Syracuse's "Freshman 15"
There is a common idea that freshman college students often gain weight their first year on campus … the “Freshman 15″. Even though that concept doesn’t always ring true, freshmen often find that their college towns usually have superb and diverse cuisine, and Syracuse University is no different. While you may just be visiting, touring, or passing through, it doesn’t mean you can’t eat like a freshman at the locations where seasoned students and alumni are regulars.
Here are 15 of some of the top restaurants in Syracuse that can give you a slice of all that Orange territory has to offer.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is arguably the most popular place to grab a bite to eat in and around Syracuse. This southern-style bbq joint gives off biker bar vibes with quality restaurant seating and service. The first location was in Syracuse, founded in 1988, but now there are several locations mainly serving upstate New York. The atmosphere is energetic, loud, fun, and fast-paced, so even though there is usually a wait you’ll be seated shortly.
If this is your first time visiting Dinosaur, the combo plates are a good choice because you can try multiple types of meat. If you’ve come with a big group they also have the Family Stylin’ option which provides a whole chicken, a full rack of ribs, cornbread, 1lb of pork or brisket, and three homemade sides giving you the grand tour of what Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has to offer. While this is a barbecue restaurant, there are also vegetarian options like their Smoked Portabello Sandwich, Bar-B-Que Bowls, and various salads. If you only go to one restaurant while visiting Syracuse University Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is the place to go.
If there is a birthday, date night, or any reason to celebrate with a nice night out on the town Pastabilities is the number one spot. Pastabilities is perhaps the only contender to Dinosaur BBQ for the most popular place to eat in Syracuse. With classy interior and patio seating, there is always a crowd both for the restaurant and the bakery. Pastabilities has a new take on many classic Italian dishes, and one of their most popular is to mix and match pasta and toppings to create your own personal dish. Along with fresh bread that can be purchased from the bakery, they also provide grab and go options for many of their sauces and pestos. Their spicy hot tomato oil is a reason in itself to visit, and it has even been featured on the food network!
Varsity Pizza is a Syracuse classic, an integral part of SU sports and a game day essential, and a rite of passage for Syracuse University students. Varsity was founded in 1926 by a Greek immigrant, Jerry Dellas, as a full restaurant and coffee shop. The diner is still family-run and owned and is now the number one spot for students to grab a bite of classic diner food. At almost any organization event on campus, Varsity pizza is the food of choice. However, this historic diner has so much more to offer than just pizza. Varsity also serves up wings, wraps, rice bowls, soups, salads, hot sandwiches, and now even breakfast!
Decorated purely in orange and blue, the dining room definitely does not lack in SU pride. All around the restaurant there are pennants hung that represent the opposing football teams. When Syracuse wins, as per tradition, after the game the marching band fills the dining room and flips the other team’s pennant upside down. So if you truly want the Syracuse University student experience you have to make the trip to Varsity and truly immerse yourself into the ‘Cuse Culture.
This modern Japanese bistro located on Marshall street, the closest street with the most options for students looking to grab a bite, is incredibly popular with Syracuse University students. If you are a sushi or sashimi lover then this is the place for you, the Bleu Monkey Cafe has over 70 different kinds! But they aren’t just known for their many rolls on campus, they are also known for fantastic noodle bowls and bento boxes. To top that off they also serve many different rice and curry dishes, as well as a wide range of delicious soups, salads, and apps. The interior is cozy and modern, and if weather permits there is even a small veranda where you can sit and enjoy your meal. If you are looking for a youthful, modern way to enjoy classic Japanese cuisine this is the place for you.
Funk ‘n Waffles
If you enjoy live music and breakfast then stepping into Funk ‘n Waffles will feel like you are stepping into heaven. This fun breakfast food spot was started by two Syracuse students, Kyle Corea and Adam Gold, who decided to host a party with live music and free waffles. The party was such a hit they continued to throw similar events, and eventually, it was so popular they decided to open a restaurant in downtown Syracuse. They have savory waffles like the pulled pork or smoked gouda and herb waffles, or sweet waffles like the James Brownie and the banana bread waffle. There is just about any kind of waffle you can think of, and of course the classic chicken and waffles combo. There is also a range of sandwiches, salads, and fruit to round off your big breakfast experience. They were even featured on an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. And if the food isn’t enough to keep you coming back, on certain nights throughout the week there is live music performed on the stage in the dining room.
Modern Malt serves as downtown’s classic American diner with a modern bistro twist. Their roster includes classic breakfast items with a twist, as well as sandwiches and burgers for lunch or dinner. Standouts from the menu include the share and pass General Tso’s chicken and waffles, the Elvis B-Side pancakes, the Big Smoke burger, and the Hello Buffalo poutine. They are especially known for their deliciously inventive shakes and modern poutine twists, a Canadian classic.
Pheobe’s Restaurant and Coffee Lounge
Pheobe’s Restaurant and Coffee Lounge is a charming place for lunch or dinner, packed full of classical character that is backed with a hint of risque local history. According to local legend, the building that now houses the restaurant was once a brothel, and the madam was named Pheobe. Whether or not that is true or just old folklore, the building was turned into a place for semi-casual dining in 1976 and has been serving the community with American bistro-style food ever since. While the menu changes seasonally keeping your options fresh, there a few staple menu items like their specialty french onion soup and créme brulee that are a must when you visit. Phoebe’s Restaurant serves as a great lunch venue after a day of touring Syracuse with friends or family.
Alto Cinco and Otro Cinco
Alto Cinco and its little sister Otro Cinco provide fresh handmade Mexican and Spanish cuisine at two different locations in Syracuse. Alto Cinco is located near campus in Westcott while Otro Cinco is home to a smaller downtown venue. Their mission since they were founded in 1995, is to provide healthy handmade food that always utilizes fresh ingredients. While serving fun tacos, enchiladas, nachos, quesadillas, and more their wide variety of unique sauces, like the pineapple salsa and cilantro pesto, serves as to the cherry on top. Both are also friendly to plant-based diets including a Fried BBQ Tofu plate, Spinach Enchiladas, Acapulco Plate, and Bean Soft Tacos.
Last but certainly not least is XO Taco, a fresh, new, and fun tapas restaurant near downtown Syracuse. Some of their most popular tacos include Hot Chicks, a chicken and cilantro centered taco, the Carne Asada, a seared flank steak taco, and the Jamaican Jerk, a tempura-battered redfish taco with island influences. They are also special diet-friendly with vegetarian, vegan, dairy, and gluten-free options. XO serves as the perfect place for a night of drinks, tacos, and friends out on the town.
Oh My Darling
This bright and engaging modern restaurant located near Armory Square in downtown Syracuse. Started by a husband and wife team, this bistro focuses on American comfort classics that are locally sourced, as well as a seasonal menu, and craft cocktails. Oh My Darling serves lighter handhelds like the Caprese flatbread, Darling burger, and Lee Lee’s Chicken sandwich, as well as heavier entrees like Maple Glazed Salmon and the Rosemary Hot Honey Dipped Crispy Chicken. Oh My Darling also includes many healthier options as well as gluten-free and vegetarian options.
Rise N Shine Diner
The Rise N Shine Diner serves up big breakfast specials for breakfast, brunch, and dinner. They have two locations in Syracuse, the original full-service diner is located in East Syracuse and stills hold a small-town eatery feel, while it’s partner location closer to the university serves as a full-service restaurant and bar. While the energy of these two locations may differ, the delicious and sometimes whacky menu items tie the two together with quality. From cinnamon roll pancakes to spicy avocado bacon wrap, to the tin can breakfast perogies, and the Poco Loco pork belly sandwich, Rise N Shine definitely does not skimp on menu creativity or portion sizes!
Eva’s European Sweets
While further away than most of the other eateries on this list, Eva’s European Sweets is well worth the drive and was even featured on an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Eva Zaczynski has been serving up authentic Polish comfort food for nearly 22 years. Favorites include the Plackis, Pierogi and Sauerkraut, Grubby’s Hoagie, and Kielbassa Dinner, as well as an extremely extensive and unique Polish and Eastern European beer list. In addition to the cozy sit down dining, you can also purchase Eva’s cakes, pies, and other sweets to take with you.
Apizza Regionale is the perfect spot to grab a New York slice in style. Cooked with wood-fired ovens, and fresh New York local ingredients Apizza serves Italian classics with modern twists. Owners Paul Messina and John Stage focus on blending the Napoleon approach to regional cooking and seasonality with a classic New York-style pie. Because of this, the various pizzas are complemented by a rotating list of antipasti, pasta, and salads. Sausage and mozzarella are made on-site daily, and regional beer and wine are also served. The little brick bistro is the perfect place to grab lunch, with a relaxing and local feel to the intimate but airy dining room.
This small and cozy authentic Asian restaurant is tucked on Crouse Avenue just behind Marshall Street. Chuan Taste is a hidden gem that has an extensive and inclusive menu, fantastic service, and specializes in hot and spicy dishes that can warm you right up on a chilly Syracuse day. Because of its tucked-away location, many shareable appetizers, and group meals like hotpots, dry pots, and large portioned entrees Chuan Taste is a great place to take a group for a private and intimate meal.
When you’re in need of a quick casual bite to eat with big flavor, Sweet Basil, located right in the middle of Marshall St. can deliver. Along with their classic Pad Thai, Sweet Basil also serves various Vietnamese sandwiches, Thai curries, various rice bowls, and Pho. If you enjoy spicy foods, there are also many meals that offer a variety of heat levels. Even when they aren’t in the mood for a meal, many Syracuse students get their bubble tea fix from Sweet Basil.