Italian bread from Columbus Baking Co.
1) Columbus Baking Co: 502 Pearl St, Syracuse, NY
The two best smells in the neighborhood when the wind is just right: Dinosaur Bar-B-Que and this small, old world bakery on Pearl Street. Serving some of the best bread in the city from of a bakery location that is over 118 years old, it's hard not to put Columbus Baking Co as #1 on this list. Using the same brick oven that's been in use for generations, a loaf of freshly baked Italian style bread really doesn't get any better than it does here. In 2008, Columbus Meats and Cheeses opened up right next door serving sliced-to-order Boar's Head meats like sopressotta, salami, proscuitto, and capicola, cheeses like locatelli, mozzarella, and asiago, and offering six different varieties of olives. They're great toppings to go with their already amazing breads. Pizza dough should also not go unnoticed. Between the bakery and deli, you can make an excellent pie for under $10 - all rung up its still in operation, 50-year-old cash register.
2) Asti Caffe: 411 N Salina St, Syracuse, NY
While going through several incarnations prior, Asti Caffe officially opened its doors in 2001 in the southern-most section of Syracuse's Little Italy and has been serving up excellent Italian food for almost a decade now. Enjoy traditional dishes like linguini alfredo and homemade lasagna as well as specialties like calamari frito and Asti-style Utica greens. The interior is great for formal and intimate dining and is complete with a wood burning fireplace in their recently expanded upper room. They do take walk-ins, but I'd highly recommend making a reservation beforehand as it can fill up quickly on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Note: as of 4/1/10 Asti Caffe closed temporarily due to small fire damage. It should reopen soon, so check their official website for details.
3) Riley's: 312 Park St, Syracuse, NY
What opened as a saloon in 1897, has become a local neighborhood bar and restaurant destination since 1979. Tied right into the neighborhood and tucked away on the corner of Park St and Whitwell Dr, Riley's is an excellent spot for traditional American cuisine and upscale bar food all in a fun and comfortable atmosphere. Incorporating local food like breads and sausage into their dishes, and with a large portion of a menu that changes daily, excellent options include Riley's 7-ounce burgers, deserts like blueberry pie and raspberry cheesecake, and unique-to-the-area specials like fried Ipswich clams and lobster rolls. Don't be surprised if you hear some music on the upright piano. Every Saturday night the owner, Terry Riley, entertains the patrons with few tunes.
4) Sugar Pearl Cafe: 600 Burnet Ave, Syracuse, NY
Although it might not look like much from the outside, inside you'll find a totally different environment: chic design, funky furnishings, and a completely unique interior for a coffee house. Sugar Pearl contains a full-service espresso bar (boasting the best French press in town) as well as a sit-down restaurant with a stage for live music and poetry readings. It's a predominantly vegan-focused menu that consists of vegan wraps (like the Chinese black bean wrap with gingered black beans, guacamole, corn, and roasted red peppers), vegan Philly "cheese" steaks, pizzas, and vegan burgers. Breakfast is served all day here as well and also features tasty options for non-vegans.
5) Gentile's Restaurant: 305 Burnet Ave, Syracuse, NY
Enjoy eclectic and romantic dining at Gentile's on Burnett Ave. An intimate atmosphere (with dim lighting and exposed brick walls) and exceptionally creative Italian cuisine with appetizers (like glumkis: Napa cabbage filled with ground lamb, pine nut, feta risotto, in a minty and smoked tomato cream), salads (like the Belgium Caesar: endive paired with hard-boiled egg, anchovy, capers, tomato salsa, pepperoncini and homemade crouton finish with garlic oil), unique pastas and risottos, and contemporary entrees like eggplant roulad and quail and filet.
Mai Lan Restaurant: 505 N State St, Syracuse, NY
Located across the street from St. Joseph's Hospital, Mai Lan is an excellent place for Vietnamese cuisine. Friendly services greets you in small and cozy interior (complete with travel guides to Vietnam along the wall). Notable menu items include spring rolls with roasted peanut sauce, beef pho, and deserts like jackroot ice cream. Meals are made from scratch here so call ahead for take-out.