Chef’s feels like a Buffalo museum. It displays photos of local news anchors and politicians as well as headshots from touring musicians who have stopped by for dinner. It could be just a well-worn Italian-American diner house, but the little eccentric touches that the restaurant has picked up over the last century make it memorable.
Chef’s has been around since 1923. The current iteration is Lou Billittier’s. He started as a dishwasher in 1941, worked his way up to manage the place, and eventually bought it. Under Lou’s direction the menu and dinning room expanded greatly. Now Lou Jr. is in charge.
The most notable thing about Chef’s is its signature dish, Spaghetti Parmesan. It’s a local peculiarity that would make Italian nationals and probably even some folks in New Jersey roll their eyes. It’s a heap of pasta tossed in about equal parts butter and red sauce, and then completely blanketed with mozzarella cheese, and finally broiled. The result is very buttery, very cheesy pasta that sticks to the plate and to your ribs. Because many find the sauce lacking, a side of marinara comes standard for dunking. Meatballs can also be added as well, and they’re well worth adding.
The genius of the dish is that the insulation of cheese helps the pasta quickly absorb sauce as it broils without burning on top. It comes in three sizes, all of them too big for us. The largest size is named for Buffalo Bills hero, Bruce Smith, who ate it weekly during the football season. We wonder if Buffalo’s Super Bowl fortunes might have changed in the 90s if the games were played here.
If you don’t want a giant plate of pasta and cheese, Chef’s other Italian classics all have local fans. Boneless chicken cacciatora has a sauce that is a tad sweet, sure, but that only makes it more old-timey and charming. The meat is fork-tender and infused with vegetable aromatics.
Little details are done right in this place; even the bread and pesto served with the meals is fantastic, the fluffy white bread so good that many spoil their appetites with it. So be careful. We recommend getting a salad or something green if you’re going in for that Spaghetti Parm. A salad of fresh zucchini is just the right break from butter mountain.
Chef’s is worth a long slow dinner, and the food is best eaten hot from the kitchen. However, if you can’t even stand walking from the parking lot in the bitter Buffalo cold, they have a drive-thru, a rarity for an Italian joint.