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One local's guide to Niagara-on-the-Lake and surrounding area (long!)

Now that I’ve lived in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a couple of years, I thought I’d share the places that I personally frequent and recommend. Most of these won’t be new to regular visitors, but there are enough inquiries from others that I hope this consolidated list might be useful. I’m mostly focused on Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), but include some recs for Niagara Falls and the broader Niagara Peninsula. I’m not going to tackle wineries, as I find that to be even more personal than food and my preferences may not be yours. Perhaps others can chime in with their favourites. And everyone should feel free to add their own recommendations for the Niagara area!
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FINE DINING
All four of these places offer beautiful farm-to-table, wine-country cuisine. None are cheap, but the food is excellent at all of them. Note that Treadwell is the only one not on the grounds of a winery, but its location in old town NOTL makes it a great choice for visitors to NOTL.

Treadwell http://www.treadwellcuisine.com/
Peller Estates http://www.peller.com/
Trius http://www.triuswines.com/
Vineland Estates http://vineland.com/
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CASUAL DINING

Ravine Vineyard: great bistro food with my favourite vineyard view in NOTL. Housemade charcuterie, hyper-local meats and produce, and great pizzas from the wood-fired oven. Awesome doughnuts in their little general store on the weekends.

The Garrison House: located in an unassuming plaza on the way into old town NOTL, the food here is classic gastro-pub fare. Delicious, satisfying and at a great price point for the area. Recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here. http://www.thegarrisonhouse.ca/

The Pie Plate: an institution in NOTL for good reason. Quirky, casual setting with a tasty light menu of sandwiches, meat pies, pizzas, salads and small plates of fish tacos and burgers. A great choice for a lighter meal or a snack. Mind you, it’s only light until you dive into their amazing pies. There are no bad pies there, so go with your favourite. I will give a shout out to their cream pies and fresh fruit w/custard pies. Bliss. http://www.thepieplate.com/
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BEST VIEWS

Ravine Vineyard (vineyard view)

Trius (vineyard view)

Peller Estates (vineyard view)

The restaurant at the NOTL Golf Club (gorgeous view of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Food is just ok, so go for a cocktail and a snack.)

Malivoire Winery (no food, but fantastic views of the countryside and the lake from their location up on the Escarpment)
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BEST TREATS FOR NOW

The Pie Plate (see above)

Il Gelato di Carlotta: great quality gelato in old town NOTL. Pick this over the nearby Nina’s (too sweet) and other ice cream shops (meh).
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BEST TREATS TO TAKE HOME

The Pie Plate (yes, I really love their baking)

Upper Canada Cheese Company: fantastic cheeses made from the milk of their herd of Guernsey cows. Sample before buying. http://www.uppercanadacheese.com/

Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers: a small distiller in Beamsville making a big splash. Taste all of their spirits in the beautiful sipping room or ask for a quick tour to see their stunning copper stills. I’m in love with all of their gins, but my choice for this summer is their delicious cherry gin. Also, for design ‘hounds, they have some of the best branding of any product I’ve seen in a long time. http://dillons.ca/

13th Street Bakery: tasty baked goods from the bakery located in 13th Street Winery (who happen to be doing some nice sparkling wines, too). http://www.13thstreetwinery.com/

Picard's Peanuts: the NOTL outpost of this Ontario company. Great place to try a bunch of different peanuts (including Ontario-grown nuts).
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BEST FARM STANDS
Niagara is the fruit basket of Ontario. It's worth stopping at one of the many farm stands to pick up whatever is fresh at the time.

Quiet Acres: in NOTL at the intersection of Lakeshore Road and East and West Line. http://www.qa.on.ca/

Tina’s Natural Selections: in NOTL on Lakeshore Road just East of Stewart Road. Just up the road from Quiet Acres, so it’s worth stopping at both to check out the offerings.

Nokara Farms: in St. Catharines on Lakeshore Road, East of Fifth Street Louth http://nokarafarms.ca/Nokara_Farms/Fa...

Be aware of the large farm stand on 55, near Pilliteri: some of the produce is grown by them, but some is purchased for resale. They are generally honest about it and will tell you, however, if you ask.
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BEST OF QUEEN STREET (Old Town NOTL)
In general, I recommend avoiding the restaurants along the pretty, quaint main drag of Old Town NOTL. Here are my exceptions:

Treadwell (see above)

Il Gelato di Carlotta (see above)

The Epicurean: if you want something at a lower price point than Treadwell, this is a decent option, mostly because the beautiful back patio makes everything taste better. This is also a good place to stock up on sandwiches and salads if you want to make a picnic and eat by the river or lake.
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BEST REGULAR LOCAL FOOD TRUCK LOCATIONS
This category changes every season, so it’s worth doing a bit of research. This summer, the places to look out for:

Friday evenings at Hinterbrook Winery. They bring in one truck (always a good one like The Yellow Pear or Avella’s pizza), wines by the glass, usually live jazz, and lots of Muskoka chairs to settle on and enjoy your dinner on the grounds of their vineyard. http://www.hinterbrook.com/site/home

Thursday lunch (11:30 - 2) at Montebello Park in St. Catharines. El Gastronomo Vagabundo is there every Thursday. Hands down, my favourite food truck. You can check their current schedule on their web site: http://www.elgastro.com/ Or follow them on twitter @elgastronomo

Saturday afternoons at Upper Canada Cheese: you will often find The Yellow Pear food truck serving up delicious farm-to-truck fare. Check The Yellow Pear’s web site or twitter feed to confirm. They are worth tracking down in other locations if you can. http://www.farmtotruck.ca/

Sunday brunch at Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers. Grab some food and a cocktail. This summer’s schedule is here: http://dillons.ca/al-fresco-sunday-br...

The weeknight SupperMarkets (see below)

A good place to track truck locations: https://www.facebook.com/ontariofoodt...
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BEST LOCAL EVENTS AND POP UPS
This is another category that changes every season, so please check with the venues before planning your time. The suppermarkets are summer-only events, so don’t expect to find them in the fall and winter months.

Wednesday night SupperMarket at the plaza at The Village in NOTL. A mashup between a farmers market, a food festival and a community picnic. This is one of my favourite parts of living in NOTL. Get food, wine and beer from one of the dozen or so food trucks, food vendors, wineries and breweries and grab a seat at one of the colourful picnic tables. http://marketatthevillage.ca/

Thursday night Pelham SupperMarket. Pelham was inspired by the success of the NOTL SupperMarket and started their own this year. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pelham...

Thursday night fish fry at the Canadian Legion Hall in NOTL from 4 - 7pm (maybe 8?). The best fish and chips in town. $7 for one piece or $9 for two. Get a beer for $3 or a glass of wine for $4 (prices are fuzzy in my memory, as I usually get the F&C to go). Don't go here looking for charming atmosphere, but the fish and chips are really good! Eat like a local. :)

Friday nights at Oast House Brewery in NOTL: El Gastro takes over the beer shed kitchen starting at 5. Drink beer, eat good food and listen to live local bands (starting at 7:30). It’s not listed on their web site, so the best thing is to check the El Gastro web site or either of their twitter feeds. http://www.elgastro.com/ http://oasthousebrewers.ca/

Friday and Saturday nights at Silversmith Brewing Company in NOTL: Tide and Vine serves up delicious oysters and seafood dishes. Drink beer and eat good food in a converted church. Check the Tide and Vide web site or twitter feed for confirmation: http://www.tideandvine.com/ http://www.silversmithbrewing.com/
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NIAGARA FALLS
Niagara Falls is generally full of incredibly overpriced, mediocre food (for god’s sake, don’t go the Denny’s or IHOP or any of the chains there, even if your hotel gives you a coupon), but there are some gems to be found. My focus is on the casual, value destinations — I don’t really go out for fine dining in NF.

The Regal Diner: great breakfast and lunch diner, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Recently featured on You Gotta Eat Here. Don’t go here looking for fast food, but the food is worth the wait. Follow them on twitter for up-to-date conditions at the diner. @theregaldiner http://www.theregaldiner.com/

Paris Crepes Cafe: good crepes. :) http://www.pariscrepescafe.com/

Moksha Indian Bistro: good Indian food at a good price point for NF. http://www.mokshaniagara.com/

Taps on Queen: brew pub that is loved by the locals. I can’t vouch for the food, but if you want a good place to get beer and listen to live music, this is it. http://tapsbeer.ca/wpsite/

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  1. GREAT WRITE-UP!!! Many thanks for the info and effort!

    1. I forgot to add that if beer is more your thing, NOTL has quite the burgeoning craft beer scene. Currently, you can get your craft beer fix at Oast House Brewers, Silversmith Brewing Company and the Niagara College Teaching Brewery. And next year, there will be a brew pub opening up on Queen Street in old town NOTL.

      1. Thanks for this, Jo. It has saved me one helluva lot of wild chasing around, uneven research, uneducated guesses and other inevitable outsider faux pas when next I venture into Niagara. Though I knew some of your choices from your previous posts, this puts it all nicely and concisely together. (Alas, if only you were still around to tip me off on where to go and what to eat in your previous bailiwick in and around North Toronto.)

        1. Thanks for the thread and write up !!!

          1. Thanks for all the info! Very helpful indeed :)

              1. For fine dining, I would add The Charles Inn on the main drag in NOTL. It's old-school Continental/French, but it's a lovely room, and the food and srvice is wonderful. We've always been able to bring our own wine for a reasonable corkage fee, but I notice that their wine list doesn't mention BYOW any more, so I hope that hasn't changed.

                1. Great resource! Stone Road Grille used to get a lot of love on this board. We had a very ordinary meal there last summer. I assume that it is not the restaurant it used to be?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: LJS2

                    It used to be my favourite restaurant in NOTL. But they haven't been the same since Ryan Crawford left a couple of years ago. They've gone through 2 chefs since then, and the quality suffered a lot. There is a 3rd, new chef that just started a few weeks ago: Ross Midgely. He has a great pedigree, but I haven't yet tried his new menu, so couldn't include Stone Road Grille in my personal recs. I still love the idea of the place and the owners are super nice and I want them to succeed. They are going to expand the restaurant into the current take out space, with the goal of creating more of a lounge/wine bar area in addition to the main restaurant.

                  2. I agree with your reviews for all those place I have sampled. Plan to try Tredwell next time I'm in NOTL. However I find my opinion of The Garrison House is changing. First time -3 years ago it was fantastic. We went there for a burger on the way into NOTL. Last time was last year. The burger was on a dried out bun. The patty was tasteless. Perhaps a one off but I fear it maybe something else.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Herne

                      I think it was a one-off situation, as I order that burger pretty regularly. If that ever happened to me, I would simply point out the stale bun. They are very friendly and always want to make things right.

                      1. re: TorontoJo

                        You are probably right. However one of them knew what the burger was like when they prepared it. I have driven by the place-when I would have stopped off in the past-so the one-off is costing them money.

                    2. Any suggestions for a Vineyard with a patio that will serve small plates with wine tasting?
                      We used to go to Jackson Triggs for its patio and its flights.
                      But the last time we went this past year, they changed their concept. Now its more of a sushi/champagne bar.
                      Somehow eating raw fish and drinking some red wine didn't really tickle my fancy.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: commie

                        Ravine has a great patio and while their menu isn't small plates, they have a great charcuterie board to nibble on with your wines.

                        Henry of Pelham and Peninsula Ridge both have restaurants with patios. The menu at Henry of Pelham is probably more conducive to nibbles and wine than PR, which is more of a standard, full service menu.

                      2. Thanks for this write up. Appreciated now and in the future by many i'm sure!

                        1. A new entry for the BEST TREATS FOR NOW category:

                          Avondale Dairy Bar in NOTL (on Stewart, just south of Carlton). Gelato di Carlotta still has my heart, but if you have kids, or if you just want a good old fashioned sundae, milkshake or malt, this is the place for you. They make their ice cream onsite daily. The flavours are rich, the sundaes and banana splits are over the top, and the place is packed in the summer. Don't let a long line deter you though, they have a lot of people working the counter to keep things moving along. Plus it gives you time to stare at the large menu and decide what you're going to order. This place is a Niagara institution, but I only made my first visit recently. It's good. :0)

                          1 Reply
                          1. I have to add Queenston Heights Restaurant to the "Best View" category however I haven't eaten there in 10 years. Quite enjoyed my visits there back then.

                            DT

                            1. Has anyone eaten (in the past 6 months or so) at Churchill Lounge (Prince of Wales); Cannery (Pillar and Post), Tiara (Queens Landing); Angel Inn (pub); Charles Inn; The Old Winery Restaurant; Zee's; or Terroir La Cachette, and how do they compare to your top picks?

                              We're looking for something different for my Dad's birthday and he doesn't like SRG or Peller and doesn't want to hit Treadwell yet again. He's angling for Churchill Lounge.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Food Tourist

                                My chowhound parents enjoyed Cannery restaurant 2 weekends ago.
                                They had initially been seated at Churchill Lounge -- but after seeing the "boring" menu and the worn decor, they got up and left.

                                We had dinner together at La Scala in St. Catharines which is NOT recommended. Yes, appetizers are good, but mains and dessert (bland tiramisu) are a problem.

                              2. A really useful resource for visitors to the area is:

                                http://www.theniagaralocal.com/

                                1. Quite a lot of work and wisdom to produce that description of the food locations of NOTL. As a sometime rambler around the area I have been at many of the locations mentioned and find the descriptions very accurate.. Funnily I have only one reservation and that was Treadwells. Food was fine but the reservations made 3 days in advance only gave the opportunity to be seated near the door to the washrooms near the open kitchen. And there were many preferable tables nearby. Next time I'd do something about it.