The 2016 NHL Draft is upon us and plenty of you are looking ahead to traveling to Buffalo and looking ahead to next season and beyond with the annual selection meeting.
Of course, the trick to going to a new city (or one you haven’t been to in some time) is knowing where the best places to visit to eat, drink, and be merry are located and just what they are in the first place.
Lots of people will tell you the old standards, but after being a Buffalo native for three years some things have changed and you can do well in New York’s Queen City if you just listen to your pal Joe. Here’s my guide of where to go in Buffalo:
Let’s just get this out of the way first. Buffalo is world-renowned for its chicken wings and, honestly, there’s not really a bad place in the city and surrounding neighborhoods to get wings, but people will have lots of opinions on where to go to get the best.
If you want to go to the home of the Buffalo wing, it’s OK to go to Anchor Bar once. Have them at the source and take a few pictures and say you did it. After all, if you’re a tourist and new to the city, you’ll want to hit that and Niagara Falls on your visit to the area. Go wild. But, you’re going to pay tourist prices there, so just know that up front. Duff’s is fine for wings and a local chain to the Buffalo area. There’s nothing wrong with hitting Duff’s, but they don’t have a location downtown, so if that’s where you’re staying during the draft and you don’t have a car to get around in, you’re going to want to test out the numerous other awesome bars that do wings their way. Such as…
Where else you should go: Gabriel’s Gate (145 Allen St.); Bar Bill Tavern (Cash Only — 185 Main St. East Aurora); Elmo’s Tavern (2349 Millersport Highway, Getzville); The Nine-Eleven Tavern (Cash Only — 11 Bloomfield Avenue, Buffalo)
If you wanted to do a “Tour of Great Wings” this list is what I’d call a good start. The Gate is where most Buffalonians will tell you to go and it’s location on Allen Street will make it very popular. The wings are great and so is the rest of the food. If you’re into beer, order the house brown ale to go with it.
If you’ve got a car at your disposal, I’d say Bar Bill is a must-visit place and worth the 30-40 minute drive to East Aurora to have their wings. They’re the crispiest and sauciest wings in the area. If you’re going alone or with one friend, you’ll have a fighting chance of being served right away at the bar. Going with a big group and in need of a table? You could be in for a long wait because it’s always busy and it’s not a big place. Lucky for you and your group, Aurora Brew Works is right next door.
Elmo’s in Getzville does stupendous wings and they do things a little different in that you can get your wings double-dipped in any of their sauces. The wings are big and meaty and adding two sauce flavors to them totally works.
While “The Gate” will get all the attention (rightfully so) from people, the new under-the-radar place locals get their wings is The Nine-Eleven Tavern. This small South Buffalo bar and restaurant with a sturdy shuffleboard table splits the difference in style between what Gabriel’s Gate and Bar Bill does. It’s saucy and just the right amount of crispy, but what makes them stand out the most is the sauce because it appears it adds a bit of chopped garlic to it for a hint of sweetness and a lot of flavor. Even though I’m not exactly a foodie, that review makes it seem like I am. That said, you go to any of these places and you’ll be eating well.
Hockey fans demand beer and fortunately for anyone coming to the NHL Draft, Buffalo is awash in beer and in the middle of a brewing renaissance. To give you a proper idea of how to go about getting your suds in the Queen City, I’ll give you both breweries and bars to find. Sadly, the No. 1 place I would’ve wanted you all to see closed its doors in April after a dispute amongst former business partners. The rest of these picks may not quite compare, but there are plenty of gems to be found.
Where people will tell you to go: Pearl Street Grill & Brewery (76 Pearl St., Buffalo); Liberty Hound (1 Naval Park Cove, Buffalo); Pizza Plant (125 Main St. #110, Buffalo); Ballyhoo (211 South Park Ave., Buffalo); Swannie House (170 Ohio St., Buffalo)
People will tell you to go to these places because they’re all within walking distance of the First Niagara Center and they all cover the bases for the kind of beer you want.
You want a place that makes their own beer? Pearl St. is the place. You want a great craft beer selection with craft cocktails and sausages? Ballyhoo is where it’s at. All the best new beers to go with great pizza? Pizza Plant is across the street from HarborCenter. Good beer and a view of the water? The Liberty Hound will take care of that. A dive bar with all the perfect dive bar beer and prices? Swannie House will do. If you want to hang at the arena and not explore more than that, you’re golden and will do quite well with food and drink. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with keeping it close to the arena if you’re not into exploring more of the city.
Where else you should go: Big Ditch Brewing Company (55 E. Huron St., Buffalo); Resurgence Brewing (1250 Niagara St., Buffalo); Flying Bison Brewery (840 Seneca St., Buffalo); Community Beer Works (15 Lafayette Ave., Buffalo); Gene McCarthy’s/Old First Ward Brewing (73 Hamburg St., Buffalo); Amherst Pizza & Ale House (55 Crosspoint Parkway, Amherst); Lenox Grill (140 North St., Buffalo); Cole’s Restaurant (1104 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Mr. Goodbar (1110 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Thin Man Brewery (492 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); The Old Pink (223 Allen St., Buffalo)
Breweries, beer bars, and the best dive bar in the city: That’s what makes up this list. For the most part, these could all go on the list below for “Food That Isn’t Wings” as well as you’ll find some great places to eat here as well.
If you’re a craft beer fan, consider this your hit list on where to go. There are a lot of new breweries popping up across the city and nearby areas and, let’s face it, you’ve only got so much time. Big Ditch, Old First Ward, and Flying Bison are all reasonably close to First Niagara Center with Big Ditch located right downtown. Big Ditch and OFW have full dining menus, but Flying Bison does not. Resurgence and Community Beer Works can be found on the west side within a block of each other. Resurgence offers some snacks to order.
Thin Man Brewery just opened within the past week on Elmwood Avenue, but their beer won’t be ready to flow until after the NHL Draft. Lucky for you their tap list is solid with local craft and other high-end craft beers. Their kitchen is fully up and rolling with great food. If you venture further up Elmwood near Buffalo State College you’ll find Cole’s and Mr. Goodbar next door to each other. Both have great beer selections with Mr. Goodbar’s having a bit more variety. You can dine in at Cole’s and there’s an outdoor patio to go with it.
Lenox Grill may not have much beer on tap, but it has hands-down the best and most vast bottled beer selection in the city. On top of that, the dining menu is stellar.
A trip to the suburbs should mean a visit to Amherst Pizza & Ale House. Their draft menu has a lot to offer when it comes to craft beers and their wings are excellent especially the Crown Royal BBQ wings. That said, if you go and you have a pile of friends with you, make sure to get the pizza fries for a full gluttonous adventure.
Last, and certainly not least, is The Old Pink. Think of a dive bar you’ve been to and think about how much you enjoyed it for all that it had (or didn’t have at all) and that’s The Pink. You’re not likely to find any fine craft beers, but you will find the finest steak sandwich in Buffalo to go with all the fine music and ambiance you’d expect from a place that has all the looks of being a grungy road house but the best cross-section of humanity Buffalo has to offer.
FOOD THAT ISN’T WINGS
Since I’m not much of a foodie, I’ll just lay it out for you easier here since people are going to tell you about 1,000 different places to check out. I’ll break them down by style to make it slightly easier. Just trust me when I say this: If you don’t eat well in Buffalo, that’s your own fault and I shame you greatly for failure.
Family Italian: Chef’s Restaurant (291 Seneca St., Buffalo) – It’s probably the most famous Italian place in Buffalo and if you’ve got kids with you, it’ll make everyone happy. Make sure to put on your apron bib because the sauce and cheese explosion will be waiting.
Rooftop seating Italian: Tappo (338 Ellicott St., Buffalo) – It’s a more recent addition to downtown, but Tappo offers a more fashionable way of dining out. The food is great (I’ll vouch for the meatballs and lasagna) and it’s an ideal place for friends and a few bottles of wine. It’s going to be sunny and hot and you’re going to want to bask in the glory of great Buffalo weather, RIGHT? Head for the roof for a drink or to eat.
Good-ass pizza: Casa di Pizza (11 E. Mohawk St., Buffalo) – There’s always a chance you’ll run into me here grabbing slices to go or watching a game, but don’t let that deter you, this place has the best pizza in the city as far as I’m concerned. They also offer some Italian staples, subs, appetizers, wings and sandwiches too. Everything comes big so you’re getting your money’s worth.
Southern Eating: Toutant (437 Ellicott St., Buffalo) – Yes, you can find Southern food in Buffalo and yes you can get it better than you can in most places down South. Blasphemy?! Nope. Biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, poboys, muffaletta, greens, barbecue… Just make a reservation and get there if you can.
If oysters and a layout that would make Aquaman proud sounds like something you’d like, head to Oshun. You can find just about every other kind of seafood delight as well from fish tacos and sandwiches to lobster rolls to cod, ahi tuna, salmon, and trout.
If you’re feeling more like a basket of fried calamari, clams, scallops, or ahi tuna nachos, Liberty Hound in the Naval Park near HarborCenter will satisfy your desires. Some seating has a nice view of the water and the boats that will surely be cruising all throughout the weekend so this place will get busy. But if you get in, get one of your beers shandy-fied and relax by the water.
People will debate over who has the best wings or pizza in Buffalo for days, but the new battle is about who offers the best Mexican-inspired food. The early favorite, and perhaps they should be called “The People’s Tacos,” are Lloyd. The long-time food truck operators opened a proper restaurant in North Buffalo and yes the hype is real and deserved. The newcomers are Deep South Taco downtown and their selections are good (a luchadore style taco is quite good) and they offer an outdoor patio to soak in the sunshine. My one wish for them was that their tacos had a bit more to them considering the price point.
Cantina Loco is a hip tequila bar that also happens to serve really good food that’s modernized a bit. You’ll find some great new stuff on the specials and the standards are always pleasing. If you want the truly authentic Mexican restaurant, however, Valle of Mexico is worth the trip down South Park Avenue but call ahead to make sure they’re open.
I’ll be plain about this: You’re going to pay a good amount of money for a burger at ABV on Allen, but it will be completely worthwhile to do so. Made to order with a metric ton of flavor in whatever it is you choose. You cannot go wrong with a burger there and the fantastic fries on the side are just a bonus. They also sport an outstanding tap list and have many whiskeys and bourbons to take down if you’re feeling that way.
Vizzi’s will catch your eye in Kenmore with the bright yellow and black signage, but the massive Monster Burger as well as all of their hearty sandwiches will send you home feeling fat and happy and you won’t pay a lot to do so either.
All right, so I’ve choked you with enough burgers, tacos, pizza, and wings and now you have to cleanse your system of all that and eat healthy. Being decidedly not vegan or vegetarian myself, I had to consult a few friends who are. While many places around Buffalo will offer vegan or veggie options, these restaurants specialize in them.
Amy’s Place is another place where people would know of them from their food truck and the food truck craze that’s gone wild. But they’ve been established for a while with its own restaurant and branched out with a truck for a good reason: The food is great. You can get a lot of the regular fare there, but they also offer Middle Eastern food and a great breakfast menu. Cannot recommend highly enough.
With merge and Betty’s you have a couple places that are a bit closer to downtown and do things distinctly their own. Betty’s may be most famous for their brunch and their vegan offerings are among the best in the city. At merge, things are done a bit more organically in that a lot of what they make is locally farm grown and produced.
Newbury Street on Elmwood gives you the chance to get that shake or smoothie as well as fresher versions of salads and rice bowls than you might find at chain-like locations. They also offer Crush Juicery and Public Espresso Coffee. Speaking of coffee…
Coffee housing: Perks Cafe (448 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo); Spot Coffee (numerous locations in Buffalo); Public Espresso + Coffee (Hotel at Lafayette 391 Washington St., Buffalo); Paula’s Donuts (2319 Sheridan Ave., Tonawanda)
Listen, I know you can get Tim Hortons or Starbucks all over the place and that’s all well and good, but if you want the good beans go to any of these places.
Perks is new to Elmwood Village and has a host of coffee choices both hot and iced as well as sandwiches, breakfast noshing, and baked goods. The staff are lovely and it’s my neighborhood go-to caffeine hook up. I may be playing favorites here.
Spot and Public are both a bit closer to downtown and will feed your need for coffee and snacking as well. Most coffee places will take care of you that way and Spot offers up quite a few options.
Paula’s Donuts gets a mention here because, damn it, you need a good doughnut with your coffee. Lucky for you, their coffee is sneaky good if not just your regular cup of Joe. Be sure to grab a taillight to go with that coffee to really do the trick.
When it comes to breakfast eats, there are two places I will always and forever recommend in Buffalo and it just so happens they were both featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”
Sophia’s only does breakfast and lunch and is open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. and you’ll occasionally need to wait a bit at the small diner-sized place, but it’s worth the wait. Pancakes are dinner plate-sized, the omelets are bountiful and filling, and by all means order the home fries and get the toast with homemade bread. Tons of food at inexpensive prices and you’ll be immensely satisfied.
Lake Effect Diner on Main Street has a bit more flexible hours if you’re feeling like breakfast in the late afternoon, but the food will make you want breakfast all the time. Again, I recommend strongly getting home fries with your bacon and eggs or French toast. If you’re not there for breakfast, that’s fine too because the rest of the menu is great. Get a milkshake if you can.
There’s a lot to digest here and you’ve only got a few days to make the most of everything. Obviously there are a LOT more than just these places around the city to wine and dine and have a good time, but I want you all to leave town believing this won’t be the last time you’ll see Buffalo. After all, this is the City of Good Neighbors.