In three years and change, I’ve reviewed 173 restaurants in Western New York. (There are excellent places I haven’t reviewed yet, for which you have my apologies.) Of those, here are 20 places I recommend first.
I rate restaurants on a scale of plates, with 10 being my top rating. Plates are an indicator of overall happiness, with quality of food, service, room and price taken into account.
Tabree (4610 Main St., Amherst, 844-8477) offers sophisticated treatments of quality ingredients from near and far, with polished service. Two chef changes since my 2013 review have not dimmed its luster.
[Get more info on Tabree from Galarneau's review, the menu and a gallery of the restaurant, its people and its dishes]
Rue Franklin (341 Franklin St., 852-4416) had the finest dishes I’ve experienced, pleasing taste buds and eyes with precise technique and French-inspired plates.
[More of The News' coverage of Rue Franklin]
Ristorante Lombardo (1198 Hertel Ave., 873-4291) subverts Italian-American clichés by hunting down local ingredients, making its own pasta and cured meats, and serving them with grace.
Hutch’s (1375 Delaware Ave., 885-0074) has spoiled other places for many Buffalo steak and seafood seekers by delivering exactly what they want – from starters to dessert – again and again.
[More of The News' coverage of Hutch's]
Oliver’s (2095 Delaware Ave., 877-9662) offers excellent cuisine with creative touches, served with quiet efficiency in a metropolitan setting, from parking valet to cocktail piano to chocolates that arrive with the bill.
[More of The News' coverage of Oliver's]
Bacchus (56 W. Chippewa St., 854-9463) works the border of upscale casual and fine dining with a knack for expected choices in unexpected settings. Here, a deep wine list coexists with a summer movie series.
[More of The News' coverage of Bacchus]
Salvatore’s Italian Gardens (6461 Transit Road, Depew, 683-7990) replaced dreary banquet fare with tuned-up Italian that transcends spaghetti, served with professional dispatch. The eye-popping décor still thrills glitz fans.
Bourbon & Butter (391 Washington St., 253-6453) serves an eclectic lineup – from fries to foie gras – that swings for the fences, seasonal inspirations, and the best craft cocktails in town, in a restored classic hotel bar setting.
[More of The News' coverage of Bourbon & Butter]
Polish Villa II (1085 Harlem Road, Cheektowaga, 800-2088) is a family restaurant serving spot-on Polish classics with housemade foundations in a classic room patrolled by efficient servers, at budget-friendly prices.
[More of The News' coverage of Polish Villa II]
Tappo (338 Ellicott St., 259-8130) takes casual red-sauce Italian downtown with attention to detail, a relatively compact menu of upgraded classics, and a lineup of $15 bottles to keep the bill down.
[More of The News' coverage of Tappo]
Here are 10 other reviewed restaurants I recommend often. Most received 8 plates. Some I rated 7, and later found them improved. All are worth a visit.
Elm Street Bakery (72 Elm St., East Aurora, 652-4720) doesn’t just make outstanding bread, it makes its own butter, championing truly artisanal local food with thoughtful, delicious choices from pizza through dessert.
[More of The News' coverage of Elm Street Bakery]
The Black Sheep (367 Connecticut St., 884-1100) combines a committed carnivore’s skilled exploitation of local animals with an outstanding baker’s bread and desserts for a menu that draws inspirations from around the globe.
[More of The News' coverage of The Black Sheep]
Martin Cooks (346 Connecticut St., 259-9306) serves a fine-dining-level lunch with an ever-changing menu, the hottest Saturday brunch in town and a creative prix-fixe dinner whose theme changes weekly, all from an open kitchen.
[More of The News' coverage of Martin Cooks]
Buffalo Proper (333 Franklin St., 783-8699) starts with creative cocktails then delivers the most relentlessly creative menu in town, offering a rare fine touch with vegetables and delicious experiments, along with great hunks of meat.
[More of The News' coverage of Buffalo Proper]
Sun Restaurant (1989 Niagara St., 447-0202) has broken through the ethnic barrier to offer capable service and a menu of Burmese, Thai and Asian fusion dishes that are exotic enough to thrill but mild enough to satisfy timid palates.
[More of The News' coverage of Sun Restaurant]
Craving (1472 Hertel Ave., 883-1675) leaves lunch, brunch and dinner crowds wishing they could order more from a menu based on housemade fundamentals like bread, pastas, cheese and charcuterie, with an emphasis on local meat and produce.
[More of The News' coverage of Craving]
Rick’s On Main (687 Main St., East Aurora, 652-1253) is a place for splurges, not everyday dining. But this fine-dining veteran makes the calories count, balancing richness with precise cooking and lively flavors.
[More of The News' coverage of Rick's On Main]
Daniels (174 Buffalo St., Hamburg, 648-6554) changed hands and started offering a slightly more adventurous fine-dining menu, but managed to retain its personable service and sumptuous cuisine.
[More of The News' coverage of Daniels]
Oshun (5 E. Huron St., 848-4500) offers an I-can’t-believe-it’s-Buffalo room with a creative seafood-centric menu that pushes the envelope, usually to good effect, and plenty of meat dishes for the sea-shy.
[More of The News' coverage of Oshun]
Jaguar at the Bistro (110 Main St., Youngstown, 745-7141) has been luring city folk north with stylish, modern fine-dining dishes inspired by Mexican cuisine and drinks that defy tequila stereotypes.