A few months ago I traveled from New York City to Buffalo on a quest for the best chicken wings anywhere. I took a 2015 Lexus RC 350 AWD to get there because I needed something that could gobble up the miles without any drama while being comfortable. The thing is, I didn’t need to go that far. Here’s why.
(Full Disclosure: Lexus wanted me to bask in saucy wing glory so badly, they sent me an RC 350 for a weekend for me to drive to Buffalo and back. My stomach and taste buds are still recovering.)
I knew little about Lexus’ current lineup before driving this RC 350 because as a performance car guy, nobody has ever ever asked me “Hey, what do you think of that Lexus so-and-so?” But Lexus is trying to make their cars a little more exciting lately.
When this 2015 gray on gray on gray all-wheel drive RC 350 arrived outside my apartment, I was shocked by how good it looked—like a catfish on steroids ate a linebacker with an attitude. The styling isn’t for everyone, but I get it. At least it’s not boring.
I wholeheartedly love food and equally hate the term “foodie”. The problem I have with that term is, how does a person not enjoy and care about food? Every single person eats every single day. How can someone go through life and not experiment, sample and enjoy one of the only things all human beings share with one another? It baffles me.
My research regarding Buffalo’s wings was conducted primarily through a group of graduating University at Buffalo seniors who had eaten at just about every establishment the city has to offer throughout the past four years of their lives. If you’re in the Buffalo-Niagara area and want wings, there are two greatplaces you choose from: Duff’s Famous Wings or Anchor Bar.
There are a total of four Duff’s Famous Wings restaurants in the Buffalo-Niagara area, two of which have opened in the past two years. Obviously, people really like this place.
As for Anchor Bar, the original Buffalo chicken wing as we know it was created here back in the 1960s, when the wings typically used for soups and stews were fried, tossed in Frank’s Red Hot sauce, butter, and served for free to thirsty patrons at the bar. God bless America.
My schedule in Buffalo was tight, so I had to make a decision: Duff’s or Anchor Bar. Without hesitation, my ultra-scientific research group (read: hung-over seniors) unanimously recommended Duff’s.
The RC 350’s 8-speed automatic transmission was surprisingly attentive and eagerly leapt at opportunities to fill gaps or catch yellow lights. The electronic steering was light, and the suspension was supple through NYC’s potholes. Seventy-five miles later, I stopped at the Delaware water gap in Pennsylvania to take some photos and find some curves.
In non F-Sport guise, as it is here, the RC 350 is not a performance car and Lexus doesn’t market it as such. There’s a 467 horsepower RC F with four exhaust pipes for just $20,000 more if that’s what you need.
Meanwhile, this RC 350’s 3.5-liter V6 makes do with 306 horsepower and a “manual” shift lever that’s backwards (a performance litmus test I perform on every car I drive). So even if I mentioned the unresponsive steering through corners and general heft of the thing (3,891 pounds), it wouldn’t matter because where the RC 350 really excels is on the highway.
That’s where I spent most of my time and where I assume the businessmen and elderly folk who buy this thing will too. Only around the five-hour mark in the total six and a half hour one-way journey from Manhattan to Buffalo is when I realized I was actually sitting down in a moving vehicle.
The ergonomics were great, but the seats were even better. Seriously, the seats could possibly be the most comfortable I’ve ever experienced in any automobile, but then again Ballaban won’t ever let me sit in the Volvos we get because he hogs them for himself.
Like most Lexuses, the RC 350 has a “mousepad” and I’m telling you (as a tech-savvy young dude), it’s incredible. To scroll just move your finger on the surface and to click, push the whole thing in like a MacBook trackpad. It has haptic feedback which, unlike the Blackberry Storm 2 (anyone?) never gets annoying and the pad seems to rest perfectly at the end of the driver’s fingertips. It made navigation inputs, Bluetooth setup, and all the other seemingly tedious tasks when plugging into a vehicle a breeze.
My biggest gripe about the Lexus is not the styling, or the interior, or the power, it’s the price. My RC 350, equipped with all-wheel drive, moonroof, and a “luxury package” (among other extras) sits at $52,700.00.
That’s a lot of money, especially when you park a similarly equipped and better-looking Audi A5 Coupe next to it ($52,400.00). If you want to spend nearly $53,000 on a highway cruiser, there are more compelling ways to go about it.
As I opened the front door to Duff’s and pushed through the oh-so delicious stench of fryer grease and cayenne-pepper wing sauce I was greeted with a sign that read “Warning: medium is HOT, medium-hot is VERY HOT and HOT is VERY VERY HOT.” The fuck?
Now, why would they go against everything every human has known about hot wings spice levels and make theirs blatantly hotter than everyone else’s? I thought about how Duff’s could so easily ruin my mom’s day, who always orders hers “medium.”
But then I realized this is Buffalo, bitches, and the wings here damn-well better be hotter here than everywhere else.
And they were, in the best way possible. I ordered medium-hot and though I don’t regularly like to consume food that seems eager to kill me, I actually ordered a side of HOT sauce because the flavor was so intoxicatingly good.
The sauce was the purest, simplest form of wing sauce I’ve ever tasted and could only be described as a “clean” heat since it wasn’t crowded with “bbq” or “mango” or “lime-tequila-corona” or any of that other ilk. Oh, and to get those different levels of heat so proudly pasted on the wall? Duff’s starts with the “hot” sauce and then they just “add butter” to make it less spicy. I love this place.
And then there was the size of these bad boys. They were huge, as in I don’t know what kind of chickens or where they’d even get them from to be this big. If you positioned these next to wings from another restaurant, you could immediately distinguish Duff’s from the rest just by the size.
They were perfectly fried, and delivered a great crunch when I bit into them. I expected them to be sauced more, but since I like my wings completely submerged/swimming in delicious wing sauce I was prepared to order more, which I did.
The Lexus actually turned a few heads on the way home. Three in total. Two were other restaurant patrons, and one was a woman at a gas station who actually went out of her way to say “wow, that’s a nice car” to me. Six more uneventful hours later, I stopped in Westchester, NY to see some friends and bring one of them back to the city with me.
Since I’m a proud gavone, as the Italians say, I motioned to stop at a local wing joint a different friend recommended to me. And just like that, I was headed to have wings again.
Candlelight Inn is an institution of Westchester, NY. It’s cash-only, crowded on the weekends, and everything on the menu is delicious. But if you’re going there, you’re going there for wings.
If you’re a purist, Duff’s hot wings are superior for their spice, crunch, and simplicity. But for everyone else out there, I’d be lying if I told you Buffalo’s wings were better, because they weren’t. Sorry.
Candlelight offers a “hot-teriyaki” wing which, is just pure perfection. The quality of the teriyaki sauce is like something you’d find in a high-quality Japanese restaurant, and the balance of that to the hot sauce is more like a 40/60 than a 50/50, respectively. They don’t do anything special or spectacular that I know of (they don’t even split the wingette from the drumette), but whatever they do they do it the best.
Leaving Candlelight, I dwelled on my weekend and came to a chilling realization: I had just driven 1,000+ miles to find the best wing place, only to find a spot 20 minutes from me.
I got this car because I thought I needed a highway cruiser, but all I needed was good information. The funny thing is, the Lexus RC 350 is so good on the highway, I didn’t even mind.
Dammit, now I’m hungry for wings again.