My friend is in Tokyo for a vacation, and even though I’m insanely busy with school and part-time work, I’ve managed to set aside some time to go out with her and show her around.
Recently, we visited Curry Station Niagara at my suggestion. Another friend posted pictures of her experience there, and after seeing how charming the place was, I wanted to go there myself, and I figured that my friend would want to eat there, too. Indeed, my friend was interested in the restaurant, so we set aside some time for a lunch date.
What’s so unique and charming about Niagara, you ask? Why don’t you see for yourself?
It’s a train-themed curry restaurant that’s been around for 51 years! The owner, the friendly Mr. Naitou, was a former train conductor at Yutenji Station, the nearest station to the restaurant, on the Tokyu Toyoko Line. He carried over his enthusiasm for trains to his humble restaurant. Train memorabilia are strewn all over the place.
First, you order by getting a stub from the vending machine. There are some English explanations above the vending machine, but the menu items are only written in Japanese. Although there are laminated menus with photos, the items are also listed in Japanese.
Prices start at 720 yen (which is for the Niagara special), and as far as main dishes go, the restaurant only serves curry (as is the case with many restaurants in Japan – they tend to specialize in one kind of dish). The variants include cheese curry, curry with a boiled egg, and katsu curry. A kids’ meal is also available – it comes in an adorable shinkansen container. For dessert, you can also order ice cream for 300 yen.
Now that you’ve placed your order, the next thing to do is wait for your order! The train theme even extends to the way the food is served – the server places your order on a train, says, “Now departing!,” and the train chugs along the tracks on the side of the seats. It was an adorable and amusing sight!
I ordered cheese curry (790 yen), while my friend ordered Niagara curry (720 yen). As the train stopped next to our seats, the friendly server offered to take our pictures, so we obliged. She made us pick some conductors’ hats, which were on an overhead rack (similar to those in trains), and snapped away.
Time to eat! The portions were large, and the sauce was rich and thick. My friend thought that the curry could use more meat (as it was mostly sauce, potatoes, and, if we remember correctly, carrots), but even so, we both thought that the curry was delicious and filling. The prices were also reasonable, as you can get curry elsewhere for the same price but for a smaller portion.
As we ate, Mr. Naitou noticed (or was told by our server) that we were foreigners, so he brought us a guestbook for us to sign, as well as a clear folder with various articles and pictures. I believe that I’ve read in another blog that Mr. Naitou asks foreign guests to sign his guestbook (though there were also many entries in Japanese, so perhaps Japanese are also welcome to sign it). We browsed through the clear folder and saw that some of their notable customers included a member of 2PM and a Canadian TV crew. The server also pointed to some other pictures, which were of some local celebrities and of Naitou-san’s family.
After finishing our hearty meal, our server handed us a ticket and a stamped paper – proof of our boarding and departure at Curry Station Niagara. She also said that there was one more treat for us. Not long after, the train started chugging again, bringing along shinkansen-shaped containers. What could those be?
“Please open it, and take one each,” the server said, smiling.
So we did, and inside were some candies for our final treat! We thanked the server, signed the guestbook, and prepared to leave.
Outside the restaurant, Naitou-san was tending to the restaurant’s exterior. As we said our thank-yous and goodbyes, we asked for some photos. He happily obliged, and went back inside to get hats for us, then made a salute and encouraged us to follow suit. “発射します!” (literally, “Now departing!” or something to that effect, but I also like to translate it as “All aboard!”) he exclaimed, and the server took our photos. We also asked for photos with the server, although, in our shyness, we realized that we’d forgotten to ask for her name.
That was a memorable experience for us, because we didn’t just visit Niagara for the food, but also for the experience and ambiance. Themed restaurants are a pleasure due to the experience/s they offer, but some put all the work into the theme but fall short in terms of food, forgetting that, in the first place, a themed restaurant is still a restaurant. But, thank goodness, Niagara wasn’t anything like that – it had a fun, quaint, amusing theme, but it also served amazing homemade curry.
Service was also very good, as the server was very friendly. She chatted animatedly with each customer. Compared to a larger restaurant, that didn’t seem as difficult because Niagara is a really small restaurant, but still, I doubt that someone who isn’t naturally friendly or good with people in the first place could be able to hold a conversation with several people. Yet our server asked us about ourselves, about my student life so far, and whatnot, and told us bits and pieces about the restaurant, its customers, its history, and so on. The server’s friendliness, as well as the homey ambiance and small size of the restaurant, made us feel, at times, like we were just visitors dropping by for lunch at someone’s place.
I really hope to visit Curry Station Niagara again with some other friends!