Casual Dining Our Way

Our readers must know by now that we are undeniably and unapologetically snobs when it comes to cuisine. For the most part we’d rather stay home and try out online recipes or those in some of our many cookbooks than eat inferior food. A new favorite, too, is to use the ideas suggested by Jacques Pépin in his PBS series, Fast Food My Way, or on his website. That does not mean, however, that we don’t enjoy an occasional burger or taco from a fast food restaurant. Au contraire! It’s just that we wouldn’t be caught dead (and never alive!) in a place like Taco Bell; don’t the ads make the food look bad? There are small, ethnic restaurants in and around the Capital District that we like: Bros. Tacos downtown Albany has fresh, homemade tortillas and very tasty carne asada and fish tacos; Pancho Villa’s in the Catskills makes a terrific salsa and has a wide variety of Mexican dishes from mole to quesadillas. We have even tried national chains such as Moe’s and Chipotle. Our verdict: Moe’s sauces are passable, but that’s the extent of it; Chipotle, with its use of fresh ingredients, is not bad at all for a franchise.

A local restaurant we've recently discovered is run by a garrulous go-getter named Tex. Pig Pit Barbecue is definitely worth the trip, either for eat-in or take-out. Situated right at the northern end of I-787 in Cohoes, the place has a lengthy, diverse menu which includes barbecue, Mexican, and southern dishes. (Tex is true to his motto “Put some south in your mouth”!) Their homemade brisket is luscious, smoky and moist. The sides that we chose like the fried okra and cole slaw (or was it the potato salad?) need some work in our opinion. We did enjoy the spicy Cajun beans, though, and will go back and give it another try. [Word to the wise, this restaurant is NOT located on Washington Ave. like this site says; don't make our mistake. Better to call for directions.]

One long-time favorite which I could never overlook is a superb Vietnamese restaurant on Central Avenue in Albany. Just a little better than a hole in the wall, Van's can in no way be called “fast food” because of the service. If you are patient, however, the food is inexpensive and definitely worth the wait. We have been fans since the early days at another location and continue to go to Van’s on a regular basis. Nothing is better than their huge beef pho soup (for $7.00) on a cold night. Other dishes we really enjoy include the vegetarian pancake, the hot and sour pineapple tofu soup (trust me, this is great!), and beef with rice noodles. Truly, there is hardly any way to go wrong here.

For readers who enjoy a bit more upscale casual dining experience, DP Brasserie on Chapel Street in downtown Albany may fill the bill. DP himself is Dominick Purnomo, the son of Yono who owns a fancier place at the same address. The brasserie menu has everything from burgers to crab cakes plus a few international offerings, including Indonesian specialties of their heritage. About a week ago we tried DP for the first time and were favorably impressed. I started out having a very delicious Chicken Satay, followed by vegetarian Stir Fried Noodles with cabbage, celery, and onions which were also very good. Husband thought that his mussels in white wine, butter, and garlic sauce were excellent. The only suggestion I made to the waitress is that they should serve actual bread instead of the unique, but limiting pretzel balls with mustard; she said that Yono’s has bread and that next time we should simply ask for it.

So, there you have some ideas for fast and not-so-fast casual dining in upstate New York.


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