What tends to be the first word you think of when you hear about all the different global cuisines? Latin American food might bring to mind “fresh,” French food, perhaps “rich.” How about Asian? Fresh, rich, sweet, sour, spicy — the list could go on-and-on. I know they do in mine. When chefs are able to harness the exotic overseas ingredients of Asia and create something special, it will always keep me coming back for more, again and again…and again.
But, please don’t mistake this food for fusion. “Fusion” (a dreaded description to many chefs) may translate to a slab of miso compound butter melting on top of your cut of steak with a side of steamed baby bok choy and these 10 establishments are so much more than that.
Anju (Calgary, AB)
It’s hard not to draw comparisons between one of Calgary’s top restaurants and Momofuku (Toronto’s or otherwise), as very few upscale restaurants focus on Korean-style cuisine — aside from maybe tossing a spoonful of gochujang into something here and there. Chef Roy Oh is making waves these days with his dishes such as the gochujang chicken wings, crispy-fried tofu with lemon aioli and sautéed kimchi (my personal favourite) and a well-crafted bibimbap. This place is busy from lunch to late night, so I’d highly recommend a reservation.
Bambudda (Vancouver, BC)
Fans of Top Chef Canada will remember executive chef Curtis Luk from Top Chef Canada season 2. Originally from Ottawa, Luk moved to Vancouver to help fellow TCC alum, Trevor Bird open Fable several years ago. He then went on to The Parker, a vegetarian restaurant in the city that also draws its inspiration from Asian cuisine and has now been serving up his take on Chinese here in the Gastown neighbourhood. His yuba-wrapped tuna with house-made XO sauce and the twice-cooked eggplant with crispy noodles and sesame are two perfectly great reasons to make plans to swing by here for a meal!
Bao Bei (Vancouver, BC)
Cucumbers macerated and spiced up with Sichuan peppercorns, house-made Taiwanese sausage and soy-marinated eggplant are a great trio to begin the night here. Moving onto bigger (and even bigger) share plates, don’t overlook the Shan Tofu, a chickpea tofu that’s made in-house with pickled mushrooms and carrots and dashi, it’s a real winner. Bao Bei’s “Kick Ass House Fried Rice” is just that, as is the crispy pork belly with potatoes and Vietnamese dressing.
They don’t take reservations, so come early or else you’ll be waiting awhile to eat. That being said, having to wait isn’t so bad because you can also grab one of the potent, yet top notch cocktails the The Keefer Bar, just next door.
Chantecler (Toronto, ON)
With only 10 dishes on the menu, things are kept short and sweet here at this popular place on Queen Street West. Asian-style wings with crispy garlic and scallions or the calamari with peanut tamarind sauce are easy enough to share with some friends while you talk and sip on a gin and grapefruit tonic or even a glass of wine, of which they have a great selection.
daiLo (Toronto, ON)
Owner Nick Liu and his right-hand man, chef de cuisine Dennis Tay (from Top Chef Canada season 3) create some beautiful plates like their now signature fried watermelon–seriously, don’t knock it ‘til you try it–at this hot spot on College. If you forget to make a reservation or if you’re a little early for your table, pop upstairs to daiLo’s lounge (Lopan) to sip on some funky drinks like The Geisha, made with gin, sherry, ginger liqueur and yuzu. A perfect precursor to what I can practically guarantee with be an amazing dinner.
Lee (Toronto, ON)
While most of the chefs on this list were in junior high, Susur Lee was skillfully working his way up in the culinary world, opening up his first restaurant in 1987. Television appearances — which include being a judge on Chopped Canada and winning the first season of Top Chef Masters — aside, he’s also a highly regarded restaurateur. Lee (no need to explain where that restaurant name comes from) is a refined eatery that may have more than a few global influences, but the highlights remain rooted in overseas cuisine like the cold-pressed octopus or hunanese lobster ravioli.
Maenam (Vancouver, BC)
This restaurant in the Kitsilano area of Vancouver could very well give the famed Pok Pok (original location in Portland) a run for its money if they ever decided to have a throwdown. Aside from the pad thai and papaya salad, there’s a lot of diversity on the menu here, including a choice to use sustainable Ocean Wise-approved seafood like bay scallops (ceviche, with lime and lemongrass) or smoked mackerel (in a hot and sour soup). Sign me up!
Momofuku (Toronto, ON)
With multiple concepts in one building just next-door to the Shangri La Hotel, this Toronto spot holds its own against the original New York location, the headquarters of the David Chang empire. There’s the noodle bar on the main floor that’s hopping at lunch, the lounge just above where some cool cocktails are made (the crowd’s pretty slick here, so I’d say put some thought into your outfit), Daisho where you can have a proper sit-down meal and order a lot to share, capping it all off with the famous crack pie.
Last, but not least, on the very top, you’ll find Shoto, the creme de la creme of Momofuku dining, where the set menu can show you what they’re really all about.
Park (Montreal, QC)
Chopped Canada judge, Antonio Park’s well-established Japanese restaurant has been frequented by anyone from members of the Montreal Canadian hockey team, Neil Patrick Harris to, well, just regular folks who appreciate a beautiful plate of food. Park main focus is sushi, but mixes it up too with interesting bento boxes, organic miso soup and more. The showstoppers here, though, are the sushi platters which are big, bright and colourful.
And as far as chef-produced food porn goes on Instagram, Antonio Park’s stream is one of the best in the country. Hot for sushi? I am.
Raw Bar By Duncan Ly (Calgary, AB)
Contemporary Vietnamese cuisine can be a risky venture since most Canadians can easily find a reasonably priced bowl of pho in their cities, but a deft chef’s touch can take anything to the next level. The grilled squid with lemon black pepper sauce and the crab and coconut fried rice are just two perfect examples of dynamic-tasting dishes on a well-designed menu that ranges from small sharing plates to larger ones. Once the appetizers start arriving on your table here at Raw Bar, you’ll agree that salad rolls and imperial rolls have never looked sexier. Ever.
Dan Clapson is a food writer and culinary instructor based out of Calgary. He is constantly creating new recipes and striving to expand his culinary horizons. He thinks yam fries are overrated.