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The most ambitious Mexican menu in WNY is at South Buffalo's Valle of Mexico

  Picaditas con carne at Valle of Mexico

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Good news for lovers of authentic Mexican food: a little place on South Park Avenue has a menu listing dozens of Mexican specialties you can't get in Western New York. I went to Valle of Mexico (1586 South Park Ave., 822-8880,, cash only, no credit cards) last night on a scouting mission. (Check out the menu, below.)

First, the good news: Valle of Mexico's kitchen is home to a Mexican cook who has not yet learned that Buffalo will not buy real Mexican food. As such, I think lovers of real Mexican should encourage him to persist in his endeavors, so that his little place gets the chance to grow into a neighborhood favorite.

It could, because it has good stuff: Above is the "picaditas con carne" ($4.95), little discs of corn masa dough topped with refried beans, griddled beef, dry cheese and chile sauce. A terrific snack with just enough heat.

Plus, there are tacos. The menu lists 12 types of tacos at $2.50 a throw, including lengua (tongue), cecina (salted beef) and suadero (brisket), but those were not available. 

We made do with these. Clockwise from the top: carnitas (fried pork), birria (beef in chile sauce), chorizo (chile laced pork sausage) and carne enchilada (chunks of pork in another sauce) and al pastor (pork and pineapple). Al pastor, carnitas, and chorizo were my favorites.

Tacos at Valle of Mexico

The Bad News, Numero Uno: The menu should be considered aspirational, more of a suggestion of what the restaurant might be capable of, its potential. The menu lists 15 tortas, the Mexican sandwiches featuring crusty rolls stuffed with taco meats and other fixings ($6.50). But they didn't have the bread, so no tortas. It lists pork ribs in verde or rojo sauce ($11.95) but it'd take another 30 minutes to get them ready, I was told.

Bad News, Dos, et. al.: The place has been open two weeks. Cash only. Outside we were greeted with a do-it-yourself sign, and an open front door that stayed that way.

Valle of Mexico 1585 Park Ave Buffalo NY

Inside it's been decorated in a Mexican motif since it was El Gran Coqui, but the air is still. So slow that since I was not reviewing the place, I decided not to try any seafood just yet. Service is rudimentary. The meal took over an hour, and we were the only table, and thus had their full attention.

Valle of Mexico interior

That said, there were more moments of wonder. The first sign that the cook has not been to Gringo Mexican U. is the salsa with the complimentary chips. The red isn't tomato-based, it's chile-based, and packs a wallop. The green tomatillo number is somehow even hotter.

Red and green salsa at Valle of Mexico

Besides those picaditas the antojitos (appetizers) section includes huaraches, another topped-masa treat, thinner and bigger. The huarache with egg and meat ($7.95), below, was homey and breakfastlike, with a tangy chile kick.

Huarache with egg and meat at Valle of Mexico

The mole was outstanding, registering bitter notes of chile, chocolate, toasty sesame and dried fruit.

Chicken drumsticks with mole at Valle of Mexico

At $14.95 the chiles rellenos didn't make me happy. Maybe it was the red bell peppers in place of poblanos.

Chilies rellenos at Valle of Mexico

The chicken milanesa ($11.95) looked ragged but was rather tasty, the coating not quite overcooked and the chicken still tender.

Chicken milanesa at Valle of Mexico

So clearly there is a lot to be explored on this menu. I didn't even test the absurdly long list of fruit drinks and other beverages, 16 desserts or the dozen soups on the menu (posole, chilate de pollo, birria de res, mole verde de res, caldo blanco de res, pozole de pollo, etc.) Not to mention consome de chivo (goat soup), barbacoa (braised goat) tamales, a dozen huevos (egg) dishes, fried nopales (cactus) and cebollitas, or green onions.

Half of it won't be available on any one day, and that might be a good thing. Judging from my first glance, there are probably more treasures worth finding here. Let me know if you pick out something terrific, with a picture if you like, at

Here's the menu:

Valle of Mexico menu cover

Valle of Mexico menu reverse

Blood and Sand, offering craft cocktails and 'retold' Buffalo classics menu, to replace Laughlin's

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Blood & Sand LLC has applied for a liquor, wine and beer license for a restaurant at 333 Franklin St. That's Laughlin's, but signs are it won't be for long.

Joshua Miles, the Rochester restaurateur who runs The Revelry with his wife Jenna, said earlier this month that Blood and Sand would have 20-30 bar seats and 50 dining seats.

“We are a cocktail bar with a focus on ways of the past, blended with the new,” he said. The dining menu is going to be “retold classics,” he said, “some of the things we’ve come to love in Western New York as retold by our chef.”

Jon Karel will be one of the owners and run the drinks operation, he said. Karel, a progenitor of Buffalo’s craft cocktail movement at Vera Pizzeria, left last year to be The Revelry’s bar manager.

Miles could not be reached for comment.



South Buffalo's English Pork Pie Co. expects to open fish-and-chips joint next month


By Andrew Z. Galarneau

English food lovers rejoice, for the chippy is at hand.

Damian and Vicky Parker's plans to add an authentic British fish and chips joint to their South Buffalo pie shop (English Pork Pie Co., 1176 South Park Ave., 823-3772) are close to happening, one permit away from reality.

When that permit is secured, fresh-never-frozen fried cod and french fries cut with an authentic British fry die will be piled onto inkless newsprint and handed out to waiting customers, the Parkers said.

Mid-May is the best estimate right now, Damian Parker said. "Everything is ready," he said via email. "We are just waiting on the finishing touches."

Judging from the signs on the wall, there will be a range of pies for sale as well.



Buffalo food truck Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs, finalist in national contest, seeks votes

Franks gourmet hot dogs on buffalo dot com

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs is one of 15 finalists in's voting for Hot Dog Vendor of the Year.

See this page to vote. The polls close on May 2, at midnight Central time.

Frank has been getting some attention for their unusual hot dog combinations, as detailed here on

Frank Gourmet Hot Dogs distinguished itself through toppings during the food truck’s inaugural year, trusting the reliable foundation of the Sahlen’s hot dog and adding unusual complements like blueberry barbecue sauce, Sriracha, guacamole and cream cheese.


Empire Grill closed, owner expects sale of Hertel Avenue restaurant this week

Empire grill

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Empire Grill served its last meal Sunday. Owner Nick Kotrides said he expects to sign a sale contract this week.

He declined to name the buyer. After a 2004 groundbreaking, the two-story restaurant at 1435 Hertel Ave. led a new wave of restaurant openings on the street.

The 25-year veteran of Buffalo restaurants and bars put his three properties up for sale a few months ago. They include Toro Tapas Bar, 492 Elmwood Ave., and Faherty’s, the bar next door where Kotrides started in 1989. “I was shocked at the amount of interest Hertel got as opposed to Elmwood,” he said. “I would have definitely thought it was the other way around.”

He’s trying to sell Toro and Faherty’s together, which explains part of the difference, he said.

While he works on the sale, he’s planning to remodel Faherty’s. It’ll stay a bar, and get some freshening up, without losing its character. “There’s a difference between cleaning it up and changing the personality of the bar,” he said. “The floor can be redone, the stools reupholstered,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re going to turn it into a swanky place. Our motto is. ‘We’re not fancy, we’re Faherty’s,’ and I can’t change that.”

Photo: Buffalo News file


Former Oliver's partners and Ellicott Development plan Elmwood Ave. restaurant, apartments

905 elmwood streetview

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Veteran Buffalo restaurateurs are teaming with Ellicott Development to pursue a restaurant and residential building at 905 Elmwood Ave., presently a gas station.

Henry Gorino, who sold Oliver’s last year, is working on the project with restaurant partner Chuck Mauro and Ellicott Development’s Bill Paladino, according to Mauro.

They’ve made an offer, and are pursuing a mixed-use building that would have a middle-market restaurant on the first floor and apartments on upper floors, Mauro said. The property, at Elmwood and West Delevan, currently holds the Elmwoo-Delevan Food Mart, a convenience store and gas station. 

“We’re going through due diligence right now, so it’s not definite by any stretch of the imagination,” Mauro said. The site has to be assessed for environmental issues because of the gas tanks in the ground, among other potential complications, he said.

It will probably take five or six months of research and evaluation to see if the plan will move forward, he said.

The restaurant would “not be a high-end place, moderately priced,” Mauro said. The menu isn’t being developed yet. “Probably nothing over $30,” Mauro said. “Lunch, dinner, early evening, Sunday brunch.”

“We’re excited, and hope it comes together,” he said. If everything works out, “we are probably looking at summer 2015,” he said.

“We want to be part of the community, and want to be good neighbors, a positive thing in the Elmwood Village,” Mauro said. “We want to do things the right way. When you’re heading south and reach Delevan, there seems to be a divide. We think it’s going to help connect the village, and that’s exciting.”

Photo: Google Street View


Scharf's Schiller Park German restaurant, saved from closing, plans move to West Seneca

Scharf's potato pancakes

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Scharf’s is moving out of Schiller Park. The owner has a deal to buy the Deer Head Inn, in West Seneca, and plans to move his German family restaurant to 2683 Clinton St.

“It’s only five miles from here, so I hope I’ll bring most of my regulars with me,” owner Jerry Scharf said, speaking from his South Crossman Street location. The new place should be open in mid-June, he hopes.

Currently the plan is to stop serving food at Scharf’s Crossman Street location after May 17, he said. He’s waiting for some loan paperwork to clear, but the deal is done, he said.

Scharf’s new dining room is about 50 percent larger than his present space, so he’ll have room for more customers.

“My family is all involved with me now,” Scharf said, and the bigger place can put them to work. After nearly closing two years ago, a resurgence in business gave him the impetus to rethink the restaurant’s future, he said.

The larger property has a patio out back, making a beer garden possible, he said. Menu favorites will stay, a list of German classics including the restaurant's potato pancakes (seen above in a Buffalo News photo). Additions may include a late-night menu to draw a bigger bar crowd. There’s a grill, too, so steaks will probably be added to the menu.

(Hat tip to Joseph Readl.)


Mercado moves within striking distance of Indiegogo goal

Unlike its monthlong Kickstarter campaign that fell well short of its $150,000 goal, Mercado has raised more than $63,000 toward its new $70,000 objective in fewer than 10 days.

According to the fundraiser page for Mercado, which intends to be a "revolutionary" market headlined by nationally acclaimed chef Scott Kollig and supported by hand-picked vendors such as Lloyd Taco Trucks, the initiative remains $6,709 short of its goal with less than two days to go.

Reaching the financial goal isn't of paramount importance with this Indiegogo campaign, however, as Mercado will keep the money raised regardless of whether $70,000 is eclipsed by 11:59 p.m. on April 16 -  the chief difference between the Kickstarter and Indiegogo platforms.

As News Food Editor Andrew Galarneau explained earlier this month, Mercado - the brainchild of Jeremy Horwitz, a former Buffalo food blogger - will use the crowd-sourced money as "seed money" that will be pooled together with sums from other sources to satisfy the project's total cost, which Mercado publicist Nanette Tramont expects to range between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Major questions remain unanswered, though, which lends intrigue to the closing days of the campaign.

Will the local vendors remain as eager to be involved once the second fundraiser concludes? Will Mercado scale down its project since raising the original goal of $150,000 appears unattainable?

- Ben Tsujimoto


Brodo restaurant, a soup star on Main St. in Snyder, closes for good

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Brodo has closed. 

The restaurant, at 4548 Main St. in Snyder, was known for its soup offerings.

Owner Elaine Greco said she was retiring to spend more time with her family. She offered her loyal patrons her sincere thanks.


Black Swan, replacing Cozumel, bringing modern lounge setting to Elmwood Ave. this summer

By Andrew Z. Galarneau

Black Swan, the restaurant replacing Cozumel, plans to open this summer with a sophisticated lounge-style place with small plates and craft cocktails.

Owners Monique Fortunato-Lester and husband Bryan Lester, a partner at Vera Pizzeria, are busy working out the details at 153 Elmwood Ave. “We’re hoping to be open by July or August, mid- to late summer,” she said.

“We’re creating a place for the young professional population of Buffalo to dine and drink, Fortunato-Lester said. “My husband and I travel a lot, and we’ve noticed that this whole lounge philosophy is really big in places like New York, Chicago, Toronto, and there’s nothing like it in Buffalo right now.”

What’s the lounge philosophy? “What we want to do is create a place that’s really relaxing, chic, and modern, where you can sit back on a comfortable couch and enjoy a cocktail,” she said. Black Swan will be putting comfortable outdoor furniture on its spacious patio, Fortunato-Lester said.

It’ll seat about 40 in the lounge, 15 at high tables in the bar area, and another 12 at bar.

At present the menu includes small plates and gourmet bites.  They’re not sure about full entrees. They’re poring over every detail, she said. “Our couches are going to be custom made for comfort and style.”

Fortunato-Lester said Black Swan will aim to fill a gap in the city's restaurant offerings. “There’s really no place in Buffalo where you can go and kick back in a lounge setting and enjoy gourmet food and craft cocktails like that.”


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