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Andrew Galarneau's favorite restaurants of 2021

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Bacchus potato skins

The potato skins small plate at Bacchus, which makes Andrew Galarneau's list, features gorgonzola and crispy prosciutto.

After grazing across Western New York’s fertile culinary fields throughout 2021, it’s safe to say there are hundreds of praiseworthy places.

Here are the places that stood tallest in my eyes during the most challenging restaurant weather in memory, a baker’s dozen presented in alphabetical order:

Bacchus, 56 W. Chippewa St., remains a reliable bastion of fine dining in an uncertain world. Chef-owner Brian Mietus has kept a core crew, presenting a slate of standards enlivened with the touches of sous chef Soichiro Kimura and a deep wine list. Highlights include the luxe “potato skins,” grilled octopus with pomegranate soy, and duck with tamarind jus.

Carmelo's pastas

Clockwise from top: lumache with shrimp in vodka sauce, rigatoni with Bolognese, linguine with pesto and asparagus, at Carmelo's.

Carmelo’s Coat of Arms, 425 Center St., Lewiston, offers deft dishes and pitch-perfect housemade pastas in a serene setting often overlooked by people who forget Carmelo Raimondi’s stove is only about a 30-minute drive from Buffalo City Hall. Get the calamari salad with smoked peanuts, housemade lumache alla vodka with shrimp, or the five-spice duck with chard and pickled green tomato.

Chicken schnitzel at Falafel Bar

Falafel Bar's schnitzel is a sesame seed-crusted chicken cutlet with chopped salad and a choice of starch.

Falafel Bar, 3545 Sheridan Drive, Amherst. To a devastatingly effective menu of vegan, vegetarian and carnivore-pleasers from the Middle East and Mediterranean, Oded Rauvenpoor has added the only kachapuri, the Georgian cheesy breakfast pizza-cousin, in Western New York, at Sunday brunch. Chicken schnitzel, charred eggplant with tahini, and the sabih wrap (fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, hummus, salad, and the Iraqi mango hot sauce called amba) are key.

Confit potato pizza at The Grange Community Kitchen

The confit potato pizza is made with Calabrian chili cream, smoked caciocavallo, pecorino, roasted onion, rosemary and salt.

Grange Community Kitchen, 22 Main St., Hamburg. Brad Rowell and crew show what an all-day restaurant can accomplish. First-class pastry and bespoke breakfast sandwiches, then fresh hummus and baked-to-order bread for lunch. Blistered Neapolitan-style pizzas, entrees like chipotle-glazed Erba Verde chicken breast with farro verde and labneh and stunning desserts that are so much more than eye candy win the night.

Nellai Banana Leaf tandoori chicken

A whole tandoori chicken at Nellai Banana Leaf. 

Nellai Banana Leaf, 4303 Transit Road, Clarence. I’ll be the first to admit that service can be pokey. Yet once the plates start arriving, all is forgiven, since the Chettinad Indian restaurant nails the flavors and textures that have thrilled both tables full of vegans (with ennai kathirikkai, spice-stuffed eggplant simmered in tamarind garlic gravy, or chili parotta, wok-fired smoky-spicy croutons) and bone-chewers (juicy tandoori chicken, or Malabar fish curry).

Oliver's 'Decadence of Egg'

Oliver's first course is the Decadence of Egg.

Oliver’s, 2095 Delaware Ave., keeps the grand tradition going, with season-shifting specials and a blend of sentimental favorites like the spinach garlic bread, along with show-stopping desserts that taste as good as they look on Instagram. Housemade strozzapreti pasta with pancetta and mushroom cream, confit octopus with nduja vinaigrette, and Ross Warhol’s Decadence of Egg are especially lovely.

Chicken sausage at Prescott's Provisions

The wood-roasted chicken sausage comes with Anson Mills heirloom polenta, giardiniera and chile vinaigrette. 

Prescott’s Provisions, 40 E. Niagara St., Tonawanda, has earned its spot on my short list for effective splurge night dining. From popovers with prosciutto to one of the best steaks in town, Vinny Thompson and his crew have gotten the range, and are firing at will. The Brussels sprouts with bacon and pickled mustard seed, grilled chicken sausage with giardiniera and polenta, and gnocchetti with wild boar ragu loom large.

Brisket with all the fixins at Southern Junction

A Creekstone Farms brisket, fresh out of the smoker, on the carving board at Southern Junction, with sides, from left: curried chickpeas, biryani rice, white cheddar/serrano mac-and-cheese, brisket beans, sweet pickled onions and hot links.

Southern Junction, 27 Chandler St. Ryan Fernandez has extended the menu and hours of his groundbreaking fusion of Texas barbecue and Keralan Indian influences. There’s no dining room, but people line up to carry away the best barbecued brisket in town, smoked fried cauliflower, and cherry-smoked chicken bathed in spiced coconut oil, curry leaves and caramelized onion.

Taqueria Los Mayas' tacos make the world go round

Taqueria los Mayas tacos on housemade corn tortillas, clockwise from 11 o'clock: (pescado) tilapia with avocado and chipotle sauces; chorizo and tripe; steak; birria beef and chicken; shrimp with sautéed onions and chipotle sauce; potato and cactus (nopales); corn-mushroom-zucchini, chile-marinated pork with pineapple (al pastor). 

Taqueria los Mayas, 3525 Genesee St., Cheektowaga, has kept its momentum of Mexican excellence going throughout the year, remaining so busy that the only way to get guaranteed takeout is ordering in person. Birria tacos con consommé, griddled mini-quesadillas meant for dipping in intense beef broth, sausage-powered choriqueso made with real cheese, and the Los Cuates burrito duo in housemade rojo and verde sauces get me every time.

The Little Club, 1197 Hertel Ave., is a restaurant, not a wine bar, across the street from its parent, Ristorante Lombardo. It changed the way I thought about cabbage, broadened my notion of panna cotta, and made me wonder why there is so many lame chicken entrées elsewhere. Michael Giambra’s coq au vin – bronzed skin, lush meat, bolstered in mushroom crema and roasted radishes for the winter – is the chicken that made me cross the road.

Toutant shrimp po'boy

The shrimp po’boy at Toutant. 

Toutant, 437 Ellicott St., remains a one-stop-shop to browse Southern-focused regional American cuisine and locally inspired specials. Detail work like making their own po’boy rolls puts James Roberts’ flagship on the high satisfaction list for most visitors. So get the shrimp po’boy, the barbecue of the week, and the fried chicken with collard greens. But save room for ooey gooey cake with brown butter ice cream.

Spanish anchovy on pan tomate at Waxlight Bar a Vin

Spanish white anchovy on crispy brioche with charred eggplant, roasted pepper and bronzed fennel at Waxlight Bar a Vin. 

Waxlight Bar a Vin, 27 Chandler St., consistently thrills with imaginative but effective cuisine, with a first-class drinks program from big-bucks wine to housemade non-alcoholic sodas. Try a gaggle of sub-$10 tapas like chicken-fried liver-stuffed olives, smoked pork rillette finger sandwiches, or kohlrabi tacos. Or go big with plates like aged Always Something Farm pork chop with cauliflower couscous and brown butter.

Fried bologna sandwich at Wiechec's Lounge

Fried bologna sandwich at Wiechec's Lounge comes with a pickle spear.

Wiechec’s, 1748 Clinton St., is the last on this list, due to its name, but it’s the first if ranked by sheer value. Add the fact that it makes me feel like I’m tapping into Buffalo’s eating history, enjoying the soups, sandwiches, and daily specials that would have thrilled my grandparents as well. Liverwurst, fried bologna, daily soups like taco and chicken, and the beer-battered fried chicken sandwich with honey mustard extend its reputation far past the fish fry.

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