9 Upstate Places To Try Right Now

If time and money were no option, it’s likely this list would not only be quite a bit longer, but it would likely be quite a bit different as well. If you’re looking for a list of fine dining establishments, with delicacies like caviar and expensive bottles of champagne, you’ve come to the wrong place. However, if you’re on a burger and beer budget like myself, you might like what I’ve got to say.

Over the last few months I’ve visited a diverse array of restaurants around the Albany area. I’ve gone out for breakfast, taken a lunch break somewhere new, and splurged a little at dinner. Now, I’ve ranked them for you. You’re welcome.

9. Puzzles Bakery

Puzzles is an easy stop for lunch as it’s right down the street from my office. A charming cafe with giant cookies that are to die for, the real allure to visiting Puzzles is knowing you’re doing something good for the community. With essentially the same menu as a place like Panera Bread, with soups, salads, and sandwiches, the difference is Puzzles’ support for locals with developmental disabilities. It’s easy to want to support a business that not only provides adults in the community a place to grow, socialize, and earn an income, but has good quality products as well.

I can’t speak highly enough of the m&m sugar cookie, but if you’re looking for something a little bit more substantial, I recommend the Greek salad.

8. Kru Coffee

There are not a lot of local coffee shops around me so I often find myself traveling a little bit to find one that isn’t Starbucks or Dunkin’. I check Yelp once and a while to try and find some new ones that I might not have heard of before, but this one came to me on Instagram.

Located in Saratoga, I was expecting Kru to be located centrally in downtown, but it was a little bit off the beaten path located in a relatively new plaza. With two floors and a variety of table sizes from comfortable chairs to long shared tables there’s a spot for everyone. Whether you’re looking to sit down with your laptop and work or catch up with an old friend, you can find comfort at Kru. While I would recommend going to Kru for the coffee, there was a limited selection of food such as breakfast sandwiches and muffins if you need some fuel while working away. I tried the maple cinnamon latte, and it was delicious.

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7. Pasta Pane

Clifton Park is home to Pasta Pane, and home to one of my favorite versions of an Italian classic, a giant bowl of Bolognese. With pappardelle noodles and a chunky (but not too chunky) mix of meats and veggies, the Bolognese was filling and flavorful. I topped it off with some parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper, forcing myself to stop when I was full even though I wanted to devour it all.

While I really enjoyed the food, the atmosphere wasn’t my favorite. It was very dark and simultaneously very loud, making it hard to talk while between bites. To make matters worse, the waiter continued to fill up our water glasses every 5 seconds, disrupting the conversation. Judging on food alone, a carb filled Friday night at Pasta Pane is a must.

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6. Cider Belly Doughnuts

I’ve made a couple trips to Cider Belly Doughnuts in downtown Albany over the last few months, trying many of the different flavors, from the classic cider doughnut to some of the more funky flavors including maple bacon and mint chocolate cookie.

A true testament to how good the doughnuts are at Cider Belly is the fact that I’m actually not a doughnut person, but find myself craving a stop at Cider Belly. If you stop in, make sure to get at least a half dozen, and try a few of the delicious flavors because they’re always whipping up something new.

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5. Iron Gate Cafe

I waited outside the Iron Gate Cafe for almost 45 minutes before being seated at a table. A popular Albany spot for brunch, Iron Gate Cafe has a classic selection of brunch food like omelets, eggs benedict, waffles, and pancakes. In addition to the classics, they have both meal and drink specials worth trying. I opted for the cinnabon waffles and a rosebud lemonade (including a splash of prosecco), the specials of the day during my spring visit.

With a gated (hence the name) outdoor patio, somewhat removed from the road, I imagine the wait for an outside table is incredibly long in the warmer months. If you end up sitting inside, you’re in for a treat as well. The Cafe is a lot larger than I anticipated, essentially a renovated mansion with rooms and wallpapers you can never forget.

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4. Guptill’s

If you’ve ever been around the 518 region for at least a few hours with the radio on you’ve probably heard a Guptill’s commercial. While there are a ton of different ice cream places around to enjoy, Guptill’s is the ice cream Mecca, with hundreds of options from unique soft and hard flavors, to sprinkles, dips, and more. A personal favorite–coffee and vanilla twist with chocolate sprinkles. Of course you can get good ice cream all over the Capital Region, but Guptill’s is definitely worth a stop at least once a summer.

3. Tara Kitchen

I’ve never been to Morocco but a lunch at Tara Kitchen transported me as close as I’m going to get any time soon. At first, I wanted to try something safe, like grilled chicken or something along those lines, but ultimately decided to push my boundaries. I ordered the lamb meatballs which came in a red sauce over rice with a side of potatoes.

Before the meal arrived we were given a small glass of hot tea to sip on. Our meal arrived shortly after ordering and we ate on the enclosed back door patio with a few other lunch goers. I was glad to eat outside as the interior of Tara Kitchen was quite small making the temperature very warm. My first venture to the restaurant was at the original location in Schenectady, but a new location has recently arrived in Troy. If you’re looking to try something adventurous, I recommend you give it a try.

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2. La Mexicana

From the outside La Mexicana looks like a place you might just keep driving past. A little bit dingy and attached to a grocery store, I was slightly nervous despite that I had heard La Mexicana was good. Authenticity is what makes this place a success with tacos reminisicient of the ones I got from a food truck in Mexico.

The prices are unbeatable. 3 tacos for somewhere around $6 is nearly impossible to find but La Mexicana does it effortlessly, full of flavor pork, chicken, or steak upon corn tortillas. Don’t be discouraged by the outward appearance or the parking lot in the back, if you’re looking for some tasty, authentic tacos, stop by La Mexicana on State Street in Schenectady.

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1. Albany Ale & Oyster

Previously known as Beer Belly, Albany Ale & Oyster on New Scotland in downtown Albany is your spot for brunch, lunch, and you guessed it, beer. I spent mother’s day eating lunch outside on the patio, sipping on a seasonal sangria and enjoying a french dip sandwich. The presentation was on point; our sandwiches were delivered on black slates with a side of crisp potato chips in a brown bag, making the meal more picture worthy than usual.

Inside, there is an intriguing selection of craft beers available for sale, as well as on tap. I’m not an oyster person, but as you can guess Albany Ale & Oyster has them on the menu. A diverse selection of menu options make it easy to find something everyone can enjoy and a place definitely worth stopping by.

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Have somewhere you think I need to go? Let me know in the comments and as always, see you on Instagram

Barcelona on Broadway: Tapas At Boca Bistro

Summer 2014 was a life changing summer. On a spontaneous whim at midnight in my twin xl dorm bed  I applied for an international marketing course for 6 weeks in Spain. Although a little rusty on my high school Spanish, I got on a plane at John F. Kennedy airport, closed my eyes, and woke up in Barcelona, Spain.

There are many beautiful things about Barcelona- the architecture, the beaches, the fashion. But to know Barcelona, and to truly love Barcelona, is to appreciate the food.

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Before my arrival in Spain, I researched the people, the culture, and the language. When I saw main dishes like arros negre, a dish in which the main ingredients included rice with squid ink, I knew I was in for an adventure. Before I left I declared to my mom that I would try as many things as possible, but I would not eat squid ink. As fate would have it, on our first full day in Spain the restaurant where our professors took us to lunch had arros negre on their menu del dia, and I went for it. Screen Shot 2017-05-08 at 9.37.00 PM.png

There are so many different things I could tell you about the food in Spain, from menu del dia 3 course lunch specials to the amazing Tapas crawl in which I got small plates and a glass of wine for 2 euro each, but this blog is called Erin Eats Upstate.

After my summer in Spain I’ve attempted to find Spanish food here in Upstate New York but the options have always been few and far between. You’re sure to find some paella dishes around, and certainly a carafe or two of Sangria, but the traditional tapas like pan con tomate, patatas bravas, croquettes, and tortilla de patatas are rare, hard to find treats.

I found out about Boca Bistro when I first came home from Barcelona in 2014 but it has taken me 3 years to finally set foot inside the restaurant. The delay was primarily caused by location, I live in Albany and spend far more time there, as well as exploring Schenectady and Troy. When I found myself hungry, and on a casual stroll in Saratoga, I knew exactly where to go.

The restaurant itself is beautiful, albeit a bit smaller than I anticipated. We were seated by the window at a small table aside a beautiful brick wall. I don’t know what it is about a brick wall, but for whatever reason I’m instantly drawn to them. As we sat down we were given a food and drink menu, with a full selection of beer and wine. Despite my best judgement I didn’t order a drink, partly because it was the middle of the afternoon, but mostly to spend more money on food. On the drive home all I could think about was how much better the meal would’ve been with a nice red wine.

While the menu included salads, sandwiches, burgers, and paella, I didn’t even give them more than a glance. After munching on some freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil (and eating some of the olives too) we ordered a selection of tapas including pan con tomate with manchego cheese, ham croquettes, and patatas bravas.

Pan con tomate is literally bread with tomatoes mashed across the top when you order it in Spain. At Boca Bistro there were a few more components. They used cherry tomatoes cut in half, with olive oil, a tomato spread, and some sprouts for garnish. We added manchego cheese to the order, because why not, and the bread came with more olives (which I LOVE).

You don’t need to speak Spanish to understand what patatas bravas are. You probably already guessed it, potatoes. Patatas bravas are traditionally fried potatoes cut into cubes with spices, and served with a garlic aioli and these did not disappoint. For an additional cost we could’ve added a fried egg or chorizo but I decided to keep the dish classic as I remember it. There’s always next time.

The meal wouldn’t be complete without ham croquettes, although it probably would’ve been a bit healthier without these delicious fried ham and cheese fritters. Stuffed with manchego cheese and serrano ham, the plate came with 5 of these tasty croquettes. This is often a pet peeve of mine at restaurants. Why not serve an even number? Especially when it comes to tapas when you know people are going to share… But I digress, overall if that was my only complaint, I’d say it was a pretty good meal.

I was pretty full after these small plates and entertained myself by looking at the dessert menu, but ultimately had to decline. Although I didn’t get to try, if you are a dessert person I can only assume that the churros and chocolate is a worthwhile choice.

With relatively inexpensive flights to Europe these days the goal is to save some money and return to Spain, revisiting Barcelona and exploring other cities like Madrid or Sevilla. But for the time being I will continue to find local options and reminisce about Summer ’14.

Do you have any recommendations for Spanish food in New York? Let me know in the comments and as always, I’ll see you on Instagram