Since 2002, Air Canada enRoute has embarked on a mission to put Canada’s best new restaurants on the map. This year, we picked up our tradition of flying one undercover writer coast to coast in search of the places and people reshaping Canada’s diverse culinary landscape. Along the way, we met chefs embracing new ways to share cultural identity on the plate and teams keen to prompt table talk about sustainability and equity advances. Opening a restaurant has always been a feat, and those with the courage and grit to pull it off over the past year deserve special recognition. That’s why we brought the coveted Top 10 list back. But for starters, here are the top 30 spots in the running. Bon appetit!
The menu has just switched from dinner to late-night at this casual sibling to Published on Main, and the mustachioed duo next to us is pounding shots of amaro followed by Parkside pilsners. Scenes like these co-exist alongside the occasionally sublime – a dish of grilled sablefish and pickled vegetables in a subtle tom kha broth dotted with bright green herb oil, for example – and capture the contradictory essence of this place: part soigné bistro, natural wine bar and frontier saloon. Go with whatever the staff happens to be pouring for the night and be ready for anything from the delicious to the delirious.
The undertow of pungent, tangy and nutty flavours that permeate the menu at this home to modern Iranian cuisine starts with a Hop Plum Spritzer with a top note of acidic dried lime. It recedes and then rises with a starter of roasted cauliflower, spicy yogurt, hazelnut and sumac, and peaks in the chicken and barberry main. Iranian folk songs bounce off white walls while carved mashrabiya panels seem to let in a warm Kashan breeze. A boldly tattooed server batting baby blue eyelids reminds us we are in Kitsilano and brings our meal full circle with the gentle citrus and haunting floral note of the turmeric and orange cake.
Cross the unmarked threshold of this East Van den to find yourself greeted by a fermentation-mad inventor in the kitchen and a natural wine-loving sommelier. Many are first drawn to this 18-seat industry fave for the umami explosion that is chef Justin Lee’s steak tartare burger, seared on the outside then layered inside a brioche bun with fermented onion, Parmesan fonduta and pickled pearl onion. Try this and you will want to return for the five-course omakase tasting and wine pairing, which might include a plush Claus Preisinger Kalkstein blaufränkisch from Kelcie Jones’s stellar wine list.
The name chef Ross Bowles and pastry chef Tracie Zahavich chose for this restaurant fits: the food is as polished as a monocle and smart as the fox who wears it. Tomatoes from Sun Wing farm, served both vividly ripe and electrifyingly pickled, are the bright red centrepiece of a creamy goat cheese and garden herb starter. B.C. spot prawns shine against the gentle heat of roasted red peppers and crunchy polenta cubes, while a cod and potato pithivier is a perfect marriage of Zahavich’s pastry and Bowles’ savoury culinary skills. Whitewashed decor upholds Shaker-style simplicity, dotted with antique kitchen equipment, and a long shiny bar doubles as a daytime coffee/bakery counter.
The team behind Nora Gray and Elena once again demonstrates its unerring sense of what hip Montreal wants to eat, here with an irresistible menu centred on arrosticini (grilled skewered meat of the Abruzzo region of Italy). Yet, in this a converted cinder block building in the historic RCA complex, the antipasti (crunchy fish croquettes on a dill-scented yogurt aioli or fresh radishes nestled in a bed of both emulsified and toasted hazelnuts then drizzled with honey), pastas (garlic, mint and chili-spiked spinach bucatini) and natural wines are equally essential to the chill, happy buzz.
This dream version of a roadside tavern shares DNA with siblings Union and Côte de Boeuf in Toronto, but every detail feels fit for the country, from buttery globe lighting to vaguely heraldic murals by Barbara Klunder, and a menu full of simple food done well. So well, you will want to come back for the silky slices of house smoked fish, fat spears of Meyer lemon-spiked local asparagus alongside a generous wedge of Château de Bourgogne or the pastured, six-week house cured sirloin steak. Quirky biodynamic wines, like an Abir zibibbo from Sicily, pop up on the drink menu, many by the glass.
You only have to enter this light-filled, wood-lined restaurant and have a taste of its elevated Korean comfort food to believe you’re on South Korea’s Jeju rather than Vancouver Island. While the thinly sliced octopus dressed in crushed seaweed and perilla and accented with kimchi and lime zest is surely a fancified take on hometown memories, fiery kimchi fried rice and silky tofu soondubu soup speak of mum’s cooking at its best. Meanwhile, the zany corn dog, a fish sausage wrapped in melting mozza under a creamy blanket of deep-fried potato, offers an imaginative twist on classic carnival fare.
The French name of the restaurant translates to “big, husky person,” and the two adjectives describe chef Simon Mathys’s outsized presence in the Quebec culinary landscape as well as his love for it. His passion for local ingredients is palpable in dishes like the thick, ruby-red slice of tomato from La Ferme des Quatre-Temps, adorned in herbs and flowers and resting in a pool of camelina oil. A pour of hot, fragrant smoked beef fat turns it into a salad with a sheen of cow – both fresh and elemental. Even the way Mathys acknowledges his entire staff on the menu is at one with this soulful and honest place.
Chef Epepe Tukala Vuvu offers a gathering place for pan-African food and culture in this Villeray restaurant and shop. We start with a layered and subtly spiced Moroccan tagine with preserved lemon, green olives, and green bean purée, then dig into the Congolese ntaba, a grilled goat and plantain platter studded with pickled red onion and a purée of the tangy Central African fruit safou. A sassy, colour-saturated mural features the chef’s two-year-old niece in oversized sunglasses and a tuque, with the skyline of Abidjan in the background. A soundtrack of sparkling Afrobeat, South African amapiano and Congolese rumba rounds out the experience.
This pop-up-turned permanent fixture doesn’t claim to serve authentic Thai fare, but joyfully riffs on the Southeast Asian flavours it loves, incorporating East Coast seafood, greens and herbs into the mix. Shareable plates play off the hopped up, fruity and sour brews of its host venue, Bannerman Brewing Co. Take the sai ua pork sausage, recast as perfect cod fritters resting on a pool of cooling yogurt and topped with mouth-numbing green chili chutney. On summer nights, the large taproom opens onto an adjoining deck, and live folk music mingles with screeching gulls overhead to create a sort of outdoor Newfoundland kitchen party.
Conceived of as the little sister to Giulietta on College Street, Yorkville’s Osteria Giulia may be young, but she has a precocious facility with the seafood fare of the Ligurian coast. The Lorighittas al Mare plate is an edible Where’s Waldo?, and the game is to tell the hand-braided pasta rings from the wild squid that swims amid bay scallops in a briny, pepperoncino-tinged white wine sauce with garlic and anchovy. Finish with an elegant strawberry and white chocolate millefoglie and a tumblerful of Quaglia camomile liqueur before bidding a tearful goodbye to the cliffs of Cinque Terre.
Food as culture, history and community is what you will find at this takeout spot, housed in the Indigenous-owned Whiskeyjack Art House. A lemony sandwich of breaded deep-fried Spam (a nod to food rationed on reserves), parsley and horseradish, or another of eggplant, tomato jam, aioli kale, mint and pea shoots vibrate with the energy of the land, inspired by chef Scott Jonathan Iserhoff’s walks through wild-herb scented forests of his childhood in Ontario. If you’re lucky enough to “picnic” in front of Lana Whiskeyjack’s spirited paintings of powerful Cree women, you will feel the convergence of food and culture all the more.
With a shoutout to Bangkok’s storefront aluminum roller shutters and curry shop tiles, this new spot from the team behind Épicerie Pumpui exudes a retro magic pumped up by the dance and alt music soundtrack. A sweet, sour and herbaceous Laab Ped made with minced duck meat and duck hearts satisfies our craving for the electric flavours of Bangkok, while a dish of tender grilled veal tongue with a gentle nam jim tao jiao (fermented soy and garlic-tamarind dipping sauce) takes us to a mellow beachside resort. Cheerful service and the fine bubbles of a Chemin des Sept Turbo Brut cider add to the night’s sparkle.
Time is forever frozen at sunset golden hour in this maple-wood clad dining room, where the gritty Queen West streetscape outside is screened from view so you can focus on the roll call of prime ingredients: caviar, sea urchin, filet mignon, prime rib and Wagyu beef. Or, start humbly with a loaf of warm and nutty molasses bread, plump kippered mussels and sweet pickled cauliflower, then move on to juicy seafood boudin. Don’t leave without visiting the main floor washroom, where the design suggests luxe Japanese bathhouse, but the sink is a tipoff to the restaurant’s down-to-earth roots: it’s a map of Lake Erie, owner Matty Matheson’s farm and home base.
Commitment to local and sustainable ethics is so passionate here that explanations on the provenance of tasting menu dishes and Quebec wines veer close to Portlandia territory. But the proof is in the zero-waste pudding. A first course of bright and crunchy yellow peas, accented with fresh herbs and a vinaigrette of lacto-fermented cucumbers thickened with pea polenta to reduce the use of oils, turns us into true believers. Wine pairings, like a creamy, quince-nosed Vignoble Camy Reserve chardonnay with a potato and celery root dish spiked with jalapeño and a beurre nantais haunted by the essence of spent corn cobs, stay both on message and on point.
In a heritage, 17th-century building in Old Quebec, lovingly set tables, featuring maple leaf plates by Wendat ceramic artist Line Gros-Louis, contrast with the tongue-in-cheek decor: a version of the Last Supper, with chef Stéphane Modat as Jesus dining with cartoon characters and Quebec luminaries and a wall of taxidermied jackalopes. The food and drink, however, are no joking matter. Modat pays homage to the province’s terroir with sure-handed treatments of seasonal products, like a pristine sea bass tartare with beluga lentils and finely diced pickle. Wine connoisseurs are in luck: decorated Master Sommelier Pier-Alexis Soulière has curated the international wine list.
That snug sense of home you feel at this luxe Maritime seafood outpost comes from being hugged from above by a curved, oak-planked facsimile of a ship’s hull. It’s not just the modern-yet-warm interior that welcomes, but the way the sure-handed crew takes you under its wing, steering you to dishes like lemon-spritzed lobster, shrimp and haddock cake with chow chow and brown butter tartar sauce, or the bronzed halibut atop steamed greens and bubble and squeak. Pair them with a green apple-scented Domaine de Grand Pré Tidal Bay white and feel the crisp air and sunshine of Nova Scotia on your face.
Chefs Julio Guajardo and Kate Chomyshyn turbocharge tacos and their birria subset with their sublime quesabirria con consome, oozing corn tortillas filled with braised beef, mozzarella and aromatics that are folded and grilled until caramelized cheese-rimmed and crispy. Pair them with a spicy-sour Modelo michelada and take in the buzzed-on-salsa crowd, ranging from Trinity Bellwoods hipsters to thrill-seeking mom-and-daughter duos, seated along green diner-style counters.
The glass front door of Fu’s Repair Shop sports the motto, “We Fix You,” and in a way, the joint delivers on its promise. Inside, the vibe is Chinese hip hop speakeasy, with an aughts playlist and a red lantern-hung ceiling that gives the bumping room a vaguely illicit orangish glow. Amped-up riffs on Guangdong dim sum (tender cheung fun rice rolls filled with shellfish or heat-radiating wontons in chili oil) restore, while sharp cocktails (the hot pepper-spiked Enter the Dragon is a creamy mai tai with a mule’s kick) leave those broken in spirit patched up and satisfyingly sated.
The concept at this high-ceilinged wood- and leather-clad Cameron Heights establishment is simple. To utilize the whole cow and waste nothing, Hayloft takes up the fine dining side of the operation, offering prime and underutilized cuts like tri-tip or skirt steak, while a branch of Woodshed Burgers takes the ground beef – all of it sourced from nearby Lakeside Farmstead. Exemplary cocktails like a smoked grapefruit margarita rimmed with a secret blend of tongue-tingling spices give way to expletive-worthy oysters, steelhead salmon and more from Effing Seafoods.
If you manage to wrangle one of just four stools at this Little Italy grocery store, prepare yourself for super-slippery and explosive noodle bowls, which are bound to splatter as you hurry them into your mouth. Menus change at the whim of chef Anita Yue Ming Feng: we got chunks of tender braised beef, daikon and Chinese five spice in one dish, and silky shards of tofu, green peas, pickled mustard greens and Sichuan peppercorns in another. Throw in some cooling salads from the grocery side of the shop and a just-sweet-enough Japanese dessert from Pâtisserie Maru and, though it’s only lunchtime, you won’t be “Feng” (a.k.a. “faim,” French for hungry) for the rest of the day.
Forty stories above downtown Calgary, the slowly waning sun sets fire to this sprawling, mid-century modern rocket lounge filled with a dressed-up crowd prepared for joyous lift off. It’s also a steakhouse reimagined for the modern age, delivering crispy egg halves topped with pepperoni jam, extra-terrestrial prime rib, and butter-tender chicken slices wreathed in braised button and oyster mushrooms. We may be far above the Earth, but the menu is firmly rooted in the pastures and farms that surround the city. It’s so seductive up here, we may just cut our connection with ground control a little longer.
Predictions of post-lockdown, Roaring Twenties-style exuberance came true in the form of Mimi Chinese, the dine-in successor to takeout operation Sunny’s Chinese. Plastic containers have given way to black bow ties, red velvet banquettes, and a nightclub-leaning ambiance. But the main attractions are hyper-regional renditions of Chinese cuisine ranging from deep-fried, sesame-showered shrimp toasts from Guangdong to a four-foot-long, chili oil-slicked take on Shaanxi belt noodle, scissored tableside. Grab a Jungle Panda cocktail (baijiu-based, aromatic and boozy) with a bamboo leaf sprouting from its ceramic behind, and plunge into a tour of the provinces.
Immigrant kids born in one country and raised in another call themselves the “1.5 generation,” which makes Một Tô the chill, 1.5 gen child of crosstown mom Phô Dâu Bò. “Crunch” could be its own category on the multi-hyphenated menu, judging from the crackly crab pork and taro spring roll and the pho grilled cheese served with a pho broth dipping bowl – an homage to the Western classic and French dip. Not to be missed, the sweet-sour beef carpaccio comes topped with a raw quail egg yolk and a shower of aromatics. And we haven’t even gotten to the pho yet.
In a plain, rectangular box of a place in Winnipeg’s St. Boniface neighbourhood, chef Emily Butcher channels her B.C.-Chinese roots into high-wire dishes loaded with so many ingredients they threaten to topple the act. But when she unicycles out of the kitchen smoke, holding aloft exquisitely layered entrées, like seared scallops perched on squares of turnip cake studded with smoked goldeye fish, the ensemble swimming in fermented radish beurre blanc and celery oil, all we can do is gasp and cheer.
The bucolic charms of Quebec’s Eastern Townships are on full display at this farm overlooking Lake Memphrémagog. In summer, meander through rows of regeneratively grown fruits and vegetables and past the mobile chicken coop to work up an appetite for your outdoor picnic. Our basket includes freshly harvested crudités and two sides (a lightly dressed whelk, miso and cucumber salad and a lentil and sunflower hummus and chive oil aioli parfait). The main event, though, is pizza from the wood-burning stove. We choose the pizza blanche: a soft, charred crust topped with delightfully bitter tatsoi, pak choi and rich, buttery lashes of Bête-À-Séguin from Fromagerie de l'Île-aux-Grues.
If you love fine dining tasting menus but not the starchy attitudes, then Perch is a gift to you: dishes that set the bar high and vault even higher, from a chef who foregrounds sustainability and minimal-waste cooking. We start with thin-but-hearty slices of Danish rye and a deeply flavoured compost broth made from daily veg scraps. There’s Franc Moody disco funk on the sound system, and on our palates, equally fine and funky pairings like the savoury chawanmushi egg custard steamed with koji dashi and topped with aged quail breast washed down with a tumblerful of Los Arango Reposado tequila, sweet vermouth and bitters.
Fans of chef Christie Peters’ late, lamented first venture, The Hollows, will welcome some familiar decor in this Riversdale-district space that alternately evokes cabin country, suburban rec room and lounge. Making it of the moment, though, are smashing tins of Spanish conservas, a robust selection of natural wines and a prairie-meets-the-world menu. Take the shatteringly crisp dandelion and fiddlehead fritters or the glistening, chargrilled and can-packed citrus-laced sardines, even better washed down with the vibrant acidity of orange wine from Gut Oggau in Austria or a rosé from Delinquente in Australia.
Two years after the abrupt closure of Brothers Food & Wine, a reshuffled team shows us the way back from the pandemic-born land of the fast and casual. Framed in an elegant room outfitted in floor-to-ceiling drapery and snow-white tablecloths, the food, too, is restrained and pitch-perfect. Opt in and each turn of the six-course tasting menu introduces a finely calibrated wine pairing. A dish of acorn-fed ibérico pork, grilled greens and pickled florets of fioretto (a broccoli-cauliflower hybrid) harmonizes with an earthy Lady of the Sunshine California pinot noir. When a hankering for opulence without arrogance strikes, here’s where you should head.
Plates of elevated Korean cuisine glide out of the open kitchen on waves of high energy 1980s pop at Roy Oh’s Mission neighbourhood successor to his late, acclaimed Anju. Anything goes here, from Korean spirits-forward drinks and salty and spicy snacks to elegant shared plates and traditional Korean barbecue – making it a good destination for any occasion. Long-time fans of Oh can devour his signature soy maple brussels sprouts with double-smoked bacon alongside newer dishes like black garlic-steamed Salt Spring Island mussels that deliver a surprising serrano chili punch.