Buffalo, NY - November 2015
Everyone in my family has lived a good chunk of their lives in Western NY except for me. They can all discuss things like "white hots" or pronounce Native American names like Cheektowaga and Lackawanna without the slightest pause. A divide remains, however, as to whether it's "soda" or "pop."
We head up to Buffalo at least once a year to spend a holiday with my sister, my brother in law, and my redheaded niece and nephew. This year it was for Thanksgiving and while there was turkey and stuffing galore, we prioritized trips to Paula's and Ted's since hot dogs > turkey breast.
I love the food and culture of Buffalo so much. There is absolutely ZERO pretense in this town. Hipster yogi moms cohabitate alongside dudes in pickup trucks who live and die by the Sabres. Everyone thinks they're better than the Canadians. Everyone calls them "chicken wings;" only tourists say "Buffalo wings." Though the population declined a bunch after the industrial boom, folks are working to restore it into a vibrant, textured city, one that I love to visit (even if I do technically spend most of my time in a suburb).
Take an hour flight up there this spring or summer. AirBNBs are plentiful and Buffalo's architecture is stunning. Average families can afford huge homes with wrap-around porches on adorable streets, so take advantage of those. Visit the canal, for sure, as well as the downtown area (architechture!). Then, spend time in cute villages like Elmwood where you can find boutiques and farmer's markets or Parkside where you can visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House Complex. And of course go to Niagara Falls!
As for the food, find a few of my (and my family's) favorites below.
Paula's Donuts: One time I went here and asked for iced coffee. They actually didn't know what I was talking about. That's because you go to Paula's for treats so sweet your teeth ache and hot filter coffee to wash it down, damnit. I pretty much always fall for the donut that's the size of a New York bagel, filled with fluffy vanilla frosting and covered in sweetened coconut. Or I get the peanut stick. Or, ooh! The jelly donut, with that classic, seedless raspberry jelly. At Thanksgiving, we bought a dozen for a donut-loving family of eight. It took us 3 days to finish them. They're huuuge and they taste like America.
Charlie the Butcher: Another nostalgic family spot, Charlie the Butcher is where you should go to try another Buffalo specialty--beef on 'weck. Weck is short for "kummelweck," the roll that the sandwich gets served on. Chunks of salt and caraway seeds bespeckle the roll that then gets stuffed with roast beef and served with au jus and horseradish to pile on top. Make sure you read up on how to eat the sandwich before you arrive.
Gabriel's Gate: You can get wings everywhere in Buffalo. Actually, if you order chicken fingers at a restaurant, you have to specify that you don't want them doused in firey orange sauce because that's the standard. If you're looking for the best wings though (a hotly debated topic), Candice says Gabriel's Gate gets her vote.
Ted's Hot Dogs: This spot feels straight out of an era when Buicks roared down route 66 and a bunch of different fast food joints were still in the running in a race against Burger Kings and Big Macs. Ted's has burgers and fries, but the grilled hot dogs is where it's at. You can get them topped with anything from pickles and onions to bacon and chili. Also make sure to get a loganberry soda--a very Western New York treat.
Polish Villa 2: Buffalo's sizable Polish population brought their delicacies and traditions to the city and they stuck around big time. You can attend the annual Dyngus Day where kids chase each other with pussy willow branches. You can also get killer pierogies year-round (and again, almost everywhere). But the best ones can be found at Polish Villa 2.