Lancaster County’s Restaurant Scene: So Much More than Smorgasbords!

For people who love to eat, Lancaster County has long been a destination. World famous among visitors to the area for endless buffets and delicious PA Dutch specialties and desserts, there weren’t always many options available for “fancy” dining, as “plain” food was the profitable tourist draw. However, Lancaster City and its surrounding towns have recently been building a serious restaurant scene to rival much larger metropolitan regions.

This restaurant revolution has been somewhat quiet, and unless you’re a local, you may not have realized just how many great new eateries have opened in the last decade. Here at the end of the 2010s, you can now find everything from authentic tacos and Thai cuisine to wine bars and Southern-style barbeque. And while the scene has expanded most rapidly in downtown Lancaster (a robust 79% growth trend since 2008), every section of Lancaster County has welcomed new dining establishments.

So, what are some of your best bets that don’t involve all-you-can-eat mashed potatoes and buttered noodles?

Lancaster City Fine Dining

It’s probably true that if you vacationed in Lancaster County in the later part of the 20th century, or even in the early 2000s, you never ventured into the City of Lancaster itself. It’s just a quick trip from the Lincoln Highway lodging zone, but there just wasn’t much to do downtown for visitors (or even for residents) beyond visiting Central Market on a Saturday morning or seeing a show at the Fulton Theatre for a very long time.

There were a few “nice” restaurants scattered around – The Loft on West Orange Street, for example, has been open since 1973 – but it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that things began to change. It’s difficult to pinpoint, but the Belvedere Inn’s opening on North Queen Street in 1998 may mark the beginning of the restaurant renaissance in Lancaster.

Still a fantastic spot for a romantic meal or even a fun family get-together (private dining areas are available by reservation), The Belvedere defines Lancaster City fine dining. Self-described as upscale casual, there is no formal dress code, and although the service is impeccable and the food finely crafted, the atmosphere is fun and comfortable. And this unpretentious take on fine dining has inspired many others, too.

Other favorites include:

  • Carr’s, recently expanded by Central Market, though a fixture in Lancaster since 2000.
  • Checkers Bistro on Harrisburg Avenue.
  • Ma(i)son on North Prince Street, which has received rave reviews from celebrity chefs!
  • Amorette, just opened in 2018, but already a date night destination.
  • TE at the Inn at Leola Village, while not in Lancaster City, we didn’t want to leave this one off the list – a rare recipient of both Forbes’ 5 Star rating and 5 Diamonds awarded by AAA (just minutes east of downtown on Rt. 23).

Pizza and Italian Food

Though it may not seem obvious, Lancaster County has pretty much always been home to delicious New York-style pizza and tasty Italian food. Almost every single town and village in the county has at least one Italian eatery, and this environment has nurtured generations of skilled chefs and bakers to create unrivaled meals. For instance, did you know that one of the best pizzas anywhere can be had at Root’s Country Market outside of Manheim?

Norma’s – an unassuming stand at the busy weekly farmer’s market – produces amazingly simple yet delectable pies that have attracted international attention and even won the coveted Caputo Cup in 2016. (And Norma herself was just featured on a holiday episode of Chopped on the Food Network!) Want to try the creations for yourself? You can buy by the slice on market day (every Tuesday), but whole pizzas need to be preordered.

On the other end of the Italian food spectrum, LUCA (in downtown Lancaster and brought to you by the team behind Ma(i)son), is an upscale take on traditional Neapolitan and other delectable regional dishes. The restaurant also prides itself on a unique drink menu that includes wines from every part of Italy, as well as Amaro-based cocktails that aren’t widely available in the United States.

Asian Cuisine/Sushi

With sushi’s general rise in popularity, Lancaster County has seen tons of new places to get a great roll or some sashimi pop up in recent years. Sushi isn’t the only Asian food on the menu, though. Lancaster has long been home to several highly-rated classic Chinese and Indian restaurants, and more exotic choices have been opening, too. Pan-Asian, Thai, and even Himalayan and Burmese options are now easy to come by.

These are just a few of our favorites:

Funky Bars, Pubs, and Spots to Grab a Drink

While a few of the eateries we’ve already mentioned in other categories could also be considered funky bars and go-to places to have creative cocktails, there are quite a few establishments that have built their reputations on serving utterly unique drinks in one-of-a-kind atmospheres.

Whether you’re a wine aficionado, or you enjoy craft brews or distilled beverages, Lancaster County has got you covered today. It’s true that parts of the region are still officially “dry,” but that hasn’t prevented a separate bar and tasting room culture from thriving. Additionally, most of these watering holes also serve incredible food with their lovingly crafted libations.

You won’t want to miss these great spots:

But we still love a good smorgasbord!

We admit that there are still times when you just want that big buffet-style meal, and don’t worry – these epic dining experiences are very much alive and well in Lancaster County. TripAdvisor offers a well-round list that includes the best of the best: Miller’s (in the heart of Amish Country in Ronks) and Shady Maple (aka “the largest buffet in the USA,” East Earl).

No matter what you’re hungry for, Lancaster County can satisfy your appetite. And that includes your appetite for an overall carefree lifestyle in retirement!

All of our independent retirement communities are just minutes away from delicious dining establishments across the county, and many also feature their own award-winning on-campus dining options, too.

Ready to learn more about why Lancaster is a great place to retire? Get in touch with us here at Explore Retirement Living today!