Rochestarians rejoice! Rochester has been named the fourth best city in the country for foodies!
While that number may seem surprisingly high, much like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie.
The rankings were compiled using a sound methodology. Every city in the country with more than 100,000 people was ranked by the number of restaurants per capita, the restaurant density per square mile, and the percentage of non-chain restaurants, with every factor weighted equally.
As of this past July, nearly 16,000 restaurants across the country had permanently closed due to the pandemic. This includes over 30 Rochester restaurants. It’s more important now than ever to support locally owned restaurants instead of national and international chains.
To aid you in your quest to support Rochester businesses and to discover Rochester’s award-winning food, I’ve compiled a list of recommendations from myself, my friend whose family used to eat out a lot pre-quarantine, and my dad, a Rochester native of over 50 years.
While I and a few others I interviewed were surprised at first to find Rochester had such a great food scene, we all agreed that Rochester truly deserves this honor. If you’re more of a visual learner, I created a Google Maps of every restaurant, bakery, and cafe on this list. Hop on the map to plan your next foodie outing!
I’d eat breakfast for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I could, so I’ve eaten at my fair share of local diners. Here are the best Rochester diners, from a certified breakfast expert.
Highland Park Diner: A cute, vintage location with amazing food. Get the Nutella stuffed-French toast! It’s a sugar overload, but so worth it.
Steve’s Diner: If you want to challenge yourself to eat a pancake bigger than your head, try Steve’s Diner. But for your wallet’s sake, don’t add bacon — it’s a dollar per (tiny) slice.
Morgan’s Cereal Bar: I haven’t been here yet, and no, I can’t believe that, either! At first I thought they only served cereal, but they’re so much more than that. Now that I know fancy waffles are involved, I’ll be heading over to give my blood sugar levels a huge shock.
Jine’s Restaurant: Jine’s is a Greek diner that serves all day breakfast. It’s been a while since I’ve been, but I vividly remember enjoying the food — and avoiding eye contact with the person at the table next to me who I’m pretty sure I knew from middle school. Why didn’t I just say hi? I’ll never know.
Lunch and Dinner Locations
My family doesn’t eat out very often, but my dad has lived here for over 50 years and has meals with his customers and vendors relatively often (thank you company credit card!).
My friend Yawen’s family eats out at a lot of Chinese and Korean places, and sometimes some South Asian restaurants, so she lent a hand in choosing those spots. She knows what places are truly authentic.
Mamasan’s Noodle Caboodle: Mamasan’s Noodle Caboodle is a family run restaurant that’s moved very close to College Town. They serve Thai and Vietnamese dishes; my favorite is their fried rice. They’re a little on the pricey side, but it’s worth it if you save the leftovers.
Han Noodle Bar: Endorsed by Yawen, Han Noodle Bar serves mostly Chinese dishes. They have a lot of options at great prices!
Raj Mahal: Raj Mahal is an Indian restaurant with a great lunch buffet, endorsed by both Yawen and our Indian friend and her family as the most authentic Indian food in Rochester.
The King and I: Loved by my mom (a spicy food fiend) and Yawen, The King and I offers Thai food in the lovely location of a Henrietta strip mall. While you’re there, you might as well walk 20 feet over to the Cha Chat Cafe for their crepes, smoothies, and bubble tea.
Jojo: Jojo — which I always called Jojo’s until researching for this article — is my dad’s current favorite thanks to their mussels appetizer that he manages to turn into a whole meal. Located right next to scenic Schoen Place in Pittsford, Jojo serves American style food. After dinner, walk over to the Pittsford Farms Dairy for some admittedly overpriced, but amazing, ice cream.
Nick Tahou Hots: This is the home of the famous Rochester garbage plate, so you have to try one here first. I’m about to commit Rochester blasphemy by saying this, but I’ve never had a garbage plate and don’t plan on ever eating one. If eating a lot of mushy things plus a hot dog or cheeseburger at once is your thing, go right ahead!
Trata: Trata has a modern and decorative location with “contemporary American fare and libations.” I’ve only been once, and I had their grilled cheese with what I think was kale. Great choice if you want to feel like you’re 10 again, but also still get your greens in. .
Ox and Stone: This restaurant serves “Latin inspired eats” in a 19th century mansion. My dad’s hipster foodie friend brought him there, so you know it’s legit.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: The Dinosaur, along with Nick Tahou’s, is a restaurant you just can’t miss when thinking of Rochester food locations. They’re a local chain that specializes in American Southern food, mainly different meats. Vegans and anyone who doesn’t like poorly lit restaurants might be uncomfortable here.
The Red Fern: The Red Fern is the only completely vegan restaurant I’ve heard of in Rochester, and it has 4.6 stars on Google. Both my vegan friend and her non-vegan sister have enjoyed their meals there, so even if you’re not vegan yourself, you should give it a shot!
Pontillo’s Pizzeria: Pontillo’s is a local pizza chain whose owners, recipes, and styles vary across locations. The Pittsford Village and Bushnell’s Basin locations have a rivalry that has divided pizza lovers in the surrounding area. I’d have to say that while the Basin is more consistent, when the Village makes good pizza, it’s better than the Basin.
Rochester is the perfect place to be if you have an adventurous palate. I haven’t been to any of these locations (yet!) but all of Rochester’s Google reviews can’t be wrong.
Kamara’s West African: This joint also scored 4.6 stars on Google reviews. Reviewers loved the great prices, the red snapper, the ginger juice, and the excellent atmosphere.
Livie’s Jamaican Restaurant: With 253 Google reviews, Livie’s wins 4.5 stars. Reviewers mentioned flavorful food, a great deal on a $5 lunch special, vegetarian options, and good service.
Zemeta Ethiopian Restaurant: Zemeta has a near-perfect score of 4.8 stars. They have a great lunch buffet, nice owner, vegetarian options, and authentic food.
The French Quarter: The French Quarter earns a 4.3 star rating on Google reviews — nothing to sneeze at. This place serves Cajun food (What else were you expecting with a name like that?) Reviewers rave about the etouffee, beignets, and the nice atmosphere, but maybe visit on a day you don’t have much going on, since some complained about slow service.
Now that you’ve got my list, get out there and get adventuring in Rochester’s foodie scene! There hasn’t been a better time to give Rochester businesses some love.
Editor’s note (10/15/2020): A previous version of this article had a note from the writers to the editors published, with an incorrect link. The note has since been deleted. Language was also change for the Pontillo’s Pizzeria entry to clarify that they are separately owned and operated.