The Taste of Edmonton used to be all about mini donuts and green onion cakes, but oh, how times have changed.

With a wad of tickets in hand, I meandered through heady clouds of smoke rising from meat on grills. For this mission, I decided to pass on the restaurants I was familiar with and let my adventurous palate guide me to new experiences.

I’ll deliver the bad news first, starting with the crispy avocado roll with cashew/cilantro/honey pesto from Zinc, the restaurant located in the Art Gallery of Alberta. Hot avocado puree doesn’t sound terribly appealing but I hope the pesto will save it. It doesn’t, and this tiny spring roll costs a pricey $3.75.

The Common’s pork belly lettuce wrap is a diner’s disaster. The pork belly—what should be the star of the show—becomes the forlorn understudy lost in the overshadowing jumble of competing extras. A hefty $5.00 down the drain.

quail-taste-of-edmonton

Top Pick for the Taste of Edmonton: roasted quail with pomegranate sauce from Hoang Long Casual Fare (Michelle Bellefontaine/CBC)

Just as unwieldy and disappointing flavour-wise is the Nehiyawak (Native) tacos from Native Delights. I got pretty jazzed at having non-GMO, organic bannock but the taste is lost under the pile of El Paso like taco kit seasoning of the dish.

Better things are ahead, though, in two burgers and a birdie: One of Edmonton’s newest food trucks, The Patty Wagon, offers a “Thai-dye 4 burger”. This is a flavour parade featuring a homemade beef patty topped with julienned carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, bean sprouts, satay sauce, and a slice of Gouda—for burger’s sake.

The Underground Tap & Grill also scores high marks for their bison slider with Gorgonzola cheese. The texture of the patty is sublime, and it tastes like meat—real, honest to goodness meat. Both burgers cost $5.00, but in these two cases, totally worth the price.

The standout item, scoring full marks for value, taste and execution is the grilled quail provided by Hoang Long Casual Fare, $3.75. The perfectly grilled bird is succulent and smoky and drizzled in a slightly sweet pomegranate sauce. Be prepared to get dirty because you will suck that meat off of every little bone, and after cleaning your face and hands, you just might consider going back for more.

Taste of Edmonton runs until the evening of July 26.