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Though this list hasn't been arranged in rank order, the final 20 items in this look at Buffalo and Western New York's top 100 foods and restaurants include many of our very favorite local choices: the area's best chicken wings, pizza, seafood soups and steakhouse picks are included below, as are several of the top chocolate options available in the area - cakes, gourmet bon bons, and even candy bars. If there's one section of the top 100 we couldn't live without, this would definitely be it. Read on for all the details, and of course, links to our comprehensive reviews are found inside. (See Part 4, here.)
19 + 20. Cadbury's and Nestle's Canadian Caramilk and Aero Bars. Call it cheating, but Western New York's proximity to the Canadian border is one of our many under-appreciated local assets, and even if you're not planning to drive all the way to the amazing Niagara Falls, you can stop and shop at a duty free store just over the border. What you'll find alongside the discounted liquors and perfumes is a sizable collection of Canadian candies, including Nestle's Aero bars - we love the mint version - and the original Cadbury's globally beloved chocolate bars, such as Caramilk. One Caramilk is all you'll need to understand why the American Cadbury's bars, produced by Hershey's, are so forgettable.
18. Marinaccio's Lebanese Sis Kebob. Equal parts colorful and delicious, this pricey Lebanese version of the shish kebab uses high-quality filet of sirloin to lure you in, along with skewered red peppers and onions, all served atop a sweet, cool salad made from cous cous balls, orange, almond, and raisin pieces. The combination of hot, slightly spicy beef and the colder, sweeter cous cous is surprisingly compelling.
17. Lemon Ice, or, if You're Lucky, Loganberry/Lemon Ice Mix - at Anderson's. The local Anderson's chain is known and much loved for its frozen custards, and also sells decent beef on weck sandwiches, but in our view, what keeps the place distinctive these days is its Lemon Ice - a sweet, tart bowl of frozen but pliable flavored ice, thicker than an Icee but softer than soft serve ice cream. On the rare occasions when Anderson's offers Loganberry Ice, mixing the two flavors yields impressive results.
16. A Bagel Breakfast at Bagel Jay's. Locals know that the area's best bagels were once served at Bagel Brothers, but Bagel Jay's has risen from the ashes of that Western New York chain's purchase by Manhattan Bagel; today, Jay's bagels are the area's best pick, offered in a wide variety of flavors with schmears of spread. Go with whichever one strikes your fancy, they're all tasty, especially toasted.
14 + 15. Loganberry and Grilled Sahlen Hot Dogs at Ted's. There's no beverage more Western New York than Loganberry, a bright red soft drink with viscosity and sweetness that distinguish it from the similarly esoteric, non-local Lingonberry drinks served at Ikea; similarly, and cue the arguments, there's no hot dog as Western New York as a char-grilled Sahlen (well, unless you prefer the extremely similar Wardynski). You can get both at Ted's Hot Dogs, the place we'd recommend to visitors, or buy both for at-home enjoyment at Wegmans.
12 + 13. Dusted Chipotle BBQ and Atomic Wings at Quaker Steak & Lube. As another chicken wing specialist from outside the area, Quaker Steak & Lube has been winning contests for years, and currently offers 19 different sauces - most of which are available on a once-per-week, intriguing wing buffet for sampling. We'd skip the buffet and cut straight to two versions: the Dusted Chipotle BBQ, which is perhaps the best barbecue wing sauce we've ever tasted, and the 150,000 Scoville unit Atomic hot sauce, which rivals the hottest versions we've tested elsewhere, and earns your name a place on Quaker's Wall of Flame if you can finish an order. Though we'd pick Duff's for purely authentic mild, medium, and hot Buffalo-style wings, if you're looking for a survivable spice challenge or a unique BBQ version, start here.
11. Any Chocolate Cake (or, Specifically, the Chocolate Raspberry Ganache Cake) at Dessert Deli. There may be a piece of less than thrilling chocolate cake at Williamsville's Dessert Deli, but we've tried pretty much all of them, and have yet to be disappointed. (We won't vouch as heavily for the tarts and fruit desserts.) One we keep coming back to again and again is a Chocolate Raspberry Ganache Cake, which would be great unadorned, but always arrives on a plate that's creatively decorated with complementing sauces.
9 + 10. The Maryland She-Crab Soup and Crab-Topped Lamb Chops at Black & Blue. It may not be the area's very best steakhouse, but Black and Blue's a close second, and its inclusion of notable seafood items - particularly an outstanding crab soup, wonderfully rich and full of chunked meat - works together with slightly more aggressive pricing to keep its tables perpetually full. We love the lamb chops here, and dropping a lump of shredded crab meat on top of this or any other dish is an excellent way to enjoy high-quality surf and turf.
8. Lobster Bisque at Frog Hair. With projector TV-based golf simulators flanking its dining room, Frog Hair mightn't be the first place you'd expect to find outstanding food, but we've had a few very good meals here, and one especially great item: the Lobster Bisque, a rich, buttery bowl with sizable chunks of our favorite crustacean waiting to be discovered inside. Along with Frog Hair's complimentary pretzel bread and a salad or entree, you won't need to order more to have a happy, filling meal.
5, 6 + 7. Filet Mignon, Lamb Chops, and the Bananas Foster at Buffalo Chophouse. There are restaurants that serve steak, and then, there are true steakhouses, specialists in serving properly cut, aged, and cooked beef, most likely lamb, and possibly pork and veal. We visited all of the area's true steakhouses very recently, and we're very confident in saying that Buffalo Chophouse is the best in Western New York, with the top overall preparations of steak and lamb chops - expert-level preparation, with plain presentation - and an outstanding if untraditional take on Bananas Foster. It's worth making room for, no matter how filling the meats may be.
4. Kentucky Bourbon Cherries at Alethea's. Though the chocolatier Alethea's is better known for its sponge candy and ice cream shop, the single best item we've come across here - and at any local chocolate shop - is its superb, luxuriously blue foil wrapped Bourbon Cherry, the sort of nearly naughty treat that people strive (and generally fail) to save rather than eat all at once. We know from experience and from giving them as gifts.
3. The Galbi Korean Short Ribs at Arirang. While Western New York has never been a hot spot for Korean restaurants, and hardly an incubator for budding talent, we're suckers for this cuisine, and the pricey Arirang delivers the area's best rendition. No matter which entree you order, you'll wind up with a great selection of complimentary side dishes; an easy top pick here is the big hot plate filled with sweet soy and sesame-flavored Korean short ribs, known alternately as Galbi or Kalbi.
2. A Bocce's Pizza. It would take a lengthy review to say as many good things as we'd want to say about the famous Bocce's pizzas - the single best local representation of the Buffalo-style pizza, with a sweet and spicy tomato sauce, impeccably fresh cheese, perfectly baked dough, and fantastic toppings. Thankfully, all of those details and more are in the review linked here, so we'll skip them and tell you that this is one of very few local must-do dining experiences - take-out, only, with FedEx as a national option.
1. Wings at Duff's in Amherst. Though they're both shining examples of popular Buffalo foods, Duff's - we underscore, the original Amherst location - is probably more famous for its chicken wings than Bocce's is for its pizzas. There's no place we've taken more out-of-town guests to visit, no place we craved more when we lived outside the area, and no true substitute for this place's saucy, awesomely spicy wings - ones we consider to be the benchmark for heat and flavor. Our advice: order at least Medium to get the real experience, and steer clear of the Death sauce unless you want to literally damage your digestive tract. We'd also drive right by the Anchor Bar, birthplace of the Chicken Wing; it's a nice enough place these days, but in our view, its wings and prices are for tourists, not locals.
As we continue our coverage of the area's best foods and restaurants throughout 2009, rest assured that we'll be considering what merits inclusion on next year's edition of the Top 100 Buffalo and Western New York Foods and Restaurants list. We hope that this year's version brings you many happy and memorable meals! (This link will take you back to the beginning of the Top 100.)