AOL PICK from our Editors
Edmontonians love to eat, and the evidence of that can be found in the wide selection of restaurants catering to the talents and taste buds of the city’s multicultural population. Sure, you can find popular U.S. chains like Chili’s and The Keg Steakhouse & Bar virtually anywhere in the city. But while on vacation, why not experience something new? Some of the best Edmonton restaurants can be found at orginalfare.com. The group of independent restaurants is committed to promoting culinary diversity in the city. Members include the Dish Bistro, the Blue Pear, the Red Ox Inn, Moriarty’s Bistro & Wine Bar and Vons Steakhouse and Oyster Bar. The initiative is an example of the many efforts in place by local businesses to shop local and to promote unique dining experiences in Edmonton.
Chef Larry Stewart says there is no need for snobbery when it comes to eating good food. And that philosophy is evident in the friendly service and laid-back atmosphere served up at his downtown dining establishment, the Hardware Grill. Stewart will create a custom dining experience that can be served to small groups right in the kitchen when you order the chef's tasting five-course menu, priced at $89 per person (plus $35 per person for wine pairings). Food is a fusion of regional Alberta flavors, with a French-influenced style. The extensive wine list will appeal to discriminating diners.
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Neighborhood: The Highlands Price: Expensive
The locally owned and operated “family” of quaint neighborhood restaurants has mastered the art of attracting (and keeping) regulars. Three locations can be found in the city—each with distinct personalities and all serving up creative comfort food made with local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Dine at the flagship Southside location in Mill Creek, with an ambiance that makes you feel like you’re sitting in a friend’s hip apartment. If you have to wait for a table, you’ll be seated next door at BIBO—Canada’s smallest wine bar run by the talented Dianna Funnell. Try the Ukrainian-inspired Kalyana Platter at the Highlands location, and check out the greenery at the Muttart location, which just opened in December 2010 (located close to the site of the Folk Music Festival).
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The quirky name is a shout-out to writer Tom Robbins, who is rumored to be a favourite author of one of the owners. The restaurant itself is a little on the theatrical side. Dark red walls, chandeliers and a whimsical glass-tiled bar set the tone for a relaxed dining experience. The menu includes mostly organic produce and is designed to be shared with friends as platters. Dishes include the signature mixed grill for two—pork ribs, bison rib-eye, lamb chops, potatoes au gratin, and heaps of grilled and roasted veggies which goes well with the organic basmati rice infused with coconut milk, onions and topped with toasted coconut.
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You may have seen the Quon family restaurant featured on the Food Network Canada’s television series “Family Restaurant.” Even if you didn’t, you’ll get a dose of the eccentric family the moment you walk into their ornate Chinese restaurant decorated in rich reds and golds. It is close to downtown on 105th Street and 104th Avenue, where the Quons have been serving Edmontonians their version of fine Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine since 1953. Select an old-fashioned cocktail by using the pictures of drinks displayed on the kitschy placemats (I recommend the Zombie) and then let one of the experienced servers dressed in red and gold Chinese jackets help you choose your meal. The glitzy dining room, which borders on sheer tackiness, is part of the dining experience, so try your best to avoid being seated in the underwhelming overflow room.
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OK. So the neighbourhood may be a little on the sketchy side, but don’t let the location scare you away from experiencing the warm hospitality served up by the Indonesian-born Kasim family. The food at Padmanadi is a blend of Indonesian, Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisine, and all of the dishes are 100 percent vegan. If you are dining in a group, try the combo dinners, which can be arranged for groups of two to 10 people. Call ahead for reservations or to find out about the famous vegetarian buffets. Parking is free at the 99 Street Market. Just be sure to lock your doors.
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Neighborhood: Old Strathcona Price: Moderate
Edmonton’s version of a modern Italian café, Southside restaurant and coffee house Da Capo offers guests an authentic Italian dining experience. The thin-crust pizzas and salads are made with fresh local ingredients. Try the truffle salad with red wine truffle vinaigrette and artichokes, or the Napolitano pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovy, oregano and basil. Sit at a window seat overlooking the sidewalk patio as you sip a glass of European vino, or order from the selection of 50 unique European beers. Kids will love the seasonal homemade and freshly-squeezed lemonade or orange juice—or more important—the fine selection of gelato on display in the handsome wrap-around bar in the middle of the store.
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There’s nothing fancy about this family-owned-and operated hole-in-the-wall west of downtown, but the food is fresh and the friendly customer service can’t be beat. If you want to play it safe, stick with the classic Lebanese tabouli salad or order an authentic smoked meat sandwich for $7.95. Baklava comes courtesy of Paradiso (a favourite local sweet shop). One drawback is that the bistro is only open until 6PM during the week and from 11AM to 4PM on Saturdays, so planning on a lunch date is your best bet.
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If you only had one hour to get a feel for Edmonton, most locals would send you to the SugarBowl. Situated on the south end of the High Level Bridge not far from the University of Alberta, this campy resto-café with an affable wait staff and exposed brick walls covered in installations by local artists is an environment where everyone fits in. During the summer months, the front windows slide open and patrons spill out onto the flower-covered sidewalk patio next door to the popular Red Bike cycle shop. Winters are cozy, too. Ten bucks gets you a bowl of bison chili with corn bread for lunch, while a lamb burger dinner with a couple of Floris Kriek cherry beers will cost under $30. Dress code is casual during the day. In the evenings, it’s all about showing off your best vintage find. Arrive early (or late) on weekends as brekkie is a hot commodity here.
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Neighborhood: Old Strathcona Price: Budget
A beloved hangout among Edmonton’s population of herbivores, Whyte Avenue’s Mosaics is one of those cozy spaces where it seems impossible not to linger. Relax to the groovy music on tap as you chow down on their veggie chili or vegan tofu loaf served with a yummy side of dilled potato with mushroom gravy. Popular appetizers include green onion cakes with hot chili and chutney and vegan spring rolls. Even though it faces a busy street, the south-facing windows let in some pretty wicked ambient light, making it a great (and forgiving) spot to update your Facebook pic.
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It’s easy to stretch a dollar when you skip fancy table service in favor of lunch on the go. Head to deli at the back of this authentic Italian grocer in Little Italy and pick up a (gigantic!) panini sandwich made with Italian meats and cheeses and red pepper spread, and served on a crusty loaf of bread. Pair it with a bottle of Orangina and head over to Giovanni Caboto Park across the street. Before heading back to your hotel, pop back into Spinelli's Bar Italia (just beside the produce section) where the chatty staff will convince you to stick around for a canolli and cappuccino. Free parking is available on-site.
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