By Christa Glennie
During an initial visit, most tourists notice Buffalo’s most intangible differentiator: the baked-in sense of pride locals carry in our hearts, as if we’d built this city ourselves. I suppose in some ways, we did.
In the City of Good Neighbors, this sentiment imparts a kind of ownership among its residents that most often takes the form of charity and hospitality expressed toward strangers and friends alike.
I’ve been fortunate to tour a hundred or so visitors through the Queen City’s urban core. On each occasion, I am filled with quiet gratification when eyes widen at the unexpected: the tucked-away and beautiful Wilkeson Pointe, downtown’s jaw-dropping architecture, the East and West Sides’ lush urban farms, a massive room in a century-old building flanked with 30+ Clyfford Still’s, or any of the sumptuous meals found within our independent restaurants.
Though there are myriad ways in which to experience it, I am going to share my Buffalo with you. From the lowbrow to the highbrow, the modern to the historic. For me, this version is as familiar as an old pair of jeans and yet manages to thrill me anew with the turning of each season.
I hope you’re hungry.
3pm to 5pm: Art sets us apart
Surprising to many, the Nickel City boasts a massive collection of some of the world’s best and most recognizable contemporary art. Its crown jewel, the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, is currently being expanded and reimagined and will re-open in spring 2023 as the Buffalo AKG Art Museum. In the meantime, rest assured, there is no shortage of art to view.
First stop, the Burchfield Penney. It’s named in part for Charles E. Burchfield, the renowned twentieth-century painter who spent much of his life in Buffalo. Burchfield’s work is woven with transcendental flights of fancy as well as more traditional landscapes and street scenes. BPAC is a collection of galleries housed within a single building. It carries the largest public collection of Burchfield’s work and a facsimile of his studio. As such, there’s never a time when some of his paintings aren’t on display, but other shows are always up as well. In recent years, this institution’s exhibitions have rivaled those of a much larger museum. Using an interplay of pieces from its archives, works by local artists, and select items on loan, it stages exhibits that are often immersive, savvy, and memorable.
Head three miles down Delaware Avenue and you’ll find Hallwalls, one of the most exciting and venerable art institutions in town. Tucked behind a marvelous performance hall in an old church, Hallwalls was founded in 1974 by a group of art students, including Guggenheim and McArthur fellow Cindy Sherman, the multifaceted artist Robert Longo, and Guggenheim fellow Charles Clough, among others. Created by artists, the organization has always put them first in significant ways. The intimate gallery stages engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions. Rooms dedicated to live niche musical performances and the screening of unusual, notable films are located downstairs.
Dinner and Drinks
6:30pm to 7:30pm: Lucky you, it’s happy hour!
Check into your hotel or rental, change for dinner, and head over to Lucky Day. Built around the turn of the last century as a freemason’s temple, its sexy, dark atmosphere and curated ornamentation collude to create an ideal backdrop for a radiant selection of spirits and a beautiful, polished bar. Lucky Day is an excellent spot for those who enjoy classic cocktails. Its strict adherence to standards, sans fluff, is refreshing. A wide variety of whiskeys serve as its backbone, but don’t let that deter you if you’re not a fan of the brown stuff; a broad range of spirits, beer and wine are available. Barkeeps here are friendly without being invasive, making it easy to pull up a stool whether you’re alone or with others.
7:30pm to 9:30pm: Save room for dessert!
Three seasons a year you can easily walk the quarter-mile to Marble + Rye from Lucky Day, even in heels. The restaurant is modern and highly Instagrammable, but you’ll forget to take pictures once the drinks and food begin to arrive. Bar manager Megan Lee offers one of the most nuanced, intellectual, and vibrant cocktail menus I’ve ever seen, underpinned by an informed and food-friendly wine list. Fare is hyperlocal, made from scratch and consistently delicious. The menu reads simply, but anything served by chef and owner Michael Dimmer is run through an intense series of trials before being released into the wild, so order from the modest menu with confidence. Whatever you do, save room for sweets! Often a half-hearted effort in a small chef-owned restaurant (for reasons too complex to explain here), the dessert portion of the M&R menu never disappoints.
When you’re done, before heading back to your room, consider staying for a drink and fun chatter at the M&R bar, or pop by the beautifully-lit Roosevelt Plaza for a nightcap at Graylynn or Fattey Beer Company.
Here are two morning options: One for early birds and the second for sleeper-inners. No matter which version of this leg you settle upon, be sure to fuel up for the afternoon’s events.
8am to 11am: No worms, but lots of other stuff
Early birds will want to seize the chance to stroll through one of Buffalo’s many bustling farmers markets. But first, grab coffee and a satisfying breakfast to-go at Remedy House in the city’s burgeoning Five Points neighborhood. This wedge-shaped cafe has superb breakfast sandwiches and its house roasted coffee and various brewing techniques are on point.
Other tasty treats in this adorable neighborhood include the killer cinnamon rolls and apple cake baked fresh each day within the quirky and comfortable environs of Five Points Bakery. And we mustn’t forget Butter Block, the precision-driven bakery crafting the best viennoiserie in the area.
Now that you’ve had coffee and breakfast, head a few blocks north to the Elmwood Village Farmers Market. Diehard locavores, chefs and homecooks come early while the best specialty produce and highly-coveted prepared goods are still in stock. This market has strict rules for vendors; everything must be handmade or grown locally, and most everything is markedly extraordinary.
After they’ve shopped and snacked at EVFM, market fans tend to swing by West Side Tilth, just to round out their haul. This small urban farm hosts its own multi-vendor market on Saturdays. You’ll notice other shoppers swarming in front of its pop-up brick oven pizza stand, which serves well-made pies dressed in local ingredients. An off-the-radar (but no less popular) stop in the vicinity you won’t want to miss is The Farm Shop. It’s one brilliant dairy farmer’s workaround for getting the best local food to locals. There are lots of good things here, including the people.
If you’re not in the market for raw goods and feel the urge to leave the Elmwood market after a quick look-and-see, there’s plenty to explore within this part of the Elmwood Village. You’re also a short jaunt from the very walkable Hoyt Lake portion of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park, which is ideal if you’d rather soak in some nature, jog a little, or spread a blanket out and read.
10am to noon: Sleepyheads, unite!
Late risers, aren’t you glad you thought ahead and booked a table for brunch at Waxlight Bar à Vin? At this time of day the sun streams through the restaurant’s large windows, creating a lovely contrast to the dining room’s midnight-colored walls and luxe jewel-toned furnishings. Owned and operated by five of the region’s most respected restaurant professionals, everything here is a bit of a chef’s whimsy—in all the best ways. The menu rotates weekly, a synthesis of skills and personal penchants from two of the city’s most respected chefs. The wine list, curated by sommelier Jess Forster, is a wild and brainy ride, with a cocktail program to match from its heralded bar team.
After you’ve had your fill, exit via the restaurant’s double doors for a stroll through the quaint Chandler Street Market. It’s likely a beautiful day outside, and the ghost kitchens and artisan production facilities housed within the neighborhood’s food hub assemble here each Saturday.
If you have access to a fridge or are somehow miraculously still hungry, Southern Junction’s Saturday stall is very worthy of your attention. This one-of-kind barbecue spot is the brainchild of Ryan Fernandez, a Texan with South Indian ancestry who knows his way around a smoker. Many of the items require you to place an order a day or two ahead, but on Saturdays the Junction opens a stand at the Chandler Street Market, right outside its kitchen. Southern Junction’s brisket is the brisket all the other brisket wishes it could be. Don’t believe me? Ryan’s masterful take has even drawn national foodie attention from Munchies. And don’t overlook the sides, which are often familiar dishes infused with Indian flavor profiles and spices. At my house we order pans of Ryan’s cardamom-infused cornbread and fight over who will have the last square. We are such fans that this year I’m having it in place of a birthday cake.
Taking in the Rust Belt’s industrial beauty
Risers of both the early and late variety will easily find an adventure to suit them at Silo City, a collection of grain elevators and, well, silos, along Buffalo’s waterfront. Stewarded by Rick Smith and his team, after decades of being dismissed as an eyesore, the towering industrial buildings have become an eye-popping and cherished addition to the city’s landscape. See the silos from an unusual perspective in a kayak, scale them to their uppermost reaches, explore the buildings’ inner workings on foot or take in the sprawling campus from a boat on the river. Silo City furnishes observers with breathtaking views from any angle, and its fascinating history imparts perspective regarding man’s industriousness, ingenuity and foresight.
Duende (a Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion) is located on the grounds of Silo City. It’s a neat place for anyone to visit, not just those interested in touring the silos. Its concise menu is more than capable of slaking your thirst or quelling your hunger. Those who love it appreciate this, but are also fans of its unique atmosphere, fascinating decor, and a genre-spanning calendar of live music acts, including jazz, Americana, folk, country, roots rock and more.
Dip your toe in Buffalo’s ocean of architectural gems
Nestled into a quiet neighborhood in the city’s pastoral, tree-lined Parkside neighborhood, visitors will find the Martin House. You may not know this, but Buffalo was recognized by Architectural Digest for its plethora of Frank Lloyd Wright originals; the Martin House is one of the few that’s open to the general public. Delve into its history, feats of engineering, and stunning details with a docent, or on your own, using the organization’s audio tour option. I highly suggest booking a tour with a guide if you’re not familiar with the famed architect. Overall, I find the Martin House a serene experience, but also one that is inspiring and intriguing. I hope you do, too.
Suggestion: Head back to your lodging to rest and refresh before dinner. With a 4am last call, any self-respecting Buffalonian wouldn’t be seen in a bar for drinks before 10pm, so a nap is in order.
7pm: Small plates, big experience
North Buffalo is a sweet little neighborhood. Once decidedly old school Italian, today it’s bursting at the seams with 2-kids/2-cars folks. The Little Club is our destination tonight, a congenial place to meet people of all ages, discover new wines, and enjoy a menu of delectable small plates. There are a few entrees as well, if you’re traveling with a linebacker who can’t be convinced he’d be satisfied otherwise. Owners Tommy and Mary Lombardo are Buffalo restaurant royalty and this little spot is their shared vision. It’s flush with amazing food and drink and offers guests understated sophistication stitched with a warm, familial vibe.
Allentown is the place to be after dark. This bohemian, artsy neighborhood is a registered National Historic District known for embracing quirk, culture, and anything offbeat. First find parking and undertake the rest of the journey on foot. Buffalo 101 requires that you visit old haunts like the dog-eared music venue Nietzsche’s, and one of the greatest dive bars of all time, known to locals as the Old Pink (which may have a fancy new floor but still has the best steak sandwich ever). Newer additions to the neighborhood that always please include the woman-owned and totally fabulous Casa Azul, the beloved wasteland known as Frizzy’s, and the reinvigorated Colter Bay. Loosen up and you’ll have the time of your life. Buffalonianas customarily welcome out-of-towners with a convivial big-heartedness—and shots!
Suggestion: A reminder to heed my warning about arriving early at a bar (that’s not also a sit-down restaurant) and expecting to find a scene: In Buffalo, even 10pm is toeing the line.
Sunday morning will never be the same
Tip: We’re Sunday-ing in choose-your-own-adventure-style. People either love or hate brunch, so lovers can focus on Option One. Option Two is for “been there, ate that” people, though either option offers notable dining experiences.
Option One: Brunch bunch
At Toutant, Louisiana native and chef James Roberts shares his low country version of Sunday breakfast with items such as homey shrimp and grits, hearty biscuits and gravy, frozen daiquiris and hot mugs of chicory-scented coffee. Best known for its fried chicken dinner (also available at brunch), Toutant’s pastry program is the restaurant’s unsung hero. This really shines during daylight hours with its outrageous cinnamon roll, a sweet undertaking best shared by the table at the top of the meal.
In the suburb of Williamsville, Britesmith Brewing offers one of the most popular brunches in the region. We promise it will be worth it, but you’ll want to arrive early and should expect to wait for a table. The brew pub is picturesque, its roughhewn decor a contrast to its sun shot dining room perched over the rushing creek that feeds Glen Falls. But unlike most scenic spots, the food here is better than the view. Chef and partner Ross Warhol uses the imported Italian wood fired oven to turn out a range of baked goods, from delicious savory pizzas to hot English muffins. A rotating breakfast sandwich features seasonal flavor profiles and the other offerings—from deviled eggs, a fried chicken sandwich, lobster roll, hash and eggs, nachos and big salads—offer something for everyone.
Option Two: Buffalo classics
If regional foods are your jam, look no further. You didn’t think we’d go all weekend without diving into any of the specialties so diligently cataloged in Buffalo Everything, did you?
Kelly’s Korner is located near the outermost lip of North Buffalo and the city’s first-ring of suburbs. It’s a regulars’ joint, for sure. Just remember it’s cash only and don’t make a big hoopla over anything and you’ll be fine. The beef on ‘weck at Kelly’s is one of the most underrated in town; the wings are also within reach of perfection. While there aren’t fancy beers, the menu is best paired with a pilsner or lager, so get over yourself. Fried bologna sandwiches, housemade chili, kielbasa on a roll, and other longtime local staples will beckon to you from the board of specials. Order whatever you’d like, but please do this old girl a favor and don’t succumb to wings served in any manner but as god intended: with Frank’s and butter at the heat level of your liking.
Otherwise you might as well be eating wings in Alaska.
One for the road
King Condrell’s is one of several revered vintage ice cream/chocolate shops in the area. If you want to sample sponge candy or take some home to friends, now’s your chance. If you somehow have room for ice cream after Kelly’s or brunch at Toutant, the Buster Brown with French chocolate sauce and roasted almonds is my favorite (though I always sub coffee ice cream for balance). The shop’s warm caramel syrup wins hearts, too. While the menu boasts an abundance of frosty concoctions from which to choose, the outrageous specials, such as the Kitchen Sink Sundae (16 scoops!) and Maximum Brain Freeze, are something to see (and share).
We hope to see you soon!
Thank you for planning a visit to Buffalo! Visitors are our favorite thing, besides food, sports, and (in case you haven’t noticed) celebratory drinking. Fortunately for you, we have plenty of those things, but also many other unique places, stories, and ideas to discover.
One last tip: While here in the City of Good Neighbors, you shouldn’t feel anxious about asking anyone for directions or recommendations, making friends with your bartender or sharing small talk with the table next to yours. Don’t be alarmed when someone you’ve just barely met invites you over for dinner or wants to buy you a drink. It’s how we roll.
• • •
A Seattle native who moved to Buffalo in her 20s, Christa has spent most of her career as a writer and editor at various Buffalo publications, though she may be best known for the creation of Nickel City Chef and her prognostic advocacy of WNY’s farms, farmers markets and the use of local ingredients in restaurants.