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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning

"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!



This will be a constantly updated guide to good eats in the captial district. I've heard members of my own family say, for years, that there are few great eating locations around here. Well, I kindly disagree.

The guide is based on three ratings: PRICE, given as 1-7 dollar signs, with 1 being the cheapest. Consider each $ equal to about $12 for two people, before tax and tip, not including alcohol. The second rating is FORMALITY, given on a scale of 1-4, with 1 being the most casual. Finally, OVERALL is on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being the best. This category is relative in that each restuarant's overall rating is based on what one might expect from its price and formality. For instance, the 92 rating that Beff's receives is only directly comparable to other restaurants in the $$ price category and the 1 formality range. In essence, it is a measure of value as well as a measure of quality.

All reviews are updated (if necessary) after the most recent visit to the establishment.

Anyway, on to the rankings (restuarnats are listed alphabetically):

BEFF's ($$, 1, 92, Everett Road between Sand Creek and Albany-Shaker): Since it moved to Everett road a few years ago, Beff's has arguably gotten better. The bar is much the same, with a decent selection of beers. The food is much the same, with great pizza and tasty sandwiches. The prices are roughly the same. But the two things that made the old beff's a drag - the lack of comfortable seating and the dearth of close parking - have been rectified. Although you will still wait on the weekends, it won't be more than 20 minutes or so. Try a chicken fajita pizza or some macho nachos next time you go. Most recently ate here: early October, 2005. See reader comments.

Debbie's Kitchen ($$, 1, 88, Madison Avenue near Lark Street): This is a great lunch spot. The sandwiches are always tasty, and the selection is quite varied. There are always at leat 3 specials. The staff is a bit gruff (you order at a counter), but hey, you don't have to pay until after you're done eating. The seating area is utterly minimalistic (stools, not chairs) but on a nice day they put some tables outside with regular seat-backs. Most recently ate here: early May, 2005. See reader comments.

El Mariachi ($$$, 1, 92, Washington Ave., east of Lark Street) Always heard this place was great - but i had never found my way in the door. Don't know why. I guess I've never been finicky about my Mexican food. But then one of my wife's co-workers - who has a Mexican wife of his own - found out that we were frequenting El Loco, and they had to set us straight. Which they did. I thought it was just grand. (We went to the El Mariachi on Washington; we hear the one on Hamilton is not as good, but has an outdoor patio; they are also soon expanding to Saratoga). The menu at El Mariachi is quite varied, and the food was absolutely delicious. The experts who brought us there add that it's very authentic. We started off with some Tamarindo and Fresa to drink while we chowed down on real fried tortilla chips. The chips came with two types of salsa, as well as cream, which was certainly a surprise. SJC got a chicken enchilada; I had some steak fajitas and a chicken taco. We thoroughly enjoyed it all. Most recently ate here: August, 2005. See Reader comments.

Frank's Ice Cream ($, 1, 80, Albany Shaker Road near Osborne): Don't bother going in for the food, this place is strictly being rated on the ice cream stand. The ice cream is good, not great. The staff is good, not great. The parking stinks. So what's the charm? Hard to place - for many it is probably the continuous stream of little leaguers coming throuhg in the evening. Feels like a playground at times. Does have a small-town feel, as opposed to Guptil's ice cream or even On the Farm in Latham. Kinda like L-Ken's on central avenue. The cones are enormous, and it's dirt cheap. Not worth a drive if you live close to another good stand, but a nice option if you're looking for one. Most recently ate here: early May, 2005. See reader comments.

Glen Sanders Mansion ($$$$$, 4, 91, Scotia, just over the bridge from downtown Schenectady). Easily one of the best meals I've ever had in the greater SmAlbany area, although you definitely pay for it. Luckily, there is a great ($18.00) discount in the Entertainmnet book. Including a bottle of wine, our total bill was about $70 after the coupon and before the tip. We started off with an appetizer of steam littleneck clams in a white wine sauce, which was absolutely wonderful, the highlight of the meal. We also had a tasty balsamic salad. For dinner, I had a filet mignon and SJC went with a grilled snapper. Both were excellent. The atmosphere in the dining room is elegent and the service is very good. A pricey treat, but worth your while once a year on that special occasion. Most recently ate here: November, 2005. See reader comments.

Koto ($$$$, 2, 92, just off of exit 4 of I-87 S): Easily the best sushi in the area. Hands down better than Ichiban, Sushi/Thai Garden, or Saso for basic quality and tastiness of the fish. Atmosphere of the restaurant is also better than any of the competitors. The combination prices are fair, but the a la carte is a bit expensive. The real deal, however, is at lunch, when you can get 2 maki rolls, soup, and salad for just $7 (3 roll deal is just $10). Absolutely cannot be beat. Try the rainbow roll or some white tuna sashimi. Get the edemame. You will NOT be disappointed. Most recently ate here: early May, 2005. See reader comments.

Laney's ($, 2, 90, in Kimberly Square, Loudonville): This is an excellent restuarant for two reasons. The first is selection - they do a wide variety of food really well. They have serious entrees in the $13-15 range, and they have excellent sandwiches in the $7-9 range. The menu is simply huge. I recommend the portobello mushroom sandwich for lunch, and the chicken parm is excellent for dinner. The second great thing about Laney's is the outdoor seating area in the summer. Very remeniscient of being up in Saratoga on Caroline street. Great for getting a drink with some friends. Just beware of the rather large bar crowd on weekend nights and Friday happy hour. Most recently ate here: late May, 2005. See reader comments.

Latham Biryani ($$, 1, 88, Route 9 Latahm, about a mile south of the circle): Surprisingly good and cheap Indian food - a good place to try if you've never had Indian cuisine. Located in an old Pizza Hut, it's strange to walk into this place. However, the menu is loaded with Indian favorties, they have a daily lunch buffet that's only $5.99, and the food is tasty. Try the chicken tekka marsala. The Naan is excellent - try the garlic style. Wednesday nights they have a buy-one-get-one-cheap special on a number of dinners. Most recently ate here: early June, 2005. See reader comments.

One Caroline Street ($$$$, 3, 90, Caroline Street, Saratoga): Fine dining and good music, all at reasonable prices for August Saratoga. Try the Zuppa Di Clams or the Salmon. A noticeably above-average beer selection and an efficient and friendly waitstaff. You'll get all levels of dress from the patrons here (particularly in August), but generally you'll feel more comfortable in somewhat upscale attire. Make a reservation if possible. Don't bother trying on Saturday night in August. Most recently ate here: August, 2005. See reader comments.

Red Robin ($$, 1, 88, Route 9, Latham): Suprisingly good burgers and an overload of chain restuarant feel. I had the guacomole bacon burger and it was definitely tasty. The fries are overrated and nothing to write home about. For a more in depth review, see this post from August 2005. Most recently ate here: August, 2005.

Rustey's Pizzeria and More ($, 1, 85, Albany-Shaker Road, Loudonville): Above-average take-out pizza, subs, and wings. The prices are cheap, the pizza is good, and you can get $2 off by mentioning their website. Certainly not worth driving to from far away, but a good option if you are local to it and want a quick pie. The wings were decent. Have not tried the subs yet. Most recently ate here: late May, 2005. See reader comments.

Sitar ($$$, 2, 93, Central Ave., a few miles west of the northway). Some of the best Indian food I've had in a good while. We had pretty standard fare: chicken tikka masala and chana masala, and both were superb. The service was excellent. The only way to knock this place is the price: it's a bit more expensive than other Indian options around the Capital District, but I thought it was worth it. Plus, the Entertainment Book has a good coupon that can save you some money. The atmosphere is slightly more upscale than most Indian places, but definitely only slightly. Definitely a good location for a date. Most recently ate here: October, 2005. See reader comments.

Sushi/Thai Garden ($$$$, 2, 88, Downtown Saratoga, Phila Street): Definitely the best Sushi and Thai food in Saratoga, and some of the best in the whole capital region. The possibility of getting either type of food is a major bonus, as you can go there with people who don't like one or the other. The sushi is very fresh and the presentation is excellent. The Thai food, however, is simply amazing. Try the various curry dishes - you won't be disappointed. The atmosphere could probably be improved - this isn't Koto. The prices are reasonable. The sushi combinations - particularly the "boats" are an excellent deal. Most recently ate here: mid-May, 2005. See reader comments.

Wings over Albany ($, 1, 90, 1704 Western Ave., in a strip mall past Crossgates): Very good wings. The twist is that they are boneless. You order by the pound. For a bunch of hungry people, get 3 pounds divided between medium buffalo-style and barbecue style. Make sure you get the blue cheese. Don't try to eat in here - it is almost exclusively a takeout place. Open on Sundays for football orders. Takes about 20 minutes to prepare a pick-up order. The buffalo style are hotter than most, so be careful in your selection of heat. Most recently ate here: mid-May, 2005. See reader comments.
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