One of the worst things COVID did, culturally speaking, is stamp out diversity, on both a daily and cultural level.
From the late winter of 2020 until the spring of 2022, we were often relegated to doing the same things over and over, like Groundhog Day but with fewer punchlines. Our days became so homogenized, we actually looked forward to Zoom calls and ordering takeout. Now, we have all of our pre-COVID options back, plus a few new ones.
The end of the pandemic also unleashed more diversity in bar and restaurant ownership. This year, it felt more common to speak to new restaurant owners who are Black or from the LGBTQ+ community, for example. It should be said, you’re still more likely to see a diverse business community within the City of Buffalo than outside it.
And so, the best restaurants and bars of this year highlight a lot of that new-found diversity.
To share these best new openings with you, on this list you’ll find a collaborative effort between our restaurant writers, editors, and team of eaters. In our personal experiences, we have found that these places brought the most intriguing stories, concepts, and of course food and drink to WNY in 2022. Here’s to a great year of new bars and restaurants, and to the trend continuing into 2023!
Editor’s Note: This list focuses on places that opened before Nov 30, 2022.
Interested in more new restaurants? Check out our guide to Every New Bar & Restaurant That Opened in 2022 in Buffalo & WNY!
Mint Cocktails & Kitchen (West Side)
One of the most highly anticipated openings of 2022, Mint lived up to the hype this summer. The Niagara Street spot offers a vibey patio, dreamy oasis decor inside, and a sweet and spicy menu with modern Latin flare infused throughout both the food and drink. We love the empanada forward menu and hope to see the unique cocktail bar thrive for a long time to come.
High Violet (Elmwood Village)
In the documentary Hearts of Darkness, Francis Ford Coppola says a movie that tries to be something really terrific but doesn’t pull it off “is shit, it’s scum and everyone will walk on it as such.”
High Violet, a new cocktail lounge on Elmwood Avenue, strives to be something terrific, and I’m happy to report that Bob Clerici and his partners pulled it off. But like Coppola in Heart of Darkness, things didn’t exactly go to plan: “We went 100 percent over budget, and 100 percent beyond our deadlines,” Clerici said. “But I think the result is worth it.”
Uh, yeah it is.
Never mind the cocktails, the rarified air in High Violet is intoxicating on its own. When we wrote about High Violet back in March, we called it a bang-on, big-city cocktail bar that transports guests to another place, maybe another time. Details have been fussed over. There are elegant, handcrafted spaces you can luxuriate in. Oh, the drinks and food are pretty good too. Hands down, it’s already one of the best bars in Buffalo.
Strong Hearts Buffalo (West Side)
Strong Hearts’ 100% vegan, scratch-made menu is full of comfort food with staples like mac n’ cheese and “chicken wings”, loaded sandwiches and “burgers”, homemade pastries, and even milkshakes. It’s almost enough to make your head spin if you really think about it. Inside the atmosphere is fresh, cool, and casual, with a remodeled interior that reflects the building’s history as a former warehouse while paying homage to the activist roots of the restaurant and the revitalization of Buffalo’s West Side.
If all that and insanely good food isn’t enough, the entire ethos behind the new spot is truly something special, with the foundation of the restaurant being built upon the founders’ beliefs in “the vegan ethics of animal, earth, and human liberation”. A must-visit for anyone who loves creative, delicious meals, cool digs, and animals!
Spotted Octopus Brewing (Allentown)
We will always have a soft spot for brewer-owned breweries. They may not have a big range of beers made with expensive ingredients, but these small-scale, underdog breweries are driven by passion, and you can feel it when you walk in the place.
Spotted Octopus brewing not only embodies craft beer vibes, but it also embodies the spirit of Allentown. Co-owners Ken Shaw and Domenic Nicotera have created a cozy, welcoming space that encourages conversation. It’s also very walkable for Allentowners and the tasting room often takes on a corner bar feel. Add in fresh-brewed beer, and what more could you possibly want in a local brewery?
Iva Ann’s on Main (Cuba)
Cuba, NY is a bit of a drive from downtown Buffalo; 94 minutes long according to Waze. So covering Iva Ann’s on Main definitely put the ‘Step Out’ in Step Out Buffalo. But that said, you should make the drive too. Cuba is a cool little Southern Tier town with lots to offer. In addition to being a historic agri-business hub, Cuba’s main streets have been revitalized to attract the growing numbers of remote workers looking to escape the high costs of living in bigger cities.
Iva Ann’s alone is worth the trip, though. With Georgia native Paul Sidener as the savory chef and Southern Tier native Melissa Halleck handling the baking, the food is a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll: brown butter Butterfinger cookies, fried chicken sandwiches with Alabama White sauce and kung pao sloppy joes. Offering equal parts brute force and velvet touch, Iva Ann’s is a reflection of both its owners and its agrarian surroundings.
The Grange Outpost (Orchard Park)
Since opening its doors in Hamburg six years ago, The Grange has made a name for itself by preparing simple-yet-elevated food, and the new Grange Outpost is the latest expansion of that mission. The new Orchard Park location is mostly a large production kitchen that provides baked goods for The Grange and its sister restaurant in Ellicottville, West Rose. But its storefront functions as a little takeout spot where Orchard Parkers can pick up café foods, desserts and premium breads. More of a good thing is always a good thing.
Club Marcella (Downtown Buffalo)
Club Marcella made a name for itself by being a gay nightclub, but with apps like Grindr and more accepting social attitudes, gay people looking to date don’t need to hit the clubs as much as they used to.
“Nobody goes out anymore,” owner Joey Marcella told me about the modern gay dating scene. “So, you can’t label your club as ‘just gay’ anymore because it’s not gonna work. You have to change with the times.”
The new Club Marcella does that. No, you can’t wave a magic wand and make everyone forget that Marcella’s was ever part of the local gay community. But Joey Marcella is focused on making his new club appeal to everyone, not just the LGBTQ+ community. After our visit, it felt like we were walking into a Big City Club. If loud music, dancing and light shows are your thing, the opening of Club Marcella was truly something to celebrate this year.
The Hoagie Stop (Allentown & West Seneca)
Some bars stayed open during COVID lockdown, doing what you might call speakeasy cosplay. But meanwhile, the local underground food scene exploded, with people risking health department fines to sell food out of their backyard or kitchen over social media.
Trafficking in greasy, irresistible steak hoagies, Byron Cogdell was selling so much food out of his backyard during COVID, his neighbor eventually did call the health department on him, shutting him faster than an overcaffeinated Jon Taffer.
“After my neighbors called the health department on me, we were looking for a new location but didn’t immediately find one,” he told me back in February. “So one day, I cooked food in my house in North Buffalo, went around the corner and set up shop in a Jim’s Steakout parking lot. Then, I went live on social media. Everybody thought I was crazy for doing it, but I used that as a marketing technique.”
Byron went on to go legit. First, he opened The Hoagie Stop on Allen Street, and later in the year, he opened another location on Clinton Street. The steak sub might be their flagship sandwich, but don’t sleep on the chicken hoagie and its magical white sauce.
K:Dara Noodle Bar (Downtown)
What’s old is new again. From the people who brought us the original Kaydara Noodle Bar on Main – Chef Vathanathavone “Tutu” Inthalasy and Jennifer Laban, this rebirth slid right into the former Sato Brewpub location on Pearl and didn’t miss a beat. We barely had a minute to whine about Sato’s closing before we rejoiced about K:Dara’s return.
They still offer great South East Asian noodle dishes, maybe better than ever, plus plenty more including their famed 1000 (degree) broccoli. We loved the service and the Lo Mein, along with pretty much everything we tried – which was close to everything on the menu, naturally.
Left Coast Taco (East Aurora)
While the business itself may not be brand new this year, the restaurant is and we can’t pass up this opportunity to recommend Left Coast. No one is really doing Cal-Mex in WNY and these guys are doing it really well – with a side of fresh cocktails. Born out of your quintessential California kid meets Orchard Park love of his life story, this spot is authentic to the owners’ roots. The service is casual, but the space offers bar seating and a smattering of tables where you can dig into a thoughtful menu of classics with a Cali twist at a surprisingly decent price point. Don’t sleep on the Cali Fries, Birra Tacos, and Baja-style Tacos.
Compass Run (Lower East Side)
Compass Run in what formerly housed Dobutsu, is a new restaurant by the Toutant team – James and Connie Roberts. To answer a few questions: Yes, Toutant and Compass Run are both southern inspired. No, they do not have the same menu. They are not the same restaurant. Yes, we miss Dobutsu too. Yes, you should check this place out.
What foodies will really care about and need to know is that the food is outstanding. They offer some nice bar options with an attractive and spacious space, nice selection of wine, whiskey, local beer and good bartending. The service is always on point. The space is still very comfortable, the location is easy. Simply put, these guys know what they’re doing.
Blue Cave (Downtown)
While the decor is a little more Spartan than Italian, the food is down-home Sicilian with a hint of Italian (which any Sicilian will tell you IS NOT really Italian)…if you follow. The Chef/owner of this new gem is Mario Bianca originally from Siracusa, Sicily. Chef Bianco does a nice job creating fun and exciting dishes while staying true to traditional “Italian” foods offering bold flavors and noticeable attention to detail. From the delicious antipasti to his extensive use of fresh seafood to the creative house-made pasta dishes, you won’t be disappointed.
Black Iron Bystro (Kenmore)
Black Iron Bystro is Kenmore’s gain and Blasdell’s loss, but everyone can still enjoy Chef/owner Bryan Mecozzi’s brilliant creations. Chef Bryan closed his original location in the Southtowns during the covid slowdown and built the new venture closer to home on Delaware in Kenmore. The new Black Iron Bystro boasts a reservation-based, price-fix tasting menu that really showcases the talents and creativity of Chef Bryan and the entire staff. The beauty of a set menu for tasting enthusiasts is the time and attention that the kitchen can take with each seating; not to mention the Christmas morning type of excitement with each approaching course. We live for this stuff.
Black Iron Bystro also offers a la carte small plates and full drink service at the bar and can make accommodations for any dietary restrictions.
Perla Seafood Bistro (Depew)
When a new concept by well known restaurateurs with a long standing reputation opens up, chances are good you’re in for a treat. Plus, we love a good raw bar. Perla delivers on the expectation of quality food and drinks, attentive service, and an elevated setting. If you’re in the market for a seafood tower or want to dive into a bourbon “library”, you’ll feel right at home here.
A’mano Fresh Pasta Kitchen (Williamsville)
This cafe meets fast casual concept caught us by surprise with housemade pasta, comforting sauce concoctions and a cozy atmosphere. If you’ve never heard of a fast casual, made to order pasta restaurant before you’re not alone – it’s the only one of it’s kind in WNY. Not only do the creative sauce combinations hit the spot, but the rosemary focaccia that comes on the side is *chefs kiss* perfection. And when we say fast, we mean it – your dish (you can choose a preset signature or build your own) is made right in front of you while you move through the line – it’s quick and even somewhat entertaining to watch.