With a slogan like “Chow Down in Upstate,” you know you’re in for some really good food when you set out to explore New York’s Upstate Eats Trail. This 225-mile journey includes more than six dozen recommended foodie dream destinations. Some dishes are world famous treats but most are genuine local lovers little known outside of the region.
This DIY adventure (which I experienced during a recent press trip) is broken down into five distinct areas. There are the main anchors of Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, as well as “road bites” or small-town stops to make your ride even more delicious. Here are some of the most notable plates and locations along the Upstate Eats Trail.
Lupo’s S&S Char Pit, Binghamton
A spiedie is a simple dish with a complex flavor. This concoction of diced, marinated, grilled meat has been a Binghamton staple for almost 100 years. Although spiedies were originally made with beef, lamb, or pork, the team at Lupo’s S&S Char Pit introduced a chicken spiedie to the area and were convinced it was the perfect medium for their oil, spices, and vinegar marinade showcase. You were right! Now their chicken spiedie (diced, grilled chicken that’s marinated for at least two days and served on a local baker’s bun) is a bestseller.
2. Beef on Wake
Schwabl’s is considered one of the oldest restaurants in Buffalo. It dates back to 1837, just 5 years after Buffalo was incorporated as a city. A little later, it served up a regional delicacy that reflects the culinary roots of the city’s German community. The restaurant’s signature Beef on Weck places hand-carved roast beef dipped in jus on a hard, salty bun studded with cumin seeds known as a Kummelweck. Legend has it that the flavorful sandwich was served to encourage diners to order more beers to wash them down, but today’s customers are just as likely to ask for their beef am waking with a side of German potato salad.
Pro tip: From Columbus Day through St. Patrick’s Day, Schwabl’s serves a “Tom & Jerry,” a hot alcoholic beverage made with rum, brandy, egg white batter, and spices.
3. Waste plate
Nick Tahou Hots, Rochester
If you prefer “everything but the kitchen sink” when it comes to dining, you’ll love the hilariously titled Garbage Plates at Nick Tahou Hots.
The notable name can be traced back to 1918, when the restaurant on West Main served working-class friendly fare with homemade fries, hot dogs, and beans. Slowly, the number of ingredients and possible combinations grew until, in the 1980s, college students began asking for a plate “with all that junk on it.” A legend grew out of this!
These days you can get almost any theme you can think of for your garbage plate, but I think the original is as good as it gets. You choose a protein, two to four sides, and whether you want to sprinkle meat sauce, mustard, and chopped onions on top or on the side (I always choose to have them on the side so I can get some super super). cheeky and others plainer). If you’re not sure where to start, ordering two cheeseburger patties, homemade fries, and macaroni salad is the most popular combo.
4. Frozen Pudding
Abbott’s Frozen Custard, Rochester
Any time you hear about a dessert being made from a 120-year-old recipe, you know it’s going to be a sensation, and Abbott’s absolutely delivers with its frozen pudding.
This delightful spot next to Lake Ontario is a lovely place to eat homemade frozen pudding and take a stroll along the waterfront. When I visited, the people in front of me couldn’t decide on their order – which is good, because I was just as undecided. They politely waved me ahead and I panicked and said I was just as confused as they were! In the end, we all settled on the same thing: the famous Hot Fudge Sundae. If you love old-fashioned novelty and candy, you’ll absolutely love this classic sundae.
5. Fish fry
Doug’s Fish Fry, Skaneateles
If there’s such a thing as a travel writer’s hall of fame, you might just find it at Doug’s Fish Fry in Skaneateles. Every time this popular casual eatery is featured in the newspaper or travel magazine, the clipping makes it onto the wall, along with letters and postcards from loyal fans. You better believe I’ll send you a copy of this piece!
But what exactly makes this particular restaurant so remarkable in a region famous for its fish fries? Doug’s dedication to fresh ingredients is legendary, so much so that some menu items are limited to certain days of the week. If you want mussels, you better come on Tuesday, and lobster chowder is a treat only on Friday!
The team gives the same care to the non-fish items, and the homemade onion rings and coleslaw are menu highlights. The portions are generous but you should save some room for dessert. As any local can tell you, the real star of the show is the seasonal soft serve sundae. The apple version was on the menu during my visit, and it was the creamiest, most comforting treat imaginable.
pro tip: There is a large paid parking lot behind the restaurant, but some free spaces are reserved for Doug’s customers at the back door.
6. The boiled potato
Bull & Bear Roadhouse, Fayetteville
If you love the delicate flavor of a small early summer potato with its translucent skin and creamy flesh, you’ll fall in love with a Syracuse-style boiled potato. This simple dish takes nice baby potatoes and gently boils them in very salty water, a fitting method considering Syracuse’s legacy of salt mining. If you just nibbled the potatoes as is you’d be happy, but at the Bull & Bear Roadhouse this humble dish is taken to a whole new level. The boiled potatoes are loaded with shredded cheese, pulled pork, crispy bacon, and flavorful sour cream and chives. Great!
pro tip: The waitress shared that she loved the Bull & Bear tacos so of course I had to try them. She was right!
7. Syracuse-style barbecue
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Syracuse
Step aside, Texas and Kansas City. If you love barbecue, you have to go to Syracuse’s Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The amazing flavor emanating from dishes like the 14-hour brisket reflects founder John Stage’s years of motorcycle quest to discover the country’s diverse barbecue traditions. The result is a local sensation where the service is no-nonsense, the portions are generous and the sauces are out of this world.
I inquired about menu recommendations and a few dishes kept coming up. The roasted green tomatoes were salty, crunchy, and sweet, paired beautifully with a homemade buttermilk ranch sauce. The K-Pow Korean Jumbo Barbecue Chicken Wings were sensationally good (and proof that you don’t need your wings hot to be gorgeous). But the best part was the dessert! I’ve heard from many people that Dinosaur’s homemade desserts are their best kept secret, and they might be spot on. The key lime pie I tried was, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever had (and my delight soon convinced a neighboring stand to order some for themselves).
With dozens of delicious destinations along the way, it’s impossible to list them all. Although I haven’t necessarily tried the following varieties, their flavors are very popular in the area. Look out for these additional essentials:
8. Root beer swimmer
Mac’s Drive-In, Waterloo; Richardson Root Beer, Rochester
If you love this refreshing treat like me, the Upstate Eats Trail is for you. Mac’s Drive-In (near Waterloo, open seasonally) serves Rochester’s Richardson Root Beer in a creamy cart with soft serve ice cream.
9. Grape Cake
Cindy’s Pies and Monica’s Pies, Naples
Upstate New York isn’t just a foodie destination, it’s also a wine destination! But not all grapes are processed into delicious wines here. Located near the village of Naples, both Cindy’s Pies and Monica’s Pies use fruit from nearby vineyards to create homemade grape pies.
Alethea’s Chocolates, Williamsville
Alethea’s Chocolates has been making chocolate coated sponge cake (a crunchy, golden, lightly toasted toffee) for more than 70 years.
11. Snappy Griller
Heids of Liverpool
Also known as white coney, this flavorful, juicy hot dog is served at Heid’s of Liverpool in a New England-style bun that’s split at the top instead of the side, and is ideally served with nothing but homemade brown spicy mustard.
12. Buffalo Wings
The Anchor Rod, Buffalo
You didn’t think I’d forget New York’s most famous dish, did you? It’s true, everyone’s heard of Buffalo Wings, so they’re not exactly a groundbreaking discovery for foodies, but you can’t come to Upstate New York without trying a few. Visit The Anchor Bar in Buffalo, where they were invented in 1964, to get your dose.
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