The Garbage Plate

Ahh, The Garbage Plate.  An unusual concoction of starch, more starch, meat, more meat in the form of a spicy sauce and a side of bread and butter.

Being a native of Rochester, New York, I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t had one of these babies, until Mike and I started dating in college.  It seemed like a gross combination of starches, and meat that came in one mixed up, unappealing package, and for a girl who typically didn’t like her different foods mixing together, this was jumbled up nightmare.  And honestly, the only reason I even tried the thing was because Mike and I had just started dating, and I didn’t want to refuse and seem picky.  But after trying it, all I can say to all of you nay-sayers, who may be quite appalled by this creation is, don’t knock it till you try it.  It’s actually a pretty good flavor combo, and you may just find yourself craving this guilty pleasure once and awhile.  We are fans of the cheeseburger, fries, mac salad with “everything” (everything = spicy meat sauce, chopped onion and mustard), but there are many variations.

To build your plate you choose meat, sides and toppings.  The protein options include some of the best damn hot dogs in the world, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, sausages, fish, chicken, ham, or even eggs.  For the sides, which are the base of the plate, you get to choose two;  home fries, fries, mac salad or beans.

Now for a little history and some notable mentions…

The Garbage plate was created by Nick Tahou of Nick Tahou Hots, a Rochester NY restaurant since 1918.  And while there are many other restaurants in the area serving up plates (even R.I.T has their own version on campus), Tahou’s is known to be the original.  It is the quintessential drunk food for any college kid after a night of drinking and partying, which is perfect because most plate places are open late!

It has been featured on the Food Network shows Unwrapped and The Best thing I Ever Ate,  Travel Channel’s Man vs. Food Nation,, and was even mentioned as a punchline on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Now, onto the plates.   We’ll start with the spicy meat sauce…

The meat sauce Mike and I like, has got an array of spices, meat, onions, garlic and tomato paste, however I don’t think it is the exact Tahou recipe.  For the beef in the sauce, it is very important that it gets broken up extra fine.

For the fries, we buy good quality fries and bake them until they are nice and crispy.  For the burgers, we make our own quarter-pound hand formed burgers.  For the mac salad, you can buy it from a local store or deli you like, or make your own.

It is important to make the burgers nice and thin when you are forming the patties, otherwise they shrink up, get thick, and then are a pain to eat on the already sloppy plate.  The burgers also get fully cooked; there’s no such thing as rare, medium, medium rare, etc.  You can choose from cooked or cooked.

You can easily make the sauce, and mac salad (if you choose to make your own) a day in advance, and then just cook your burgers and fries the day of.

Once everything is ready, build your plate and enjoy sparingly!  I actually like to make a half plate for myself, since I just can’t eat the traditional 2-burger plate, however the recipe below is for the traditional 2 burger option.

In our house, this is like any rich food or holiday dinner, we only have it once or twice a year, and when we do it always reminds us of our college days in good ol’RaChaCha.


The Garbage Plate – A Rochester, NY Tradition

Sauce adapted from Susan Lynch
makes 4 full plates, and serves 4 hungry people
This recipe is for cheeseburger plates; if you want to try any of Nick’s other protein options swap out the meat accordingly and skip the cheese.   

Special Sauce Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar 
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika 
1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2  teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Plate Ingredients:

8 – hand-formed beef patties,  from 2 lbs ground beef
8 – slices of white american cheese
2 bags of frozen, good quality french fries, baked nice and crisp to bag directions
1/2 macaroni salad recipe (or 1 lbs. of purchased mac salad)
1 medium onion, diced 
yellow mustard
ketchup (not traditional, optional)
hot sauce (not traditional, optional)
1 loaf of fresh Italian bread, 2 slices per person (we skip the bread, but if you want to stay traditional then you would want to include it)
butter for bread (if using)


For the sauce, in large skillet, sweat chopped onion and garlic in oil until soft, but not brown.  Add meat, stirring and smashing/breaking up meat constantly with fork to keep its texture fine.  Once the meat browns, add water and tomato paste.  Simmer covered, 10 minutes.  Add sugar and spices.  Simmer 30 minutes, adding water as necessary, to keep the sauce moist but not soupy.  This can be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator if desired.

For the plates, you will want to start baking the fries first, as those take longer than the burgers.  While the fires are baking, form 1/4 pound portions of beef into patties, 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch thick and 5-6 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until ready to cook.  When fries are close to being done, take beef patties straight out of the fridge and sear on a hot greased skillet or seasoned griddle.  Flip, and when almost cooked through, melt one slice of cheese on each burger (you will probably need to cook these in two batches).

To build the plate, fill half of plate with a nice handful of fries and about 1 cup of macaroni salad.  Place 2 beef patties on top of plate, down the fry/mac salad divide.  Squeeze mustard over plate to desired amount and sprinkle with diced onions.  Ladle special sauce over burgers to cover.  Serve bread on the side if using.

Enjoy sparingly!


  1. says

    I got so excited when I saw your garbage plate on Foodgawker that I won’t even hassle you for preferring french fries over home fries. I grew up eating garbage plates in Rochester, and my husband, originally from Boston, is a die-hard plate convert. We even made and served artisan, farm-to-table, ultra-fancy garbage plates at our wedding. Anyway, great post and thanks for the reminder that I have some Zweigles in my freezer!

    • says

      Haha; that’s awesome! We were toying with serving them at our rehearsal dinner for a casual/fun Rochester touch, but decided it would be too complicated since we were getting married in Letchworth. I’d love to see a pic of your ultra-fancy garbage plates if you have it… Thanks for the comment!

  2. says

    You are my new hero. I tell *everyone* about the Garbage Plate, and have converted a few naysayers to this special culinary corner. It was their mac salad that did it for me; underneath all that other warm goodness, the noodles were the perfect cooling contrast. I would drive the 2 hours to Roch from Syracuse to eat one of these… now that I live in Boston, I’m outta luck. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Becky4117 says

    I haven’t had a garbage plate in 10 years! I’m so happy I found this recipe. Now that I live in VA and am no longer dating the idiot from Rochester I her no way to get one of these fabulous plates. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. I can’t wait to introduce my husband to this meal!

  4. says

    Hey! I live in Rochester! Being a vegetarian I’ve never had a traditional garbage plate, but my boyfriend and I make delicious meat-free ones! Your plate looks great!

  5. Emily says

    This is awesome! I made this over the weekend and my husband and kids went nuts over it. When I told them the name of the recipe they thought I was joking! lol Thanks for sharing this!!

  6. Stephen Brown says

    This is by far the most comprehensive description and recipe for the culinary delight that is the garbage plate. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    It’s a 6-7 hour drive to Rochester for me and I eat far to few of these. I am gathering ingredients for the feast.

  7. special1 says

    the one way though they make their sauce and i learned this from working at a place or two that made plates is, the base for the meat sauce is a lard base, its all cooked in the lard, the onions, the meat, the spices, all of it. Just a little FYI so that u can make it more authentic

  8. says

    AH Heather, Can’t wait to try your sauce recipe. I have played and played over the years, and there has always been something missing. I have to make a point, though. You can make those burgers thick, and serve em up rare. You can also used your favorite beans, instead of other things. Like beans,hot sauce, and meat for a soupy overload. Maybe add some grilled, not deep fried homefries. Moved to Fl. three years ago, and there is no such thing here. I actually had to bring a three pound package of Whites here, just to have them. The best best best sauce, if they are still in business, was in Charlotte, across the street from 42 school. I used to eat one there on a weekly basis. I don’t know what they did, but it was awesome. Called Charlotte hots, I think. Anyhow, I’ll keep you posted, as I just bought a beach concession, and intend to serve a plate. Lot of upstate NY’ers here.

    • says

      The “1/2 macaroni salad” under “Plate Ingredients” has the link to the recipe. I’d leave out the parsley for garbage plates.

  9. Liz says

    Can you make this ahead and freeze it? My son wants me to make this sauce for his wedding reception for the end of the night, I would like to make it ahead of time just a week.
    What do you think?

    • says

      Hi Liz! That shouldn’t be an issue at all. Sometimes I make double the sauce recipe and freeze the leftovers for later. Congrats to your son; that’s an awesome idea!

  10. Patrick Wingert says

    Wan’t this nominated as the preferred meal for the rapid weight loss diet. The exercise component being to walk from wherever you are on the planet to Rochester NY and then home again(271.5km to Toronto). LOL

  11. Brian says

    I have two dedicated ice cube trays that I freeze my hotsauce in then store the cubes in a freezer bag so I have one serving for my dogs/burgers!

  12. Richard says

    A cottage buddy from Rochester took me to Nick Tahoues for a plate 30 years ago. I can still remember how all the flavours tasted so good together. And stayed with you for 36 hours or so. He told me a story of a Rochester tradition in which the groom and his groomsmen would make a trip to Nick Tahous at some point before the big day. The ritual was that the groom had to ” kill a virgin”. Meaning he had to eat a garbage plate covered in an entire newly opened bottle of Heinz ketchup that would be supplied by Nicks. I know for a fact his younger brother did it .

  13. Richard says

    A cottage buddy from Rochester took me to Nick Tahoues for a plate 30 years ago. I can still remember how all the flavours tasted so good together. And stayed with you for 36 hours or so. He told me a story of a Rochester tradition in which the groom and his groomsmen would make a trip to Nick Tahous at some point before the big day. The ritual was that the groom had to ” kill a virgin”. Meaning he had to eat a garbage plate covered in an entire newly opened bottle of Heinz ketchup that would be supplied by Nicks. I know for a fact his younger brother did it .

  14. Courtney says

    I have lived in the suburbs of Rochester my whole life. Love garbage plates!!!! Have tried many different variations and even made some “knock off” recipes at home…..nothing great. Excited to try your recipe!

  15. Diana says

    Awesome recipe!!! I’m from Rochester, NY and miss the “Plate”. Whenever we get home, my husband (originally from FL, garbage plate convert) and I visit my folks and on the list is Wegman’s (I cannot go home without at least one stop there) and then grab a Plate at one of the diners to share. We have lived in Maine and now Connecticut and it’s always fun trying to explain the Garbage Plate. I even made it a few times for folks who have never had one. They loved it. Thanks for sharing this recipe. SO good!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *