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Andrew Galarneau's most memorable dishes of 2018

The odds of winning at a blackjack table are roughly 48 percent. Every player knows they’re statistically likely to be disappointed, but they keep going back.

Me, I’d rather spend my money in restaurants. At these tables, I can help you get lucky.

From the finest places in town to rough-and-tumble takeouts, here’s 20 dishes that stood out in my season’s eating like magnesium flares at midnight:

Artichoke Francese, Sinatra’s, 945 Kenmore Ave., Tonawanda.

There was much to revel in at this expanded oasis of upscale Southern Italian dining, but it was an appetizer common on local Italian menus that’s stuck in my head. Artichoke hearts in puffy Romano-stuffed jackets, napped with velvety butter-lemon sauce perked up with capers, were pitch perfect.

[Related: Sinatra's makeover tops the year in Buffalo food]

. . .

Caramelized organic chicken liver pate with rhubarb mostarda, JT’s Urban Italian, 905 Elmwood Ave.

I love a good chicken liver pate, and I adore rhubarb. When I found JT’s offering a special that pitted the fruity intensity of sweet-and-sour rhubarb mostarda, punctuated with the crunch of mustard seeds, against the mineral richness of the pate, the unlikely pairing was one to remember.

[Related: JT's draws on siblings successes]

. . .

Grilled pork shoulder and belly, Prescott’s Provisions, 40 E. Niagara St., Tonawanda.

The velvety texture of properly braised shoulder alongside the pleasure of belly, lush underneath its carefully crisped exterior, made this tour de pork one to return for. Crunchy spheres of fresh apple infused with aji chile and barbecued lentils considerably extended the pork’s pleasures.

[Read more: Restaurant review of Prescott's Provisions]

Grilled pork shoulder and belly at Prescott’s Provisions. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

. . .

Salmon with yam cake, chimichurri, yogurt, Dobutsu, 500 Seneca St.

Salmon that sheds its position as lowest-common-denominator fish entrée with an unheralded set of sidekicks. Crisped sweet potato, yogurt bruleed to deepen its flavor and whirred smooth again, pesto powered by a bouquet of fresh herbs, and preserved citrus left me mesmerized.

[Related: Dining review from Dobutsu]

. . .

Moo ping, grilled pork skewers with tamarind dip, Rin Thai Bistro, 988 Elmwood Ave.

Leaving commonplace grilled Thai chicken skewers wanting, these sticks carry vibrantly seasoned chunks of pork streaked with fat so they crisp up, but stay juicy. Then they’re offered with a tamarind sauce whose tropical sourness provides much better contrast than the usual sweetened peanut sauce.

. . .

Gypsy tostadas, Gypsy Parlor, 376 Grant St.

Crispy corn discs loaded with braised kale, passionately herby chimichurri, crowned with two oozy-yolked fried eggs to seal the deal. A squirt of lime, a slice of avocado, and my morning brightened considerably with this shockingly healthy brunch special.

. . .

Fried chicken, Je Ne Sais Quoi, 1673 Hertel Ave.

The fried chicken at this Hertel Avenue soul food restaurant managed to hit the spot without leaving a slick of guilt behind. I attribute it to the whisper of a crust, golden lightness compared to the craggy, crunchy bronzed school of Southern-style breading.

Fried chicken at Je Ne Sais Quoi. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

. . .

Green curry ramen, Sato Brewpub, 110 Pearl St.

This Thai-inspired take on the classic Japanese noodle soup fires up its broth with a manageable dose of chile, but gets most of its verdant depth from basil, cilantro and more fresh herbs, with a drizzle of lemongrass oil. Stir in the sliced chicken, corn, fried onions and marvel at how far the brewpub menu has come.

. . .

Killer Bee, Jay’s Artisan Pizzeria, 2872 Delaware Ave., Kenmore.

Regulars of this Kenmore pizzeria know to get there early in the evening, lest they sell out of the Neapolitan-style pies – with occasional digressions to Detroit – that are its specialty. My favorite version is slicked with the fat from matchsticked soppressata between mozzarella dabs and spiked with chile honey.

[Read more: At Jay's, the best Neapolitan in town]

. . .

Half smoke, Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs, 707 Kenmore Ave., Tonawanda.

Frank has a long lineup of creative dogs, but the most alluring to me is the newcomer: a half smoke. That’s a custom-made pork and beef sausage, modeled after the District of Columbia original, that’s smoked but spicy, with enough chile to tinge the bun orange.

. . .

Hot pepper cakes, Mandy’s Café, 3796 Clinton St., West Seneca.

The classic Buffalo-style cheese-stuffed peppers are reinterpreted in patty form, with the spicy long chiles chopped and tossed with a cheeses before being rolled in crumbs and smashed flat on a griddle to crisp. By themselves, or crowning a fried bologna sandwich, they’re hard to resist.

Hot pepper cakes at Mandy’s Café. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

. . .

Lamb hummus, OR by Falafel Bar, 3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst.

The hummus at Falafel Bar, freshly ground and pointed up with liberal lashings of ground sesame tahini, is worth a look for hummus aficionados. My favorite flavor gets topped with ground lamb that’s been sautéed with tomatoes, onions and pine nuts. Add warm pita bread, and happiness ensues.

. . .

Breakfast burger, Dapper Goose, 491 Amherst St.

Among places aiming for a next-level burger, this Black Rock brunch offering has made memories. Its fat patty is gilded with hollandaise sauce, cheddar cheese and spicy jam, a supernaturally crispy hash brown potato patty tucked inside the buttered bun, it is a certified hangover slayer.

[Read more: Dining review of Dapper Goose | Standout chicken sandwich at Dapper Goose]

. . .

Canoa con carne, plantain with meat, El Encanto, 2179 Niagara St.

The savory possibilities of the banana-like plantain didn’t hit me until I encountered this Puerto Rican specialty. Shredded creamy chicken was stuffed into a split plantain, whose starchy essence made it sort of like a stuffed baked potato experience, only longer and tastier.

. . .

Pork chop over green tomato hash, This Little Pig, 4401 Transit Road, Clarence.

A Kindred Kreek pork chop was pan-seared and doused in chermoula, a pesto powered with North African spices, plus a drizzle of chile oil. Its foundation was a coarse hash of salty, tangy, crunchy bites, including diced green tomato, green olives, tomatoes, garlic and potatoes for an intoxicating experience.

[Related: Sterling New American cuisine at This Little Pig]

. . .

Smoked gouda fonduta with steak tips, Novel, 7170 Transit Road, Amherst.

This comforting plate of beef and noodles won with upgraded essentials. Housemade rosemary campanelle pasta blanketed with smoky, silky cheese sauce served as savory canvas for medium rare tenderloin tips. Broccolini, already faintly bitter, were grilled to give the dish a needed foil against its richness.

Smoked gouda fonduta with steak tips at Novel. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

. . .

Double-cooked pork with homemade bread, Xi An Gourmet, 15 Willow Ridge Drive, Amherst.

The Chinese stir-fry dish of double-cooked pork is usually braised pork belly sliced thin, coated in spices and wok-fried in a welter of vegetables. In this little Amherst restaurant, it’s been elevated with the addition of thinly sliced bread, crisp as croutons, which soak up the flavors and add crunch.

. . .

Taco on a bun, Stooges, 2 Pine St., Lockport.

Stuffed burgers made of beef, chicken and pork sausage are the specialty here, with variations crossing over into other family restaurant classics. The one I find myself pondering puts all the taco fixings but the beef – salsa, cheese, sour cream, hot sauce – inside, where it flavors every bite.

. . .

Pork larb salad with sticky rice, Gourmet Lao Food, 643 Grant St.

Laotian sisters I first met at West Side Bazaar have expanded their offerings near Buffalo State College. Their menu includes a version of larb, a salad of minced chicken, pork or beef dressed with fresh lime, chile, red onion, scallion, and cilantro that outshone other versions in town.

[Read: Starters on Gourmet Lao Food]

. . .

Tandoori chicken over rice, Alibaba Kebab, 900 William St.

This East Side Indian takeout elbowed its way into my day-to-day restaurant lineup with its “over rice” offerings. Marinated-then-grilled chicken bites, on fragrant basmati rice with crunchy red onion bits, finished with green herbed yogurt and white garlic mayonnaise, is on repeat.

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