Good news, basketball fans. No matter how your hoop heroes do on the hardwood at First Niagara Center, your eating and drinking fortunes are looking up.
In the four years since the NCAA basketball tournament brought college crowds downtown, several new places have opened. Here’s a guide to some of the best suited to groups looking to enjoy pregame and postgame revelry.
Really, you should get reservations. Especially if you have someplace to be in two hours. If you don’t, refer to the map elsewhere on this page for places within walking distance of the arena.
Plan ahead, and you could end up at one of these:
Osteria 166, 166 Franklin St., 858-3118, osteriabuffalo.com
This Italian newcomer has crowd-pleasing cuisine and welcoming staff, and it’s a stone’s throw from four downtown hotels. Try the risotto cakes, housemade pastas, the “potted pig” pork confit, flatiron pizzas or the house burrata. If you’re interested, call for a reservation now or make one on Open Table, because the Osteria has only 74 seats. There’s a pig roast this weekend, too.
The Lodge, 79 W. Chippewa St., 256-1940, thelodgebuffalo.com
The Lodge opened last year after extensive, stylish renovations, offering the most ambitious cuisine on a street better known for two-for-one shot specials. Wild boar ragout and steak frites are on the menu, as is a warm spinach salad with bacon and egg. The décor in the vast two-story club is antler-intensive. Upstairs is the Arctic Lounge, with cool blue lighting, and a game room with skeeball, pool, darts and bubble hockey.
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 301 Franklin St., 880-1677, dinosaurbarbque.com
After years of unrequited brisket dreams, Buffalo welcomed the Central New York barbecue powerhouse Dinosaur Bar-B-Que to the Theater District last month. The result is a place that’s easy on the eyes and built for the feeding and watering of crowds. Even better, the barbecue’s for real, and the beer list is long. Spare ribs, pulled pork and brisket are good, but even the Lenten fish specials are solid. Televisions are found by the bar, not throughout the restaurant. Make reservations through Open Table.
Tappo, 338 Ellicott St., 259-8130, www.tappoitalian.com
Opened last year, Tappo is a love letter to red-sauce Italian from top Buffalo chef Mike Andrzejewski. It’s the sloppy old favorites done with class, so it’s crispy eggplant Parmesan, not soggy, and beef short ribs make Tappo’s braciole one of the best in town. Nothing on the menu, from lasagna to basil prawn risotto, is more than $18. Then there’s a list of more than 40 bottles of red and white wine that invite discoveries at $15 a throw.
Pan-American Grill & Brewery, 391 Washington St., 856-0062, buffalobrewerydistrict.com/panam
The Lafayette Hotel has been restored to something like its former grandeur, making a stroll through the building an I-can’t-believe-I’m-in-Buffalo affair. Mike A’s is a fine dining establishment with a classic bar serving some of the finest cocktails in town. Butterwood Sweet and Savory offers an eclectic menu, a full bar and extensive desserts. But it’s the Pan-American that’s best suited to the needs of thirsty basketball fans. There’s house-brewed draft in all the hues of the beer rainbow, plus a full bar. Salads, sandwiches, flatbreads and wings will see to your finger food needs. The historical ambiance is free.