BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo turns out some delectable bar food, from its namesake wings to roast beef on weck. Lately, the Rust Belt city is burnishing its reputation with a crop of good restaurants that offer waterfront views, renovated hotel restaurants and stylish dining rooms serving inspired food.
My mother grew up in Buffalo, where uncles, cousins and my grandmother still reside. One weekend this spring, when my folks and I visited for a family get-together, I visited some old favorites and new finds.
First things first: A 10:30 a.m. Saturday stop at Ted's Hot Dogs (tedshotdogs.com). "You buying me breakfast?" joked my father as we drove up to the Tonawanda stand. I hadn't had a foot-long "red hot" since my grandfather took me when I was a kid. But I hadn't forgotten how great they are, especially with a side of hand-cut onion rings.
Theodore Spiro Liaros opened the first Ted's, a shack at the foot of the Peace Bridge, in 1927. He opened his second shop 20 years later. Today, family members run eight locations in Western New York and one in Arizona. In 2011, a family rift led to the opening of Theodore's Original Red Hots, which now has three area locations.
The German-style pork and beef dog is processed by Western New York-based Sahlen's for Ted's. And while a Sahlen's spokeswoman said the natural-casing dog is the same version sold in local grocery stores, it somehow tastes better in Ted's.
My father got the works with hot sauce while I opted for a spoonful of relish on a foot-long dog. In all my eating around, I have yet to find one I like better with its perfect char, snap and savory flavor.
Next up was a beef on weck. The first place I tried was Pete's Pub at the Icehouse (petespub.net), a beloved dive my twin uncles used to take me to for bar food that included fish sandwiches and wing dings, lightly breaded and not to be confused with Buffalo wings.
For an inaugural beef on weck, the yardstick is Charlie the Butcher (charliethebutcher.com), started by Charlie Roesch, who has become somewhat of a local celebrity for the sandwich. Mr. Roesch says roast beef on a salted kummelweck bun has its origins in the 1880s, when German immigrants came over to work on the Erie Canal.
Three things make beef on weck a standout. One, the fresh kaiser roll topped with kosher salt and caraway seeds is a softer spinoff of dense German bread that dominates the Buffalo region. Two, the meat on the sandwich is a delicious cross between prime rib and roast beef. And three, it's a gloppy thing, the result of au jus and horseradish. The sauces make beef on weck a guilty pleasure.
For chicken wings, Buffalo's most famous food export, Anchor Bar (anchorbar.com) is the epicenter. Lore has it that Dominic Bellissimo was behind the bar in 1964 when his friends arrived late one night. Bellissimo asked his mother, Teressa, to make something to eat and she whipped up a snack with chicken parts probably destined for a pot of soup.
It's the crisp skin and hot sauce with tang that have made wings so irresistible, as sports fans everywhere can attest. As with many local foods, a rivalry has sprung up between the Anchor Bar and Duff's Famous Wings (duffswings.com). Camps split between the divey charisma of Anchor Bar and very crisp wings from Duff's.
Drink and dine
For brews, burgers and gastropub fare, head to Blue Monk (bmbflo.com). Fritto misto, duck fat fries, meatballs and mussels are on the menu, but craft beers are as much of the draw, with more than 30 taps and 70 bottles. Cooperstown-based Ommegang and Buffalo's Community Beer Works highlight local beers while Belgians range from Delirium Tremens and Orval Trappist brews. Blue Monk is popular, which means loud, so be prepared.
From the same family comes Liberty Hound (Libertyhoundbuffalo.com), the restaurant that's part of Buffalo's waterfront revival. Shared plates, sandwiches and fish and chips seed a menu that also highlights craft beers and cocktails. Its deck on the Erie Canal is a good spot for live music.
For more tailored drinking and dining, head to the Hotel Lafayette (hotellafayette.com), which reopened last year after a $35 million renovation. The ornate hotel was built in the early 20th century by Louise Bethune, one of the first recognized women architects, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
Mike A's Steakhouse (MikeALafayette.com) is fine dining from Mike Andrzejewski, the restaurateur behind Seabar (seabarsushi.com) and Cantina Loco (cantinaloco.com), which opened in 2012. Pampered service and multiple courses characterize an experience here. Try sea scallop crudo for starters and veal loin Oscar for your entree. A 10-course tasting menu with wine pairing is the most lavish option here.
There's also an accessible lunch menu, a collection of sandwiches listed beside their restaurants of origin, such as the French dip from Phillipe, or the clubhouse sandwich, later shortened to the club sandwich, from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The bar has a rotating menu of house specialty cocktails such as Death and Taxes, with orange marble rye, cherry-steeped agave syrup and caraway-citrus bitters.
Satiating dining can also be found at Tempo (tempobuffalo.com), where an understated dining room in a 19th-century building is the backdrop for a compelling wine list and Italian cuisine made with fine ingredients. The menu features carpaccio, crispy whole branzino, osso buco and other standards.
Although my work might lead me to a 10-course tasting menu or a scrolling list of craft beers, this is the place I'd take my family. It's quiet enough for conversation and there's something to please everyone.
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.