After Stratford, the other place Ontario-based theatre critics spend a lot of time is Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to Canada’s other biggest summer repertory theatre company. Most seasons, I consider The Shaw Festival my favourite theatre company and the quiet charm of their home in picturesque Niagara-on-the-Lake is icing on the cake.


Here’s the lowdown on where I spend my time and money when I’m in town reviewing.


To be honest, most of my time and money is simply spent at Balzacs. The NOTL location of the theatre-town staple is cute and comfy and there are a few perfect seats with your back to the wall so it feels safe to review even with the company members wandering around. Balzacs can add up so I try to limit myself to just one Parisian Mist a trip and switch to drip coffee if I’ll be staying awhile but with multiple interesting blends to choose from (I think the Atwood’s probably the best but my silly nerd heart can’t not order the Bard Blend), Balzacs drip coffee is nothing to complain about. Also magic bars and those chocolate chip cookies!


If you’re looking to splash out the Prince of Wales has a nice high tea though the service can be pretty snooty (make sure you have a reservation!) and I’d skip their other restaurants. Zees used to be great but I’m not crazy about their recent menu changes so, if you’re looking for a more upscale dinner, I’d head to the outskirts of town to one of the wineries (the lobster roll at Ravine is fantastic).


Also a little removed from the main touristy area of the city is Silks Country Kitchen, the very best value in town if you’re looking for a classic big breakfast with good coffee and fluffy pancakes. It’s not fancy but it’s reliable, affordable, and the service is great.


The grab and go options are the town’s weakest point with the gyro counter’s affordable and fast service being the only good proper meal option if you’re cutting it close to showtime. Grab and go sweet treats, on the other hand, are a NOTL specialty with a fantastic candy store and the best fudge you’ll ever have at Maple Leaf Fudge. Cows ice cream right on the main road is a classic, though keep in mind if heading to Cows that there will likely be a line; don’t let it make you late. Baked goods are also a highlight with Fritters on the Lake, Doughvine, and chimney cakes from Budapest Bakeshop all steps from the theatres and indulgently delicious.


Speaking of indulgent, some of NOTL’s best dining options serve some of the richest pub fare you can imagine. I’m fond of the Irish Harp with its ample seating, live music, and nachos made with potato chips, but I’d be remiss not to send you to the Olde Angel Inn where you can sit in one of the oldest buildings in Canada and eat a Guiness poutine that will blow your mind (tip: ask for extra curds and a bit less gravy for the perfect balanced bite).


If asked for a recommendation by someone who’s not spending a lot of time in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I’d send them to Angel Inn for the one-two punch of history and great food that feels like it captures something about the area (I don’t know why pubs feel particulary Niagara-y but they do). But if you’re in town for longer and just want some really good food, my actual favourite dinner spot in town is Niagara’s Finest Thai. It seems like a strange place to get thai food but their red curry is the best I’ve ever had. Spicier than most, the sauce accompanies much higher quality beef than you usually find in thai curries and though extra rice is a whole $5, it’ll last you at least two meals if you add it.  Skip the spring rolls, they’re too thick and pretty greasy (and $9.50, which feels steep) but the thai iced tea is fantastic for only 3.50 and you’ll need something to cut the spice of the curry. A large, comfy space near the Festival Theatre with an open kitchen where you can watch the chefs, Niagara’s Finest Thai is my go-to in NOTL, I never skip it.


The one place I wouldn’t recommend is Fournos, having ended up there more than once when all the other options were full (always a risk in a touristy town). Mediocre Greek food served in a musty basement by grumpy staff- hard pass.