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5 new Buffalo-area restaurants to try: Spring 2018

Let's call March the month of reboots, a fitting concept for the beginning of spring.

Whether the following five businesses are fresh takes on existing brands or completely new enterprises, there's an aspect to each that's new. Find out why each of these restaurants is in the limelight, then consider some of the menu choices worth exploring.

*Sinatra's, 945 Kenmore Ave., Tonawanda. Opened March 22 in new location. 877-9419.

Why it's buzzing: It seems strange to lead off with a family-owned Italian restaurant in business since 1981, but the reboot of Sinatra's represents a fairly dramatic shift in environment and size.

As The News' Andrew Galarneau reported, the new space - across the street from the old location - can seat twice as many diners, while a four-season patio adds another new element. Many of the old-school trinkets that brought character to the old Sinatra's were auctioned off, presenting a blank canvas for manager David Ortolano and chef-owner Michael Sinatra's own design ideas.

Buffalo Rising writer Jim Kupczyk was effusive in his praise for the restaurant reboot in his review.

What we'd get: Despite adding more housemade pasta and gluten-free options, Sinatra's menu has remained largely the same. If you're aiming for stick-to-your-bones authentic Italian, pick the pasta fagioli, but we'd spend the better part of our ordering time picking from the Italian Specialties section, specifically between the Sunday Pork in the Sauce and the braciole.

*****

*Dos Amigos on the Lake, 3800 Hoover Road, Blasdell. Reopened in March after a three-month layoff. 823-8247.

Why it's buzzing: Credit Dos Amigos for admitting its execution of a Mexican menu wasn't working; "we didn't know how ambitious it was," operating partner Angelo Canna Jr. told Galarneau. In its stead is a fusion menu that doesn't stray far from sister restaurant Lucia's on the Lake, featuring "graduated" dishes like lobster mac and cheese ($18) and the San Diego Steak Sandwich ($18).

But really, the lakefront view is Dos Amigos' calling card, and it's spruced up the patio - which was enticing in the first place - for the approaching warm-weather season. (I know, I wouldn't want to be the employee who has to rush to hide the patio couches from inclement weather).

What we'd get: As News contributor Phil Wagner notes in his Starters, below, don't hesitate to take advantage of the lobster tacos for $6 apiece. The seafood paella (shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, chicken, chorizo, herbs, tomatoes and a saffron paella-specific rice, $28) received almost unanimously sterling reviews on Yelp under the Mexican-focused Dos Amigos and has stuck around through the transition.

Starters: Dos Amigos moves its menu north of the border

*****

*Louie's Original Footlong Hot Dogs, new location, which opened March 17, at 1893 Niagara St. year-round; also seasonally at 69 Grand Island Blvd., Tonawanda, which opens April 4.

Why it's buzzing: The search for a Louie's footlong hot dog (or a Louie's white-hot, or a loganberry iced tea) in the months between November and April had been impossible since a fire destroyed the Elmwood Avenue location in 2013. But Louie's owner Angelo Turco, who proudly carries on the legacy of his father, Louis, has opened a new year-round spot in Black Rock, just off the Amherst Street exit of the 190 North.

What we'd get: The classic choice would be the flame-roasted footlong hot dog, but Galarneau unearthed an eye-popping newcomer - the Big Luigi, pictured in the header - during his visit on opening day. Other recommendations include the pepper jack gravy fries, the Elvis Shake (chocolate, peanut butter and banana milkshake) and the chicken in the grass sandwich, which brings Turco's sauteed dandelions into play.

Starters: Old favorites back at Louie's Original Footlong Hot Dogs

*****

*OR by Falafel Bar, 3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. Opened March 2. 436-7000.

Why it's buzzing: Undaunted by the unexpected closing of his Tel Aviv Cafe in the Jewish Community Center, Falafel Bar owner Oded Rauvenpoor's next project has graced Amherst since the beginning of March. OR by Falafel Bar is a deep dive into Middle Eastern flavors, blessed by the accompaniment of hot, fresh pita.

Vegetarians and vegans will feel at home, as the menu reflects much of Falafel Bar's previous specialties while adding a handful of more adventurous options.

What we'd get: The shashlik kabob ($17), which has Russian roots and simply means "skewered meat," is dark-meat chicken marinated in onion juice and spices, according to Galarneau's report. Like all OR's kabobs, it's served with grilled tomato and onion, as well as your choice of starch - which can (and probably should) be the warm housemade pita.

At OR by Falafel Bar, a Middle Eastern tour begins

*****

*Pho 54, 1280 Sweet Home Road, Suite 101, Amherst. Opened in mid-February. 428-5269.

Why it's buzzing: Did you know the area near University at Buffalo North Campus had scarce Vietnamese and Thai options? I did not. And for those less concerned about subtle differences between Asian cuisines - but enjoy sampling all of them - then the arrival of Pho 54 should entice anyway.

Judging from responses to The News' food articles, a new destination for both pho - the stomach-warming, tedious-to-create Vietnamese soup that's perfect for illness recovery - and a banh mi ($6) - the traditional Vietnamese sandwich with pork, pickled vegetables on a carefully crafted roll - will draw significant interest.

What we'd get: Of the five different kinds of pho, ranging from $10-$20 depending on size, we'd pick the spicy bon bo Hue, described as "famous authentic Hue-style spicy lemongrass beef noodle soup, made with braised oxtail, beef calf and pork ham, and garnished with cilantro and scallion with a side of fresh vegetables and lime. Here's the full menu.

Starters: Beef noodle soup and more at Pho 54

*****

BONUS: Eli Fish Brewing, 109 Main St., Batavia. Opened in early March. 585-815-0401.

Why it's buzzing: Just a few exits down the I-90 East from Buffalo, Batavia's Eli Fish Brewing isn't so remote to demand exclusion. While the chief allure is beer - it's Batavia's first brewery in a century, after all - the food menu is more robust than what you'd expect from a brewery. Eli Fish weaves its beer into its food offerings, with a beer-brined chicken banh mi ($9), a potato stout soup ($4) and IPA mussels ($12) among the choices.

What we'd get: Galarneau enjoyed his smoked salmon Caprese salad ($14), which had a nice crisp on the outside without sacrificing a juicy, flaky inside, but we'd go a little heavier with the chicken banh mi with a side of roasted red potatoes. Sounds like a meal that would stick to your ribs and accompany a craft beer or two well.

Eli Fish Brewing brings Batavia beer back to the thirsty

*Look back at the five new Buffalo-area restaurants from February:

5 new Buffalo-area restaurants to try: February 2018

Email: btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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