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Sans rival: Chez Sophie. Photo by: Ellen Descisciolo

Best Restaurant

Chez Sophie
Route 9, Malta

It’s an exceptional French restaurant in an unobtrusive tin diner that is like a slice of foodie heaven, minus stuffy atmospherics and an attitude problem that makes the competition pale in comparison. Chef and owner Paul Parker is committed to incredibly fresh food (often from local sources) and his innovative creations keep this menu varied and changing. Their pink plate special—a prix fixe menu only offered in the off-season—is perfect for those of us on writer’s salaries who want to celebrate a special occasion. So whether you’re young and a little scrappy around the edges or slickly dressed with deep pockets, they’ll treat you the same: with warmth and hospitality. The wine list is excellent, the deserts are delectable and the service is fine.

Best New Restaurant

Chameleon on the Lake
251 County Route 67, Saratoga Springs

Richard Rodriguez is the personable man in front; chef Dominic Colose works the kitchen. Together they have transformed this lakeside shack into a lively and gustatorially fascinating destination.

Best Italian (Gourmet)

Café Capriccio
49 Grand St., Albany

Chef Jennifer Hewes is the culinary secret here, while owner Jim Rua fronts what’s still the most eclectic and friendly place in town. Look for fresh pasta and homemade dessert specials sprucing up what’s already a legendary menu. Isn’t that Bjoerling warbling in the background?

Best Italian (Neighborhood)

Appian Way Restaurant
1839 Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady

Back in business, with sisters Anna and Gina Ferrera working their magic on a menu in which the humblest-seeming sauce is a transforming experience. Everything is homemade, from the welcoming bread to the delicious ice cream for dessert.

Best Italian (Vegetarian)

Antipasto’s
1028 Route 146, Clifton Park

Once you sample the eggplant-portobello-smoked mozzarella pizza, you’ll forget all about that forbidden romance with pepperoni. Sure, there are soy cutlets to stand in for meat, but who needs it when the veggie fare is this creative?

Best Continental

Mansion Hill Inn
115 Philip St., Albany

A touch of old Albany here, as the Stofelano family presides over a top-flight restaurant that also offers rooms. Steve Stofelano presents varied fare that takes the Continental concept into the 21st century, with special attention to wine as well.

Best French

Saratoga Lake Bistro
Route 9P, Saratoga Springs

Chef Eric Masson, formerly of Ferrandi’s French Restaurant, is back in a new venue that allows him to showcase his Escoffier-style cookery along with more Americanized fare for the boaters and beachgoers.

This Plummer’s a peach: McGuire’s chef Andy Plummer.
Photo by: John Whipple

Best American

McGuire’s
353 State St., Albany

Chef Andrew Plummer holds forth brilliantly in this nicely appointed restaurant that balances a menu of creative fare with an active social presence. There’s stuff happening with sauces you’ll have to taste to believe.

Best International

dine
26 Henry St., Saratoga Springs

Ron Farber is a cosmopolitan chef who brings together a variety of influences, French and Asian among them, with some touches of down-home Italian in what can only be described as a truly American menu.

Best Chinese

Emperor’s
10 Wolf Road, Colonie

While we miss having Emperor’s at its old Lark Street location—where it would now be literally right next door to our new offices—we’re still more than willing to make the drive to Wolf Road to sample the best, most authentic Chinese cooking in the region. An added plus is a lengthy vegetarian menu to complement the scrumptious duck and shrimp preparations and the absolutely succulent Hong Kong garlic chicken.

Best Thai

Sushi Thai Garden
44-46 Phila St., Saratoga Springs

Sometimes you need a sweet green curry, with that tang of coconut milk to set off the flavors. This is where you want to go, in a pleasantly bustling dining room with a sushi bar and Japanese fare as well.

Best Vietnamese

Restaurant Saigon
307 Central Ave., Albany

The menu is vast and, in parts, incomprehensible to a Westerner. But when you tuck into that bowl of noodle soup, you’ll understand. Spring rolls are great, the rice dishes rock, and the beverages are scary.

The raw and the cooked: Sushi Art. Photo by: Martin Benjamin

Best Japanese

Sushi Art
2025 State St., Schenectady

The restaurant includes a sushi bar as well as brazier-outfitted booths for a wider-than-usual array of Asian fare. But also look for good-old tonkatsu, teriyaki and tempura among the menu.

Best Sushi

Sushi House
6 New Scotland Ave., Albany

Even as fresh components are ever easier to find in the area, this restaurant continues to provide them in inventive combinations and elegant displays from an unprepossessing storefront.

Best Indonesian

Yono’s
Armory Center, 64 Colvin Ave., Albany

Yono’s brand of Indonesian fare deserves repeat plaudits because it’s in the context of a wonderful restaurant with an excellent offering of continental fare as well.

Best Scandinavian

Helsinki Café
284 Main St., Great Barrington, Mass.

The extras are what make this place special, from the wonderful selection of tea to the adjacent blues café. And it’s not just gravlax and borscht—look for jerk chicken and shrimp tostadas as well.

Best Greek

Aegean Breeze
327 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass.

You don’t need to go to Athens to grab the gold. A relatively short trip to Great Barrington’s Aegean Breeze will result in a Grecian feast for the appetites—both spiritual and physical—that, in any realm, is a contender. Succulent meats and fish, roasted and served redolent with rosemary, lemon and olive oil, are a menu highlight, as are any of a variety of tzatziki, what we mere mortals might otherwise call dips. A simple dining room and gracious service complement the unwavering feeling that this is why the gods descended to Earth.

Best Mediterranean

BFS
1736 Western Ave., Albany
Newton Plaza, Latham

The two locations offer a good chance that you’ll sample the fine fusion at this deli-restaurant, where Shaw Rabadi’s recipes also include some of the more typical deli fare. But why bother when the Mediterranean offerings are so good?

Best Middle Eastern

Ali Baba
2243 15th St., Troy

A perennial favorite, a casual eatery getting ever more discovered as folks flock to the for-real gyros and toothsome kebabs. Your puffy lavash will rise before your eyes in the hot oven, from which also emerges an interesting array of pizzas.

Best Ethiopian

Up for Grabs

Urban markets smaller than our Capital Region support a wide variety of multi-ethnic restaurants, but we lag about 20 years behind. So we wait . . .

Best Indian

Sitar
1929 Central Avenue, Colonie

The first and still the best. In recent years, a number of good Indian restaurants have converged on the Capital Region, but owner Adi Irani’s tandoori specialty dishes and scrumptious, buttery nan make Sitar the premier place in the Capital Region for Punjabi favorites. There’s something for everyone—we recommend the lamb vindaloo curry, the paneer palak or the chicken tikka.

Best Cajun

Bayou Café
507 Saratoga Road, Glenville
79 N. Pearl St., Albany

Cajun food means party time, and this is realized most deftly by the Bayou folks at both of their locations. Whether you’re looking for jambalaya or etouffée or just want to munch nachos with your beer while digging the live music, you’ll enjoy it.

Best Mexican

El Mariachi II
289 Hamilton St., Albany

On a sub-zero winter’s night, El Mariachi II gives you reason to believe summer will come again. The Crema de Elote Poblano, a corn-and-sour-cream soup, tastes like corn on the cob in a bowl. And that’s just for starters. The unusual Mexican and Spanish menu and inviting interior make El Mariachi II a hopping spot. Weekend nights, the bar is often standing room only; and when summer is here for real, the courtyard tables beckon.

Best Southwestern

Jake’s Round-Up
23 Main St., South Glens Falls

If it were only Southwestern, it still would win. But it’s got a kind of free-for-all aspect to the menu that matches the crazy array of mismatched dining rooms with mismatched furniture, as you well might have found in some Southwestern saloon.

Best Southern

Hattie’s
45 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs

Hattie Austin’s tradition of simple, excellent fried chicken lives on in a somewhat fancier guise—but it still may be one of your best Saratoga bargains when the season starts to hop. Fresh biscuits, hop’ john, jambalaya—plenty here to delight the palate.

Best Steakhouse

Doc’s Steakhouse
63 Putnam Street, Saratoga Springs

Chef-owner Bobby Mitchell honors his grandfather (the eponymous “Doc”) with an old-fashioned steakhouse and salad bar. The meat is cooked to your preference, which, like my choice of beef, is an ever rarer phenomenon.

Best Restaurant Worth a Drive (North)

Friends Lake Inn
Friends Lake Road, Chestertown

Hosts Sharon and Greg Taylor accommodate your dining and oenophilic needs, offering a creative menu and a friendly (as the name suggests) and elegant dining room. Rooms upstairs, too, if you’re looking for more than one meal.

Best Restaurant Worth a Drive (South)

New World Home Cooking Co.
1411 Route 212, Saugerties

Chef-owner Ric Orlando is a tireless innovator, an enthusiast of the Slow Food movement, whose eclectic fare liberally plunders all cultures and brings it all together in the most flavorful, least boring food you’ll find anywhere.

Best Restaurant Worth a Drive (West)

Beardslee Castle
123 Old State Road, Little Falls

A wonderful survey of American fare, new and old, served in an actual castle (those robber barons had money back then) that’s not only an attractive building but also haunted! The grilled duckling is a special treat.

Best Late-Night Dining

Justin’s
301 Lark St., Albany

A perennial winner for the perennial reason: There’s no place else to get this quality of cafe food between 11 PM and 1 AM nightly. Even after the kitchen stops serving dinner entrées at 10 or 10:30, late-night diners can still enjoy seafood chowder or chile; salads; burgers; ropa vieja and beans; catfish and blackened- or jerk-chicken sandwiches; goat cheese and vegetable quesadillas; and plenty more. So when that midnight hunger pang strikes and a slice just won’t do, Justin’s has what you need.

Best Really Late-Night Dining

Esperanto
6½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs

It’s 2:40 AM on Caroline Street and it’s time for another feeding. The beer in your belly is lonely and Esperanto is calling your name. You go brave the line and, no matter what, it always tastes like the best possible thing to eat, be it a stuffed potato, slice of cheese pizza or (the gold standard of late night cravings) a doughboy. Also, the folks behind the counter deserve their share of praise for some serious late-night fortitude and skill at handling loud—sometimes angry—drunk meatheads.

Best-Kept Secret

The Hidden Café
Delaware Plaza, Delaware Ave., Delmar

This shouldn’t be such a secret, but even chef-owner Joseph Soliman acknowledges its out-of-the-way status with a clever name. This is where, for a few years now, he has made the area’s finest hummus and baba ghanouj and other Mediterranean fare, with original menu specials, too.

Best Intimate Dining

Tuscan Room at Café Capriccio
49 Grand St., Albany

It’s an elegant room tucked beside the main restaurant, and it’s where to gather your dozen-or-so friends or associates for a multi-course vicarious vacation somewhere in the Mediterranean, with a menu designed and prepared by the engaging Jim Rua.

Best Place to Go When Someone Else is Paying

The Trillium
Sagamore Resort, Bolton Landing

If you work for a fancy company, chances are someone else will pay for you to dine here, because it’s a popular destination for corporate retreats. The Trillium is calm and elegant, and the food and service are perfect.

Best Pizza

Paesan’s Pizza & Restaurant
289 Ontario St. Albany 1785 Western Ave., Albany

If it’s a great slice of cheese pizza you are longing for after a night of carousing, and you don’t mind braving the uptown-bar scene, Paesan’s on Ontario is your ticket. If you can’t stand the stumbling 21-year-olds, head up to Western Avenue where there is plenty of parking and the product is equal on all accounts—great sauce and just the right amount of cheese and crust so that no one flavor competes with another. Don’t expect to be able to use the facilities after midnight though, grandpa closes them up to keep the drunken college kids out.

De Fazio’s Pizzeria
266 Fourth St., Troy

Their hours are maddening and they’re a cash-only operation, but you’re trading real dough for real dough. And the sauce is a not- oversweetened statement of what pizza fundamentally is about.

Soho Pizzeria
269 Lark St., Albany

Mmm, a big, honkin’ slice of pie with a perfectly crisp-yet-full crust, and cheese covering every last inch—who can resist it? Out of all the little pizza shops on and around Lark Street, we’d have to say, this one takes the cake. The meat lover’s pie comes with everything from sausage to roast beef; the veggie lover’s comes with the gamut of fresh vegetables. And the fact that Soho’s is open to 2 AM during the week, and 4 AM on the weekends? Well that’s just icing on . . . er . . . we mean, cheese on the pie.

Lou-Bea’s
376 Delaware Ave./198 Lishakill Road, Albany

Not so thin that the contents land in your lap, but thin enough that the sauce and cheese dominate each bite as they should, a Lou-Bea’s crust also comes dusted with garlic powder, just as a bonus. Lou-Bea’s claims to be the oldest pizzeria in Albany, and it has clearly hit on a formula that works, despite the humble takeout atmosphere. A special favorite is the mushroom-and-onion, whose fresh toppings would be right at home in an upscale restaurant’s appetizer list.

Best Burger

Oliver’s Café
181 Freeman’s Bridge Road, Glenville

A favorite year after year because it’s simple and to the point here: Fresh meat. Fresh-made patties. A quick trip across the grill. A changing choice of toppings. And a side of hand-cut fries.

Best Burger (Coronary)

The Emmy-Bull Burger
Dan’s Place II, 494 Washington Ave., Albany

The hanging sign out front of Dan’s—more accurately, Donna and Dan’s, as the menu informs us—tells us we’ve come to the “Home of the Emmy Burger,” but for a real near-death eating experience, upgrade to the far-more-lethal Emmy-Bull burger. How better to describe this culinary atom bomb than to list the ingredients: A half-pound hamburger, roughly the size of a Volkswagen Golf, is topped with American cheese, two slices of bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a fried freakin’ egg. On a sesame seed bun. We’ll give you a high-five if you make it through the whole thing—if you can still lift your arm, that is.

Burger meisters: the folks at Jumpin’ Jacks.
Photo by: Martin Benjamin

Best Burger (total experience)

Jumpin’ Jack’s
5 Schonowee Ave., Scotia

The Jack Burger is a double cheeseburger with coleslaw. Now this may not be something you’d want to eat every day, but it’s damn near perfect. With decades to season the griddle, Jumpin’ Jack’s is a summer delight that’s gone from a real drive-in to one fine burger shack with a low-fuss menu. There’s one house for the grill and one for the ice cream—their blueberry soft-serve is worth the trip alone, though you’ll never know if it’s the flavor of the day. Patrons sit alongside the Mohawk and watch the Coors Light U.S. Water Ski Show Team (really), listen to the grill guys yell unintelligible slang for what people order and bask in the glory that is a summer day. Perhaps it’s for the best that they’re only open April to September.

Best French Fries

Justin’s
301 Lark St., Albany

Big steak fries, crispy but not burnt (unless you ask for them that way). One word: Mmmmm. We’re not sure what makes great French fries so great (the quality of the oil might have something to do with it), but we know ’em when we taste ’em. Bonus: You can order the fries with a side of cheeseburger.

Best Hot Dog

Gus’s
212 25th St., Watervliet

Gus’s is tiny hot-dog heaven, a jewel in the working-class rough of Watervliet. Using the same family recipes his father used in 1954, owner Steve Haita and his cast of characters serve up a cheap, delicious plate of grilled meat, whether pig or cow strike your fancy. For literally less than five bucks, you can walk away stuffed, return to your mangy state job and pass out while surfing the net for used-auto service manuals. A Metroland staffer tried to beat Gus’s hot dog eating record in 1995 but lapsed into a coma after ingesting only 26 of ’em with the works. Are you up to the challenge? Well, are you, punk?

Best Diner

Circle Diner
Latham Circle, Latham

Sparkling chrome and glass standing guard over busy Latham Circle, it’s a dineraunt with an old-fashioned diner’s sensibility, where the daily specials may surprise you even as you study the traffic outside over a dish of comfort food.

Best Barbecue (Smoked)

Mo’s Bar-B-Q
107 Mill St., Troy

Easy to overlook this tucked-in-a-corner place, but it’s a rare northeastern outpost of truly slow-smoked meatstuffs that spend hours developing a falling-off-the-bone texture and that distinctive barbecue pinkness.

Best Barbecue (Grilled)

PJ’s Barbecue
Route 9, Saratoga Springs

Nothing beats the aroma of those charcoal pits smoking in back of PJ’s, where the chicken is one of the summer’s sure treats. PJ himself is a retro kind of guy who spins vintage tunes while you eat at this seasonal phenomenon.

Best Health Food

Honest Weight Food Co-op
484 Central Ave, Albany

You just can’t beat the dedication and selection of Honest Weight. There’s a reason you frequently run into health practitioners in the store, showing their clients around—it’s the most full-service and non-price-gouging place to get organic, local, fair trade, and, yes, healthy food. You’ve got to trust a place that carries three different forms of textured vegetable protein—in bulk. The gourmet section would be a delight for foodies who had no interest in the health-food aspect, but those who are trying to avoid sugar, salt, etc. will also find themselves well-served.

Best Vegetarian

Shades of Green
Lark St., Albany

There is no competition when it comes to Shades of Green being our favorite veggie-vegan restaurant. While their menu could use a shake-up, its reliability is a virtue because it is consistently tasty with creations like the tempeh Ruben, daily soups, and healthy shakes. We also have a particular affinity for their interesting, heaping sandwich creations like the fresh mozzarella or the apple-cheese monster—which is a veritable mountain of veggies held together with black olive mayo and honey mustard dressing.

Best Stealth Vegetarian

Emperor’s
10 Wolf Road, Colonie

It can be very challenging for vegetarians to find places to eat in the Capital Region. Emperor’s is the best place to get lots of veggie fare with the freshest veggies that change daily depending on what is available. The staff is extremely friendly, the joint is always spotless, and the staff remembers you from previous visits—and remembers that you asked for the vegetarian menu. Now that is service.

Best Sandwiches

Debbie’s Kitchen
456 Madison Ave., Albany

The glorious supersized wonders that are referred to as sandwiches at Debbie’s Kitchen are not your typical mishmash of fixings encased in bread. They are artful in color, taste and creativity, and they are a mouthful in more ways than one. For example: one concoction features artichokes, capers, spinach, red onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, bean sprouts, feta cheese and sun-dried tomato mayo. Now that is a veggie sandwich. If you find it a tad pricey, remember this: You can make an entirely new sandwich out of the stuff that falls out while you try to eat it.

Best Subs

Andy’s & Sons Importing Co.
256 Delaware Ave., Albany

It’s the small details that separate an OK sub from a great sub: a roll firm enough to weather overnight in the fridge without getting hopelessly soggy, real oil and vinegar rather than cheap, over-sweet Italian salad dressing, and high-quality meat in generous, but not Viking, quantities. Andy’s does it right. Not to mention they have an incredible variety of meats, cheeses, kick-ass sausage, and friendly expertise about all of the above.

Best Lunch

Iron Gate
182A Washington Ave., Albany

The Iron Gate opened last fall, to the joy of state workers and Center Square folks alike. With yummy sandwiches and inventive salads and soups, this little café has quickly become a lunching favorite. Plus, it’s an inviting, warm space with a charming garden-patio in which you can enjoy your lunch during the summer/early fall seasons.

Best Power Lunch

Jack’s Oyster House
42 State St., Albany

The old-fashioned, capacious dining room makes sense when it’s time to haggle over a deal in daytime. You don’t want the guys next to you to hear, so you sew it up quickly. And then enjoy a terrific burger or some of the menu’s more exotic fare.

Best Bread (Old World)

Perreca’s

33 N. Jay St., Schenectady

Rich, crusty loaves baked the old- fashioned way in a century-old coal-fired oven that may well have been running all that time. A small operation that distributes its product sparingly, with a friendly, well-stocked storefront.

Best Bread (Grandma)

The Bread Basket
Spring Street, Saratoga Springs

Joan Tallman and her bakers start the day around 6 AM baking everything fresh, and by early morning their wooden racks are filled with a bounty of breads. Beyond the serious pastries, the bread basket regularly produces 18 breads including varieties like their hearty honey wheat and onion dill, and treats like cinnamon swirl. They are also the only local spot to bake Limpa (a Swedish rye)—that earns this spot an extra point.

Best Bread (Sandwich)

Heidelberg Bread
Hannaford, other markets

Once you’ve tried the French peasant and sourdough loaves, move to the rye and raisin-sunflower. From a small bakery in Herkimer, this bread isn’t always easy to find, but it’s worth buying a few extra loaves when you do.

Best Bagels

Bagel Bite
544 Delaware Ave., Albany

Let’s get this straight: Bagels are not rolls with holes in the middle, any more than doughnuts are. They have a distinctive method of preparation, and a distinctive taste and texture when done right: doughy—not bready, dense, and totally satisfying. Bagel Bite does them right (get them in the morning while they’re fresh for the full experience), and provides a good mix of authentic and creative toppings.

Best Breakfast (Classy)

Madison’s End Cafe
1108 Madison Ave., Albany

Slightly pricier than a diner, and for a reason: This is breakfast for serious foodies, in chic but friendly confines. Creative turns on omelets, eggs benedict, pancakes, french toast and the like complement the breakfast basics. We love the stuffed french toast and the spiced raspberry pancakes and the Tuscan omelet and the tomato-and-zucchini twist on eggs benedict . . . and did we mention the homemade breads? Take someone you want to impress. Or just go to make your stomach happy.

Best Breakfast (Comfy)

Country Corner
Church Street, Saratoga Springs

Be it the charming waitresses or the fantastic food, Country Corner is a hard-to-resist start to the day. With only five tables and counter space, it’s a cozy spot where nearly everything is homemade, from the baked goods to the daily soups. The crowning jewel of this breakfast haven is, however, the homemade jam: blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, mixed berry, snozberry—it’s always devastatingly delicious. Other favorites are the many varieties of the fruit pancakes (particularly good with the oatmeal pancake batter) or the breakfast wraps that show up as specials. This is also a no-nonsense place that’s not going to rob its patrons blind for a couple eggs or drag out the breakfast experience to an unnecessary extent. Though there can be a wait on weekends, the eats are well worth it.

Better save room: Mrs. London's.
Photo by: Ellen Descisciolo

Best Desserts

Mrs. London’s
464 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

We can’t praise the work here enough. The desserts are little, intricate meals of chocolate or almond or whatever it is Michael London is exploring, tirelessly crafting confections which you can enjoy right there with a pot of tea.

Best Italian Ice

Civitello’s
42 North Jay St., Schenectady

For 83 years, this has been a summer mainstay of the neighborhood, an area now enshrined as Schenectady’s Little Italy. This is one reason why. Some of the other reasons are the pastries here.

Best Ice Cream

The Ice Cream Man
417 State Route 29, Easton

The lines wrap around the front porch during summertime, and the parking lot to the little log-cabin ice cream parlor gets crammed with cars, but the wait always seems like a sufficient sacrifice to make before the payoff: sheer ice cream bliss. A small local business making its own homemade premium ice cream (both hard and soft) using an old-fashioned batch method of production, the Ice Cream Man—located next to the Washington County Fairgrounds in Easton— is well worth the trip from Albany or even beyond. Think Ben & Jerry’s minus the sometimes-overdone cuteness of its flavor concoctions. Try the Ice Cream Man’s sublime Danish Cream ice cream for the sweetness of its simplicity (and the simplicity of its sweetness).

Best Gelato

Aromi D’Italia
2050 Western Ave., Guilderland

Delicious, smooth, and 10 times better than ice cream, gelato is a special Italian treat that combines whole milk, eggs, natural flavoring, and lots and lots of sugar. Not necessarily the best thing to consume on a regular basis, but when you’re in the mood for a real treat, head on down Western Avenue to Aromi D’Italia and check out their sweet selection of real, authentic gelato. They not only import the freshest ingredients to create their tasty flavors in-house, they make the gelato using machines they had specially imported from Italy, too!

Best Unidentifiable Ice Cream Flavor

Moxie’s Blue Moon
Spring Street, Troy, east of Emma Willard

It’s a gimmick, to be sure. They swear they’ll tell you what’s in it if you guess right. They imply that you might need a little courage to try it because it might include things you wouldn’t think of going in ice cream. They claim that no one has ever guessed it, but you’d kick yourself if you knew. We know three things about the Blue Moon ice cream at this adorable and friendly roadside stand: Boy is it blue; few people guess the same thing (one of us thought cardamom, but was told no); and it’s really, really good.

Best Chocolate

The Chocolate Gecko
540 Delaware Ave., Albany

There are reasons that people order from the Chocolate Gecko from as far away as Japan, and they go well beyond the adorable wire-and-bead geckos. The chocolates are adventurous (key lime, tequila and chipotle pepper in your chocolate?), generous (a “turtle”—a 3-inch diameter caramel-pecan-chocolate pie—can basically be a meal) and, well, to-die-for. Special pluses for many of the devoted customers are the emphasis on dark chocolate (where else is it actually more common than milk?) and the made-from-scratch caramel.

Best Brownies

Cardona’s
340 Delaware Ave, Albany

OK, so perhaps they should be called “best things that are called brownies, and are shaped like brownies, but bear only a passing resemblance to what you’re used to thinking of as a brownie.” Cardona’s makes a brownie that serves four. Think a combination of fudge, cheesecake, and chocolate mousse (sometimes more one than the other), and prepare for sugar shock. One with a great big smile plastered on it.

Best Wine List

Friends Lake Inn
Friends Lake Road, Chestertown

It’s more than a list. It’s a wine encyclopedia with a shorter, more accessible list that itself is more thoughtfully assembled than most. Don’t miss a tour of the cellar, where you can dine amidst the vintages.

Best Wine by the Glass

The Ginger Man
234 Western Ave., Albany

Taste a flight of unfamiliar wine or comfort yourself with the familiar. Whatever you choose can be complemented by something from the menu, and with so many different wines to sample, you’d best start soon.

Best Outdoor Drinking

The Adelphi Hotel
365 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

With your winnings tucked into your pocket, you stroll Saratoga’s Broadway with the intention to relax and unwind. You enter this vintage Victorian hotel, pass through it into the courtyard, order a cocktail and feel your cares slip away . . .

Best Refined Drinking

9 Maple
9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs

This is about as swanky as it gets: Offering regular jazz acts as entertainment, an extensive martini menu and an absolutely breathtaking array of single-malt scotches (158, to be exact), this tony and intimate Saratoga Springs night spot is a welcome haven for the tippler who has long since passed his/her “pitcher special” years.

Best Beer Selection

Mahar’s
1110 Madison Ave., Albany

Beer snobs, this one’s for you. With hundreds of beers via bottle, tap or cask, Mahar’s consistently provides the highest level of brew education. Sure, the bartenders can be a bit surly at times, but once you know the rules, you’re good to go. Sign up for the beer tour and get rewarded whenever you tally enough pints. Yup, you read that correctly—you get rewarded for drinking beer. Can life get any better? Oh, and one last bit of advice: Stay away from the beers brewed in third-world countries. You’ll thank us.

Best Reason for Restaurant Homicide

Cell Phones
Everywhere, damnit

Some restaurants have flat-out banned them, but it’s still too little. We managed to get the smokers to extinguish, so let’s neutralize the cell-phone jerks next. Remember: A dip into some marinara can quiet the most persistent ringer.

Readers Poll

Best American
1. Jack’s Oyster House
2. Outback Steakhouse

Best Italian
1. Lombardo’s
2. Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse

Best French/Continental
1. Provence

Best Seafood
1. Real Seafood Co.

Best Chinese
1. Ichiban

Best Japanese/Sushi
1. Ichiban

Best Vietnamese/Thai
1. My Linh

Best Mexican/Southwest
1. El Loco

Best Southern/Soul Food
1. Hattie’s

Best Caribbean
1. Clayton’s

Best Indian/Pakistani
1. Sitar
2. Shalimar

Best Greek
1. A Taste of Greece

Best International
1. Daniel’s at Ogden’s
Yono’s (tie)

Vegetarian
1. Shades Of Green

Best Steak House
1. Delmonico’s Italian Steakhouse

Best BBQ
1. Smokey Bones BBQ
2. PJ’s Barbeque

Best Brew Pub
1. Albany Pump Station

Best Diner
1. Latham 76 Diner

Best Deli
1. Gershon’s Deli

Best Brunch
1. Madison’s End Cafe

Best Outdoor Dining
1. Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.

Best Cheap Eats
1. McDonald’s

Best Catering
1. The Glen Sanders Mansion

Best Place to Take the Kids
1. Chuck E. Cheese’s

Best Place to Take a Date
1. Johnny Rockets

Best Power Lunch
1. Jack’s Oyster House

Best Place to Eat at 3 AM
1. Denny’s2. Latham 76 Diner

Best Burger
1. Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.

Best Wings
1. Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.

Best Pizza
1. I Love NY Pizza

Best Bagels
1. Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery

Best Sandwiches/Subs
1. Subway

Best Ice Cream
1. Guptill’s Coney Express
2. Ben & Jerry’s

Best Coffee
1. Dunkin’ Donuts

Best Desserts
1. Vanilla Bean Baking Co.

Best Martini
1. Alibi’s

Best Wine Bar
1. The Wine Bar

Best Beer Selection
1. Mahar’s

 

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