Edmonton's best restaurants 2016
Three panellists share their best picks, mainstays and where to watch out for next year
It was another exciting year in Edmonton's constantly-growing restaurant scene. With so many options out there, it can be difficult to pick where to start — and that's where our panel of culinary fiends and foodies comes in. They've done the research so you can reap the rewards.
Want to skip to the finish and see which is closest to you?
The judges — and where they ate most this year
Twyla Campbell, Food explorer and Edmonton AM restaurant reviewer
Prairie Noodle Shop – Asian noodle soups are my comfort food. There were big expectations, but the restaurant hit a rough patch when a new chef altered the recipes. Stephen Baidacoff was brought back, and he and Eric Hanson worked with the owners 24/7 (actually sleeping there) to get back to how good the soup was when the Fab Four (Baidacoff, Hanson, Wendy Mah and Israel Alvarez) first perfected the recipes. This place feels like home to me. Favourite dish: spicy garlic miso ramen.
The Local Omnivore – These guys do smoked meat sandwiches better than anyone in Edmonton. In just one year, The Local Omnivore has become the kind of casual everyday place that serves high quality food our city can be proud to showcase.
Adrienne Pan, On-duty newshound and off-duty food fanatic
I ate the most at Wing Chicx this year. Not only is it in my neighbourhood, it's my favourite Korean restaurant in the city.
Best new restaurant of 2016
We've come to expect extraordinary things from Daniel Costa, and he doesn't disappoint with his third restaurant — but extraordinary doesn't mean complicated. Something as simple as the crostini with whipped lardo and olive oil would have me coming back in a heartbeat.
It was a great year for restaurant openings, and a number of the new spots would warrant serious consideration on a best overall list. Ultimately, though, Daniel Costa's Uccellino led the pack this year, and head chef Christopher Hyde has the kitchen purring with all the consistency of its sisters, Bar Bricco and Corso 32.
Yes, I know this restaurant is located in Beaumont and not Edmonton, but it's less than 10 minutes from my house so it counts in my mind! This Kickstarter success story won my heart with its French-Canadian food with an original twist — like Duck with blueberry cobbler. I'm also loving the "Belly, Beets, Battlestar Galactica" currently on the menu. The atmosphere is great too … rustic, stylish, inviting. Take home fresh bread from Chartier's bread window Friday through Sunday.
Best breakfast or brunch
Twyla: District Café
I like the vibe here plus the great baked goods, fantastic coffee and ridiculously good coddled egg on brown butter mash. The space feels a bit New York to me, and that's pretty cool.
My pick for best brunch is going to require a drive to Beaumont, but trust me – it's worth it. Chartier's brunch menu is loaded with hearty fare unlike any other. The scotch egg's crispy exterior with still-runny yolk is a perfect start to any Sunday, and Chartier's eye-popping breakfast poutine will make you a very popular person at your table.
Adrienne: Café Linnea
This is the kind of place I want to eat at on a Saturday morning before a day of running errands. It's bright, fresh and zen with its mix of wood, concrete and greenery (both plants and leather seating.) In a menu filled with Scandinavian and French cuisine, I love the complete galette with its house ham and buckwheat crepe. Enjoy with the beautiful Darjeeling tea they serve and you'll be ready to take on your day! Also – forget the stress of working out a tip, it is a no-tipping establishment.
Best for date night
There is enough activity surrounding the tables to keep a date night (especially first-date night) more relaxing. Food is a bit adventurous here, which is great — you're going to know right away if you and your date are a match.
Phil: Have Mercy
"Date Night" doesn't always have to mean romance. Sometimes the perfect date is great food with a fun atmosphere and live music for dancing, and that's exactly what you get at Have Mercy. Edmonton's coolest room is a Nashville roadhouse-inspired gem, and its spin on the classic fried green tomatoes is a must try.
Not all dates are planned weeks in advance, which makes this place a real winner. Half of the restaurant is reserved for walk-ins, so don't sweat not getting a table at Corso 32. Uccellino is also run by chef Daniel Costa and is just as cool. You have to eat pasta at this place … and while the Cacio e Pepe (an elevated mac and cheese) was creamy and soul-satisfying, I loved the house-made tagliatelli with sage butter and parmesan. Good date or not, you'll leave happy having eaten that.
Twyla: Anatolia Food Market
This is a Turkish grocery store with a café in one section that serves pide (flatbreads with toppings) and an incredible sheep's head soup called kelle paça. Prices are cheap, food is filling, and the people are wonderful. They love it when you ask questions about their food.
Phil: Sunbake Pita
Not only is Sunbake Pita the best bargain in town, its manakeesh pies, the Middle Eastern answer to pizza, are among my favourite things to eat in Edmonton. Period. The cheese, za'atar, and spicy chicken (made with Sunbake's chicken shawarma) are all favourites, and all under $5.
Adrienne: Sushi Shop
I'll admit that this is not the cheapest eat you can have in Edmonton, but it is technically "fast food." And for sushi, the prices are very reasonable. I'm obsessed with the tuna sushi tacos – a flavour bomb wrapped in a crispy wonton shell. Two for $6.95. And the $9.95 sushi pizzas are a fun lunch with various ingredients served on a crispy rice and cheese crust.
Best place to splurge
Twyla: Cibo Bistro
Located in Oliver; this is some of the best Italian food and service in the city. Rosario Caputo makes fantastic salumi, brings in burrata from Puglia, and his pastas are spectacular. So are the zeppole (doughnuts) – do NOT pass on those.
Phil Wilson: Tzin
Tzin is one of the city's smallest dining rooms, and has to be Edmonton's smallest kitchen, but produces some fantastic food and wine pairings nonetheless. The bacon appetizer has been one of Edmonton's top dishes for years, and chef Corey McGuire proves you don't need a big kitchen to produce big flavour.
Adrienne: RGE RD
First off, you have to decide if you want to eat off the menu, or take the $79+ RGE RD Trip – a multi-course "surprise me" dining experience. You can't go wrong with either choice, but I recommend letting chef Blair Lebsack take you on an adventure. I feel the vegetable treatments are especially strong here, and still crave the blue cheese creme brulé. The cocktails are no slouches either, and worth your hard-earned dollars.
Best oldie but goodie
Twyla: Bistro Praha
Best tartare I've tasted anywhere (worldwide). I've been going since 1985 and I've rarely ordered anything else. I don't think they've changed their wine or beer list since then, but that's part of the charm.
Phil: The Next Act Pub
This pub is still my go-to in Old Strathcona, combining delicious pub food with a cool vibe and the most eclectic clientele in town. The burgers are legit, the mac and cheese delicious, and the beer selection well curated with craft beers. If you happen to drink too many of those beers, they also offer one of Edmonton's best brunches on the weekend.
Adrienne: The Harvest Room
I ate alligator for the first time at this restaurant – back in 1993. I remember being impressed by the servers "crumbing" the table. I was on a date, it was romantic. Fast-forward to Valentine's Day, 2016. I'm back at the restaurant, on a date with my husband. The room is still romantic, the service still outstanding, the set menu was delectable to the last bite. And I left with a long stemmed rose dropped off with the bill. That's class.
Best bites and tapas
Twyla: Bodega Highlands
Intimate, cozy and interesting room. Probably best wine prices for the quality here and everything I tried was on point. It's a tried and true menu from Lino.
Phil Wilson: Bar Bricco
Bar Bricco is unmatched when it comes to producing small plates that make simple, high-quality ingredients the stars. From the decadent eggs moliterno to the luxurious egg yolk raviolo, to the agnolotti pasta dipped in sage butter and rolled in fresh parmesan, the kitchen's demand for perfection is evident everywhere. Bar Bricco's cocchi rosso cocktail (vermouth and prosecco) is also one of my favourites in the city.
Adrienne: Izakaya Tomo
Disclaimer: Several Japanese tapas bars have popped up around Edmonton lately and I have not been able to try them yet. But, here's why this place is worth a visit. Last time I went, they had a fried chicken-skin dish on special ... and yes, it was as good as you're imagining it was. Also of note, mentaiko (pollock roe) udon, the brussels sprouts, and the tuna tataki. Wash it all down with one or more of the many beers and sakes, and listen for a boisterous "Goodbye and come back soon" as you head out the door.
Best fried chicken
Twyla: Northern Chicken
It's the chicken and the vibe that sets these guys apart from all the other fried chicken joints in Edmonton. The fried chicken is extremely good, for sure, but the whole set-up just makes you feel like you're at a tailgate party. Plus, there's bourbon.
Phil: Seoul Fried Chicken
Having not had the opportunity to try the two brand-new fried chicken hotspots as of yet, I'll go with Seoul Fried Chicken. It's nice and crispy, and there's and there's a long list of flavours to choose from so you can mix it up.
Unlike my ramen odyssey last year, I was not disappointed with my fried chicken chase of 2016. It turns out there are many places now offering great fried chicken in Edmonton, and what you'll like will come down to the fine details. My Korean pick is SFC. The chicken is everything you want, plus some really interesting and original flavours like cilantro lime and golden kari (Japanese curry powder). The sesame potato slaw is perfection along with the corn fritters.
Southern-style fried chicken and Korean fried chicken are equally good and need to be judged separately. My traditional pick, Northern Chicken, offers a crispy-skinned, moist bird with just enough heat to make things interesting. Don't be calorie-conscious and skip the Doritos mac 'n cheese and bacon cream corn.
Good luck getting in. The space is hardly bigger than a closet and packed all the time. Chef Cory McGuire is one of the most underrated chefs in the city and this guy can cook seafood like no other. Always interesting dishes and top quality seafood.
Phil: Sawaddee Thai
While it may not be strictly a seafood restaurant, the chu chee goong at Sawaddee Thai in Sherwood Park was my favourite seafood dish of the year. It's so incredibly packed with Thai red curry flavour, and beautiful as well.
Piri piri prawns, the sablefish and the seafood paella are just a few of the dishes I go back for time after time. This restaurant is comfortingly consistent in its high quality. It's also suitable for any occasion whether it be a birthday party, Sunday dinner with family, or a work meeting. Don't be afraid of the wine list.
Olive oil cake and olive oil gelato at Uccellino. Silky smooth, rich texture, mild flavour. It's surprisingly light for a dessert, which makes it an attractive choice.
Phil: Canova Pasticceria
The urge to pick everything at Duchess Bake Shop is strong as usual, but this year I'll give you my best new find of the year – the Nutella brownie at Canova. This delicious treat is like eating a big spoonful of Nutella, but seems more socially acceptable in brownie form.
Adrienne: The Art of Cake
We all agree, Duchess Bake Shop is good. It's internationally known. Go there if you haven't already. However, there are other bakeries making some great sweet treats in our city. Art of Cake's vanilla cruller is divine, but available only Wednesdays and Fridays. The white chocolate raspberry scone is also delicious. And a shout-out to Passion de France, who makes a wonderful almond croissant.
Twyla: Bar Clementine
While owners Evan, Andrew and Jordan are cocktail wizards, it's Natasha's riff on the boulevardier that gets my vote. Bourbon, Alvear Solera sherry and punt e mes is a pretty special combination. So much depth! Every concoction at Clementine is pretty special. You're not drinking booze; you're enjoying liquid stories.
Phil: North 53
Between the newly opened Clementine and stalwart Woodwork, this was a really difficult pick this year. All three are making outstanding cocktails, but the newest cocktail menu at North 53 bumped them back into top spot for me.
Adrienne: Bar Clementine
Luckily for us, it's not hard to find a great cocktail in Edmonton, but I'm going to give props to this new kid on the block. The cocktails here are creative and original. Take the Cabana, best described as a smoky piña colada. Also tasty, the Provence is creamy, fresh, and fruity. The menu changes often, but if the Sweet Carrots with Amaranth or the Apple Millefeuille are on the offer, take advantage. It's also a beautiful room.
What to watch for in 2017
Lex Boldireff of S'wich food truck fame has created the menu for Baijiu (opening late 2016/early 2017). He is a master flavour profiler and extraordinary cook. He gets to unleash in this kitchen, and I can't wait.
Alexei Boldireff and Christine Sandford are poised to really make their names in 2017, heading up the kitchens at the hotly anticipated cocktail bar/small Asian plates spot Baijiu (Boldireff), and Ritchie brew pub Blind Enthusiasm (Sandford). Both have loads of talent and a passion for making everything possible from scratch, which bodes well for this next generation of restaurants in Edmonton.
I'm excited about Baijiu, opening up in the Mercer Warehouse. Shared plates paired with cocktails and a Shanghai-in-the-'30s vibe? Sign me up.
Also, Art of Cake is opening a new bakery/cafe in the Brewery District in February or March. Expect soup, sandwiches and coffee alongside the already wonderful desserts and cakes.
Where to go
Use the map below to find which city gems are closest to you: