Finding the best restaurants in the Finger Lakes region requires both less and more research than I’m used to. Less, because the options are limited. More, because we found it difficult to find the truly good among them. In keeping with the rural and outdoor nature of the Finger Lakes, even the fine-dining restaurants listed below retain a relaxed, semi-casual vibe.
Best romantic restaurant: Pleasant Valley Inn
Best Menu: Ports Café
Restaurant With the Best View: Ginny Lee Café
Most Relaxing Restaurant: Blue Pointe Grille
Because of covid-19 restrictions, we selected restaurants that either served outside or, by law, at well-spaced tables inside. Reservations are either required or strongly recommended since seating can be limited, particularly on the weekends. Note: Since pandemic restrictions can change, check out the current status before reserving.
For Lunch, Ginny Lee Café
Ginny Lee Café shares a property with Wagner Vineyards and Wagner Brewing Company. As the host told me when I made my reservation, “Even the kitchen has a beautiful view of Seneca Lake.” Despite that assurance, we specified an outside table with the best view possible and were seated against the railing, looking out. Beautiful, indeed.
We ordered two different chicken sandwiches: the Balsamic Grilled Chicken on ciabatta bread, and the Brew Pub Crispy Chicken with bacon and doppelbock mustard on a pretzel roll. Both were good, though not memorable. Because we had reservations at the winery right after lunch, we opted for beers from the brewery. Here, the food is good, but the view is even better.
The Ginny Lee Café makes a good spot to stop for lunch on the eastern side of Seneca Lake. Service was a little slow, so make sure you allot enough time.
Pleasant Valley Inn
For a more formal, white tablecloth dinner in the Finger Lakes region, we chose the Pleasant Valley Inn. Although the Victorian décor, with its floral wallpaper and carved chairs, could elsewhere seem fussy, the atmosphere stayed true to the rural area with its friendly, not stiff, staff. For appropriate attire, I would recommend business casual, although a little dressier would also fit right in.
We shared two appetizers. Our server recommended the Philly Cheese Steak Spring Rolls — ironic, since we live in Pennsylvania. The spring rolls came cut into four pieces, perfect for a couple to split. And yes, they tasted delicious, as good as the server had promised. We supplemented the rolls with a gorgonzola and roast pear salad, another excellent choice.
For our entrées, we ordered the house-made pappardelle with a cherry tomato Bolognese sauce and the Faroe Island glazed salmon. Although the pappardelle was good, it tasted more pedestrian than the salmon with its kumquat glaze. For dessert, we shared a slice of tart key lime pie.
I loved the inventive menu at Ports Café, but my husband found the restaurant too noisy, even with pandemic occupancy restrictions in place. Located just south of the town of Geneva, Ports Café attracts a vibrant clientele. Like many of the best restaurants in the Finger Lake region, Ports Café has a casual vibe, with most people dressed in business casual attire. Its popularity makes reservations essential.
The hostess handed us two menus, the Signature Menu and the daily special menu, providing us with almost too many options. My husband and I both gravitated toward the supplemental menu for its more unusual selections. We started with crispy rice cakes topped with spicy crab and jalapeno slices. I loved the melding of flavors; however, the cakes could have been less chewy. We added a loaf of sourdough bread with roasted garlic butter.
For dinner, my husband once again chose salmon, this one with harissa sauce. I ordered the Alaskan halibut with broccolini and cauliflower/potato puree. Both fishes were cooked perfectly, with moist flesh, and the flavor of the accompaniments complemented each well.
For dessert, we shared the signature chocolate fudge torte as per our server’s suggestion. Although the brownie-like flavor and texture were satisfying, the reality didn’t match the server’s hype. If I returned, I’d save myself the calories.
Blue Point Grille
Located in the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen, the Blue Pointe Grille abuts the marina. We ate dinner outside at a patio table with a panoramic view of the boats and water. Although the inside restaurant was closed due to coronavirus restrictions, I would still opt to eat outside even if it were open – weather permitting, of course.
After sharing a delicious Orchard Harvest Salad, we feasted on twin Maine lobster rolls, fries, and a bottle of Pleasant Valley Brut “Champagne.” The lobster rolls, while not among the best I’ve had, tasted sweet enough to pair perfectly with the sparkling wine.
The menu ranges from casual sandwiches to full entrées, many served with pasta.
Other Popular Restaurants in the Region
We couldn’t fit the wildly popular Stonecat Café into our itinerary due to its limited hours. Thai Elephants also came highly recommended, but with other restaurants we wanted to try first, we never got there.
For foodies, the best restaurants in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York remain somewhat limited in number. For a quiet, romantic dinner or special occasion, I highly recommend Pleasant Valley Inn. Because Ports Café serves excellent food in a bustling atmosphere, it’s probably better for groups or when you crave a more varied menu. For a view of the marina in Watkins Glen, Blue Point Grille offers quiet yet casual service for both lunch and dinner. And if you’re on the eastern side of Seneca Lake, The Ginny Lee Café is great choice for a casual lunch with a view.
Wine lovers should check out my detailed tour of Finger Lakes wineries.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann