The Niagara Frontier region of New York State consists of 5 counties near the Great Lakes of Erie and Ontario, just across the Niagara River from the Canadian province of Ontario and its Niagara Peninsula region. Buffalo, the state's second-largest city, and Niagara Falls, the "honeymoon capital of the world", are the major destinations in the Niagara Frontier, but the eastern areas of the region also offer educational and recreational attractions, focusing on history, agriculture, industry, and the local waterways.
|Erie County (Buffalo and its suburbs, divided here into the Northtowns and the Southtowns)|
|Genesee County |
|Niagara County |
|Orleans County |
|Wyoming County |
English is widely spoken. Spanish is spoken by many on Buffalo's West Side along with Bengali, Karen, Arabic, Somali, and others.
The most populated areas are served by a number of highways, including Interstate 90, coming in from directly east of Buffalo, running along the eastern edge of the city, and turning southwest towards Erie, Pennsylvania, and Cleveland, as well as its related loops: 190 from Buffalo to the edge of Lake Ontario, 290 through the northern suburbs, 990 through Amherst. The 33 runs from downtown Buffalo and connects to the 90, and continues past the airport before reverting to a regular two-lane road. The 400 provides access from the 90 to the southern suburbs, such as West Seneca, Elma, and East Aurora. The 219 goes directly south from the 90 to Springville, where it becomes a regular road as well.
The area is connected to Canada by way of three crossing points. The Peace Bridge runs between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario. 20 miles (32 km) north along the river (and just beyond the Falls) is the Rainbow Bridge, providing access between Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Another five miles to the north is the Queenston-Lewiston bridge. After the Queenston-Lewiston bridge, there are no more crossing points along the last 8 miles of the river.
Niagara Falls. Though less than half the height of Mosi-oa-Tunya (Victoria Falls), and just under half as wide as Iguazú, Niagara is the world's largest waterfall by average annual flow rate. The Falls can be viewed from the top, at Goat Island (parking fee about $10), or from the bottom on the Maid of the Mist boat ride (late May-early Nov, adult $19, child $12 as og 2019). Goat Island offers a 1.5-mile (2.75-km) stroll along the edge of the island, including a pedestrian bridge to the Three Sisters Islands, right in the middle of the Niagara River, just 2000 feet (600 m) from the Falls.
Whirpool State Park and Devil's Hole State Park. 2 miles north of the Falls are two connected parks downriver. The rapids are still very intense at this point in the river, and the whirpools make the river flow backwards in some areas. For a better vantage, take one of the two stone stairways to descend some 250 feet (75 m) into the gorge. The 400-step climb back out can be quite tiring. Free.
Sales tax in Erie County is 8.75%; in all other Niagara Frontier counties, it's 8%.
For a detailed rundown of regional cuisine, see Buffalo#Local specialties.
Locations of most national chain restaurants can be found in Western New York. But since you're here, you should take the opportunity to try one of the local chains that have won the loyalty of Western New Yorkers and become staples of their cuisine.
- Anchor Bar. Hardcore wing lovers can make a pilgrimage to the "Home of the Original Buffalo Chicken Wing" on Main Street in Buffalo to pick up all manner of chicken wing-themed T-shirts and other merchandise, but the flipside is that it's one of the few places in the region that can justifiably be called a "tourist trap", with all the inattention to food quality and customer service the term implies. A good rule of thumb for those who simply want to tuck into a plate of wings is to stick to the branch locations (two in Amherst, one in Niagara Falls, a seasonal stand at Darien Lake theme park, and airside at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga): the difference really is night and day. Besides wings, offerings also include a variety of salads, sandwiches (including that other standout of Western New York cuisine, beef on weck), and simple but hearty Italian fare.
- Anderson's. Since 1946, the Anderson family has operated this chain of drive-ins which are immensely popular with locals, especially in the summer months. One of Anderson's specialties is roast beef; by local reputation their beef on weck is of passable quality, but pales in comparison with Charlie the Butcher's and Schwabl's. Anderson's true strength, though, lies in their dessert selections, with a dizzying variety of frozen custards, milkshakes, flavored ices, hard and soft-serve ice creams, and sundaes on offer. Anderson's seven locations include restaurants in Buffalo, Amherst, Cheektowaga, Kenmore, Lancaster, Lockport, and Williamsville.
- Bagel Jay's. The former owners of Bagel Bros., which boasted two dozen locations at its height before the company was sold, are back with the same delicious bagels locals grew to love. A wide range of New York-style bagels are on offer at the three locations of Bagel Jay's (one in North Buffalo and two in Amherst) — traditional varieties such as sesame, poppy, and onion as well as innovative ones such as tomato pesto and cranberry orange — with an equally wide variety of regular or flavored cream cheese "shmears". A range of breakfast sandwiches and dark-roasted coffees are on offer as well, while at lunchtime the impressive gamut of sandwiches, soups and salads are popular with Bagel Jay's patrons.
- Charlie the Butcher. Charlie Roesch was not the inventor of beef on weck — that honor goes to Schwabl's, which opened in 1837 — but he and his descendants have certainly done the most to popularize that Buffalo specialty outside the immediate local area. The butcher shop of Charles E. Roesch and Company was founded in 1914 and operated for over eight decades in the Broadway Market on the East Side of Buffalo, with its titular owner also serving as mayor of the city from 1930 to 1934. His grandson, Charles W., carries on the family business at the original Charlie the Butcher's Kitchen in Williamsville, Charlie the Butcher's Carvery on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo, and four Charlie the Butcher Express locations downtown as well as the suburbs of Amherst, Orchard Park, and East Aurora.
- Duff's Famous Wings. Buffalo wings: the Anchor Bar invented them, and, according to a strong local consensus, Duff's perfected them. It was in 1969 when Louise Duffney began serving chicken wings at the roadside tavern she operated in a then-rural area of Amherst; her interpretation of the Anchor Bar's recipe was an instant hit. Interestingly, in a parallel to SPoT Coffee, Duff's was purchased in 1998 by a pair of Canadian brothers who moved the business' operations to Toronto. However, Duff's identity is still far more closely linked to Western New York than Canada, not only because of the food they serve that is so emblematic of local cuisine, but also because Duff's still has more locations here — the original in Amherst as well as new ones in Orchard Park, Depew, the Eastern Hills Mall, and Niagara Falls — than in Toronto, where there are only three.
- Jim's Steakout. The credo of Jim's Steakout — "If You're Up, We're Probably Open" — has endeared this chain to clubbers, college students, and miscellaneous night owls all over the area. Burgers, tacos, wraps, chicken wings and fingers, and fast food of a similar nature is served at Jim's, but it's their famous steak hoagies (the classic variety of which is dressed with lettuce, tomato, melted cheese, fried onions, and Jim's Secret Sauce) that really put this place on the local radar. Jim's Steakout has five Buffalo locations (in Allentown, the Chippewa Street entertainment district, the Elmwood Village, University Heights, and North Buffalo) as well as five suburban ones (two in Amherst and one each in Tonawanda, West Seneca, and East Aurora).
- John & Mary's. Founded in 1952 by the eponymous John and Mary Guida at a former used car dealership, in the years since the former's death and the latter's retirement each location of this local chain has been independently owned and operated, with menus that vary somewhat from one to another and only the name and logo in common. But it's pretty much the same general idea no matter where you visit: part pizzeria, part hamburger stand, and part sub shop, with a friendly and unpretentious ambience. John & Mary's has locations in Alden, Amherst, Arcade, Batavia, Cheektowaga (the original; famous for its "A-Bomb" Italian sausage subs slathered in secret-recipe hot sauce), Depew, Hamburg, and Lackawanna.
- Louie's Texas Red Hots. Founded in 1967, Louie's is probably the best-known place specializing in Texas hots, but the menu also includes other standard fast-food staples such as regular hot dogs, burgers, milkshakes, chicken fingers, French fries, and the like. The origin of Texas hots among the local Greek immigrant community manifests itself on the menu as well — cheeseburgers made with feta are an interesting option, pita bread is listed as a side order, and Greek desserts such as rice pudding and baklava are available. Louie's has three locations in Buffalo as well as four suburban ones (West Seneca, Depew, Orchard Park, and North Tonawanda).
- Marco's Italian Deli. Marco Sciortino, longtime chef of Marco's Italian Restaurant on the West Side of Buffalo, has spent the last decade or so feeding Western New Yorkers' love of hearty, tasty Italian cuisine with his growing list of Marco's Italian Deli franchises. Delicious sandwiches are the rule here, boasting the finest premium Boar's Head deli meats and cheeses, as well as unforgettable monikers such as the "Don Corleone", the "How-You-Doin'", and the "Forget About It". Soups, salads, burgers, and panini are also served. In addition to the original restaurant, which serves a wider range of entrees, locations are found on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo as well as two in Amherst.
- Mighty Taco. Perhaps the largest and best-known chain restaurant of local provenance, Mighty Taco is a Mexican fast-food outfit that was founded in 1973 and now boasts 21 locations all over the Niagara Frontier. This place's popularity among locals is so great that Taco Bell was shut out of the local market till well into the 1990s, and Mighty's sales figures still dwarf those of its much larger multinational rival. Signature specialties are the El Niño Burrito and their extensive line of "Roastitos", as well as seasonal offerings such as Chipotle Chili and BBQ Beef Burritos. Mighty Taco is also well-known for the unique, somewhat psychedelic commercials they run on Buffalo television, especially during the late-night hours.
- Mooney's Sports Bar and Grill. The tentacles of this chain of sports bars now spread far beyond the Niagara Frontier, with a presence as far afield as Genesee County and the Corning/Elmira area. But Kenmore is where Mooney's got its start in 2010, and it's still where you'll find a majority of its nine locations. Each one has a slightly different menu from the others (burgers, hot and cold sandwiches, deep-fried appetizers, and other standard pub grub is the general idea, along with a decent selection of local fare such as beef on weck and Buffalo-style chicken wings and fingers), but they all serve the specialty that the chain is most famous for: the area's widest and most creative selection of specialty mac & cheese platters, topped with everything from lobster to taco fixings to (of course) Buffalo-style chicken and blue cheese dressing. Homey wood-panelled walls bedecked with local sports memorabilia, omnipresent TVs tuned to the big game, and a general "where everybody knows your name" vibe complete the unpretentious ambience. Area locations include the original one on Military Road plus satellites in Depew, Lancaster, Tonawanda, West Seneca, and at the Eastern Hills Mall.
- Paula's Donuts. If we're talking volume alone, Tim Hortons is the area's favorite coffee-and-doughnut outfit, with Dunkin' Donuts a far distant second. If rabid customer loyalty is the metric, though, Paula's has both of those places beaten hands-down. The menu isn't anything out of the ordinary, with piping-hot coffee, doughnuts and other baked goods, and breakfast sandwiches all making their obligatory appearance. But it's the sheer size of their doughnuts that makes Paula's stand out from the pack — the jelly- and cream-filled ones in particular are better split between two people (this has as much to do with their taste bud-blasting sweetness as their size; these doughnuts pack a sugar punch that leaves the big-name competitors in the dust). Also notable is the wide variety: Paula's repertoire includes about 50 different permanent and seasonal doughnut varieties, of which usually 15 or so are available at any given time. You'll find three Paula's locations scattered around the metro area: the original in Tonawanda and branch locations in Clarence and West Seneca.
- Rachel's Mediterranean. "Like Chipotle for Mediterranean food", in the words of one reviewer: at Rachel's you pick your favorites from a seemingly neverending list of meats, veggies, and toppings to be customized into your very own wrap, salad, or rice bowl. Gyro and souvlaki are on point, but purists take note: this place has an odd and blatantly incorrect definition of shawarma (their version is basically chicken souvlaki mashed up with fried potatoes). Add on a side — hummus and tabbouleh are popular options — and you're good to go. In addition to the original location that's still going strong on Main Street in Williamsville, there are locations on UB North Campus in Amherst, on Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo, and in Cheektowaga and Hamburg.
- SPoT Coffee. It's not exactly a local coffeeshop chain — the company has been Canadian-owned since 2004 — but Western New Yorkers still claim SPoT as their own based on the fact that this is where you'll still find the vast majority of locations (despite ambitious plans to expand into the Canadian market, their two Toronto-area shops only lasted a few years). High-quality house-roasted coffee is the name of the game, along with a range of sandwiches and panini, healthy salads, and other gourmet lunch fare; pricey but worth it. You'll find three locations in Buffalo plus additional ones in Williamsville, East Amherst, Orchard Park, Hamburg, Kenmore, and coming soon to Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.
- Ted's Hot Dogs. The hot dogs served up at this place since 1927 by three generations of the Liaros family have made Ted's among the best-loved of Buffalo's local traditions. Char-broiled dogs come with your choice of the standard condiments of ketchup, mustard, onion and pickle relish, as well as chili and cheese for a nominal extra cost. Ted's chili sauce, though, is distinctly different from what you'll find on Texas hots. Burgers, fries, onion rings, milkshakes, and soft drinks (including loganberry) round out the offerings. Sadly, Ted's original location on the waterfront of Buffalo's West Side closed in the 1990s, but the chain still boasts nine locations: one downtown and one each in the suburbs of Amherst, Cheektowaga, Lancaster, Lockport, North Tonawanda, Orchard Park, Tonawanda, and Williamsville. Or you can hop online and see if Ted's "Charcoal Chariot" food truck will be putting in an appearance near you.
There are two distinct local styles of pizza. The vast majority of pizzerias in the area serve Buffalo-style pizza, which features a crust that's a good deal more substantial than New York thin-crust but not nearly as much so as Chicago deep-dish — appropriately enough given its location near the midpoint between those two cities — with a slightly nutty flavor and an airy sponginess that struggles to support the heaping mass of toppings that generally get piled on. Cheese comes in a thick, gooey layer that spreads out almost to the edge of the crust, the sauce has a noticeably sweet tinge, and pepperoni is invariably of the "cup and char" variety: smaller and more thickly sliced than elsewhere, they curl up into a bowl shape as they cook, blackened on the edges and with a pool of hot grease in the middle.
Meanwhile, the much more obscure Niagara Falls-style pizza sports a crust that's thin like New York pizza but with the same pillowy consistency and nutty flavor of the Buffalo style, with a sauce that's subtly seasoned with oregano and with only the faintest tinge of sweetness. The cheese is thin and sparse — generally there's just enough to fully cover the crust — with pepperoni baked underneath and any other toppings (generally there are none) on top. Niagara Falls pizza is cooked in a square pan and always sliced into squares.
Below are listed some of the more well-known local pizza chains:
- Bocce Club. The Bocce Club is a small operation, barely worthy of the term "chain" — it only has two locations, both in Amherst — but it merits inclusion here due to its outsize reputation among locals. Though there are some who say Bocce's is not quite as good as it used to be, the Pacciotti family's secret recipe is still often cited as the gold standard of Buffalo pizza. The key is the freshness of the ingredients, with dough made from scratch on the premises and only 100% whole-milk mozzarella cheese, which makes up for the fairly modest range of toppings offered. The usual array of wings, subs and sides are also offered, along with a decent fish fry. Also on Transit Road in East Amherst is the Original Bocce's Pizza, run by a different branch of the same family; local consensus says it's not as good.
- Franco's. The happy medium of Buffalo pizza, Franco's pies are offered with a respectable variety of toppings, but they're not as creative as Just Pizza; fresh-tasting and well-balanced, but not as artfully executed as Bocce's. Though the quality here can sometimes be inconsistent, Franco's is generally agreed to be above-average on the Buffalo pizza hierarchy. Where they truly excel, however, is the accompaniments — the garlic bread here is soft, moist and has a pleasantly sharp garlic flavor, the wide variety of subs on offer are all large and delicious, and the hot wings pack a spicy punch. Franco's pizzas stand out from the rest of the pack thanks to their square(-ish) shape; as the slogan goes, "Franco's doesn't cut any corners"! Locations are concentrated in Buffalo's northern suburbs, with two Tonawanda outlets and one each in Amherst, Kenmore and North Tonawanda.
- John's Pizza & Subs. The "subs" half of the equation is what earns John's its greatest acclaim — specifically their chicken finger sub; thick, meaty, sauce-drenched chunks of meat served on soft, delicious sesame seed buns run rings around their competition and justify the high prices you'll see on the menu. As for the pizza, it's hit and miss: some people swear by it, but the consensus holds it as mediocre, crust-heavy and topping-light and served in relatively stingy portions. John's counts two Amherst locations as well as additional ones in Tonawanda and Grand Island.
- Just Pizza. The closest thing to "gourmet" that you'll find in the realm of Buffalo pizza delivery, the creativity and endless variety on Just Pizza's menu have earned it comparisons to a homegrown version of California Pizza Kitchen — the online menu even suggests wine pairings to accompany their more popular specialty pies. Retaining the classic Buffalo crust and sauce but reinventing everything else, the dizzying selection of toppings, cheeses, and fourteen different crusts offered here are such that even the most diehard pizza fanatic will never be bored. Despite the name, they also serve respectable chicken wings (with, true to form, your choice of 20 sauces), subs, tacos, and the like. By far the largest chain of pizzerias in the area, Just Pizza boasts nine locations, three in Buffalo and one each in Amherst, Clarence, Grand Island, Lancaster, Tonawanda, and West Seneca.
- La Nova. Like the Bocce Club, the extent of La Nova's reputation belies the small size of the business, with only two locations: one on Buffalo's Upper West Side and another in Williamsville. But this truly is among the best Buffalo has to offer — not only to citizens but to the whole country; they do a brisk business shipping all over the continental U.S. (a testament, again, to that outsize renown). La Nova's crust tends to be thicker and doughier than the average Buffalo pizza, the better to support the generous portions of toppings and mounds of cheese piled on top. And the wings are in the same league as Duff's and the Anchor Bar. (Those who'd like to try both the pizza and the wings — highly recommended — should opt for a Combo Pack).
- Picasso's. With four locations in Williamsville, West Seneca, Lancaster and Hamburg, Picasso's stands out from its competition for the value customers get for their money. On paper, the prices at Picasso's are comparable to other pizza places in Buffalo — but the portions are huge, such that a medium pizza here could easily pass for a large somewhere else. That being said, the pizza itself can be described as merely average, with a crust that's slightly sweeter and nuttier in flavor, and wing lovers would probably be better served elsewhere. Picasso's does have an immense variety of other options available encompassing pretty much every type of simple, portable food that you might imagine from a place like this: everything from calzones to pasta dishes to several dozen varieties of hot and cold subs, and most interesting of all, an impressive variety of surprisingly tasty salads.
New York State has a rather late last call. Bars are allowed to stay open as late as 4AM, though in practice most close earlier (1 or 2AM are more typical), especially on slow nights.
Buffalo and the surrounding areas have no shortage of drinking establishments, and you should be able to find multiple watering holes within staggering distance in any moderately-populated area in the region. A 2005 survey by Scarborough Research found that 50 percent of legal-aged Buffalo residents have consumed a beer in the past month, ranking the city at 4th in the United States by that measure (Milwaukee being the top consumer, at 54 percent). Buffalo also has the interesting distinction of being the only major US market in which an imported beer is the most widely consumed (Labatt Blue, which has its US headquarters in the city).
See the nearby Finger Lakes Region.