AOL Travel
Print

Best Ottawa Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors
Once derided as a superbly unimaginative restaurant town, where stuffy continental restaurants and fluorescent-lit greasy spoons were the main options, the Ottawa restaurant scene has evolved dramatically in the last decade. An increasingly sophisticated clientele is demanding—and getting—internationally trained chefs and unique, appealing spaces in which to enjoy a wide range of cuisines. There’s an increasing emphasis on “eating local;” check out the Savour Ottawa website at www.savourottawa.ca for details on nearby farms and the restaurants that serve their products, which include beef, duck, organic greens and maple syrup. The Byward Market and Elgin Street attract a young, trend-following crowd, as well as lots of tourists. Wellington Village and the Glebe are home to sophisticated bistros popular with the surrounding neighborhoods of Gen-X and boomer professionals. New Edinburgh, Centretown and Old Ottawa South each have at least a few restaurants worth a visit. Little Italy is home to dozens of Italian places, of course, but also good Asian and Cajun places. And Chinatown has increasingly attracting innovative vegetarian and fusion restaurants to compete with countless spots serving up pho and dim sum. Except for the ByWard Market and Elgin Street, Ottawa’s restaurants tend to open early and close early, especially on weeknights. Plan on arriving by 8:30PM at the latest at most spots. Tips of 15 to 20% of the bill before taxes are standard just about everywhere, and even most coffee shops have a strategically placed dish near the cashier to encourage contributions of spare change for the servers.

Taylor's Genuine Food and Wine

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Expensive
Chef John Taylor is a local legend for Domus Cafe, his long-established ByWard Market restaurant that highlighted local produce long before anyone had heard of the 100-mile diet. In 2010, he and his sommelier wife Sylvia opened this little wine bar and bistro in a former coffee shop in Old Ottawa South. Locals immediately flocked to the place, despite the $15 price tag for a very tasty but not huge lunchtime burger and wines at $10 a glass. The mushroom risotto is rich, smooth and comforting, and you can build your own charcuterie plate of treats like smoked trout and sheep’s milk cheese for late-night snacking. As at Domus, the focus is on fresh and local foods, and the wine list is heavily Canadian. The open kitchen and big windows—and the rack of antlers hanging near the side door—make it feel more casual than many restaurants of its caliber.

Beckta Dining & Wine

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Expensive
Located in a small house on a nondescript downtown side street, Beckta looks modest from the outside. And, even inside, it’s warm and inviting but it doesn’t scream “famous.” But then you taste the food, and you realize why this unprepossessing spot has won raves from enRoute, the New York Times and other critics. Owner Stephen Beckta and chef Mike Moffatt have created one of the city’s leading foodie destinations, where the seasonal menu might include anything from bison strip loin with taro root and caramelized shallots to pork belly with blue cheese spaetzle. The restaurant also has a five-course tasting menu, and the servers are some of the best-trained wait staff in the city. Open seven nights a week for dinner only. If the prices are out of your snack bracket (mains range from $27 to $40), try the partners’ small-plates restaurant in the ByWard Market, Play Food & Wine (www.playfood.ca). Reservations are essential.

More Details on

Beckta Dining & Wine »

Big Easy's Seafood and Steakhouse

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Expensive
Going to Big Easy’s feels like an event, even though it’s not remotely stuffy. Wood floors, spacious booths and warm lighting, along with the always-lively crowd, make a big space surprisingly intimate. Service is outstanding—the servers seem to materialize just before you realize you need more water or crave dessert. Not surprisingly, Louisiana dishes are the highlight—try the jambalaya linguine, blackened salmon or bourbon-roasted chicken if you’re not in the mood for one of the very popular grilled steaks with peppercorn brandy sauce. Reserve in advance, especially on weekends, as the restaurant has a devoted crowd of regulars.

More Details on

Big Easy's Seafood and Steakhouse  

Le Baccara

Neighborhood: Gatineau Price: Expensive
If you haven’t lost your life savings at the surrounding casino, you may need them to pay for dinner at Le Baccara, one of the region’s only five-diamond restaurants. With its white linens and dark woods, this 70-seat enclave is elegant with a capital E. The menu features classic French cuisine—try the white port-marinated rack of boar. Mains run from $40 to $60, or you can splurge on the “gastronomic menu,” featuring lobster, caribou, foie gras and more, for a cool $120 per person. Pay an extra $75 for complementary wines from the restaurant’s 500-vintage wine list. Open for dinner only, Wednesday through Sunday (also open Monday and Tuesday for groups). Reservations strongly recommended and guests must be 18 or over. Reserve in advance and wear your finery: the dress code is business casual.

More Details on

Le Baccara  

Fraser's Cafe

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Expensive
With its long purple banquettes and a bright green overhead pipe painted with polka dots, the Fraser Café’s décor could have easily become kitsch. But the natural stone wall, bamboo-topped tables and simple hardwood floors make these accents playful rather than overwhelming. The locally rooted menu changes with the season. If it’s available on a cold winter’s day, try the roasted duck pearl barley mushroom risotto with goat’s cheese and cranberry. The artful presentation on simple white plates puts the food front and centre. It’s the sort of place neighbors go for a festive lunch or a weekend treat. Open for lunch (or brunch on weekends) and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

More Details on

Fraser's Cafe  

ZenKitchen

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Moderate
Forget your notions of vegetarian cafeterias where hippies in tie-dyed T-shirts line up for lentil stew and tofu surprise. ZenKitchen is that rarest of animals: a haute-cuisine vegetarian restaurant that even a carnivore can love. Chef Caroline Ishii and her partner Dave Loan opened the place in a small house on the edge of Chinatown in 2009 and immediately snagged an award as best new restaurant of the year from the local restaurant and hotel association. Bold modern art on brightly painted walls sets off an interior of polished floors and cherry-wood tables. Try the four-course tasting menu ($48), which includes innovative dishes like butternut squash risotto with adzuki beans, arugula, sage oil and pumpkin seeds. Most of the dishes are also gluten free. Open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner, and Thursdays and Fridays for lunch, and Sundays for brunch. Reserve a few days in advance for dinner.

More Details on

ZenKitchen  

Town

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Moderate
This lively little restaurant’s slogan is “Town loves you,” and visitors really do feel the love. Almost as soon as you sit down, you’ll have a menu on a little clipboard, a personal glass bottle of water and a plate of warm, fresh bread. If you don’t reserve in advance, you may find yourself at the long, polished metal bar—not the worst of fates, as you get to chat with the busy barkeep, but a drag if you’re with a group. For fun, watch the action in the half-open kitchen. The wine list features Canadian and Italian wines, and the menu includes small plates, sandwiches and more substantial dishes, many of them a twist on traditional Italian fare. The ricotta gnudi is outstanding—light, airy puffs of pasta that will disappear almost before you’re aware you’ve eaten them. 

More Details on

Town  

Standard Tavern

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Moderate
This fairly new addition to the Elgin Street bar and restaurant strip manages to be trendy and classy at the same time—not an easy feat. Long, deeply upholstered banquettes line the walls, and a large bar dominates the centre. Billing itself as a “luxury tavern,” it draws an animated crowd of 20- and 30-something professionals. They come as much for the six-late-nights-a-week roster of talented DJs as for the rather, well, standard menu of burgers, pizza and pasta. It’s one of the few kitchens in Ottawa that’s open until midnight every night. The mini-burger trio is a nice snack, and the martinis are fabulous. This is the kind of place where the bartenders know that just because you throw a bunch of liquids in a cone-shaped glass and call it a something-tini, it doesn’t mean James Bond would touch it with a 10-foot revolver.

More Details on

Standard Tavern »

Petit Bill's Bistro

Neighborhood: Wellington Village Price: Moderate
This cozy neighborhood joint shot to fame a few years ago when the Ottawa Citizen ran a story about local anchorman Max Keeping’s fondness for the restaurant’s signature dish: lobster poutine. Apparently, the ex-Newfoundlander newsman can’t get enough of the unusual combo of crispy fries topped with lobster, mascarpone cheese and butter. Keeping has good taste: The dish rocks, even if it won’t do your arteries one bit of good. Other dishes that pay homage to the restaurateurs’ Newfoundland roots include rabbit stew and buttered cod. Also, various contemporary updates on comfort food include a burger with gorgonzola mayo, or a duck confit with bacon hash. The wide-ranging, international wine list includes lots of bottles from nearby Prince Edward County. Brightly painted walls adorned with local art, wide plank floors and wooden tables create a casual but appealing setting for the excellent food.

More Details on

Petit Bill's Bistro  

The Buzz

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Moderate
Chef Jishnu Sreenivasan has created an appealing menu of standard bistro fare with some international flourishes—duck empanadas, for instance, or curried blue mussels. Some of the simplest dishes are the best: one fantastic appetizer is simply whole roasted garlic served with goat’s cheese, mango chutney and crostini. The narrow room, high ceilings, large curved bar, exposed brick walls and vibrant artwork give it the feel of a sleek Manhattan lounge (the cool music—usually something jazzy or indie—adds to the effect). From Sunday through Tuesday, bring your own wine and pay just a $5 corkage fee. Reserve ahead for the popular Sunday brunch and try the huevos rancheros.

More Details on

The Buzz  

Bridgehead

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Budget
This local coffee-shop chain has a legion of local devotees who wouldn’t think of buying their free-trade, organic, shade-grown java anywhere else. A group of ministers and social activists launched the company in 1981 to support Nicaraguan small-scale coffee growers. After a long experiment in selling handicrafts from the developing world, and several changes of ownership, the company refocused its efforts on coffee. It opened its first coffee shop in 2000. Today there are a dozen locations in the central core. Along with coffee, you’ll find tea, hot chocolate, soups, great salads, sandwiches and baked goodies (try the rich, chewy ginger cookies). Many items are vegetarian or vegan. You’ll also get two hours of free Wi-Fi with any purchase. Grab a chair or banquette if you can; about half the seats in most locations are uncomfortable metal stools.

More Details on

Bridgehead  

The Table

Neighborhood: Wellington Village Price: Budget
Super-fresh vegetarian, vegan, organic, local and gluten-free fare is what you’ll find at The Table. It has frequently picked up readers’ choice awards in local magazine and newspaper contests since it opened in 2000. The world-ranging menu changes regularly and you can have as much or as little as you like—dishes like tabbouleh, Italian potato salad, spicy curries, hearty soups and desserts sweetened with maple syrup and molasses are laid out on long buffets. Fill your plate and pay by the gram. (Yes, that means that salads are often cheaper than brownies!) The décor is simple, with wooden tables and big windows. Pick up a jar of the restaurant’s popular onion chutney to take home.

More Details on

The Table  

Barley Mow (The)

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Budget
The food is pretty typical pub grub—burgers, fish and chips, and the like. (Although the vegetarian panini, stuffed with zucchini, peppers, mushrooms and goat cheese, is awesome.) And Ottawa is awash in British Isles-style watering holes serving up pints of Guinness. So why pick this one? Because the Old Ottawa South location feels like the sort of place many travelers seek: a local haunt. On weekend mornings, it’s packed with families and groups of friends enjoying bacon and eggs; you’ll often hear servers asking regulars if they want “the usual” before they’ve even got their coats off. It’s also home to a long-standing Monday-night trivia league, when the place is usually sold out between 7PM and 9PM. There are actually five locations, including three in Ottawa suburbs (not quite as charming) and an atmospheric stone restaurant in the village of Almonte overlooking a rushing river.

More Details on

Barley Mow (The) »

Raw Sugar Cafe

Neighborhood: Centretown Price: Budget
Part coffee shop, part sandwich spot and part local arts hub, Raw Sugar defies easy classification. Singer-songwriters perform against a backdrop of local art for sale. Chinese lamps dangle from the ceiling. Soups, sandwiches, baked goods, coffee, tea and pints of local Beau’s beer fuel the collection of activists, poets and artists who congregate here. Not surprisingly, the beverages are fair trade and organic, and many of the food choices are vegan. Opening hours are fluid, depending on whether there’s an evening performance. It’s usually open from 10AM to 7PM, but call ahead to make sure.

More Details on

Raw Sugar Cafe  

Hooker's Beavertails

Neighborhood: ByWard Market Price: Budget
Not a restaurant by any stretch of the imagination, BeaverTails is still a don’t-miss Ottawa culinary institution. OK, perhaps “culinary” is stretching things a little, too. A BeaverTail is a deep-fried flat piece of whole-wheat dough covered with all manner of toppings; purists will insist the original cinnamon and sugar is the only way to go. Available piping hot and greasy year-round from a small stand at the corner of George and William streets in the Byward Market, it is also served from huts along the Rideau Canal in winter. Many Ottawans consider it the quintessential skating snack, especially with a cup of hot cocoa or apple cider. BeaverTails outlets now exist across the country, but the diet-busting treat started here.

More Details on

Hooker's Beavertails »
See All Ottawa Restaurants »
ADVERTISEMENT