The Rochester garbage plate gloriously lives up to its name

An upstate delicacy so good, you don't need to be hungover to love it

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published October 7, 2021 2:00PM (EDT)

Rochester Garbage Plate (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Rochester Garbage Plate (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

Few dishes live up to their name the way the garbage plate does. I mean this as the highest possible praise.

The garbage plate is a beautifully American invention, pioneered in the region of our nation that also claims Susan B. Anthony, KodakMormonism and the one true religion, Wegman's. This legendary product of Rochester's Nick Tahou Hots is a delicacy that perhaps could only have come out of a college town — a seemingly random assortment of low effort comfort foods layered like a carb trifle. And while it has been a while since I've been hungover, I still appreciate the garbage plate as one of my favorite types of cuisine — drunk food. If you can picture yourself shoveling it down on a curb somewhere at 3 in the morning, I promise I will eat it.

The garbage plate began its life as a classic meat and potatoes diner dish, a stick the ribs meal meant for a region that gets a hundred inches of snow every winter. Eventually, as What's Cooking America reports, "College students asked Nick Tahou for a dish with 'all the garbage' on it. He concocted his original combo plate with two hamburger patties and a choice of two sides — usually some combination of home fries, macaroni salad, and beans."  

A true garbage plate features something called Rochester hot sauce, which can best be described as a cross between bolognese and a sloppy joe, atop a cheeseburger or two. But it is also a dish forged in the fires of innovation, crafted from the leftovers of last night's party. Got a few hot dogs on hand? The remnants of a bucket of chicken? Hate macaroni salad? Skip it! This is not exactly an haute cuisine process here, feel free to improvise. Anecdotally, I found one recipe for the garbage plate that suggests a case of Genesee as a side dish, but that one's your call.

For my garbage plate, I use tater tots, because I love them best, and hold the burger. I use green onion, because this is a dish you might make when you're feeling fragile and don't want to deal with white onions. My portion size would not feed an entire football team, I know. Most radically, I eat mine in a bowl, not because this is a goddamn Sweetgreen but because it just seems like a more efficient vehicle for a mound of food. However you create yours, I promise it'll be so good, you won't even need a high blood alcohol level content to appreciate it.



Recipe: Rochester garbage plate

Inspired by The Spruce Eats and Savory Experiments

Serves 1, hungover or not


  • 1 handful of frozen tater tots, French fries, or hash browns OR 1/2 cup of whatever leftover potatoes situation you have in the fridge (or more, because your judgment is questionable)
  • Macaroni salad
  • 1/2 cup or so of your preferred ground meat
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (No tomato paste? Use a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce.)
  • Pinches of cumin and paprika if you've got them
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 scallion, chopped
  • Neutral oil for the pan
  • Hot sauce, yellow mustard, ketchup to taste
  • 1 slice of white bread


  1. Preheat your oven and cook your frozen taters to package directions. It will probably take about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the pan over medium heat and add your oil.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the meat, breaking it up and browning it.
  4. Add your tomato paste and stir into the meat mixture. You will likely need to add a splash of water to loosen it. Add your spices. Saute until everything looks cooked through and achieves your desired level of chunkiness. Keep over low heat while you plate up your garbage.
  5. When they're ready, remove your potatoes from the oven and scrape into a bowl.
  6. Top potatoes with a big scoop of  macaroni salad. Add your meat either straight on top or adjacent. Top with your scallion and liberal squirts of your favorite condiments. Serve with a slice of supermarket white bread and possibly a few Tylenols.

More Quick & Dirty: 

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By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Garbage Plate Quick & Dirty Recipe Rochester