A couple of weeks ago, I went to Niagara Falls to watch my sister run the Niagara Falls Marathon, a race that started in Buffalo and ended in front of the Horseshoe Falls (she had to carry her passport on her). Last year on the way back to Toronto from a Buffalo Bills game, a group of us stopped in Niagara Falls to find some food and were naively shocked to see that a dinner at a place like T.G.I.Friday's can cost $100 for two! I was determined not to fall into this trap again, so for this trip I did some research beforehand and combed the web trying to find places where the locals go. I think I did pretty well and we had some good food. In case you're in the same boat, here is where we went:
For lunch on the first day, we went to the enormous Wolfgang Puck restaurant across the street from the Fallsview Casino. This isn't a cheap place, of course, but the quality is good for the price. All lunch items on the menu are from $7.50-$26.50. We shared a generous order of calamari ($11.50) that was very crunchy making me think they use cornstarch in their batter. Koto an a really excellent Wild Mushroom Pizza with Goat Cheese, Carmelized Onion, Roasted Garlic, and Thyme ($14.50). The crust was crisp, but not cracker-like and there were at least half a dozen whole roasted garlic cloves that were mellow and delicious. I had the Barbequed Pork on a Sour Dough Baguette with Honey Dijon and Pickled Onions ($16.50), which was decent, but it is not a pulled pork sandwich like I expected. The pork was thinly sliced and hardly dressed at all. The fresh baguette was fantastic.
Golden Lotus Restaurant
For dinner, we went to the Golden Lotus restaurant, a Chinese place right in the Fallsview Casino. This is an extremely expensive place with some dishes on the menu going for upwards of $50. However, they have an authentic buffet that is in the neighbourhood of $20 per person including non-alcoholic drinks. Unlike most Chinese buffets, they had some really interesting things like pig's knuckle, Buddha's delight (mix of different funghi), shredded pig's ear and sprouts, thousand-year eggs, baby squid, shumai, and Vietnamese sausage. For dessert they had many kinds of cold puddings (mango, coconut, red bean) as well as guiltless-sized egg tarts.
Room Service at the Crowne Plaza
The morning of Koto's race, I saw her off at the shuttle bus at 7AM and then crawled back up to the room and ordered room service for breakfast. I'd never done this before and it was so much fun. I ordered Eggs Benedict and it came on a big wooden tray conducive to eating in bed. I gave it a go, but it's actually pretty hard to eat Eggs Benedict in bed so I moved to the table. It was so decadent with real back bacon (not ham) and the English muffins looked like they were made in house. They weren't the kind that split in half; each half was its own animal and resembled a pancake.
Basell's Restaurant and Tavern
Post-race Koto needed a big meal and I had sat out in the cold for 2 hours waiting for her at the finish line so we went to Basell's, an old diner away from the tourist area. Our cab driver asked us how we knew about this place and I thought that was a good sign. I love places like this. We got there at about 3PM so nobody was there. There was a long counter with swivelling stools, a cake and pastry case, and thick, patterned crockery.
I ordered the Roast Pork special and Koto had the Hot Turkey Sandwich. The Roast Pork special was a bowl of soup or juice (I had chicken rice soup), a roll with butter, a dish of coleslaw, a dish of applesauce, about 2 lbs of pork, mashed potatoes (or fries), and corn. The soup was homemade with large, flaky chunks of chicken. The roll was not baked in house, but was fresh and soft and the coleslaw was nice and vinegary. I couldn't believe the amount of pork they gave me. It looked like it'd be tough, but it fell away as soon as you touched it and the potatoes were impossibly creamy. Koto's "sandwich" was about 6 inches high and we couldn't even see the bread. She probably ate about one inch of the height. We both asked for containers to take the rest home and which point the waitress told me mine came with ice cream! We piled two scoops of strawberry ice cream into our already full bellies and rolled on out of there. The bill came to $25.95, about as much as my breakfast, and I made three sandwiches with the leftovers.
When you're in Niagara Falls away from the actual falls themselves, you might feel like it's a terrible, cheesy place with depressing casinos. But when you stand right next to the falls with the sound filling your entire consciousness and see the force of the water plunging over the edge, you can see why people come from all over the world to see them. It's amazing.