2768 Elmwood Ave., Kenmore, NY 14217
See More Restaurant Reviews For:
Chinese Favorites Kenmore
"In Toronto's Chinatown, there may be a dozen or two places like Prince B.B.Q., many with roast ducks and octopi hanging in their front windows, but in Buffalo, this is it."
"I can't believe what I just saw," said Jeremy from the passenger's seat. "That was a real Chinese barbecue shop. I'm sure of it. Where exactly are we right now?" "Kenmore," Christina responded, "on Elmwood, near Sheridan. You're excited. I'm turning around so we can go back." And so she did, beginning a series of small discoveries that we could only summarize as startling. There it was, Prince B.B.Q., which had all the telltale exterior signs - literally - of offering authentic Chinese barbecue. The Chinese characters on the roof sign and in the window, complete with actual neon. An apparent disregard for physical beauty. And a location inside a strip mall, next to a similarly unknown place called T & T Asian Market. How had these places opened without a peep, we wondered? What would we actually find inside? And just how many similar places are out there, lurking anonymously in Buffalo's neighborhoods?
The first two answers came quickly once we entered the market side of what was obviously a unified business, much like Tonawanda's all but hidden Best Asian Market and its adjacent Korean restaurant Koreana, only here, there was a Chinese focus - T & T was a smaller version of Amherst's Ni Hoowa. There were fewer aisles, fewer shelves, and far fewer items, but still, some of our very favorites were there: bottles of authentic imported Thai energy drinks Carabao, Lipovitan-D, and Red Bull, alongside the thin white Vietnamese rice paper wrappers needed for summer rolls, bowls of the more exotic ready-to-heat ramen soups sold in Asia, and Taiwanese cold canned coffees. The selection wasn't huge, so this wasn't heaven on earth, but we'd again found a place to buy some items that had disappeared from Ni Hoowa - great news.
This is the point at which we ask you to indulge us, or at least one of us, for just a few more paragraphs. Please lend us your eyes and brain for the duration of these words, even if what we're saying doesn't initially excite you. If you care about seeing Western New York become better through a greater diversity of food, as we do, you'll understand where we're coming from.
Apart from whatever might be said about the quality of their offerings, decor, or anything else, Prince B.B.Q. is important to Western New York in the same way that Eastern Pearl is important to Western New York. They both serve Chinese food, Eastern Pearl in luxurious surroundings, and Prince B.B.Q. in completely humble ones. Eastern Pearl is an easy sell because it's a very nice-looking place where you can have a seat and relax as sharply-dressed people bring you foreign but generally "safe" dishes. By comparison, 90-some percent of Buffalo's population would walk into Prince and not get it at all. There are wall posters in Chinese and English, offering five separate, not trivially different types of whole duck - BBQ, Peking, rare Nanjing, roasted PiPa, and marinated. A six-foot tall glass display case holds crispy-skinned hanging ducks and bright red barbecued pork inside. At the bottom, a pan with a massive cooked octopus sits in soy sauce. Behind it all is a wooden chopping block where the proprietor cuts the meats up to order, deposits them in containers, and hands them off to you at reasonable prices.
We were so blown away to discover the place that we ordered more than we could eat, just to see what it was like. Succulent duck with crispy skin. Char Siu pork, bright red, sweet and fatty. Half-inch-thick slices of marinated octopus steak, plus the tentacles. All there. All just like we've enjoyed them in Chinese barbecue shops in China, California, and Canada. Then there were the unmentionables - the items that Chinese patrons think and know that typical Buffalonians are going to reflexively pooh-pooh - like pig, chicken, and duck feet, mysterious red sausages, and roasted pig tongue, each $5 or less per pound. And finally, there are the easier options, the soy- or scallion-steamed chickens, the roast pork, and the noodle dishes with meatballs, fish balls, or vegetarian ingredients mixed in. We haven't tried everything yet, but trust us, we want to.
As you probably know from our other articles, the word "important" isn't one we use lightly. Prince B.B.Q.'s menu is important in part because it's locally distinctive - to the best of our knowledge, you'd have to leave the county or the country to find it elsewhere - but also, because it's good. In Toronto's Chinatown, there may be a dozen or two places like Prince B.B.Q., many with roast ducks and octopi hanging in their front windows, but in Buffalo, this is it. And it's cheap. A take-out container filled with BBQ duck, soy octopus, rice and greens? $7. A pound of delicious barbecued pork? $6.50. Need a whole Peking Duck to bring home? $19. Recall our comments on Eastern Pearl's $34 version and you'll understand why we're excited.
Granted, there are such huge differences between these places that they're not really directly comparable. One is a full-service, generally high-class restaurant - a place for a nice meal out - and the other is yet another decidedly unfancy take-out place with a handful of tables inside and a counter to place and pick up orders. According to a sign out front, Prince B.B.Q. is open only five days a week - off Mondays and Tuesdays - and it's apparently been open for six months now with little attention from the community. Like Uncle John's No. 1 in Amherst, another place that has no visual charm but some surprisingly authentic Chinese food on offer, it deserves better. Western New York could lose 100 pizza and wing joints and still have hundreds left to choose from, but if we lose Prince B.B.Q., that's it for authentic Chinese barbecue here. So we'll surely be back; hopefully, you'll understand why it's worth a visit, too.