Welcome to the Rochester food scene. I write full reviews of different restaurants every other week in City, but here is a bit of a primer, by genre, to acquaint you with the area's amazing variety of dining options.
Burgers and hots($4-$10 per person)
Tom Wahl's: Our second biggest regional chain has at least nine locations throughout Western New York. Inexpensive, decent quality, family-friendly, and with its own proprietary root beer, Wahl's is always a hit with the family. Restaurants in most of local malls, as well as Pittsford, Webster, and Fairport.
Bill Gray's: The biggest regional chain has restaurants all over the area, with its new flagship up by Sea Breeze at the far north end of Culver Road. Gray's is big, fast, and predictably decent. Coupons are everywhere all the time.
Schaller's: Schaller's three locations still manage to have great sense of place (559 East Ridge, 2747 West Henrietta, and 965 Edgemere). Many local aficionados say Schaller's makes the best version of Rochester's famous meat-based hot sauce. Very inexpensive and family friendly.
LDR Char Pit: Family run since 1945, the Char Pit is a local institution up at Charlotte (4753 Lake Avenue, 865-0112). This was a favorite of City Newpaper'sBurger Patrol.
Nick Tahou: The home of Rochester's original Garbage Plate --- hams or hots on top of mac salad, fries, or homefries, and sometimes beans, doused with hot sauce --- has to be experienced in order to understand the local gestalt. (320 West Main Street, 464-9173).
Atlantic Family Restaurant: This place has amazingly low prices and shockingly decent food. The burgers are a steal, and the Sloppy Plate was the Burger Patrol's favorite version of the garbage plate phenomenon (888 Ridge Road, 671-2149).
Charley Brown's: For the snobs, nothing beats the half-pound Charley Burgers, made of excellent ground beef, juicy and flavorful, cooked perfectly to specs. It's $8, but may be the best burger in town, and it comes with a variety of way cool sides (1675 Penfield Road, 385-9202).
Fine dining(over $20 per person)
Max of Eastman Place: With Tony Gullace and Dan Eaton in the kitchen, you'll never be disappointed, and the sticker shock will pass into the warm haze the most exceptional food engenders. Great city location in the cultural district across from the Eastman Theatre (Main and Gibbs Streets).
The Rio Bamba: Jay Cohen is simply an artist in the kitchen. He's a local boy who worked for a while in New York City, and has since been regarded by peers and customers as about the best chef around. Try the spectacular tasting menus, or call ahead and have Jay design a tasting menu. When the sky is the limit, the Rio is the place (282 Alexander Street, 244-8680).
The Grill at Strathallan: In the Strathallan hotel is another exceptional fine restaurant. The Grill plays host to spectacular wine-tasting events throughout the year (www.grill175.com). The wine list is literally one of the finest in the entire world. High end, yes, but you can also get a great burger and absolutely fabulous chicken wings (550 East Avenue, 461-5010).
Joey B's: Over in Fairport, don't be deceived by the appearance of Joey B's (617 Whitney Road, 377-9030). It might look like a tool shed, but its owner, Joe Brophy, cooks great continental food, and the service is exceptional. Unpretentious and excellent, it's enormously popular with the locals.
Moscow's Eclectic Dining: Local foodies complain about the lack of fine food on the West side, but here is an exception (3208 Latta Road, 225-2880). David Moscowitz is a magician with sauces, and the restaurant has great style once you get past the strip-mall exterior.
Le Lemongrass: Some view Le Lemongrass as a fairly pricey Vietnamese restaurant. Instead, think of it as a bargain in fine dining. Owner Huey Luong and his family made everything in the place, from the chairs and amazing floor tiling to the spectacular soups and specials. It's the least expensive in this group and a singular experience (942 Monroe Avenue, 271-8360).
Barbecue($8-$12 per person)
Unkl Moe's: Moe and Bernice Smith serve up some of the best barbecue in town, whether ribs, pork, chicken, or their signature smoked turkeys (493 West Avenue, 464-8240). A soul food spot in the best senses, Unkl Moe's also features great sides like fried okra, yams, collard greens, and black-eyed peas.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: The New York Times might have dissed the Manhattan branch, but that shows a disconnect with popular taste. Nothing could be more popular than the Dinosaur, where people pack a groovy, old train station to eat ribs, pulled pork, chicken, and sides. The Burger Patrol also dug their burgers. It's a bit loud and there's a wait, but could all those people be wrong? (99 Court Street, 325-7090).
Sticky Lips: The latest entry in the booming barbecue scene, Sticky Lips is kinder and gentler than the Dinosaur, but just as good --- probably a better choice with families. (625 Culver Road, 288-1910).
Beale Street: Our local version of Texas-style barbecue, with very good barbecued brisket, as well as New Orleans fare and good wings. Live blues on the weekends (693 South Avenue, 271-4650).
Thai/Vietnamese/Korean($5-$15 per person)
Seoul Garden: When asked to name a single favorite local restaurant, I usually give this answer. Quality that rivals the best Korean restaurants in any city in America, very reasonable prices, outstanding service, amazing speed, attentiveness to families and children, clean and comfortable... anything you can say about a good restaurant, Seoul Garden has it. Try the fiery seafood stews and Korean pancakes (2805 West Henrietta Road, 424-2220).
The King & I: The King & I serves a broad menu of very good Thai food, and does it amazingly quickly with consistency. Ask 10 locals where they eat regularly and five will name this place. (1475 East Henrietta Road, 427-8090).
Churi's Taste of Thai: This spot across from Sea Breeze is an ice cream parlor as well as a Thai restaurant and clothing store. Churi Csaicai is from Thailand, and does all the very authentic cooking herself. (4615 Culver Road, 339-9250).
Flavors of Asia: If you're trying to please a tough crowd, this might be a good choice, with dim sum as well as Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese food. Excellent pho and distinctive Thai cold salads are highlights (831 South Clinton Avenue, 256-2310).
Dac Hoa: Local cognoscenti have been gathering a Dac Hoa for pho and great, cheap spring rolls for years. Service can be, well, daffy, but always friendly. An institution and one of my personal favorite restaurants (230 Monroe Avenue, 232-6038).
Japanese($10-$20 per person)
Shiki: One of our newest Japanese restaurants might just be our best. Small and cozy, it features an amazing array of distinctive appetizers like broiled eggplant with sweet miso (nasu-den) and eel with vegetables (amadai sakamushi). And the sushi is excellent (1054 South Clinton Avenue, 271-2090).
Plum House: Ultra popular and always good, the Plum House has been a local favorite for sushi lunches for ages. Sit at the bar, or get a table, and enjoy (686 Monroe Avenue, 442-0778).
Chinese($5-$15 per person)
Golden Port: Wayne Luong, no relation to Le Lemongrass owner Huey Luong but the brother of Flavors of Asia owner Amy Cheng (got that?), is an amazing businessman. He started by taking over a dim sum restaurant on Clinton, and now runs his bustling pan-Asian spot downtown, now with a sushi bar in addition to the main place featuring great dim sum and dishes from Southeast Asia. Excellent and reasonable (105 East Avenue, 256-1780).
Ming's: Fast, cheap, and good, Ming's takes care of a noodle jones like nothing else. Watch Wong Ming as he dances around his woks whipping up one of a dozen types of noodle with one of a dozen choices of ingredients, either as soup or a stir-fry. (1038 South Clinton Avenue, 244-0920).
K. C. Tea and Noodle: At K.C., local restaurant vet Jimmy Poon also serves a billion noodle dishes. He also adds the wrinkle of bubble teas, sweetened teas, with or without milk, ice, or fruit, and black balls of tea-filled tapioca and potato starch floating around. Goofy but good. Jimmy's daughter, Marjorie, recommends the banana-avocado bubble milkshake and I concur (360 Park Avenue, 271-1061).
Chen's Garden: For straight Chinese, many say Chen's is the best place in town. It has all the usual stuff, but go with somebody who can speak Chinese and you can get special dishes that are off the English menu. It also has a great dim sum brunch on Sundays (1750 Monroe Avenue, 241-3070).
Indian($8-$15 per person)
Tandoor of India: The newest and best Indian restaurant in town features an absurdly broad menu. The daily lunch buffet is spectacular and the $10 dinners are a steal. Rapidly becoming enormously popular, it has the size and staff to handle it (376 Jefferson Road, 427-8720).
Raj Mahal: One of the most venerable local Indian restaurants recently changed ownership, and it's only been for the better. With a broad selection and fiery food, definitely worth several trips (324 Monroe Avenue, 546-2315).
India House: India House has three locations. The original serves North Indian food and a daily buffet (998 South Clinton Avenue, 461-0880). Their South Indian café is all vegetarian, with treat like dosais on the lunch buffet (1009 South Clinton Avenue, 271-0242). The third is much like the original, but out on the East side (7343 Rt. 96 in Victor, 742-2030).
Thali of India: The first restaurant opened by the Tandoor owner is also excellent. Smaller, it still has a great selection and an excellent buffet (3259 South Winton Road, 427-8030).
Chicken wings($4-$10 per person)
Jeremiah's Tavern: The classic spot for Buffalo-style wings, Jeremiah's wings are large, consistently well-cooked, and come in a variety of intensities. The rest of the menu is very good as well, including great onion rings (1104 Monroe Avenue, 461-1313).
Chester Cab: The other style of wings in town is more like fried chicken, with a batter coating. The City Newspaper Wing Team's favorites come from Chester Cab, with a peppery batter and a variety of interesting sauces. They also have very good pizza, and they deliver (707 Park Avenue, 244-8211).
Lucano: Not the big piles of family-style food here, but subtle, terrific fare from first course to dessert. Prices are somewhat high (entrées $14-$27), but the quality justifies it. Definitely a great destination when celebrating a special occasion (1815 East Avenue, 244-3460).
Verona: How does a Polish guy like Piotr Wojtowicz make Italian food? Very nicely, thank you. Medium prices and good quality are the hallmarks of one of the better West side eateries (777 Spencerport Road, 247-8880).
Veneto: For individual gourmet pizzas cooked in a wood-fire oven, simple and good pasta, and nice salads, Veneto is a great choice. Prices are very reasonable, too (330 East Avenue, 454-5444).
Mario's Via Abruzzi: Owner Mario Daniele is one of the area's most visible restaurateurs, and he runs an enormously successful operation. Very good food, a bit pricey with a lot of show, Mario's can handle any size party as well as special events like weddings (2740 Monroe Avenue, 271-1111).
The Ravioli Shop: Owner Bill Kenny makes excellent ravioli you take home and cook yourself. It's affordable, and the shop also has the best baguettes in town (260 North Winton Road, 288-6420).
Middle Eastern(mostly under $10 per person)
Sinbad's: Rochester has a plethora of falafel-tabbouleh-hummus joints, but the class of the genre for the last decade has been Sinbad's. In addition to those standard items, be sure to try the Cornish game hen, the kibbeh, and the pharaoh's chicken pitza (719 Park Avenue, 473-5655).
Alexandria's: A fairly recent entry on the scene with a menu conspicuously similar to that of Sindbad's. But the food is very good (120 East Avenue, 232-6180).
The Mediterranean Cuisine: Not a clone of the other Mediterranean places, this one serves Turkish food. Try the delicious iskender kebab, with gyro-like lamb meat over bread with tomato sauce and spices, or have homemade stuffed grape leaves (295 East Ridge Road, 266-0050).
The Olive Tree: For 25 years, Peter and Joanne Gekas have served fine Greek food to a furiously loyal clientele. This is no gyro joint, but a fine restaurant, with great food across the board, including heavenly taramosalata, a dip made of caviar, olive oil, and lemon juice (165 Monroe Avenue, 454-3510).
Olive's: Nicer than a Greek diner, but not a stuffy place, Olive's occupies a great middle ground in Schoen Place. Reasonable prices and very good food across the board make it very popular. Be sure to try the great eggplant salad they call melinzana salata (50 State Street, Pittsford, 381-3990).
Mykonos: Owner Steffi Rizos will tell you she has the only authentic Greek restaurant in town. That's a matter of opinion, but a lot of people really like Mykonos. Flaming cheese (saganaki), great dips, and yummy grilled meats and seafood are highlights (274 North Goodman Street, 271-5510).
Casual eating($5-$10 per person)
Food at Fisher's Station: If it served dinner and weren't way out in Fisher's, this might be my favorite restaurant. Rick Stewart is a former fancy chef serving diner food done as well as possible. Homemade rolls, incredible frittatas, pot roast for lunch that becomes hash the next day at breakfast, and more (7548 Main Street, Fishers; 742-3280).
Flour City Diner: Cheap, good food downtown. Breakfast and lunch weekdays and brunches on the weekend. Try the great pies and the homemade bratwurst (50 Chestnut Street, 546-6607).
The Pizza Stop: The place if you like it thin and New York style. Only open on the weekdays and no delivery, but worth a trip (123 State St., 546-7252).
Great Northern Pizza Kitchen: Excellent crust and more toppings than Baskin Robbins. Take out, delivery, or eat in. Locations in Rochester (1918 Monroe Avenue, 244-PIES), Greece (2750 W. Ridge Road, 458-PIES), and Pittsford (14 South Main Street, 586-PIES).
Sandwiches/subs($4-7 per person)
O'Bagelo's: Soup Philosopher John Vito serves up great bagels, sandwiches, and soups. Plus, you get daily quotes from history's greatest philosophers and the area's best collection of Dr. Seuss books to boot (165 State Street, 232-9070).
Caesar's: Another story of a former haute cuisine guy making simple food. Nothing but subs, but when the rolls are fresh baked and the ingredients really good, is there much better? (620 North Winton Road, 288-1111)
Rubino's: The venerable Rochester Italian specialties stores. The location on East Ridge (544-5680) is really a food lover's paradise. Subs at all locations, including several in the city (211 West Ridge Road, 254-7940; 362 State Street, 454-3850; 343 East Avenue, 546-1530; 1659 Mt. Hope Avenue, 271-0110; and Sea Breeze park, 323-1900), as well as in Webster (24 East Main Street, 265-0870), Spencerport (42 Nichols Street, 352-8646), East Rochester (349 West Commercial Street, 387-0760), and Penfield (2160 Penfield Road, 388-6410).
Dibella's: The powerhouse of Rochester sub shops, with fresh baked rolls and a host of locations: Rochester (1882 East Avenue, 473-1118), Brighton (1900 South Clinton Avenue, 256-2060), Henrietta (420 Jefferson Road, 475-1831), Greece (2540 Ridgeway Avenue, 225-8440), Webster (Bay Towne Plaza, 787-1320), Perinton (6720 Pittsford-Palmyra Road, 223, 2140), Irondequoit (1405 East Ridge Road, 266-0288).
Caribbean($5-$10 per person)
LJ's: Terrific Jamaican food in the 19th Ward. Lloyd Phillips's oxtails will have you sucking bones for every last drop of flavor, and the steamed fish is a culinary work of art and a bargain (366 Thurston Road, 527-0778).
El Conquistador: When Juan and Maria Contreras purchased this great Puerto Rican joint a couple years back, they made a good thing better. They kept the entire staff and menu (including scrumptious roast pork), but added their famous empanadas (1939 Clifford Avenue, 288-4160).
Chimo's Sandwich Shop: North Clinton is home to several Latin American food spots, and Chimo's is one of the best. Where else can you get pig ears or stewed gizzards? The less adventurous can have a Cuban sandwich (1038 North Clinton Avenue, 266-1405).
Little Bakery: Aaron Smith and crew run a crackin' full-service bakery, with breakfast pastries, specialty desserts, great breads, and grilled sandwich boxed lunches. Be sure to try the honey-oat-sunflower bread (89 Charlotte Street, 232-4884).
Malek's: THE kosher bakery in town for the last 27 years, Malek's is the place for challah and rye bread, and more pastries than you can shake a stick at. Keep alert for fabulous season items like hamantaschen (1795 Monroe Avenue, 461-1720).
Brownstein's: The 12 Corners area is home to a bunch of high-quality bagel shops, and folks are passionate about their favorites. Mine is Brownstein's, with bialys worth the extra carbs and deli items like chub (1862 Monroe Avenue, 442-2770).
Martusciello's: Rochester used to be home to a huge number of great Italian bakeries. Fortunately, one of the few remaining is also one of the best. Its bread is available many places in town, but go to the store to buy bread at just the crustiness you like (2280 Lyell Avenue, 247-0510).
Premier Pastry: "The best local bakery where you can't buy anything" is the choice for special occasion cakes and baked goods when you want simply the best. For creations you'll remember the rest of your life, check it out (443 South Avenue, 546-1420).
Captain Jim's: Great fresh fish, great fish fry, great prices. Father and son Jim and Bill Seremetis get it all right (2329 East Main Street, 482-3640).
Pittsford Seafood Market: This curiously named fish shop --- it's actually in the city, not Pittsford --- also has fresh and fried fish. It adds the twist of Eastern European canned goods and candies (510 Monroe Avenue, 271-1780).
Butchers and specialty shops
Swan's Market: Gunter Schwann opened his German butcher shop in 1970, and current owner Barry Fischer carries on the traditions, with Schwann and his family still working the counters. They claim to be "the best of the wurst," and who are we to argue? Stop by on the weekends for great German lunches for a song (231 Parcells Avenue, 288-5320).
Ralf's European Meats and Delicatessen: An overwhelming array of sausage on the Northwest side of town. Stop in to learn the ins and outs of gelb, stadt, mett, zwiebel, schinken, zungen, blut, jagd or touristen wursts (1280 Dewey Avenue, 458-5230).
Fare Game Foods: Your choice for certified organically grown, free-range chicken and turkey, waygu beef, cuck, bison, and a partridge in a pear tree. Great specialty sausages and bacon, too (Union Street Market building, Rochester Public Market, 473-4210).
V.M. Giordano European Cheese Shop: A staggering variety of cheese and olives awaits you at Vince Giordano's shop. Add to that specialties like salt-packed capers, Martusciello's breads, and grilled eggplant, and it's almost heaven (Rochester Public Market, 234-0333).
Pittsford Farms Dairy: Our only independent milk processor sells milk that is pasteurized slowly at a cooler temperature. It tastes sweeter and, many think, better. They also have the best chocolate milk on the planet (44 North Main Street, Pittsford, 586-6610).
Lee's Oriental Foods: From sushi rice to tofu to pig uteri, if it's Asian, Lee's has it. The selection is dizzying (900 Jefferson Road, 272-7020).
Rochester Public Market: Located off Union Street just north of Main, the Rochester Public Market gives the impression of what one friend called, "a happily diverse, multicultural, and multigenerational community." For everything from cheap socks to farm-fresh produce, seafood to cheese, and coffee to empanadas, nothing beats the market.
Hurd Orchards: Mother-daughter team Sue (Hurd) Machamer and Amy Machamer run a spectacular farm and market. Beautiful dried flowers, terrific season fruits, and wild preserved goods are highlights, along with tasting dinners in the summer and at Thanksgiving (Rt. 104 and Monroe-Orleans County Line Road, Holley; 638-8838).
Shutt Cider Mill: In an apple-rich region, Schutt's features the widest variety of apples I've seen. They also have bunnies, bees, pumpkins you can pick, and doughnuts. Be sure to try the weird and wonderful golden russets (1063 Plank Road, 872-2924).
Powers Farm Market: Another fun farm market for the family, it has huge straw teepees in the fall filled with amazing jack-o-lanterns (161 Marsh Road, 586-4631).
Abundance Cooperative Market: Organic produce and products in a beautiful store in the heart of the city (62 Marshall Street, 454-2667).
Lori's Natural Foods: A giant natural foods store in the Genesee Regional Market it Henrietta (900 Jefferson Road, 424-2323).
The Atomic Eggplant: Very popular vegetarian spot in the city. Owner-chef Meg Davis serves up huge portions of food for any type of diet, from Ornish to macrobiotic (75 Marshall Street, 325-6750).
Skippy's: One of the area's best vegetarian chefs, Bobi Sherwood, does a lot of the cooking at this South Wedge spot. Colorful murals adorn the walls (742 South Avenue, 271-7590).
Mexican($6-$12 per person)
El Rincon Mexicano: Guadalajara native Maria Guevara started El Rincon in Sodus in 1991 primarily to serve the migrant worker population. Its authenticity has made it popular since then, and led to a second location in Canandaigua (6974 Old Ridge Road, Sodus, 315-483-4199; 5 Beeman Street, Canandaigua, 394-3580).
Maria's: The only place in town for a good mole, Maria's has been serving Mexican food in Rochester forever. Hearty, freshly fried chips come to every table (75 West Main Street, Webster, 872-1237).
Paola's Burrito Place: The latest Mexican restaurant in town is simple, inexpensive, and good. One of the few places around with flautas (1921 South Avenue, 271-3655).