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  • Lisa7367

Seven of Buffalo's Best Italian Restaurants - My Experience!

The 31 Club, 2020

I'm not an expert on Italian food but I like to think I know a little bit about it since my earliest childhood experiences were often spent in the kitchen with my Italian and Sicilian grandmothers, and I have eaten hundreds of homemade meals with my family in Sicily and at restaurants, during my five trips to Italy and Sicily within the past 10 years.

One of my earliest memories is when I was about five years old, being in the kitchen with my maternal grandmother as she was making a big pot of lentil soup called "Manasta" while the music of Jimmy Roselli played in the background and her giving me a bowl of it when it was done, before the rest of the family arrived to eat. Then Sunday afternoons at my paternal great-grandmother's house where I spent most of my time in the kitchen watching her prepare her signature Sicilian sauce then spending hours at the kitchen table eating with my family. The first Italian word I learned from her was "mangia!" I didn't know it then but I was being groomed to make sauce, everything from her making sure I followed her to the backyard garden to pick the tomatoes, to letting me stand on a stool near the stove so I could stir the sauce. Oh, the comfort of it all!

So, with a bit of authentic experience, here's my favorite Italian restaurants in Buffalo where I have dined more than once.

Sinatra's Restaurant, 2017

1) SINATRA'S RESTAURANT - Among the traditional Italian, you will find southern Italian and Sicilian specialities including the founder's (John Sinatra, Sr.) family recipes, handed down from generations, from Vallelunga Pratameno, Sicily (the same town where my great-grandmother was born and where I have visited my extended family many times).

I have dined here over 30 times and most every time, I get the same thing: the Chicken Milanese Dinner which includes a generous portion of three chicklen cutlets, a heaping side of burrata cheese, a side of pasta (they can accommodate gluten-free) and a salad. I have also had several of the appetizers here: arancini, artichoke francese and stuffed peppers.

The food and service is always consistently very good. I understand the need for the expansion to the larger location on Kenmore Ave. but I do miss the coziness of the smaller original restaurant that was across the street.

2) THE 31 CLUB (reopens March 4) - "Award-Winning Ricotta Meatballs" here (photo above)! They took FIRST PLACE in Buffalo's Meatball Brawl; this is enough of a reason to go! But, there's so much more....a variety of Italian-inspired appetizers, stone-fired pizzas and dinners including chicken or veal which can be made three different ways (milanese, parmigiana, or vodka sauce), steaks, seafood and new homemade pasta dishes. There's also a great Sunday Brunch which features Italian Giambotta (pronounced Gee-M-Bought-AH) on the menu. Don't you dare misprounce that!

A swanky supper club atmosphere, it's the perfect place for a date night or just a weekend out with friends. There's also separate dining areas, and the "Wine & Dine" is both a romantic setting and great if you would like more of a private dining experience for special occasions. For more information on private parties, call 716.332.3131.

Self-disclosure, I work here part-time (the food photography and you'll often see me at the door when you check in for your reservation) and the great thing about that too, is I have tried so much of the food. I can't get enough of the Caesar Salad!

Ristorante Lombardo, 2021

3) RISTORANTE LOMBARDO - Old-world Italian with seasonal menus, I dined here very recently with a friend. We split the crab cakes for an appetizer (on their regular menu) and for dinner, we each had the Halibut with risotto (shown in the photo here), which was one of the specials that night.

For dessert, we split the Chocolate Creme Brulee which I also recommend! Everything was cooked to perfection and was delicious. I'm hoping that the the Halibut entree makes it to the regular menu. They have a gluten-free menu too, and the entire menu is now paperless as we conveniently called it up on our iphones via the QR code provided.

4) FRANKIE PRIMO'S +39 - This place reminds me of some of the trattoria's I've been to in the busy areas in Rome and Palermo. Think rustic trattoria meets hipster weekend crowd meets traditional family recipes of appetizers, salads, pasta, pizzas, and more. They also do Sunday Brunch. One of the few places I can find arancini similar to that I've had countless times in Sicily and hear Italian music when I'm dining.

I've had several of the salads including the "Casa Pasquale" noted on the menu as "a different take on Caesar," and the "Finnocchio e Rucola" (fennel, argula, orange & grapefruit, precorino romano and lemon vinaigrette). I had a similar salad in Rome. You can add chicken, shrimp or steak to any salad.

Patio is always full on summer weekends. At the end of each meal, they serve Giuggiulena (sesame seed) cookies, which every single time, takes me back to the memories of my Nonna's kitchen when these cookies were served after almost every lunch and dinner.

5) MARCO'S RESTAURANT - Since I was a little kid, I have been eating at this Niagara St. location when it was both the Fargo Grill and Darone's. I have some really great memories eating here with my family. One of the last dinners I had out with my Dad before he passed away was at Marco's when he ate his favorite dish here - the Veal Marsala. Now, I eat here at least a few times a year with my mother, and recently we had take-out when I orderd (again) the Chicken Cutlet Sandwich served with a mixed salad. Soooo goood!

Full menu of chicken, veal, and eggplant dinners, cooked a variety of ways, pasta and the signature "Sangwiches." Many of my family members come here for the pasta fagioli too. You have probably seen Chef Marco's cooking demos at the Italian Festival in the past, and a few years ago he gave me the opportunity to put up many of my large photos of Italy and Sicily. Thanks again for this!

6) Speaking of pasta fagioli, I go to SANTASIERO'S on Niagara St. for that. First because, it tastes like my grandmother's (I think she may have cooked here too a long time ago), I take comfort in this meal that I have been eating my entire life and, I enjoy the nostaglic of it all. One of the oldest restaurants in Buffalo, it's been here for almost 100 years. Every time I step into this place, I time travel back into another era but more importantly, I cannot count how many meals and special conversations I had here with my father when he was alive. The prices are old-school too and the menu on the wall - so classic but ever so practical today in these times. No website but a Facebook page.

7) TRATTORIA AROMA - I have mostly been to the Bryant St. Elmwood Village location and once at the Main St. location. I love the "Beet & Burrata Salad" and the "Insalata Griglia." One of the best speciality pizzas, ever - the "Barese" (chicken, spinach, asiago, carmelized onion, Extra Virgin Olive Oil). I ate almost the entire pizza myself. Homemade pasta, meat dishes and Sunday Brunch also served here.

As many restaurants reopen after a Covid shutdown, let's give our support, and with Valentine's Day Sunday, it's the perfect opportunity! Check websites for hours and Covid safety protocals.

Follow my food and other adventures on instagram at lisasjourney7.

Food photography at

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