Many of us have a favorite restaurant because of the food.
But great food isn’t necessarily the first thing local chefs mention when asked about their favorite place. When given a chance, they’ll often mention the service and overall vibe of a favorite place first, before getting into the food. At least that’s what we found when we recently surveyed 20 local restaurants and their chefs.
We asked for the accomplished chefs at the restaurants listed below to name three favorite local eateries. We also asked for quotes that would be kept anonymous – just to keep people from simply shouting out friends in the industry. We made it a point to reach out to chefs with diverse backgrounds – people with different genders, ethnicities, nationalities, etc.
Our participants often jumped at the chance to mention “vibe” and “service” before getting into the food.
“A well-run restaurant is similar to watching a ballet in its greatest form,” one local chef told us poetically. “The runners, servers, hosts all moving gracefully and with purpose. The customer never becoming aware of what chaos may be transpiring behind the curtain. Consistency and fluidity is what keeps us alive.”
“Remembering and appreciating the people who keep your doors open is always something that will stand out for any business especially in the restaurant business,” added another one of our respondents.
Without further ado, let’s dive into the top 14 picks produced by our very unscientific survey. We’d like to thank the following restaurants and their chefs for their input: Osteria 166, Ru’s Pierogis, This Little Pig, Buffalo Proper, Yey’s Café, Fresh Catch Poke, Sato Ramen, Pastry by Camille, Barrel + Brine, The Place, Freddy J’s BBQ, Billy Club, 100 Acres at the Hotel Henry, Toutant, The Grange, Elm Street Bakery, Patina 250, Sophia’s and Winfield’s Pub.
Top Pick – Roost
Chefs often get respect for putting their personality on a plate, and for pushing boundaries. At Roost, chef-owner Martin Danilowicz and his team do both and that’s probably why their restaurant was the top vote-getter among our respondent chefs.
“Martin always pushes things, often where you should not, and I like that,” one chef told us. “That style, people like it or not, but they comment and spread the word. It’s his brand.”
“I love the energy, the scratch-made food and the creativity,” another chef said.
Top Vote Getters
The next tier of restaurants in our little poll points to the high quality and amazing variety of options that WNY diners currently have in front of them.
If you follow local foodies and local chefs on Instagram, then you probably already know about Peking Quick One. Known for serving Chinese food that is more authentic than what you find in the typical takeout joint, Peking Quick One “might serve the best food in WNY,” one chef told us.
Just a few years ago, you probably wouldn’t think of the Village of Hamburg as a culinary hub, but that’s changed significantly – in large part due to the presence of The Grange. Even though it’s a bit out of the way for them, several local chefs named the restaurant in their top three.
Dining institutions like Hutch’s don’t get enough ink these days, and maybe we’re a bit guilty of overlooking the restaurant from time to time. However, despite not getting enough blog and media love, local chefs aren’t sleeping on the Delaware Avenue destination.
“Hutch’s is my go-to dinner joint because the food is great and it always provides me an opportunity to socialize with the same guests that I cook for every week,” one chef told us. “The chef (Mark Hutchinson) always finds a way to make familiar dishes better. So, when you eat it, it’s like you’re eating it for the first time.”
Toutant’s chef-owner James Roberts may get most of the focus from the local news and food blogs, but local chefs know there’s a very talented kitchen under Roberts that can do a lot more than just make kick-ass fried chicken
“I’m sure I’m not the only one on the list recommending Toutant, but I think Joe Fenush is one of the smartest chefs we have in the city,” one chef told us.
“There is nothing like Toutant in WNY,” said another. “Their team is always creating delicious new dishes and their classics are what make Toutant a favorite.”
Other Top Picks
The following restaurants didn’t get as many votes as the places above, but the positive feedback we got for them was too much to ignore.
“A perfect oasis on Allen Street,” we were told. “The owners, staff, vibe, and cocktails make this place a gem.”
For the past few years, a lot of the culinary conversation on modern food in Western New York has revolved around Black Sheep. And for good reason. Steven and Ellen Gedra are chefs’ chefs who are constantly tinkering with ideas related to food and hospitality.
If Black Sheep is the type of place where local chefs go to have a serious conversation, then Dapper Goose is the low-key joint where they shoot the shit. Keith Raimondi and his crew make serving great upscale comfort food and a killer beverage program look almost effortless. It’s no wonder they are getting buckets of respect from their colleagues.
Located in East Aurora, Elm Street Bakery is a community within a community. This chef’s quote says it all: “Love the people, the vibe and that pizza dough!”
“The service is always excellent, and it has arguably Buffalo’s freshest fish and most consistent, high quality dishes.”
“All around best restaurant experience in the city,” one chef told us. “Great, scratch-made, locally-sourced food. Amazing service. Awesome tradition.”
One local chef recommended Mother’s “because of the vibe. Anytime you can get a good plate of pasta or a good steak. For industry, it’s key.”
Sophia’s is another spot that always seems to be popping up on local chefs’ Instagrams. One chef told us they go for breakfast, “for the giant Giambotta and one of the city’s best bloody Mary’s.”
Other mentions (in no particular order): Vino’s Italian Restaurant, This Little Pig, Taste of Siam, Tappo, Power – Sushi and Thai Restaurant, Marble + Rye, Las Puertas, Je Ne Sais Quoi, Jay’s Artisan Pizza, House of Hummus, Home Taste, Hoak’s Lakeshore Restaurant, Lucia’s on the Lake, Charlie the Butcher, Brick Oven Bistro and Deli, Betty’s, Aroma on Bryant, Kostas, Ted’s Hot Dogs, Cantina Loco and Mulberry Italian Ristorante and Rooster’s Café.