As I sat down to write this story, Gladys rang with a question. She’s a subscriber (I prefer the term sustainer) with a taste for edible adventure who has devoured The Buffalo News’ restaurant coverage since the early Janice Okun era.
Gladys has been lobbying her husband to shake up their vacation routine. Instead of spending thousands of dollars flying to California, her pitch goes, why not spend that money on seeing the sights right here in Buffalo, starting with the best new restaurants?
“You’ll never guess what’s on my computer screen right now,” I said. “Would you like to know the restaurants I chose?” “No,” she said. “I want to read about it in the paper. I want to be surprised.”
So for Gladys and all the Gladyses out there, here’s the 10 new restaurants from the last eight months that you should know. Some I have not yet reviewed in this space. Others aren’t fancy enough to merit a full review, but are worth mentioning for their sheer value. They are listed in order from finer dining to casual dining.
This list does not consider other new restaurants I haven’t gotten to yet. (Places like Gallo Coal Fire Kitchen, opened in Lewiston by Carmelo Raimondi’s former sous chef; MidTown Kitchen, The Mahony and Giacobbi’s Cucina Citta come immediately to mind.)
I’m sorry. I’m eating as fast as I can.
Aro Bar de Tapas
5415 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, 631-1000
Finally, Spanish food has arrived. Chefs Monica and Scott Kollig offer polished gems ranging from two-bite teases to desserts that are worth the trip by themselves.
Don’t miss: patatas bravas, fried potatoes with garlic mayonnaise and chile ketchup ($8).
Thin Man Brewery
490 Elmwood Ave., 923-4100
Fine-dining veteran Bruce Wieszala turns his talents to a brewery menu, leaving pretzels and sliders to pale beside the glory of housemade sausage and bacon, mac and cheese topped with duck-fat-crisped crumbs, and death-defying burgers.
Don’t miss: corn bisque ($6.50), for the next two weeks, anyway.
61 Hamburg St., Hamburg, 649-2101
Former Tempo chef Andrew Murtha got to design his own menu, and he’s swinging for the fences. Local vegetables and meat are presented to good effect in dishes like seared scallops over smoked Draudt’s Farm corn soup ($15). And free popovers for everyone, just to say hello.
Don’t miss: mushroom toast ($8).
Grange Community Kitchen
22 Main St., Hamburg, 648-0022
Former Grange Hall seeks to become community hub once more as Brad and Caryn Rowell’s all-day restaurant. Housemade croissant ($4) or a porchetta sandwich with fried egg and pesto ($7) for breakfast? Chilled fennel almond soup ($7), then roasted halibut on corn puree and beluga lentils ($23) for dinner?
Don’t miss: wood-fired pizzas ($12-$16).
[RELATED: Grange makes the everyday extraordinary]
228 Allen St., 331-3047
Finer dining than usual for Allen Street, featuring Scott Crombie’s brief but polished menu, seasoned with cross-cultural pollination. Chicken thighs ($19), Plato Dale greens with pears and almonds ($8) and a meatball bomber ($14) elevate the basics.
Don’t miss: crispy potatoes Indian street food style ($8).
Frankie Primo’s +39
55 W. Chippewa St., 855-3739
Approachable, familiar Italian-American dishes like pastas ($15-$22) and paninis made with good ingredients mingle with specials like seared scallops over fresh fig jam ($16). Good choice for the basics downtown, like solid brick-oven pizza ($13-$17) and a well-made salad ($7-$16).
Don’t miss: chicken and prosciutto panini with spicy garlic greens ($10).
Hyderabad Biryani House
5445 Transit Road, Clarence, 636-2255
There’s more spices in these bracing Indian dishes, and more spice heat too, unless you request meekness. Fried appetizers and dosas, curries and breads were excellent, making this my favorite Indian. (No beer yet, though.)
Don’t miss: Thangdi (chicken drumstick) kabob ($10.99).
[Update: According to The Big Easy's Facebook page, the restaurant closed for the holidays and has yet to reopen.]
The Big Easy
1335 Main St., 884-3279.
Counter-service place serving Creole and Cajun, like seafood platters with hush puppies ($16), chicken-sausage or shrimp gumbo ($5-9) and boudin balls ($5.50). Chef Taralyn Stephens, a Louisiana native, makes desserts like pecan pie ($6.25).
Don’t miss: 12-inch shrimp po-boy ($11).
Ranchos Latin Food
1516 Niagara St., 882-2800.
Explore blue-collar Venezuelan grub at fast-food joint. Joel Perez and his family offer arepas ($8), corn cakes stuffed with roast pork or other fillings, patacon sandwiches of plantain, braised beef and garlic-herb mayonnaise ($7), and churros with condensed milk, Nutella, caramel or all three ($5).
Don’t miss: chicken empanada with corn-dog-like shell ($2.90).
[RELATED: Starters - Buffalo finally gets its arepas]
Pwint War at West Side Bazaar
25 Grant St.
The humblest setting on the list is the Burmese stall at West Side Bazaar. New owner Sanda Soe has expanded its menu of stir-fries, soups, and fresh-shredded salads, adding even more dishes to explore in this dizzyingly diverse little food court.
Don’t miss: fish cake curry ($6).
[RELATED: Explore the West Side Bazaar]