This is that time of year when certain Canadian restaurateurs sit anxiously at their computers (or tablets, or phones…) and repeatedly refresh enRoute Magazine’s homepage until the results of ‘Canada’s Best New Restaurants’ pops up on the screen.
Being a panelist for the awards this year, as well as having eaten at a good chunk of the Top 30, I can honestly say that everyone included on this list is someone we should be proud of. If you find yourself in any of these spots in the coming months, here’s some signature dishes that are keeping diners and critics alike coming back for more.
1. Wolf in the Fog @wolfinthefog (Tofino, BC)
I proclaimed some love for Wolf a couple weeks ago after visiting Tofino earlier this month, so I’m not too surprised to see this top notch spot in this well-deserved number one position. This isn’t the first time Chef/owner Nick Nutting has been at a restaurant that’s graced this list. Back in 2003, Nutting worked at Catch restaurant in Calgary that claimed the number one spot in the inaugural year of the awards. Midas touch in the kitchen? It’s possible!
The potato-crusted oysters are one signature that stay on a menu that plays to the season. They’re likely the largest fried oyster you’ve ever bitten into and there’s something addictive about the crispy layers of potato on the exterior and the freshness of the oyster inside. Damn, now I want one…
2. The Farmer’s Apprentice @gunawan_dave (Vancouver, BC)
Not unlike Papillon, this place is small. Luckily, Apprentice takes reservations. Like many other spots on this list, the menu is revamped regularly, but there’s a nice emphasis put on west coast seafood as well as vegetables here, so meat lovers will enjoy some grilled octopus while veg-heads can enjoy anything from burrata or radishes with smoked butter to a bio-dynamic risotto.
3. Le Vin Papillon @VinPapillon (Montreal, QC)
At 25 seats and no reservations, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be waiting in line outside to be able to squeeze into this teeny spot in Montreal. The chef former city’s renowned Joe Beef restaurant is part owner here, but the restaurant is distinct in it’s own right.
There’s no set menu here, everything is written the day of, but you’ll likely find foie gras in some shape or form, that I can guarantee. It’s also noted for it’s excellent wine offerings, so you know everything will be well paired!
4. RGE RD @RGE_RD (Edmonton, AB)
The name of this restaurant might seem a little strange to the west coasters and anyone in Ontario or further east, but if you spent any of your formative years in Saskatchewan, Manitoba or Alberta, you’ll recognize this abbreviation as ‘range road’, the many small gravel roads that run throughout central Canada.
Much like Mallard, RGE RD’s menu is always changing, but there’s a large emphasis on meat here so expect plates like hunter’s stew (made with wild game). The nose-to-tail philosophy is followed through too, with Alberta pork used for anything from sausages, braised belly and terrines to offal.
5. Mallard Cottage @Mallard_Cottage (St. John’s, NFLD)
Several years in the making, we were able to follow along with chef/owner Todd Perrin’s progress of this restaurant via Twitter updates and a video diary featured on FoodNetwork.ca. Following a significant set-up back after a fire in the space, Mallard Cottage finally opened its doors last year and has been generating a ton of buzz ever since.
The menu here changes daily, but Perrin (all a Top Chef Canada alum) stays regionally-inspired by the east coast with dishes like ‘chicken fried’ cod cheeks and tongues, lamb sausage and more.
6. Bar Buca @barbucatoronto (Toronto, ON)
Wine lovers will appreciate the variety on the menu here and avid foodies will appreciate the fact that because of the small plate mentality at Bar Buca, a group of four people with decent appetites could easily order everything on the menu.
The ‘cichetti’ are a great way to start off dinner. Small bites like garlic bread knots, crispy pork jowl tossed with lemon and chili and more. Oh and the house-made burrata is truly a thing of beauty.
7. The Chase @TheChaseTO (Toronto, ON)
This slick Toronto eatery puts a big emphasis on seafood, so if you loved a well-seared scallop or a chilled seafood platter with oysters, shrimp, octopus and more then this place is for you. The price point is a little bit on the higher side, but you’ll find it hard to complain about that when you order the crispy fried snow crab claws served with a sea urchin ‘1000 Island’ dressing.
8. Ayden Kitchen and Bar @aydenkitchen (Saskatoon, SK)
It’s not much surprise that Top Chef Canada’s season one winner broke the Top 10 in enRoute’s list this year. It’s the first Saskatchewan restaurant to do so, which means big things for a city that is slowly becoming more and more of a culinary destination.
Mackay’s menu refreshes frequently at his downtown eatery, but you’ll always be able to find the sausage platter, a trio of house-made sausages including a robust Thai-inspired made with lemongrass and other aromatics.
9. Restaurant Légende @Resto_Legende (Quebec City, QC)
From mussels with rhubarb or buffalo tongue (try to imagine pastrami if you’ve never tried tongue before) to cornish game hen with squash and salsify, and dessert using sea buckthorn berries (an acidic berry that’s only really readily available in Saskatchewan and Eastern Canada), you can see that creativity is abound here. Since you’re in Quebec, you’d be foolish not to order a maple tart to wrap up dinner here.
10. Edna @EDNARESTAURANT (Halifax, NS)
This restaurant’s charming interior, great service and well put together food makes it one of two east-coast eateries to grace the list. There’s a lot to opt for here like Edna’s pakoras made with cauliflower and green peas or the pulled pork poutine, but this is Nova Scotia, after all, so you should probably be starting your dinner with the grilled lobster, served up with garlic butter, slaw and a buttermilk biscuit.
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.