When it comes to deciding what to eat at the Taste of Buffalo this weekend, there are too many choices.
That's the point of the event, of course. Hungry people show up and get hungrier as they window-shop the possibilities.
Stuffed pepper or pulled pork? Mac and cheese or chicken wing soup? Hard decisions have to be made, because you're not going to get a second chance. Unless you return Sunday, in which case you're not going to get a third chance.
Everyone has their own calculus, weighing factors most important to them – including what they will weigh the next day. For some it's as simple as "that looks tasty, I'll get in line."
Others, including I daresay most Taste veterans, have more complicated modus operandi. Here are the three questions I ask myself to narrow down the list of what deserves a bite, followed by five of my favorite stops at the annual event.
Is the Taste of Buffalo the best setting to eat this?
Put another way: Is this a dish I can access more easily, or under more favorable circumstances, another time? Let's say I'm a fan of the Tricked-Out Nachos, tortilla chips doused with Lloyd's house-made queso and rojo sauces (because I am).
I drive by one of the Lloyd Taco Factory locations at least weekly. The Taste of Buffalo line at the Lloyd truck in front of City Hall has too many people to count. So my calculation is that I can get what I want faster, happier and with a table to sit at some other time. Nachos deferred.
Can Taste of Buffalo save me time?
The corollary to No. 1 is that if a dish that catches my eye from a restaurant I'd have to make a special trip to hit, having it right here makes that line time a worthwhile investment.
Case in point: Sear's lobster mac and cheese. Chef John Nicholson makes my favorite version of this dish in town, bolstered by the steakhouse's lobster bisque. Going to dinner at Sear is not an operation to undertake lightly, occupying most of an evening if done properly. That 10-minute queue is a bargain by comparison. Line me up.
Can this dish be at its best at Taste of Buffalo?
Some delicious things fade with time and distance from the kitchen. If you're being offered pizza that's been baked off-site, transported to a Delaware Avenue tent and reheated, you're getting pizza that's not living its best life. Don't get me wrong: Any pizza is better than no pizza. I eat pizza at all points in its life cycle, including cold slices wolfed down with the refrigerator door open.
But we're talking best practices here, and I have a clear preference. The best way to eat pizza is pick it up yourself, place it in the passenger seat next to you, and then eat as much pepperoni as necessary until you get to where everyone else is waiting. I can't do that at the Taste of Buffalo, because my kids will be right there.
My five stops
I study the Taste of Buffalo restaurant dish list like racetrack gamblers study the Daily Racing Form. Here are five places I'm definitely stopping.
Alex's Place, for garlic barbecued baby back ribs. The Batavia restaurant is known for these little pork lollipops, and I haven't gotten a chance to try them since reviewing the place in 2013.
Sear, for lobster mac and cheese. Because it tastes like lobster all the way through. There's going to be a line, but I can get it in my face faster in the street than the restaurant.
Mineo & Sapio Street Eats, for the chorizo po' boy. Because it's classic street food elevated, made by people who know how much heat to put in their sausage.
Caribbean Experience, for the jerk chicken. Because it's exactly the kind of dish that holds character in a festival setting, and I need to check to see if it's still the best in town.
Stack Burger, for the deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Because it's got peanut butter sauce, loganberry syrup and grape whipped cream, and if I can't eat completely ridiculous deep-fried regret food, what am I doing there?
Also: Sun's coconut curry soup, Flaming Fish's haddock hoagie, Osteria 166's Nana's meatball, Niagara Café's maduros and Souped Up's watermelon gazpacho.
Taste of Buffalo
Delaware Avenue between Chippewa and City Hall
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. July 7 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 8
Food tickets are 50 cents each and sold in sheets of 10.
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