Q: My wife and I are hosting a dinner out for a couple from Grand Island and a couple from Rochester. We would like suggestions for a restaurant in the city that is off the beaten track a little and is in the medium price range -- so, not the Anchor Bar but not Oliver's.

Everyone is in their late 20s, so a place with some atmosphere would be great, too. Something delicious and "so Buffalo." There are no dietary restrictions.

-- Jack, Buffalo

A: "So Buffalo," huh Jack? I'm guessing, since your friends live close by, you're not referring to our culinary heavyweights -- wings, weck and charcoaled hot dogs. (Not that there's anything wrong with them, I hasten to say. They are a genuine claim to fame.)

Let's concentrate on another Buffalo attraction -- our small, maybe not so fancy-schmanzy restaurants.

Each has its own distinct personality, good food and a welcoming ambience.

Here are a few recommendations, although there are many more.

Have you tried Vino's, a tiny place at Elmwood Avenue? There are white tablecloths and a blackboard menu and, you will not be surprised to hear, an Italian menu. Begin your meal, if you wish, with a Bellini, a bubbly mixture of prosecoo wine and peach juice. Then choose from that small, interesting menu -- Tony cooks from his mother's recipes and the food is hearty.

For dessert, there's a selection of house-baked cakes, all lined up along the bar on domed dishes. Since there are six of you, I'd reserve well in advance.

You want old Buffalo? You can't get any more old Buffalo than Ulrich's Tavern, 674 Ellicott St. in the Buffalo Medical Campus. It is said to be the oldest restaurant in Buffalo -- it opened its doors in 1868. This is a rough and ready welcoming place with a lusty history; it's now owned by the second generation of the Daley family and describes itself as "German restaurant meets Irish pub," thus honoring two of the earliest ethnicities in this area.

The menu is basically German -- sausage, potato pancakes, sauerbraten, liver dumpling soup -- and the beer list is excellent, with much concentration on local brews. There is live entertainment much of the time.

On the other hand, even more casual Dug's Dive in the Small Boat Harbor, 1111 Fuhrmann Blvd., looks old but really isn't. Still, it does have a sense of history, being named for a rough old bar below the Erie Canal towpath where, history tells us, they just, er, escorted obstreperous patrons out the watery front door.

You will stay dry in this new Dug's, however, and though the ambience is informal, you will have plenty of culinary options. Yes, you can get that hot dog, but you can also get Cioppino, a seafood stew, and fried chicken. The restaurant specialty is haddock, which can be ordered several different ways. My favorite is potato crusted.

It's a good starting point if, after dinner, you want to take a walk and enjoy the views of Lake Erie -- which is so Buffalo -- and the downtown skyline.

Next week: Some common restaurant peeves.

Interested in the least expensive way to dine at a high-end restaurant? Want Chinese food that goes above and beyond take-out? Send your questions to longtime News restaurant critic Janice Okun at