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Places to Go, Things to Eat

Beef on weck at The Eights (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Our intrepid editors offer you can’t-miss reasons to visit 55 Western New York establishments

It’s harvest time here in Western New York, and the pace of life is accelerating: Tomatoes are ripening too quickly, or not quickly enough. Schools are back in session. The theaters and galleries have commenced their new seasons. The air is brisk. There is business to be done.

Some of that business will take place at corner tables of restaurants familiar and unfamiliar, or in coffee shops, or in bars. You don’t have time to consider changing menus, and you can’t afford to order the wrong thing. Why, oh why, must there be so many choices?

It’s good to know what you want and where to get it. Happily, we’re here to help. Our editors have fought relentlessly with one another in order to arrive at the following list of eating and drinking establishments paired with one or two compelling reasons to visit them. (No disrespect to the places and dishes that fell to the cutting room floor: We only have so much ink and paper.) Maybe a place is distinguished by its milkshakes. Maybe it’s the macaroni and cheese. Maybe it’s a cocktail or a sandwich. Maybe it’s the atmosphere or the decor—good, bad, or weird. No matter: If you go where we tell you and do as we say, we guarantee you’ll be pleased.

Wasabi (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Wasabi (752 Elmwood Avenue): Get the avocado tofu salad. Generous amounts of sliced avocado, tofu, and crispy tempura flakes on a bed of crisp lettuce. Served with sliced avocado, tofu cubes, and tempura flakes. Semi-sweet miso dressing drizzled over everything.

Rue Franklin (341 Franklin Street): You think you can’t afford to eat here, and maybe you can’t. But you can afford to have a cocktail at the beautiful little service bar, maybe even split a dessert. Get there toward the end of the night and you’ll probably meet the owners.

Doctor Bird’s Rasta-Rant (3104 Main Street): Order the Veggie Whopper with veggie patty. Jamaican pastry patty filled with potato, peas, carrots, and spices. The patty sits underneath a bed of lettuce, tomato, and onion sandwiched between one of the best breads on Earth, Coco Bread. You could get the patty alone, but why would you want to deprive yourself of the super soft and slightly sweet wonder that is Coco Bread. If rasta pasta if available, get your hot little hands on that, too. More of a takeout place than sit-down.

French Quarter Café (220 Allen Street): Have the gumbo. And a birch beer.

Ristorante Lombardo (1198 Hertel Avenue): You would be right to go for the extraordinary food and service. You would be right to go for the small, lively bar and its unimpeachable barkeeper, who only seldom will reveal the joint’s cleverly concealed and rarely used television. As for us, we go mostly to admire that bartender’s strange, effective wine aerator. (Plus, the owner donates 50 percent of his proceeds on Dining Out for Life night to AIDS Community Services. Reward his generosity with your business.)

Five Points Bakery (426 Rhode Island Street): Order a whole grain cinnamon roll. It’s doughy in all the right places and not too sickly sweet. Can be found at the bakery or on Saturdays at the Elmwood-Bidwell farmers market.

Connecticut Street Sandwich Shop (402 Connecticut Street): This new place is beautiful, from the gleaming counters to the soundtrack that runs from classic country to 1980s punk rock. Try the carnitas. Wash them down with a chocolate milkshake.

Lake Effect Diner (3165 Main Street): In addition to the delightful 1950s atmosphere (the diner was built in 1952 in Wayne, Pennsylvania, saved from demolition, and moved to Buffalo, where it was restored) the Lake Effect Diner serves hand-dipped milkshakes, malts, and floats. If you’re brave enough to order off the menu, try a chocolate, banana, and peanut butter milkshake, just like Elvis would have. Drop in on a Tuesday when the milkshakes are two-for-one with the purchase of any menu item. Try the stuffed potato pancakes.

Amy's Place (photo by Zachary Burns)

Amy’s Place (3234 Main Street): We don’t know who Barb is or where she’s from, but songs should be written about the Barb Special, her namesake sandwich. Strips of deep-fried and breaded eggplant, tomatoes, french fries, and garlic sauce in a wrap prove that eating veggie and recovering from last night with grease-fueled goodness aren’t mutually exclusive after all.

Frankie Mohawk's (166 Mohawk Street): Brought to you by the folks who used to run Billy Ogden’s. On our first visit we tried a sandwich called the David Santa Croce, and we’ll try it again.

Blue Monk (727 Elmwood Avenue): From the Blue Monk burger (eight ounces of certified prime beef with Ommegang Abbey caramelized onions and smoky blue cheese) to authentic Canadian poutine (duck fat frites with cheese curds and duck confit gravy), the Blue Monk puts a fine-dining spin on pub-style grub. Whichever entrée you choose, make sure to pair it with the roasted beet salad (sliced beets, green apple, candied walnuts, and smoked blue cheese crumbles on mixed greens) topped with one of dressings made in-house: lemon and olive oil, cider vinaigrette, and gorgonzola dressing.

Burrito Bay (2341 Millersport Highway, Getzville): Have you ever rubbed your belly and in a mix of pleasure and self-loathing announced to the assembled masses the existence of your “food baby”? Then Burrito Bay’s “glutton burrito” is for you. Take a 16-inch flour tortilla and fill with your choice of meat, beans, rice, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, black olives, banana peppers, hot peppers, guacamole, sour cream, and your choice of salsa, hot sauce, wing sauce or barbecue sauce. It weighs in at thee to four pounds. Starting at $9.99.

Willie's Corner Restaurant (272 Hudson Street): All the Latino places on Buffalo’s West Side offer cheap, honest renditions of the same handful of dishes. Willy’s distinguishes itself with its varied menu, and specifically with its bacalao, salt cod stewed with tomatoes and onions and other delicious things, served with rice.

Sportsmen's Tavern (326 Amherst Street): Come for the music. Order a basket of fries and a cold bottle of Genesee.

Rohall’s Corner (540 Amherst Street): Utica Club was the first beer to be brewed once Prohibition was lifted, and Rohall’s has Utica Club on tap. The bar even has the vintage “Schultz and Dooley” talking beer steins, Utica Club icons from the 1950s through the late 1960s. Owner Greg Rohall drives downstate to pick up the kegs himself.

Llyod's Taco Truck (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Lloyd’s Taco Truck (various locations — Complement the fresh and spicy taste of a Lloyd taco with their Crazy Corn, smothered in garlic chili butter, spices, and Lloyd’s secret sauce. You’ll eat the whole cob faster than you can say, “Where’s Lloyd tomorrow?”

Cole’s (1104 Elmwood Avenue): Cole’s goes above and beyond with the Pacific Beach Burger. The eight-ounce burger is topped with avocado, chipotle-caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, and chipotle aioli. Your plate will be completely clean; even rogue onions will be snapped up before they hit the plate.

Louie’s Foot Long Hot Dogs (470 Elmwood Avenue): Try the vegetarian BLT. Yeah, it’s weird a vegetarian eating a baconesque sandwich, but whatever, it’s good! Crispy grilled soy strips with lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, and honey mustard sauce all on a honey wheat roll. Perfect for lunch and hangovers.

Jinlan Chinese (2789 Delaware Avenue): One of the best mai tais served in Buffalo. The blends of rum with juices is simple and clean—not too sweet, which happens when bartenders use mixers. Served in a Polynesian tiki glass.

Century Grill (318 Pearl Street): Free bacon Saturdays. What more needs to be said? Baskets of bacon, free, on Saturdays.

Shango (3260 Main Street): Shango’s mac and cheese is light on the grease and heavy on the satisfying baked crunch and layers of tantalizing melted cheese. Made with penne, smoked Gouda, goat cheese, cheddar, and panko rosemary crust, it’s doubtful you’ll need a doggie bag.

Mothers (33 Virginia Place): Mothers is the place to go for appetizers in Buffalo. The best of these is a staple on most menus: artichoke dip. But Mothers adds Brie to the mix. And it’s a little different every time you order it, so you know it’s freshly made.

Fast Food 99 (3396 Bailey Avenue): It’s not just that the food is good and cheap, which it is. It’s not just that English is not the predominant language spoken in the dining room, which it isn’t. It’s this: Where else can you order tendon in your pho?

Fiamma (1735 Hertel Avenue): Fiamma’s chopped salad is the I’ve had: avocado, tomato, bacon, crumbled blue cheese, and creamy house dressing. And for $9, it’s big enough for two people to share before dinner.

Sweet Tooth (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Sweet Tooth (94 Elmwood Avenue): No one in the city can beat Sweet Tooth’s red velvet cupcake.

Gabriel’s Gate (Allen Street): I work at a place that attracts a lot of tourists. Whenever I’m asked if they should go to Duff’s or the Anchor Bar for chicken wings, I direct them down the street the Gabriel’s Gate.

Cathode Ray (26 Allen Street): We’re not entirely sure how it’s legal to sell this much booze for only six dollars, but somehow, on “Big Ass Drink Nite,” Cathode Ray delivers. Offering quart-sized jugs of Long Island Ice Teas, Gilligan’s Ice Teas, Margaritas, and Sex on the Beach every Thursday night, they might as well just rename it “Trouble Brewing Nite.”

McGarrett’s (946 Elmwood Avenue): McGarrett’s is one of the few bars in town that actually serves up a true two-for-one beer night. We’re talking some tasty brews too, including their selection of Cleveland’s Great Lakes beers, like the buttery Eliot Ness or the chocolatey Edmund Fitzgerald.

Chez Henri (somewhere on Route 5, near Angola): You can’t come here to eat; the kitchen’s closed. And you shouldn’t come here to drink, unless you’re hoping to reach the end of your road early. If you spy this strange little roadside restaurant and bar, located behind a motel that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, stop in. Step into the darkness. Feel the weirdness.

Bistro Europa (484 Elmwood Avenue): No kitchen in Buffalo is more imaginative, so come prepared to order something whose ingredients and preparations you don’t fully recognize. Then reward your boldness with the absurdly lush and comforting sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

Allen Street Hardware (245 Allen Street): Pave the way for the second round of Manhattans with side orders of grilled asparagus, macaroni and cheese, and roasted cauliflower. That’s all you need.

Café Taza (100 Elmwood Avenue) Café Taza is Allentown’s secret coffee spot, serving up a slew of signature drinks, including the Mike Tyson. Can’t decide between coffee or tea? No worries, order a Tyson: half chai, a little milk, and the rest espresso for that early morning caffeine fix.

Seabar (475 Ellicott Street): Buffalo is known for the wing and for beef on weck and arguably. Seabar took one of those classics and turned it into sushi. Try the beef on weck sushi roll, complete with horseradish sauce and caraway seeds.

Trattoria Aroma (307 Bryant Street): Because they’ll crack an egg on your pizza before it goes in the oven. (So will The Eights, by the way).

Blue Fin Asian Bistro (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Blue Fin Asian Bistro (765 Elmwood Avenue): The quiet bistro with attentive service offers the Mayflower roll—crunchy spicy tuna, avocado, and asparagus topped with peppered tuna, eel sauce, and tobiko. This dish is as visually pleasing as it is delicious; the roll is arranged in the shape of a flower.

Tom’s Family Restaurant (3221 Sheridan Drive, Amherst): It may be a dollar cheaper during designated breakfast hours, but in our opinion, it just tastes better at 3am. There are a lot of options for the town’s standard diner plate (the #1: two eggs, home fries, and toast), but you’d be hard-pressed to find a cozier stop than Tom’s for your aimless night-owlery.

The Eights (888 Main Street): Have a craving for some meat but can’t stand to kill a defenseless four-legged creature? Fear not, the Eights Bistro on Main Street will satisfy your craving with vegan Philly cheesesteak, vegan tuna sandwich, vegan gyro, and even vegan beef on weck. Don’t ask how they do it, just devour it.

Musicians Big 6 (600 East North Street): If there’s jazz the night you go, you’re lucky. If there’s a catfish dinner, you’re luckier still.

Romeo & Juliet’s Bakery and Cafe (1292 Hertel Avenue): Try the Margarita pizza. Their fresh red sauce combined with mozzarella and fresh basil on top of a crispy thin crust is the best pizza in Buffalo. Beats all that pillowy pizza that the rest of the city offers.

Parkside Candy (3208 Main Street): A root beer float is a pretty simple construction. But throw in a vintage candy counter, soda fountain, and the quiet, nostalgic atmosphere of this Main Street icon and you’ll feel like you’re 10 again. Have a better day, drink a float.

Founding Fathers (75 Edward Street): Sure, sometimes the popcorn’s stale, but a little salt goes a long way toward pleasantly promoting your thirst. And with plenty of the good, honest, and decidedly drinkable Irish-styled amber McSorley’s on tap, you’ll want to belly up and get comfortable. Pro tip: While you’re there, read the walls. You might learn something.

Checkers (1854 Hertel Avenue): There are any number of strong candidates for the venerable title of worst bathrooms in Buffalo, but some places just need to be seen to be believed. There are folks living in open sewers in Bangladesh who would blush at using these facilities.

Sun International Foods (1989 Niagara Street): Tucked in the back of an Asian grocery on Niagara Street and buried deep inside an expansive menu of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai dishes, lies a unique offering from some of Buffalo’s most recent immigrants. A perfect fusion of Indian and Siamese culinary flavors (a reflection of Burma’s unique cross-cultural geography) the curried chicken, coconut, and egg noodle soup called ownno koksware is graced with so many flavors and subtle highlights each taste seems different from the last.

Tantalus (634 Main Street, East Aurora): The menu here is longer than a Russian novel so take our advice: If you eat meat, ask if they have the cassoulet. It’s terrific. If you don’t eat meat, order the fig and gorgonzola pizza, which is always available.

Real Sushi (259 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines): Most all-you-can-eat places temper their dining experience with a buffet-style, low-caliber menu in hopes of cashing in on their patrons’ gluttony for quantity over quality. But consider for a moment being able to have both. Imagine walking into a normal restaurant with a varied menu, good service, and high-quality preparation but having access to a restaurant cheat code that unlocks all the prices. Real Sushi is that place.

Sole (photo by Jill Greenberg)

Bagel Jay's (multiple locations: Feel better about your morning meal with Bagel Jay’s veggie lite cream cheese shmear. Big pieces of scallion, onion, carrot, and green pepper stud the cream cheese, cutting the richness and adding a certain heartiness to your morning bagel. Pair it with a toasted sundried-tomato pesto bagel and you will find yourself hopping out of bed in the morning for your new favorite breakfast.

Bertha’s (1430 Hertel Avenue): Belgian waffles with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. Pair it with their fresh brewed coffee and you’re good to go.

Sole (810 Elmwood Avenue): There is something about tableside food preparation that elicits a gleeful “Dance monkey, dance!” Though you may want to keep that thought to yourself. It doesn’t hurt that Sole’s tableside guacamole is made in plentiful quantities. Bring some friends to help.

Jim's Steakout (various locations): It used to be so cheap it felt like robbery. Although the price has risen, Jim’s veggie burger is still cheap and still the best in town.

Swannie House (170 Ohio Street): If it’s Friday, have the fish fry. Any other day, get a cheeseburger. If there’s not a bona fide blizzard, eat on the patio, which is an island of comfort in downtown Buffalo.

Nadia's Taste of Soul (69 Allen Street): The ribs are fine, and so is the mac and cheese. But the collard greens are, we think, the best we’ve had in Buffalo.

Elm Street Bakery (72 Elm Street, East Aurora): So far, this bakery’s wood-fired ovens are producing bread and pastries only, along with coffee roasted in-house. Soon there will be pizzas, sandwiches, and other delights. Order anything.

New York Pizza (198 Allen Street): Don’t be a fool: Get a slice with hot peppers and cheese. Anything else is more than you want or need.

Cave's Deli (14 East Main Street, Forestville): Should you be taken by an impulse to see the fall colors in Chautauqua County, wend your way to Forestville, find Cave’s, and get a cheese sub from the deli in the back of the store. Eat it sloppily in the car on your way to Straight Road.

Mr. Kone's (893 Jefferson Avenue): Quick, while there’s still a teasing trace of summer in the air: Go see Mr. Kone. Ignore the mini-tacos and the mini-hamburgers. Have ice cream.

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