Looking Back at Canada’s Best New Restaurants’ Covers, Writers and Winners

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Celebrating 20 years of eating, drinking and trend spotting, with only a few regrets along the way.

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.

August 17, 2021

2002 to 2003

A rotating GIF showing two food-related covers of Air Canada enRoute magazine

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.

Writer’s Souvenir

“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

Related: Red Chef Revival’s Rich Francis on the Future of Indigenous Food in Canada

2004 to 2008

A rotating GIF showing five food-related covers of Air Canada enRoute magazine

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.)

Writer’s Souvenir

“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

Related: Where to Find the Best Indian Street Food in Canada


A food-related 2009 cover of Air Canada enRoute magazine

No 1 – Cibo Trattoria, Vancouver

Inside Moda Hotel, Cibo Trattoria brings rustic Italian fare – focusing on local ingredients – and premium wines.

Writer’s Souvenir

“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

A rotating GIF of cover images of Air Canada enRoute magazine, 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.

Writer’s Souvenir

“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

A rotating GIF of cover images of Air Canada enRoute magazine, 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.

Writer’s Souvenir

“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

Related: The Best Asian Food in Richmond, B.C., is in Parking Garages and Car Washes

2018 to 2019

A rotating GIF of cover images of Air Canada enRoute magazine, 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.

Writer’s Souvenir

“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.

20208 Things to Love About Canada’s Restaurant Comeback

2021 – Keep an eye on enroute.aircanada.com for our 2021 list.

Presented By
Open Table
Gold Sponsor
Destination Canada
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