No need to worry about international travel during these uncertain days. Put your money where your mouth is and come over to Main Street. There's an interesting international cluster of restaurants on the blocks between Hertel Avenue and the city line at Kenmore Avenue that can help put your wanderlust to rest.
What do you hunger for? Sadly, our favorite Vietnamese restaurant has left the neighborhood but you can still find Japanese or Chinese food, or Caribbean or Middle Eastern, or the newest kid on these blocks -- Russian.
Not to mention a little American and vegetarian.
Understand, please, before you go, that for the most part, these are not what the trade likes to call fine-dining restaurants. Many of them have what could be described as a relaxed ambience. All the better to appeal to the University at Buffalo student population that's responsible for their presence.
But, for the most part, prices are reasonable. And no matter what the prices are, they are a lot less than airfare. Many of these restaurants are open for lunch; takeout is available -- and parking is hell.
Here are some of the restaurants that exist on this little strip along with some strongly held personal prejudices. In the interest of space, no chains or pizza or hoagy places are mentioned although, heaven knows, they abound.
Please call ahead to confirm operating hours and credit card acceptance.
The Original Shiskebob House, 3081 Main St., (836-2700). Open for only about three months, this Russian restaurant is a winner. It offers homestyle food, robustly spiced and generously served. It's an attractive place, too, with some effort toward elegance. Dark red carpets, walls and tablecloths, the napkins are fan-folded, and paper flowers climb the walls.
The menu is extensive. I tried the Caucasian Eggplant ($5.50) and loved it, though it's not for the timid. Strips of the vegetable were stuffed with a zesty garlic, walnut and dill mixture. There was cilantro, too, which surprised me. Then those strips are lightly fried.
The Borscht ($2.99) turned out to be a big bowl of chunky vegetables -- some beet, but mostly tomato and onion. And the soup was served hot with a Russian Pirogue -- a crisp pastry stuffed with meat.
Finally, we tried the Stolichnoy Salad ($3.99) -- potato salad, really, but a terrifically seasoned one that also contained small bits of chicken breast and what the menu describes as Green Peace.
This was more than enough to eat, so we were actually relieved to discover that most of the desserts come in from Toronto, which eased the compulsion to order. (That particular international never does food much good, we've found.) If you feel differently, you can go for the mysteriously named Cream Tube or a Napoleon or that good old Russian specialty -- Tiramisu.
Other main dishes include Beef Stroganoff ($6.95), Homemade Beef Stew or Chicken Kiev ($8.95). And by the way, shiskebobs made from chicken, pork or lamb are served with potato and vegetables starting at $8.49.
I love this place. My only disappointment is that the tea is served in a cup. (My grandfather drank his from a glass.)
The Steer Montana Room, 3151 Main, (838-0478). Dinner only, but open very late. An informal eating place that offers what the young owner calls "staple American food." That means you can order pub-style goodies such as burgers and steak sandwiches and barbecue chicken. Ribs are one of the house specialties. Spicy Smoked Baby Back Ribs are served with barbecue sauce and potato. Half a rack runs $8; a full rack, $13.
And you can order Tex-Mex specialties such as Stuffed Hot Peppers and Quesadillas, too.
Doctor Bird's Caribbean Rastra-Rant, 3104 Main, (837-6426). A few tables, but mostly takeout, this tiny place offers the likes of Curry Goat-Filled Roti ($6.75 -- a roti is crepe-like bread; order it with curried chicken, if you prefer). Callaloo (dark greens) Patties and other patties will run you $1.35. There are side orders of Fried Plantains and Jerk Wings and Banana Bread.
I love the Bread Pudding. It costs a big fat buck.
Osaka Sushi Bar and Grille, 3112 Main, (831-0443). It's the best-looking restaurant of the bunch, and the place is impressive. Done with long, low horizontal lines, it whispers Asian serenity (or it would if it weren't so crowded).
Enter through the courtyard and eat from handsome pottery and lacquerware, sit at the sushi bar or at a table -- your call. The menu offers plenty of temptations. Sushi and sashimi, of course, offered in special combinations and made in front of you. The Osaka Sashimi Special is the most expensive, at $24.95, and includes miso soup. The University Combo (miso soup, six pieces of sushi and a cucumber roll) is $12.95.
If you prefer, you can order from the kitchen. Beef Teriyaki, including soup and salad, runs $14.95. Tempura, Udon (wheat noodles) with Shrimp Tempura or Fish Cakes and Spinach will run $8.95.
But my own particular favorites are the Bento Boxes, served on lacquer platters. This is an easy way to order because they come complete with main course, soup, salad, tempura and sushi. Prices begin at $12.95.
Chinese Fast Food, 3118 Main, (837-6776). Mostly takeout. No surprises.
North Buffalo Food Co-op and Vegetarian Cafe, 3144 Main, (836-8058). Fresh produce, organic food and other goodies offered at retail and at a small sit-down restaurant at the side of the store. The menu varies from day to day.
Walk up to the counter to select your meal, perhaps a pasta dish or salad. Food is generally tasty and very well-prepared.
Stimulance, 3160 Main, (834-8207). A coffeehouse with all that it entails. Pay particular attention to the bagels, which come from New York City where they really know.
Parkside Candy, 3208 Main, (833-7540). A fading beauty. It's showing its age now -- the floor is peeling, but it's still impossible to overlook the sheer magnificence of this ice cream parlor/lunchroom that's a testimony to elegant days gone by.
Though the symmetry of the round room is now disturbed by greeting card cases plunked in the center, you can still appreciate the beautiful light standards and the decorative ceiling. There are booths and a marble fountain, too.
Many kinds of candy are offered here, and fountain delicacies include Hot Caramel and Mexican sundaes. And, there are frappes and shakes and sodas and parfaits -- even the old Granada Special. (The Granada was a neighboring movie theater, now defunct, but you can still see the masks of tragedy and comedy on its facade. But all this nostalgia is getting to me and I digress.)
The Special, which costs $8.50, consists of eight scoops of ice cream, four different toppings, whipped cream and one single cherry. To share.
You can order pocket and bagel sandwiches here, but I say to heck with these newfangled contraptions. For old time's sake, go for Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato on White Toast or Chicken Salad. Or, even better: Toasted Cheese.
Amy's Place, 3234 Main, (832-6666). Understand this right away -- Amy's Place is crowded. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner; there's almost always a wait. Funky is the operative word here. This restaurant is not fancy but it offers some hospitable touches that la-di-da restaurants don't bother with.
For instance, parking is available in the rear, newspapers are provided for reading, and when you order iced tea, they bring a full pitcher right to your table and leave it there. You can refill as you wish.
Middle Eastern and Lebanese food is the big deal, and there's a good lineup of goodies such as hummus, tabuli, baba ganoosh (roasted eggplant) and Spinach Pie. A really smart thing to order would be the Maza Dish, which gives you a little of everything, for $7.50.
There's a Stuffed Grapeleaf Dinner or a Kibbee (ground lamb and bulgur) Dinner for $7.99. What I especially recommend, however, is Amy's Special Lentil Berry Sandwich. It's a combination of lentils and wheat berries, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and hot sauce, rolled up in flat bread and baked. A mini-sandwich, which is enough for almost anyone, is $4.40.
Coffee Bean Cafe, 3268 Main, (837-2326). Espresso, cappuccino, latte -- and fine baked goods, too.