Let’s be real for a sec: Niagara Falls doesn’t have the best sushi or Korean food in the world… Canada… Ontario… Niagara Region. But one thing we do have an abundance of is cafes. Wonderfully, each spot on this list brings something different to the table, whether it’s community vibes, a professional setting, late-night cheap eats or international flair. That makes this listicle one of the easiest to write: there’s no clear winner, just choose whichever suits your style.
Third Space Cafe
View this post on Instagram
For our money, Third Space is the city’s best cafe, hands down. It’s basically Cheers for hipsters, where sitting at the bar to chat with strangers is de rigeur. Add vegetarian and vegan-friendly menu, fair-trade coffee, weekly events, exposed brick, free coffee for the homeless and a funky sense of design—not to mention drinks and pastries that are actually good and reasonably priced—and you’ve got an easy winner, bursting with personality. The one knock would be the lack of air conditioning. On those muggy summer days, those ceiling fans just don’t cut it.
Queen Bean Café
View this post on Instagram
Down the street from our number-one spot is a very close number two. For those times when you want to settle down with a laptop and get some work done (without the distractions of chitchat, and with the benefit of air conditioning), Queen Bean trumps Third Space handily. Beautiful French tiles and a broad patio give this corner heritage building a chic, inviting, upscale vibe that’s more likely to compete with Starbucks, but without jacking up the prices nearly as much.
Country Fresh Donuts
Okay, admittedly, this is less a cafe than a coffee shop—the kind of unpretentious, dingy, 24-hour donut hawker that’ll serve you a coffee and muffin at 3 a.m., when the only lights are dim street lamps and Country Fresh’s tireless neon signage. But we wouldn’t want it any other way. The prices are dirt-cheap and the cake-dough pastries, all sugar and glaze, are the Platonic ideal of a guilty pleasure. Because the place is owned by a friendly and attentive Vietnamese family, it also serves up salty bowls of pho for something like six bucks, which is an excellent price for a meal, but, honestly, a pretty accurate one for what you get. (We are fully expecting hate mail from the wonton soup fanatics. So be it.)
Italian Ice Cream
It’s not an original name, but the brand is on-point. Italian Ice Cream is a quick walk from Clifton Hill, so if any out-of-towners don’t feel like venturing too far afield, this is still a worthwhile detour. A family-owned business since 1978, Italian serves up 24 different flavours of their famous gelato, though they claim to have crafted 100 throughout the years. Locals will buy this stuff by the tub to bring home, and if you try it, you’ll understand why. They also dish up affordable paninis, Italian desserts and, of course, shots of espresso. In the summer months, you’ll find folks sipping them with their gelatos on the sunny patio, chatting and watching the tourists drive by.
Casa das Natas
Niagara’s only Portuguese cafe is a weird entry on this list. I once asked the owner, Vasco Caldas, whether he identifies it more as a cafe, bakery or restaurant, and his answer was clear: “We’re a hybrid.” Fair enough. We consider it a cafe above all else, because the first thing you see when you walk inside is a wide glass display case of beautiful Portuguese pastries, all of which pair beautifully with a traditional espresso. We’ve tried several sweets, and none have ever disappointed. (As a bonus, Casa das Natas is one of the few cafes in the city with an outdoor patio. Forget that the patio has almost no decoration and overlooks an industrial cereal factory—outdoors is outdoors, and if you want to pretend you’re in Europe, this is the place to do it.)