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(Photo Credit: Discover Albany)
Nestled along the west bank of the Hudson River, Albany lies about 150 miles north of the Big Apple. In addition to boasting one of the most beautiful state capitols in the nation, Albany is a college town with a rich history, fun festivals, and an impressive food scene. Based on a recent road trip through the Hudson Valley, these are my favorite restaurants to experience in Albany, New York.
Fun Fact: In the mid-1800s, Albany was the 10th-largest city in the United States. Today it’s home to about 95,000 people, making it a mid-sized metropolitan area.
Just a few blocks from the New York State Capitol and across the street from the Albany Institute of History and Art, the Iron Gate Cafe is one of my favorite places in Albany for breakfast. Whether you dine outside on the garden patio or inside the historic James Holroyd Mansion, you’re likely to be serenaded by Elvis as you start your day. And you’ll see the owner’s love of the King of Rock ‘n Roll carry through to the menu. If you’re as hungry as a rockstar, try Elvis’s Memphis Scramble, which mixes three eggs with bacon maple sausage, peppers, and onions. The dish is topped with pepper jack hollandaise and served with a slice of grilled cornbread.
Pro Tip: When you dine at the Iron Gate Cafe, take note of the fine woodwork and detailed fireplaces. They were created by the same European craftsmen who completed the New York State Capitol.
With two locations in Albany, the namesake on Madison Avenue and a second spot on Northern Boulevard, Cafe Madison is another delicious breakfast or brunch spot in Albany. For a fresh take on a morning classic, try the French toast stacker, featuring three slices of cinnamon swirl bread layered with scrambled eggs, applewood smoked bacon, breakfast sausage, and seared ham. Rounding out the combination of salty, sweet, and savory are maple butter and cinnamon raisin maple syrup. For a more savory breakfast dish, try the Nashville breakfast burrito that wraps Nashville hot fried chicken, scrambled eggs, home fries, cheddar cheese, and ranch crema in a tortilla.
For a more “grab and go” option to start your day in Albany, I recommend Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary in a strip center just south of the Albany International Airport where the beans are roasted fresh in the shop. If you enjoy drinking your breakfast, you’ll be delighted to see a long list of coffee classics, specialty lattes, smoothies, and other cafe delights on the menu. If you want to add a bite to your brew, the Coffee Sanctuary has several options ranging from bagels to breakfast sandwiches and wraps.
For a classic diner lunch, step inside the gleaming chrome, tile, and glass brick walls of the Capital City Diner for a wide selection of sandwiches, salads, burgers, and sides served in generous portions. Fill up on a triple-decker sandwich with your choice of roast turkey, roast beef, grilled chicken, ham and swiss, or tuna, chicken, or egg salad stacked with lettuce, tomato, bacon, and mayo. Then pair it with thick-cut, crispy French fries or one of ten other delicious sides. If a burger sounds good, you won’t leave hungry after digging into a half-pound black Angus burger, whether it’s a classic (with or without cheese), a pizza burger (topped with mozzarella and marinara sauce), a cowboy burger (topped with a fried egg), or one of the other tasty options. And if you’re craving a salad, try the Greek, calamari, or BLT chicken.
Pro Tip: The Capital City Diner is also a tasty spot for breakfast.
If you’re craving fried chicken, bypass the nationwide chains and head to Chicken Joe’s. Whether you enjoy it shredded over loaded fries, folded into a wrap, tossed in a salad, or as part of a platter, the chicken at Joe’s is always juicy and perfectly prepared at this local gem.
You don’t have to be a kid to love the hand-cut, all-white-meat nuggets with dipping sauces that include honey mustard, barbecue, ranch, sweet and sour, hot sauce, and blue cheese. But you can order the grab bag, the equivalent of an adult Happy Meal featuring a combination of nuggets, corn fritters, potato cones, mozzarella sticks, and mac and cheese bites.
All wraps are made to order based on your chicken selection: nuggets, grilled, or crispy. And whether you order dark or white meat, each fried chicken combo comes with your choice of side(s) that include coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, fries, potato cones, or corn fritters.
Pro Tip: If you leave Albany craving more Chicken Joe’s, you can visit their locations in Troy and New Rochelle, New York.
Just a short distance from the University at Albany, you can pair one of 40 draft beers or a cocktail with a delicious meal at the Madison Pour House. On the menu are all of the expected pub bites — like pretzels, grilled cheese, and tacos — but often with a deliciously unexpected twist. The everything pretzel sticks include “everything but the bagel” seasoning. You can zhuzh up your grilled cheese by adding either chicken, bacon, and ranch or pulled pork, bacon, and barbeque sauce. And taco fillings include Cajun chicken, Nashville hot chicken, and barbeque pulled pork.
Pro Tip: As you eat your way around Albany, keep an eye out for melba sauce. Diners in the Capital Region often dip mozzarella sticks into this sweet red sauce, made from either fresh raspberries or raspberry jam, instead of the standard marinara.
Just down the street from the Capital City Diner, you’ll find the best Greek food this side of the Atlantic at Athos. Start your meal with the saganaki appetizer, a square of pan-fried kefalograviera cheese that is soaked with ouzo or cognac and flambéed tableside. Then move on to a long list of classic Greek and scrumptious Mediterranean entrees that include moussaka (layers of eggplant, ground beef, and potatoes topped with béchamel sauce), pastichio (a baked pasta dish), souvlaki (either swordfish or chicken skewers), and bronzino (pan-seared sea bass).
Be sure to save room for dessert, because you won’t want to leave Athos without trying the baklava or loukoumades, fried dough puffs served with walnuts and cinnamon.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a faster, lighter meal, sit at the bar. Along with other tasty bites, you’ll find four types of gyro sandwiches — beef, chicken, lamb, and salmon — on the taverna menu.
Just a few blocks southwest of Lincoln Park, The Kitchen Table turns locally sourced and seasonal ingredients into delicious dishes. While the menu changes regularly so that Chef Ian Brower can spotlight the freshest flavors, guests following gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets will be delighted by the available options.
As you decide between options like lamb meatballs, curried shrimp, bourbon-braised pork belly, or kale salad, be sure to sip one of The Kitchen Table’s creative craft cocktails. In part because of its adorable French name, I love the Zou Bisou Bisou (Oh, Kiss Kiss) with Sweet Gwendoline gin, amaro, yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters, as well as the Royale, another gin drink with Lillet Blanc, lemon, and Prosecco. And be sure to save room for dessert!
The only 4-star restaurant in the Capital Region, The Hollow Bar + Kitchen is a must-eat option for foodies visiting Albany. But it’s also another great eatery for travelers following vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free diets because the wide range of available options are marked on the menu.
For a light bite, order pretzels and beer cheese dip, pan-seared Brussel sprouts, or wings (either traditional or made from Halo Food Co seitan wings) with your choice of eight dipping sauces that range from sweet to super spicy. When it comes to entrees, enjoy options like grilled ribeye steak, pan-seared maple-glazed salmon, and cottage pie. And if you like French fries as much as I do, be sure to get a side of the truffle garlic Parmesan frites served with balsamic sweet onion aioli.
Pro Tip: During the summer months, The Hollow opens its sidewalk cafe, making it the perfect spot for happy hour in the waning sunlight or to dine alfresco.
In a state with its own style of cheesecake, this list would be incomplete without mentioning Cheesecake Machismo. Although it is more of a hole-in-the-wall bakery than an official restaurant, I believe that every day (and every “favorite restaurants” list) should include some delicious dessert.
With flavors that change daily as the chef cycles through more than 600 flavors in the Cheesecake Machismo recipe box, it’s hard to predict what options will be available when you visit. But no matter what you choose, it’s sure to be love at first bite with options like cannoli, blueberry maple, cherry amaretto, green tea, and black Irish stout cheesecake. It’s important to note that this small bakery only makes a set number of cheesecakes daily and is only open until they sell out. So whether you want a slice or two or an entire Frankencake — a mix-and-match selection of six to 12 slices — be sure to go early!
Fun Fact: The legend of the baker’s dozen — providing 13 items instead of the customary 12 — is associated with a Dutch baker in Albany. Too bad it doesn’t ensure an extra slice of cheesecake when buying a Frankencake at Cheesecake Machismo!
For more ideas and inspiration on New York, explore these articles:
Bitten by the travel bug as a preschooler when her family moved abroad for the first time, Sage Scott is addicted to travel. From her nomadic upbringing in a military family to her personal and professional travels as an adult, Sage has visited all 50 states, lived abroad twice, and explored nearly 30 other countries.
Now settled in America’s Heartland, Sage writes with a midlife traveler’s perspective from Kansas City — the Midwestern cowtown affectionately called the Paris of the Plains and the undisputed Barbecue Capital of the World — and is always in search of new experiences whether in her hometown or halfway around the world.