Tanpopo in Albany, NY
Tanpopo is a tiny Asian noodle restaurant in downtown Albany, on the North Side. The wide, treeless city block is home to large charmless buildings on huge asphalt lots. It’s a typical warehouse district.
Unlike its surroundings, Tanpopo itself is steeped in charm. Housed in a 1941 Silk City railroad diner, between Wolff’s Biergarten and an office building, it seats just 46 patrons. The Art-Deco interior is cherry wood with porcelain enameled steel, and the geometric-tiled floor is stunning and rich with color.
Inside, diner booths run the length of the building. A tall pub-style table has replaced the original counter, and the retro menu boards above are holdovers from the previous tenant – the Miss Albany Diner (1941-2012). There is so much to love here, and we haven’t even mentioned the food yet.
Like the restaurant itself, the menu is small. Eight apps, four salads, six types of ramen, and six rice dishes. Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, carnivore: there’s something for everyone. Tanpopo isn’t fancy, but the meals are satisfying and nicely-priced. The most expensive thing on the menu is $13.
For the soup, the choice is ramen or rice noodles. Then it’s pork, miso, vegetable, chicken or seafood. The broth itself is wonderful, and the ingredients are unusual: flammulina velutipes, kikurage mushroom, and bamboo, along with scallions, cabbage and corn.
Each visit feels like I’ve stepped out of my cushioned comfort zone to something just a little bit exotic. From the post-war setting, to the Asian aromas, down to the beautiful, oversized ceramic soup bowls. It’s the kind of place that gives me the sense that I’ve just discovered something really special.