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For those reading Buffalo Chow from inside Western New York, our goal is to elevate - to give you a sense of fantastic restaurants and dishes you may know, or may have missed, in your pursuit of the area's best local and ethnic favorites. To those reading from outside the area, our goal is to give you a cheat sheet - a short guide to the places we'd highly recommend across many culinary genres, if you're here on business or vacation and have too little time to hunt around for top choices. Each of the individual items we selected was chosen strictly on merit as a standout from a business that otherwise stood out to us on overall quality; go with our specific picks if you're looking for especially outstanding items. Full reviews are linked below.
100. Seafood-Stuffed Calamari at Trattoria Aroma. We've loved fried calamari and squid ink pasta at Italian places, grilled whole and sushi-styled squid at Japanese places, and plenty of other variations elsewhere. The best squid item we've had locally is Trattoria Aroma's version, succulent and moist, packed with bits of crustacean meat; we'd eat a double-sized portion as an entree.
99. Stuffed Banana Peppers, or, Virtually Any Appetizer at The Left Bank. While we won't claim that it's impossible to go wrong with any of the appetizers here, we've tried virtually all of them, and can say with confidence that we'd order a meal at The Left Bank from nothing but the appetizers - a sentiment shared by friends. The Stuffed Banana Peppers, the best we've had anywhere locally, are guaranteed to be on our list every time.
96, 97 + 98. The Apple Pancake, Potato Pancakes, and Kijafa Cherry Crepes at the Original Pancake House. While this isn't strictly a local chain, the steady traffic and outstanding breakfast fare at the Original Pancake House make it as much of an institution in Western New York as it is at its original location in Portland, Oregon. We consider the signature Apple Pancake to be a gluttonous delight, even for two people, while the potato pancakes are widely agreed to be as accurate a rendition as they come, and the slightly sour, largely sweet Kijafa Cherry Crepes are an outstanding example of how simple foods can be elevated with great ingredients. Few restaurants have even two items on our list; the three here are truly spectacular enough to merit their places.
95. Sponge Candy at Palace of Sweets, Watson's, or Wegmans. Our individual reviews explain why this local chocolate and honeycomb favorite is worth trying at each of these venues - in short, they're worth sampling individually for variety, quality, and pricing, respectively. Regardless of whether you try sponge candy at one place or all three, there's no doubt that it needs to be experienced while you're in town.
94. Guinness Wings at The Irishman. Many of the menu items at this Irish eatery are worthwhile, but the one you won't likely find elsewhere is the plate of Guinness chicken wings. In a region known for numerous variations on the wing, many of them completely forgettable, the Irishman's sweet, beer-flavored take defies the odds by actually tasting memorably great.
90, 91, 92 + 93. Dim Sum Brunch, particularly the Har Gow and Beef Tripe, as well as Hong Kong Style Shrimp and Chinese Eggplant with Chicken entrees, at Uncle John's No. 1. There's some irony in the fact that many of the area's high-end local Japanese places are now owned by Chinese restauranteurs, while high-end Chinese places have all but vanished locally. Thus, you'll find more authentic, delicious Chinese entrees - including several excellent dim sum items - at this tiny Amherst hole-in-the-wall than at all but one or two of the area's other venues; thank the chef, formerly of the much larger New York, NY restaurant on Niagara Falls Boulevard, for continuing to practice his craft. We've been even more impressed on recent visits to Uncle John's than we were originally; the dishes here are, at times, spectacular. But you'd never know it from the location or decor.
89. Spicy Tuna Rolls, at Wasabi. Most of the sushi we eat in the area comes from the ever-improving Fuji Grill, but the most authentic Spicy Tuna Rolls we've found locally are at Wasabi, which generally - not always - offers an even classier dining experience.
88. Ultimate Carrot Cake, and a Hundred Other Great Things, at Wegmans. There's no such thing as a single-item trip to the uber-supermarket Wegmans, nor just one thing that makes the place compelling. But if we were forced to make only one purchase, it would be the Ultimate Carrot Cake, quite literally the very best rendition of this dessert we've ever tasted - the spices, raisins, frosting and carrot shavings are so ideally combined that a single slice can convert non-believers.
87. A 90-Cent, 16-Ounce Vanilla Latte at Wilson Farms. We love a really excellent cup of coffee, but on cold winter days, we also appreciate the cheap thrills of Wilson Farms' hot, flavored cappuccinos. If you can get past the fact that these drinks are machine- rather than barista-made, and that they're sweetened to almost liquid candy levels, you'll find them to be an extraordinary value - even if you don't use Wilson's Coffee Cash to bring their prices down to absurdly low levels.
86. Your Choice of Donuts at Dunkin' Donuts. We're partial to the pudding-centered Bavarian Kreme or thin, glazed, and twisting French Cruller, but in our experience, every donut at Dunkin' Donuts is a winner - especially relative to other local chains that have come and gone. The coffee here is also very good; better than Canadian chain Tim Hortons.
85. Fried Banana Peppers at Kentucky Greg's. Though Buffalo Chow's editors aren't in 100% agreement on the quality of the various barbecued meats here, there's no dispute whatsoever that Kentucky Greg's Fried Banana Peppers are awesome - good enough to become the next onion ring. Tangy and crispy, they don't need the ranch dressing they're served with; you'll want to put down a whole basket without assistance.
84. Perry's Peppermint Stick Ice Cream. Served only from October through December, this fantastic old-fashioned peppermint ice cream is one of too few versions to actually include chunks of red and green peppermint candy inside its sweet, creamy pink scoops - the candy part is all but impossible to find in other brands these days. And sadly, Perry's version is becoming hard to find, too; we had no luck locating cartons at Wegmans or Tops this past year. If you can find it, it's one of the area's best sweet treats.
83. Sorghum Frozen Mug Sundae at Cracker Barrel. A last-minute substitution on our list, this molasses-topped ice cream sundae - served alongside more familiar hot fudge, chocolate, plain caramel and strawberry versions - stuck us as a unique, amazingly inexpensive, and memorably good way to finish an affordable Southern-style meal. It takes the place of Montana's pork shanks, thin bones with huge chunks of tender, saucy meat, and Pesci's very similar Hawg Wings, both of which appear to have become unavailable since we reviewed them.
82. Brazilian Steak at CopaCabana. Churrascarias, or all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouses, have become hugely popular all across America - except in Western New York, which has zero. Thankfully, there's one right across the border in Niagara Falls, Canada, letting you sit at a table as waiters bring you various, savory cuts of beef, chicken, and pork until you wave the white flag of surrender. If you've tried churrasco elsewhere, don't expect to be blown away here, but if you're a first-timer, the experience will likely be transformative.
81. Burgers at Ruzzine's Rock Bottom Eatery. One of us is a burger fanatic, the other isn't. Yet we both agree that Rock Bottom's massive, delicious burgers are the best we've had locally, walking all over the more famous, equally large ones served at Grover's across the street. If you need a cheap burger, stick with Burger King, but if you want a great one, Rock Bottom's worth a visit.