Cornell is known for being one of the most ethnically diverse university campuses in the country. It would thus make sense for the school to be surrounded by an enormous variety of international cuisine, ranging from Thai to Mexican, and from Chinese to Indian. Living in Ithaca, I have had the opportunity to taste a lot of different ethnic cuisines that I would not have otherwise, and I would like to say that I am an incrementally more cultured person because of it. While you may not be able to travel the world in 80 days, you can definitely taste it in Collegetown.
Indian: Mehak Cuisine
There are only two restaurants in Collegetown that specialize in Indian cuisine, and they are both on Eddy Street … about two feet away from each other. While Mehak and Sangam may be ridiculously close to one another in proximity, they are worlds apart in terms of their quality and taste. I will admit that I have actually eaten more frequently at Sangam than at Mehak, but that is only because Sangam offers delivery on IthacaToGo.com while Mehak does not. Regardless, the Indian food that Mehak serves versus that of Sangam is substantially tastier. Also, Mehak offers a daily lunch buffet. Game, set, match: Mehak. My favorite dish is the chicken tikka masala; essentially the one that is most well-known to us uncultured Americans. I also usually get garlic nan, a flat bread, to soak up the creamy sauce of the tikka masala. Indian food is extremely vegetarian-friendly, and Mehak’s pindi chana masala (chickpeas with spices and fresh Coriander) comes highly recommended from my vegan housemate.
Korean: Koko Korean Restaurant
Considering the large number of Korean students at Cornell, it makes perfect sense that there are so many Korean restaurants not only around all of Ithaca, but within Collegetown itself. Hands down, the best one of them all is Koko’s. (You can trust me: I’m Korean.) A perfect appetizer for someone who has never tasted Korean food before is pa jun, which is pan-fried wheat batter filled with scallions. If you have ever tried Korean barbecue, then you will love bool go gi, which contains thin slices of marinated beef tenderloin, and is absolutely delicious. If you are in the mood for something warm and comforting, dduk mandoo gook, a rice cake and dumpling soup, is a perfect choice, and one of my favorite meals growing up. Many diners new to Korean cuisine should start with the dolsot bibim bap, which is a mixture of rice, spicy red chili paste, vegetables, egg, and your choice of meat and comes served sizzling in a hot stone pot.
Ah, the never-ending battle between Plum Tree and Miyake: whose Japanese cuisine will reign supreme? My vote goes to Miyake. Maybe it’s the Japanese name or the overall authentically Asian ambience of the place, but for me, Miyake is just more convincing; it’s simply more genuine. I always start off any meal at Miyake with their steamed shumai, which are soft, round shell dumplings filled with shrimp and happiness. If you are like most people who think that Japanese food starts and ends with sushi, then you are in luck: Miyake offers a plethora of rolls, from the classic California roll to the spicy BBQ beef roll. My personal favorite is the Crazy Girl, which consists of spicy tuna, eel and avocado, all deep-fried and topped with a spicy sauce. For those of you who are willing to venture into the unknown and try something that is not sushi, the katsu don is a delicious choice. It is a deep-fried pork loin sautéed with vegetables and eggs, and it is guaranteed to leave you full and satisfied.
American: Rulloff’s Restaurant
While it is relatively easy to make American fare and have it taste “good”, finding a restaurant that excels at it is surprisingly difficult: Rulloff’s accomplishes this feat and serves the best American food in Collegetown. One of their knockout appetizers is the loaded French fries with “the works:” their signature fries topped with melted cheese, chili and bacon … I have legitimately found myself dreaming about those fries. The baked French onion soup is some of the best that I have ever tasted at any restaurant, including much pricier restaurants in New York City. As far as the entrees go, Rulloff’s serves your typical hearty American food, ranging from shepherd’s pie filled with Black Angus, vegetables and baked with asiago mashed potatoes, to the classic turkey club sandwich. However, my favorite meal at Rulloff’s is the succulent signature burger made from Black Angus, which you can top with your choice of cheese, bacon, mushrooms or sautéed onions.