Squid tossed in seasoned flour and fried to a crisp has become one of the 716 area code’s signature appetizers.
Calamari is harder than it looks, though – much more challenging than cooking chicken wings. Coating failure, cooking mollusk morsels to rubber band stage, and overdoing post-Frialator ornamentation are common flaws.
Here’s eight plates of sublime fried squid that left me wanting more:
Hayes Seafood House
8900 Main St., Clarence (632-1772)
The closest thing we have to a New England seafood house gets fresh seafood and treats it right. The helpings I’ve had – all rings, no tentacles – were crumb-coated, for more texture, and served up with cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. No frills, just right.
Allen Burger Venture
175 Allen St. (768-0386)
Maybe it’s hard to believe a destination burger emporium has seafood worth scarfing. Floured and flash-fried, the squid ($13) is excellent, but it’s that bracing sweet chile sauce, doctored up with lashings of lime, cilantro and more, than makes it compulsively noshable.
5195 Main St., Williamsville (428-3957)
In a seafood-leaning hotel restaurant, Anthony James' calamari ($14) does a duet with Greek salad. Rings and gloriously crunchy tentacles are tumbled with lemon-dressed arugula, zippy pickled banana peppers, and feta cheese, punctuated by briny Kalamata olives.
3785 South Park Ave., Blasdell (825-3675)
Long golden curls of squid cut lengthwise suggest you’re not getting squid shaken out of a bag. Crumbed and fried, the golden petals are served with cocktail sauce ($12.99), but I would suggest an upgrade and use them to scoop up earthy tripe in marinara.
1213 Ridge Road, Lackawanna (821-0700)
In a daring departure from calamari orthodoxy, Tab Daulton sauces wispily fried calamari in savory miso dressing ($10). Tumbled with arugula, red bell and poblano peppers, it might be one of the lightest fried seafood appetizers ever.
51 W. Chippewa St. (855-3739)
The Italian king of Chippewa serves a killer plate of calamari ($12), of tender seafood in a wispy flash-fried crust. But what really elevates it to stardom is the aromatic pesto aioli and pristine San Marzano sauce you are blessed to dip these bites into.
166 Franklin St. (858-3118)
The calamari-as-dinner-salad school finds its finest Buffalo-centered expression at this downtown Italian hotspot. Fried squid rings ($16) are tossed in hot sauce, then tumbled with fried sweet and hot peppers, salad greens and crumbled gorgonzola cheese.
2220 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls (285-9341)
The grandfather of Niagara Falls Italian serves an old-fashioned straightforward calamari plate ($17.95) for the ages. Lightly coated hand-cut squid fried to a crisp is presented with plenty of lime wedges, in an abbondanza that’s enough for a crowd.
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