Walking downtown in Williamsport with a hungry stomach can lead to a variety of cuisines and food styles to appease the appetite: Greek, Mexican, Japanese, even southern barbecue.
Fifty years ago, those options were not readily available here.
Rather, the dining landscape included typical American diners and restaurants, along with a few Chinese restaurants, sub shops and a good number of establishments dedicated to Italian cuisine.
CRAIG S. McKIBBEN JR./Sun-Gazette
Patrons dine at one of Williamsport’s newer eateries, The Brickyard, on Pine Street.
Fred Daniele, of Franco's Lounge, 12 W. Fourth St., remembers Little Italy, which sprung up around West Third and Fourth Street when Italian immigrants came to the area to work in lumber camps.
Those immigrants included Daniele's grandfather. His family grew up on a farm on Linn Street where his grandmother would cook homemade meals.
"People traded food a lot," he said.
His grandparents had chickens and goats and they shared with neighbors who did not have meat.
"Italian food was done with each other," Daniele said. "They cook for the families and others who couldn't eat."
So it was only a matter of time before Italian restaurants began opening across the city.
"There were a good 10 or 12 Italian restaurants through the region," he said.
As time went on, Italian restaurants faded out or relocated, especially during the "purge" - according to Daniele - in the 1970s.
That's when entire neighborhoods were bought out to make way for Interstate 180.
"A lot have come and gone," he said of the city's Italian restaurants. "I never thought we (Franco's) would be a positive for one of the longest standing restaurants."
While that legacy has faded somewhat, the local restaurant scene has become much more diverse in recent years.
Since the mid-1990s, Daniele has noticed a much more diverse food landscape here.
"There's a number of Mexican restaurants now," he said, recalling a day when Mexican food here was unheard of in northcentral Pennsylvania.
The same is true of other types of ethnic foods and food choices, whether it be Greek dishes or vegan, southern barbecue or gluten-free breads, Japanese sushi or varying options for fine dining.
"It's great. We have a number of Thai restaurants," Daniele observed. "It's great cuisine and adds to the great camaraderie of being downtown."
The growing number of cooking shows has inspired people to want to try new foods when they go out to eat, Daniele said.
Sophia Daskalakis, owner of The Olive Tree, 412 William St., started cooking the food of her Greek heritage at her restaurant after owning it for years. Previously, she sold pizza and subs.
"I wanted to have Greek food," Daskalakis said.
Yet the community did not welcome the food, so she waited. A year later, in 1996, she tried it again.
"It took off," she said. "Maybe not at full speed."
What Daskalakis said changed is people wanting to eat healthier.
"More people cared about what they ate," she said. "Every year I noticed a difference."
People heard that the Mediterranean diet consisted of less bread, but lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.
"When I was growing up in Greece, there was no fridge," Daskalakis said.
Instead, people had to eat the food right away.
Now refrigeration is possible, but Daskalakis still works with fresh ingredients in her foods.
She reported one customer telling her, "We have eaten at other places that have some Greek food, but it's not the same. When we come to the restaurant, we can taste the flavor in our mouths for a couple of hours."
For another customer, Leah Mather, of Williamsport, having a Greek restaurant in the area is important for the people who come from big cities and look for a variety of food. While college students sometimes eat fast food, there are other times they want to go somewhere nice with the family.
"When your family is in, you want to show them a unique place," she said. "We don't have a lot of unique places that have a definite theme."
Daskalakis has seen a change in Williamsport over the 33 years she cooked as more restaurants offer different foods and alternative lifestyles.
With the closure of Fiesta Cancun downtown, Ana Pittinger, a waitress there, decided to open another Mexican restaurant to fill the void. She opened Paradise Cancun at the Stearns Plaza, wanting to contribute to the diversity of palates locally.
"We come from every country," Pittinger said. "Everyone's mixed. We should represent these cultures."
So far, the restaurant and her food have been well received by the community, with many customers from Fiesta Cancun flocking to her establishment as well as Ozzie and Mae's Hacienda, another downtown Mexican restaurant. Ozzie and Mae's offers authentic Mexican, Italian and American dishes.
People order the food they've heard of - the chimichangas, taco salad and fajitas - but variety is available for people willing to try new things.
Mexican food does not have to be hot. Both restaurants will tailor dishes to meet a customer's desire for different levels of spiciness.
For nine years, area residents have been learning that sushi means more than just raw fish at Ichiban Japanese Hibachi Steakhouse & Sushi.
"Not many knew about sushi," said Candy Zheng, manager of the restaurant at 1800 E. Third St.. "We have a lot of variety of choices for sushi, not only raw fish. It can be cooked."
Because popular items such as fried shrimp and fried chicken are available, Zheng said it is "American plus Japanese cuisine."
In addition to the sushi bar, a hibachi chef prepares food in front of the customers, something that is popular for children's birthday parties as the chef entertains them with a variety of tricks as the dinners are made.
The menu at Ichiban always changes with new monthly specials. Since the soft shell crab now is seasonal, it will be part of a special. In August, a Little League Roll is created for the players to taste which features crab, shrimp or something else they like.
"We try to ... create different things for everybody," Zheng said.
There are dishes specific to vegetarians, younger people, people who like fish and more. There are meals from the hibachi chef, the kitchen and the sushi bar.
"There are three departments," Zheng said. "There are different dishes in the departments."
About 20 sauces are made by the chefs so dishes can be made sweet, spicy or another taste, depending on the individuals' preferences.
"We're trying very hard to get to know what people like," she said.
In the future, Zheng wants to continue experimenting with new dishes to bring even more tastes to the area.