No Jacket Required / La Verdad Cafe
True goodness: La Verdad Cafe brings outstanding barbecue to Buffalo’s East Side
“The Truth,” with shredded Buffalo chicken sautéed in onions, peppers, cheese, and house sauce
Photo by Stephen Gabris
La Verdad Cafe
1132 East Lovejoy Street
Rumor had it this was barbecue so good it’d tempt me back again and again. The place? La Verdad Cafe, located in Lovejoy on Buffalo’s East Side—somewhere that, despite a lifetime in Western New York, I’d never been.
Which is why, on a recent Friday, I found myself, with an adventurous friend, walking along a stretch of boarded-up buildings. We soon spotted an attractive storefront. Underneath a row of trendy lights was the sign for La Verdad Cafe and, underneath, “Your Taste Matters.”
Those first vibes at a restaurant are extraordinarily important. We walked through the doors. “Hi! Welcome to La Verdad!” said the woman behind the counter (points immediately won). “How’d you hear about us?”
We exchanged pleasantries. A couple beats later, Vivian Robinson, who, with husband, Al, owns the establishment, came out from the kitchen and welcomed with a smile. We snagged a couple of menus from the counter and plotted our course. We had to try the ribs, because they’re only offered on Fridays, and we were there on a Friday. After some back and forth strategizing, we ordered the following: a large burnt ends and brisket rice bowl; the “LaVa3,” featuring brisket, burnt ends and ribs; and sides of gouda macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.
As we waited for our food, we took in the ambiance. Cafe tables for two dot the interior. Red accents make the space pop, and the same industrial-style lights that line the storefront also hang from the ceiling. It’s a comfortable space—bright, airy, and welcoming—with an adjacent room that opens around midday. Bible verses are on the wall, reflecting the owners’ religious beliefs. For the past eight years, pastors Vivian and Al Robinson have led the Spirit of Truth Urban Ministry, 115 Gold Street. This past year, they opened La Verdad in what was formerly a drug house fronting as a barbershop. They named it La Verdad (Spanish for “the truth”).
It didn’t take long to receive two platters of steaming barbecue and sides, a tangy sweet scent announcing the food’s arrival. I tried the ribs first. The meat falls off the bone at the slightest pressure, revealing melty tender beef permeated with smoky flavor and slicked over with barbecue sauce. It was midway through that first rib, with happiness all over my face, that Vivian once again appeared. She asked how we liked the food.
photo by stephen gabris
Between bites, I muttered something about it being outrageously delicious and, as delicately as I could, wiped a smudge of barbecue from my chin. “That’s smoked fourteen hours [by Al],” she told us proudly, beaming with that same smile we’d seen earlier. “Where are you guys from?” We chatted a a bit, and she returned to her kitchen and we to our food. The burnt ends, nubby bits of perfectly caramelized outer edges from the smoked hunks of beef, tasted like candied meat. The brisket proved as tender as the ribs, also fully flavored.
photos by kc kratt
Throughout our meal, customers came and went, some sitting down to eat and others opting for takeout. Each without fail, got that same personal hello, with Vivian calling out to many by name.
We moved onto the potatoes, which are smashed with the skins mixed in. They’re garlicky, with a generous dash of fresh cracked pepper on top. The mac and cheese is made with a roux base, and multiple kinds of cheese give it depth of flavor. Both sides are perfect counterparts to the smoked meat.
Surprise table winner: the rice bowl. Vivian revealed it’s become one of her top sellers. The tender brisket with yellow rice underneath, made more flavorful with peppers, creates a terrific texture and flavor profile.
We finished with enormous slices of Vivian’s homemade pecan pie and cheesecake. The cheesecake is a creamy delight, and the pecan pie comes loaded with chopped pecans atop a gooey, sweet base, all held together in a flaky, buttery crust. Throughout our meal, we were checked on multiple times, often by Vivian as she swooped by to wipe off tables, chat with customers, and inspect things. We were expertly taken care of the whole time, with wet wipes for our fingers, extra napkins for our barbecued faces, boxes for our food, and answers for our questions. No need was left unmet.
La Verdad has many more menu options than we were able to try in one visit. It also serves enormous sandwiches, like the “Stretch Mark,” featuring brisket with mac and cheese and kale apple slaw on a Kaiser roll and “The Truth,” with shredded Buffalo chicken sautéed in onions, peppers, cheese, and house sauce. (Of note: none of this food is made with salt, and the salt isn’t missed.)
This is a restaurant, not a ministry in title, but judging by the joy it brings to each diner who walks through the doors, La Verdad is creating true believers.
Thank heaven for takeout boxes, because you will defininetly want to save room for a housemade sweet treat (or two). The buddy system is best in this situation; when one of you is feeling gustatorially stretched to the limit, your dining companion can tag you out and take a couple bites while you take a couple deep breaths and recover. Whether your dessert predilictions run to creamy, fruity, or nutty, La Verdad delivers what you crave.
A creamy delight
PHOTOS BY KC KRATT
2) Mango Smoothie
This healthy option still satisfies a sweet tooth.
PHOTOS BY KC KRATT
3) Pecan Pie
Loaded with chopped and halved pecans atop a sweet, gooey base
photo by stephen gabris
1132 East Lovejoy Street, 768-3150