While the coronavirus has knocked the restaurant world into a cocked hat, my critical spotlight will remain trained on tender sprouts of excellence in danger of disappearing from our dining landscape.
People’s dining opportunities are severely limited, meaning it will take even longer to get the taste of a dud out of your mouth. More than ever, people who want someone else to cook need actionable intel on its whereabouts and provenance.
Before we start, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: Conscientious, contactless take-out is safe, if you don’t lick the packaging. Also: If you don’t tip at least as well as you do for sit-down fine dining, please check your pulse for other signs that you are dead inside.
In the weeks to come, my reviews will illuminate marvelous choices still available in our neighborhoods and towns. As ever, my plans will be informed by your tips and questions, so drop me a line at email@example.com.
Today is for the West Side Bazaar, a collective restaurant of cooks sharing their work with neighbors. Most left everything they knew for the dream of a better life in the United States. At 25 Grant St., they have won fans across Buffalo and beyond.
The students and office workers that once crowded its dining space at lunchtime are couchbound. The room is empty now. For safety, food orders are taken by phone and carried out to waiting customers, or couriers.
The cooks’ non-profit landlord is waiving rent, but they still have other bills to pay, like everyone else. Most are sole proprietors, so it’s not clear yet if they’re eligible to tap the coronavirus bailout. Here's a look at what some of the stands offer.
Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine. What I can tell you for sure is that Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine is worth the journey. Explore Zelalem Gemmeda’s revelatory Ethiopian cuisine in two main paths, the vegan combination ($10.99) and the meaty ($11.99). Both offer helpings for five to seven dishes, a North African smorgasbord served on generous layers of injera, the sourdough pancake Ethiopian, Eritrean, Somali and Djiboutian cuisines rely on instead of pita bread.
For vegans: green beans, beets, red lentils, yellow lentils, carrots, garlicky greens and chopped salad, subtly spiced yet full of character. It's the sort of dish that makes me feel secure I could go vegan if needed. The meat combination includes doro wat, chicken drumstick and hardboiled egg in a subtly sweet, tarry paste of caramelized onion, plus greens, and cabbage with carrots.
007 Chinese Food. Dumplings are comfort food in any language, and 007 Chinese Food has won awards – and plenty of fans – for its dim sum, which is dumplings and more. Maung Maung and his wife, Than Than Nu Saw, make them daily. Consider har gow, shrimp perfumed with sesame oil in translucent wrappers (4/$3.50), or shumai, marshmallow-sized pork-and-shrimp bites topped with carrot (4/$3.50). Another popular choice is the five-spice-scented braised bites of bone-in pork spare ribs with black beans ($3.50).
Thang’s Family Japanese Ramen. If a big cauldron of noodle soup is your calling, Thang’s has you covered. The selection was thin when I called, but asking Kap Thang for chashu ramen ($10.99) brought loads of sliced pork in a salty, funky broth with a soft-boiled egg, greens, bamboo shoots, mung bean sprouts and other vegetation. The noodles were from a packet, but springy enough to not stop eating.
Kiosko Latino. There are other places to get Puerto Rican food in Buffalo, but the roast pork (pernil) combination dinner ($10.95) at Kiosko Latino holds its head high. Heaps of roast pork, soft as old clothes, on yellow rice with pigeon peas, with a bit of iceberg and pale tomato salad.
Alain and Maria del Carmen Rodriguez’s version goes further in two ways: a citrus-garlic mojo adding another layer of savor, and a satisfyingly crackly piece of chicharrones (rendered pork skin with a skosh of meat left on). You can also order chicharrones by the piece ($2), like pork rinds welded to tender bacon.
M Asian Halal. Vegans might ask Mohammed Yaseen of M Asian Halal for baigan bartha, smoked eggplant with garlic ($7.99 with rice), or crispy triangular fried samosas stuffed with spicy potatoes ($1). My favorites in his Indian-Pakistani repertoire are the spicy fish ($8.99, with rice), a tilapia filet coated in a spice mixture and fried to a crisp, and the coarsely ground chicken sausage called chapli kabob ($8.99), served with salad and rice or pita.
Nine by Night. Thai dishes come from Nine by Night’s Htay Naing, who can rock the ubiquitous pad Thai ($8.69) with rice noodles stir-fried with egg, tamarind soy, sprouts and your choice of protein. But his stand is probably better known for its vegetal, just-hot-enough green coconut curry ($8.69). It is imbued with herbs and green chile, with choice of protein amid vegetables such as eggplant, bamboo shoots and green beans.
West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St.
Current hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. All of the kiosks except Nine at Night also use at least one delivery service. For troubleshooting or big, specialized orders, 575-5002 gets you to Bazaar staff, who can usually help.
007 China. Serves dim sum. Call 951-2535. Delivery by UberEats.
Abyssinia Ethiopian Cuisine. Call 563-6602. Delivery by GrubHub.
Kiosko Latino. Serves Puerto Rican and Mexican food. Call 207-9282. Delivery by GrubHub, Uber Eats, DoorDash, Postmates.
M Asian Halal. Serves Indian and Pakistani food. Call 533-8558. Delivery by GrubHub.
Thang’s Family Japanese Ramen. Call 715-5053. Delivery by GrubHub, DoorDash.
Nine by Night. Call 541-7963. Pickup only.