Guru Holiday Gift Guide 2013: Over 70 Top Picks


Here’s the Guru gift guide for Christmas and the holidays. We’ve scoured the best local products, sweets, and more as well as the best non-local items for 2013. You can get all kinds of awesome local art, crafts, food items, and so much more in Syracuse but we’ve supplemented the list to include our favorite daily use items–headphones, iPhone cases, etc. All of these picks are either items I’ve used, use on a daily basis, or have personally experienced. All of it is Guru Approved for this reason. I’ve left prices out but included links where applicable. Now get shopping!


Ommegang Beer: pick up a few 720 ml cork-sealed Ommegang brews. Made in Cooperstown, NY, Ommegang makes amazing Belgian style beers. Top picks include Three Philosophers, Adoration, dry-hopped Belgian-Style Pale Ale (BPA), and Witte. The quality is peerless and the bottles are works of art by themselves. Delicious, intense, and great for winter. Get it at Brilbecks (Directions) or Wegmans.

Vince’s Gourmet Imports: Vince’s is a really great import store with a wide range of food, drink, and cooking items. It’s one of the best stops you can make for the foodie on your list and it is locally owned. Try the handmade Italian pastas, high-end olive oil, and much more. I can’t narrow it down because there’s simply too much stuff at Vince’s. 440 S Main St, North Syracuse (Directions).

Café Kubal Coffee Items: Stop in any of Café Kubal’s locations and pick up everything you need to give the gift of perfect pour-over coffee at home. You’ll need a Bee House dripper and a stainless steel pour-over kettle. Or maybe grab a bag of delicious Premium Barista Cocoa. Also don’t forget about the homemade flavored syrups. Great to add to your morning cup, cappuccino, latte, etc. Check out the Orange Gingersnap syrup. Get these items at any Kubal location (Directions).

Pastabilities Hot Tomato Oil: The iconic and delicious Syracuse-created Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. The Armory Square veteran restaurant Pastabilities serves this up with every meal. For a few years it’s been canned and sold at area establishments and online. The canned version is very close the in-restaurant oil. Get it here.

Beak and Skiff’s 1911 Spirits: The ultimate gift for the local liquor aficionado, 1911 Spirits has several kinds of ciders that are delicious and they’ve got great vodka. But the gin is by far the best of the bunch. It’s a pure tasting, sharp bite of juniper with enough kick for even the most seasoned booze fan. It’s above 80 proof and tastes delicious on its own, in a martini, or in a gin and tonic with local flare. Awesome stuff and a great addition to the home bar! Get it at Beak and Skiff (Directions) or most liquor stores.

Owera Dry Riesling: One of the area’s newest wineries somehow has one of the tastiest dry Rieslings you can find. The grapes at Owera are pretty young but this stuff is amazing. I’ve had it on multiple occasions. It’s well balanced and not too dry with just enough of that white grape fruit essence. Every bottle is brimming with bright flavors that will remind you of spring. It’s extremely refreshing and will please mostly any wine palate–experienced or not. Get it at Owera Winery (Directions) and many local liquor stores.

Peppercorn Hollow Adventure Dips Gourmet Dry Dip Mixes: Quirky and fun locally-made dry dip mixes of all kinds. Each one has a unique mix of tasty herbs and spices ready to be mixed with sour cream and mayo. I’ve had numerous versions and they’re really delicious and simple to make. There are so many different varieties and now they’ve also got cappuccino mix and more. Highlights include Country Dill & Onion and South of the Border Dip. Great little locally produced gift. Get it here.

Anyela’s Vineyards Wine: Anyela’s is a beautifully scenic winery across from Skaneateles Lake. They produce all kinds of wines, some of which are really fantastic. They also offer really cheap wine tastings. Give the wine lover on your list a bottle of 2010 Overlay, 2008 Merlot, or 2010 Cayuga White and you’ll be a winner. Get it at Superior Discount Liquors in Fayetteville (Directions) or at Anyela’s (Directions).

Turkey Joints: A perfect candy made in Rome, NY since 1919. These delicious, chocolate and Brazil nut filled candies are only made for part of the year and are worth celebrating. These silver sweets come in a classic glass jar with green and gold labels that haven’t changed since day one. If you want to give a classic, locally made candy, Turkey Joints will please any sweet tooth on your list. Get them here.

Better Brittle: Syracuse-made peanut brittle with a salty, nutty, and very sweet flavor. Instead of the standard brittle, Better Brittle employs West African techniques to create a unique texture. It’s based on the traditional finely ground peanut and sugar “nkati cake” from Ghana. Awesome, tasty stuff that makes a nice stocking-stuffer. Get it at these stores.

Han’s Kimchi: Spicy, umami-rich kimchi served at the incredible local Korean restaurant, Secret Garden. It’s the best commercially available kimchi in ‘Cuse and it’s made in small batches. Kimchi is a Korean condiment and side dish served in traditional banchan. It’s a spicy and delicious fermented food made with cabbage. I recommend grabbing some for the foodie with a taste for Asian cuisines on your list. Get it at Han’s Oriental Grocery (Directions).

Rocky’s News Stand: Rocky’s is one of the best places to grab some cigars in Syracuse and they’ve got the knowledge to help you pick one you’ll love. They’ve also got highly discounted cigar grab bags at a variety of prices as well. Pick up a grab bag for the cigar smoker on your list. Great prices and damn good cigars. You’ll be someone’s favorite gift-giver. 447 N Salina Street (Directions).

Everyday Bow Ties: The finest locally-made bow ties. Founded by West Africa-born Geraldo De-Souza, Everyday Bow Ties specializes in beautifully crafted bow ties meant to be worn in everyday life–not just fancy events. I own one and I can tell you that the craftsmanship is fantastic. Great for the distinguished gentleman or flashy dresser on your list! Get it here.

City Dining Cards: A deck of local restaurant discounts. 50 cards in a deck and each one takes $10 off food bills of $30 or more. It’s a simple but brilliant concept that makes coupons cool again. They’ve gotten popular all over the place and the Syracuse 2013-2014 deck came out recently. Great gift. When you order them use the GURU coupon code and get FREE shipping. Get it here.

Evergreen: Handmade bath and body products from Sauquoit, New York. They make lotions, lip balms, and more all with a natural focus. Lots of products use natural scents from pine, tea, coffee, mint, fruit, nuts, and much more. The packaging is elegant and modern and all the items are well made. They make great gifts. Everything is also very affordable. 15% off any order this week with the coupon code: EVERGREEN15. Get it here.

LoFo gift certificates: LoFo is a favorite healthy downtown eatery with an innovative menu, great smoothies, juices, and more. Buy a $25 gift certificate and get a $10 certificate for yourself, go for a $50 certificate and you’ll get a $25 certificate for yourself. Great deal, awesome food. Get them at LoFo (Directions).

Todd Conover bracelets: Metal-working and leather based bracelets are a trendy item for the stylish man on your list. Stop in the Mr. Shop and check out these awesome made-in-Syracuse Todd Conover bracelets. I recommend the simple leather ones. Get them at the Mr. Shop! (Directions).

Bumble and Bumble Products: Some of the best hair care products. B&B makes a huge line of items like shampoos, conditioners, and more. Pamper someone on your list with Bumble and Bumble. We recommend buying at Industry Salon (Directions).

Jocelyn fur scarves, red Valentino snow boots, Shy by Sydney Evan necklaces: Three gorgeous items at Syracuse’s premier women’s clothing store, Jet Black. Jet Black features carefully selected clothing, accessories, shoes, and more. Stop in and look around but the Jocelyn fur scarves, Valentino snow boots, and Shy by Sydney Evan necklaces are great picks. Find these and more at Jet Black (Directions).

Chavez for Charity bracelets: Colorful, beaded charm bracelets that come in all kinds of designs and styles. Each one provides 25% of funds to its corresponding charity. Great fashion item to add a pop of color to any outfit and support a good cause at the same time. Limited availability. Find them at Showoffs Boutique (Directions).

Recess cold brew coffee growlers: One of my favorite small coffee roasters in Syracuse, the Westcott Nation located Recess Coffee offers cold brew coffee that’s a must for the coffee drinker on your list. They sell ’em in 64-ounce growlers and it’s just $12 for a refill. Strong and delicious iced coffee is a really nice gift. Get them at Recess! (Directions).

Truffle box from Sweet on Chocolate: Sweet on Chocolate makes some really awesome sweets and chocolates of all kinds and they’re locally owned and operated. Whether you want to stop in and pick out a mix of stuff or go with something pre-packaged, Sweet on Chocolate is a good choice. We recommend getting the boxed truffles. Get ‘em at Sweet on Chocolate (Directions).

Mallard Tobacconist: One of few completely tobacco focused stores in Syracuse, Mallard Tobacconist has been long established and offers great cigars and handcrafted pipes at extremely reasonable prices. They also offer grab bags. Got a cigar or pipe smoker to buy for? Consider picking up a pipe, high-end cutter, or a few choice cigars. Stop at Mallard Tobacconist (Directions).

Sweet Praxis sweets: Our favorite bakers in Syracuse. Sweet Praxis makes a wide assortment of baked goods but the real highlight are the traditional French sweets known as the macaron. These unique cookies have become popular of late but Sweet Praxis has been in the game for a while. Get a gift certificate, edible macaron ornaments, or a box of seasonal macarons. See their Facebook page for more info. Email to order!

NY Wine & Culinary Center classes: Got a talented cook or foodie on your list? Give the ultimate food-related gift and send them to a class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua. Local food classes, sushi making, wine and beer pairing, and seasonal cooking classes are just some examples. Each class is generally a few to several hour experience. I did a wine pairing class and loved it. (Directions). Get it here.

Rarely Done Productions gift certificates: The perfect gift for the Off-Broadway show fanatic on your list. Rarely Done is Syracuse’s best Off-Broadway style theatre production company. You’ll see all kinds of unique and rarely done plays. It’s always an interesting experience at Rarely Done! Call the CNY Jazz Central box office at (315) 546-3224 to buy a gift certificate.

Fleece-lined leggings: Super-affordable ($19) item from the small Armory Square boutique, Frankie and Faye. They come in a number of colors and are known for their comfort and style. Buy a pair for the fashionable lady on your list. She’ll love ‘em. Get them at Frankie and Faye (Directions).

Roji Tea Lounge gift certificates: One of Syracuse’s only true tea shops is also a great place to pick up a gift certificate for the tea lover on your list. They feature food, gourmet tea and tea drinks, live music, tea tastings, and so much more in a warm, welcoming downtown location. Stop in and grab a certificate (Directions).

Vintage items from Modern Pop Culture: Stop in Armory Square’s only vintage clothing store for men and women. 25% off now till Christmas! They feature a handpicked selection of vintage items you’re unlikely to find elsewhere. If the department store’s lack of interesting style has you down, MPC will fix that. I can’t tell you a specific item to get because most are one-of-a-kind. Just stop in, you’ll find something cool! Go vintage at Modern Pop Culture (Directions).

Famous Artists Broadway certificates: One of the main theatre companies bringing Broadway level acts to Syracuse is Famous Artists Broadway and they’ve got gift certificates for any amount. Need an easy idea for a theatre fan? Grab a gift certificate! Redeemable for any show. Stop by Famous Artists Broadway’s office in Armory Square (Directions).

Maria Rizzo Art: A local artist whose recent work has focused on the beauty and power of trees. Her work is vivid and extremely interesting and while the big original works are pretty pricey, she’s got some really nice framed prints at an affordable price. You can see more at her Facebook page. Contact her at

Syracuse Stage tickets: Syracuse Stage’s current season has been beyond amazing and I’ve gotta recommend gifting some tickets to an upcoming play. Remaining shows include The Whipping Man, Chinglish, and The Glass Menagerie. Definitely a nice item to slip in a card. Get them here.

[re]think Syracuse prints: Cool local blog features a number of well designed and interesting prints. Each one represents a different neighborhood in the Syracuse and they all make great wall hangings. Westcott, Near Westside, Strathmore, and many others are available. Buy the prints here. Or stop in at LoFo (Directions) and buy a wood-mounted print off the wall.

Color Can’t Hurt You: Artist Mary McConnell produces unique hand painted ceramics, wooded items, chests, candlesticks and more. Lots of the items feature delicately painted paisley as well as arabesque-style imagery. Many of the pieces are familiar things re-imagined through color. The red ceramic paisley vase is incredible but everything on her Etsy store will make a nice gift. Get it here.

Pure Salon Spa Day packages: Spa days are the perfect gift. Armory Square’s Pure Salon now offers several affordable packages to pamper someone special on your list. Grab a gift certificate or book a spa day at Pure Salon (Directions).

Blue Tusk gift certificate: The classic downtown bar with an awesome beer selection is a great place to pick up a gift. Give your favorite craft beer lover a gift certificate! It’s easy and no one’s gonna complain about free beer. Get it at Blue Tusk! (Directions).

Carol Watson’s Greenhouse: The ultimate CNY greenhouse features an almost unlimited amount of gift ideas. From small houseplants, flowers, and larger plants, to all sorts of classes and more, you’re likely to find something great at Watson’s. I suggest making the drive out there and looking around. The terrarium classes are a good bet for anyone of the DIY mindset. Watson’s Greenhouse is located at 2980 Sentinel Heights Rd, LaFayette (Directions).

Salt Works: A Near Westside Initiative, Syracuse University, Northside Urban Partnership, and Syracuse Habitat for Humanity project that creates unique sustainable wooden items that utilize reclaimed wood from Syracuse’s Near Westside. Very cool stuff. Attend the Pepper Market on December 14th if you’d like to buy a Salt Works gift, more info here.

Planetarium: Planetarium makes some of the most beautiful textile-based items you can find in Upstate New York. Pillows, clutches, shirts, and bags are their main wares and it’s all stunning. You’ve simply gotta see this stuff. Shop Planetarium here!

Witty Wicks Candles: Candles are always a pretty decent gift but this year skip the mass-produced, chemically scented junk and go for a natural alternative. Witty Wicks is a locally owned and operated candle maker producing hand poured soy candles. Soy is longer lasting, clean burning, and renewable. Witty Wicks features all kinds of unique scents and top-notch packaging. Get them here!

Green Planet Grocery items: Green Planet Grocery is a relatively small store that specializes in the best all-natural food, drink, etc. They have pretty much the entire line of groceries you’d find at a major store but much of it is of superior quality, fair trade, and organic. They have a great locally made section as well. Stop in and look around, I know you’ll find a great edible gift at Green Planet! (Directions).


AiAiAi TMA-1 Studio: Simply the best headphones for the money. Skip the $400+ models and get better sound quality, wider frequencies, and high design. I use these everyday. Best pair I’ve owned. Get it here.

Coin: The newest technology in credit cards is a minimal, high-tech device called Coin. Coin combines all your credit cards on one card and lets you easily switch between accounts. It’s a 100% secure way to switch to just one card. The Coin App syncs all accounts to the Coin. The Coin card has a quick button to switch between accounts. It even alerts you if you leave it behind. This has to be on the list because it’s just too awesome to ignore. Pre-order it here.

Kindle Paperwhite: The best gift for the reader on your list. The Kindle Paperwhite is a totally minimal device that does one thing–lets you read books. The screen is uniquely backlit to mimic real paper. I don’t go anywhere without it. Get it here.

Bose Bluetooth Series 2: You can’t beat this Bluetooth headset. Utilizing the world-class sound and design of Bose, the Series 2 offers perfect sound and a reasonable amount of sound cancellation. Skip the gimmicky headsets and go for the high quality one. It’s worth the extra money. I use it every day. Get it here.

iPad Air: The coolest, sleekest tablet featuring Apple’s unmatched quality, ease of use, and stability. It’s much thinner and lighter than the old iPad, but the screen is far clearer. Every aspect of this thing is improved and you can’t lose with this gift. Get it here. Subscription: My favorite way to listen to books. Audible is an affordable monthly service with a massive library of new releases, classics, and more. The basic account gives you a book per month for less than $20. Awesome quality recordings, many of which are read by the author. Get it here.

Burberry Rhythm: Burberry’s newest cologne is one of the best smelling I’ve ever owned. It’s intense and musky with notes of leather, cedarwood, and incense. If you’re looking for the perfect gift for the stylish guy on your list, Rhythm has the ultimate rich, intoxicating aroma for the cold months. Get it at any store that sells cologne.

SIWA Cushioned Cases: A totally unique, Japanese-designed and manufactured line of wallets, glasses cases, portfolios, and more. All items are made of Noaron, a wood pulp and polyolefin material with characteristics of ancient Japanese paper. Flexible, durable, and soft, SIWA cases look like paper and age like leather. Very cool indeed. Get it here.

Rollbahn Notebooks: Japanese-made notebooks by well-known company Delfonics. Great for stylish students, as diaries, notepads, for writing poetry, and more. As writing is going digital, give a unique gift that stresses tactile high design, tangibility, fine manufacturing, and quality. These are almost impossible to find in the States. Get it here.

Vaja Leather Phone Cases: The highest quality, sometimes very pricey phone cases made of soft leather. All the cases are very unique and well-made when most phone cases fall apart. The basic leather flip wallet style cases are the best bet for the iPhone 5S. People will ask where you got it. Get it here.

Wild Man Beard Conditioner: Beards are in right now and with the trend, products like Wild Man have grown in popularity. A must-have for beard care, essential oils promote softness, thickness, and strength of facial hair. Contains grapeseed oil, vitamin E, rosemary essential oils, lavender, and more. It only takes a few drops and it’s meant to be left in. Get it here.

Nespresso Essenza: The new, affordably priced espresso maker by the ultimate brand of small espresso machines, Nespresso. Essenza is less than half the normal price and loaded with features. With an on-board water reservoir, it’s the most convenient way to enjoy delicious espresso. Uses Nespresso pods or loose coffee. Get it here.

Harry’s Products: Beautifully designed, affordable, classic shaving items that are likely the best you can get. They sell three things: simple, high quality razors, replacement blades, and shaving cream. Whether you buy a kit or a single item, Harry’s is a great choice. It’s only a buck a day for a year of replacement blades. Get it here.

Eyebobs: Stylish men’s reading glasses that make the perfect gift. Throw out the drug store reading glasses and upgrade to something a bit more distinguished. Eyebobs offer a wide range of designs at great prices. Find them at Mr. Shop (Directions).

Warby Parker Sunglasses: The company known for quirky marketing and very cool prescription frames also offers some really nice non-prescription sunglasses. They’ve got a style for everyone but across the board the designs are classic with a slight British flare. Cheap prices and polarized lenses make these a top pick. Get it here.

Art from Ghostly International: Ghostly is an awesome Detroit-based independent company that is first and foremost one of the coolest indie record labels known for low production vinyls and “avant pop” but also a purveyor of modern, minimal design and aesthetic. Buy an original piece of art or a print for the art-lover on your list. Great prices and any item is a conversation piece instead of just another wall hanging. Get it here.


Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health – Jo Robinson: The end-all book to eating healthy. It’s not a diet book or a cook book but the ultimate guide to maximizing the nutrient value of your food. Infinitely interesting and packed with secrets, recipes, and more. Get it here.

Selected Poems – Frank O’Hara, Knopf; Reissue edition: The most universally appealing poetry collection ever. Get O’Hara’s Selected Poems for the poet, amateur poet, reader, or writer on your list. It’s as comprehensive as it is beautiful and painstakingly written. Get it here.

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef – Gabrielle Hamilton: Chef, TV host, and writer Anthony Bourdain called Hamilton’s new book, “Simply the best memoir by a chef ever.” It’s a fascinating and honest book that anyone creative will enjoy. Hamilton is chef/owner of NYC’s Prune. Get it here.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants – Malcolm Gladwell: Another of Gladwell’s brainy but approachable non-fiction books similar to The Outliers. This one examines the idea of underdogs and rewrites many flaws in mainstream logic when it comes to struggle. Excellent read. Get it here.


Earl Sweatshirt – Doris: The youngest and most talented rapper in Odd Future, Earl dropped his stunning debut album, Doris this year. It’s lyrically complex and dark but undoubtedly brilliant. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

Danny Brown – Old: Gritty, creative Detroit hip-hop lead by one of the genre’s most intriguing figures. It’s among the best albums of 2013. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

Lorde – Pure Heroine: 17-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter Lorde creates catchy, beautiful art pop and minimal electropop on this memorable debut album. This is one of the best albums this year. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork: Stoner rock legends from Palm Desert, California released their sixth studio album this year. It keeps the signature riff-driven heavy rock that borders on metal and brings back the brash instrumentation and haunting Josh Homme vocals that made them famous to begin with. This is an amazing piece of work. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City: Indie pop heroes Vampire Weekend return to the spotlight with a much more serious, droll, and brooding album. It’s their best yet, dropping the catchiness and focusing on narrative. The instrumentation is phenomenal. This album has made the #1 spot on many 2013 lists. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

Disclosure – Settle: Perhaps the most unique release of the year came from English electronic duo (and brothers) Guy Lawrence and Howard Lawrence. The house-influenced record contains some serious soul, rhythm and blues, and more. It’s listenable over and over again. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon: King Krule is the English singer-songwriter Archy Marshall. His unique release crosses many genres but emphasizes his surprising, “punk rockish” voice over deep, dark soundscapes laced with jazz, guitar, and piano. It’s excellent on a good stereo or headphones. Get it at Sound Garden in Armory Square (Directions).

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  • John Paul Gardner

    Thank you so much for including our Evergreen shop in your gift guide.
    We’re offering 15% off any order this week with the coupon code: EVERGREEN15
    Also, we just listed 15 new lotion scents!

    Happy Holidays :)

    • SyracuseGuru

      Sure! I’ll add the discount details to the Evergreen listing. Happy holidays to you as well.

  • Sara

    LOVE Witty Wicks candles!!!!! I am getting them for everyone (including myself!)

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  • Amy @ TAMGtL

    Great list!

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