Located in the Finger Lakes Region of central New York State, Ithaca is widely known for its stunning natural beauty. It’s also a college town, most notably home to Cornell University, which, along with other campuses, attracts thousands of newcomers every year. With so many students, visitors and residents, the city has developed an ever-expanding culinary scene. We take a look at 10 of the best restaurants in Ithaca.
Just a Taste
An extensive menu of freshly prepared tapas and fine wines at surprisingly reasonable prices explains why Just a Taste in Downtown Ithaca is constantly heaving with eager customers. The restaurant and wine bar offers a vast selection of Spanish-style sharing plates (which can also be made into full-sized entrees on request) as well as soups, cheeses, salads and pasta. The menu, which changes frequently, is always colorful, flavorful and consistently good without ever sacrificing the all-important ingredient of creativity. Just a Taste is also known for their wine flights, which allow customers to taste several local and international varieties. In the summer months, guests have the added option to dine on the charming back patio and sip sangria beneath sequences of hanging lights.
Though it’s under the same ownership as the neighboring Le Café Cent-Dix, Mercato Bar & Kitchen offers an entirely different dining experience. The décor is cozy and rustic with wood accents, warm tones and soft lighting, and the menu possesses an Italian flare, with a fresh and thoughtful take on distinctive Mediterranean ingredients such as sausage, pancetta and parmigiano. Pair your meal with a glass of hand-selected red, white or sparkling wine, or opt for an artisanal cocktail made with a wide variety of fresh produce, herbs and spices. With consistently delicious food, excellent service and a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, Mercato Bar & Kitchen stands at the top of local best restaurant lists with exceptionally high customer reviews from loyal locals to satisfied tourists.
Specializing in a Pan-Asian version of Spanish-style tapas, the menu at Mia Tapas Bar & Restaurant offers an eclectic variety of choices for every palate. Featuring inventive dishes with Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese accents, Mia infuses traditional cuisines with culinary innovation. The restaurant, situated in a historic 20th century building, is a proud participant in the Slow Food movement. All ingredients, meat and produce, are ethically sourced and properly cared for. Guests enjoy fresh salads, noodles, sushi, tapas and grilled meats from an attractive, contemporary dining room that combines comfort with style. Great for a quiet date night or a lively gathering of friends, the Mia Restaurant experience is all about delicious, carefully prepared food and a welcoming atmosphere.
Inspired cuisine, a lively atmosphere and outstanding service build the foundation of Agava, where the American Northeast meets the Southwest. Situated in the 19th century converted East Ithaca Train Station, Agava’s décor features an unexpected mix of New York history with South western accents such as a latilla ceiling and a desertscape mural painted by local artist Bill Benson. The restaurant opened its doors in 2012, gracing Ithaca’s culinary scene with a farm-to-table concept and eclectic choices of wood-fired flatbreads, small and large plates, burgers and tacos. Agava offers extensive and accommodating menus, a selection of indulgent desserts and a long list of beverages from signature margaritas to multiple agava-based spirits. With the community in mind, Agava offers delicious food prepared with the finest quality, locally sourced ingredients.
As the name suggests, Carriage House Café is located in a mid-19th century carriage house, which fosters a quaint and cozy dining atmosphere. With a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, the carriage house was extensively restored after its long-time abandonment, but many of its original features remain in place to preserve the building’s antique character. Now a restaurant and café, the Carriage House offers an extensive and highly acclaimed brunch menu six days a week. Choose from a selection of breakfast options such as eggs and French toast variations as well as salads and sandwiches to pair with coffee or tea. Carriage House Café possesses the coveted combination of rustic charm and fresh, delicious food.
With a laid back atmosphere and a dynamic menu of inspired American cuisine, Fine Line Bistro is an excellent choice for those seeking delicious and inventive food in a comfortable setting. The dining area features a privileged view of the energetic open-plan kitchen and exposed brick walls adorned with vibrantly colored canvasses, fostering a trendy yet relaxed atmosphere in which the food is the star of the show. Chef Seth Gregory won the title of Best Chef by the Ithaca Times in 2013 for his culinary creativity, which manifests in the likes of chipotle mussels, crab fritters and spinach crostini with goat cheese. Pair your meal with a glass of wine from a list of carefully selected reds and whites, and enjoy the dining experience at one of Ithaca’s most prized restaurants.
Scattered with antique frames and vintage prints, the pale blue and exposed brick walls of Le Café Cent-Dix are an atmospheric anomaly among the line of predominantly contemporary, earthen-toned venues on Ithaca’s popular ‘Restaurant Row’. Exuding a tasteful French mystique accompanied by a traditional French menu, the café serves bistro-style dishes from steak frites to onion soup. The menu is purposefully limited to a select choice of timeless favorites but daily specials are also made available, and the restaurant prides itself on its culinary thoughtfulness. The bistro places additional emphasis on French wines, also including a small selection of beers and cocktails.
Mahogany Grill boasts of their sincere dedication to a concept of sustainability, from food to wine, all ingredients are locally sourced to benefit the community, the customer and the environment. Exhibiting a traditional American atmosphere of dark wood and dim lighting, the brasserie possesses a trio of versatile spaces to include a dining room, tap room and bar, as well as the option of outdoor seating in the warmer months. Mahogany Grill offers a menu of burgers and sandwiches, pastas, salads, seafood and steaks. The wine list features several local varieties from the Finger Lakes region amongst other American and international options. With good food and an upscale yet relaxed ambiance to match, Mahogany Grill is a popular choice.
Bringing the taste of Vietnam to Ithaca’s West End, Saigon Kitchen offers an impressively large menu for a small restaurant with 14 kinds of beef, chicken and vegetable-based pho (a traditional Vietnamese soup) as well as vermicelli noodle dishes, rice plates and crispy appetizers. The restaurant’s décor is simple, clean and comfortable, as this dining experience is centered on the food. Start your meal with pot stickers, spring rolls or lemongrass-marinated skewers before moving on to authentic beef pho with steak and noodles or a vegetarian version with tofu, mixed vegetables and fried garlic. While various forms of Asian cuisine are available throughout Ithaca, Saigon Kitchen is reasonably priced with an authentic flavor, open for lunch and dinner.
The Heights Café & Grill has been a local favorite since 1995. The restaurant specializes in American cuisine with hints of various international flavors, and thoughtfully prepares each dish with the freshest local ingredients. The expansive lunch and dinner menus offer something for everyone, from roasted salmon to escargot, pizza, tacos and teriyaki-braised short ribs. The Heights Café & Grill also boasts a gigantic wine list with over 400 bottles from across the world and 20 options to order by the glass. Dine al fresco on the Tuscan-style patio in clement weather or in the private dining room with a tasteful yet relaxed atmosphere.