Photo: Detour Photography for RGE RD

IN CANADA, culture and geography combine in a unique way to produce dining experiences you can’t find anywhere else. Québec’s hottest restaurants are integrating French and indigenous fare to create unique menus; Alberta’s conscientious chefs are partnering with ranchers to introduce nose-to-tail dining to the mainstream; Atlantic Canada’s creative cooks are showcasing the produce of local fishermen and farmers at restaurants and gastropubs across the region.

Seasonality, locality — these buzzwords really mean something up here. And if poutine and maple syrup are the only things you know about Canada’s culinary scene, here are 14 white-hot chefs and restaurants you need to meet.

1. Bar Isabel, Toronto, Ontario

Photo: Bar Isabel

Grant van Gameren is no stranger to Toronto’s diverse culinary scene. With partner Jen Agg, he led the city to its newfound love of offal at The Black Hoof. Then he opened a new flagship space, Bar Isabel, along with Max Rimaldi — the man behind Toronto’s Neapolitan pizza obsession. With a focus on rustic Spanish plates, this award-winning restaurant has earned a place on numerous best-of lists, including the #1 spot on EnRoute Magazine’s “Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2013.”

Since 2015, Van Gameren has juggled running Isabel with his newest venture, Bar Raval — a small, standing-room only nook that offers pintxos (small, shareable plates popular in Northern Spain).

The dishes
Best bets include the grilled octopus, and the succulent fattiness of the rib eye with foie gras. For dessert, dig into Basque cake with the accompanying sherry cream poured tableside.

The drinks
Extensive wine lists, sherry from Spain, creative cocktails. Corkage available.

The space
Mosaic tiling and low lighting sets the mood; it feels like you’ve wandered down a hidden street and into a real Andalusian bar.

  • Reservations: Yes; several months in advance
  • Location: 797 College Street, Toronto
  • Hours: Mon – Thurs & Sun 6pm – 12am; Fri & Sat 6pm – 2am
  • More info

2. The Bite House, Baddeck, Nova Scotia

Chef Bryan Picard’s food philosophy is to cook with the seasons. At his restaurant, The Bite House on Cape Breton Island, he does just that by showcasing the best rotating ingredients the area has to offer. He sources produce and proteins from local, independent farmers, from foraging, and from his garden.

The cuisine Picard creates has been warmly welcomed by locals as well as gourmets abroad. He’s been featured in The New York Times and on the Cooking Channel — getting a reservation at his restaurant can be a challenge, but is certainly worth the effort.

The dishes
A 5-course feast. The menu changes every month, but dishes can include flaky halibut with watercress, apple and beets, chanterelles, cured trout, and quail eggs.

The drinks
A small but solid selection of wines, beers, and ciders. Cocktail offerings include boozy iced teas, whisky milk punch, and minty rhubarb lemonade.

The space
An intimate 12-seat restaurant built inside a century-old white farmhouse.

  • Reservations: Yes; months in advance
  • Location: 1471 Westside Baddeck Road, Baddeck
  • Hours: Wed – Sat 6pm – 9pm; Mon, Tues, Sun closed
  • More info

3. The Mill in New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island

Photo: Dave Brosha for Tourism PEI

As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of Canada, Chef Emily Wells spent years in Ottawa kitchens before returning to her home province of PEI in 1999. She served a stint as executive chef at Dunes Café Studio Gallery and now has her own restaurant, The Mill in New Glasgow. Wells also operates Local 343, a cozy restaurant and pub in Charlottetown. But her flagship at The Mill is where she takes regional and prized ingredients from sea and soil and turns them into global dishes inspired by her travels as a child. And her endeavors have been warmly received; she’s the latest recipient of the coveted 2015 Taste Our Island Award.

The dishes
Try the steamed PEI blue mussels in a spicy Asian broth with garlic, fresh lime, ginger, cilantro, and Indonesian soy. For mains, the seafood cioppino is a favorite — juicy Atlantic scallops, mussels, and PEI lobster get coated in a rich roma tomato sauce and finished with basil pesto, sour cream, and parmesan.

The drinks
A good selection of wines, including Chardonnays and Seyval Blancs from PEI’s Newman Estate Winery.

The space
With views of green hills and the nearby Hunter River, the restaurant building sits among the trees in the village of New Glasgow. Exposed wood rafters and lots of natural light make this a special place to dine.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 5592 Route 13, New Glasgow
  • Hours: Mon – Sun 5:30 – 9pm
  • More info

4. La Traite, Québec City, Québec

Photo: La Traite

At Hotel-Musée Premières Nations in Wendake, an Amerindian village of the Huron-Wendat Nation, is La Traite. Located a 15-minute drive from Québec City and run by Chef Martin Gagné, fourth generation Algonquin, La Traite honors First Nations tradition with ingredients that have been hunted, fished, or gathered in Northern Québec. On the menu are foraged ingredients you might have seen on your Canada trip without realizing they were edible — think cattails and the tart sea buckthorn berry.

The dishes
Guests get the chance to taste the fare of Gagné’s youth with inventive twists. Seasonal menu offerings have included young wapiti (elk), oyster mushrooms, and wild garlic sauce, as well as the heady richness of foie gras and bannock bread with wild cherry syrup, fleur de sel, and balsam fir.

The drinks
An extensive wine selection that includes dozens of Canadian options, cocktails designed to represent the four main clans of the Wendat culture, and a corn-based beer — Kwe — available only in Wendake territory.

The space
A homage to the spirit of the wild outdoors, complete with antlers, towering tree trunks, indigenous sculptures, and a wood-burning fireplace.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 5, Place de la Rencontre, Wendake
  • Hours: Mon – Sun 7am – 11pm
  • More info

5. RGE RD, Edmonton, Alberta

Photo: Detour Photography for RGE RD

With a background in French cuisine and years working in — and eating at — Vancouver’s restaurants, Chef Blair Lebsack pays homage to his Albertan roots with the nose-to-tail menu at RGE RD. The name of the restaurant is a play on “range road,” a familiar term and navigational feature to anyone who’s driven the back roads of rural Alberta.

Lebsack supports local growers and connects guests to the places where their food is grown by holding “farm dinners” throughout the year. At the Edmonton restaurant, the wood-burning oven lends itself to perfectly cooked meats, but hyper-local, hyper-fresh veggies are also a focus of the menu.

The dishes
Lebsack’s primary goal is connecting diners to their food. Hence Questionable Bits — a daily preparation that uses the whole animal. Beef tongue, pig’s tail — anything could be on the table. Also try Nature’s Green Acre Pig Roast, which includes pork belly, pork loin, and pork confit cuts.

The drinks
A Canadian-focused wine menu with a few European varietals from France and Italy. A concise cocktail list alongside beers and ciders.

The space
Simple but modern, wooden tables and seating with Edison bulbs for lighting.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 10643 123 Street, Edmonton
  • Hours: Mon – Sat 5pm – 11pm; Sun closed
  • More info

6. Au Pied De Cochon, Montreal, Québec

Photo: David Zilberman for Au Pied De Cochon

Dining at Chef Martin Picard’s restaurant, Au Pied De Cochon, is a rite of passage for any visitor to Montreal who’s serious about food. Like Picard’s personality, the food is ridiculously over-the-top and indulgent. But that’s his style, and people love him for it.

Picard may have had his own TV series (The Wild Chef), awards that include the Star of Gastronomy and the Roger Champoux Prize, and praise from The New York Times and Anthony Bourdain, but you’ll still find him humbly working at his restaurant.

The dishes
French fare with a Québecois twist, there’s an entire menu section devoted to foie gras. Try the unabashedly decadent foie gras poutine. Also on the menu: Duck in a Can, aka Canard en Conserve — half a duck breast, a lobe of foie gras, roasted garlic, sprigs of thyme, braised cabbage, and demi-glace, all packaged up in a custom-labeled tin can (you can even buy them to go).

The drinks
An extensive selection of craft beers.

The space
A modest bistro filled with tables and a room-length mirror for watching the staff work their magic in the open-concept kitchen, or for stealing glances at other tables and what they’ve ordered.

  • Reservations: Yes; months in advance
  • Location: 536 Avenue Duluth Est, Montreal
  • Hours: Wed – Sun 5pm – 12am; Mon & Tues closed
  • More info

7. Play Food & Wine, Ottawa, Ontario

Photo: Andrew Alexander for Play Food & Wine

There’s no shortage of great restaurants in Canada’s capital. Play Food & Wine favors local, sustainable, seasonal food, meaning the menu’s always changing at this wine bar that’s been recognized by Maclean’s and The National Post.

Owners Stephen Beckta and Chef Michael Moffatt have amassed years of industry experience. Beckta is a trained sommelier who worked for the likes of Chef Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer (of Eleven Madison Park) in NYC before returning to Ottawa. Moffatt, who also helms the critically acclaimed sister restaurant Beckta Dining & Wine, has worked at renowned restaurants like Brooklyn’s River Café.

The dishes
While tweaks are made to adapt to the season, popular mainstays include gnocchi with cream sauce and a forest of greens, and the grilled hanger steak with crisp frites.

The drinks
An extensive wine list designed to pair well with tapas-style dishes.

The space
The dining room is simple and modern but welcoming; prime real estate for diners are the high-top chairs that peer into the open-concept kitchen.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 1 York Street, Ottawa
  • Hours: Mon & Sun 12pm – 2pm & 5:30pm – 10pm; Tues – Thurs 12pm – 2pm & 5:30pm – 11pm; Fri & Sat 12pm – 2pm & 5:30pm – 12am
  • More info

8. Saint John Ale House, Saint John, New Brunswick

With its seafood-gastropub menu profiled on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here series, Chef Jesse Vergen’s restaurant is the unofficial ambassador for New Brunswick’s culinary scene. As a former Top Chef Canada contestant and winner of the Best Local Chef title for Atlantic Canada, Vergen puts a spotlight on the fresh produce of the region’s roster of small farms and fishermen.

The dishes
If you’re going to eat one thing, make it the giant Bay of Fundy lobster roll. A side salad of tender greens from the chef’s garden completes the meal.

The drinks
Traditional cocktails, an all-Canadian wine list, craft beers.

The space
The best is grabbing a seat on the waterfront patio and eating outdoors.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 1 Market Square, Saint John
  • Hours Mon – Thurs, Sun 11am – 11pm; Fri & Sat 11am – 12am
  • More info

9. AnnaLena, Vancouver, BC

Photo: Allison Kuhl for AnnaLena

As a born-and-bred Vancouverite, Chef Michael Robbins champions a fresh bounty of Pacific Northwest ingredients at his restaurant AnnaLena. A classically French-trained chef, Robbins learned the ropes at notable places like Joe Fortes Seafood & Chophouse, Glowbal, and Oakwood Canadian Bistro, then traveled to Australia and Asia to expand his cooking repertoire — and to fuel inspiration for menu and plating ideas at AnnaLena.

The dishes
Eye candy aside, the best plates here include the succulent wagyu short ribs with sunchokes, cauliflower puree, blue cheese, and peppercorn jus. Sweet scallops with charred cucumber, broccoli, garlic cream, and fried Brussels sprouts are a favorite too. Also on the menu — chicken skin that’s been deep-fried and slathered in chocolate.

The drinks
Good wines and innovative cocktails.

The space
Just like Robbins’ modern plating aesthetic, the dining space is modern and playful. Black banquettes are offset with wood paneling and abstract art covers the walls. Also featured as decoration are Lego pieces, Game Boys, Star Wars figurines, and Bearbricks — perfect for a game of “I Spy” while you’re waiting for your food.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 1809 W 1st Avenue, Vancouver
  • Hours: Tues – Fri 5pm – 12am; Sat – Sun 10am – 1:30pm and 5pm – 12am; Mon closed
  • More info

10. Eigensinn Farm, Ontario

Photo: Margaret Mulligan for Eigensinn Farm

One of the pioneers of Toronto’s culinary landscape in the 1980s, Michael Stadtländer endeavored to live off the land long before it was trendy. He wanted to know where his food came from and how to grow it. Once he had spent enough time learning from farmers, he inevitably became one when he bought a 100-acre farm in Singhampton, Ontario.

Stadtländer’s family and staff live and cook at the Eigensinn Farm property. His multi-course meal events have not gone unnoticed; Eigensinn has been included in Restaurant magazine’s The World’s 50 Best more than once — not just for the food, but for the entire experience of connecting with the food, the land, and the people who contributed to it.

The dishes
You’ll never get the same meal as the last diner from a previous event, but expect eight seasonal courses that could include anything from lobster to farm lamb.

The drinks
Paired wines or champagnes with each course.

The space
Rain or shine, dress for the weather; you’ll most likely be eating outdoors.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 449357 10th Concession, Singhampton
  • Hours: Varies, based on each individual event
  • More info

11. Alo, Toronto, Ontario

Photo: Alo

Finding this restaurant is akin to playing Where’s Waldo. But once you realize Alo has been under your nose the entire time, you’ll be surprised you didn’t notice it earlier. Situated at one of the busiest Toronto intersections on the third floor of a Victorian building at Queen and Spadina, this spot has received countless awards and high praise for reviving the city’s fine dining scene…without the stuffiness.

Chef Patrick Kriss has worked at high-profile places like Splendido and Acadia in Toronto, as well as under Chef Daniel Boulud in Manhattan. He’s also done culinary stints abroad in France at Régis Marcon and La Maison Troisgros. As a result, there’s a decidedly Gallic feel to the menu.

The dishes
The bar menu is a la carte ordering, while the sit-down dinner is a multi-course meal of 5-9 plates — it all depends on how ravenous you feel. Plates are delicate, but order enough and they offer more than adequate sustenance.

With a rotational menu, ingredients highlight seasonality. Past notable favorites have included Québec foie gras with sweet potato, chestnut, and watercress, as well as Nova Scotia lobster on a bed of squash puree with hazelnuts and cabbage.

The drinks
An innovative cocktail list featuring vintage mixed drinks from France alongside house specials.

The space
An airy, contemporary loft feel. Very minimalist.

  • Reservations: Yes; months in advance
  • Location: 163 Spadina Avenue, 3rd Floor, Toronto
  • Hours: Tues – Sat 5pm – 12:45am; Mon & Sun closed
  • More info

12. Mallard Cottage, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Chef Todd Perrin grew up in Newfoundland in a village called Quidi Vidi, just outside of St. John’s. A Top Chef Canada contestant, Perrin has courted controversy with his support and encouragement of people eating sustainably caught seal. Sensationalism aside, the man can cook.

A Culinary Institute of Canada graduate, he’s worked in kitchens all over the country, including the Lodge in Alberta’s Kananaskis Country and Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario. Upon Perrin’s return to Newfoundland, he cooked at his parent’s B&B, The Chef’s Inn, and then owned a restaurant in St. John’s called Two Chefs. Today he runs Mallard Cottage, an award-winning spot named one of the best restaurants of 2014 by EnRoute Magazine.

The dishes
The menu is always on rotation to reflect the seasonality of ingredients, but a mainstay is cod, one of Perrin’s favorite items to work with. Cod tongues are dredged in cornmeal, deep fried, and served with garlic aioli, mustard pickles, and slaw. And yes, seal is occasionally on the menu.

The drinks
An extensive wine, beer, and cocktail selection.

The space
In a heritage property that took two years to restore, the original facade has been preserved while the inside feels like an old homestead, complete with wood pillars and low ceiling beams.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 8 Barrows Road, St. John’s
  • Hours: Tues – Sat 5:30pm – 9pm; Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • More info

13. Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Photo: Dustin Leader for Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant

Before opening Segovia Tapas Bar and Restaurant in 2009, Chef Adam Donnelly traveled through Spain, where he met local producers and learned everything he could about the local cuisine. He then brought the best of those flavors back to Manitoba. This is a true Winnipeg hotspot — to avoid the lineups, go on a weeknight or on weekends around 5-6pm.

The dishes
Go in a group to order and taste the entire menu — meaty octopus; crispy patatas bravas, lightly fried hunks of potato in a spicy tomato sauce; salt cod tortillas; jamon croquetas.

The drinks
An extensive selection of cava, wine, sherry, beers on tap, and cocktails.

The space
A modern, bright space with big tables for sharing dinner with friends.

  • Reservations: No
  • Location: 484 Stradbrook Avenue, Winnipeg
  • Hours: Mon, Wed, Thurs, Sun 5pm – 11pm; Fri & Sat 5pm – 12am; Tues closed
  • More info

14. Garde Manger, Montreal, Québec

Photo courtesy of Destination Canada

Many are familiar with Chef Chuck Hughes and his boyish grin. He’s been seen battling it out and defeating Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, hosting cooking shows like Chuck’s Day Off and Chuck’s Eat the Street, and acting as judge on Chopped Canada. Besides his TV fame, two cookbooks, and a second restaurant, Le Bremner, the major draw for many people is Hughes’ flagship establishment, Garde Manger, known for its adventurous menu that reaches across cultural lines.

The dishes
Classic French techniques + Québecois ingredients + generous portions + fresh seafood = dishes like the famed lobster poutine. Debuted on Iron Chef America, it helped Hughes secure a win over Chef Bobby Flay. Also on the menu is guinea hen stuffed with truffles and foie gras (a dish meant for two).

The drinks
An extensive wine menu, cocktails, and beers.

The space
Wood beam rafters, exposed brick walls, distressed mirrors — this is a hip, dimly lit space where dance club beats echo from the speakers in the evening.

  • Reservations: Yes
  • Location: 408 Rue Saint François-Xavier, Montreal
  • Hours: Tues – Sun 5:30pm – 11pm; Mon closed
  • More info

 


This post is proudly produced in partnership with Destination Canada.

 

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