FOOD & DRINK
49 Grand St., Albany
The standards of food and service have remained consistently excellent during the restaurant’s quarter-century of operation, but added to that is a sense of joy that informs the experience. Owner Jim Rua hosts special events in an upstairs presentation kitchen; his son, Franco, helms the main kitchen and adds to it a recently developed skill at charcuterie. The spirit of Tuscany lives on.
Best New Restaurant
Grappa ’72 Ristorante
818 Central Ave., Albany
Armand and Tia Lule have subtly transformed the old Carmine’s Restaurant in both ambiance and menu, combining the best qualities of traditional Italian and modern elegance. Fresh ingredients like house-cured salmon and crisp greens sparkle, and the wine list begs you to forego the usual California cab for an adventure in zestful Italians.
Best International: Creo’
Photo: Alicia Solsman
Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany
The considerable talent of chef Andrew Plummer is displayed with an array of small plates like lobster and avocado tart, scallop strudel, tuna tostada and Kung Pao calamari, along with pasta dishes, rotisserie chicken, personal pizza and such big plates as ahi tuna crusted with wasabi and panko, swordfish finished with chipotle-lime vinaigrette, Thai pork tenderloin and even veal meatloaf.
New World Bistro Bar
300 Delaware Ave., Albany
Fresh from his Food Network triumph, chef Ric Orlando gives his Albany outpost a wide-ranging menu of what he aptly terms global comfort food, where familiar ingredients are compellingly reimagined in an array of dishes literally large and small. It’s a handsome space not far from the Spectrum Theatre that gives Delaware Avenue even more destination status.
The Bears’ Steakhouse
Route 7, Duanesburg
We revisited recently just to be sure that more than 40 years of business and a change of chef (but still in the family) haven’t dimmed this restaurant’s excellence. They haven’t. The Payne family still turns out the best steaks, an impressive array of other chops, an amazing pickled herring and those bountiful trademark desserts. Reserve your table well in advance.
Antipasto’s Vegetarian Bistro and Wine Bar
1028 Route 146, Clifton Park
Let us count the ways why we love Antipasto’s. A delicious Italian vegetarian-friendly menu: all the Italian favorites with a vegetarian twist. Absolutely the best pizza in Saratoga County, with an amazing wine list meticulously created by owner Steve Zumbo. Delicious salads (our favorite is the Caesar salad), and a staff that is so full of life and so friendly that you feel like you went home to a family dinner. Antipasto’s is a dying breed. A small independent surrounded by large chains that doesn’t succumb to the cookie-cutter mentality.
Best Italian (Northern)
Chianti il Ristorante
18 Division St., Saratoga Springs
Even with a few restaurants to look after, Rome native David Zecchini has made this a center of fine Italian dining in the northern style, with such dishes as capellini della Domenica (pancetta, shrimp, arugula), penne alla Norma (eggplant, sausage, mozzarella), risotto de’Medici (filet mignon, truffle oil, Grana Padano) and salsiccia arrosto (sausage with caramelized shallots), served in a handsome edifice.
Best Family Italian (Troy)
Testo’s Italian Restaurant & Pizza Parlor
124th Street and 4th Avenue, Troy
A restaurant that stays open in the same locale for 34 years and continues to grow is a very rare feat, especially in this economy. But there is a reason Testo’s in Lansingburgh endures as one of the best family Italian restaurants in the Capital Region. They are constantly upgrading, and tweaking the menu, whether it be adding delicious Italian classics to the dinner menu or updating the lunch menu. The Testo family is that rare combination of restaurateurs who always keep an eye on what the public wants. They deliver a classic menu and comfortable dining experience of delicious, affordable Italian food that endures a lifetime.
Best Family Italian (Schenectady)
1730 Union St., Schenectady
Chef-owner Guy Sementilli bought it in 1994, but by then he’d been a regular Scotti’s customer for years. He maintains the same enthusiastic service in nicely refurbished space, where families crowd in for consistently wonderful red-sauce fare with seafood features and specialities like lasagna and baked manicotti. And pizza!
1631 Eastern Parkway, Schenectady
After a few visits, they’re welcoming you by name. The Fireside has a cozy downstairs dining room, a casual upstairs area where the all-you-can-eat nights occur, and big pans of old-school pizza made fresh (great thick crusts!) with items like mesquite chicken and Genoa salami among the toppings. And there’s a full-service Italian menu as well.
112 Maple Ave., Voorheesville
Round a corner on Route 85 some evening on your way out of town and the lights of Smith’s will beckon you. You’ll join the village regulars who enjoy pizza and beer with one another; you’ll dine near a little-league team that’s just triumphed on the field. And you’ll enjoy pies with imaginative combos of toppings, including the one they named after us.
Red Front Restaurant
71 Division St., Troy
While we have so many options for great pizza in Troy, we have recently developed an addiction to the Red Front’s delicious, crispy, spicy pie. A definite winner in our book.
261 New Scotland Ave., Albany
Victoria Gelaj puts heart and soul into her pizzeria-cum-restaurant. Fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and fresh garlic are among the toppings, and that’s what’s on the Margarita, while the primavera boasts spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and mushrooms. Buffalo wings are available as a side or a topping; even chicken parm and the pineapple-ham Hawaiian are among the offerings.
Best Pizza: Jack’s.
Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
52 South Pearl St., Albany
Being in the shadows of the Times Union Center, it’s easy to overlook this longtime Albany favorite. Owner Deborah Cote keeps the tradition going with a full range of slices and a comfortable place to share an entire pie, with thick, crisp crusts and a generous amount of topping.
Antipasto’s Vegetarian Bistro and Wine Bar
1028 Route 146, Clifton Park
We have come to know Antipasto’s as a perennial winner of Best Vegetarian. But Anitpasto’s also excels in pizza. A crust cooked to perfection, the perfect amount of cheese, classic creations: the Stephano—roasted garlic, asparagus, roasted red peppers, gorgonzola cheese and tomato; the Official—roasted red peppers, spinach, portabella mushrooms, smoked mozzarella with a garlic crust; or the Porta—portabella mushrooms, smoked mozzarella and a fresh herb blend. Don’t settle for chain pizza when you have the best pizza in Clifton Park at Anitpsato’s.
The Hidden Café
Delaware Plaza, Delaware Ave., Delmar
Branching from Middle Eastern to a full-blown menu adding continental and European items was a shrewd choice for chef-owner Joseph Soliman. He has built up a clientele and shows off his skill at turning out whatever is requested and doing it well. The tucked-away space seems amusing on the outside; inside, you’re somewhere overseas.
1814 Western Ave., Albany
You’re thinking spanakopita, souvlaki, moussaka. You’ll find it here, but you’ll also find saganaki, lamb youvetsi and a wonderful array of dips, not to mention homemade Greek desserts, all courtesy chef Harry Hatziparaskevas, a transplant from Manhattan’s acclaimed Ithaka restaurant. It’s upscale dining with casual pricing and ambiance.
1300 15th St., Troy
Polish cooking is about family, about the aroma of cabbage and the easy crunch of kielbasa. The menu has expanded (and they now offer wine and beer!), but there’s still a foundation of such things as pirogies and golumbkis, stuffed cabbage, potato pancakes and, of course, goulash—Polish or Hungarian style.
315 Central Ave., Albany
The Grande Special gets you a beef burrito, beef enchilada, beef chile relleno, beef taco, Mexican rice and refried beans. The mix of Mexican and Latin-American dishes favors (and does well by) the latter, with items like enchiladas, Tex-Mex quesadillas, chimichangas, taquitos Mexicanos (shredded beef or chicken deep fried in corn tortillas) and more. And great desserts!
Best Caribbean: First Choice.
Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
First Choice Caribbean American Cuisine
451 Fulton St., Troy
Yah hungry, mon? The folks at First Choice consistently serve up the ultimate authentic island flavors—creamy ital stew, sweet fried plantains, curry goat, stewed cabbage and Jerk Chicken that’ll make you sweat and suck the bones dry. Don’t go here expecting white tablecloths and attentive service. Do go here expecting to slow down, grab your own soda out of the cooler, and buckle into a plate of heaping deliciousness. Check out their lunch buffet for First Choice at its best.
9B Johnson Road, Latham; 47 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
Best Indian: Karavalli.
Photo: Julia Zave
Covering something like six regions of India, Karavalli not unreasonably employs a bunch of chefs each specializing in one or more of those regions. Start with dosai, their signature dish, a rice crepe rolled around a filling of potatoes or vegetables and served with piquant dipping sauces. Then marvel at the breadth of the rest of the menu. Great buffet.
2243 15th St., Troy
Ali Baba just seems to get busier. It used to be a secret place for excellent Turkish food. Now you’ll have others nearby—and we’re never surprised to recognize friends here. Get an appetizer sampler with its side of puffy lavash bread and garlic sauce. Try the beyti sarma, which wraps slices of a rotisserie loaf in the same bread with a mix of sauces.
184 River St., Troy
At this point it’s the area’s only Lebanese restaurant, but it maintains an excellent standard. Owner George Hajnasr goes out of his way to please you, presenting a menu of chicken or beef shawarma, hummus, falafel, baba ghanouj, meat pies, salads and more in a modest-sized, very informal setting.
25 Chapel St., Albany
Indonesian fare isn’t the raison d’être for this restaurant, but it’s a great side benefit when contemplating the virtuoso menu chef-owner Yono Purnomo provides. A five-course Indonesian rijsttafel gives you an comprehensive overview of the cuisine, while more continental items include Muscovy duck breast with duck confit, ribeye of veal with sweetbread-mushroom ragout, rack of lamb with Indonesian stir-fried rice and more.
997 Central Ave., Albany
Note that the bare-bones ambiance has improved over the years, while the cuisine remains as elegant and flavorful as ever. Look for the usual array of curries and soups (we can’t overpraise the khao soi) but note also how nicely even the simple appetizers are presented. Pan-Asian dishes and sushi also are available.
Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant
307 Central Ave., Albany
We’ve still got doggy bags in our fridge from our last trip to Van’s—the helpings are absolutely tremendous. But that’s not the best part. Behind an unassuming storefront, Van’s is almost always bustling, serving up what plenty of locals have discovered to be the best Pho in the land. We challenge you to find a weak dish on the menu, but implore you to try the stuffed Vietnamese pancake. Betcha can’t finish it in one sitting.
Best Chinatown Chinese
10 Wolf Road, Colonie
Nothing special about the dining room. It’s all in the food, promised by an extensive, vegetarian-friendly menu and featuring Chinatown takes on fresh fish and unusual seasonings. A typical Cantonese-Szechuan item list has unexpected added extras, like beef with satay sauce, crispy fried chicken in oyster sauce, squid with hot pepper, duck feet with pepper-black bean sauce, conch with brown mushrooms and even conch with duck feet.
Best Suburban Chinese (Tie)
685 Hoosick Road, Brunswick
1519 Route 9, Clifton Park
Restaurateur-architect Steve Chang’s restaurants are as beautiful to look at and sit in as they are in which to find satisfying meals. His menus have Chinese offerings the quality of which is exemplified by the terrific hot and sour soup; the Clifton Park restaurant also boasts more pan-Asian fare and a wonderful weekend dim sum brunch that’s as authentic as we’ll find in these parts.
Mari’s Japanese Cuisine
2049 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady
For us, the key to successful Japanese is quality and consistency—that and a side of warm, familial ambiance is still what you’ll receive at this treasured gem in Schenectady. Be it the pork katsu don (not on the menu, but just ask Al nicely if he’ll make it for you), the Ishikari nabe or some sushi to name a few, you can’t miss! Watch Jiro do his magic while taking it all in. Mari’s is always an event that stimulates the senses. At 25 years strong.
Best Japanese Steakhouse
260 Wolf Road, Colonie
Everyone loves a good show, and Koto never fails to deliver one if you choose to sit at one of the large hibachi tables where they’ll slice, dice and sizzle your food before your very eyes. And the results are as impressive as the show—but don’t overlook the equally impressive traditional Japanese fare you can order at one of the quieter tables.
16 Metro Park Road, Albany
From Peking duck to pad Thai, tempura to stuffed vegetables in curry sauce and even a spacious sushi bar, Buffalo Wagon cheerfully presents fare from all over China on a menu that includes Japanese, Thai, Korean and Malaysian dishes. It’s a large, comfortable space in an unlikely (meaning strip-mall) setting.
The Jonesville Store
989 Main St., Clifton Park
A couple of miles from the Sprawlville we know as Clifton Park, in sleepy Jonesville, lies an oasis of comfort and good food that many area residents probably don’t know exists. The Jonesville Store offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and deli food to go in quaint, casual, country-store surroundings. The special weekend dinners with live music are a treat not to be missed.
11 New Scotland Ave., Albany
When Joseph Zappone and Patrick Fiore recently reopened the place, it was to bring back the glory days of their own patronage of Quintessence. Thus it not only looks as it did in the ‘80s (even better, in fact), but it also sports much the same menu, down to the oddities like a side of spinach fettuccine salad with many an order.
Best Wine Bar
The Wine Bar and Bistro
200 Lark St., Albany
A repeat winner. Neighborhood wine lovers can’t resist this cozy gathering spot where conversation naturally flows as freely as the wine. And chef Kevin Everleth’s menu continues to dazzle with its tasty assortment of large and small plates.
Best Brew Pub
Brown’s Brewing Company
417 River St., Troy
When Garry and Kelly Brown came up with their vision for Brown’s in 1993 they probably didn’t realize that it would start a Hudson River revival that continues to this day. Creating more than 25 delicious craft beers, and with a menu to match, Brown’s has not only revitalized a whole street but has given downtown Troy something to be very proud of. With their beautiful deck overlooking the Hudson, the amazing energy that permeates the taproom and restaurant and legions of loyal customers , Brown’s is an Troy treasure that only seems to get better every year.
Capital Q Smokehouse
329 Ontario St., Albany
Holy finger lickin’, lip smackin’ goodness. This place makes some tasty delicious barbecue. The menu boasts three varieties of pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked yardbirds, fried catfish, wet or dry ribs, and all the delectable side dishes you could ask for—from cornbread pudding to succotash. We have yet to try a single thing that didn’t make our mouths water for more.
Iron Gate Cafe
182A Washington Ave., Albany
The line out the door of this place every day around noon should corroborate our opinion that Iron Gate is the best workday lunch stop. In addition to fresh soups and a fleet of outstanding speciality sandwiches (dig the Iron Gate Philly), there’s always a selection of creative daily specials that make use of wholesome ingredients. Linger on their shady patio or order straight through their Web site if you’re in a rush.
Gershon’s Deli & Caterer
1600 Union Ave., Schenectady
Gershon’s, ahh Gershon’s—the pickles alone are enough to make you go mad with desire!
Andy’s & Sons Importing Co.
Our perennial favorite, Andy’s deli counter offers subs hefty enough to pass for small babies—and almost as loveable. (Except you don’t eat babies.) The best in imported meats and cheeses are piled to Dagwoodian heights on fresh-baked rolls in a truly old-school Italian deli. All at reasonable prices that put the chains to shame.
181 Freeman’s Bridge Road, Glenville
It’s also the best place from which to watch planes takeoff and land at Schenectady County Airport, so you might as well do it with one of their superior burgers in hand. They’re made from scratch and the daily specials include a couple of different burger preparations, including Cajun seasonings or a topping of blue cheese. The hand-cut fries also are excellent.
Best Hot Dogs
111 Congress St., Troy
Little dogs you order a few at a time, little dogs topped with meat sauce and mustard and onions and oozing their juices into the soft bun. Take a bite and enjoy the snap of the casing giving way. Take another bite and that’s that dog down the hatch. Don’t forget the side of fries.
319 Ontario St., Albany
Tacos are simple food, but a great one tastes like more than the sum of its parts. At Bros. the secret is fresh ingredients. All the veggies are local, none of the cheese is processed, none of the meat is pre-cooked, and all of the tortillas are hand-made daily. The combinations are plentiful, but Chef Adam’s homemade chorizo and the many vegetarian options really make this place stand out.
Best Cheap Eats
Bombers Burrito Bar
258 Lark St., Albany; 447 State St., Schenectady
There’s a double identity here. There are the burritos, complete meals-in-a-wrap, with an imaginative array of ingredients at prices even students can afford. And then there’s the bar scene, which comes alive after dark and adds yet another cheap-eats dimension.
402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs; 1225 Western Ave., Albany
A mark of the Albany branch’s popularity is its need to throw people off the Wi-Fi at lunchtime. Table squatters notwithstanding, both locations offer generous-sized coffees without attaching silly names to hem, a full range of tea and Italian sodas, pastries galore and the area’s best bagels. Not to mention refreshingly literate counter help.
2082 Delaware Turnpike (Route 443), Clarksville
Chef-owner Daniel E. Smith presides over griddles and grill, turning out everything from eggs over easy to eggs Benedict, not to mention pancakes and waffles of unparalleled homemadeness, red flannel hash and a changing array of specials. Lunch is equally inventive, and popular demand has him serving dinners on weekends, too.
Best Fish Fry
Gene’s Fish Fry
300 Troy Road, Rensselaer
When the snow starts to melt, we start counting down the days to April 26. That’s when Gene’s Fish Fry opens its window and delivers the best fish fry around. This staple has been serving up the fried goods for more than 50 years and continues to be a warm summer night’s tradition every season. Order the hot and fresh fish fry, clam roll, seafood dinner, burger, and more, at the old-skool’ counter from an always friendly staff. Take it to go or sit on their outdoor patio with an ocean mural back drop. A little under the sea right in Rensselaer.
Best Fish & Chips
142 Grand Ave., Saratoga Springs
It’s an Irish pub and tearoom, an odd-sounding combination, but it’s really a comfortable neighborhood meeting place that’s as good for families as for those in search of brew. And the fish and chips is a superb example of how this dish should be—fish that’s firm but crunchy, fries with the right degree of doneness, and a schooner of Newcastle to wash it down.
Jose Malone’s Irish Mexican Restaurant
405 River St., Troy
Chef Ryan Cusack never fails to impress. Year after year he finds no ways to wow us, and this year we cannot get enough of his 16-spice Memphis ribs with a strawberry and chipotle barbecue sauce. There’s barbecue, and then there are ribs, and these ribs are everything great ribs ought to be: spicy and fall off the bone tender, with an amazing kick.
Best Restaurant Transition
456 Madison Ave., Albany
When Debbie Klauber announced that she’d found a buyer for her iconic Albany sandwich shop, patrons couldn’t help feeling a bit of dread. But new owner Tom Reiner has continued the tradition of making delicious sandwiches, soups, pies and such. Except for some slight menu tweaks, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Best Time Machine
South End Tavern
757 Burden Ave., Troy
Since 1934, the Burke family has been serving meals and drinks at the far end of Troy. Step inside the “ladies entrance” whether you’re a lady or a gent or neither, and nibble on the living ghosts of Troy’s past. The Coke Plant, where fuel was made, not soda, used the tavern as a cafeteria of sorts, giving workers chits to eat dinner when overtime shifts were assigned. Ask a waiter—always a man—for a half-and-half and you’ll get a ham and cheese sandwich. Weeknight specials draw regulars for a reason, and the New York strip is fine.
Best Hard Ice Cream (New School)
5 Railroad St., Great Barrington, Mass.
Owner Danny Mazursky has been perfecting the art of small-batch ice-cream production for two decades, as the long lines on weekend afternoons attest. More traditional flavors share blackboard space with peanut-butter mudslide, ginger, cinnabon and espresso cookie; whatever your choice, expect some of the richest, creamiest ice cream you’ve ever tasted.
Best Hard Ice Cream (Old School)
Ask anyone in upstate New York or Vermont, country or city, and they’ll know their hometown Stewart’s Shop. Now ask them their favorite flavor, and you’ll get a story to go along with it. Whether it be stopping in for a cone after the game or for a hand-packed pint on home movie night, Stewart’s ice cream is on everyone’s favorite old-school ice-cream list. From Crumbs Along the Mohawk to Fireworks to their internationally award winning Philly Vanilla, they’ve been churning out this delicious cool treat since 1945.
Best Soft Ice Cream: The Snowman.
Photo: Leif Zurmuhlen
Best Soft Ice Cream
531 5th Ave., Troy
Summer means soft ice cream. And soft ice cream, in all its sweet, drippy, nostalgic glory, means the Snowman. They’ve been making ice cream (and sundaes and shakes and sherbets and cakes) at their roadside stand for more than 50 years. And they sure do it right.
Villa Italia Pasticceria
226 Broadway, Schenectady
Always a favorite for so many reasons, but right now, it’s all about the gelato. So rich and creamy, with a mountain of flavors to choose from, it’s the perfect summer time, or any time treat!
Best Ice Cream Parlor
43 Lincoln Ave., Amsterdam
Founded in 1925 by Samuel Fariello, this Amsterdam institution retains the Norman Rockwell look of vintage Americana, as current owners Adolph Sorensen and Theresa Dufel continue to prepare and serve their excellent sundaes (try the homemade hot fudge) and offer a toothsome array of chocolates and other sweets.
197 Lark St., Albany
There must be something about Roumania’s pastry industry that makes everything Crisan turns out taste special. Claudian Crisan’s parents run three bakeries in their native country, while she and her husband turn out under-priced pastries, cakes, gelato and savory dishes at a Lark St. Storefront that’s a good place to stop for a cappuccino.