It looks like Puyallup will be the next home for Buffalo Wild Wings. The national chicken wing restaurant applied this week for a liquor permit at the space on South Hill where Ruby Tuesday’s used to operate. That’s in the same complex as the Regal movie theater and two locally owned restaurants, My Greek, a Mediterranean restaurant, and Jubilee Cupcakes. It’s not a surprise that South HIll would become the next home for the national chain considering South Hill is a mecca for chains, some in duplicate (but at least there’s more non-chain dining - sushi, Vietnamese and even a wine bar now).
If you’re not familiar with the chicken wing chain, Buffalo Wild Wings is a sports bar heavy on loud music, giant television screens, peppy servers and chicken wings that come in dozens of sauces and spices. The chain is new to the Northwest. The first one opened in Tacoma last October in a neighborhood I call the Chicken Wing Vortex of Tacoma. That’s because two restaurants known for wings - Hooters and Original Winger's - were already in the same Tacoma Mall neighborhood when Buffalo Wild Wings opened. I usually eschew chain restaurants for local offerings - like the flavor-punched chicken wings at Pacific Grill or the crispy-sweet-spicy chicken at Korean fried chicken restaurants in Lakewood - but I was curious enough to see who had the best wings in the Vortex. Read below to find the surprising winner.
Buffalo Wild WingsWhere: 4219 S. Steele St., TacomaInfo: 253-473-7699 or www.buffalowildwings.comHours: Serving lunch and dinner daily.
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New kid: Buffalo Wild Wings is the newest addition to the Chicken Wing Vortex. It opened Oct. 31. It’s the first South Sound location for the national chain restaurant.Prices: 6 wings for $5.69, 12 for $10.29, 18 for $14.59, 24 for $17.49The atmosphere: If your idea of a great time is a cavernous restaurant with flashing lights and pulsing music, you’ll do just fine at Buffalo Wild Wings. On my busy weekend visit, there were moments where I felt like I was being slapped in the head by a rattle-wielding toddler at a rave. I’m hardly a person who craves silence in a restaurant, but even I felt like yelling “Get off my lawn!” a few times. On the plus side, if you’re there for a sporting event, you won’t miss a second of the action with all those television screens and this place is ultra kid friendly. The eats: We sampled wings sauced with medium, spicy garlic, hot and mango habanero.The verdict: Good wings have an edge of crunch. These had no detectable snap. The wings also trended on the smallish side with little meat (less bang for the buck). These were my least favorite wings sampled for size and crunch. However, Buffalo Wild Wings earns extra points for 18 saucy choices with a wide range of flavors - from hot to sour and sweet to defcon level hot. I also give credit where it’s due for offering heat levels that were true to their descriptions. The hot was truly hot. Mango habanero was the third sauce from the top of the heat scale and the sting was pepper spray level brutal. Amateurs: Do not attempt.
Original Winger's Bar & GrillWhere: 5221 Tacoma Mall Blvd., TacomaInfo: 253-471-9464 or www.wingers.infoHours: Serving lunch and dinner daily.
UPDATE 2012: THIS RESTAURANT NOW IS CLOSED.
Prices: Regular order for $7.99 (5 pieces), large for $11.99 (8 pieces), jumbo for $14.99 (12) and colossal for $17.99 (16)The atmosphere: The tables were a touch sticky on our visit, and service was slow and the servers seemed as if they were on autopilot. The dining room reminds me of a T.G.I.Friday’s style restaurant with a bit of a sports bar atmosphere. The eats: We sampled wings in original and Buffalo sauces. Unlike other restaurants that seem to focus the menu on a la carte wings, Winger's offers chicken wing dinners with starchy sides like rice or potatoes. If you're looking for a place that is more of a full dinner experience, this is it. Verdict: The wings were soggy and lacked crisp, they also were oversauced. The sauces had a commercial flavor that I didn’t find appealing.
HootersWhere: 6812 Tacoma Mall Blvd., Tacoma, WA 98409Info: 253-476-9464 or www.hooters.com.Hours: Serving lunch and dinner daily.
Prices: 5 wings for $4.99, 10 for $9.49, 20 for $17.49The atmosphere: Kitschy sports bar with pretty girls in short shorts. The restaurant is so well known for its beautiful servers, I actually had a few people tell me that they had no idea that Hooters even served chicken wings. It’s also one of few places in town that serves fried pickles.The eats: We sampled wings in medium, hot and garlic. The verdict: Hands-down, the wings here were the largest, plumpest, juiciest and executed with textbook style crispy wing precision. These were my favorite wings sampled. The saucing was just enough to coat the fingers, but not enough to drip down the wrist. There was no sign of sogginess on our visit. They came right out of the kitchen hot and crispy and they stayed crispy.My one beef: The sauces are way too light on the spice. The medium “hot” version barely registered as mild hot. You’ll want to order up one heat level if you like spicy wings.
Pacific GrillWhere: 1502 Pacific Ave., TacomaInfo: 253-627-3535 or www.pacificgrilltacoma.comHours: Happy hour is offered all day in the bar, every day.
If there's any place I want to go for wings besides Lakewood for Korean fried chicken, it's Pacific Grill. The downtown Tacoma fine dining restaurant serves a straightforward Buffalo wing on the all-day, everyday happy hour menu (in the bar only), but dig deeper into the menu and you'll find "Dragon Wings" listed on the restaurant's Noodle Bar happy hour menu (it's sort of a restaurant inside a restaurant concept). Priced $6.50 for a portion of five, the crunchy fried wings come with a Southeast Asian translation. The sticky sauce tasted sweet like hoison with a vinegar-chili bite that reminded me of sambal oelek. For dipping, there's a creamy dressing kicked up with lime and garlic. For that cooling effect, the wings are paired with daikon radish and carrots stacked on your plate like crunchy Lincoln logs.
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.