and hot cocoa. Oh, and in case you’re an alum outside the Ithaca area that’s missing your old faves, CTB has plenty of goodies available for nationwide shipping on Goldbelly.
Best for Noodles
- Reservations: 607-256-5487; walk-ins welcome
- What to Order: Spicy Basil with Tofu, Massaman Curry, Pad See Ew
Primely placed in The Commons, a four-block pedestrian walkway in downtown Ithaca, Taste of Thai is a mainstay for students and locals alike. To start, try the satay skewers with cucumber relish, the lettuce wraps filled with chicken and crispy noodles or the fried flat dumpling chive cakes. As for mains, you can’t go wrong with classic pad Thai or pad see ew, spicy fried rice or any of the stir fries or curries. Pro tip: Ask for extra peanut sauce on the side, no matter what you plan to dunk in it.
3. Circus Truck
Best Hidden Gem
- Reservations: walk-ups only
- What to Order: Penne alla Vodka
Like all drool-worthy, hole-in-the-wall spots, you kinda need to know someone to find this punk food truck on West Green Street, even though it’s been operational since 2012. Believe it or not, the chef is famous for preparing homemade pasta in a parking lot, often with local ingredients. Old favorites include decadent penne alla vodka, pasta with roasted poblano walnut cream sauce and carbonara, but there’s also often vegan-friendly and gluten-free options on deck. (And you can never go wrong with the chef’s special.) The menu and hours change frequently, so follow the truck on social media to make sure it’s open before you head over for lunch.
- Reservations: 607-256-7977; walk-ins welcome
- What to Order: Ale House Burger, Prime Rib French Dip Sandwich, Skillet Wings in Garbage Sauce, Buffalo Chicken Spring Rolls
If you’re craving comfort food and a pint, look no further than this bar and grill, located on the foot of the Commons on Restaurant Row. If it’s your first time in town, we’d be remiss to recommend something other than one of their famous burgers. You can go with the ever-rotating Burger of the Week if you fancy, or stick with permanent classics like the Award Winning “Perfect” Burger (no substitutions, friends) or the NYS Orchard burger, made with local apples and cheddar cheese. Bar pies are also a safe bet, like the Hot Honey with mozz, red sauce, pepperoni, spicy honey and chili flakes or the White Album with mozz, ricotta, truffle oil, garlic chips and chives. Save room for chicken wings in garbage sauce, a blend of all the resto’s wing sauces.
Best Mexican Food
- Reservations: 607-379-6178; walk-ins welcome
- What to Order: Enchiladas Rancheras, Seafood Fajitas, Burrito Santa Fé
Viva Taqueria is a solid choice for margaritas, but if you’re looking for more authentic Mexican fare, this spot is the move. Traditional dishes like al pastor street tacos (pineapple- and achiote-marinated pork on soft corn tortillas), chile colorado, chiles rellenos and pozole share the menu with a wide range of seafood dishes, burritos and fajitas. Yelpers rave about the Burrito Santa Fé, stuffed with grilled chicken, steak, rice, beans and all the fixings. We also love the enchiladas rancheras, an assortment of chicken, ground beef, beans, cheese and shredded beef, topped with lettuce, queso fresco, sour cream and enchilada sauce.
Best for Date Night
- Reservations: walk-ins only
- What to Order: Steak Frites, Duck Confit, Roulade de Poulet
Years ago, we would have advised you to go to John Thomas Steakhouse for a dry-aged cut of heaven. Now that it’s closed, you should head to this French spot instead for a killer steak (it comes with frites, after all), as well as mussels, duck breast and divine onion soup gratinée. Start with the house bread and butter—although we’re betting you already knew that—and the leek and gruyère tart. Follow up with the classic French bistro salad, frisée aux lardons (because bacon) and seared scallops, roasted lamb loin or really any main you’re eyeing. You won’t be disappointed.
Best for Cozy Mountain Vibes
- Reservations: 607-251-0762; walk-ins welcome
- What to Order: Surf & Turf, Chicken Marsala, Smoke Stack Mac, Chef’s Cheesecake
Speaking of incredible steak, Antlers has been serving all the meat (St. Louis ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork—you name it) since 1982. Not far from Cornell, this resto will give you all the cozy lodge feels with its dark wood tables, roomy bar and neck mount on the wall, and if the weather’s cold (which it so often is), you could snuggle up by the blazing fireplace for warmth. In the summertime, it’d be wise to order barbecue. Come fall, we’re all about the generously plated chicken marsala, the award-winning smoke stack mac and cheese and the surf and turf, which includes a five-ounce lobster tail and an eight-ounce center-cut prime sirloin finished with mushrooms, gorgonzola and balsamic glaze.
- Reservations: Resy
- What to Order: Green Summer Curry, Moroccan Chickpea Stew, Burrata, NYS Cheese Board
Moosewood’s cookbooks have been a cornerstone of the plant-based cooking community for nearly 50 years, so it should come as no surprise that the restaurant has some delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes (although their seafood is nothing to sneer at). Complete with outdoor seating just steps away from the Downtown Commons, Moosewood boasts a rotating seasonal menu made with locally sourced ingredients. Because the dishes are always changing, it’s tough to offer recs, but curries, veggie burgers, salads and pastas are all safe bets. The resto also serves plenty of New York beers and Finger Lakes wines to pair with your meal.
Best for First-Timers
- Reservations: 607-272-2212; walk-ins welcome, but reservations are recommended
- What to Order: Warm Kettle Chips Fondue, Lobster Mac & Cheese, Simeon’s Butcher Blend Burger
Simeon’s is housed in one of Ithaca’s most iconic buildings, which was erected in 1871. The inviting merlot-colored exterior, marble block floors and decorative plaster angels (which are 100 years old, FYI) beckon newbies exploring the Commons to pull up a chair. In the summertime, nothing beats their fresh oysters and chilled seafood, while the picky kid-proof warm kettle chips fondue with house cheese sauce is our go-to in the fall (or anytime, really). As for mains, four-cheese lobster mac, rigatoni and sausage in basil cream sauce and the Simeon’s butcher blend burger, made with short rib, brisket and chuck, are all easy wins.
Best Farm-to-Table Dining
- Reservations: Resy
- What to Order: Tofu Wings, Northstar Risotto, Spinach Dip
This Fall Creek favorite prides itself for using as many local ingredients as possible and crafting a diverse menu for gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan eaters alike. But there are still plenty of options for staunch carnivores, like the whole jerk chicken wings, beer-battered fish and chips and the roasted garlic burger, made with beef from New York-based Autumn’s Harvest Farm. Plant-based eaters will adore the Bounty Bowl (coconut rice, tamari-braised greens and pickled veggies), house curry (local butternut squash, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and onion in red curry sauce) and crispy fried Ithaca Soy tofu wings, complete with house vegan blue cheese.
Best for a Quick Bite
- Reservations: walk-ins only
- What to Order: Bomber Sub, Slobbernocker Hero, Chicken Spiedie Pizza
Any eatery (er, gas station-convenience store) that serves dollar slices and beers (on Mondays, ICYMI) is one after our own heart. No wonder Rogan’s has been a crucial part of Ithaca’s culinary tapestry since it opened in 1982. While it’s technically now a Dandy Mini Mart, the new owners kept the most pivotal item on the menu: the Bomber Sub, a gut-busting combination of grilled cheesesteak meat, chicken fingers, mozzarella cheese, mild Buffalo sauce and your choice of blue cheese or ranch dressing. If you’re feeling Italian, go for the Slobbernocker hero, a layered behemoth of ham, salami, pepperoni, tomato, mozz, onion, lettuce, mayo and Italian dressing, served on a personal pizza instead of bread. Ah, college.