Sunday, April 1, 2012
Ten Best Restaurants in the Capital Region
People ask me all the time, “Brian, what are the Ten Best Restaurants in the Capital Region?” (For the record, nobody has ever asked me that.) I'm not going to say places like Prime and Jack’s Oyster House, just to name drop, and I hated Cafe Capriccio. I don’t go out for Indian or Thai, and I don’t venture into Schenectady much, although Ferrari's is good, and the Saratoga Strip has no great places. I will leave off anyplace that you can’t sit in, like Jack’s Drive-In or Genoa, and I will leave off the Black Cat in Cohoes, but I like it. The Brown Derby and Yono's are more of a "place to be seen." So here it is: The Ten Best for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.
10.New World Bistro, Delaware Avenue, Albany: Bistros are sometimes bad, a bit too yuppie, sure. But the food here is a homeroom, a real change of pace if you’re Italian, Mexican, or Cheeseburger guy on date night. Speaking of which, they claim their cheeseburger finished #2 at the State Fair. Guess the State Fair never heard of McDonald’s and Burger King. The food is killer, yes, but everything else is... The service is just OK, they always seat you in one of those tables that share with strangers, and every time I try to use the bathroom, there’s a line. A bathroom line? But it is great food at good prices, just be ready to rub elbows with some synthetically-uppidy couple who they’ve sat two inches from your table. Website: http://newworldbistrobar.com/
9.Cheesecake Factory, Colonie Center, Albany: A chain place? Are you serious? It’s good food at really, really good prices. Every time I go there, I've been ready to bash the place, and one of the strangest dining experiences happened to me there, click here: http://brianhuba.blogspot.com/2010/11/should-i-have-been-comped.html. But I always love my dinners and really love the bill at the end. The menu is thicker than a Jodi Picoult novel, and the atmosphere is nice. Just don’t let them sit you at one of those tables with strangers. They try that trick too. I hate those tables. Website: http://locations.thecheesecakefactory.com/ny/albany-113.html
8.El Mariachi, Hamilton Avenue, Albany: I don’t know how excited you can get about Mexican food. But I’m much more excited about El M’s after a recent visit to Pancho’s in Clifton Park. Wow. Thems was some bad eats. El Loco? It's OK. But I’d say El M’s is the best Mexican around. Good drinks, good food, good atmosphere, dirt cheap. I’ll put it to you like this: If you suggested El M’s for a Friday night, I’d say sign me up. Saturday night? I’m probably going to want to go a bit bigger. Website: http://www.elmariachisrestaurant.com/
7.Jonathan’s Pizza, Pearl Street, Albany: If you want to grab a table, order a pizza and a pitcher of soda, and just have a good “Pizza Parlor” experience, Jonathan is your guy. (Purple Pub is AWESOME too.) The cheese pizza is great, and I think it’s the best place to go before hitting an event at the TU (Aerosmith, June 29th). So next time you’re downtown, go to Jonathan’s, tell him Brian sent you. After he says, “Who the heck is Brian?” order the large cheese pizza and pitcher of Pepsi, and enjoy. Website: http://www.jonathanspizza.com/
6.Manory’s, Congress Street, Troy: I'm not a fan of breakfast food, but the few times I've done breakfast, it’s Manory’s (or Pepper Jack’s or the Iron Gate which are both great). Manory's is a diamond in the rough in Downtown Troy, and you can’t go wrong with anything on their breakfast menu. It’s a cool place to go with your friends or best girl, grab a Sunday NY POST, order fun food. Most every other place I've eaten breakfast, I've hated, especially I-Hop, which serves vomit on a plate. Breakfast food is always overrated, but I have to say Manory’s leaves me satisfied. Do they serve lunch? Dinner? Who cares? Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Manorys/141860381022
5.Sandwiches to Go, Maiden Lane, Albany: Best lunch in the Region. Sorry Bob & Ron's. When I was in middle school, on Winter Break, my mother would bring me and my friend Jason to work with her on Thursday, and we’d walk around Pearl Street with the snow coming down, go to the top of the Corning Tower; hit the Museum. Back then Albany felt like NYC to me. One year my mother told me the best place to get lunch was a little deli on Maiden Lane. She was right 17 years ago, and I'm right today. In addition to the Winter Break trips, once a week during the school year, mom used to bring me home half her turkey on rye with Russian from her own lunch. I used to meet her in the driveway for that white deli bag. And now, as an adult, I go there a few times a year, and I’m still as excited as ever. My fav: Turkey BLT on rye w/ Russian, pickle, chips, cole slaw, and cookie. Menu: http://www.allmenus.com/ny/albany/59867-sandwiches-to-go/menu/
Now that the breakfast, lunch, and Friday night places are taken care of, let’s get to the main event: the Saturday night hot spots. . .
4.The Barnsider, Sand Creek Road, Albany: I’m not a steak guy but I love this place. I don’t go often, but when we do, we go all out. I get the NY Strip Steak with the baked potato side. Love the calamari. Love the make-your-own salad bar. Love the atmosphere. LOVE the breads. Very spread out and roomy, but a real classy feel, without losing that Albany vibe, if you know what I mean. Best steak around. Great seafood too. Website: http://www.barnsiderrestaurants.com/
3.Longfellows, Union Avenue, Saratoga: There is absolutely nothing that isn’t a home run about this place. The food is so good words alone cannot describe it. The restaurant’s different rooms, with the fireplaces and wine cellars, are such great places to eat. The wait staff is a team of pros. There is no place in the Region that has a deeper variety of different foods, deeper in the sense that anything you get is going to maybe be the best meal you ever had. Is it expensive? Oh yeah. Is it worth every penny, plus the 30% tip? Bet your life on it. Website: http://www.longfellows.com/
2.The Villa Valenti, West Sand Lake Road, Wynantskill: If I murdered somebody, was sentenced to death, and was told I had one final meal before they gave me the gas, I would send out for the Villa Valenti: chicken parm, homemade pasta, and the bread, oh my God, the bread. Click here: http://brianhuba.blogspot.com/2011/09/go-to-villa-valenti-you-fools.html. So why isn’t it my #1? Well, the atmosphere isn’t always so good. It’s usually dead by 9PM, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, and some of the servers are second rate. In fact one of the worst experiences of my life happened at the Villa when I was 19. I went there with my friend Bill. We got dressed up, scraped together $25.00 plus these sauce-jar coupons from a promotion they were running: Buy one meal, get the other free with coupon. So we went, feeling pretty important for being able to hit the Villa. The waitress brought us bread and soda, took our orders. I showed her the coupon (a sauce-jar label), and she said she couldn’t take it, because we didn’t have the receipt to go along. We explained we didn’t have enough cash for dinners without the coupon, and she said “Oh well, sorry,” then took back our bread and soda, and we had to get up and leave in front of everyone. This waitress still works there, and she’s still terrible. I’ll never forget that humiliation. She couldn't just let two kids eat? That’s why the Villa Valenti isn’t #1. But I love Ralph Valenti, and I loved Emma, and the food is stratospheric. Website: http://villavalenti.com/
1.D’Raymond’s, Osbourne Road, Colonie: Every time I walk into D’Raymond’s I’m greeted like a Golden God. The bartender that meets you at the door is the greatest bartender ever. He knows your name, has the drink coaster out by the time you check in & get to the bar, your favorite soda ready to roll. From that point on the good times are nonstop. The atmosphere is fantastic! The wait is never bad, and the table you get is always great. I usually prefer waitresses to waiters (for obvious reasons), but D’Raymond’s has the greatest waiter ever, a robot-waiter, sent back in time from the future of restauranting. The bread, apps, salads, fried dough, where does the greatness end? All I do is laugh and eat amazing food the whole two hours we're there. Round after round of foods. If Heaven’s a place on Earth, it’s D’Raymond’s in Colonie. Every time I go there: Grand slam homerun!! What’s good? Everything! Is it expensive? Who knows? Who cares? I’ve never even looked at the bill. It’s the perfect price, worth every red cent, every time. D’Raymond’s never fails, never leaves you hungry, always makes you ready to come back ASAP. They treat you like A-1 class. I would go to D’Raymond’s every weekend if it wasn’t weird and socially unacceptable. Don’t be one of those knuckleheads that dismisses D’Raymond’s because it’s in a strip mall, behind a suntan place. In a Region where great food is everywhere, D’Raymond’s is the undisputed champ.
A Few That are Overrated:
Ralph's (Albany), The Fountain (Albany), Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue (Troy), Taste (Downtown Albany), KOTO Japanese Steak (Colonie), Lombardo's (Downtown Albany), PF Chang's (Colonie Center), Raven's Wood (Clifton Park), Circle Cafe (Saratoga), BEFF's (Albany)