With a taupe–toned cover showing a flute of bubbly reflected in the tines of a fork, Air Canada enRoute kicked off the magazine’s first national dining survey in 2002. The mission: to give Canada’s restaurant scene the international recognition it deserved. Food writer Amy Rosen hit the road to do just that, with such great results that she would repeat her epic epicurean journey the following year. “Some people have all the luck,” then–editor Arjun Basu noted in introducing the annual initiative. Air Canada enRoute Canada’s Best New Restaurants program has grown in leaps and bounds since then, promoting and supporting the country’s culinary talent, celebrating some trends and putting others to rest. Looking back at hundreds of shared discoveries from our six food writers over the last two decades, we believe that Canadians do have all the luck.
Celebrating 20 years of eating, drinking and trend spotting, with only a few regrets along the way.
2002 to 2003
No 1 – Catch, Calgary
Chef Michael Noble created Calgary’s first world–class restaurant, featuring fresh–from–the–line seafood coupled with regional ingredients. (Now closed.)
No 1 – Bymark, Toronto
When reviewed in 2003, this Financial District stalwart occupied a basement location in a former food court.
“When I arrived at the gloriously renovated old Imperial Bank Building, Catch had been open for just four days. I had my first taste of absinthe here, and an oyster tasting that hit four different provinces. I still remember the chowder, basically oysters coddled in cream. To open a seafood joint with such beauty and precision told me this place had legs. Catch has since spawned the next generation of great Calgary chefs, most of whom started here under chef Michael Noble.” – Amy Rosen, 2002 to 2003
2004 to 2008
No 1 – Ristorante Brontë, Montréal
Brontë is remembered by its adventurous avant–garde cuisine in an equally audacious space. (Now closed.)
No 1 – Garçon!, Montréal
Opulent cuisine de terroir was the draw at owner Patricia Hovington’s latest opening. (Now closed.)
No 1 – Nu, Vancouver
With panoramic views of False Creek, Granville Island and English Bay, this Vancouver spot served classic West Coast Cuisine. (Now closed.)
No 1 – Atlantica, Portugal Cove, NL
This upscale eatery, 20 minutes from St. John's, served plenty of seafood with a seaside location to match. (Now closed.)
No 1 – Nota Bene, Toronto
On Queen Street West, Chef David Lee brought us creative Canadian‑inspired small plates to remember. (Now closed.)
“I remember in 2007 at the very end of my trip, I drove to a small hotel in Portugal Cove, about half an hour outside of St. John’s. My expectations weren’t high for Atlantica, but within two bites of Jeremy Charles’ simple cod fillet, nearly gelatinous in its tenderness and carried aloft on a bright current of preserved lemon, I knew I had a winner.” – Chris Johns, 2004 to 2008
No 1 – Cibo Trattoria, Vancouver
Inside Moda Hotel, Cibo Trattoria brings rustic Italian fare – focusing on local ingredients – and premium wines.
“I’ll never forget driving out to Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon one night near the end of my tour. My dinner partner drove toward Mirabel like an F1 contender, in the rain on rolling country roads, using an early–model GPS. We became 15 minutes late, then 30 minutes late, for a reservation that had been almost impossible to get. What I remember most, though, was the welcome when we finally got there: A jug of maple syrup hit the table, followed by wave after wave of brilliant food; at one point they set down an entire tourtière.” – Chris Nuttall–Smith, 2009
2010 to 2012
No 1 – Haisai, Singhampton, Ontario
Michael Stadtländer’s original Haisai offered a mystery tasting menu of small dishes with a true focus on local, seasonal ingredients.
No 1 – Raymonds, St. John’s
In a heritage building overlooking St. John’s harbour, this formal dining room serves fresh seafood and quality wines to match.
No 1 – Edulis, Toronto
A cozy spot in Liberty Village that serves elevated Canadian cuisine with a menu of wild and foraged foods.
“An exceptional meal is like falling in love: You have the feeling that you were supposed to meet these things on this plate at this moment. I was so swept up in the meant–to–be magic of the dishes at Toronto’s Edulis – the porcini and foie gras, the vibrant cedar–baked salmon – that I left my notebook in the bathroom, where I’d hidden out to surreptitiously take notes. After a horrible couple of minutes of waiting outside the door, I can only imagine the look on my face as I pushed past the next person exiting.” – Sarah Musgrave, 2010 to 2012
Related: Best Vegan Fast Food in Toronto
2013 to 2017
No 1 – Bar Isabel, Toronto
Grant van Gameren’s first ode to classic Spanish tapas.
No 1 – Wolf in the Fog, Tofino, B.C.
With wild seafood and on‑tap beers, the Wolf in the Fog is the perfect West Coast restaurant.
No 1 – Pigeonhole, Calgary
With a cozy patio and rustic‑chic decor, this wine bar is serving up small plates and yummy cocktails.
No 1 – Kissa Tanto, Vancouver
In Vancouver's Chinatown, guests can indulge in Italian‑Japanese fusion cuisine inside a 1960s Tokyo jazz café‑inspired space.
No 1 – Battuto, Quebec City
This cozy 25–seat restaurant, the brainchild of Chef Guillaume Saint–Pierre, serves refined Italian cuisine in a modern space.
“My most surprising discoveries have been far–flung destination restaurants. There’s something about driving for hours down remote highways to places like Tofino for Wolf in the Fog, or a two–day, by–land–air–and–sea trek to reach Fogo Island Inn. With that first bite of that fried oyster wrapped in a nest of shoestring potato, I knew that the journey to the Wolf had been worthwhile.” – Andrew Braithwaite, 2013 to 2017
2018 to 2019
No 1 – Restaurant Pearl Morissette, Jordan Station, Ontario
Located an hour outside of Toronto, this upscale restaurant offers a multi‑course French‑inspired menu.
No 1 – Arvi, Quebec City
Meals are cooked, plated and served tableside inside this unique restaurant that serves creative plant‑based dishes.
“Being tapped to pick Canada’s Best New Restaurants is about so much more than just food. It’s about looking into the soul of a nation: its cultural, culinary, design and style obsessions du jour. It might be fermented juices and pickled flowers in Niagara one year, soccer and conservas in Vancouver another. It’s about reflecting on Indigenous murals and iron–rich, ethically sourced seal tartare, or finding the boreal forest in your cocktail.” – Nancy Matsumoto, 2018 to 2019
2020 to 2021
If 2020 and 2021 had not been pandemic years, our Canada’s Best New Restaurants writer would have spent the summers criss–crossing the country to discover the most exciting new openings from the previous years. These most mouthwatering of trips of course didn’t happen, but nothing could stop the chefs who keep inspiring us. Instead, in 2020, we brought our list to life in a different way, celebrating everything from exciting new takeout options and virtual cooking classes to changemakers shaking up the industry. And this year, we're trying something completely different – look out for it this fall.
2021 – Keep an eye on enroute.aircanada.com for our 2021 list.