Photo by Michael P. Majewski
Courtesy of The Nine-Eleven Tavern
The wings at The Nine-Eleven Tavern come smothered in house-made sauce.
Chicken wings are a given, but be sure to save room for roast beef sandwiches, pepperoni pizza, cheese-stuffed banana peppers, and more.
For a full picture of the Nickel City’s unique fare, you’ll need to work things like char-grilled hot dogs, steak sandwiches, and sponge candy into your itinerary. Below, we’ve rounded up Buffalo’s must-try dishes and where locals go to get them to help you plan the most delicious—and indulgent—visit possible. Get ready to roll home.
Forget Anchor Bar. Founded by Mark Gress in 1981 and named for its address at 9 and 11 Bloomfield Avenue, The Nine-Eleven Tavern has Buffalo’s best wings. Gress makes his wings to order with house-made sauce and two fryers in a tiny kitchen, meaning they can take up to 40 minutes to arrive at your table. When they do, however, they’re tangy and hot, with real butter flavor. Single orders are plated to resemble a sundial, while double and triple portions come stacked like a crazy game of wing Jenga. No matter how many you order, they’re always worth the wait.
For the uninitiated, beef on weck is America’s most underrated roast beef sandwich—a salt-and-seed-studded “weck” (short for kummelweck, the German word for caraway roll) piled high with slow-roasted, thin-sliced roast beef and spicy horseradish. Buffalo’s best version can be found at Schwabl’s, a local institution that opened in 1837 and moved to its current location in 1942. Here, as at the city’s other fine weck spots, the beef is sliced at a carving station in full view of the dining room. If you happen to be visiting between Columbus Day and St. Patrick’s Day, pair your sandwich with a Tom & Jerry, a hot, seasonal cocktail that dates back to the 1800s. Schwabl’s ladles its masterful recipe—a frothy mix of egg whites, brandy, and spicy dark rum—from a pink punch bowl into vintage carnival glasses, making for a classy accompaniment to your weck.
If you think New York City has the best pizza, you haven’t tried a Buffalo-style pie. In the Queen City, pizza has a softer crumb and a focaccia-like undercarriage, plus twice the sauce, triple the cheese, and toppings that extend over the edges. Said toppings are typically cup-and-char pepperoni—small, thick coins that curl and blacken around the edges as they cook, pooling hot, spicy oil in the center. Santora’s may have created the Buffalo-style pizza and La Nova claims to have the best in town, but Bocce Club has our favorite rendition, complete with hand-stretched dough, freshly made sauce, and 100 percent whole-milk Sorrento mozzarella. Don’t wait for delivery—order a pie and eat it in the parking lot.
You’ve probably heard of chicken, veal, and even eggplant Parmesan, but “spag Parm” is a distinctly Buffalo dish. In place of a protein, the recipe features butter-soaked spaghetti, smothered in broiler-crisped mozzarella and served with a cup of tomato sauce for dipping. The ultimate version can be found at Chef’s Restaurant, a classic red-sauce joint that’s been at it since 1923. Here, you can opt to add meatballs or sausage to your noodles, but it’s practically mandatory to mop everything up with the restaurant’s homemade bread. Just don’t forget to wear a bib.
Steak and dandelion sandwiches are ubiquitous at Buffalo’s pizzerias and sandwich shops, but little is known about their origins. Mostly likely, they came from Italian Americans who used to forage the roadsides for dandelion greens, which they’d then sauté in olive oil with garlic, onions, and crushed red pepper flakes and serve with steak. For an old-school rendition of this Buffalo classic, head to Dandelions Restaurant, where you can order a six-ounce char-grilled steak filet sandwich, topped with dandelion greens and Parmesan and served in a toasted Costanzo’s roll.
In Buffalo, hot dogs come grilled over charcoal and topped with “the works,” which could mean anything from ketchup, mustard, and relish to lettuce, onions, and sauerkraut. At Ted’s, regular, foot-long, and all-beef jumbo versions are grilled right in front of you, hissing, snapping, and filling the inside of the store with an intoxicating smell. They emerge from the flame almost boudin-like, browned in most places and nestled in a soft, springy roll. The savvy move is to order yours with minced onions, yellow mustard, and Ted’s secret hot sauce, which adds a satisfyingly tangy kick. If you really want to feel like a local, pair your dog with some hand-battered onion rings or a loganberry milk shake.
Among Buffalo’s many signature dishes, cheese-stuffed banana peppers may be the newest. Chef Andy DiVincenzo of the now-shuttered Billy Ogden’s restaurant dreamed them up in 1990 for the annual Taste of Buffalo festival—and they’ve proliferated across the city ever since. DiVincenzo died in 2004 and his secret recipe went with him, but chef Christoper Daigler, who worked for him, carries the torch with his own version at Falley Allen. Daigler’s dish comes with rustic toast, garlic oil, and parsley, which is as close to the Billy Ogden’s original as you can find today.
If you’ve never had bologna cut thick and served hot, you don’t know it the way Buffalonians do—that is, griddled on a flat-top until it caramelizes and the edges crisp up, then topped with melted white American cheese and sautéed onions and peppers. The Old Pink makes a fantastic version, but for the undisputed king of Buffalo bologna sandwiches, you have to go to Toutant, where chef James Robert serves a rendition with house-smoked, thick-cut beef bologna, Creole mustard, smothered onions, cheese, pickles, and a buttermilk bun he bakes himself. One bite and you’ll never look at bologna the same way again.
Sponge candy is a love-it-or-hate-it confection, but if you don’t have some when visiting Buffalo, you won’t be able to weigh in on the city’s signature sweet. Dividing families for more than a century, the candy is light and crunchy—not soft and squishy as its name suggests—and best described as a meringue crossed with a malted milk ball. When you bite into it, you might expect the chocolate coating to disappear, but the center crumbles and melts, leaving you with a chocolate finish. Fowler’s is said to have invented it, and Aléthea’s, Antoinette’s, and Watson’s all make delicious versions, but Ko-Ed makes the best sponge candy.
A Buffalo favorite, the chicken finger sub consists of fried chicken strips, stuffed in an Italian sub roll and sprinkled with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese, blue-cheese dressing, and hot sauce. The sandwich was most likely invented by Gene Mongan in 1982 at John’s Pizza & Subs in Tonawanda, but you can now find it at beloved local chain Jim’s SteakOut and almost every pizzeria in Buffalo that wants to stay in business. You might want to try the original at John’s, but the souped-up version at Lovejoy Pizza is even better. Complete with stuffed hot pepper medallions and a generous layer of baked mozzarella, it makes a strong case for being Buffalo’s best sandwich.
>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Travel Guide to Buffalo
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