College Town Tours: The Best of Syracuse, NY

Chances are you probably only know two things about Syracuse: 1. we have a pretty good basketball team and 2. it’s freaking cold. As a high school student, I was one of the many who knew next to nothing about this Central New York town. It really was a stroke of fate that landed me here, as no one in my home state of Michigan even realizes that New York state extends beyond the Big Apple, but I’m certainly glad that this is where I ended up.

Welcome to Syracuse. A nearly-annual winner of the Golden Snowball Award due to ridiculous amounts of snowfall, home to the dominating SU Orange, and a city rich in history and character. There’s much more to this place than meets the eye, and I encourage anyone who passes through to take some time to explore. Stroll the shores of the Finger Lakes, sip the regional wines, taste the salt potatoes, and discover all that this humble region has to offer.

Hannah Doolin is a senior magazine journalism student at Syracuse University. She’s seriously addicted to the show Top Chef and has an affinity for giraffes.

**SKC Picks**

Best Healthy Lunch Spot
Syra-Juice Juice Bar and Eatery
720 University Ave., Syracuse // (315) 475-8423

For a seriously fresh and cheap meal, head to Marshall Square Mall for delicious salads, wraps, and burritos that will keep you light on your feet. Wraps are served with homemade tortilla chips and chunky salsa. Also try their generously-sized burritos, soups, and raw juice smoothies to cure anything that’s ailing you. They always have free samples of fresh stretch bread and incredible Tomato Garlic Dipping Oil, and, between me and you, I may or may not pass through on my way to class for a few nibbles.
Must order: Bob’s Cobb Salad

Best Hangover-Curing Breakfast
Stella’s Diner
110 Wolf St., Syracuse // (315) 425-0353

If you wake up after a night at the bars feeling like you got run over by 12-wheel semi, Stella’s is your go-to for damage control. This local secret is just the kind of greasy spoon joint you’re gonna need to bring you back to life. Oh yeah, and it’s delicious. Call ahead to avoid a long wait, then round up a group of your hungover comrades and grab a booth where you can reminisce about last night’s shenanigans and chow down on the best breakfast you’ve ever had.
Must order:
“The Stella,” a heavenly sandwich of two eggs, cheese, and your choice of ham, bacon or sausage on buttery grilled Texas toast. You can thank me later.

Best Weeknight Drink Deal
Faegan’s Café & Pub
734 South Crouse Ave #6, Syracuse // (315) 472-4721

Feeling lucky? Bet it at Faegan’s on Wednesday Flip Nights. Almost all drafts are already discounted to $3.50, but with a serendipitous coin toss, it could be yours for free. The bartenders flip quarters all night long, giving you a chance to try their great selection of local and imported beers without blowing all your grocery money. The food is also great for a nice, casual dinner with your friends, and with over 40 beers on tap, you’ll never go thirsty.
Must order: White Chili with Cornbread and an Ommegang Seasonal draft

Best Barbecue
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
246 W. Willow St., Syracuse // (315)-476-4937

Dino’s regular patrons are a tattooed Harley-riding bunch, but don’t let the tough crowd scare you away, they’re just here for some damn good barbecue and a killer atmosphere. The BBQ Half Chicken was featured on Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” but trust me, anything on the menu will have you licking your fingers. After your Southern feast, grab a beer and post up at the bar, you won’t want to miss the live bands that take the stage around 9 pm.
Must order: Carolina Style pulled pork sandwich with baked beans and mac & cheese

Best Reason to Skip Class
Green Lakes State Park
7900 Green Lakes Rd, Fayetteville // (315) 637-6111

As a Syracuse resident, when a gorgeous sunny day comes along, you make the most of it. This beautiful state park is just a short drive from campus, and is as legitimate a reason to ditch your bio lab as I’ve ever heard. Forested hiking paths surround two glacial lakes where you can swim or paddle around in rented rowboats. The lakes are meromictic, meaning that the surface and bottom waters don’t mix, resulting in a crystal clear lake with a bright blue-green appearance. This is a great place to have a picnic, get your tan on, or just take in the scenery when upstate New York is lucky enough to get some decent weather.

Best Campus Bar
Chucks Cafe
727 South Crouse Ave #6, Syracuse // (315) 477-1544

Of all the bars on Marshall Street, Chucks wins campus favorite by a landslide. With a laidback vibe and cheap drink deals, it’s the place to see and be seen. Get stamped early because it’s guaranteed to be packed on almost any given Thursday through Saturday. If you’re like me and can’t stand to hear the Top 40 on repeat any longer, Chucks is your escape. Sing along to some good old 90s alternative music while downing $3.50 pitchers at Friday happy hour. Make sure to stop by Thor’s Corner for quick service and friendly conversation.
Must order: Spinach artichoke dip and $2 burgers every Monday

Best Burger
Empire Brewing Company
120 Walton St., Syracuse // (315) 475-BEER

Locally raised grass-fed Angus beef is just one of the many things that make this burger incredible. Not to mention the melted smoked gouda, thin strings of fried onions, and chipotle mayo swiped across a toasted bun. Honestly, I have dreams about this burger, and it’s just one example of the kind of quality items that can be found on Empire’s eclectic menu. This place prides itself on using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, and you can really taste the difference. The brewery on the premises is also amazing and is always turning out original beers that are favorites in bars and restaurants all over Syracuse.
Must order: The Tumbleweed Burger

Best Local Hangout
The Varsity
802 South Crouse Ave., Syracuse // (315) 478-1235

The Varsity has been a go-to spot for Syracuse Orange fans since it opened in 1926, and you know it as soon as you walk in the door. Pennants embroidered with the names of the Big East teams line the walls, some flipped upside down after a victorious home team win. Known for its pizza and wings, the humble restaurant is a watering hole for alumni who come back to visit their alma mater. Patrons wait in line for a slice of famous pizza or a blue plate special that changes each day of the week. The cafeteria-style tables that line the room host hundreds of fans, whether jubilant or disappointed, each weekend.
Must order: Spinach Tomato Feta Pizza

Best Place to Get Buck Wild
Daisy Dukes
414 South Clinton St., Syracuse // (315) 475-1600

If a mellow glass of cabernet sauvignon isn’t your idea of a night on the town, saddle up and head to Daisy Dukes for a good dose of Southern hospitality. This place channels a honky-tonk bar, complete with bartenders clad in tight denim cut-offs and cropped plaid shirts. A neon red Budweiser sign overlooks a row of vinyl booths, and the faces of Kenny Chesney and other modern country stars flash from flat-screen televisions mounted on the oak paneled walls. Be warned: the energetic atmosphere and a few bottles of Bud tend to inspire confidence, but the one-horned mechanical bull in the corner dominates most inebriated challengers.

Best Mexican
Alto Cinco
526 Wescott St., Syracuse // (315) 422-MEXX

This hole-in-the-wall takeout counter expands into a sophisticated dining room next door, both serving the best Mexican food in the Syracuse area. Anything on the menu is sure to be delicious, but their catfish burrito is the talk of the town, filled with, yes really, fried catfish and other super fresh ingredients. They don’t have a liquor license, which means no margaritas (sigh), but their house sangria more than makes up for it. This place is a great option for a casual date night, or for delivery when cooking is too much of a task, but you still want something satisfying.
Must order: Jerk chicken burrito

Best Hipster Hangout
Funk ‘N Waffles
727 South Crouse Ave., Syracuse // (315) 477-9700

Who says that waffles aren’t meant to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? This cool café says they’re an appropriate meal at any time, and they’ve created a recipe for everyone’s taste. A typical plain waffle with pure maple syrup is on the menu right alongside a stuffing waffle topped with hot turkey, garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and gravy. If the crazy menu isn’t enough for you, the live music should do it. Brave students and locals take the stage on open mic nights every Wednesday, and various local and touring bands perform throughout the week, creating a laidback lounge mood or bumping concert scene depending on the artist.
Must order: The Monte Cristo, a Brussels waffle topped with baked ham, melted swiss, and an egg over easy

Best Live Music Venue
The Wescott Theater
524 Wescott St., Syracuse // (315) 299-8886

Previously a movie cinema, The Wescott is now a premiere live music venue featuring artists of all genres. Large acts like Ghostface Killah or Matt and Kim as well as smaller local bands have performed on the stage, and the wide-open floor creates a fun atmosphere for concertgoers. The venue also often hosts local events like formal parties.

Best Date Night Restaurant
311 South Franklin St., Syracuse // 315-474-1153

Go find yourself a significant other if only to make them take you to this restaurant. It’s a little on the pricey side, so having someone to pick up the tab is always nice, but if you can’t rustle up a contender, it’s well worth your money. Their homemade pasta is to die for, but the real reason for its popularity is the chewy stretch bread made fresh daily at the bakery right across the street and the holy spicy hot tomato oil that comes with it. You’ll most likely fill up on the bread and sauce due to lack of self-control, but all the better for you, because that means leftover pasta for tomorrow.
Must order: Spicy Hot Tomato Oil

Best Sushi
Bleu Monkey Café
163 Marshall St., Syracuse // (315) 474-0099

Hands down the best sushi rolls I’ve had in the area. They’re all handmade with fresh ingredients right at the open sushi bar in the restaurant. For a full meal, try a bento box complete with soup, salad, spring roll, California roll, and your choice of chicken, beef, salmon, or pork in teriyaki sauce over rice. Bleu Monkey delivery is the perfect remedy for an agonizing night of studying at the library. Don’t forget to get spicy mayo on the side.
Must order: Cobra Roll: tempura shrimp, and avocado topped with tuna, avocado, spicy and teriyaki sauce

Best Not-So-College Bar
Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge
321 South Clinton St., Syracuse // (315) 703-4773

To enter Al’s Wine and Whiskey Lounge is to stroll into a bygone era. A rich wooden bar, exposed brick walls, and luxurious dark leather couches create an atmosphere that transports patrons back to the time of the speakeasy. A soft crimson glow illuminates the tightly packed shelves bearing 150 varieties of domestic and foreign whiskey. Pick your poison and shoot a game of pool or sit back and drink in the live jazz music. The roaring 20’s will seem alive and well, but rest assured, you’ll sip something far better than moonshine.

Originally posted on Friday, April 6th, 2012

3 Responses to “College Town Tours: The Best of Syracuse, NY”

  1. Dave

    August 8th, 2012

    I’ve lived in Syracuse my whole life and never read such a great write up! I agree with category and restaurant choice. This should be published in the Daily Orange instead of the crap that is.

  2. Alfredo Fettucini

    December 4th, 2013

    Great summation! In your opinion, who has the best pizza in the area? I can tell you that a bar named Nibsey’s on Tipperary Hill does it well, but I mostly know about that because I live a few blocks from there. If you have any recommendations, please post a brief follow-up.

  3. Emily

    April 14th, 2016

    Good thinking of Dinosaur BBQ as the best BBQ because it quite simply is, i lived in syracuse during my childhood, living overseas now and still have yet to find ANY place that gets anywhere near how good Dinosaur is, simply nothing can beat it, especially the pulled pork. Currently still continually and often using their recipe book. As well as Alto Cinco is a lovely place for Mexican, i did a play as a kid in west more theatre. So many good choices being recognised it makes me happy

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