Most promising restaurant to
open in 2008
SeaBar City
475 Ellicott St., 332-2928,
This top-notch venue for innovative sushi fills a huge gap in the downtown eating scene. Kudos—once again—to chef/proprietor Michael Andrzejewski.

Old standby
2095 Delaware Ave., 877-9662
It’s not just that it’s been around forever (over twenty years); it’s that it’s been around forever and continues to surprise us.

Worth the drive
61 Lakeport Rd., Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Canada

It’s a pleasure to go through the border hassle if your destination is this haven of fresh local food and creative preparation.

291 Seneca St., 856-9187
The May cover of Spree said it all. Make as much noise as you want, and a reasonable amount of mess; this WNY institution is good family fun.

Place to eat at midnight
33 Virginia Pl., 882-2989
If you’re up for something that didn’t just come out of the deep-fryer and isn’t inside a bun, Mother’s is still the epitome of civilized late night dining.

Restaurant featuring locally grown
Trattoria Aroma
307 Bryant St., 881-7592

Not only does this establishment attempt to use as much local food as it can, the owner also cosponsored the recent Field and Fork conference, benefiting locavores throughout WNY.

Business lunch
City Grill 2
268 Main St., 856-2651
Too bad business people don’t have three-martini lunches anymore, because this place would be ideal; in any case, it has always been great for fine dining in the heart of the city in the middle of the day.

Romantic dining spot
174 Buffalo St., Hamburg, 648-6554
From its cozy-cottage setting to its elegant presentation, this is the perfect spot for a quiet meal á deux.

After-work bar
5629 Main St., Williamsville, 632-9373
After eight hours of putting out fires, you want exactly the happy, chattering crowd that fills Creekview’s bar every weekday at 5.

Neighborhood hangout
Sterling Place Tavern
1487 Hertel Ave.
Low-key atmosphere, ultra-friendly service, top-notch food, and world-class microbrews—we’re nearly out of hyphenated superlatives!

Restaurant to see and be seen
Club 31
31 Johnson St., 332-3131
This reader pick was the talk of the town even before it opened.

Best recession-friendly drink specials
Over the past few years, Buffalo, sadly, has caught up to the rest of the country as drinks costing $8–10 and more have begun showing up on restaurant and bar menus all over town. But if that won’t jive with your plummeting 401K, cheaper alternatives abound. You just have to know where to look.

Sample, Allen Street’s small bites pioneer, offers specials on three weeknights. Tuesday is customer appreciation night, with all menu items half price. On Wednesdays cocktails and menu items are two-for-one from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday is Rum Night, with two for one mojitos, daiquiris, and mai tais. And these are no ordinary cocktails—try the passionfruit margarita with its house-made sour mix and touch of cayenne, or a cut-above-the-rest cosmo made with cranberry citrus puree.

Further east, Allentown’s myriad gay bars are all known for strong drinks and low prices. If you can only hit one, try Fugazi, which features a changing seasonal martini menu and some of the best values in town. With $2 well drinks on Sunday, Monday, and Wednesday, half price Stoli drinks on Tuesday, and $3 cosmos, $1.50 wells and $1.50 domestic beers after 9 p.m. on Thursday, there is no better place to get a recently dumped pal soused for ten dollars.

Downtown, Papaya offers two-for-one martinis and half-price sushi for the after-work crowd every Wednesday. For $8.50, suddenly you can try both the mango margarita AND the strawberry or order the restaurant’s namesake drink—vodka mixed with fresh papaya puree and papaya juice—for both yourself and a friend.Budget-conscious drinkers should also consider visiting the Hamlin House, an Allentown treasure that opens to the public for weekday lunches, Monday night bingo (7–10:30 p.m.) and all day on Fridays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The bar has always offered great values, with $4 glasses of wine, $2.25 drafts of beer, and $4–5 top-shelf liquor. As for the quality of the drinks, they are known throughout the neighborhood for their potency.

Finally, after a movie or show, head to Cecelia’s, where martinis are two for one after 11 p.m. every Friday night and a bar menu is also available. Though primarily an Italian restaurant, Cecelia's is known for fruit-flavored martinis like grape and apple, as well as a lively bar scene and its convenient Elmwood Village location.
—Jessica Keltz

Restaurant to try dishes you’ve never heard of
Palace of Dosas
656 Millersport Hwy., Amherst, 834-1800
An ideal introduction to cuisine from the less-known Southern region of India.

Spot for quiet conversation
Black & Blue
5439 Sheridan Dr., Williamsville, 839-2525
Immerse yourself in one of the (almost completely) enclosed booths of this elegant Williamsville steakhouse and chat to your heart’s delight.

Alt. Pick
Best place for quiet conversation
Café 59
Café 59, located on the corner of Franklin and Allen streets in the city's Allentown neighborhood, has long advertised itself as a coffee shop and Internet café. While there is coffee available (including some of Buffalo's cheapest lattes), and free wireless access, where the spot really shines is its lunch menu and its quiet, relaxed atmosphere.

Buffalo Medical Campus administrators, West Side activist Harvey Garrett, Buffalo Rising founder Newell Nussbaumer, and Robby Takac of the Goo

Goo Dolls and Music is Art have all been spotted holding court here. The tables are plentiful, the music volume is low (if it’s playing at all) and employees don’t feel the need to call out every beverage order across the room. It’s a great place to get some work done on your laptop, read every free publication circulated in Buffalo (they’re displayed in the newsstand by the door), get the study group together, or talk shop.

While you’re there, try a sandwich (they run about $6-$8 and include a choice of side salad), a build-your-own salad (choice of 30+ ingredients), or a bowl of soup (the black bean and rice is highly recommended). Order at the counter, then find yourself a table, conduct your business, or crack open a book. They’ll find you.

Café 59 is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. The menu is available at, or call 883-1880 to ask for the daily soup specials or grilled cheese of the week.
—Jessica Keltz

Karaoke/Wii Karoake
Keglers Sports Lounge
7850 Transit Rd., Williamsville, 632-3940
Costumes! Air guitar! Die-hard regulars! Wii will, Wii will rock you.

Place to blow your diet
Suzy Q’s Bar-B-Que Shack
2829 Niagara St., 873-0757
This barbecue haven serves entreés that proudly include the word “piggie.” There’s a good reason for that.

Place to impress your future in-laws
Rue Franklin
341 Franklin St., 852-4416
From DeDe’s warm greeting at the door to your first view of the elegant courtyard garden, could there be a better place for a quiet, intimate dinner? We think not.

Bargain for white tablecloth
The 20.09 program (presuming it continues)
This brilliant experiment, which is expected to continue in 2010, introduced many budget-conscious diners to places they may only have heard about and had been hesitant to try.

Bargain for casual dining
1329 Niagara St., 886-9197
For decades, this West Side stand-by has been offering great, down-home Italian classics at ridiculously low prices.

Best custard worth a trip
In 1944, Hedria Porrath Lunken, then five years old and the daughter of an eminent rabbi, the late Samuel I. Porrath, would be put in her pajamas and get in the car with her parents and grandparents. They would then take what seemed like a long trip from the Porrath home in Niagara Falls to Lewiston for custard. Hedria lives in Rochester now but would happily go to Lewiston anytime to eat that “wonderful, best I’ve ever had” custard.

Hibbard’s Custard, at 105 Portage Road, is still preparing custard the same way it did since Harold Hibbard opened the original custard stand in 1939. Hibbard’s is still in the same location (its only one), and still uses the secret mix that a determined Mr. Hibbard brought from St. Petersburg, Florida. The Foodies are fortunate to reside in Lewiston and can indulge in this unique and heavenly frozen treat any time at “the custard stand” from the middle of April to the beginning of October.

Hibbard’s specialty is different and delicious for many reasons: It contains twelve-percent butterfat (and, of course, fat equals flavor), it has a low ratio of air (in other words, it has more heft than one of those tall towers of custard), and it is always hand-dipped (the staff has to be specially trained in how to pack the cones). In addition, Hibbard’s uses a special vanilla extract and purees all its own fruit to make the many varieties that are available. Until recently the business operated with the original machine, in use since 1939, and was thus somewhat limited in how many flavors they could produce. Fortunately for all of us custard lovers, they were able to find an exact duplicate of the original machine, and have now upped the flavor count considerably. Not all favors are available every day, but they always offer chocolate and vanilla plus three or four others, including the very popular black raspberry, pistachio, banana, Kahlua, butterscotch, peanut butter, Amaretto, Pina Colada, and creamsicle.

Some caveats about Hibbard’s. The servings are very generous (small cone $2.75, medium cone $3.25, large cone $3.50); Vicki has never braved the large. This stuff is prone to melting—a large cone on a very warm summer day will be dripping down your arm before you get into a good rhythm of slurping and licking. Suggestion: order the serving size of your choice in a dish, and get the best of every drop—have the cone on the side if you must. Parking is plentiful but a little quirky; remember, it’s a small town. And while a Yelp ( reviewer describes the ordering scene as “basically a free-for-all,” our experience is that just a bit of patience helps the line move along.

Celebrity chef and Food Network personality Bobby Flay was in Lewiston a few summers ago and was overheard on the phone at Hibbard’s by Margy’s daughter, Megan. Flay exclaimed: “I’m here in this little town for a wedding, and I am eating the best damn custard I have ever had—it’s amazing!” Of course, you don’t have to be a star to enjoy a Hibbard’s custard. The eclectic mix of young and old, pierced and shaved, dressed up and casual, all standing in line most times of the day is a testament to the wide and lasting appeal of this village treasure.

If it is true, as has been said, that whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, and do it by watching some small-town teams, then it is equally true that institutions like Hibbard’s serve to define our regional character. Hibbard’s is a perfect place for a destination drive northbound—just a half hour from downtown Buffalo—at 105 Portage Road at the corner of Center Street. It’s open seven days a week, until 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on the weekends. Come on, Western New Yorkers! Cross those two bridges, be daring, and enjoy.
—Vicki G. Marshall and Margaret M. Toohey

Smartest lunch special
Fables Café
1 Lafayette Sq., 858-7127
For decades, this West Side stand-by has been offering great, down-home Italian classics at ridiculously low prices.

Several area locations
To get this range of options, you would have to drive to ten different takeout places. Danny Wegman’s team makes that unnecessary.

Vegetarian/vegan cuisine
439 Delaware Ave. 842-0600

There was rejoicing in the streets when this restaurant opened in March; it caters to gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian palates—and somehow keeps the meat-eaters equally satisfied.

Gluten-free dining
Pizza Plant
8020 Transit Rd., Williamsville, 632-8000
5110 Main St., Williamsville, 626-5566

This delightful local chain created the pizza pod, has a great beer selection, and, most amazingly, is able to use the words “gluten-free” and “pizza” together.

Western Door
Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel, 310 Fourth St., Niagara Falls, N.Y., 1-877-873-6322
Salamanca Casino, 777 Seneca Allegany Blvd., Salamanca, N.Y., 1-877-873-6322

You needn’t be a gambler to appreciate the filets, porterhouses, and rib eyes you’ll find here; it’s a royal flush for those who know their cuts.

Most creative approach to the fish fry
242 Allen St., 883-1675
The tiny hors d’oeuvres-size variations on this theme at Sample are wacky but irresistible.

Place to find traditional Polish fare
Bistro Europa
484 Elmwood Ave., 884-1100
Our panel raved about all the old world fare at this newish Elmwood stop.

Restaurant or bar with the best view
Water Street Landing
115 South Water St., Lewiston,

Root 5
4914 Lake Shore Rd., Hamburg,

The lower-level outdoor deck at Water Street hangs you right over the Niagara River, offering an endlessly fascinating vista of churning rapids, intrepid boaters, and the verdant Canadian shore. Meanwhile Root 5 is one of WNY’s favorite viewing spots, with great food and a gorgeous sunset view of Lake Erie.

1141 Kenmore Ave., Kenmore, 447-7915
The innovative cooking techniques here inform the beautiful and novel ways dishes are presented.

Most attractive restaurant interior/décor
581 Delaware Ave., 885-1594
This was a handsome restaurant during Yianni’s and Biac’s eras, and the current incarnation is no different, wisely allowing the architecture and beautiful interior details to speak for themselves.

Wait staff

938 Kenmore Ave, 877-9419
Rue Franklin
341 Franklin St., 852-4416
The waitstaff at both of these establishments are charming and impeccable.

Happiest happy hour
153 Elmwood Ave., 884-3866
In high season, it seems as though this bar stretches for a whole block; it’s sometimes almost impossible to penetrate to the interior, but everyone visible looks like they’re having the time of their lives.

Most encouraging new trend
Small plates
Take heed, WNY—it is possible to have a great meal that does not hang off the sides of the platter and does not need to be packed up for consumption over the next week. Tasting menus and smaller entreés have come to town and we’re all healthier and happier as a result.

Appetizer menu
26 Virginia Pl., 884-2630
Combined with an equally extensive cocktail menu, these offerings make Scarlet a perfect place for informal drinks and snacks with the gang.

Sandwich menu
Jonny C's NY Deli & Caterers
9350 Transit Rd., East Amherst, 688-8400
Formerly a downtown staple, this venerable establishment now offers authentic deli goodness to anyone lucky enough to live nearby. It’s worth a drive, too.

Best rhapsodious raspberry experience
We call things experiences instead of calling them, say, museum exhibits or windows. Same with ice cream desserts. We could call any ice cream dessert an experience, but a raspberry dish at Antoinette’s offers an experience outside of itself. Something happens. Three of us stood in line with ice cream dessert menus and ordered the Red Raspberry Rhapsody at Antoinette’s on the Hill. We watched two experts build the desserts in heavyweight fountain dishes, scooping vanilla and raspberry ice cream, and covering the scoops with red raspberry fruit. To finish the job, they worked together to fill a big cloth triangle with real whipped cream for squeezing on top of the berries.

We carried our tray of rhapsodies to a window table and started to dive into the dollops of whipped cream. We found it rich and fresh, but whipped cream is not the experience. We all liked the raspberries so much we stopped talking. They tasted tart, and local fisherwoman/wilderness raspberry consumer Laura Mueller loved that you could “feel the fuzz” on the berries. Still, the berries are not the experience. The Antoinette’s menu calls its ice cream premium and homemade. We liked the smooth texture, and the polar flavors of raspberry and vanilla make the dessert completely different on opposite sides of the bowl. But the polar effect is not the experience. The experience almost has to happen by accident. After a taste of tart berry, the next spoonful, with just the right mix of raspberry ice cream, real whipped cream, and vanilla, tastes like a light chocolate. That’s it.

Experience it in either location: the modern and glow-y Antoinette’s on the Hill, at Union and Main streets in West Seneca; and the more traditional ice-cream parlor spot, Antoinette’s Sweets, on Transit near Genesee.
—Jennifer Wettlaufer

Dessert menu
The Chocolate Bar
114 West Chippewa St., 332-0484
Owned by the same people who brought us the equally excellent Butterwood’s, Chocolate Bar is a great destination for cocktails as well as sweets, combining addictions, as it were. In a good way.

Ruzzine’s Rock Bottom Eatery
6261 Transit Rd., East Amherst, 204-4004

The standard grilled burger here is utter perfection.

Beef-free burger
Amy’s Place
3234 Main St., 832-6666
The unburgers here are still made from scratch—and always delicious.

Traditional chicken wings
Gabriel’s Gate
145 Allen St., 886-0602
A certain joint anchored a few blocks away may have “invented” this appetizer, but the Gate has perfected the formula.

Nontraditional chicken wings
La Nova
371 West Ferry St., 881-3355
There are plenty of contenders for this category nowadays, but they’re all still wannabes compared to the superb barbecue wings at this West Side landmark.

Iron Chef Buffalo?
There’s never been a category for top chef in our best of WNY, mainly because we’re afraid it would likely stump a lot of our readers, as well as our panelists. Buffalo certainly has its share of talented chefs, but in Buffalo, like everywhere else, the real chef of a real restaurant works behind the scenes. He or she doesn’t have time to become a “personality.” In real life, anybody who tried to act like Gordon Ramsay—or Rocco DiSpirito would simply be fired by an exasperated restaurant owner, and disappear from the scene pretty quickly. Restaurants are not show biz; they are businesses that need to run on an even keel.

But still. Wouldn’t it be fun to have our own celebrity chef competition, if only for a few nights in the summer? It would be and it’s going to happen, thanks to uber foodie Christa Glennie Seychew. Seychew has created a Buffalo-based chef competition, which will be taped in front of a live audience this summer. It’s called Nickel City Chefs.

Here’s how Seychew has configured it. Four Nickel City chefs have already been chosen. Each will be challenged by another local chef on four Sundays this summer; the challengers are being chosen as we go to press. The two competitors will prepare three dishes each, at Artisan Kitchens and Baths on Amherst Street, in front of a live audience. As on Iron Chef America, a different secret ingredient will be the theme upon which each chef will prepare his or her “succulent variations.” Emceeing and commentary will come from Bert Gambini of WNED FM and chef Mike Andrzejewski of SeaBar.

You can attend these competitions, and you can vote, though the ultimate outcome will be decided by a panel of judges. Also, each of the four competitions is being taped and released on DVD by Full Circle Studios. Here’s the schedule:

June 21—Chef Krista VanWagner of Curly’s
July 19—Chef JJ Richert of Torches
August 23—Chef Paul Jenkins of Tempo
September 20—Chef Adam Goetz of Sample

Tickets are only $20; for more information visit

—Elizabeth Licata

Thin-crust pizza
La Hacienda
3019 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, NY, 285-2536
You can find other truly Neopolitan pizzas in WNY, but this charming casual eatery in the Falls still has the ultimate crispy crust and a perfectly flavored sauce.

Thick-crust pizza
Bocce Club Pizza
4174 North Bailey Ave., Amherst, 833-1344
For that uniquely WNY pizza—not New York, but not Chicago, either— try this great takeout location.

Beef on weck
Bar Bill Tavern
185 Main St., East Aurora, 652-7959
“Laugh, relax, and indulge,” the sign says. The great food is an extra benefit at this classic tavern.

Louie’s Deli & Imports
8226 Main St., Williamsville, 632-4906
A great sub should start with a great loaf of perfect Italian bread—and what's inside is just as good.

Italian sausage
Johnny’s Meat Market
1191 Hertel Ave., 876-2500
The home of excellent homemade sausage for decades.

Pasta sauce
3011 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls, N.Y., 282-4043

Another Niagara County haven for Southern Italian food prepared with the proper amount of gusto and just the right seasonings.

The Original Pancake House
5479 Main St., Williamsville, 634-1025
Both readers and panelists insist that this is the best place to go for pancakes of every variety—the panel prefers the Williamsville location.

French fries
492 Pearl St., 931-5001,
The classic French approach—twice-fried—has come to WNY. Viva la France!

Bento box
118 West Chippewa St., 856-2444
The sushi here has long been a hit with our readers and panelists alike.

1561 Hertel Ave., 838-5225
The city’s most perfect balancing act of meat, feta, lettuce, and onion on a fresh bed of pita. Everything in its right place, indeed.

Rice pudding
India Gate
1116 Elmwood Ave., 886-4000
3093 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 837-0460

The workhorse dessert of Buffalo diners becomes an exotic treat when studded with pistachios and sprinkled with gold.

Artisan bread
Le Metro
5110 Main St., Williamsville, 631-2725
Our panelists love the crusty, perfectly textured French loaves available here and at Dash’s.

Healthy treat
Anderson’s frozen yogurt
Several area locations
Now you can feel virtuous and relive the heyday of drive-in malt shops at the same time!

Guilty pleasure
Mighty Taco
Several area locations
One of our most beloved local chains, MT keeps their stand-bys—sinfully comforting gloppy burritos and giant loganberrys—but changes things up with new additions like fish tacos to keep us on our toes (whether we can still see those toes or not). Bonus points for the best ad campaigns around, year after year.

Comfort food
Fat Bob’s mac ’n’ cheese
41 Virginia Pl., 887-2971,
Still the only place to get great q in the heart of the city, the oasis of Allentown fun known as Fat Bob’s is as well known for its luxuriously rich mac ’n’ cheese (no fat spared and at least four cheeses) as it is for its pulled pork and hoppin’ bar scene.

227 Delaware Ave., 332-2299 /
765 Elmwood Ave., 332-4564 /
5330 Main St., Williamsville, 565-0200

For a business that has gone through its share of tribulations, Spot gets consistent high marks for its high-quality caffeine, good casual food, and bright, bustling atmosphere.

Traditional cocktails
2095 Delaware Ave., 877-9662
You and your craving for a great classic martini will find safe harbor here.

Trendy cocktails
252 Delaware Ave.
The upscale atmosphere is fun, but it’s the martini and champagne list that sets OPUS apart.

My tofu beats your chicken with peanuts. Or not.
There is no “best of” category for Chinese food in Spree this year, but just for fun, the food panelists participated in an impromptu taste-off between two of our favorites: Ming Café and Gin-Gin. Both have won “Best of” awards in the past. It may seem strange to choose two restaurants so different in ambience, but when the food is coming from take-out boxes, it’s all about taste, texture, and style. In the case of these two popular eateries, those elements sometimes differed quite radically; other variances were more subtle. And for those who are familiar with the former hole-in-the-wall, Gin-Gin has been in a new, roomier location for the past year or better, so the ambience difference with Ming is not quite as radical as it would have been.

Five quintessential dishes were chosen to taste: hot and sour soup, chicken with peanuts, beef and broccoli, tofu with vegetables, and pot stickers. Each dish could be rated from 1-5, with 5 being the best, and the results were weighted to account for some of the 6 panelists not voting on certain dishes. Like the “I won’t eat tofu” panelist. You know who you are.

The soups were quite different in appearance but not so much in taste. Ming’s had long strips of tofu and was sweeter, while Gin Gin had very thin shreds, creating a cloudier-looking broth, and had a more pungent flavor. The panelists tended to like both soups, with a tied score of 3.67 for both. The beef with broccoli throw-down also resulted in a tie—3.40—with one panelist finding Ming’s beef a bit chewy, while another liked its addition of cashews.

And then the panelists parted ways. The most dramatic disagreement was over the dumplings. Only one taster liked the Ming dumplings, which were vegetarian and seemed to have—could it be?—ground tofu in them. “Me no likey” and “mushy” were the comments of the other four panelists and Gin-Gin’s pork-filled dumplings easily won with a score of 4.50 to Ming’s 2.67. As for the chicken with peanuts, some preferred the spicy, plump pieces of chicken in the Ming offering (3.50), but more liked Gin-Gin’s thinner, more heavily seasoned strips of chicken (4.0).

Though not as dramatically different as the dumplings, the tofu with vegetables entrées resulted in somewhat of an apples vs. oranges comparison: Gin-Gin's tofu was fried and Ming's was not. Gin-Gin squeaked by with a 4 to Ming's 3.67.

Overall, it was a very close contest, showing that—with the exception of the dumplings—Gin-Gin’s boldness and Ming’s lightness could please the same appreciative palates. There is one major caveat: whereas at Gin-Gin you can count on lunch for two with change back from a $20, that’s unlikely to happen at Ming.
—Elizabeth Licata

Gin-Gin, 3381 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, 836-2600
Ming Café, 3268 Main St., 833-6988


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