I lived in Syracuse for many years until relocating to the NYC area several years ago. Now that my work has begun to bring me back here on occasion and I've seen Syracuse dining questions a few times in this forum (mostly justifiably bemoaning the lack of options... here are my thoughts on the current options:
Italian - Rosalie's Cucina in Skaneatles, Antonio's on N. Salina or Giovanni's Osteria Paesano in Ithaca (northern Italian) are all good choices. Antonio's is a bit date but they have an incredible Italian style filet mignon and good sauce. I'm not a fan of Casa de Copani (a friend got veal there and discovered mold on it when she got home and looked at the doggie bag contents in good lighting). Santangelo's and Dominick's are targeted at the mass market - cheap but you get what you pay for. Pastabilities is not really Italian and its a bit noisy for my liking but they have excellent pasta. Love their carbonara, alfredo and pink sauce but not crazy about their regular red sauce.
Pizza - not too impressed with the woodfired pizza at Movinos in Armory Square. Also very unimpressed with Twin Trees although lots of people seem to like it. Johnnys Pizza off East Colvin behind Peters Grocery used to have the best pizza in Syracuse it actually rivaled or exceeded the best that NYC had to offer but a few years ago they switched cheeses to that same godawful stuff that some many shops use these days (called Grande cheese its the ubiquitous and lousy tasting stuff that so many NYC pizza shops are now using). If you like messy, relatively thin crust NYC style Neopolitan pizza, Cosmos on Marshall Street is the only place in town to get it. Parking is a hassle but its worth the trouble.
Mid-Eastern Munjeds on Westcott Street has gotten overpriced and portions are small. King Davids on Marshall Street is still the king. Theres a new place on Erie Blvd East near Bruce just east of Westmoreland. Has a mid-eastern food store and a restaurant (its the old Giovannis). Got take-out from there and it was really over priced with average quality. The dining room looked really dark and sort of institutional looking.
French - L'Adour - the only game in town for French and they are very good. Have tried bistro menu but haven't eaten upstairs yet. If its as good as the downstairs it should be wonderful (it is $38 price fixe and the menu looks great)
Steak - Scotch 'n Sirloin is good but too rustic/manly an atmosphere for my taste. Saratoga Steaks is very good and nice atmosphere but service has been spotty on my last few visits.
BBQ - I'll disagree with most folks - I'm not a big fan of Dinosaur except for their pulled pork. If you can find John-John's cart he has the best ribs and his chicken is very good. He now has a HUGE 20ft long cooker that he tows with a small firetruck and is sometimes set up in the Rit-Aid parking lot at corner of W. Onondaga Street and South Ave. If you want to find out where he'll be just head up by Levy school at corner of Westmoreland and Houston - he lives a few doors away on Houston and is often out front cleaning or working on the cooker. Truly great ribs but very pricey.
Thai - I personally like Ehrawan's food the best but their atmosphere is like a cafeteria. Lemongrass is IMHO overpriced and food is good but nothing like Thai Cuisine in Ithaca (which is operated by the brother of the Lemongrass proprietor). Make the drive to Ithaca or go to Thai Village on Erie Blvd. Less rushed than Ehrawan, much better atmosphere and just a tad pricier and the food is really good (plus the people are very nice).
Vietnamese - Mai Lan on North State is still the best but their prices just jumped up significantly. They are really, really nice people trying to make it work and I support their efforts by paying the higher prices. Tried the new Vietnames on Park Street in the old Danzer's location but was unimpressed - cheap but not that good. Also tried New Century on Kirkpatrick. In between the first two on prices and I've had their pho w/meatballs to go (it was good) but haven't eaten in. It's a weird building - used to be Natalie's back in the 80's - home of the all-you-cab-eat King crab leg special.
German - I think Weber's may still be around - not sure about Gruen's but German is not my thing and I can't comment.
Mexican - Alto Cinco on Westcott is the bomb! Great food and nice NYC style bistro atmosphere. Juanitas on Court is really worn out and La Bamba in Lakeland has sucked ever since the original owner Angel left (not sure if theyre even still open).
Southwestern/Pan-Asian - Mission is the only place in town with this food. I know and really like the owner Steve M. but I was not overly impressed by the food on my visit there. Will give them another chance as I appreciate what they are trying to offer.
Polish - Evas in Solvay is a little known gem. Fantastic food, great European style pastries and desserts. If you have preconceived notions about Polish food, please discard them and visit this place. Rarely crowded, friendly service and low prices. Be sure to try the potato pancakes and the fresh sauerkraut (it will change your mind about sauekraut).
Ive had dinner for two with a tea, a cappuccino, shared appetizer, two entrees and two desserts for well under $30 w/tax and tip!
Continental - havent tried many of the local places that fit this category but was pleasantly surprised when I finally ate at Pascales. Id heard that they were ridiculously overpriced and also overrated but now that I live in the NYC area and have more reference points, I think theyre not bad for the Syracuse market. they are a bit overpriced for the market but have some game dishes on the menu and my dinner was excellent including dessert. The Inn Between restaurant on Rte. 5 going towards Elbridge/Auburn is terrific but very traditional both in food and atmosphere. This is a jacket and tie type of place great place to take the folks for a special meal and they have killer lobster bisque but its very stuffy and not my style at all. Tried the 238 Bistro (or some such name) that is in Armory Square same kitchen and owner as Lemongrass. Pricey and NYC trendy style food presentation but I was not impressed. probably just me but I couldnt see the value.
Seafood I dont know of any local restaurants specializing in seafood and even when we had a few they were questionable (Jonathans was a step up from Red Lobster and Toms Clam Cove was truly mediocre when I tried it years ago). Best bet is to take-out the fried haddock or scallops from the Fish Cove in Shop City at Teall and Grant Blvd. (they may have other locations?). Its the real deal and always perfectly cooked, especially the scallops very tough to find real scallops battered and fried the right way but these guys pull it off.
Soul Food - Hmmm the House of Soul (on Burnet in the old Pascales location) was a good idea and terrible execution. Ive always found bits and pieces in various places that were good but never one consistent source for good soul food. Gwens on South Salina across from Valley Plaza seems to have gone down hill since she graduated form having the outdoor cart to the sit-down restaurant. There is a place called Smittys Smokehouse on South Ave near the corner of Colvin. Some years back they had the best fried chicken in the city and some good sides not sure if its still the case but will re-investigate. Its a a pretty friendly place and clean as I recall. Theres a church on South Salina between Colvin and Brighton on the west side of the street a few doors away from the fire station. In the good weather they have a tent out front and sell barbecue dinners to go on the weekends. Its a one story brick structure doesnt look like a church food is very good and a great value. Down the block there is sometimes a table near the corner of Colvin where the Black Muslim ladies sell some excellent bean pies to raise money for building a mosque on the South Side.
Jamaican - I lament the loss of Home Sweet Home Foods on West Onondaga. The proprietor, Claudette Twum, was not always customer friendly according to some folks but she was nice to me and the food was consistently good and portions decent size. I havent tried the place that went in after her. Several other Caribbean / West Indian places have come and gone none too memorable. Fortunately the gap is filled by
Bongos known as the Jerk Hut, its on South Ave across from the Southwest Community Center (about three blocks south of the W. Onondaga Street intersection).
Miscellaneous - Id be remiss if I didnt mention the outstanding roast beef sandwiches at Clarks Ale House. Really phenomenal. Also worth checking out is Reillys on Park Street its a block from Oak Street in a mostly residential neighborhood. Excellent contemporary menu with good fresh ingredients changes daily depending on whats available but Ive had good meals there in casual relaxed atmosphere and can safely recommend it.
Probably something Ive left out please advise as I have just been informed that Ill be spending much of my time here for the next several months .