DINING OUT:

From my vantage point, I can see no fewer than 23 television screens. There are 11 smiling employees in sight and about 70 chattering, laughing diners happily munching on chicken wings and variations thereof. This place has been open only a week, and already it’s a tightly run, wildly popular lunch spot. Maybe it’s because this Buffalo Wild Wings, while one of only four in California, is part of a huge national chain with a reputation for fun.

I understand there are a few key things that people love about this restaurant. The TVs show every kind of sport you can imagine. They definitely give the place an energetic ambience. And for the non-sports-minded, there’s a never-ending trivia channel, which is great conversation fodder. The acoustics in the wide-open room are nothing short of miraculous. Even though everyone is talking, it’s easy to hear my lunch companion. In fact, the ambient noise is pleasantly conducive to our intimate conversation. And last but not least, people love the food and drinks.

The drinks are free-flowing, and the food is good. Not the kind of thing one should imbibe every day but definitely tasty. At the core of the menu are the famous Buffalo, N.Y.-style wings ($5.29 for six, up to $33.99 for 50). You can get them boneless or bone-in.

Sampling both, I preferred the bone-in. They had a little more flavor and lot less batter. These wings are deep-fried to a crispy perfection and then slathered in the sauce of your choice (or served on the side). I tried all 14 sauces. The menu lists them from lowest to highest level of heat, and it is pretty accurate. Even though Spicy Garlic ranks only 7 out of 14, it’s definitely spicy. There are three barbecue-sauce-flavored choices — Sweet, which is strictly for kids; Honey BBQ, the one barbecue sauce lovers will prefer; and Hot BBQ, with 70% heat and 30% sweet.

I think hot wings should have classic hot wing sauce, and they have five choices on that front. Mild, which is deliciously tangy; Medium, your standard slightly spicy hot wings sauce with a good consistency; Hot, heavier on the chilies; Wild, makes you say “Whoo!” and puts sweat on your upper lip; and at the top of the heat thermometer, Blazin’, which has a deep, roasted chili flavor with serious heat that creeps up on you and lasts a while.

They’re honestly all good, but with the Wild and Blazin’ it would be hard to eat the whole basket of wings. (In fact, they have a contest challenging people to do just that in less than three minutes.)

Then they have some specialty sauces. Some of these I loved, and two I found disagreeable. The Teriyaki is flavorful and not too sweet. The Spicy Garlic reminds me of a cooled down Chinese Sriracha chili sauce and, I think, would be great on any of their menu items.

The Caribbean Jerk is awesome, but perhaps too distinctive for some folks with its blend of cloves, saffron and garlic. The Mango Habanero has a candy-clear sweetness that develops into a deep heat. I didn’t like it at first, but its uniqueness grew on me.

The two sauces I found kind of gross are the Asian Zing, which is way too sweet with shallow Asian flavors, and the Parmesan Garlic, which is basically thick Caesar Salad dressing. It had no place on chicken wings but was palatable on their Flatbread Chicken pizza ($8.49).

The sauces are used in various ways on their other menu items. For instance, there’s a Jerk Chicken Sandwich ($9.19), which balances out the spicy Caribbean Jerk sauce with a mild Bleu cheese dressing. And the wraps, such as the Grilled Chicken Wrap ($8.29), allow you to get your veggies (at least lettuce and tomato) with your chicken and sauce-of-choice.

They also have salads, burgers and ribs as well as numerous starters, snacks and sides, such as Potato Wedges ($4.79 a basket) that are dipped in a sour cream and chive batter before frying. Oh yeah, they’re good.

Whatever your opinion of big restaurant chains, one has to admit that Buffalo Wild Wings has a formula that works.

The service is good, the atmosphere is comfortable, friendly and fun, and the food is satisfying. It is clearly a great place to come with your work buddies for beer, sports and fried food in a basket.

They open early Sunday morning so patrons can catch all the day’s football games, and they stay open until 2 a.m. daily for post-moviegoers walking by after leaving the AMC theaters next door.

Buffalo Wild Wings also features daily specials with names like Fifty-Cent Wing Tuesdays, Boneless Thursdays and Bloody Mary Madness. If that sounds like your kind of thing, check it out.


 LISA DUPUY and her husband often go out for chicken wings because that’s what they shared on their first date. She may be reached at ldupuy@aol.com.

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