The best food I've eaten in this region over the past year is coming out of a small storefront on Wall St in Kingston -- KINGSTON COOKS. The guy running this place, Carl, is doing four daily lunchtime blue plates with ingredients and inspiration he brings back from excursions down to lower Manhattan. His dishes have influences that range from Asia and the Middle East to Mexico and the Southern US. Every day, 4 new specials, 8-10 side dishes, 4 new soups and 4 new sandwiches. The prices are insanely low. 5 bucks for a blue plate with two sides, $2 soups and $2 sandwiches. Served by a hyper-intelligent, sweet-natured guy who clearly loves what he does. Lunch only, weekdays.
Kingston's Stockade area is also home to what is my idealized version of a neighborhood restaurant come to life and favorite spot for dinner in the Hudson Valley-- UGLY GUS. This is a warm, intimate, unpretentiously elegant place run by a charming, down-to-earth couple, Chris and Tinsy, who are an almost constant presence in the dining room. Their attention to detail shows. The service is excellent and the traditional American fare superb. You won't get a better NY strip steak anywhere (the grill man is a virtuoso) and there is not a misstep on the menu. Their desserts are scratch-made and the real-cream banana cream pie will make your knees buckle. Inexpensive lunch menu daily, open late for dinner.
A little further up the Thruway and across the bridge in Columbia County's Hudson you'll find one of the finest performance spaces north of Soho: TSL - Time & Space Limited, along with a great place to eat after the latest film or art opening: RED DOT. Red Dot is what you wish every diner could be: a place that serves fresh, honest, simple dishes done really well. Red Dot is like the anti-diner. You'll find only a handful of items on the menu but each one is made with a little flair and a steady hand. The salads and chicken dishes are my favorites.