Buffalo, the Asian-influenced burger and bao bastion on Castro Street in Mountain View, was not named after the American bison, nor the Thai water buffalo, and not the city on the shores of Lake Erie. Buffalo was named for a drinking game that owner Brandon Poon was introduced to by a couple of Australians while partying in Paris.
Food can be so complicated.
Despite its puzzling name, Buffalo serves some of the tastiest burgers in town, and the restaurant's inspired baos rival the best cutting-edge fusion fare in the area. (Baos are Asian steamed buns that can be stuffed with anything delicious.)
And that's not all. The place has a handsome selection of craft beers -- a half dozen on tap that constantly rotate and another dozen-plus in bottle form from local brewmasters.
Poon grew up in the restaurant business. His family has owned numerous Chinese and Southeast Asian eateries in the South Bay. He has a degree in culinary management and has both cooked for and managed numerous local restaurants for more than a decade.
Ikona Perez handles the Buffalo kitchen chores. Poon and Perez met in culinary school and work together on the bill of fare. Different ethnic backgrounds fuel creativity and a menu that is colorful, trendy and appetizing.
Buffalo is semi-fast food: Order at the counter and seat yourself. Food arrives quickly and tables are promptly bused and kept clean. Two large-screen TVs tuned to sports stations reinforce the young, mostly male, beer-and-burger vibe. The wood-toned interior isn't large, seating 49, but street-side tables can accommodate 20 more.
Starting with the crispy chicken wings, there was little to disappoint. The wings were appetizing and pretty on the plate ($9 for three trios in three flavors). The wings were brined, chilled, then fried without flour. There was the original with ginger, garlic, soy and chilies: not quite lip burning but with noted spice. The classic barbecue style had loads of tomatoey goodness, and the chipotle-honey wings were tasty and on the mild side.
The duck confit bao ($4.75) was delightfully overstuffed with green mango slaw. Alas, the duck confit was dry and chewy, though the steamed bun made me hanker for more.
Better was the grilled eggplant bao ($3.75) with Japanese eggplant, shiitake mushrooms, cucumber slices, toasted sesame seeds and scallions.
These aren't the dim sum restaurant, produced-en-masse steamed buns. Rather, they are handcrafted, the dough not pinched and pleated but finished smooth like a slider bun, yet springier and more flavorful. The buns were lightly toasted, leaving them slightly crunchy. Simply delicious.
Buffalo serves a variety of "sammies" -- sandwiches served with a side of fries. Mama's chicken sammie ($12.50) was one of the most delicious sandwiches I've had in a long time. The chicken is twice-fried after a 24-hour lemongrass marinade, then topped with arugula, Applewood bacon, tomato, cheddar and house aioli, all housed in a toasted soft bun. It was a big, fat, oozing-with-goodness sandwich. For an extra dollar, I upgraded the regular fries to the crispy and enticing sweet potato variety.
The PB&J sammie ($11) featured five-hour roasted pork belly with melted cheddar jack and tomato on toasted sourdough. The pork belly suffered the same fate as the duck confit -- too dry. I smeared the aioli that came with the fries on the sammie, which rescued it.
Buffalo's half-dozen burgers are something to crow about, made with 100 percent all-natural Masami Ranch (Corning, California) wagyu beef and served with a side of classic fries.
The wasabi jack burger ($12) was an artful burger that I admired for a half-minute before digging in. It was overspread with crispy onion strings, arugula, tomato and cheddar cheese and topped with spicy horseradish aioli. It was a satisfying burger, packed with flavor and large enough that I didn't crave anything else.
There were other things to eat at Buffalo too -- salads and blistered shishito peppers, calamari and edamame hummus -- but you can't miss with great burgers, inspired baos, craft beers and a skilled kitchen.
292 Castro St., Mountain View
Sunday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Happy Hour: Monday-Friday 3-6 p.m.