The Authentic Flavors of Niagara Cafe

By Brian Hayden

Published on | Last Updated

At the Niagara Café, the cooks prepare all the items on the menu by “ojo” – or eye. A pinch of this spice to flavor the café’s signature rotisserie chicken. A dash of that seasoning to round out the 400 to 500 pastelillos – crispy, crunchy fried pockets filled with steaming hot chicken or beef – handmade each day. And the guidance and know-how of a family that has held onto closely guarded recipes for generations.

It helps that Maria Hernandez and her husband, Raul, have been on-site at the café almost every day since they introduced Buffalo’s Lower West Side to their Puerto Rican cuisine in 1992. They live right in the neighborhood that continues to serve as the hub of Buffalo’s Puerto Rican population. Their team of family members and veteran staff know how to make the menu’s specialties by memory, from the tostones and maduros (fried and sweet plaintains) to the pasteles (green bananas grated and seasoned and served with pork). Maria takes great pride in the café’s evolution into a neighborhood institution over the last 28 years – an accomplishment rooted in its commitment to quality.

“We hear, ‘Oh my God, this tastes just the way my mother used to make it,’” Maria said. “We cook the way our mothers cooked. And you can sit here and enjoy it the way you would at home.” 

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Brian Hayden

Brian Hayden is a lifelong Buffalonian and storyteller, author of the new book “111 Places In Buffalo That You Must Not Miss,” and director of communications at The Buffalo History Museum.