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american beauty: Lake Ridge.

Best American
Lake Ridge
35 Burlington Ave., Round Lake

There was madness in those Methodists, with their weeklong retreats; now Round Lake is a quiet museum of Victorian architecture that’s also home to Scott Ringwood’s elegant, satisfying restaurant that features fresh ingredients and imaginative menus. Try the pecan pork chop.

 


Best Italian (Northern)
Café Capriccio
49 Grand St., Albany
A perennial winner because Jim Rua’s long-running show continues to delight, with excellent food (thanks to chef Jennifer Hewes) and a dining room with exceptional personality (see Best Service). This place was all about Tuscan well before it started to become a craze.


Best Italian (Family)
Testo’s
124TH Street and Fourth Avenue, North Troy
It may seem like the sort of joint where you’d get funny looks if you’re not from the neighborhood, but you don’t have to live in Lansingburgh to eat at Testo’s; hell, people cross rivers to come here. Seriously, the food is dependable and damn good, and modestly priced, and the staff are equally welcoming whether you live a block or a county away. To coin a new phrase for Italian restaurants, we’re all family here.
Best Continental


Olde Shaker Inn
1171 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham
Tom Wallace does the impossible here: maintains a standard established 15 years ago, one that includes the quality of food and service and the elegant ambiance of the charming structure that houses the restaurant. Try the chicken Wellington for an unusual combo.


Best French
Chez Sophie
534 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
We’ve been hearing about the challenges this superb restaurant faced in moving to the Saratoga Hotel. But now Chez Sophie is where it needs to be, right downtown, offering not only the finest French food but also one of the finest all-around dining experiences in the area.


Best Steakhouse
The Bear’s
Route 7, Duanesburg
For almost 40 years, the Payne family has served the area’s best steaks in their living room, in a restaurant that has never advertised and books weekend reservations well in advance. Given that they’re out in Duanesburg, it suggests they’re doing something right.

 

We missed you: Yono’s.

Best Restaurant Rebirth
Yono’s
Hampton Inn and Suites, 25 Chapel St., Albany

His restaurant survived its experiment as a car-dealership adjunct, and Yono’s is now handsomely installed as part of a newly built hotel. The restaurant is unfailingly elegant, service is second to none, and the food . . . is Yono’s, which means it’s superior fine dining with an Indonesian touch.

 


Best New Restaurant
The Beekman Street Bistro
62 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs
Tim Meaney and Dan Spitz, formerly of the Flying Fish in Lake George, are in the forefront of the Beekman Street revitalization. Their fine-dining bistro features the innovative fare of Chef Spitz, served in a charming art-gallery setting.


Best Caribbean
First Choice
451 Fulton St., Troy
You’ll return again and again for the jerk chicken, but don’t forget to try the curries, callaloo and ackee. The lunch buffet is the area’s best bargain, and you dine in a casually appointed shrine to Bob Marley.


Best Chinese
Emperor’s
10 Wolf Road, Colonie
The competition is fast being absorbed by Chinese buffets, which have diluted the splendor of good Asian cookery. Fortunately, Emperor’s holds forth, undimmed, at its Wolf Road outpost, offering not only some of the best seafood preparations in the area but also a superb vegetarian menu.


Best Cuban
Carmen’s Cafe
198 First St., Troy
Strictly speaking, it’s only intermittently Cuban, with breakfast and lunch menus that also offer diner fare. But it comes out of a scratch kitchen, and this bustling, sunlit dining room is also becoming something of an arts salon. The Cuban sandwich is a killer.


Best Thai
Bangkok Thai Bistro
268 State St., Schenectady
The unlikely combo of Thai food in a century-old building in downtown Schenectady continues to thrive as both an outpost of this accessible, exotic cuisine and as a martini bar. As you read this, remember that there’s nothing as satisfying on a hot day as a good red curry.


Best Japanese
Saso’s Noodle House
218 Central Ave., Albany
Saso himself is behind the sushi bar, and he purveys not only exceptional food but also the artistry behind it. We were going to add a paean to noodle soup, but in the course of this discussion, we decided just to go there and have some. Join us.
Best Mexican


La Familia
54 Philip St., Albany
Francisco Vazquez cooked for Fresno’s for many years; perhaps that’s why he decided to bring authentic Mexican fare to Albany, cuisine with an Oaxacan focus. Amazingly low-priced lunch and dinner is served in a small and humble eatery that’s very much, as the name suggests, about the family.


Best Middle Eastern
Bagel Bite
544 Delaware Ave., Albany
Don’t expect just bagels when you dine at Bagel Bite. For example, the falafel is the region’s most delicious, and most importantly, consistently delicious, served with warmed pita bread, hummus, chopped tomato and onion. Bagel bite has many tasty Middle Eastern deli choices, and of course, baklava!


Best Lebanese
Al-Baraki
184 River St., Troy
Paul and Simone Chedrawee have been improving upon and expanding their little Antiques Row eatery even as the food remains uncommonly terrific, with the usual fare (hummus, tabouli) as well as wafer-crust pizzas and a variety of meatful and meatless dishes. Don’t forget to try Paul’s signature garlic paste.


Best Mediterranean
Ali Baba
2243 15th St., Troy
The prices have edged up but we don’t mind paying as long as the quality remains the same. Start with an appetizer platter, which also gets you a puffy loaf of lavash, and then try a wrapped durum kabob, which is known elsewhere as a gyro and is the real, carved-from-a-loaf thing.


Best Burger
Peaches Café
Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany
We find this a passionate topic. We want to steer you away from the chains whose burger meat is so lousy that they have to cook it medium-well. The Peaches Café Stuyvesant burger is a half-pounder that reminds what this all-
American dish should be, with good fresh meat and succulent sides. Runner-up: Oliver’s in Glenville.


Best Diner
Oliver’s
181 Freeman’s Bridge Road, Glenville
Not a chrome railroad car or a gleaming dineraunt, but Oliver’s does the breakfast-and-lunch thing as it should be done, cooking from scratch, offering reliable staples, and supplementing the menu with specials, including variations on their famous burgers and hand-cut fries.


Best Indian
Karavalli
9B Johnson Road, Latham
About 18 months ago, Karavalli quietly opened in a Latham strip mall and took the area by storm. It has upped the ante for Indian dining, offering not only the foodstuffs you’ve grown to love but also some fascinating alternatives, like dosai, an enormous, whisper-light lentil-and-rice confection from southern India.


Best Ethiopian
The first one to open here
Ah, yum. A big round plate of spongy, sourdough injera. Dollops of spicy lentils, tasty greens, savory meat. Having no idea what you’re eating. Getting way too full because the injera is your utensil. Honey wine. What? Doesn’t sound familiar? That’s because an Ethiopian restaurant is one of the very few international cuisines the region lacks. Why not make a good scene better? Anyone? We’ll go, we promise.


Best Tapas
Jackie Baldwin’s occasional Tapas Dinner at Carmen’s Café
198 First St., Troy
Her last high-profile gig was as chef at L’Ecole Encore; now she’s doing food at RPI. But every so often she takes over Carmen’s Café to offer tapas, and it’s an event not to be missed. Stop by and get on Carmen’s e-mail list.


Best International
Chameleon on the Lake
251 Stafford Bridge Road, Saratoga
Perched in an unlikely spot at the northern inlet to Saratoga Lake, Richard Rodriguez’s superb restaurant is a fun, cheerful, bustling place that offers a gamut from silly drinks to excellent fine dining, with a menu that knows no boundaries.


Best Barbecue
Chico’s BBQ
2490 Western Ave., Guilderland
It doesn’t hurt that owner Adrian “Chico” Arceci is a biker; hogs and smoked pig go together, and Chico slow-smokes pork and beef and chicken and more in an imposing structure behind his small, friendly eatery. Good bargains, too.


Best Restaurant Worth a Drive (South)
New World Home Cooking Co.
1411 Route 212, Saugerties
We keep begging chef-owner Ric Orlando to open an Albany branch; meanwhile, we make regular pilgrimages to his freewheeling, spice-friendly, hippies-welcome restaurant-cum-lifestyle, where you’ll expand your palate without any need for dentistry.


Best Restaurant Worth a Drive (West)
Beardslee Castle
123 Old State Rd., Little Falls
Once the home of an industrial magnate, this (putatively haunted) mansion is now host to fine dining and fun events. Don’t forget to check out the downstairs pub, appropriately named “The Dungeon.”


Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying
McGuire’s
353 State St., Albany
Chef Andrew Plummer produces dishes that are indescribably good, and this favorite-of-the-suit-and-tie-crowd place is priced accordingly. So tell your in-laws that this is the destination for that birthday meal, and order recklessly.


Best Late-Night Dining
Justin’s
301 Lark St., Albany
A perennial winner, and not just because it’s the only place where you can get more—much more—than a slice of pizza at 10 minutes to one. The café menu has everything from blackened-chicken Caesar salad to crab cakes to ropa vieja to one of the best pulled pork sandwiches you’ll find anywhere. Justin’s serves by far the most interesting—and delicious—food you’ll find after 11 PM.


Best Breakfast
Café Madison
1108 Madison Ave., Albany
Tuscan omelets, oatmeal-raspberry pancakes, variations on eggs Benedict variations with grilled zucchini slices, tomatoes, portabellas. . . . We’re getting delirious just thinking about it, and we haven’t even mentioned the several varieties of home-baked toast and the recently improved home fries. Or the fact that this longtime Pine Hills staple has had a gorgeous facelift and is now serving dinner as well. Have we given you enough reasons to go check it out?


Best Wine Bar (Wine)
Antica Enoteca
200 Lark St., Albany
If you can’t find a glass of wine you like here, then you probably just don’t like wine (and you can always order beer). Owner Mark Smith travels the world to (among other things) get wine and music and décor ideas for his café, and there are always new bottles being added to an already extensive list. With staff who know their wine and are happy to share that knowledge with you, a delightful clientele who never cease to spark up witty conversation, and an intimate, Euro-accented ambience, this is the place to play at being a café intellectual—or just enjoy an outstanding glass of wine.


Best Wine Bar (Food)
The Wine Bar
417 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
The portions are designed not only to complement the many wines this elegant eatery offers, but also to arrive in the size of your choice, so that you can enjoy anything from a snack to a full-blown meal at your own pace, with wine you select or that comes well-recommended.


Best Outdoor Dining
Nicole’s Bistro at Quackenbush Square
25 Quackenbush Square, Albany
Patios and decks and sidewalk cafes are popping up everywhere these days, but there’s still no place that does it quite as elegantly and romantically as Nicole’s Bistro. All the more remarkable is that the lovely garden patio is tucked between downtown parking lots and highway overpasses you hardly even notice. All this might be for naught but for the fact that the French/Continental food here is exceptional.


Best Outdoor Drinking
Adelphi Hotel
365 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
Give us something tasty, in lead crystal, with a flower in it, and we’re sold. The Victorian hotel’s courtyard is a haven in the middle of Saratoga’s Broadway. An abundance of greenery gives you the sense of privacy, while you enjoy your pisco sour or daiquiri. A little decadent? Maybe. But we won’t judge you.


Best Restaurant to Hit the Chain-Restaurant Epicenter of Clifton Park
Park 54
54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park
Oh, my God, they’re moving in like Birnham Wood, chain restaurant after chain restaurant, neon aglow. . . . Fortunately, Park 54 is here, too, Mike and Deena Pietrocola’s wonderful refurbishment of a handsome building that’s now conversation friendly and serves great food. And boasts a great outdoor deck.

Best Pizza
DeFazio’s Pizzeria
266 4th St., Troy
What can we say about this Capital Region institution that hasn’t been said? The pizza at DeFazio’s is legendary. Brick-oven baked, homemade sweet sausage that is perfection, and a zesty sauce that has survived through generations. This is the place, nestled in Troy’s Little Italy district, where you take visitors when you want to show off just how charming the Capital Region can be—and just how tasty its gastronomic offerings.

Smith’s Tavern
112 Maple Ave., Voorheesville
No matter where you are coming from, Smith’s Tavern is well worth the drive. In fact, the drive itself is well worth it. But the pizza is what you want. It is the kind of thick-crust pizza with thick toppings and a thick layer of cheese that puts meat on your bones and washes down splendidly with a pitcher of cheap beer. And the tavern’s wait staff is as friendly as can be.

Bello Pranzo Pizzeria
1178 Western Ave., Albany
Besides their salads, sandwiches and Italian cuisine, Bello Pranzo offers a variety of tasty pizzas, Sicilian or traditional. Sink your teeth into a golden crust with fresh mozzarella and delicious tomato sauce. Try the veggie pizza with thin strips of fried eggplant and fresh mushrooms or the white broccoli if you’re feeling anti-tomato!


Sovrana
63 N. Lake St., Albany
Ask five people what their favorite pizza is and you’ll get five different answers, but mention Sovrana and they will all nod their heads approvingly. This family-owned business thrives in a rapidly deteriorating part of town. Tradition is the key to these pies, fresh dough that plumps up like a new feather pillow, fresh sauce made from farm fresh tomatoes direct from the owners’ garden, spices so fresh you can identify each by its aroma, and an abundance of fresh toppings, nothing from a can. And last but not least, cheese—cheese so thick and gooey it stretches longer than your arm can reach. Enough said, that’s pizza.

Fireside Pizzeria
1631 Eastern Parkway, Schenectady
There’s a full-blown, Italian-items menu here, but it’s the pizza you’ll return for. An exceptionally crisp, flavorful crust underlies a rich, homemade sauce upon which you build the pie of your choice. Or choices.


Best Brew Pub (Food)
Brown’s Brewing Company
425 River St., Troy
There’s something amazing about beer-battered fries done right (Crispy. Crunchy. Wonderful.). Add one of Brown’s tasty burgers, bratwurst or a variety of tasty sandwiches, for the perfect pre-beer cushion. Grab some calamari (with honey-hop and chili sauce!) or wings (Jamaican rum and butter!) and you won’t be disappointed.


Best Brew Pub (Beer)
The Albany Pump Station
19 Quackenbush Square, Albany
Whether it’s the Quackenbush Blonde, the Kick-Ass Brown, or Old Musty, C.H. Evans Brewery Co. offers some of the finest beers, barley wines and ales around. The brewery, guided by the incomparable brewer George de Piro, is impressively nestled in two adjoining 19th Century buildings. The architecture is magnificent, and the bar is oh so inviting. The Pump Station also offers a mean turkey burger.


Best Pub Fare
The Ale House
680 River St., Troy
Run the bar-patron gauntlet to get to the dining room, where you’ll enjoy homemade soups, great burgers, a variety of well-made daily specials, and some of the best chicken wings in the area. With a great selection of beer.


Best Pub Fare (Nantucket Style)
Black Cat Ale House
25 White St., Cohoes
There’s a restaurant in Hyannis called The Black Cat; owner Terry Frederick combined that inspiration with the feel of a Manhattan pub to offer a dining experience as friendly as can be, with excellent seafood (try the chowder) and great prices on steaks.

Best Cheap Eats
Hot Dog Heaven
216 Lark St., Albany
It’s quick. It’s reliable. It’s tasty. And it’s cheap. Hot Dog Heaven provides a mini diner in the middle of Lark Street, where you can get a great breakfast, a tasty sandwich, even a tofu hot dog, for under $5. The daily special is usually a hefty serving of rib-sticking comfort food that will stretch your stomach, and your dollar.

Best Cheap Eats After Midnight
Esperanto
6 ½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs
Year after year they snag this category because no matter how mad or deserted downtown Saratoga may be, it’s the place you can rely on for a quick slice of pizza. Or a doughboy. Or a bowl of curry. Or a burrito. Or whatever struck the genius fancy of the chefs that day.


Best Lunch
Iron Gate Cafe
182 Washington Ave., Albany
This sweet lunch spot is tucked into a nook on Washington Avenue, separated from the sidewalk by a tea garden and—you guessed it—an iron gate. The guys at the Iron Gate make fresh, wholesome foods their biggest priority. They make all their soups from scratch, serve locally made bread, and boast inventive creations, but keep their prices in check. You can even e-mail in your lunch order for pickup or delivery at their Web site via an interactive menu.


Best Sandwiches
Ambition Café
154 Jay St., Schenectady
A Schenectady favorite for years. Packed with ambiance and attitude, complete with old-school Madonna memorabilia, revolving art by local artists and just a good plain-old vibe. Sandwiches: The Famous Crabby Marc’s, a tribute to one of its proprietors, is served with a salad and pita. Try the Gigi, which is not only delicious (with grilled ham, sautéed apples and brie cheese served on grilled sourdough bread) but also fun to say in your best French accent.


Best Wraps
Greenhouse
50 North Pearl St., Albany
Walk in the door and the decor is as clean and fresh as the ingredients. That integrity holds true within their salads, soups, and our favorite, wraps. Whether you’re a wrap purist who’s interested in creating your own, or you’re into the many imaginative choices made for you on the menu, the greenhouse assembly-line staff is ready and eager to fulfill your salad-wrap wishes. I recommend the Mexicali. . . . sublime!


Best Subs
Andy & Sons
256 Delaware Ave., Albany
This Italian market/deli has been a long-standing institution in the area. Vinnie and Carmen are the owners; they were once the sons, and now their sons are the sons, and we’re sure the tradition will continue. Specialty subs and sandwiches made with the freshest ingredients served on the best rolls and breads around. Huge selection of imported cheeses, homemade meatballs and sausage; Vinnie’s pasta fagioli is to die for. They also have a full compliment of sides. Is it lunch yet?


Excellence on rye: Gershon’s.

Best Deli
Gershon’s Deli
1600 Union St., Schenectady

For more than four decades this institution has served more pastramis on rye than you can imagine. A true seat-yourself-when-you-can, waitress-calling-you- “Hun”-NYC-style deli. All salads and sides made fresh daily on the premises. This is a gem in the electric city.

 

 


Best Vendor Truck
The Big Fat Greek Truck
washington avenue, albany
There is something about ordering a gyro on a nice summer day, while simultaneously debating how to pronounce gyro with all your coworkers. “It’s geeeero not giiiiiro!” The experience is heightened by the authenticity of having your gyro cooked by a true-to-life big fat Greek. Oh, and the food. . . . It’s so good, and we eat there so often, that we are considering changing our title to Ye Olde Big Fat Metrolander.


Best Bagels
Bagel Bite
544 Delaware Ave., Albany
New York City has somehow cornered the market for correct bagel preparation; signs hang from supermarkets around the area proclaiming “New York Style Bagels.” They aren’t bagels, they are life preservers with no flavor. The folks at Bagel Bite do bagels their way, and their way is best. Prepared fresh daily, the correct size and texture, chewy and full of flavor. They also do a unique twist on the bagel—the bialy—baked not boiled, with a different dough, and the whole is filled with a combination of chopped onion, garlic, poppy seeds and spices—a must-try.


Best Italian Bread
Perreca’s
33 N. Jay st., Schenectady
Bread is bread, right? WRONG, this bread is something created by the gods and sent to us by angels. Well it tastes that way, but truth be told it’s made in a tucked-away building in Schenectady in a brick oven that is more than a century old by bakers with a passion and a dough recipe that has never been duplicated. You can cut this bread into perfect slices, but it’s best to tear off a hunk and dip into a pot of simmering sauce. You can get it in few retail locations, but it’s best right at the bakery.


Best Coffee
Uncommon Grounds
1225 Western Ave., Albany; 402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs
They roast their own—Western Avenue just got its own roaster, which is a necessary start, and offer enough variety that even the decaf, staple beverage of the hypertensive artist, comes in rock-‘em-sock-‘em flavors. Good coffee means even the silly derivative drinks taste good, and the espresso is excellent.


At home in the coffeehouse: the Daily Grind.

Best Coffeehouse
The Daily Grind
46 3rd St., Troy

The Daily Grind in Troy really is everything a coffeehouse should be: The atmosphere is spacious, warm and inviting. They serve food and coffee, and now a selection of beer and wine as well. The Grind also serves as an art gallery, plays host to live music, and is an apt all-around meeting place.

 


Best Iced Coffee
Scratch
452 Madison Ave., Albany
Their regular blend is tasty, but what makes Scratch’s iced coffee special are the ice cubes. See, they’re coffee ice cubes. Yum.


Best Desserts
Villa Italia Pasticceria
226 Broadway, Schenectady
Recently relocating to downtown’s entertainment district, this longtime icon bakery hasn’t lost a step. The cakes and pastries are still the area’s best. If you get a piece of rum cake at a party, wedding or special occasion, chances are it was created by the artists at Villa Italia. Now the new digs allow them to really show the goods as well serve panini sandwiches, a full coffee bar and other liquors. Mmmmmm.


Cold comfort: Eugenio’s Café Gelato.

Best Gelato
Eugenio’s Cafe Gelato
419 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Three years ago, Eugene Bizzarro opened this little gem with the belief that his family recipes needed to be shared. We’re grateful he did. Customers are encouraged to try a little bit of various flavors before committing, but we highly recommend the gianduia (chocolate, with hints of hazelnut and almonds).

 


Best Ice Cream
The Ice Cream Man
417 State Route 29, Easton
A repeat winner. Can you say creamy and delicious? On a lonely road east of Schuylerville, people come literally from miles around for this ice cream. Fortunately, the lines move quickly.


Best Ice Cream (Soft Serve)
King Kone
133 Fenn St., Pittsfield, Mass.
For our money, in the world of soft-serve, taller is better. And King Kone serves ’em up rill tall. Like this tall. (Look: we’re holding our hands about a foot and a half apart.) For rilly rill, yo.


Best Vegetarian
Antipasto’s
1028 Route 146, Clifton Park
From the moment you walk into Antipasto’s, you know you’re in a restaurant that people love. Everyone seems like family; owner Steve Zumbo knows everyone at the bar by their first names. In a community that has established itself as a chain-restaurant bastion, Antipasto’s is like a beacon in the night. Amazing and ample vegetarian and vegan Italian entrees, salads, vegetarian sausage and meatballs, and mouth-watering pizzas; good for the body and soul. Ask Steve for his recommendation on the excellent wine list.

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