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Our list of the top 100 Western New York foods, drinks, and restaurant picks continues from Part 1 to this Part 2, which starts with some of the area's very best local desserts and drinks, and continues with the freshest Mexican food we've had in town. As with part one, our goal has been to select "can't go wrong" items from impressive restaurants with formidable menus, guaranteeing you one or two safe dishes during a meal otherwise of your choosing. Enjoy!
80. The Chocolate Martini at Chocolate Bar. We have no particular love for the white chocolate version, which we'd describe as forgettable, but the standard Chocolate Martini at the Chocolate Bar is a guaranteed hit, if pricey. Consider it worth sharing alongside one or two of the legitimately good to great desserts here.
79. Fresh Tacos at Salsarita's. Understand this, Western New York: tacos are not all created equal. The ones served by Taco Bell and Mighty Taco barely resemble the real deal, which can be found in proper and especially delicious form at Salsarita's - the closest thing we have to the authentic Mexican chains found in California and Texas. From freshness to flavor and ingredients, Salsarita's of tacos will help you understand why taquerias are so popular elsewhere.
78. Soft Shell Crab at Shango Bistro. Shango's classy, hip renditions of a number of New Orleans favorites won us over, with the panko-crusted soft shell crab appetizer standing out as an especially interesting and tasty pick. We've been eating soft shell crabs for years around here, and from presentation to taste, this version was amongst the most memorable.
76 + 77. The Eggplant Tower and Italian-Style Wood-Fired Pizzas at Siena. Pricey and exclusive, Siena's dishes can be a little hit and miss, but the specially baked, Italian thin crust pizzas and impressively stacked Eggplant Tower appetizer-slash-salad are sure-fire hits, demonstrating that crispy dishes needn't be greasy to be delicious.
74 + 75. Spanikopita and Rice Pudding at Wehrle Family Restaurant. Finding good Greek food isn't difficult around here, making price as important a factor as any in determining standouts. With substantial American and Greek menu picks, the Wehrle Restaurant does a very good job with a couple of our favorites - the crispy spinach pie spanikopita and the sweet, thick Greek rice pudding, at very reasonable prices.
73. Souvlaki Dinner at Sheridan Family Restaurant, big plates, low prices Like the nearby Wehrle Family Restaurant, this long-time alternative on Sheridan in Amherst offers very affordable Greek and American meals; its $10 Beef, Chicken, and Pork Souvlaki plates are massive and very satisfying.
72. Tierra y Mar Salad at Sole. While the menu at the Pan-Central American restaurant Sole has shrunk considerably, there are still plenty of delicious choices left, and of them, we'd pick the Tierra y Mar Salad - surf and turf, with peppered Filet Mignon and Shrimp, fried onions, lettuce, black beans and cheese - as a great plate with especially wide appeal. Other items featured in our review are eye-poppingly beautiful.
71. A Vanilla Latte at Spot Coffee. As one of two non-chain coffee shops we especially enjoy, Spot Coffee does no wrong with its specialty coffee drinks: its Vanilla Lattes, served in oversized mugs, are just one example of the creamy caffeinated goodness on tap here.
68, 69 + 70. The Homemade Steamed Dumplings, Happy Family, and General Tso's Chicken at Sun Garden. It says a lot about the messed up state of local Chinese restaurants that both of the area's two best places are focused on take-out traffic rather than sit-down customers, but between Sun Garden's excellent food and reasonable prices, you'd be hard pressed to find a better meal on taste in even fancier local surroundings. The Steamed Pork Dumplings here are homemade and truly very good, while the meat, seafood, and vegetable-packed Happy Family is an especially outstanding value, and fare such as the General Tso's Chicken is consistently spot-on.
67. Swiss Chalet's Barbecued Ribs. For some, the draw at Swiss Chalet - one of only two U.S. locations of a massive Canadian restaurant chain - is the rotisserie chicken. We prefer the Barbecued Ribs and their outstanding barbecue sauce, which we view as consistently satisfying comfort food rather than gourmet cuisine.
66. The Glace Noir dessert wine, from Warm Lake Estates. We've spent months sampling various dessert wines produced in this area, and our favorite pick is Warm Lake Estate's 2004 Glace Noir, a rich, port-like pinot noir that actually carries the essence of its oak barrel aging process, and is served in 375ml bottles. If you're buying from Warm Lake's location in Lockport, be sure to get the larger bottle rather than the miniature, which has twice the alcohol content and less flavor.
65. Chocolate Peanut Butter Ball at Romeo & Juliet's. The dessert case at the Williamsville location of Romeo & Juliet's is small, but it's a thing of beauty, every syrupy sweet item on the shelf beckoning to be sampled. We've tried our best to oblige, and over several visits have been most excited by this delicious lump of peanut encrusted chocolate, loaded with a lip-smacking peanut butter filling. Prepare for sugar shock from the other chocolatey choices.
64. Lobster Crab Cake from The Red Coach Inn. If you like crab cakes as much as we do - and even if you don't - the Red Coach Inn's version, made with crab, lobster, and diced peppers, is a must-try, lightly crisped on the outside while wonderfully stringy and yielding on the inside. It's the best version we've had locally.
63. Kanom Krok at Thai Orchid. Unlike most of the area's Thai restaurants, Thai Orchid makes a point of offering unfamiliar dishes that will expand your understanding of this cuisine. Though many are offered only as daily specials, the Kanom Krok - an appetizer of delicate and sweet cooked coconut cups topped with scallions, sesame seeds, or taro - is always on the menu, and certainly worth trying.
61 + 62. The Vanilla Bean and Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory. If there is a more sublime light cheesecake in this area than Cheesecake Factory's Vanilla Bean, or a more perfectly balanced chocolate cheesecake than the Godiva, we haven't found them; these are the yin and yang desserts of one of the area's very best chain restaurants, where it's hard to have a bad meal no matter what you order.
Our list continues with Part 3.