YEAR IN REVIEW
Edmonton's Best Restaurants 2019
These are the dishes that wowed CBC Edmonton foodies this year
For the fifth instalment of CBC Edmonton's annual best restaurants list, we took a city-wide approach. We chose specific dishes to order at the best eateries in different parts of the greater Edmonton area.
New places like Dorinku Osaka and Filistix impressed us in 2019, but this was also a year we spent returning to old favourites, including The Next Act Pub and Cibo Bistro.
Since 2020 is just around the corner, we looked even farther back and chose two establishments that, we think, deserve to share the "best of the decade" title.
Happy eating in 2020!
Phil Wilson, Food writer
Best new restaurant of 2019
Twyla: Toast Culture
I'm hankering for a return to approachable yet interesting food; nothing showy, just well-prepared dishes made from fresh, quality ingredients. Friendly owners, free WiFi and free refills of locally roasted Colombian coffee make this a great neighbourhood spot.
What to order: The avocado BLT with a soft poached egg has Meuwly's capicola, arugula, tomato, guacamole, and basil aioli on Bon Ton Bakery sourdough.
For chef and owner Ron Elmaleh, it appears that smaller is better. Kobachi means "small bowl" in Japanese and the restaurant itself is also small, with just 20 seats. Its goals, however, are lofty: to bring sustainable and authentic Japanese food to Sherwood Park. The restaurant is Ocean Wise certified, which means it is sourced by only sustainable seafood.
What to order: Trust the chef and take advantage of the plentiful daily specials like the creative Aji & Fry. It combines two versions of Spanish mackerel: sushi and fried.
On the permanent menu, don't overlook the unassuming but flavour-packed parsnip kimpira and the hotate butter, which sees tenderly handled scallops bathed in butter and soy sauce.
Phil: Filistix (Downtown location)
This year, no one restaurant emerged head and shoulders above the pack, so I chose one based on the new dish I find myself craving most often.
What to order: The dish to have here is the breakfast burrito. It's filled with pork tocino (Filipino bacon), scrambled egg, garlic fried rice, pico de gallo salsa and soy mayo.
Filistix's spin on southeast Asian classics like grilled pork belly skewers, beef rendang, chicken adobo and pork sisig similarly hit the spot.
Best of downtown
I'm recommending seasoned restaurant veterans who offer true hospitality and well-made, flavourful food.
What to order: The La Misión pork burrito has a hefty handful of crispy and tender Four Whistle Farm pork shoulder, stewed beans, cheese and pico de gallo wrapped up in a house-made flour tortilla. This burrito will keep you fuelled for the entire day.
Bodega is the perfect place for a date night or an impromptu visit for post-work drinks and eats. The wine menu is carefully curated, the lighting is just low enough to create a good mood and the people-watching is just as satisfying as the food.
What to order: Dishes from the excellent and diverse hot tapas menu can satisfy any craving, but the piri piri prawns are the must-have choice. Very close seconds are the grilled lamb chops and the bacon-wrapped dates.
What to order: Gnocchi — If you think of gnocchi as the heavy and dense potato version, Bündok's light and pillowy French version is going to blow your mind. Made with pâte à choux, these light-as-air gnocchi puff up when boiled and are pan-fried until crispy, then served with roasted mushrooms, seasoned bread crumbs and a healthy topping of fresh parmesan.
Best of Oliver and 124th Street
Twyla: Cibo Bistro
It's a testament to both the food and the service when a restaurant stays in business for eight years, especially when the restaurant is off the beaten path. Cibo serves Italian food made with a lot of love and no shortcuts. And the owner's wife, Lisa, is one of the best sommeliers in the city.
What to order: Go for the hand-made tagliatelle with beef cheek and oxtail ragu topped with vacche rosse Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don't pass on the zeppole (limoncello mascarpone doughnuts) for dessert.
What to order: I am a soup fanatic. Soup was part of supper every night when I was growing up and I have it nearly every day for lunch, so when I discovered the French onion soup at Partake, I was in bliss. Lesser versions are overpowered by beef broth, with insufficiently caramelized onions and not enough cheese. I dare say this version is perfect. It elevates the experience to sip it in one of the restaurant's beautiful hunter-green leather booths and have a bowl of bottomless fancy popcorn on the table.
Phil: Tokiwa Ramen
What to order: You really can't go wrong with any of the ramen at Tokiwa, but my personal favourite is the goma goma. The 10-hour pork broth is rich and complex without being overly fatty, which is in contrast to many other ramen varieties. Instead of the traditional charshu (braised pork), the goma goma has chopped pork with sesame, miso and chili. It's an extremely satisfying meal for under $15.
Best of Old Strathcona and Ritchie
Biera wins this neighbourhood contest, all of us agree.
What Twyla orders: "The Blooming Mushroom." Deep-fried mushrooms sprinkled with porcini mushroom salt and served with malt vinegar dip. This is in-your-face umami. The dish pairs perfectly with Blind Enthusiasm's "Bro," a fruity dark ale.
What Adrienne orders: Honey-glazed radicchio kushiyaki. I credit my discovery of radicchio to the 1989 film, When Harry Met Sally. Sally ordered grilled radicchio from a fine New York restaurant, and little-kid me thought, I have to try that! The radicchio at Biera shows off the chicory beautifully. Do not get the pistachio crema on the side!
What Phil orders: I know there are far fancier and more elegant dishes on the Biera menu, but thinking about sourdough bites excites me every time I'm en route to the restaurant. They're the perfect kickoff to the rest of a meal and spotlight Biera's fantastic sourdough. The cubed bread is deep fried and served with a pool of umami-laden aerated Alpindon beer cheese, which really makes your taste buds dance. You'll find the dish on the snack menu, so it's also the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon pint.
Best restaurants north of the core
Twyla: Turquaz Alaturka
Turquaz Alaturka is a small restaurant with an immeasurable amount of hospitality.
What to order: The Ezogelin soup is as rich in origin as it is in flavour. The heady concoction, made of bulgur, red lentils, onions, red pepper paste, paprika, mint and lemon is named after a young woman in southeastern Turkey named Ezo. In the early 1900s, Ezo concocted this recipe to win over her future mother-in-law, who doubted she was good enough for her son. Food should always tell a story; this dish certainly does.
- Turquaz Alaturka serves up Turkish delights
- AUDIO: Turkish "döner" and other food at Edmonton's heritage festival
Adrienne: Dang Good
This family-run strip mall restaurant offers everything you want in a Vietnamese restaurant: flavourful pho and bowls of filling and tasty vermicelli.
What to order: Dang Good's top seller is the spicy peanut saté soup, and for good reason. Beef fillet and roasted peanuts meet cooling cucumber and tomato on a healthy heaping of rice noodles. The menu has changed, but I'm hoping the fried banana dessert is still an option.
Phil: Sunbake Pita
This place is way too busy to be considered a hidden gem, but I still love introducing people to its tasty food.
What to order: Sunbake's manakeesh, a flatbread similar to pizza, is one of my quick lunch staples. Soft dough is flattened out and topped with your choice of ingredients, then crisped up in a large gas oven. I especially love mine with cheese and za'atar, a mix of dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds and salt.
Best restaurants south of the Whitemud
Twyla: Formosa Bistro
Hidden away in a strip mall on 34th Avenue, this restaurant can be hard to find, but Taiwanese food by a humble chef who takes pride in his made-from-scratch dishes makes this a place to seek out.
What to order: Last year, my favourite dish was their popcorn chicken. This year, it's their triangle pork floss sandwiches. They're listed as a breakfast item, but if it's not busy at lunch, the chef might whip up an order for you. The bread is sweet, the pork is savoury, the lettuce is crispy and chef's secret mayo blend brings it all together. It's perfect road food.
Adrienne: 852 Hong Kong Cafe
If Calgary Trail, near South Edmonton Common, is on your commute, you've passed by this restaurant countless times. Next time, stop and go in. 852 Hong Kong Cafe has a bright, modern room and a massive menu typical of Chinese restaurants.
What to order: The dish to travel here for is the pipa duck. Imagine the roast duck with lacquered skin you can get at any Chinese grocer, then amp-up the flavour factor by 10. The duck leaves a pleasing taste of anise and Chinese five spice on your tongue. It's also roasted just long enough to render out the sometimes unappealing fat layer, leaving perfectly succulent meat and a nice crispy skin. Pre-ordering is recommended.
What to order: The ahi tuna twist is a Nineteen classic and your perfect introduction to chef Andrew Fung's food. Spicy Thai noodles wrap around a fork with Asian slaw, cliantro aioli and seared tuna. It's a delicious and refreshing start to your meal, and if something's been on the menu since day one, there's usually a good reason why.
Best restaurants outside city limits
I love the food and the people behind this Thai restaurant in Sherwood Park. Great hospitality and kindness, always.
What to order: I get wicked cravings for the chu chee goong: shrimp in red curry and makrut (lime leaves). A helping of server Bunny's Buddhist teachings just adds to the experience.
Adrienne: Frickin' Delights Donuts
There is no shortage of quality doughnuts in Edmonton, so why drive to Devon to get your fix? I'll tell you: the doughnuts there are as advertised — a frickin' delight. They are also vegan with no deliciousness sacrificed.
What to order: The chocolate chai, blueberry pancake and unique cornbread doughnuts are all good choices.
Don't have a sweet tooth? Try the dill pickle soup. And if you don't feel like driving out of town, they recently opened a location on Whyte Avenue.
Phil: Jack's Burger Shack
Though a couple of strong burger contenders have emerged in Edmonton this year, Jack's is still my number one, and the reason is their beef patty. It's perfection.
Smash patties, when beef is pressed hard on a screaming hot griddle until the desired level of delicious crust is achieved, are my favourite and Jack's still makes them better than anyone.
What to order: My personal favourites are the BBQ crunch (bacon, cheese, potato chips, and orange soda barbecue sauce), and the 'Shroom (sauteed garlic mushrooms and Boursin), but I often will just ask for a big, beautiful double cheeseburger and eat myself into happiness.
Twyla: June's Delicatessen
June's serves up unpretentious food, which is made from scratch in the renovated, historic Gibbard Block in Highlands.
What to order: Matzo ball soup, for three reasons. First, Chef Allan Suddaby uses Gail Hall's matzo ball recipe, second, he makes his own chicken schmaltz, and third, he makes the most ridiculously heady broth in which to place these lovely dumplings.
Before you can enjoy the excellent drinks and view at Alchemy, you have to find it first. It's on the fifth floor of the JW Marriott hotel, and throwing back to the days of speakeasies, it's behind a bookcase. The bookcase swings open, revealing a chic bar lined with tall windows on one side and buttery leather seating on the other. The cocktail menu is stacked and a drawing next to each drink shows what glass it comes in — a nice touch.
What to order: I'm a fan of the Sun/Moon and the El Cholito. They go nicely with the beef chuck sliders. And don't be shy to get dressed-up for your night out — cocktail attire is preferred here.
Phil: Paraiso Tropical
Yes, I'm telling you to go eat at a grocery store. Don't question it; just do it. Have trust.
What to order: Yuca con chicharron
Canadians tend to think of chicharron as fried pork skin, and in much of Latin America it can mean cubes of crispy fried pork meat. For Paraiso Tropical's Yuca con chicharron, the pork is slowly baked instead of fried. It's served with fried yuca (a root vegetable) and topped with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad from El Salvador, and salsa roja, the restaurant's signature tomato sauce.
That crispy, fatty pork meat is pure hog heaven.
Don't skip the dishes here
Twyla: Juniper Café & Bistro
This small café in Strathearn would win the YEG Hygge Award, if there was one. Blankets on chairs, hanging star lights, homemade baked goods and warm-hearted community spirit make this a local gem.
What to order: The handheld benny starts with a Portuguese bun, a poached egg and your choice of bacon, spicy pulled pork or roasted vegetables. It comes topped with arugula, homemade hollandaise and either chipotle or lemon-garlic aioli.
Adrienne: Dorinku Osaka
This is the second Dorinku to open in Edmonton, but it's no carbon copy of the first. Dorinku on Whyte Avenue serves Tokyo street food, while this brand new eatery on Jasper Avenue takes diners to Osaka, Japan.
What to order: The robata grilling method, fuelled by charcoal from Japan, turns out perfectly fire-kissed meats and seafood skewers. The pork belly and beef tongue are tender and flavourful on their own, but dipping them into the accompanying Asian peri peri and cilantro chimichurri sauces gives the meats another dimension.
The room is super stylish, mixing traditional and modern elements. The cocktail menu is fun, resembling a pop-up book. The shochu and Japanese whisky is flowing, the hip hop is pumping and there's a Pachinko machine in the back.
Phil: The Next Act Pub
There are two reasons why you shouldn't order something on delivery: either the food quality is substantially better in person or the atmosphere of the place itself adds to the experience. In this case, both apply.
What to order: Unlike many other restaurants, The Next Act does nachos properly. That means ample pulled pork and cheese, and the toppings are layered, so everything under the top layer is still worth your time.
But beyond that, The Next Act has some of the finest people-watching Edmonton has to offer, and you simply cannot beat dinner and a show for $20.
Best restaurant of the decade
I appreciate how Blair Lebsack, his wife, Caitlyn, and the entire team have worked to make RGE RD an example of excellence.
They have succeeded in a highly competitive industry by keeping their heads down, working hard, building relationships with farmers, and by evolving not only as a nationally acclaimed restaurant but also an occasional retail outlet. Look for their butchery, set to open in 2020.
RGE RD is true farm-to-fork. The staff eat, live and breathe it, unlike others who profess to be, but fail to abide.
This is prairie food. Pure, honest and deeply rooted in tradition and integrity.
What to order: On the seasonal menu, anything with pork belly in it is a good choice. From the off-sales department, get the mortadella.
Adrienne and Phil: Corso 32
Edmonton's culinary scene was forever changed with the opening of chef Daniel Costa's Corso 32.
This restaurant ushered in a new standard for quality and flavour, earning a spot on Air Canada's enRoute magazine in 2011. Nine years after the restaurant opened, the food remains consistently excellent.
It's not a place you spontaneously pop into — reservations are too hard to come by — but maybe that's a good thing. Eating at Corso is an event, and a highly anticipated one at that.
We're certain the words "it's good enough" have never been spoken inside these walls.
What to order: The arancini is a great choice, but you can never go wrong with any pasta!