Rochester, New York has a plethora of dining choices from dimly-lit, romantic farm-to-table restaurants like Lento, Cure, and The Revelry to a glut of greasy hot dog joints that serve up their own versions of the infamous Nick Tahou’s Garbage Plate (a heaping conglomeration of twin cheeseburger patties atop a bed of macaroni salad and home fries slathered with hot sauce, onions, and mustard). But if you want to try something completely different and you haven’t explored the gastronomically distinct landscape of this Western New York city, here are five culturally diverse eateries that will take you all around the world without flying.
1- SEA (Southeast Asia Restaurant)
Listed in the local directories as Asian Fusion, the menu reflects a very strong Vietnamese influence, with its piece de resistance being a steaming hot bowl of pho complete with a plate of fresh bean sprouts and aromatic herbs. Be sure to order Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls with peanut sauce before you fill up with soup. With two locations at 741 Monroe Avenue and 1675 Mount Hope Avenue, getting to one is only a 15-minute drive from anywhere.
At first glance of the menu, one might be overwhelmed with the more than 150 options available, but with a little help from an “employee” – they are all family – you’re sure to find a dish that will please your palate. They always ask if you would like your food to be “mild, medium, or spicy”, and once your order is placed, service is snappy. There are two locations at 376 Jefferson Road in Henrietta and 6720 Pittsford-Palmyra Road in Fairport and each has an all-you-can-eat buffet for $13.99 on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings respectively, with a generous display of vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings. No meal is complete without a side of garlic naan and a refreshing mango lassi.
Some of the freshest food I have ever eaten has come out of this Lebanese kitchen with unfailing consistency. The hosts welcome you through their doors as if you were family. Start with an appetizer of shanklish; somehow the goat cheese and oregano seem to have a dichotomous, deliciously palate-cleansing effect. The shawarma is incredibly tender and delicately seasoned. The falafel is the best I have had; a perfectly shaped sphere that is crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. They’ll put it on a bed of mixed greens and feta, on top of a thin-crust pizza with sun-dried tomato pesto drizzled with a creamy tahini yogurt, or rolled in a toasted pita with banana peppers, tomatoes, and tahini dressing. They are hidden in a little plaza at 1220 Fairport Road in Fairport behind Abbott’s Frozen Custard.
4- The Old Toad
I’ve been known to embarrass myself and my party by trying out my British accent when ordering a meal in this adorably kitschy downtown establishment. They actually invite British students to come over from England to intern for a year to gain experience running a small business by working as servers, bartenders, and kitchen staff. Ordering the Scotch Egg is non-negotiable, and even my son, who subsists on mac n’ cheese and a burger with nothing on it, can’t pass up the Shepard’s Pie. Find it at 277 Alexander Street in the art-deco Medical Arts Building.
5- Zemeta Ethiopian Restaurant
This eponymous restaurant is a great stop for vegetarians and ravaging carnivores alike. There are eight different spins on beef like Gomen Bessiga, a sauteed beef dish seasoned with garlic, onions, and ginger on top of collard greens. Lamb and chicken entrees are also available, but their real claim to fame is the Vegetarian Combo flanked with plenty of injera – an African sourdough flatbread – which Zemeta will even make gluten-free upon request. A vegetarian buffet is available on Fridays and Saturdays. They are located at 1015 South Clinton Avenue in the Swillburg neighborhood.