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Niagara Cafe – Island Adventure on the Cheap

The Niagara Cafe has been serving Buffalo’s west side for two decades plus. Previous to their current location they were down the street. Over the years I have heard various descriptions from “the best island food in town” to “grab takeout and leave the neighborhood quick”. Guessing reality lies somewhere in the middle we stopped in for lunch in the bright of day.

Tip #1 – Cash only. They do have an ATM machine so bring money, or at least your debit card.

Tip #2- If you are dining in grab a table and sit. No need to wait in line at the counter. A waitress will find you.

Tip #3 – This is good old fashioned, stick-to-your-bones food. If you’re on a diet go elsewhere.

I’m happy to report the place was pleasant and quite busy, including a few of Buffalo’s finest. The service was efficient if not warm and fuzzy, although we did see a few smiles.

We ordered:

  • Pernil (roasted pork)  lunch  $6
  • Carne Frita (fried pork) dinner  $9
  • Maduros (sweet plantains) $3
  • Pastelillo (fried pocket) $2

We started with a pastelillo with a nice thin and flaky crust filled with a ground meat mixture, and deep fried to a perfect golden brown. In Puerto Rico you can find these everywhere. As tempted as you will be to have three I recommend one or two, and save room for your for the meal. You’re gonna need it.

The plates (lunch & dinner) come with “Arroz de Gandules” (yellow rice with pigeon peas) and a cup of red beans. The dinner also came with a small side salad.

While the fried pork will never get the endorsement of the American Heart Association it has plenty of down home flavor. We liked it, but finishing this dish takes commitment, which we lacked. Next time maybe we’ll go with the Pescado Frito (fried haddock) or the rotisserie chicken, which gets rave reviews.

The roasted pork lunch was darn good. Not as good as some pig roasts I’ve been to in Puerto Rico, but good.

As simple as yellow rice with peas should be this was somehow outstanding. Not sure. The red beans tasted like they could have been made in Old San Juan- that’s good. These are different from Cuban beans or red beans from the south. Although they seem non-distinct at first, they often grow into a mild addiction later.

The star of the show was the plate of Maduros, sweet plantains fried once (as opposed to tostones, which are fried twice and smashed in the process). This is a full plate of latino happiness, with some kind of weird but marvelous shrimp cocktail sauce meets chili – vinegar dip.

Tip # 4 – Take some of this sauce to go. It will work with anything!

Some of the other authetic dishes you might like (these dinners are all $9):

  • Bistec Encebollado (marinated steak with onions)
  • Chuletas (fried pork chops)
  • Pollo frito (fried chicken)
  • Camarones Fritos (fried breaded shrimp)
  • Pollo Guisado (chicken stew)
  • Carne Guisada (beef stew)

If you’re looking for a little island adventure, but lack the time or finances, I highly recommend the Niagara Cafe. I’ll have to try out a few more “island food” restaurants before I make any declarations on Niagara Cafe being the best in town. As far as grab and go I’d suggest sit, relax and enjoy the flavors.

Tip #5 – You might smell like fried food when you get home.

 

Niagara Cafe Buffalo restaurant

525 Niagara St Buffalo NY   |   (716) 885-2233

Open: Mon-Sat 11 am – 10 pm Sun 11 am – 8 pm

 

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