Syracuse has much more to offer than basketball and blizzards. It's the home of some truly wonderful food, too, much of it right at the fingertips of SU students living on or near University Hill. No, the home of Otto the Orange isn't the culinary wasteland you might expect from a city that gives the north of Westeros a run for its money in the bad weather department, so abandon the notion that you need dreadful dining halls or Domino's delivery to get you through that cold, endless winter. There are fantastic options for foodies of all shapes and sizes in the Syracuse area, and not just the local staples you may have already heard about.
Read on for my favorite eats in the 'Cuse area. Sound off with your own picks in the comments below!
Best Italian: Pastabilities
If you pass through Syracuse without having the hot tomato oil and stretch bread at Pastabilities in Armory Square, you're doing it wrong. The marriage of spicy oil, garlic and tomato was first perfected in the 1980s cannot be replicated. The stretch bread, too, is light as a cloud with a thin but necessarily crunchy exterior. Put these two items together and you will forever guffaw at the standard olive oil and bread offered at neighboring restaurants.
Pro-tip: Pastabilities has a bakery across the street from its restaurant where you can buy as much of the bread and hot tomato oil as you wish. Don't leave 'Cuse without massive quantities of both. I never do.
Best Sandwich: Anything At A La Mode Cafe & Catering
No need to recommend any one sandwich from A La Mode though if I had to narrow it down to one, it would be The Doctor, a beast of a sandwich consisting of of roast turkey, bacon, blue cheese, provolone and hot sauce. They're all great, depending on your tastes. What makes them all great? The fact that they can all be served on Pastabilities stretch bread. Synergy for the win!
That said, A La Mode is a bit of a schlep from main campus, making this a hard place to recommend as far as quick-and-easy meals-on-the-go are concerned. Wait to visit until you've got a friend with a car or a ride of your own.
Best Coffee Spot: People's Place
Contrary to A La Mode, you won't have to wander far from class to get the best coffee in the SU area. In fact, you just have to go beneath Hendricks Chapel to People's Place, a student-run, non-profit coffee shop that has all of the caffeine you need for a buck a pop. There's no better deal, and no coffee more convenient, than what you'll get right on main campus.
Best Barbecue: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Come on, you really have to ask? If you don't know Dino-Beebs, you don't know 'Cuse. Their brisket, pulled pork and ribs are what draw out the masses time and time again, but for my money, the jumbo BBQ wings are where it's at. Slathered in BBQ sauce of your choice (I'm a Wango Tango loyalist) and served with creamy Maytag blue cheese dressing, these are the best wings in the city as far as I'm concerned.
Cap your meal off with a slice of homemade Peanut Butter Cup Pie and you'll be lucky if you float home.
Best Dive Bar: Chuck's Cafe
Fair warning: everyone goes to Chuck's. Everyone as in everyone, Gary Oldman style. That's either awesome or awful news, depending on how you feel about people. But if you're looking for a night of pedal-to-the-medal boozing with pool tables, TV screens loaded with all of the sports, and walls covered every inch in graffiti from the 'Cuse crowd old and new, there's simply nowhere else to go.
Best Drink Deal: Flip Night at Faegan's
The rules are simple: on Flip Night (every Wednesday starting at 9PM), you order a beer, and the bartender tosses a quarter in the air. Call it right and you get your drink for free. Call it wrong and you pay. A fifty-fifty shot at free beer, all night long. What's there not to like?
Best Pizza: Acropolis Pizza House
I once saw a man steal a slice of Acropolis' piping-hot Greek-style pizza from a rival table and run all the way down Marshall Street gobbling it up and cheering like he just scored the game-winning touchdown before anyone could realize what had just happened. In short, Acropolis is pizza worth going to jail for. Order a fresh-made cheese pie with your pals after late nights at Chuck's and Faegan's to steel your stomach for the morning to come. In a pinch, neighboring spot Cosmo's is a solid pizza place noted by their spicy tomato sauce and particularly crunchy crust.
Most Reliable: Chicken Caesar Pita at Pita Pit
"A toga party in your mouth" is how Pita Pit describes their Chicken Caesar sandwich. That sounds a little more graphic to me than what you're actually getting. In reality, it's an incredibly solid caesar salad with chicken in a pita, with the very welcome addition of lots and lots of crisp bacon. If you need a quick meal between classes and you don't want to deal with the fast-food chains at Schine or Kimmel, the Chicken Caesar at Pita Pit will more than see you through. Also a great late-night option if Acropolis is too full.
Date Night: Phoebe's
My favorite bistro-style restaurant in Syracuse, Phoebe's will impress any date right from the start on decor alone. Food costs a pretty penny, but you're trying to make an impression, aren't you? Close enough to campus that you won't have to drive or take the bus, Phoebe's has an added bonus in that it's right across from Syracuse Stage, the best theater in the city. Date nights don't get much better than dinner and a night at the theater! (Cue the sound of my fiance, also an SU alum, sobbing alone in the other room, wondering how it all went so horribly wrong.)
Rest In Peace: Little Thai House
My favorite restaurant in all of Syracuse closed a few short years ago, but it's deserving of a quick eulogy. Little Thai House could not be beat in terms of quality and affordability. Their $4.95 lunch specials (which included a free bowl of filling, garlic-heavy soup) were a weekly staple of my senior year, and their garlic sauce offerings remain at the top of my favorite Thai dishes of all time.
And don't get me started on the wonderful staff. One server would repeatedly ask us, "Do you like it? I made it." He didn't make it, but he was still the best. Ah, sweet, sad nostalgia... Anyway, a new restaurant, Thai Flavor, is currently standing in Little Thai House's place. I don't have the heart to give it a shot. But if you're less emotionally attached than I am, pay them a visit and report back. I'd love nothing more than to know that the spirit of Little Thai House lives on, even under a new name.