Based upon the recommendations of Canada’s leading food critics, chefs and industry insiders, we test-drove dozens of worthy new restaurants. Our undercover writer, Andrew Braithwaite, sampled each of the 2014 nominees. (Yes, it’s a tough job.) Below you’ll find our top 30 dining rooms — reserve a table for tonight!
Agave Y Aguacate
35 Baldwin St. Toronto, ON
Chef Francisco Alejandri, who grew up outside of Mexico City and previously showed off his cooking chops in a food stall in Kensington Market, explores traditional flavours in tapas-style small plates at this Mexican cantina. The two-floor space, painted a lively teal blue, crackles with the aromas of habanero (the salpicón de res, a flank steak salad) and chipotle (the poaching sauce for the albóndigas estilo Guanajuato meatballs). Alejandri’s tostada de tinga – tinga translates loosely as “beautiful mess” – is exactly that: pulled chicken spread over a crispy tortilla, slathered in a chorizo and piquin sauce and topped with beans, avocado, crema and pickled onions.
Ask For Luigi
305 Alexander St. Vancouver, BC
In a small, stylishly boisterous room on the far eastern edge of Gastown, seemingly simple Italian pasta gets the star treatment. The feel of the place, with generous portions and glass tumblers for table wine, is unpretentious, but the cooking is serious: The spaghetti nero with octopus and jalapeño features chewy, ink-black noodles that epitomize the term al dente. By-the-glass wines rotate constantly: Whenever a new bottle is opened, the staff rings a bell – a signal to get your order in before the situation changes again.
265 3rd Ave. S. Saskatoon, SK
Dale MacKay returned home to Saskatchewan to open Ayden, a buzzy downtown room where the chef pairs the best available local meats and produce with far-flung flavours and techniques. The Thai chicken wings from Pine View Farms explode with a seasoning of powdered lemongrass, kaffir lime and ginger. Similarly exotic combinations – ponzu and smoked salmon, say, or tuna and watermelon – explore flavours that are miles from Prairie authentique. Chris Cho leads a cocktail program that, like MacKay’s cooking, gets all the small details just right.
75 Portland St. Toronto, ON
The drinks card takes up twice the acreage of the food menu at Rob Gentile’s all-day Italian café-bar on Portland Street, but make no mistake: This is a place to come and eat well. You can drop in for espresso with dulce de leche from 7 a.m., but by night the room fills with diners reaching to pluck small fried goodies from the two-tier gran fritto misto platter: everything from bianchetti (young smelts) to the splendid arancino (a fried ball of saffron risotto stuffed with prosciutto and peas). Negronis, along with pinot nero from Lombardy and gaglioppo from Calabria, flow like water but are far more potent.
Black Pig Bistro
825 1st Ave. N.E. Calgary, AB
Chef Alison Bieber employs her prodigious talent for preparing all manner of pork at this western spin on a Spanish taberna. Her pork dogs, stuffed into a housemade hot dog bun with garlic aioli and salsa verde, are topped with Manchego and pair perfectly with a refreshing cocktail of amontillado sherry and Fever-Tree tonic, while salt cod tortellini is augmented by the tang of piquillo pepper purée and the crunch of kale chips.
332 Water St. Vancouver, BC
Scandinavian minimalism and creativity meet West Coast ingredients at this light-wood-cloaked space in the heart of Gastown. Morel mushrooms and a lovage purée elevate a simple bowl of creamed potatoes, while salmon belly tartare gets a poppy kick from carbonated sugar crystals (a.k.a. pop rocks). West Coast flora dot the menu too, from cedar smoke in the Giant Cedars cocktail to cedar-ash-infused sour cream and edible flower blossoms in the elderflower and rhubarb dessert.
11 Duncan St. Toronto, ON
Named for a city in Lebanon, Byblos channels the eastern Mediterranean – think creamy labneh to start, duck-fat-seared cauliflower and za’atar-buttered rib-eye to continue, then fig ice cream and mint tea to finish. Impresarios Charles Khabouth and Hanif Harji have outfitted the bright, half-subterranean space with minimalist touches (grey-and-yellow tile, Spanish soft seating by Sancal), and exec chef Stuart Cameron’s menu plays with intriguing, exotic seasonings like dukkah, a dusting of coriander and sesame seeds and ground hazelnut. Order the twisty Date Old Fashioned cocktail with notes of date and toasted fenugreek.
10 Temperance St., Toronto
Restaurateurs Steven Salm and Michael Kimel opened this penthouse of power dining exactly where it ought to live: half a block from Bay Street. Prosperous suits delight at the imaginative cooking of Michael Steh, who will stuff a whole roast chicken with foie gras and Armagnac-soaked brioche. The wine list is dotted with legendary, wallet-busting bottles – plus more esoteric fare from, say, the Jura – and the polished staff is the best-dressed for miles.
350 W. Pender St., Vancouver, BC
Working in the kitchen with his wife Jill, chef Lucais Syme creates plates that are at once restrained and modern – witness the duo of smoked and cured salmon with lemon and yogurt, or the delicacy of a rolled rotolo noodle with Swiss chard and ricotta, served atop a rabbit ragu. An Old World wine list focuses on France, Italy and Spain, with the occasional detour into Portugal for bical and cerceal.
2053 Gottingen St. Halifax, NS
Edna’s dining room, wrapped in wood boards salvaged from a church in the fishing port of Hantsport, hums with the energy of Halifax’s newly chic North End as diners wash down big Tatamagouche oysters with flutes of Blomidon sparkling crémant. Jenna Mooers’ Nova Scotia bistro menu draws from the province’s land (tender beets and salad greens from the Annapolis Valley) and sea (seared local albacore in a dashi broth). Her mother, Jane Wright, herself a long-time restaurateur, contributes such desserts as a salt-flaked vegan chocolate mousse – silken tofu, chocolate soy milk, cocoa… delicious.
380 Elgin St. Ottawa, ON
At a former nightclub space on a buzzy strip of Elgin Street, hungry Ottawans line up and then linger well past midnight to party with Matt Carmichael’s ingenious tacos and raw seafood dishes. A fleet of tequila-and-mescal-based cocktails (the Camino Club is tequila blanco, Disaronno, Fernet-Branca, bitters, pineapple and lime) fuels the energetic room, but such creative dishes as steelhead trout tartare tostada and a Japanese eggplant taco add a sneaky layer of gastronomical sophistication to the proceedings. The night ends with Tequilime pie and churros.
1535 W. 6th Ave. Vancouver, BC
Chef David Gunawan makes his mark with locally sourced market ingredients in unique, Asian-inflected combinations – think sake-marinated sablefish with daikon, apple dashi and furikake. His small, bright South Granville room, run by partner Dara Young, hums with the sound of classic vinyl as diners drink from the natural-wine-focused list. Chefs emerge from the open kitchen bearing dishes that lean toward vegetables and seafood, like citrus-cured sockeye salmon with green strawberries, fennel and lovage.
414 Dupont St. Toronto, ON
Chef Anthony Rose completes his Holy Trinity of new restaurants on Dupont (Rose and Sons, Big Crow) with a subtly sacrilegious take on Mediterranean Jewish cuisine. Swipe up hummus – chickpeas, both pulverized and whole – with perfectly grilled pitas; confound your Jewish grandmother with a deconstructed chopped liver dotted with gribenes (fried chicken skin) and slivered radish, topped by your tattooed waitress with a generous pour of schmaltz (chicken fat) from a diner-style syrup jug. The housemade vermouth, from a base of sweet Manischewitz, highlights a playful drinks list.
538 Place Saint-Henri, Montreal, QC
A former post office in Place Saint-Henri (the restaurant’s name references the local postal code) now delivers the precise cooking of chef Dany Bolduc in a slick, open space. Quebec snow crab pops with the addition of grapefruit, daikon and a purée of shishito peppers – the sharpness of the plating is among the best you’ll encounter in the city. The Old World wine list includes such palate-pleasing pours as riesling from the Saar, xarello from Penedès and pinot noir from Alsace.
48 rue Dante Montreal, QC
In a low-key but gleaming box in the city’s Little Italy neighbourhood, Stefano Faita and chef Michele Forgione refine the details of Italian comfort cooking with precision and control, but no shortage of charm. Veal sweetbreads come impeccably fried alongside tangy elderberries and an albacore-based salsa tonnata, while sweet-pea agnolotti and Tuscan sausage is drizzled in marjoram-infused brown butter. Begin the meal with a proper Negroni to whet your appetite and then let the blade-sharp wait staff lead you through an all-Italian wine list, from vermentino to Valpolicella.
255 rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, QC
The sublime raw materials of Quebec’s boreal region are transformed into inventive modern dishes by the team behind La Tanière, Frédéric Laplante’s ode to molecular gastronomy. Here, in a room dotted with birch posts, chef de cuisine Émile Tremblay marries lean elk carpaccio with creamy housemade tofu and tangy sea buckthorn berries, and tops sweet snow crab with shredded rhubarb and a buckwheat honey foam. A seafood tasting platter rolls through the greatest hits of the St. Lawrence basin: whelks, clams, monkfish liver, all prepared with precision and focused seasoning.
506 Fort St. Victoria, BC
Follow the neon sign of the pink elephant down a long hallway to locate this dark, tucked-away temple of food and strong drink. Run by local cocktail savant Shawn Soole, the menu pairs inventive libations like the Afro Samurai (Johnnie Walker Black, plum wine, “Kuma” bitters, lemon and gomme syrup) with French-influenced sharing-style plates like slow-cooked pork jowl over creamed cabbage. The spirits list is something to behold, with one full page of the 16-page “Admiral’s List” devoted to absinthe, served from a metal drip fountain nicknamed Bertha.
328 Wellington St. W. Toronto, ON
Follow the illuminated sign – the Chinese characters transliterate roughly as “luk gei” – into this bustling temple of Chinese cuisine that’s focused on chef Susur Lee’s native Hong Kong. Tucked inside the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel, the modern-chinoiserie room fills with the sound of diners snacking on such dim sum dishes as long xia gao, a juicy lobster and asparagus dumpling. Grab a glass of local Izumi sake on tap and load up a rice wrapper with slices of duck, cucumber, leek and apple to experience the Peking-inspired Luckee Duck – don’t forget a stripe of kumquat jam and some housemade hoisin.
8 Barrows Rd. St. John’s, NL
In a remodelled two-century-old heritage house in sleepy Quidi Vidi Village, hometown chef Todd Perrin and sommelier Stephen Lee elevate familiar Newfoundland cooking with top-notch sourcing and technique. Sit on wooden spoke chairs in the new back room, where jars of pickled vegetables balance on roof beams until they’re used to season a tangy raw halibut salad. Or take a seat in a dark, moody corner of the low-ceilinged front room and dig out sweet meat from the broiled whole lobster, cradled in a red-enamelled ceramic cocotte.
276 Preston St. Ottawa, ON
Seasonal cuisine sourced from the Ottawa Valley draws a sophisticated crowd to this serene Little Italy room. Chef James Bratsberg constructs beautiful plates with ingenious flavour combinations (tuna tartare with fingerling potatoes two ways, ringed by a tomato-and-zucchini mirepoix), but still retains the approachability of protein-and-potatoes comfort food. Roving sommelier Samuel James contributes a tableside knack for pairing your pork shoulder to the savoury Patagonian malbec he’s just added to the well-edited list.
645 rue Wellington Montreal, QC
Chef Joe Mercuri, once of the much-beloved Brontë, returns with this eponymous restaurant that puts his creative cooking back in the spotlight where it belongs. In a grown-up room staffed by grown-up servers, dishes arrive on spun ceramic plates and are consistently more nuanced than they appear at first bite: Witness the rabbit pappardelle, given a note of country-stew flavour with a delicate carrot foam, or the raviolis tinted a dark green by the addition of charred leek ash. A cucumber granita with Hendrick’s gin, lime and coriander shortbread is like an after-dinner version of a gin and tonic.
15869 Croydon Dr. Surrey, BC
In Vancouver’s far southern suburbs, Vikram Vij brings a downtown level of service and cooking to the savvy diners of South Surrey. A shimmering exterior houses a long room dressed with Indian tapestries where Vij recreates, with West Coast ingredients and finesse, some of his favourite dishes encountered on his travels, like a chattpatti squid from Mumbai or a spicy Kolkata steamed fish. The wine list (Vij is also a sommelier) is drawn exclusively from British Columbia, including pours on tap from Laughing Stock and Joie Farm in Naramata.
10240 124th St. N.W. Edmonton, AB
A duo of preternaturally talented young restaurateurs – owner Kevin Cam and chef Ben Staley – opened this 124th Street room where adventurous cooking pushes Edmonton’s culinary boundaries forward. The focus of the menu, entirely sourced from Canadian products, is a six-course tasting menu that might begin with a simple radish dipped in house butter and salt, and end with a spectacular green-pea dessert trio – formed custard, sorbet and freeze-dried peas under a sprinkling of buttermilk “snow.” Cocktails, like the Oak and Smoke (with blue spruce smoke filling the glass), are creative and sublime.
2360 rue Notre-Dame O., #104, Montreal, QC
Patisserie wizard Patrice Demers, who turned heads with his desserts at Les Chèvres and Les 400 Coups, adds a savoury evening menu and wine list to his solo debut. Sip a rustic Corsican red and snack on a beef tartare seasoned with beets and horseradish. Still, dessert is the true main course here: A ginger and vanilla mousse plays off the dry crunch of sablé Breton and the tart tang of rhubarb compote, while a jarred pot de crème with a crunchy salted-cookie layer sandwiched between airy chocolate and caramel creams is perfection.
10643 123rd St. N.W. Edmonton, AB
Born out of a series of farm dinners that began in 2011, “Range Road” (as the pronunciation goes) is chef Blair Lebsack’s place in the city to show off his confident, creative take on Alberta country cooking. Begin with the Gouda perogies and a grill-marked green bean salad before Lebsack comes at you with his expertise in true nose-to-tail cooking: The nightly “questionable bits” might be something like “dirty” barley with rabbit kidneys and livers, atop a few thin slices of porchetta di testa (rolled pig’s head). Manager Caitlin Fulton masterminds a global wine list that trends Canadian, including such small-lot British Columbia bottlings as a barbera from Sandhill Wines.
926 Dundas St. W. Toronto, ON
Right next door to their Black Hoof, Jen Agg and Roland Jean have crafted this snack bar that’s a postcard to Jean’s native Haiti. Chef Jesse Grasso slings a terrific accra (salty malanga-flour fritters), and his griot pork, marinated in bitter orange, is served “street style” alongside fried plantain chips and pickliz, a Haitian cabbage-and-carrot coleslaw brightened up with lime juice and Scotch bonnet peppers. The bar pours some 100 rums – straight up, in classic beach cocktails like the Dark & Stormy, and spun into icy piña coladas by a Bunn slushie machine.
257 rue Prince Montreal, QC
The team behind Montreal’s Club Chasse et Pêche and Le Filet, Claude Pelletier and Hubert Marsolais, retained the snaking overhead pipes when they transformed the old Darling bell-foundry space into this mod, industrial-chic room. Chef Michele Mercuri colours his Italian comfort food with Eastern influences – think scallop crudo in a Thai sweet-chili glaze, or bucatini with black garlic and soy. The stylish crowd sips from a globe-hopping wine list that trends toward the unexpected and quirky.
2519 rue Notre-Dame O. Montreal, QC
Just a few doors down from their meat-focused Little Burgundy joints Joe Beef and Liverpool House, local legends David McMillan and Fred Morin have added a third child to their restaurant family that shares its older siblings’ general disposition but does its own thing with a vegetable-focused menu. This is ostensibly a wine bar – Joe Beef sommelier Vanya Filipovic pops in frequently to pour unique finds like Slovenian Movia from her natural-organic-biodynamic list – but the dishes that emerge from the kitchen play no second fiddle. Celery root is smoked and roasted, and thin discs from the charcuterie slicer are folded like dumplings atop a creamy anchovy-caper sauce.
150 4th St. Tofino, BC
In this handsomely hip dining room, with its soaring wooden ceiling and broken-surfboard wall art, you can eat potato-wrapped smoked oysters and share crystal bowls of made-to-order punch while admiring a view of remote Tofino Inlet. Chef Nick Nutting, formerly of the Pointe restaurant just down the street, works with a team drawn largely from his fine-dining background at the Wickaninnish Inn to create a uniquely West Coast blend of polish and comfort. Humboldt squid, octopus and Dungeness crab are drawn from the surrounding waters and prepared simply on family-style sharing platters.
10132 100th St. N.W. Edmonton, AB
Chef Mike Scorgie upgraded his beloved Nomad food truck to a brick-and-mortar location with a wood-burning oven that suffuses much of the menu with a smoky goodness. It’s not just the flank steak and pork sausages that visit the hickory oven – each day’s flame is kindled by last night’s menu – but also wood-fired B.C. clams in a bacon-tomato broth and smoked salmon with cucumber and fried capers. The cocktail program, by Andrew Borley, features such dead-on concoctions as the Old-World Fashioned: cognac, Xanté pear liqueur and Amaro Montenegro.