1. Saigon Kitchen
This place is the bomb. Nothing is too heavy and I always feel great for the day after I leave this restaurant. I’ve been coming here ever since I was in middle school and it’s never failed me before. First, you have to order the Crispy Squid. Immediately. I’m not kidding, as soon as you sit down. It’s absolutely amazing and it’s not a calamari I’ve ever had. It comes with a sweet sticky sauce and I could definitely just eat it as an entree (which is actually an option on their menu). Then I would try their house special pho or my go-to, the Lemongrass Shrimp Vermicelli, which is like a noodle salad with perfectly charred shrimp. But really, you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. And the lady who owns the restaurant is the cutest thing. Sometimes I see her at the Farmer’s Market and she’ll use flowers she buys to decorate the restaurant.
2. Just a Taste
Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Spanish culture. Just a Taste is a romantic little restaurant in the Commons that serves great wine (you can get a wine flight!) with a tapas list that you’ll struggle to pick just a few. I am always satisfied and full when I leave and it’s a great date spot. Head over to…
…for dessert afterwards. Madeline’s is the go-to place for dessert. They have this great jazz-y atmosphere and while the cocktail menu might catch your attention, you should really focus toward the back of the restaurant, where a huge display of different desserts (divided into chocolate and non-chocolate) resides. I love the raspberry creme brulee or the sprya gyra cake. Splitting desserts with your company is probably the way to go, so you can try as many different flavors as possible. You won’t be disappointed.
4. Taste of Thai
The best part? They’re on Grub Hub! They DELIVER! Perfect for a Friday night in or exam week. However, they’re also a great sit in restaurant. The service is fun and friendly and they extend their seating outdoors when the weather picks up, which is perfect because they’re in the heart of the newly renovated Commons.
5. Booker’s Backyard Barbecue
Unfortunately, I can’t give you all a link because they are apparently permanently closed! But Booker’s definitely deserved a spot on my list of restaurants and it was a hidden jewel of Ithaca dining. I’m a sucker for Southern food and barbecue, and Booker’s always satisfied any craving I had for ribs or mac and cheese. A lot of people think Dinosaur BBQ was the go-to place, but Booker’s had a great view and great food.
6. Carriage House
I actually went to Carriage house a lot when my brother attended Cornell. He would always bring me upstairs to watch jazz performances and would be our go-to brunch spot. Ever wonder where all your professors are when they have some time off? Best bet is reading a newspaper or discussing their lives over coffee at this cute cafe. With their farm-to-table philosophy, this is perfect for Ithacans.
I can’t even describe this restaurant but it’s kind of French-styled, kind of modern, kind of old, kind of incredible. Coltivare is another great brunch spot I found and is optimal for Instagram pictures. My perfect image of brunch involves Eggs Benedict and Coltivare definitely captures it. I also always ask for a refill on their house-made bread basket that has seasonal muffins and breads with a homemade butter spread. It’s always to die for.
8. Taverna Banfi
Oh man oh man, Banfi’s is nothing but spectacular. Their brunch is something you have to go to ASAP. The buffet features an assortment of fruits, parfaits, smoothies, carved meats, crepes, etc. Even their oatmeal impressed me. But save room for their dessert spread – little cups of creme brulee and chocolate mousse and pots de creme and petite slices of cheesecake. I always love a good brunch at Banfi’s.
I’ve mentioned Agava before. Every Wednesday night, they host a Salsa night with Spanish music and good drinks. But their food is to die for. Definitely try the fish tacos or really anything off their specials menu. They always have great seafood and steak. Try the white sangria or their Agava margarita. Yes.
10. Ithaca Ale House
Another restaurant with an impossible line, but well worth the wait. Ithaca Ale House is always buzzing with people and their creations are perfect. They have a “Fat Boy” Burger where the buns of the burger are actually grilled cheese sandwiches. What. Probably not the healthiest, but a great place to enjoy the Perfect Burger (also on the menu) and cold beer. Perfect meal for the Luke Danes in you.
11. Mia Tapas Bar and Restaurant
Tapas are the perfect food for someone like me – who struggles every time I see a menu and always want to order three things. This tapas place has a very modern feel and instead of traditional Spanish foods, it serves pan-Asian. A great date night spot!
12. Ithaca Beer Co.
I love my burgers and I love my beer. Unlike Ithaca Ale House, Ithaca Beer Co. serves beer they make right there in house. The fries here are the best. Really the best and the burgers aren’t so bad either. Try one of their beer flights for the ultimate experience.
Okay, I definitely didn’t make it to 161, but 12 should be good for now, right?