Five Canadian cities and the food movement that they do best.
words by Dan Clapson
There are many food trends that filter in and out of restaurants around the country. Remember the explosion of kale salads on just about every North American menu? Let’s not forget cauliflower served more ways than there are vegans. The point is that some things come and go from a city’s food scene, while others seem to grab hold and become a staple of the dining experience.
Here are five major Canadian cities and a restaurant concept that they do best.
Vancouver: Contemporary Asian
Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese...Whatever style of Asian cooking you’re looking for on the west coast, you can guarantee to find it in Vancouver. From the long line and lineage of mom and pop eateries, the city has seen chefs grow to embrace Asian techniques and classics while elevating them in many different restaurants around town.
Bao Bei - One of the first contemporary Chinese restaurants in Vancouver, Bao Bei has been impressing diners since day one. The spicy sichuan cucumbers are always a great way to start off dinner here. Don’t skip on the house-made chickpea tofu. It’s phenomenal.
Sai Woo - Mussels in a stand-out hot and sour broth, and braised pork belly with fermented red tofu and taro root chips are just two of the reasons why this Chinese-inspired restaurant has been nominated on a number of “Canada’s Best” lists.
Torafuku - Pulling from Japanese and Korean influences, chef and owner Clement Chan has a lot of fun with his creative Asian dishes here, including their names. The “Rye so messy chicken wings” are sticky, spicy and addicting, served with a ramen crumble for a nice little crunch. Wash it down with a ‘Yogi Pear’ cocktail made with sake, green tea kombucha syrup and smoked pear bitters.
Calgary: Beer Halls
Bet you thought of steak houses here, didn’t you? Aside from being the birth city of major beer hall chain, Craft Beer Market (currently with locations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Calgary and Shanghai), this prairie city has an unabashed love for big spaces and pints of beer. Expect nothing smaller than a 200 seat venue for a true beer hall experience, lots of taps and some decent thought put into the food.
Libertine Public House -.Lighting fixtures fastened out of old metal beer kegs add a mellow ambience to the back part of the room, while the floor-to-ceiling windows facing out onto the street give a light and airy feel more inviting than your typical 350+ seat venue. Burgers, flatbreads and deep-fried fare comprise the majority of the menu here at Calgary’s premier downtown beer hall, but chef Mel Lafleur is known well for her twists on the classics. Don’t you dare walk out that damn door before forking into Lafleur’s stout-braised pork poutine.
National - With a handful of locations around the city, National has established itself as the premium beer hall chain of the city. With close to 80 taps, these spots focus more on their beer than their food, but the house-ground burger is a fan favourite. National on 10th is the giant of the bunch (750+ seats) and opts for a more of a sports theme, offering ping pong tables upstairs and bowling in the basement.
Wurst - One of the country’s only contemporary German eateries, Wurst showcases elevated, but fun German cuisine in a giant space that is equal parts beautiful (upstairs) and rowdy (downstairs). If a weekend evening in a noisy beer hall isn’t your thing, then pop by for brunch. It never disappoints.
Toronto: Modern Fusion Cuisine
10 years ago, if you heard the word “fusion” as a descriptor of a restaurant menu, your mind might immediately go to Milestones serving a very average plate of food, including some over-steamed baby bok choy and out-of-a-jug teriyaki sauce. Thankfully, times have certainly changed.
Toronto’s immensely culturally diverse population has helped the city break down barriers when it comes to culinary creations. Look for a mish-mash of Jewish-meets-Korean food at Odd Seoul to older-than-your-grandpa settler recipes with a little Asian flare a la Boralia. Those are but the tip of the iceberg in a city willing to mix it up for the sake of interesting, memorable cuisine.
Lee - A founding father of fusion in the Canadian food scene, master chef Susur Lee brings expertise and almost unparalleled technique to his food at his namesake spot. Find warmth in Singapore-style stew for two or let the light and bright flavours of Vietnamese cuisine in the cold-pressed octopus with citrus vinaigrette add a little sunlight to your taste buds on a cold winter’s night.
Patois - You probably never imagined in your wildest dreams that a Jerk chicken chow mein could be a thing, but at Patois it certainly is. And an immensely delicious one at that. Then there’s the Caribbean-spiced whole lobster, dirty fried rice. The flavour mash-ups go on and on. It’s hard to visit this spot and not try it all, luckily you can order the whole menu (good for four people) for $110.
It’s not like there isn’t more to this beautiful, culturally dynamic city than poutine, foie gras, maple syrup and butter, but let’s face it...Each time you visit, you find yourself saddling up at Au Pied De Cochon’s kitchen bar for a foie gras grilled cheese sandwich or a gigantic hot dog chunk-laden poutine at famed La Banquise when it’s way past bedtime. Oh and let’s not forget those gigantic Montreal smoked meat sandwiches from Schwartz. Voilà pourquoi je l'aime Montréal!
Au Pied De Cochon - If you come out of Cochon after dinner having consumed less than 2,000 calories, you’re not doing dinner right. Rich is name of the game here at one of Montreal’s most famous restaurants. Duck in a Can and seared foie gras in just about anyway imaginable (including poutine) are a couple reasons to leave your calorie counter at the door.
Maison Publique - Chef (and now best selling cookbook author) Derek Dammann keeps things fresh and filling at his cozy little restaurant. The menu is posted on a big wall by means of pieces of paper and tacks, making it easy to change on the daily. So, you never know quite what to expect, but you can usually bet on foie gras making an appearance.
Halifax: The Coffeehouse Experience
If you’re basing an excellent cafe experience solely on the perfectly pulled espresso or expert barista art, there’s no two ways around it: you’re a coffee nerd. Expanding from coffee bean tunnel vision to a full picture experience, you’ll see this east coast city embracing cool cafe atmospheres like they’re going out of style (don’t worry, they aren’t).
Lion and Bright - Chill at Lion and Bright, a coffee shop-meets-restaurant concept with a coffee in the late afternoon and, as the sun sets, segue into a proper dinner and a pint of local beer. Truly the best of both worlds!
Two If By Sea - Dartmouth’s Two If By Sea is touted with some of the best house-roasted blends in the province and the bi-level space is open, airy and hipster-chic featuring a separate sandwich shop, The Canteen (also a must-try), upstairs.