Deja food: Our restaurant panel dishes on the best of Edmonton in 2018
While it's not a new idea, this year's hottest food trend left meat off the menu
As is tradition here at CBC Edmonton, we're looking back at the restaurants, the dishes and the drinks that truly excelled in 2018.
Here's your cheat sheet to fine dining in 2019. Bon appétit
Twyla Campbell, Food explorer and Edmonton AM restaurant reviewer
Where you're likely to find her: ChixShack — No joke, I'm addicted to the boat noodles.
Phil Wilson, Food writer
Where you're likely to find him: One of the "shacks." For me, cold nights call for delicious hot noodle soups, red and green curries, or a tasty Pad Thai. ChixShack fits the bill at a very reasonable price. This is Thai comfort food at its best. When the mood is calling for perfectly seared beef patties on a bun however, you'll find me at my favourite burger joint, Jack's Burger Shack.
Adrienne Pan, On-duty newshound and off-duty food fanatic
Where you're likely to find her: Woodwork. Five years after it opened and the cocktails remain as excellent as they've ever been. What's new, though, is the head chef. David Leeder took the helm eight months ago, bringing his Italian heritage and passion. The Broek Acres pork ragu is a perfect papardelle dish and more than worth the calories. And the steak tartare is truly notable with its crispy shallots and pops of pickled mustard seed.
Best new restaurant of 2018
Twyla: Formosa Bistro
Dining out is almost about more than just the food. Everything needs to be commendable: the room, the drinks, the service. You should want to return the moment you step out of the restaurant. For me, Formosa Bistro, a little Taiwanese place on the south side, impressed me so much I've gone five times in six weeks. I crave the popcorn chicken, the spicy wontons and the sweet potato fries — all popular street food items in Taiwan. The room is pretty but not overdone, the servers are friendly and knowledgeable, and the Formosa Sour, a cocktail of whisky, lemon juice and Chinese herbal syrup, is the oddest yet tastiest and best valued cocktail ($10) out there.
Phil: The Moth Cafe
This year has really seen the rise of the vegan restaurant in Edmonton, and none are doing it better than The Moth. The coconut-lime Laksa holds its own with some of the best noodle soups in town, and dishes like the ginger-chili soba salad and purple taro risotto leave you completely satisfied. When I dine at The Moth, I don't feel like I've settled for a vegan restaurant — I just feel like I chose a delicious one.
Adrienne: Kanu Cafe
Never would I ever have dreamed that a plant-based cafe would be tasty enough, and satisfying enough, to make it to the top of a best restaurants list — but here we are. Kanu Cafe is an inviting, bright space with equally bright service. First off, the butternut squash nachos. You don't miss the cheese with the squash, guacamole, and lime crema packing flavour punches, and the dish is perfectly layered so there's good stuff on every blue corn chip. For mains, the spicy udon noodles are near perfection. You get so much in this dish: spicy, smoky, creamy, chewy, nutty and crunchy. And the cocktails (with and without kombucha) are no slouch here either.
Twyla: Cibo Bistro
Lisa Caputo is the general manager, sommelier and server at Cibo Bistro in Oliver Square. Some people still don't even know it exists, but Cibo has already been around for seven years. Lisa knows every detail about every dish. She is elegant, patient and gracious. She is the female version of Patrick Saurette at The Marc: classy, gracious and skilled at making people feel special.
Phil: Hathaway's Diner
The service at this Wellington neighbourhood fixture is reminiscent of a small-town diner, where the server is a vital part of the experience. The server in this case is the owner, Pam, whose infectious friendliness and personality is as much a part of the success of this popular diner as the no-nonsense cooking of her husband (and co-owner) Lyle. You would be hard-pressed to find a customer at Hathaway's who doesn't love Pam.
Adrienne: The Marc
When I go to The Marc, I'm always greeted like the gang at Cheers, "where everybody knows your name." I highly doubt they know my name, but I FEEL like they do — and that counts for something. Right off the bat, I feel welcomed and at home. You don't necessarily feel the same familiarity with the servers, but they are prompt, attentive and knowledgeable. If you ask for a recommendation on food or wine, you get one and are never told "Everything's good." And they manage all of this while remaining completely relaxed and casual. This is what restaurant service should be.
2018's 'It' food — Best vegetarian/vegan
Twyla: KB & Co.
You really have to know what you're doing with vegan food to make it taste good. The food at KB & Co is fresh, healthy, high-quality and whatever you choose — sandwich, salad, smoothie, soup — all the senses are affected: taste, smell, sight, texture and sound because those fresh foods have a lot of snap and crackle! (Plus, you say, "oooh" a lot.) I also appreciate their Instagram account: they put up beautiful pictures with cheeky captions. This is counter service, suited for grab-and-go, but the room is beautiful, so modern and sexy, that you definitely want to hang out a while.
Phil: Café Mosaics
This sister restaurant to The Moth has been around a lot longer, but provides a similarly satisfying experience every time. There are soups like pho, huevos rancheros and eggs benedict for breakfast, but it's the vegan mac-and-cheese, made with pumpkin, that is my go-to.
Adrienne: An Chay
This is definitely the year of plant-based eating for Edmonton. There are many vegetarian/vegan places to go to now, and the competition is strong. I've already given Kanu Cafe one nod, so will go with An Chay for best pick here. The menu is vegetarian Vietnamese and the dish you must eat is the noodle soup (or pho). The five-spice broth is beyond reproach. It is as flavourful, if not more so, than many traditional beef-based pho broths I've had. You'll also enjoy thinly-sliced lotus root, mushroom and black fungus on a healthy portion of rice noodles. This is especially soul-satisfying on a cold, winter's day.
Twyla: Farrow Sandwiches
I just discovered Swiss 2 Go — and regret all the years I've missed out. Super good value, homemade everything and eating there feels like you've been invited into the owners' home. But! I've eaten at Farrow at least six times this year and I've never been disappointed. The fried mortadella sandwich is ridiculous: you get the fried bologna-style meat with spicy cheese sauce, sautéed peppers and onions, candied jalapeños, crispy onions, arugula and Santa Fe ranch dressing. These guys really know how to play with ingredients. Farrow keeps things interesting. Plus, they also make cronuts to die for.
Everybody loves Zwick's for their delicious soft pretzels, but the world needs to know the glory of all three Zwick's sandwiches, the best in town. The McZwick is a drool-inducing combination of roasted chicken, candied bacon, mozzarella and a fantastic paprika mayo on a perfect house-made pretzel bun. The Beef on a Weck is a messy delight featuring thin sliced roast beef, horseradish onion mince, and mozzarella on a caraway and salt topped pretzel bun. Finally, the bacon and egg is sure-fire hangover cure if I've ever seen one. Grab extra napkins.
Adrienne: Local Omnivore
If I'm going out to a place to eat a sandwich, I'm going to Local Omnivore. With their house-cured and smoked products, their outstanding offerings are truly hard to beat. Their super smoked bacon put them on the map. My favourite sandwich is the Mr. Pink, a hearty handful of smoked ham and Swiss on toasted Russian rye. And don't hold the fries, they are pretty darn yum.
Twyla: Nhon Hoa 2
You might not even know this is a sandwich shop if you're walking by, but beyond the boxes and clutter seen through the windows is a banh mi counter where you can choose from 25 different foot-long sandwiches ranging from $3.50 to $5.50. Bonus: they share space with Super BBQ Delight so get your sandwich and then grab some BBQ sausage for the road.
Phil: Nhon Hoa Chinatown
There aren't a lot of places around anymore where you can get a great lunch for under $5, but Nhon Hoa is one of them. With tasty Vietnamese subs starting at a paltry $4.50 (tax included!) and ranging up to a maximum of $6, even Scrooge might just offer to treat a friend.
Adrienne: Green Onion Cake Man
There is now a restaurant dedicated to Edmonton's official-ish food — the green onion cake. And they are made and served up by the very man who introduced the pan-fried doughy delights to the city in the first place: Siu To. This is as authentic as it gets with green onion cakes, and they are only $3 each. In fact, nothing on the menu is, or will be, over $5, so splurge on the hot-and-sour soup, too.
Best place for takeout
Twyla: Chix Shack
The room, sort of cafeteria-meets-Wild-West-saloon, says nothing about the food — which is all about Thai street food and Gai Yang (grilled chicken). Sister restaurant is Sawadee in Sherwood Park which has the best Thai food in the province, in my opinion. At Chix Shack, I have the spicy yum noodle pork at least once a month; it's the perfect combination of sweet and sour and the pork is succulent and plentiful. Pure comfort food.
I'm always on the hunt for a great grab-and-go spot for lunch, and Meuwly's has become a favourite for me. Not only do they have a good selection of sandwiches made with their lineup of house-cured meats, but they offer a charcuterie to-go lunch already assembled and ready to go when you are. Who wouldn't like "adult Lunchables," as regulars affectionately refer to them? I really can't think of another place in Edmonton offering this, and it's an excellent lunch option.
Adrienne: Kanto 98 St. Eatery
Edmonton's Filipino food presence is something of a force now, and Kanto offers a great gateway. What Chef Edgar Gutierrez is serving up here is street food with his spin. The bao is a popular seller, but I really enjoy the spaghetti & chicken served up with wieners and cheese and two pieces of succulent fried chicken on top. This dish travels surprisingly well, and that's a good thing because Gutierrez says most of his business is done via food delivery these days. In fact, they deliver up until 1 a.m.
Best sweet bite
Twyla: The Art of Cake
This gem is somewhat hidden in the Brewery District in an old building across from the cemetery. Gloria Bednarz, Gail Hall's pastry chef from Gourmet Goodies, opened Art of Cake a couple of years ago. Her heart and soul is in this quaint room decorated like a Parisienne farm house. Go for the crullers; they are the stuff of dreams.
Phil: Café Linnea
If you haven't tried the cronuts at Café Linnea yet, you are missing out, but not alone. There's a limited number available, and only for sale on Wednesday evenings. The wonderfully crisp-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the-inside treats may change weekly, but with past flavours like a buche de noel, salted caramel popcorn and ricotta cheesecake with lemon meringue, you know you'll always get something truly special.
Adrienne: Tsujiri Japanese Tea House
Tsujiri is a 155-year-old Japanese tea brand that has only recently expanded into Canada. It's all about matcha (a high-grade green tea powder) at this dessert spot. Known for its grassy taste and ample health benefits, you can sample pastries and lattes — but for me, it's all about the Sakura parfait. The dish comes with a good helping of matcha soft-serve ice cream, crunchy roasted brown rice, a red bean paste, a chestnut, a shiratama ball (like a mochi with no filling) and a sakura (cherry blossom) cookie. It's a really nice blend of contrasting flavours and textures.
Best dish to go out of your way for
Twyla: Popcorn chicken at Formosa Bistro
The pieces are coated with sweet potato flour and seasoned with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, five spice and sugar. They're perfectly fried — crispy but light — and totally addictive.
I know it's hard to fathom ordering a main other than the perfect pastas at Uccellino, but trust me on this one — try the pollo al mattone. The half-chicken cooked under a brick and served with salmoriglio (herb and citrus sauce) and panzanella is so ridiculously juicy and flavourful you might just order it to take home for tomorrow.
In my mind, Edmonton has a best "land" dish and a best "sea" dish.
Land: Tzin's bacon is just plain mouth-watering. Pork and apple are a powerhouse couple and that's the foundation for this dish. For me, the calvados gastrique makes this bite iconic. I tried to make this at home once, and failed miserably. Save a pan, and just enjoy this at Tzin.
Sea: Three Boars' smoked tomato mussels. It's a crime not to slurp up every ounce of the broth in the bowl. Smoky tomato, Italian sausage, onion, garlic, sherry wine and plump P.E.I. mussels. This dish is a home run.
Best place to get a drink
Twyla: 'The Year of Beer'
There are so many craft breweries setting up in Edmonton that it became the "Year of Beer" for me. I pulled up a stool (on more than one occasion) at Urban Tavern, former site of The Druid on 116th Street and Jasper — now, bright and modern after an extensive renovation. It has a beer wall where you go and pour as little or as much as you want from about a dozen taps. They also have great happy hour prices and surprisingly good chicken fingers.
Phil: Pubs around town
For me, drinking beer means pubs. And when I think pubs, I think The Next Act. No other pub does a better job of delivering everything I love about going out for a pint — great beer selection, great people watching and atmosphere, and great food.
Over on 124th Street, the small community pub Arcadia takes pride in stocking all Alberta beers, and has a menu skewing towards vegan, but with some meat options for the carnivores, too. This is a great place to try an Alberta beer or two that may be new to you.
In the quiet community of Forest Heights, Cartago is a slick pub specializing in a great selection of German-focused beers for those days when you need a break from the IBU heavy IPAs. Bonus — a nice cold Kolsch tastes even better on Sunday mornings at Cartago's live music brunch series.
Adrienne: All about cocktails
Bar Clementine has been named one of the best bars in Canada — and here's why: it is dedicated to "thoughtful imbibing." Cocktails here are complex and unusual, but don't take themselves too seriously. Take the Amazon, a cachaca drink mixed with passionfruit and coconut cream served up in a parrot tiki mug. Get dressed up and go for drinks with someone you want to impress.
Wilfred's has a completely different vibe. It's an "elevated" downtown diner with an elegant whimsical quality. I'd say the cocktails match the atmosphere. Ask for the Lamplighter if you appreciate apricot, and their winter punch.
Local booze to stock your liquor cabinet with: Black Diamond Distillery's Tart Cherry and Rig Hand Distillery's Double Double.
Phil looks ahead to 2019
2019 is already shaping up to be an interesting year in Edmonton restaurants, starting with some interesting changes at Wilfred's. Since opening in mid-2018, Wilfred's has had a beautiful room and been a great spot for cocktails, but the food was always the weak link.
The new kitchen team, led by Chael MacDonald — formerly of Little Brick and District Coffee — has a revamped menu coming in January and looks to be much improved.
Pink Gorilla Pizzeria is set to open any day now in the space formerly occupied by Parkallen restaurant. This is the newest venture from the duo behind The Local Omnivore, Mark Bellows and Ryan Brodziak. It promises a mix of classic pizzas and some unexpected flavour combinations as well.
Also slated to open in the first half of 2019 is a renovation of the Gibbard Block in Highlands, which will be anchored by Fox Burger. Fox Burger is headed by Sean O'Connor, longtime head chef at The Red Ox Inn. The new restaurant will feature delicious flattop burgers, garlic fries and O'Connor's ridiculously good ice-cream sandwiches.
A much-needed Jewish delicatessen will open in the building shortly afterwards, along with a small craft liquor store. Great news for the Highlands neighbourhood.
— Phil Wilson
In their own words
Here's what our reviewers thought: