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NIAGARA FALLS – With the Polar Vortex firmly gripping Western New York like the hand of death, “snowblowing” took on a new meaning one recent weekend. Clearing the driveway had turned me into the world’s largest-known icicle, and the only remedy was a hot meal – pronto! We packed into the bobsled (at least that’s how it seemed on the slushy roadways) and slipped and slid onto the tundra.

We got as far as the nearest restaurant and decided that was pushing our luck enough: Mexican it would be. Polar Vortex, meet Dia de los Muertos!

We hadn’t been to La Galera since the city’s longest-standing Mexican restaurant had relocated to roomier confines near the intersection of Military Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard. Parking for the popular eatery would no longer be a problem, with an entire strip-mall lot available. That alone was a major improvement.

Entering the former buffet-style facility, the first thing we noticed were the new booths, decked out in bright colors and designs of cacti and slumbering souls in sombreros and the like. There were plenty of them, too; seating capacity wouldn’t be a concern anymore either. Good news for La Galera’s legion of local followers.

The better news was that the service remains quick, efficient and friendly, and the menu extensive and affordable. The best news of all? The food is just as good as ever – maybe even more so.

We were met with a heaping bowlful of hot, fresh tortilla chips and salsa (complimentary), ordered our drinks and food, and were literally eating within about five minutes. Everything was piping hot and fresh to the max. Thanks to a bottle of steaming hot sauce at our table, drink refills were in order and were quickly addressed.

Luncheon specials (most in the $4-$6 range and served until 3 p.m. daily, except for Sunday) are plentiful and affordable. I selected the “Speedy Gonzalez” ($5.35) which consisted of an enchilada and a hard-shell taco, with a choice of beans or rice. I went with the beans and added a tamale from the a la carte menu ($2). With a few dashes of the red bottled sauce, I quickly shook the chills of my earlier snowblowing. With my body temperature returning to normal, I went the rest of the way with the tamer green hot sauce, which actually looked like nuclear ooze, or maybe melted Jell-o shots. But dang, it was good.

So for just over $7, I had a virtual sampler of Mexican specialties that really hit the spot, and more than filled me up. The taco, in particular, seemed so good, especially in comparison to the fast-food ones available on every other corner. It tasted authentic, is the best way I can describe it; not like it was spiced out of a supermarket baggie. Its crunch was a nice flip side to the thick, doughy cornmeal tamale, which was covered with a heaping helping of meat and brown-red sauce. The enchilada was excellent, as well as the refried beans.

My wife and daughter ordered off the dinner combination menu, most for right around $8, with several costing even less. Teresa had two enchiladas, a taco and a chile relleno, which is basically a hot poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and fried. It had a nice spiciness to it, nothing overpowering, and was quite flavorful. There was enough so that we could all have a taste, which was nice.

Meagan had two enchiladas, a taco and rice – being the rice enthusiast of the group. It, too, was fresh and tasty, and in good amount. Unfortunately, none of us partook of the guacamole on this trip, but it is one of Meagan’s all-time favorites at La Galera – she said they do it better than anyone.

We all felt that the amount of food presented was just perfect – everyone satiated, nothing left over, and that it remains the best Mexican around. Now that the parking and seating issues have been adequately addressed, there is absolutely no reason not to stop in the next time you are hankering for authentic, south of the border goodies.

La Galera

3.5 pennies

Where: 8215 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls (283-0005)

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.

Wheelchair accessible: Yes