Watkins Glen is located at the south end of Seneca Lake in the heart of the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. This glacial lake region is noted for several state parks, scenery, camping, Bed & Breakfasts, wineries, and food (especially grapes).
Seneca Lake pier is located in downtown Watkins Glen, NY, which is filled with locally owned restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars. You will work up an appetite after hiking and exploring Watkins Glen State Park. Let me share some food spots with you.
7 Must-Try Watkins Glen Restaurants
107 11th Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-210-6080
The unique name of this restaurant was inspired by the nickname of the owner, Roc Menio. He is known for taking risks. His friends called him “Kook,” which evolved into “Kookalaroc.”
The interior design with a sculpted beam structure, shiny gears and car parts gives homage to the racing heritage of the village. A motorcycle is positioned on a crossbeam. Part of the bar is suspended from truck springs, car axles and tow chains.
Roc and Lorraine Menio were inspired to open the restaurant to support the community and create a new menu offering dishes never done before.
When you want fresh seafood, this is the place to go. You’ll feel like you are on the coast of Florida when seated outside on the terrace.
Sip on a Tropical Martini while you wait for your order. Check out the specials. Taco Tuesday specials usually include Fish or Shrimp Tacos with a side of Kooks fries.
The Broiled Seafood Platter is one of my favorites. It’s seafood heaven. Take a deep dive into some Steamed Clams, Shrimp Scampi or a Fish Fry.
Beyond seafood are soup, salad, burgers, ribeye, mac & cheese, and unexpected unique dishes. Jump in and try something new.
The best dessert is their Crème Brulee Cheesecake made with Madagascar vanilla beans topped with a crunchy Brulee sugar topping, whipped cream and strawberries. Definitely one of the best Watkins Glen restaurants.
204 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-210-4324
When I asked around about the best places to eat, everyone said that Graft Wine +Cider Bar was one of the best Watkins Glen restaurants. They source locally from the premium Finger Lakes producers.
The chef thoughtfully prepares each dish in-house using fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Don’t just take my word for how wonderful it is. Here is what other diners had to say, “It was a fantastic meal. The food and service at this place were spectacular. For an appetizer, we had roasted peppers that were ever so slightly charred and delicious. The duck was cooked to perfection. My hubby who “doesn’t like duck” couldn’t keep his fork away from my plate. He had the PEI mussels, which came with a light cream sauce and was very different from the usual wine sauce. We soaked up the sauces and juices with the delicious bread. We also took advantage of their nice wine selection.”
The signature selections are artful creations. Warm sourdough bread paired with their local cheese is a good start.
The Duck Magret may pique your interest. It’s a dry rubbed duck breast, cauliflower, rosemary polenta, and blueberry compote.
Fresh fish always tastes the best. The Local Steelhead Trout dish is pan seared, cauliflower, tomato relish, herbed quinoa salad, and lemon oil.
If the Peach Cobbler is available, I would recommend that for dessert. Great place and definitely deserves it’s spot with the other Watkins Glen restaurants.
400 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-535-4254
Sal and Maria Purpura fell in love with the beautiful, natural surroundings of this Finger Lakes area and you will, too. It reminded them of Italy.
This favorite amongst the Watkins Glen restaurants has an extensive menu and excellent service. You’ll be pleasantly greeted and seated in the authentic Italian atmosphere.
They use ingredients from their local partners. Regional wines and craft beers on tap are featured.
Don’t leave town until you eat here. The Garlic Knots are made fresh to order. It’s worth the wait. Another appetizer selection is Arancini. This Sicilian favorite consists of two hand-rolled rice balls, coated with bread crumbs, filled with beef and peas fried to perfection. It’s served with Sopraffina ricotta and house marinara.
You can cross the finish line simply with Garlic Knots and a Grand Prix Salad. Romaine, baby arugula, artichoke hearts, blueberries, roasted almonds, kalamata olives, tomatoes, red onion, peas, and thin sliced roast beef will rev your engine.
Pizzas are made fresh to order. All pizzas are hand-tossed and cooked using the finest ingredients in deck ovens. Your patience is appreciated. They perfected the Chicken Wing Pizza and make more than a mile of them every year.
You can’t go wrong with the Classic Trio. Sal’s homemade lasagna, fettuccini alfredo and chicken parmigiana are served with garlic cheese bread and a side salad.
There is something for everyone on the menu. Pizza, pasta, oven-baked dishes, char-broiled burgers, steak, fish, veal, chicken, and more. Everything I had was delicious. I will definitely go back again to this gem amongst the Watkins Glen restaurants.
207 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-210-4646
It’s first come, first served at Nickel’s Pit BBQ. There is outdoor patio seating and indoor tables. You can also sit at the bar if you don’t want to wait for a table. It’s also a good way to meet people, which is always fun traveling.
Dig into some Classic Pulled Pork. It’s smoked overnight on local cherrywood and served without sauce on a toasted potato roll. There are a variety of sauces at the table if you want to add your own.
How about the Chopped Brisket? This tender dish is simmered in a coffee-infused red-eye BBQ with a thin-sliced onion and served with a house dill pickle.
You haven’t had wings until you try their Pig Wings. They start with big, meaty St. Louis cut ribs and smoke them for 3-4 hours, crisp them in the fryer, and toss them with the sauce or rub of your choice. Take a bite and snort with delight.
Combo plates are a good way to go. The OG Three is the quintessential combo that includes 1/3 pound each of pulled pork, sliced brisket and Schrader Farms kielbasa. It comes with two sides and cornbread.
The menu also offers chicken and ribs, sides and add-ons. You’re sure to find something smoking good. Amazing place and definitely one of the best Watkins Glen restaurants.
El Rancho Mexican Restaurant & Grill
212 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-210-4497
This locally owned authentic Mexican restaurant is known for its large portions, charming staff, and the best margaritas in the area. It’s definitely one of the best Watkins Glen restaurants.
It’s a piece of Mexico in the heart of the Finger Lakes with outdoor and upstairs dining, large screen TVs, two pool tables, and a foosball table.
The customers and staff alike agree this dish is a favorite—Pollo ala Champignon. Chipotle chicken, mushrooms and guacamole salad.
The Quesadilla al Pastor got my attention. Marinated pork, queso, pineapple, and tomatillo. There are other grand quesadillas, enchiladas and tamales too.
Tacos anyone? If you savor steak, I recommend the Campechano Taco. It’s grilled steak mixed with chorizo, cilantro and mango pico.
Maybe you prefer a fajita or chimichanga. You can choose a grilled chicken, steak or shrimp Fajita with sauteed peppers, onions and guacamole salad. The Chimichangas are fried burritos, chicken or beef, queso, lettuce, sour cream, and tomatoes.
For dessert try the Sopapilla or Churros. The Sopapilla is a puffed pastry topped with honey with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Churros—deep-fried fritter rolled in cinnamon sugar with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Enjoy the festive ambiance and your Mexican meal.
200 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-535-6900
Located on the North end of town, the talented baristas and bakers are ready to serve you locally roasted, fair-trade coffee and fresh-baked goods. There is an assortment of old-fashioned cookies, pastries, chewy brownies, and bars. Want more reasons why this is one of the best Watkins Glen restaurants?
This New York Style deli has hoagies, sandwiches, salads, and homemade soups, as well.
Finger Lakes farms and creameries supply fresh eggs and cheeses.
Stop in for breakfast. The Compton is made with a farm fresh egg, smoked gouda cheese, tomato, and onions on a house-made buttermilk biscuit.
No need to go to the barn to get The Barnyard. A farm-fresh egg, turkey, roast beef, bacon, and American cheese are wrapped in a deli wrap.
Skip the meat and order a Gleamin’ Vegan with seitan, tofu cream cheese, tomato, cucumber, and sprouts on cracked wheat toast.
What’s for lunch? A Finger Lakes Focaccia with turkey, Swiss cheese, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts with mayo on a focaccia roll.
The Smokin’ Joe is good with turkey, smoked gouda, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts with mayo on your choice of bread.
Remember you’re in race town, so it’s no surprise there is a lunch sandwich called the Grand Prix. Rare roast beef, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sprouts with horsey mayo on a focaccia roll.
1 North Franklin Street, Watkins Glen, NY 14891 // 607-535-6101
The address 1 N. Franklin Street represents my #1 place. This waterfront restaurant has a beautiful beach patio where you can enjoy the gentle breeze off Seneca Lake while watching the boats. Fridays and Saturdays, there is live music. You can dine at the restaurant inside or outside. There is also the option of a dinner cruise.
If you rather be seated in the dining room, the large window walls allow you to still enjoy the beauty of Seneca Lake. The dining room is part of the original train station constructed in 1876. The original hardwood floors and mahogany bar add to the flavor of the atmosphere.
The menu features seafood, steak, and ribs. The Seneca Steak & Grilled Shrimp dish gets rave reviews. You get a half-pound sirloin steak seasoned and topped with grilled shrimp served with fresh garlic herb butter.
I had my eye on the Chili Espresso Ribeye. Best steak ever. A ¾-pound ribeye is rubbed with a bold mix of chili’s, espresso beans and a sweet cabernet reduction.
My heart melted when I saw the Fresh Grilled Salmon with Lobster Butter. Grilled fresh salmon topped with rich buttery lobster, fresh tarragon and a dash of brandy.
After digesting those options, this dessert can’t be missed and there is enough to share. The Harbor Raspberry Bongo has cream puffs surrounded by a mountain of mascarpone and cream cheese sweetened with raspberries, topped with warm chocolate fudge with a touch of Chambord.
Take this experience to the next level by accepting the invitation of the Simiele family. You’ll have the most elegant dining experience with views only seen on the water. Climb aboard the Seneca Legacy vessel for Capt. Bill’s dinner cruise. It was spectacular and this is why this place made it into the Watkins Glen restaurants list.
Watkins Glen Restaurants: Wrap Up
You may want to stay awhile so that you can experience these eateries and take in the sights. You already know boats are my preferred way to capture the best views. Capt. Bill’s also offers a sightseeing cruise that is lovely, especially at sunset.
Rest your head at one of the Bed & Breakfasts in town or have a glamping experience.
Experience nature without roughing it. I stayed at NaturLuxe & Stars. There are three types of tents available, platform, bell, or safari tents. There is a community campfire in each area. Modern amenities and a comfortable bed in the safari tent were amazing. This space was created and designed with style. Give glamping a go. This one is located next to Watkins Glen International Racetrack. Check out the other racetrack events and festivals while you’re there.
Watkins Glen in upstate NY is a gorgeous area with much to do, see, and eat. I get homemade ice cream when I’m there. It reminds me of when my mom and I visited there together and discovered vanilla homemade ice cream in a five-and-dime store. This time I found many flavors at the Colonial Inn and Creamery. Have fun and make memories with your loved ones.
Visiting other destinations in the region? Check out our other delicious guides:
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