6621 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls, NY 14304
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Mexican Niagara Falls
"The La Galera Special was the highlight of our meal: though they're not hard to make, the taquitos were literally the best we can ever recall eating, thanks to the chicken."
Having spent time in California and Mexico, we're routinely reminded of how sharply our conceptions of Mexican food differed from what we've experienced in Western New York: in areas with larger Mexican populations, even second-tier places surpass Buffalo's best options on freshness, flavors, and menu choices. Still, we've continued our quest for a truly great Mexican restaurant in Western New York, and though we've reviewed almost all of WNY's Mexican restaurants, we're always on the lookout for something even better. So after friends tipped us to La Galera in Niagara Falls, only a brief drive from the Fashion Outlets mall, we optimistically took a drive to see whether there was anything that made it stand out from the pack.
One surprise about La Galera was its size; it shares a parking lot with one of Niagara Falls Boulevard's numerous motels, and offers roughly as much seating capacity - perhaps 60 chairs - as taco and burrito shops such as Salsarita's and Moe's. Yet unlike these places, which have you pick up your meals at a counter and serve yourself from salsa bars, La Galera tries to shoehorn a full-service experience into its walls. The result feels somewhat cramped, though otherwise alright. Restaurants such as La Tolteca and 5 de Mayo are larger and more nicely decorated, but La Galera's venue is a functional mix of plain gray tables with dark brick walls and carpeted floors, complete with a flag and several Mexican decor pieces on the walls. We arrived around the dinner hour, and perhaps a fifth of the seating area was occupied. The service was initially a little scatterbrained and distant, but not bad.
However, by the time we left, all of the tables were full, partially explaining what could only be described as a near-complete collapse in service during the second half of our meal - closer to the first half for other patrons. With no one cleaning up while dinners were in progress, finished plates and glasses filled our entire table, and we found ourselves stacking them to make room. When we went to the cash register to pay our bill, customers there were angrily chewing out seemingly unconcerned staff regarding how long they'd been waiting without attention. Our server looked surprised when we tipped her reasonably. For all of their other issues, other Mexican places we've visited locally - even at full capacity - seemed to do a better job managing their tables, and if we'd been here any later, we might have had a far less acceptable experience.
Despite the non-trivial service issues, we had no complaints about the total time we waited for our food: items came out promptly, and for the most part, they were good. A complimentary basket of chips and salsa arrived soon after we sat down, and though neither was great - the chips were barely salted and on the fine edge of staleness, the salsa plain - they were enough to keep us going while we waited for our meal. We dug through La Galera's several-page menu, finding it to be decidedly entree- and combination plate-heavy at the expense of appetizers, so we ordered a mix of plates to sample the restaurant's more representative items. The consequence was that our dinners arrived less than beautifully, and our photos would be unusually difficult to sort through without some explanation. Consequently, we'll work our way through the photos in order of what was on each plate.
Our top image shows the La Galera Special ($9), a plate with two fried chicken taquitos, a red-sauce and ground beef-covered corn tamale, and a chalupa - a hard corn tortilla shell with a salad and guacamole on top. This plate was the highlight of our meal: though they're not hard to make, the taquitos were literally the best we can ever recall eating, with big, tender pieces of chicken breast meat inside, and a perfectly crispy fried tortilla outside. They were great without assistance, and even better when dipped into the plate's mild but meaty red sauce. By comparison, the tamale itself was forgettably plain, served so drenched in sauce without the traditional corn husk that we felt like we were eating a corn-based version of mashed potatoes and gravy. From lettuce to guacamole, the chalupa was fine, and the Special also included a side plate of good Mexican-style rice, orange from its preparatory mix of tomato sauce and chicken broth, plus cheese-covered beans that were okay.
As fans of both tacos and Mexican steak preparations, we're always hunting for truly excellent carne asada tacos, which are easy to find in California and Mexico, but not so much around here. We ordered an entree consisting of three Tacos de Carne Asada for $11, and they lived up to local expectations: relatively small pieces of chopped steak, spread amongst three soft tortillas on a single plate. The first two tacos were reasonably filled; the third appeared to have been stuffed lightly before the cook ran out of steak. Bowls of a lightly spicy chili sauce and pico de gallo - chopped tomatoes and onions - were off to the side. Sensing that the semi-dry steak wasn't anything amazing on its own, we used most of the bowls' contents to add more flavor and texture to the tacos, and came away satisfied but not impressed. Carne asada meat can and should be good enough to stand on its own, but here, it was well-suited to being mixed with other flavors.
Another plate - the sloppiest of the bunch - was Combination Dinner #20 ($8), which combined a hard shell ground beef taco with one chile relleno, one cheese enchilada, rice and beans; our photos show it from two angles to spotlight the mix of sauces and items that blended together on the plate. We'd ordered this primarily for the chile relleno - typically a cheese-stuffed, breaded green pepper - which arrived undercooked and without breading, but with plenty of cheese; it wasn't authentic or even worth finishing. It was covered in a green chili sauce we'd requested for the enchilada, an okay soft corn tortilla shell filled with cheese; the sauce also ran into the hard shell taco. By the time we got to the taco, which was filled with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and ground beef, its bottom was soft from sitting in the sauce and gooey beans, but it was fine. This plate was a good value for the price given the quantity of food, but the quality was at best decent overall.
Undaunted, we also ordered one dessert, the Super Sopapilla ($4.35), described by the menu as a fried flour tortilla with a mix of fun - honey, cinnamon, and butter, differing from the standard $3.15 Sopapilla by also including chocolate and one scoop of vanilla ice cream. We enjoyed what arrived: a plate with one tortilla that had been sliced into quarters and fried to a crisp, with a little cinnamon but plenty of evidence of honey, butter, and chocolate, plus a small ball of chocolate-drizzled ice cream in the center. The sweet tortilla pieces were best enjoyed shattered, with a little ice cream mixed in, leading to a nice combination of semi-sinful tasting oil, cream, and cocoa. It wasn't fancy or amazing, but we'd order it again.
That statement does raise a question, however: would we return to La Galera? If we lived in or near Niagara Falls, its proximity alone would make it attractive, and by local standards, it's a solid enough place to have a Mexican meal if its food quality is judged without regard to the service issues. While it's not quite at La Tolteca levels, we'd describe the food as better than some of the area's other Mexican and quasi-Mexican restaurants, notably including Gramma Mora's, and the prices are undeniably attractive, too. However, service and ambience do count for something, and here, they're the difference between our active willingness to return and a feeling that we could as easily pass in favor of someplace closer to home. La Galera is a nice pick for Niagara Falls locals and visitors; a bit of work would be needed to improve the overall experience before we'd be inclined to visit again.