Photo via Buffalo Eats, who eats and shoots for all of us.
A reader (or maybe In Beta listener) wrote me an email recently, asking, as politely as possible for an out-of-the blue request, if the only guy he knew in Buffalo could recommend a few places for wings in a town known for them. This happens when you live here.
Here is what I wrote in response, lightly edited, with links added. I figure this is a good thing to post for posterity, so that I might answer with a simple link in the future.
First of all, you got that right: in Buffalo, they are just "wings." I was contacted recently by an out-of-town reporter who wanted to reconnect with "chicken wings." I refrained from mockery, but only just so. Then again, the Buffalo area was her hometown. Perhaps wings are something that drain out of the memory's arteries after some time.
The TV/Wikipedia/history is that the wing was created at the Anchor Bar, on Main St. in Buffalo. The wings there are ... okay. And the origin of the wing there is possibly apocryphal, as wings were very likely eaten by the African-American community here before an Italian-American bar owner claimed them as their own. Go to Anchor Bar for the ambiance and history, or if you're nearby, but do not seek it out for culinary pursuit.
Here, then, is a list of my favorite wings in my town. I don't know where you're going to be in the greater Buffalo region, so I'll widen out a bit. They are in rough order of preference.
Grilled BBQ wings at La Nova (Main St., Williamsville, or W. Ferry St., Buffalo): They are a revelation. BBQ isn't the traditional sauce, but, man, I can put a hurt on a box of these wings. Pizza ain't bad, either.
Gabriel's Gate (Allen St. ["Allentown"], Buffalo): If this is where you happen to be, they are the best wings around. Not a destination spot, but considered by many to be a hidden gem in the art of crispy-skinned wings. They also have their own regionally brewed beer, a brown one. I have a special place in my heart for these wings, because I used to live next door. During the "October Surprise" ice storm, my one section of Allen Street never lost power. I brought my fiancee and a friend there for a dinner of wings, after a long day of hatch-battening, and those wings tasted like victory over nature.
Bar Bill Tavern, Nine-Eleven Tavern (East Aurora, South Buffalo): The Nine-Eleven Tavern just happens to be at that address; it is not named after a national tragedy, naturally. What's really interesting is that Nine-Eleven makes its own wing sauce, and it is different from the standard Frank's Red Hot/butter/spice concoction that has been ably plied everywhere. People have offered the owner lots of money for his recipe, but he has demurred. Bar Bill is another great wing spot, more traditional, and has other good bar foods.
Suicide Wings at Duff's (many locations around area): Like any local spot that has "gotten big," Duff's garners both a lot of praise and a lot of "eh." Duff's in Cheektowaga is where President Obama stopped during a Buffalo visit in 2010. I almost went to that Duff's for lunch with some friends that day, but we went to a different eatery near the airport to watch Air Force One fly in. Anyways. Some would like them meatier, and some laugh at Duff's overplayed "Medium is Hot/Hot is Very Hot" warnings/marketing. But Duff's has good wings, much better than chain restaurants or the Original Home of the Chicken Wing. Duff's wings are served with buckets for bones, and the shoestring fries are hot and tasty, and there are specials involving pitchers of beer, including their own locally brewed stuff that is quite good. The Sheridan/Millersport location in Amherst also has a somewhat bare-bones/college feel, which can be nostalgic and appealing.
Smoked wings at Essex Pub: This is a dive bar. The new-ish owner has started offering foods smoked right in the bar's backyard, and these wings are pretty darned good. Also, really interesting food menu and draft selections.
Buffalo Brewpub (Main St., Clarence/Williamsville): If you can't make any of the other spots, the Brewpub has a huge range of beers, its own beers, and makes a very reliable standard of Buffalo-style wings. Also, free peanuts and popcorn.
Caputi's Sheridan Pub (Sheridan Drive, Kenmore/Tonawanda): The Grilled Cajun BBQ and regular wings are beloved by those who grew up in this particular part of town. Bonus: you order enough wings, and the cook will sometimes separate them into winglets and drumettes (the two common wing types) in different boxes. This may be closer to Niagara Falls than the other options, if that's where you'll likely end up.
I hope that helps. It was kind of cathartic to write.