Share this article

print logo

Guide to Buffalo's authentic Chinese dishes

Give skilled cooks the biggest nation on Earth to draw from, and a thousand years’ head start, and you get Chinese cuisine.

Ask those cooks to earn a living in America, where the most popular restaurant is McDonald’s, and you get General Tso’s chicken.

Here, culinary pilgrims journey to Chinatowns in Toronto or Flushing in search of provocative flavors and subtle textures, dishes of diverse beauty that resonate in memory like lost loves.

Yet within 10 minutes of the University at Buffalo’s Amherst campus, savvy diners can explore China – from the windswept plains of Xinjiang to the teeming seaport of Shanghai – without leaving town.

Let me tell you about the hidden Chinatown of Amherst. You can get General Tso’s there. But it’s like telling the genie your first wish is Chicken McNuggets and a Coke.

Check out the main photo gallery here, with dish descriptions. Below, more photos and descriptions of recommended dishes.

THE PLACES

For the most authentic Chinese food in Buffalo, you still have to leave town. But you don't have to go far: in the last five years five restaurants have opened in Amherst and Tonawanda that serve the influx of Chinese nationals and their families, drawn by the University at Buffalo.

China Star, 4001 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, 631-7198.

Sichuan specialist with Chinese hot pot, chicken with Chongqing style, smoked pork with sprouts of garlic (leeks), sour string beans with minced pork, dan dan noodle, cold cucumber with scallion sauce, sliced belly pork with garlic. Check out the specials board too.

Chicken with Chongqing-style spicy dried chili. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Chicken with Chongqing-style spicy dried chili. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Chicken with Chongqing Style, $12.95. Under cover of the Subway bread breeze from next door, a Sichuan specialist is quietly displaying an artiste’s touch with the fiery fundamentals of fresh and dried chiles and numbing Sichuan peppercorn, expressed through master-level sauces, oils and vinaigrettes. This dish, named after a former part of Sichuan Province, is boneless chicken coated in spices and fried to a crisp, then tossed in an aromatic maelstrom of scallion and dried chiles for a dish that is completely irresistible even as sweat drips down your neck.

Hot pot is a group activity. You order a cauldron for $18, usually divided between spicy and mild broths. Then you order the plates of stuff you're going to cook in the simmering broths, which are on a burner at the center of the table. Small wire strainers are provided to help with dangling bites and retrieving them safely.

China Star restaurant is at 4001 Sheridan Drive in Amherst.  This is the Chong Qing Hot Pot.  It's served family style and diners cook their dinners in the boiling soups. Photo taken, Tuesday, April 21, 2015.  (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Chong Qing hot pot is served family style. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

China Star restaurant is at 4001 Sheridan Drive in Amherst.  This is the Chong Qing Hot Pot.  It's served family style and diners cook their dinners in the boiling soups. Photo taken, Tuesday, April 21, 2015.  (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Strainers help corral fish balls and other bites. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Hot pot menu at China Star  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Hot pot menu at China Star (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

China Star has one of the few credible scallion pancakes I've seen lately  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

China Star has one of the few credible scallion pancakes I've seen lately (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Delicate, cooling cucumber salad at China Star, a delicious break from the heat (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Delicate, cooling cucumber salad at China Star, a delicious break from the heat (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Not to be missed: pickled long beans and ground pork, stir-fried to tangy, rich, smoky satisfaction, with just a little chile heat. (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Not to be missed: pickled long beans and ground pork, stir-fried to tangy, rich, smoky satisfaction, with just a little chile heat. (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Miss Hot Café, 3311 Sheridan Drive, Amherst, 832-3188

Spacious place with vast menu, capable of eye-popping presentations. It offers dishes from across China, with Shanghai style cuisine a particular specialty. The menu is long and detailed, and Chef Guo Lin can put out some truly spiffy-looking plates when he wants to. There's a Thai fish salad that he runs on special that is worth the trip alone (photo below). Other recommended dishes: barbecued fish, "big dish," fish with pickled cabbage and crullers, sesame balls dim sum stuffed with red bean paste. Check out the specials board too.

Shanghai braised pork from Miss Hot Cafe.  (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Shanghai braised pork from Miss Hot Cafe. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Shanghai braised pork, $13.95. A pyramid of pork belly cubes and whole hardboiled eggs, cooked spoon-tender in sweet spice-scented soy is a classic from the former British colony, now the world’s most populous city. It’s also a good example of Chinese dishes that seem like suicidal fat bombs until you realize they’re designed to top mountains of white rice, like gravy on biscuits.

Whitefish sauteed with pickled mustard greens in a clear ginger sauce, accented with crunchy plain (not sweet) crullers  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Whitefish sauteed with pickled mustard greens in a clear ginger sauce, accented with crunchy plain (not sweet) crullers (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Pork, green pepper and tofu skin at Miss Hot Cafe  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Pork, green pepper and tofu skin at Miss Hot Cafe (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Whole tilapia crusted in fermented black beans, garlic, peanuts and sesame seeds, deep-fried and served on a bed of vegetables, at Miss Hot Cafe  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Whole tilapia crusted in fermented black beans, garlic, peanuts and sesame seeds, deep-fried and served on a bed of vegetables, at Miss Hot Cafe (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Cold silken tofu with preserved egg, chile oil and cilantro at Miss Hot Cafe  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Cold silken tofu with preserved egg, chile oil and cilantro at Miss Hot Cafe (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Thai fish salad, a special, at Miss Hot Cafe  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Thai fish salad, a special, at Miss Hot Cafe (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Peking Quick One, 359 Somerville Ave., Tonawanda, 381-8730

You have to pour your own water at this no-frills student favorite, but the prices and the flavors keep the tiny room crowded at mealtimes, filling battered tables with homesick students. Arguably the best authentic Chinese values in town. Other recommended dishes: orange beef, shrimp with walnuts, stir-fried eggs with leek, stir-fried celery with beef, poached spicy slices of pork, slip cucumber. Check out the specials board too.

The ginger-steamed flounder from Peking Quick One. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The ginger-steamed flounder from Peking Quick One. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Ginger-steamed flounder, $15 - $18. Groups often ask for a plate-sized braised pork hock or whole fish steamed on a bed of ginger, then topped with more ginger, chiles and scallions that are sizzled with a spoon of boiling oil. It’s a style common in Fujian and throughout southeastern coastal provinces.

Hot and sour shredded potatoes from Peking Quick One. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Hot and sour shredded potatoes from Peking Quick One. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Hot & sour shredded potatoes, $5.95. Irish and northern Chinese diets overlap at cabbage and potatoes. Instead of boiled bland, this Chinese staple offers potatoes shredded into matchsticks and fired in a blazing wok just long enough to take the starch edge off, leaving them crisp, smoky and tingly with vinegar and chile. You will never look at a potato, or a Chinese restaurant, the same way again.

Stir-fried eggs with leeks, green onion used as a vegetable, not just flavoring, at Miss Hot Cafe  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Stir-fried eggs with leeks, green onion used as a vegetable, not just flavoring, at Miss Hot Cafe (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Braised celery stir-fried with beet at Peking Quick One  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Braised celery stir-fried with beet at Peking Quick One (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Cucumbers marinated in garlic, cilantro, ginger and sesame oil at Peking Quick One  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Cucumbers marinated in garlic, cilantro, ginger and sesame oil at Peking Quick One (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Fried shrimp with sweet mayonnaise sauce and candied walnuts, a dish that tramples the boundary between dinner and dessert, at Peking Quick One  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Fried shrimp with sweet mayonnaise sauce and candied walnuts, a dish that tramples the boundary between dinner and dessert, at Peking Quick One (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Braised pig ear, sliced and marinated in seasme oil, garlic, cilantro, chiles and Sichuan peppercorn  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Braised pig ear, sliced and marinated in sesame oil, garlic, cilantro, chiles and Sichuan peppercorn (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Orange beef, without the gloppy syrup and with fresh orange peel that's been wok-fried to flavor the dish  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Orange beef, without the gloppy syrup and with fresh orange peel that's been wok-fried to flavor the dish (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wok & Roll, 5467 Sheridan Drive, Williamsville, 631-8880

Plaza restaurant specializes in Cantonese cuisine in addition to the usual American-Chinese menu, and offers dim sum, dumplings and small plates, all week long. Disguised as cookie-cutter fried rice parlor, down-low Cantonese specialties include dim sum, noodle soups, and the juiciest pork dumplings in town.

Spicy, crunchy shrimp from Wok and Roll. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Spicy, crunchy shrimp from Wok and Roll. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Spicy crunchy shrimp, $13.95. This dish of shell-on shrimp are fried till crackly outside, then stir-fried again in garlic chips, dried chiles and golden bread crumbs. You can peel the shrimp, but I didn’t bother, and reveled in the crunch. It’s from Canton, now called Guangzhou, capitol of Guangdong, China’s busiest manufacturing area, on the South China Sea.

Salt and pepper squid at Wok & Roll  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Salt and pepper squid at Wok & Roll (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce at Wok & Roll  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Beef tenderloin in black pepper sauce at Wok & Roll (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

"Fish swimming by the pier," poached whitefish mousse and vegetables, at Wok & Roll  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

"Fish swimming by the pier," poached whitefish mousse and vegetables, at Wok & Roll (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Stir-fried udon noodles with shrimp at Wok & Roll  (Special to the News/Andrew Galarneau)

Stir-fried udon noodles with shrimp at Wok & Roll (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

80 China Café, 1280 Sweet Home Road, Amherst, Ste. 102, 568-0080

Small, sleek place with swift service offers dishes drawn from numerous regional Chinese cuisines, and American-influenced dishes like bacon fried rice. Check out the specials board too.

San Bei Chicken from 80 China Cafe. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

San Bei Chicken from 80 China Cafe. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

San bei chicken, $12.95. Also known as “three cups” chicken for its sauce’s three main ingredients (soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil), it’s sweet and savory boneless dark-meat chicken. If bones scare you, try this crowd-pleaser. It’s from Jianxi Province, on the Yangze River, but has become especially popular in Taiwan, the independent nation off the coast of the People’s Republic.

Chopped chicken with Xinjiang flavor from 80 China Cafe. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Chopped chicken with Xinjiang flavor from 80 China Cafe. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Chopped chicken with Xinjiang flavor, $19.95.The broad menu at this cozy new spot plays to Americans with bacon fried rice, and to homesick Chinese with this dish of chicken chopped and cooked bone-in, which Chinese prefer. It’s worth careful nibbling for the bouquet of cumin, chiles and other spices reminiscent of India. Xinjiang is China’s westernmost and largest province, an area of plains, deserts and mountains almost the size of Alaska, with 20 times the people, mostly Uighurs, Muslims who speak Turkic.

Sichuan style cucumber at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Sichuan style cucumber at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Clams with ginger and onion, at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Clams with ginger and onion, at 80 China Cafe
(Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Dry-braised beef with spicy sauce in hot pot at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Dry-braised beef with spicy sauce in hot pot at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Bacon fried rice at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Bacon fried rice at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Pork meatballs at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Pork meatballs at 80 China Cafe (Andrew Galarneau/Special to the News)

Send your restaurant tips to agalarneau@buffnews.com

Story topics:

There are no comments - be the first to comment