When you eat out as often as I do, and are not independently wealthy, you learn to search out the good deals, the lesser known, the independently-owned, the consistently delicious. And if you’re really generous, you share those great finds with others. I am feeling generous, so here are a few thoughts on some of my favorite “cheap eats” listed on the previous pages. All will satisfy and none will break the bank. Happy eating!
Ali Baba – You’re not going for ambiance, this is clear, but the open kitchen, with its giant tandoor oven, provides some great entertainment. And if you appreciate good Middle Eastern food at a great price, made with generations of experience and care, stop in for lunch or dinner. The chicken curry pizza, the gyros, and the ever present lavash bread are all popular – for good reasons.
Bellini’s Italian Eatery (Clifton Park) – Falling somewhere between the Olive Garden and Lo Porto, is Bellini’s. A truly satisfying alternative to the aforementioned, Bellini’s is reliably good Italian food, featuring a surprisingly extensive wine list in a very nice setting. You’ll find all your favorite Italian mainstays here, along with wood fired pizza, chef’s daily specials and some very creative salads.
El Loco – Dining at El Loco always makes me happy. Maybe it’s the fact that El Loco serves delicious, authentic Mexican food in an atmosphere that just seems to shout “good times will be had here” or maybe it’s the fact that they make the very best Margaritas in town. Either way, this place is not to be missed. One of the best dishes on the menu? The Burrito Espinaca con Champiniones, which translates into a spinach burrito with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and shallots, topped with jack & cheddar cheeses and served with black beans and Mexican rice. Ole!
Garden Bistro 24 – This chef-owned restaurant boasts no microwave and no freezer. Bottom line? Everything is super fresh and the menu is built on local, seasonal offerings. A seemingly never-ending bowl of Mussels and a paper cone filled with French “frites” served with mustard aioli is a mere $13. Considering their innovative salads, made-to-order crepes and desserts all made in house, and you’ve got my top pick for best value in the Capital Region.
Garlic Lovers Corner – A great little spot where you can get Mediterranean and Lebanese favorites like falafel, gyros, shawarma, couscous and hummus that’s out of this world. And they have a lunch deal where $8 bucks gets you one entree, one side and a soda. Pretty good – especially when you consider that the dishes are fresh and made to order. There is also a larger dinner menu that features steak and seafood, alongside more authentic dishes like a hearty bean and apricot stew and a variety of kebabs. I keep going back because I always leave satisfied, and smelling a little like garlic…which some of us think is a good thing.
Ichiban – This mainstay of the Capital Region has been around for so long because the food is consistently good. It is authentic enough, while still appealing to the masses. The sushi is fresh, and the Chinese dishes, although not particularly innovative, are reliable and tasty. Best of all, everything is priced reasonably. “Let them eat sushi!”
Moe’s – For a good deal on tacos, burritos, quesadillas and nachos that are notably a step above most fast food chains, Moe’s delivers. You’ll get your basic Mexican style favorites at a good price and the chips and salsa are always free. Best of all, you can customize your meal, omitting the cheese or sour cream if you’re watching your fat and calories, for example. There are also tasty vegetarian options available.
My Linh – This Vietnamese restaurant on Delaware Avenue may not be the most economical, but all the exotic soups, appetizers and salads are under $10, and worth every penny. My go-to dish? The Bi Cuon Chay (vegetarian summer rolls filled with tofu, vermicelli noodles, lettuce, mint, cucumber and bean sprouts served with a lip smacking spicy sauce). This, and a soul-warming bowl of Pho, is all I need.
Shalimar – (Rte 7, Latham) – Shalimar’s great lunch buffet is not only easy on my wallet, but pure happiness in my stomach. The buffet offers a nice variety of fairly authentic Indian fare, like chicken curry, tandoori, lamb aloo, saag paneer, and of course, plenty of naan. You’ll leave with a warm fuzzy feeling and cash left over.
Smith’s (Cohoes) – I hate to express my love for Smith’s in print – because I don’t want the secret about what an amazing place this is to get out. But duty calls, so I am obligated to share my praises of one of the area’s best restaurants many don’t know about. Smith’s restaurant has been around since the early 1900s and evidence of its glory days, like the 50-foot African mahogany bar, the large roaring fireplace and the personal service are still evident. Go and treat yourself to a delicious meal (steak, chicken, broiled fish and pasta selections are always on the menu) at a bargain price, all while getting a lesson in Capital Region history (just ask the bartender, he’s a wealth of information).
Smith’s Tavern (Voorheesville) – For a really good pizza and a decent beer selection this neighborhood joint is a great pick. It has its share of loyal locals for a reason. Check it out for yourself, but I wouldn’t veer too far from what they are known for, their thick and saucy pizza with fresh toppings. One pizza is more than a meal for two; add a pitcher of Sierra Nevada and you have yourself a comfort food bonanza.
South End Tavern in Troy – Want to step back into time? Take a trip to Troy’s South End Tavern. To truly experience times gone by, enter through the still-intact Ladies Entrance. The food is standard fare, mostly burgers, fries, sandwiches and fried fish, but if you want to eat them in a red leather booth as your grandparents might have, and at a good price, stop in for a welcome escape.