11. La Hacienda
best restaurants
The way pizza should be

Who knows why this place has a Spanish name; there’s nothing in the least bit Iberian about their superb thin-crust pizzas and other Neapolitan specialties.

Recommended:
New York-style pizza, served on a stand. The sauce is particularly notable: not overly sweet but well-seasoned, with herbs and small pieces of tomato.

The scene:
Strangely, there is an odd overlay of Mexican décor, from the sign outside to the menus. But this is no hole-in-the-wall; the room is large and pleasant, with a comprehensive selection of old-fashioned drinks on the menu. The owner is quite affable and usually on-hand for a friendly conversation.

Service:
Old-fashioned table service here; no counter orders.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Nothing—this is a Niagara Falls classic.

If only …
Niagara Falls is a city full of “if onlys.” Thank goodness the Pine Avenue district, which also boasts Michael’s, the Como, and a few other traditional Italian eateries, still thrives.

Entrée price range: $
3019 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, 285-7227.
–E.L.



12. Left Bank
best restaurants
West Side magnet for great food

All the perks of fine dining, minus the dress code. By serving rich, saucy dishes in a warm and friendly setting, this joint lives up to its lofty Parisian name. And on top of its stellar dinner menu, Left Bank is a prime brunch spot. Plus, its bar alone is an attraction, thanks to reasonably priced drinks and a loyal crowd.

Recommended:
The homemade ravioli—a gigantic vessel of lively flavors, which changes every day.

Carrot papardella—lobster, shrimp and crabmeat in a shellfish brandy cream.

The service:
The staff is thoughtful enough to ask if you have a show to catch. If you do, you get your food even quicker.

If only …
… the bar wasn’t so successful on weekends. People who think they’re cool tend to hang out there and make a lot of noise, disrupting what would be an otherwise romantic dinner.

Entrée price range: $$
511 Rhode Island Street, 882-3509, www.leftbankrestaurant.com.
—J.S.



13. Lombardo’s
best restaurants
Top dog in Buffalo’s Little Italy

Buzz about all the Italian restaurants on Hertel Avenue started this year, but Ristorante Lombardo has been a destination on this strip since 1975.

Recommended:
This is a traditional Italian menu, with pasta, meat, fish, and vegetable dishes listed separately. It is impossible to make a bad choice, but we’ve heard raves about every fish and veal dish on offer here.

The scene:
A sure sign that this restaurant has a great reputation is the fact that it’s packed nightly, even on Mondays. The interior is traditional white tablecloth elegance; in the summer a courtyard, hidden from the busy Hertel traffic, offers a pleasant al fresco experience.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Like many of our best restaurants, there’s no trendiness or hype here, and no need for it: just great food in a gracious setting.

Entrée price range: $$$
1198 Hertel Avenue, 873-4291.
–E.L.



14. Mother’s
best restaurants
Great food late

Never mind that Mother’s is a hot spot for mid-life crisis victims looking for love—it also has one of the most creative menus in town, a wine list that is second to none, and a dedication to service that stems directly from its owners, Mark Supples and Amy Taylor.

Recommended:
The wine list, not only for its fabulously unique selection, but also for its almost insanely reasonable prices. The markup is infinitesimal—you’ll get a $25 bottle for $30.

The scene:
Even at its most crowded, once you’re sitting comfortably at your table, it just feels so good to be there. If somebody yelled “fire” in the middle of your dinner, that would be a serious dilemma.

Service:
Not only does Mother’s make a point to care about every single detail of your dining experience, it also serves all night. Sitting down for a gourmet meal at 1 a.m. is akin to a spiritual awakening.

Entrée price range: $$
33 Virginia Place, 882-2989.
—J.S.



15. Oliver’s
best restaurants
The granddaddy of them all

There are so many reasons to go to Olivers: to listen to jazz over a drink in the lounge, to stop in for an appetizer or dessert, or to have a guaranteed great meal in one of Buffalo’s most deservedly-renowned restaurants.

Recommended:
In summer, their heirloom tomato salad; at all times of year, their Hawaiian butterfish and their innovative lounge menu.

The scene:
A delightful evening can be spent sitting around the bar while sampling the lounge menu and the excellent cocktails. Throughout, Oliver’s is redolent of old-style “classy restaurant” panache.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
For graduations, visiting VIPS, and every other kind of special occasion, this local institution is still one of the top choices.

If only …
The exterior could use an update.

Entrée price range: $$$
2095 Delaware Avenue, 877-9662.
–E.L.



16. Rue Franklin
best restaurants
An oasis of Gallic finesse

When the Rue Franklin first opened, the then-reviewer for the Courier Express noted that she felt like she was in Paris. Thirty years later, it still feels that way, particularly during an early summer evening in the gorgeous courtyard garden of this small but superlative restaurant.

Recommended:
The menu changes regularly to reflect seasonal offerings, but the prix fixe, offered on weekdays, is a great deal. The wine list here is small, but very well-chosen.

The scene:
The dining rooms and inviting bar are beautifully appointed, but the deal here is the courtyard, a great place to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail or post-prandial coffee. The focal point is a magnificent fountain, surrounded by a kouza dogwood, wisteria, spring bulbs, perennials, and annuals.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Some bicker over whether the food here is “pure” French or modified French, but it matters little: for decades, it’s been the closest you’ll get in Buffalo.

If only …
Some downtown workers might benefit if lunch was available here.

Entrée price range: $$$
341 Franklin St., 852-4416, www.ruefranklin.com.
—E.L.



17. Saigon Bangkok
best restaurants
The best of two worlds

WNY is enjoying a boom in Thai restaurants these days, and there are several solid Vietnamese options around town, but this longstanding local institution stands out on both fronts. The selection is vast, and the lunch specials are a great deal. Vegetarians are in for multiple treats here, too.

Recommended:
The Vietnamese pancakes earn raves, and the yellow curry may be the best Thai dish in the area.

The scene:
The quiet, relaxed setting feels miles away from the distractions of Niagara Falls Boulevard.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
We’re always fond of our firsts, and for many Western New Yorkers, this place was where they had their first pad Thai.

Entrée price range: $$
512 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda, 837-2115.
—R.E.



18. Salvatore’s Italian Gardens Restaurant
best restaurants
There’s only one

Impressing your friends is one thing—there are plenty of restaurants in the area that will do that—but if you want to blow their minds, you have to take them to Salvatore’s. It’s as much a spectacle as it is a restaurant, overloaded with visual stimulation as well as good food.

Recommended:
Technically an Italian restaurant, Salvatore’s is also getting a rep as a great place for steaks and other hearty American fare.

The scene:
There isn’t space to describe here the many, many elements that make this place unforgettable. Postmodern American rococo might be the closest architectural description for the Vegas-like barrage of ornate statues, fountains, lighting, and other ornamentation that fills the place inside and out. Oddly, it’s also very comfortable.

What makes this a Buffalo classic:
Salvatore’s updated its look a few years back, but the place has a long history in Western New York as the venue for banquets, weddings, and other grand occasions.

Entrée price range: $$$
6461 Transit Road, Depew, 683-7990, www.salvatores.net.
—E.L.



19. San Marco
best restaurants
A tradition of quiet excellence

Innovation for its own sake is not the rule here, but you are likely to try some dishes you’ve never had before. That’s because San Marco is one of the few restaurants in town that specializes in classy, creative preparations of fresh game as well as Italian fare with a Northern Italian slant.

Recommended:
Any preparation employing truffles is a safe bet, as are the venison, quail and veal dishes. The desserts are great here as well.

The scene:
A husband and wife team, Frank and Nancy Grimaldi, are responsible for the warm, welcoming ambience of this restaurant, apparent as soon as you enter. Take Frank’s advice about the specials.

If only …
... the restaurant had stayed in its Elmwood location, which was a bit more convenient for city-dwellers.

Entrée price range: $$$
2082 Kensington Avenue, Amherst, 839-5876.
—E.L.



20. Santasiero’s
best restaurants
Welcome to the neighborhood

Skeptics may insist that Restaurant X or Z does the whole homecooked-Italian-feast-at-rock-bottom-prices concept better, but none generate the widespread, heartfelt devotion that this one does.

Recommended:
The spaghetti sauce, of course, but serious fans praise the Pasta e Fagioli and the eggplant parm. No matter what, you’re going to need a doggie bag.

The scene:
The furniture and the menu on the wall look like they haven’t been changed for decades, the house red is served in a juice glass, and you’re bound to overhear the conversation at the table next to you—all of which is a plus.

Service:
Even if you didn’t grow up in the neighborhood and your family hasn’t been coming here every week since the 1920s, you’re going to feel welcome.

What makes it a Buffalo classic:
See all of the above.

If only …
… they accepted credit cards.

Entrée price range: $
1329 Niagara St., 886-9197
—R.E.



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