Last updated on December 1, 2022 by Wandering our World

If you’re an outdoorsy kind of person who’s into hiking and exploring places, you’re going to love Watkins Glen. Nestled in the heart of the Finger Lakes region, this idyllic town is the perfect spot to start discovering New York’s most scenic and famous places, such as the gorgeous waterfalls within Watkins Glen State Park, or the Watkins Glen International automobile road racing track. 

Of course, all that fun calls for a satisfying meal for hungry hikers, and this place has an abundance of eateries worth a visit (or two!).

So here are some of our favorite restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY, where you can experience some of New York City’s finest chefs in action in aesthetically pleasing settings. Bon appetit! 

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Our Top Eight Picks for the Best Restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY

1. Curly’s Family Restaurant 

Long-standing diner serving comfy breakfast and lunch in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere

Located just a short walk away from Watkins Glen State Park, Curly’s Family Restaurant is the neighborhood’s favorite family diner.

This veteran spot, established back in 1955, has been dishing out country-style eats in all its home-cooking glory at affordable rates, so you can enjoy great-tasting food without breaking the bank. Settle down in their casual dining room with wood-paneled booths and homey decor, where the courteous waitstaff never fails to make you feel at home and welcomed.

A simple menu of scratch-made soul foods keeps hungry patrons satisfied, as everything is served in heaping portions and in an unpretentious, comfy manner. Expect hearty breakfasts of eggs fried to your preference served with the perfect fat-to-crisp ratio of bacon, or homemade corned beef along with the best sausage gravy and biscuits in town.

Lunch offerings are equally generous and humble while being packed with flavors, such as the cheesy breaded chicken Sorrento or the all-time favorite fried chicken. The menu also expands to seafood picks like pan-seared scallops and a refreshing shrimp scampi, all of which are bound to satisfy the biggest of appetites. Ask for a gluten-friendly meal, and they’ll do everything to accommodate your needs. And don’t forget to check out the daily specials! 

Although their restaurant has been remodeled many times, their comfy food hasn’t changed one bit and continues to warm up hungry souls to this day. Curly’s is open every day from 8 am to 3 pm. 

Address: 2780 NY-14, Watkins Glen, NY

Delicious breakfast on a light table
Photo for illustrative purposes only. iStock.com/tbralnina

2. Montage Italian Grill

Quaint Italian eatery by the lakeside with outdoor seats on a deck serving rustic Italian dishes

We’re suckers for those places you stumble across by accident, only to discover their praise-worthy food and service. Montage Italian Grill is one of those restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY, tucked away inside the upper floor of Glen Motors Inn north of the town.

This relatively undiscovered gem overlooks Seneca Lake through large windows from within a low-key dining room that has a very old-school charm to it. Outdoor seating is on their deck on simple bar stools, with panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding scenery. A no-fuss atmosphere makes it one of the best eateries by the lakeside, where you can walk in, snag a table by the windows, and devour great-tasting Italian food.

Speaking about food, you can expect it to be hearty, rustic Italian, and freshly made, as the place has been owned by an Italian family for decades, and they really know their way about good Italian food!

Start with their eggplant french fries that are tossed in a delicious blend of seasoning and served with house sauces, or the refreshing and zingy shrimp cocktail. Next up are the rich and savory mains, such as the cheesy chicken parmigiana or the perfectly al dente linguine with fresh clams.

A couple of burgers also grace the menu, alongside a few seafood mains and salads. The menu changes regularly and is fine-tuned to feature just a few dishes, but whatever they do dish out is always expertly executed, in generous portions, and positively teeming with mozzarella! 

New specials roll out weekly, and you can expect an interesting wine selection every time you dine here. Although this place shuts down operations during the off-season, we highly recommend spending a summer evening here for a relaxing lakeside dinner. They’re open on Fridays and Saturdays, 4-8 pm, but do call them up before dropping by. 

Address: 3380 NY-14, Watkins Glen, NY

3. Thai Elephants 

Authentic Thai food with adjustable heat levels served in an elegant setting and casual atmosphere 

If you haven’t had authentic Thai food in a while, this is your cue to drop by Thai Elephants – pronto! This thriving little spot is one of the most popular restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY, where people flock to try out spicy, flavor-packed Thai dishes.

Despite its popularity, the restaurant has a calm and quiet atmosphere, with traditional Thai decor, wood-paneled walls, and various elegant-looking seating arrangements. Come in casual, comfy clothes or for a fancy dinner date – it’s perfect for all occasions!

Pretty much everything on their extensive menu tastes authentically Thai, fresh, and well-balanced in terms of flavors.

Appetizers include delectable crab rangoons and soft and chewy dumplings, along with rice paper-wrapped summer rolls that are oh-so-refreshing to munch on. Soups and salads are pretty vibrant too, and we especially love the Thai salad drizzled with peanut sauce.

Moving on to the entrees, their curries, such as the Panang curry and the red chili-infused red curry, are a must-try. You can always adjust the heat according to your preference, but we dare you to try the eye-watering, nose-dripping ‘Thai’ level of spiciness. Drunken noodles, lobster Pad Thai, and spicy basil fried rice are other dishes that we highly recommend trying out, and you can choose from plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free picks too.

Bring along your favorite wine with no corkage fee, and savor the memorable service and intense flavors of the food at Thai Elephants. Walk in without any reservations, any day between Wednesday to Monday, 11.30 am – 2 pm for lunch and 5 pm – 9 pm for dinner. 

Address: 133 E 4th St, Watkins Glen, NY

beef pad thai and chicken satay dinner viewed from above
Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/rez-art

4. Nickel’s Pit BBQ

Lively spot for BBQ and craft beers in an open-air venue with a patio and live music 

BBQ and beers? Nothing beats that smokey and savory combo, especially after a long day out hiking, and if you’re in Watkins Glen, there’s no better place than Nickel’s Pit BBQ for that.

Located just a short walk away from Seneca Lake, this is one heck of a lively spot for perfectly barbecued meat, with live music and a never-ending supply of beer in an open-air ambiance. Inside, you’ll find plenty of seats in a casual, brick-walled atmosphere, along with a long bar that extends to the outdoor seating area. When the weather is nice, you’ll love sitting on their fenced-in patio under glimmering lights, but they’ve got space heaters for the cold days too. 

As for the menu, it’s packed with all things BBQ and cheese. Everything is sourced locally, including the meat, which is why their food tastes exceptionally fresh and delish! A mouth-watering list of appetizers gets the waterworks inside the mouth flowing, which includes brisket nachos, their famous Pig Wings (fried ribs), and cheese and ranch-drenched tots.

Decadent BBQ sandwiches make for a quick and easy bite, while the BBQ platters let you get your fingers dirty as you devour the intensely flavored, dry-rubbed, fall-off-the-bone meats with the most amazing house sauces. Get your favorite combos – say pulled pork and brisket – with cornbread, and the sides of your choice, and pair them with one of their many local craft beers. Unreal, unbeatable, undeniably good! 

Drop by this decade-old neighborhood staple any day from 4 pm onwards for a late lunch or dinner, and noon onwards on weekends. No reservations needed – they have a no-fuss first come first serve policy. Note: during winter months, they’re only open on a limited schedule. 

Address: 207 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 

Full rack of BBQ grilled pork spare ribs on a marble board
Photo for illustrative purposes only (iStock.com/Vladimir Mironov)

5. El Rancho 

Vibrant spot for Tex-Mex cuisine and drinks with patio seating, regular live music, and parties.

Margaritas, music, and some good ol’ tacos and nachos – you can find all of that fun stuff right here at El Rancho on Franklin Street. Serving Tex-Mex cuisine in a bright atmosphere, this place is another local favorite, where people go for satisfying meals and a fish tank worth of margaritas to end the evening with.

Inside their lively, yellow, and orange-themed dining area, you can casually settle down on one of the tables or the bar, and dive into the flavorsome food they dish out all day long. Or, you could put on your cutest dress and drop by on Friday nights when it’s ladies’ night, complete with a DJ, cocktails, and Mexican snacks! Frequent live music events and parties keep the atmosphere upbeat and slightly clubby on some nights, while those who’d like to have a quiet meal can always settle on their patio. 

It’s the flavor-packed food, though, that keeps drawing the crowds back for more at this vibrant eatery. Chips and mild and hot salsa bowls are served as soon as you’re seated, while you get to pick from a variety of margaritas, tequilas, and beers.

Next, you can chomp on their drool-worthy pork and pineapple tacos (Tacos al Pastor), or fajitas with a refreshing guacamole salad. Don’t forget the Burrito Loco stuffed with mango pico and Roja salsa, and the downright delicious quesadillas! Oh and, you can get most of the dishes to be served as vegetarian picks, so it’s a win-win for everyone here. 

Tuesdays come with discounted tacos all day long, while weekends are lively with DJs and drinks flowing freely in the room. So drop by this fun place any day from 11.30 am onwards, and linger as late as 1 am at the bar. 

Address: 212 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY 

Many types of tacos on the table.
Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/Gulcin Ragiboglu

6. Blue Pointe Grille

Upscale hotel restaurant serving breakfast and elevated American fare with a spacious patio offering a view of the lake

One of the more swanky restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY, Blue Pointe Grille inside the Harbor Hotel doesn’t just serve up refined American eats but also offers a polished and elegant ambiance for you to feel bougie in.

Carpeted floors, brick pillars, and luxurious seats make for a pleasant atmosphere that’s comfortable but not too laid-back, and there’s an elaborate, wood-paneled bar as well that feels really cozy to nestle into. But in our humble opinion, their patio offers the best dining experience, with well-spaced-out tables among colorful flowers and shrubs, with a distant view of the lake. 

Although they only do a limited selection of lunch and dinner offerings that tend to change regularly, it’s inclusive enough for everyone to get a taste of their five-star quality stuff. We suggest ordering their Artisanal charcuterie board to get started with, so you can nibble on hand-selected meats, cheeses, and fruits before the main stars of the evening arrive.

Among the handful of sandwiches are the Beyond Burger, topped with all the good burger stuff inside a kaiser roll, and a crab cake sandwich filled with arugula and drenched in sriracha aioli. Entrees feature a perfectly pan-seared salmon served over farro risotto and a smoked tomato coulis to cut through the richness and a demi-glace filet mignon that will make you roll your eyes in delight.

Let’s not forget their breakfast spread (every day from 7-10.30 am), where you can experience elevated versions of all-time breakfast favorites like blueberry stuffed french toast and cheesy omelets. Blue Pointe Grille is open everyday from 11.30 am – 3 pm for lunch and from 5 pm onwards for dinner. Try and get a reservation before stopping by! 

Address: 16 N Franklin St, Watkins Glen, NY

antipasti, cheese, charcuterie, snacks and wine
Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/netrun78

7. Landons Pub and Pizza

Lively pub featuring delicious bar eats and beers among regular live music and parties

After a long day of huffing and puffing along hiking trails, nothing feels better than stepping into a cozy place like Landons Pub and Pizza for beers and satisfying bar eats. Located off the main drag, this pub is always packed with locals for the most part, and the atmosphere is friendly and relaxing for tourists to join in as well.

A dimmed-out ambiance with a spacious bar and regular live music keep the drinks flowing late into the night, but you can also grab a quick bite to eat at one of the regular tables. They often host karaoke and dance parties on the weekends, where you can meet locals and join in on all the fun.

With a menu full of finger foods, Landons offers all your favorite bar eats in all its greasy goodness (you know, the good kind of greasy – not the overwhelming type!). A huge portion of crispy yet saucy wings, loaded fries, battered cauliflower, and similar tidbits can be devoured alongside a wide array of local beers.

Sandwiches come piled high with fillings, such as the Philly steak with sauteed mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and heaps of cheese, and pizzas always turn out piping hot with stellar flavors. They also do weekly specials which include tacos, prime rib, spaghetti, and more, along with daily specials like orange chicken, poutines, and other drool-worthy stuff. 

Landons remains open between Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am onwards and is one of the very few restaurants in Watkins Glens, NY, to feed hungry patrons as late as 1 am on weekends and midnight on the rest of the days. 

Address: 110 W 4th St, Watkins Glen, NY

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/KucherAV

8. Tobey’s Donut Shop

Decadent donuts, breakfast picks, and coffee served in a casual dining space with a small patio

Big, satisfying breakfast wraps and glazed, gooey donuts is what Tobey’s Donut Shop is all about. This family-owned business has been serving the neighborhood fresh baked goods and breakfast items since way back in 1953, and not much has changed about their food since then.

Even the quaint dining area exudes an old-school vibe, with humble seating arrangements in a small area. Meanwhile, the tiny patio has a handful of benches surrounded by neat flowers during the summer and festive decor during winter, so either way, you’ll love the pleasant vibes here!

Once you get a taste of their city-wide famous donuts, you’ll understand what all the hype is about and why this is a local favorite among restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY. Made with age-old family recipes, they’re made daily in-house, with various flavors such as the ever so popular sour cream donuts or the delightful cinnamon apple cider donuts.

Breakfast includes everything from omelets, corned beef hash, hefty sandwiches, and wraps, along with hot coffee and juices to keep you energized for the day. Everything is home cooked, hot, and moderately priced, which is why it’s a good idea to stop by this place for a filling meal before you head out to explore the town. 

Tobey’s is open every day from 6 am to 1 pm, and breakfast is served until 11 am. If you plan to visit them during winter, give them a call before heading out – they tend to limit their hours and business days during those months.  

Address: 137 E 4th St, Watkins Glen, NY

Restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY – Final Thoughts

With dozens of local eateries to satisfy hungry folks, the choices for dining in are seemingly unlimited in this town.

So drop by some of our favorite restaurants in Watkins Glen, NY, and save yourself the hassle of looking up places!