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5 new Buffalo-area restaurants to try: February 2018

If you take pride on visiting new local restaurants before anyone else, here's a handy resource, an eater's checklist of sorts.

Especially as the warmer weather nears, the activity in Buffalo's restaurant scene speeds up. Plans for ambitious projects are announced, new food trucks hit the pavement and bold new eateries - sometimes with concepts foreign to Buffalo - open their doors to the public for the first time.

Here's the first entry of a monthly guide to hot new restaurants in the area that have opened within the last month (and change), plus reasons why they're worth a visit.

*773 North, 2749 Grand Island Blvd., Grand Island. Opened Jan. 31. 773-6678.

Why it's buzzing: In Phil Wagner's Starters, linked below, the News contributor explains how 773 injects life into an "antiquated dining scene" in Grand Island (and advocates checking out the bathrooms).

If the words "chicken Riggies" mean anything to you, then your ears will perk up and 773 North will immediately become more intriguing. The flight of fries includes deep-fried pickles, sweet potato fries and regular fries with a slew of dipping sauces, an shareable comfort snack. Bonus points for a flashy, navigable website.

What we'd get: The Riggies ($16), a dinner entree, are a rigatoni bowl packed with sautéed chicken breast, sweet bell and hot cherry peppers in a spicy tomato crème sauce sprinkled with Romano cheese. Honorable mention to the "Floating pork chop." Menus here.

Starters: New dining option lands on Grand Island at 773 North

*****

*Fresh Catch Poke, 5933 Main St., Suite 101, Williamsville. Opened early January. 271-7653.

Why it's buzzing: The fast-casual restaurant across from Williamsville South High School is the area's first poke-only spot. For the unfamiliar, poke bowls are a Hawaiian dish predicated on fresh fish - often gently marinated - complemented by a slew of other ingredients, like fresh vegetables and rice.

Owner Mike Tobin takes special care in sourcing his fish - flown in several times weekly from all over the United States - and Fresh Catch's customizable menu means you can explore virtually limitless combinations. And, since it's the suburbs, there's a substantial parking lot.

What we'd get: The Ono Bowl (Hawaiian nairagi - marlin - jasmine rice, pineapple, onion, jalapeno, carrots, peas, tobiko, spicy ponzu, $10.95) will leave your mouth with a pleasant sting, while the pineapple is both refreshing and necessary to cool off. Full menu here.

Starters: New twist on 'pupu platters' at Fresh Catch Poke

*****

*Juanes Mexican Restaurant, 9416 Transit Road, East Amherst. Opened in late January. 276-3434.

Why it's buzzing: Positioned a short walk from Mighty Taco in East Amherst, Juanes is a new family-run Mexican restaurant serving huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, chingolingas, posole and menudo, traditional Mexican dishes. One major perk: breakfast is served beginning at 11 a.m. - when the restaurant opens - and is available throughout the day.

What we'd get: Baja breakfast burrito (crispy bacon, scrambled eggs, fresh potatoes, avocado and cheese, served with guacamole and sour cream, $10.) Menu here.

Read a recent Starters on Juanes Mexican Restaurant.

*****

*Garage Cafe & Lounge, 1127 Hertel Ave. Opened in late January. 436-2141.

Why it's buzzing: The Riniolo family has made the best of an unfortunate situation; Lisa Riniolo has spearheaded the cafe after her husband, Joe Riniolo, experienced a motorcycle accident that knocked him off his feet for three months and ended his career as a repairman.

The new Hertel spot has a food menu with a decidedly Italian bent; Garage Cafe will offer include beer and wine, live music and a beer garden in the back. For now, though, Garage Cafe rolls out Nonnie's Soup, a classic belly-warming soup, and an above-average grilled cheese.

What we'd get: The freshly baked cinnamon rolls that sell obscenely quickly.

Starters: Greasing wheels on a new future at Garage Café

*****

*Fierte Bar, 26 Virginia Place. Opened in February. 696-2553.

Why it's buzzing: The bar-restaurant across from Fat Bob's Smokehouse just began serving food, offering a few small plates - such as a meatball bomber, jambon beurre (ham and butter sandwich) and something called a Vegetarian French Connection, which is presumably not Gilbert Perreault covered in kale. There's a few images of the food on Fierte's Facebook page.

Owner Brandon Charles Carr laid out unusual plans before opening; further details about Fierte's plans for Allentown may be found here.

What we'd get: Probably the meatball bomber. It sounds aggressive and the French bread looks appropriately crusty. (Appropriately Crusty is a magnificent band name).

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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