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2016 Nominees

The 2016 Nominees

The annual search for Canada’s Best New Restaurants starts with our Food Panel. From their list of insider tips, we study menus, track Instagram accounts and keep our ears to the ground on how those liquor permit applications are going. Then we plot a course of more than 30 hot spots for our writer to review anonymously in a month-long journey of eating.

Agrikol
1844 rue Amherst, Montreal, agrikol.ca

Thumping konpa beats form the ideal base layer for a mix-your-own ti’ ponch service: Barbancourt agricole rum with fresh-pressed cane juice, cane syrup and plentiful lime. Power couples from Toronto’s Black Hoof restaurant empire and Montreal rock band Arcade Fire are behind the raucous Haitian charm of this hyper-colourful, art-piece-filled space in the Gay Village. Pour another ti’ ponch, and dig into hearty plates of fried malanga-root accras, stewed oxtail and tender slow-cooked pumpkin in coconut sauce.
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Agrius
732 Yates St., Victoria, 778-265-6312 agriusrestaurant.com

The first restaurant by Fol Epi artisan bakery founder Clif Leir filters French cuisine through a Vancouver Island Slow Food ethic. Chef Sam Harris and in-house butcher Paul van Trigt team up on an organic lamb tartare laced with tart Meyer lemon and crunchy lamb-fat-fried croutons. The breadbasket, stocked with house-milled red fife baguette and sliced rye, circles back on multiple occasions, like when you scoop up that crispy-topped brandade of potato and smoked sablefish.
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Alo
163 Spadina Ave., third floor, Toronto, 416-260-2222 alorestaurant.com

On the third floor of a Victorian building at Queen and Spadina, chef Patrick Kriss fashions precise French-inspired tasting menus in a dark, dramatic room. The skilled service troupe, choreographed by GM Amanda Bradley, delivers pain au lait bursting at its golden seams and morels with crunchy fried shallots over crème fraîche from Normandy. The adjoining bar shakes up a frothy Ramos Gin Fizz, while dessert’s rhubarb and black pepper notes pair with late-harvest Ontario riesling.
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Ancora
1600 Howe St., #2, Vancouver, 604-681-1164 ancoradining.com

This light, mirror-lined destination on a pedestrian boardwalk near the Granville Street Bridge buzzes with locals and tourists who gather over Japanese-Peruvian fare. Lima-born chef Ricardo Valverde tops his traditional causa, an aji-pepper-infused cold potato dish, with sweet Dungeness crab, while sushi master Yoshihiro Tabo evokes Peru’s Nikkei-style fusion in a hamachi carpaccio with jalapeno. Sip fish-friendly whites, like a stony riesling from the Okanagan, and watch sailboats bob lazily on False Creek.
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Antler
1454 Dundas St. W., Toronto, 647-345-8300 antlerkitchenbar.com

Foraged ingredients and game meats are the specialty of aptly named chef Michael Hunter, whose first buck hangs as a trophy above the pass. After skewers of grilled soy-glazed duck hearts, he shows a lighter hand in pappardelle topped with tender shredded rabbit and sweet morsels of preserved apricot. The Smoke Barrel is a double-barrelled shot: smoky Laphroaig Scotch and maple syrup in a glass that’s been seasoned with smouldering cinnamon bark.
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Backhouse
242 Mary St., Niagara-on-the-Lake, 289-272-1242 backhouse.xyz

Beverley Hotchkiss and Ryan Crawford play the long game in Ontario’s wine country: They began curing their 48-month-aged prosciutto well before opening and serve it with icicle radishes and Stratford tomme. Chef Crawford works the hardwood-fired grill, turning out roasted kohlrabi, a 60-day-aged rib-eye steak and toasted marshmallows on a stick. Niagara leads the globe-hopping wine list, with cool-climate pinot noir and gamay from Tawse Winery, Meldville Wines and the chef’s own label, Crawford Wine Project.
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Bar Oso
4222 Village Square, #150, Whistler, 604-962-4540 baroso.ca

A tunnel-shaped spot on the village square fills up with après-ski (and, in summertime, après-mountain biking) crowds hungry for bowls of gazpacho, plates of garlic-fried prawns and tumblers of refreshing B.C.-sourced gin and tonics. Madrileño chef Jorge Muñoz Santos crafts pintxos, tapas and such in-house charcuterie as foie gras parfait, pheasant pâté and rabbit rillettes. A leg of famed jamón ibérico de bellota – from acorn-fed free-range pigs – sits tantalizingly in its cradle on the tan and rust marble bar.
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The Berlin
45 King St. W., Kitchener, 519-208-8555 theberlinkw.ca

This Southern Ontario city was called Berlin before 1916, and chef Jonathan Gushue cooks modern European dishes like hardwood-grilled beef rump with spaetzle and tomato vinaigrette paired with Belgian-style ale from Nickel Brook. Throwback touches adorn the long dining room, including the massive flag dating back to when Canada had a mere nine provinces. (Gushue hails from the 10th, Newfoundland.) A fluffy nougatine dessert is suffused with sunflower and sesame seeds and topped with tiny white strawberries.
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Candide
551 rue Saint-Martin, Montreal, 514-447-2717 restaurantcandide.com

In a serene reconditioned church rectory in Little Burgundy, chef John Winter Russell crafts thoughtful seasonal dishes: grilled radishes with smoked buttermilk cream and grated venison jerky; creamy Pont Blanc cheese layered between leaves of a grilled head of young lettuce, sprinkled with camellia chips and doused with lovage purée. On tables constructed from old church pews, sommelier Emily Campeau showcases a demi-sec Vouvray with a heavenly dessert of strawberries and sweet clover cream.
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Chabrol
90 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, 416-428-6614 chabrolrestaurant.com

In a marbled and chandeliered Yorkville boîte that holds 19 diners and a few induction burners, chef Doug Penfold channels the relaxed luxury of southern France. Cured trout is stacked atop squares of sourdough Pullman and topped with aromatic chervil. A white-wine-brined galantine of chicken comes chilled and sliced with zucchini over sauce suédoise, infused with apple and horseradish. Wines lean white with a few lighter reds; split the difference with a rosé of grenache from Provence.
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Charbar
618 Confluence Way S.E., Calgary, 403-452-3115 charbar.ca

In the restored Simmons Building, Connie DeSousa and John Jackson of Charcut, along with chef Jessica Pelland, fire up a South American, Spanish and Italian-inflected kitchen. The ceviche mixto, albacore, clams, Argentinian shrimp and more, is doused in yuzu and charred lemon for a sweet, citrusy leche de tigre. Recommended pairings include the wood-grilled porterhouse, dry-aged four months, with a glass of Locations, a meaty Argentinian malbec blend exclusive in Canada to Charbar.
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Commodore
1265 Queen St. W., Toronto, 416-537-1265 commodorebar.ca

This Parkdale snack bar is inspired by the sea, from the nautical decor by designer Marx Kruis to the cooking of chef Jon Vettraino. Diced halibut is zapped with fish sauce, lime vinaigrette and Thai chilies and served on antique china. Behind the bar, which is illuminated by port lamps salvaged from the defunct Captain John’s floating restaurant, Jason Romanoff delivers seafood-friendly cocktails, like the First Things First (tequila, lime, Maraschino, habanero shrub, Chartreuse), in coupe glasses.
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Datsun
380 Elgin St., Ottawa, 613-422-2800 eatdatsun.com

Next door to his Mexican tavern, El Camino, Matt Carmichael and co-chef Jordan Holley switch gears to explore Asian street food. Papaya salad, laced with fish-sauce vinaigrette, is topped with a dramatic tower of shoestring-fried taro root, while minced pork dots Szechuan-inspired dandan noodles in a sauce of pork stock and chilies. Japanese-minimalist decor is punctuated by colourful pop art, and classic tiki cocktails like the zombie and the hurricane are served in kitschy ceramic mugs.
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Fairouz
343 Somerset St. W., Ottawa, 613-422-7700 fairouz.ca

The name references a Lebanese restaurant that operated at this address a decade ago, but everything else is new, especially the Middle Eastern fusion cooking of young British-Palestinian chef Walid El-Tawel. A vinaigrette of Aleppo peppers knits together the Turkish spoon salad, grilled halloumi is topped with compressed “double apple,” and the Habibi Nabulsi cocktail mixes Courvoisier with pomegranate molasses. The sophisticated two-floor space is divided by intricate screens and dabbed with fairouz (Arabic for turquoise).
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Fireworks
758 Route 310, Bay Fortune, PEI 902-687-3745 innatbayfortune.com/dining

Chef Michael Smith returns to the kitchen where he filmed the 1990s TV series The Inn Chef to lead a youthful brigade executing elaborate country feasts. All-you-can-slurp Bay Fortune oysters with Bloody Mary granité get you going, while on the front lawn they’re serving grilled lamb skewers. At long tables near the open-fire hearth, dinner moves from seafood chowder to octopus with smoked oranges and ends with the reveal of a carrot cake hidden inside terracotta centrepieces.
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Foxy
1638 rue Notre-Dame O., Montreal, 514-925-7007 foxy.restaurant

Dyan Solomon and Éric Girard of Old Montreal lunchtime institution Olive + Gourmando tackle dinner in this Griffintown hot spot that looks like a fashion spread and smells like a fireplace. Puffed flatbread, topped with oyster mushrooms and truffled pecorino cheese, grows blistered after a run-in with the wood-burning oven, while a deboned sea bass reaches crispy-skinned perfection on the wood-fired grill. The buzz is perpetuated by cocktails like the Greentouch, with green Chartreuse, lime and fresh cilantro.
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Highwayman
1673 Barrington St., Halifax, 902-407-5260 highwaymanhfx.com

A wooden sign depicting the roguish hero of Alfred Noyes’ poem The Highwayman hangs outside this handsome Barrington Street tavern serving seafood-focused Spanish dishes. Sip a Jesus Bravo – tequila, amaretto, lime and cold brew coffee – and nibble on salt-cured albacore tuna, sherry-vinegar-marinated sardines and fatty mussels tossed with pickled sweet peppers. The atmosphere is moody and mysterious, with marine-blue walls and romantic low lighting. Crack into glassy crema catalana before hitting the road – or the highway.
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Hoogan & Beaufort
4095 rue Beaufort, Montreal. 514-903-1233 hooganetbeaufort.com

Once a factory for building tanks and train cars, this striking room in the Angus Yards is filled with hexagonal pendant lights and the scent of campfire cooking. Chef Marc-André Jetté, formerly of Les 400 Coups, grills octopus over live flames, plating tender chunks atop tangy yogurt infused with the sweetness of roasted red pepper. Unique Old World pours, including a rosé from the Macedonia region of Greece, are complemented by large-format beers from the likes of Microbrasserie Le Castor.
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Hvor
1414 rue Notre-Dame O., Montreal, 514-937-2001 hvor.ca

The Scandinavian minimalism that informs the clean-lined decor of this Griffintown address also inspires the cooking of chef S’Arto-Chartier Otis. He offers an ever-evolving surprise menu of three or five courses; one might be sweetbreads with herb cavatelli and mushroom quenelle. The restaurant’s name comes from the Danish word for “where,” and although smoked sturgeon beneath thin-sliced hearts of palm is sourced from afar, the coriander in its bright green sauce is grown on the upstairs terrace.
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Kissa Tanto
263 E. Pender St., Vancouver, 778-379-8078 kissatanto.com

Tannis Ling, Joël Watanabe and Alain Chow of Bao Bei tighten their hold on Chinatown with this tucked-away second-floor spot that evokes a 1960s Tokyo jazz club. The My Private Tokyo cocktail, a play on an Amaretto sour, delights with its plum salt rim. Chef Watanabe’s cooking marries Japanese and Italian: Chewy housemade tajarin egg noodles, tossed in butter and miso-cured egg yolk, are topped with a medley of mushrooms, including shiitake and porcini. Tiramisu features whipped soy and plum-wine-soaked ladyfingers.
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Kraken Cru
190 rue Saint-Vallier O., Quebec City, 581-741-9099 Facebook

From the culinary madmen behind L’Affaire est Ketchup and Patente et Machin comes a tiny but boisterous oyster and raw bar. Slurp East Coast bivalves, like fatty Tatamagouches and Malpeques, alongside fine-bubbled Crémant de Bourgogne; then move on to salt-cured mackerel with spicy horseradish, arugula and radishes. With only a dozen stools around the bar and six more at a high counter, this Saint-Sauveur find is intimate and prone to singalongs when Jacques Dutronc comes on the stereo.
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Le Fantôme
1832 rue William, Montreal, 514-846-1832 restofantome.com

This candlelit Griffintown hideaway, run by chef Jason Morris and GM Kabir Kapoor, is decorated with paintings by Morris’ great-grandfather. The market cooking, featuring such whimsical dishes as beet salad with hazelnut pralines and shaved summer truffle, is available as a short- or long-format tasting menu and pairs with an Old World-focused wine list. You can (and should) add the PBJFG, a signature sandwich of peanut butter, strawberry jam and foie gras terrine on toasted brioche.
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Little Grouse On The Prairie
167 3rd Ave. S., Saskatoon, 306-979-0100 littlegrouse.com

Just down the street from Ayden, this second Dale MacKay joint, with its focus on mod Italian cooking, is driven by the celeb chef’s long-time wingman, Jesse Zuber. Family-style dining is encouraged with such shareable dishes as a citrus-based insalata Amalfi, the made-to-order tortellini with shallot, kale and walnut, or crispy-skinned sea bass with tomatoes and cannellini beans. Italian-focused wines are complemented by Boulevardiers and Vieux Carrés from barman Christopher Cho’s barrel-aged cocktail program.
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Máquè
909 Dorchester Ave., Winnipeg, 204-284-3385

In a former nail salon on the edge of River Heights, Scott Bagshaw crafts inventive small plates with a focus on Asian ingredients. Crispy fried sweetbreads are accompanied by pickled turnip, ginger dressing and freeze-dried orange, while shredded Mongolian lamb over egg noodles with carrot and chili butter is easily devoured, even with chopsticks. A short selection of wines focuses on the New World, and there’s Nikka Japanese whisky by the glass in lieu of a cocktail list.
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Mission
2042 W. 4th Ave., Vancouver, 604-739-2042 missionkits.ca

Chef Curtis Luk helms this long and narrow 50-seater in Kitsilano that serves two tasting menus each night: one with animal proteins (spot prawn sashimi with Haida Gwaii seaweed and dashi gel) and one vegetarian (cauliflower porridge with farro, kohlrabi and ribbons of pan-charred brassica). Chase McLeod’s wine list offers predominantly Old World wines, like riesling from Germany’s Nahe, to pair with Luk’s inventive cooking. Desserts such as bitter almond ice cream with chili-spiked chocolate make for a strong finish.
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Montréal Plaza
6230 rue St-Hubert, Montreal, 514-903-6230 montrealplaza.com

Toqué! protégés Charles-Antoine Crête and Cheryl Johnson helm this time-hopping room on Plaza Saint-Hubert that mixes classic elegance with new culinary gestures. Dine on white tablecloths to the sounds of old-school hip hop while revisiting a drinks card that runs the gamut from a classic manhattan to a natural rosé from southern France. Chopped whelks in a ceramic escargot dish are gratinéed with fried Hof Kelsten bread crumbs and miso butter, while lobster with asparagus and morels wears a flaky vol-au-vent cap.
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Le Mousso
1023 rue Ontario E., Montreal, 438-384-7410 Facebook

Tasting menus exhibit chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard’s creative side at this 50-seater in the Gay Village, housed in a 150-year-old former printing shop. A single hay-smoked potato is speared on a sharpened twig and buried in a bowl of hay, while sea urchin is whipped to fill a cuttlefish-ink pastry crust. Beverage pairings range from lively muscadet with the shrimp taco in a crisped pork collagen shell to a floral sake with cod and daikon in tomato dashi.
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Nightingale* Honorary Nominee
1017 W. Hastings St., Vancouver, 604-695-9500 hawknightingale.com

The newest downtown eatery by Air Canada culinary partner David Hawksworth is decorated with birdcages and folded paper songbirds. Join the business crowd at the soaring double-height bar for an Old Pal made with Rittenhouse rye. The mezzanine level is where you’ll find more formal seating and head chef Phil Scarfone preparing for-the-table orders of refined but approachable contemporary Canadian cuisine, from Taleggio pizza with summer squash and roasted jalapenos to halibut ceviche with avocado and quinoa.
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Noorden
2110 Yonge St., Toronto, 416-488-2110 noordento.com

Jennifer Gittins and Michael van den Winkel closed their Midtown Mediterranean bistro Quince and reopened as a Dutch snack bar whose DIY design features judicious touches of orange. Chef Peter Tompkins glazes pork ribs in Indonesian sambal cobek sauce and stuffs crispy bitterballen, a cousin of the croquette, with shredded chicken. A drinks list titled “Not Your Oma’s Gin Cocktails” offers XXX Summer Punch, with Damrak Gin, lemon and oak moss-syrup, served from a swing-top glass bottle.
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Savio Volpe
615 Kingsway, Vancouver, 604-428-0072 saviovolpe.com

This bright and clean-lined Mount Pleasant osteria, designed by Craig Stanghetta, proposes luxurious family-style Italian fare, like on-the-bone bistecca alla fiorentina cooked over fire. Chef Mark Perrier works in an open kitchen preparing tortellini stuffed with new potato and green garlic; a pretty dish of white anchovy with radish and soft-cooked farm egg is served over a silky green sauce of blended herbs and bread. The wine list traverses Italy from top to bottom, and batch-made negronis are poured from wine bottles.
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Piano Piano
88 Harbord Ave., Toronto, 416-929-7788 pianopianotherestaurant.com

Chef Victor Barry shuttered his fine-dining restaurant Splendido to relaunch as a family-friendly haven of Italian comfort food. Plunge a fork into overstuffed ravioli in brown butter to release its truer sauce, a gooey egg yolk and bright green spinach-ricotta purée; pair that with falanghina, the refreshing white grape from Campania. A white-sauce pizza is topped with lemon and bitter greens, and the pink-and-gold decor includes 20 abstract canvases painted by Barry’s toddler daughter.
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Royal Dinette
905 Dunsmuir St., Vancouver, 604-974-8077 royaldinette.ca

Market-inspired chef David Gunawan partners with the pub-slinging Donnelly Group at this elevated downtown diner. Grab a stool at the counter and watch executive chef Jack Chen’s kitchen brigade execute simple-seeming plates with tricky twists: A tuna crudo is topped with funky scallop bottarga; a dish of housemade whole-wheat linguini is laced with strips of seared Humboldt squid. The Grape Drank cocktail mixes pisco with pressed table grapes, and by-the-glass pours include orange wine from Emilia-Romagna.
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Seto Kitchen + Bar
281 Duckworth St., St. John’s, 709-722-7386 setokitchenandbar.com

Chef Ken Pittman named this Duckworth Street restaurant after his grandfather, Seto, who ran the city’s last Chinese laundry. Begin with hot biscuits and whipped molasses butter before moving on to an imaginative risotto of sunflower seeds braised in vegetable stock and topped with shaved cauliflower. The kitchen of this warren-like heritage house stays open late, so Pittman’s chef friends can swing by after service for cod roasted in bacon fat and a rye julep spiked with absinthe.
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Torafuku
958 Main St., Vancouver, 778-903-2006 torafuku.ca

Clement Chan and Steve Kuan bring the bombastic Asian-inflected cooking of their Le Tigre food truck into a brick-and-mortar location on the edge of Chinatown. The setting is chic and minimalist; the cooking is scrappy and maximalist. Rye-whisky-marinated Rye So Messy chicken wings are lathered up with mango glaze and topped with dry ramen noodle crumble, while Skaterboy is a brown-butter-poached skate wing in a sour-apple and cucumber nage, topped with hollandaise emulsion. Citrus-driven cocktails hit hard; local craft beer softens the palate.
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Uccellino
10349 Jasper Ave. N.W., Edmonton, 780-426-0346 uccellino.ca

This mod two-floor space – the name is Italian for “little bird” – completes chef Daniel Costa’s Jasper Avenue trilogy. A stylish crowd in designer eyewear devours polpette di pane, creamy little fritters laced with imported finocchiona salami, and pastas like a pungent spaghetti dish with chili, lemon and cured mullet roe. For drinks, have the friendly staff get you a Cocchi Americano vermouth with a lemon twist or a bottle of cannonau (grenache) from Sardinia.
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Whitehall
24 4th St. N.E., Calgary, 587-349-9008 whitehallrestaurant.com

British-born chef Neil McCue puts a modern spin on Euro cuisine in this century-old Bridgeland building to the sounds of Brit rock from Arctic Monkeys and Pink Floyd. An airy twice-baked cheese soufflé is surrounded by a molten moat of Le 1608 cheese and apple brandy, while complex Indian spicing in a potato-and-spinach saag aloo enhances oily Spanish mackerel fillets. Guests in button-down shirts sip a lavish Australian shiraz with lamb prepared three ways.
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Our Food Panel

Our Food Panel is made up of some of the country’s leading professionals in the culinary, service and media industries, who recommend notable openings in their regions.

Mary Bailey
Edmonton thetomato.ca @tomatofooddrink

Cornel Ceapa
Saint John acadian-sturgeon.com @kingofcaviar

Rémy Charest
Quebec City winecase.ca @RemyCharest

Cinda Chavich
Victoria tastereport.com @TasteReporter

Lesley Chesterman
Montreal montrealgazette.com @lesleychestrman

Dan Clapson
Calgary eatnorth.com @dansgoodside

Alison Fryer
Toronto www.cook-book.com @alisonfryer

John Gilchrist
Calgary calgaryherald.com @gilchristjohn

Ian Harrison
Montreal ricardocuisine.com @Blumsteinboy

David Hawksworth
Vancouver hawksworthgroup.com @ChefHawksworth

Gary Hynes
Victoria eatmagazine.ca @EatMagazine

Kathy Jollimore
Halifax eathalifax.ca @kathyjollimore

Pierre Jury
Ottawa lapresse.ca/le-droit @pierrejury

CJ Katz
Victoria cjkatz.com @CJKatz

Bartley Kives
Winnipeg bartleykives.com @bkives

Marie-Claude Lortie
Montreal blogues.lapresse.ca/lortie @mclortie

Anna Wallner & Kristina Matisic
Vancouver annaandkristina.com @AnnaAndKristina

Barbara-Jo McIntosh
Vancouver bookstocooks.com

Andrew Morrison
Vancouver scoutmagazine.ca @scoutmagazine

Omar Mouallem
Edmonton omarmouallem.com @omar_aok

Heidi Noble
Naramata, BC joiefarm.com @JoieFarm

Katerine-Lune Rollet
Montreal katerinerollet.com @katerinerollet

Amy Rosen
Toronto amyrosen.com @AmyRRosen

Shelora Sheldan
Victoria cookingwithabroad.com @shelorafromvict

Margaret Swaine
Toronto nationalpost.ca @globaltaster

Karl Wells
St. John’s karlwells.com @karl_wells

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