This is exciting for me, because while I like to try out new places to eat, it's rare that I find one that will become a regular spot. Van's is going to be the place I gravitate to when I'm in Albany from now on. I wish I had known about it before! Van's is on 307 Central Avenue, on the north side of the street.
I had read about it, but it's always hard for me to trust the Times Union review, because the paper reviewers here haven't had a free meal they didn't like.
So it was after two friends spoke highly of it that I went. Their spring rolls in particular are a favorite, and with reason: I tried the vegetarian ones and they were out of this world. Fresh, not greasy, and yet deeply satisfying with a nutty mellow flavor, they hit the spot. The portion was a generous one, too, with I think 4 rolls served as an appetizer. My friend got the rolls with meat, and he ate his right up, too. They came served with nuoc mam and fresh lettuce and sprigs of mint that are just the right light complement to the complex flavors of the rolls.
The space is a bit odd, because it's so large, and the tables are spaced in such a way that you feel you are eating at a dance hall. It was a good thing that our waitress was energetic and filled our water glasses frequently, because to be abandoned in a space like that would be spooky. They should put a carpet down or something, or even put more tables there to make it feel a little cozier. But Van's filled up pretty well on a weeknight, as it seems to have drawn people like me who cherish its good food and helpful service.
For my main course I got salmon with ginger. It was quite good, tender and flavorful, with generous shreds of ginger on top and a light citrus sauce, but not too sweet or overpowering. My friend got the chicken-- they were out of the roasted chicken, but he got another chicken dish that was similar, and he reported that it was very good. They have an extensive offering of tofu/vegetarian dishes, noodle dishes, and soups of all kinds (but unfortunately not many that weren't beef-broth based).
It's worth going just for their dessert selections alone, too: this is the only place in Albany that I know of where you can get a Durian shake, a mango shake, or something called basil seeds with sugar. I tried the key lime pie, which was nice and light but not as tart as I like it. They also had turtle cheesecake and a few other typical American desserts. Their prices are reasonable; in short, in every way Van's rocks. Next time I want to try the basil with sugar.
I highly recommend this place. In fact, as I type this, I wish I could go there right now. But there's a 'winter weather advisory' up and we're stuck here for now.