Interior By Bryan Calandrelli, Niagara Region Editor

I’d love to say that deciding Niagara’s Restaurant of the Year was a difficult one, involving dozens of meals and a few days of intense deliberation. In reality it was the opposite. Carmelo’s Restaurant in historic Lewiston wins hands down in Niagara Wine Country, USA – and it would be hard not to declare it restaurant of the year in Western New York in general.

The fact is there’s no other restaurant that comes close in matching the effort chef Carmelo Raimondi makes towards sourcing local ingredients and local wines.

The result is an ever-evolving menu that not only highlights the chef’s ability to blend Italian-inspired dishes with the best local produce and meat, it’s a menu that puts a spotlight on the individual farms and wineries he’s partnered with.

The cuisine here has been top notch as long as I can remember but only in the last five years or so has the focus been so dramatically local. Today you will find Niagara wines, both red and white, on the wine list and, more importantly, on his wines by-the-glass chalkboard menu above the bar.

The local wine options are as diverse as the region itself. I’ve seen local syrah, pinot noir, chambourcin, pinot gris, chardonnay, cabernet franc and Meritage blends on the restaurant’s list. The bottle prices are completely reasonable and the servers are helpful in pouring samples upon request.

This past summer the restaurant also added three taps for craft beer, focusing on regional selections. The first tap beer menu I saw included Flying Bison, Sixpoint, and Great Lakes Brewing.

The great local food, wine and beer menus here surely make it an option for restaurant of the year but the service and hospitality of the staff clinch it for me. No matter how busy or how late, the staff is always friendly and accommodating. Need a high chair for the little one? Carmelo’s has them. Want to just come in for a drink and an appetizer? No worries, try the local pork belly.

In the past couple of years, the Niagara region has become increasingly self-aware of its bountiful farmland, burgeoning wine industry and its growing community of locavores. Carmelo’s has worked hard to bring it all together in what is ultimately the region’s most satisfying dining experience.