The Contender: Buffalo Wing Star

 

Their branding seems to be fighting with itself. Buffalo Wing Star’s website claims they are "the first and only wing restaurant to offer our customers a healthy eating menu." Yet on the north wall of the small fast-casual eatery is a big painting boasting they’re the "Buffalo Fries Creators." Not sure how many antioxidants are in buffalo fries. They do have salads. Doesn’t matter, really, because the pursuit of health is a different life path than the pursuit of wings. 

Buffalo Wing Star feels like a chain. It has the bold, bright marketing of an energy drink, or like a Panera that’s broken with brand protocol and embraced a monster-truck decor sensibility. The owner and his staff handle the counter and the fryers, and they’re very friendly and helpful. They also claim to serve never-frozen wings. That seems to be a constant in the wing world.

The key here is a Mexican-ification of Buffalo-style sauces, including a chipotle, lime-cilantro, and mango-habanero. I acknowledge my potential bias in favor of Buffalo Wing Star, since my palate has been set to Mexican food since my first three-rolled tacos at Alberto’s in the '80s. Predisposed to enjoying their company or not, their Latin variations are very good. The mango-habanero works really well for a few reasons. First, one of food’s all-time combinations is sweet (mango) and heat (habanero). Second, I’ve long considered habanero to have the best flavor of all the world’s most common chiles, bright and floral and almost citrusy. 

The chipotle edges everything out, though. Chipotles, as we know, are merely jalapeños that have been smoked and dried. That taste of smoldering campfire wafts through the hot, buttery-vinegary sauce, giving it a vague sense of slow-cooked barbecue. Plus, anything smoked reminds me a tiny bit of bacon. And "reminders of bacon" is a great title for an autobiography of a life well-lived. Lime with cilantro is a classic flavor combo in Mexican food, but it doesn’t really work in the Buffalo wing sauce, the herb wet and muddled. 

So stick to the mango-habanero and the chipotle. One key piece of advice at Buffalo Wing Star, though—ask for extra sauce, which they were happy to provide. In the original preparation, the wings soak up too much and you can’t tell just how good these sauces are. When you drizzle or dip them, though, that’s where you get find their true gift to the wing world. 

I walk out with an urge to watch X-Games with a 96-pack of Corona. 

 

Buffalo Wing Star, 7621 Linda Vista Rd

 

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