Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2018

Potato Leek Soup from Aarde

Every year, for the past five, I’ve been sharing a list of my 24 favourite Edmonton eateries at the end of December. Does anyone really care what I have to say? Not necessarily. But, if you come across this post and you live in the city, I hope that it sparks a memory of a place you already love, reminds you of somewhere you want to go to, or encourages you to try something new.

These are my picks for 2018:

1. DOSC

This quickly became a favourite haunt for me and Kirk. The espresso cocoa dry rubbed skirt steak is to die for. They also make some of the best Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta we’ve ever had. Their bar menu is excellent, and the café is a relaxing spot, too. Every single time we’re there, we feel taken care of.

Review of DOSC

2. Ampersand 27

We picked this venue for our wedding, not only because it’s already gorgeously designed, but because we knew they could deliver on the food. The chef has actually changed since we reserved the space, but they’ve kept our go to dishes, including the Pork Buns, House-Smoked Beef Brisket, and In-House Cured Meats for their build-your-own cheese and charcuterie boards.

Review of Ampersand 27

3. Aarde

Open for just under two months now, I’ve been twice, and, although there’s always room for improvement, Chef Guru Singh, has shown great promise with his European influenced menu. Try the Vandaag Soup, Mushroom and Artichoke Tartine, Chorizo Sausage, and Dutch Almond Cake.

4. Partake

Also new to the city’s food scene (it’s only about 4 months old), this is the latest from the minds behind Urban Diner and The Manor Bistro. It’s French-inspired with a very boozy cocktail menu. We’d highly recommend the Croque Mon’Soubise’ and their more modern take on Beef Tartare. Don’t skip out on the baked brie pastry for dessert either.

Review of Partake

5. Prairie Noodle Shop

I finally wrote an actual review of this restaurant in 2018! The Spicy Garlic Miso Ramen always satisfies. But, what I love best is that they feature handmade dumplings from Gourmai (a.k.a. MasterChef competitor Mai Nguyen) on their menu. Pretty soon, they’ll have a sister location next door that focuses on just that! We can’t wait.

Review of Prairie Noodle Shop

6. Red Star Pub

I’d never actually eaten food here until this year, and I’m so glad that I took the time to try it. The light and fruity Beef Carpaccio and the thick, juicy Mini Burgers with piled high bacon apple relish are a delight. It’s also a cozy space to hole up in on cold or wet days.

Review of Red Star Pub

7. Destination Doughnuts

I quickly jump on the latest sweet treat bandwagon, and when it comes to doughnuts, what’s not to love? We’ve been blessed in Edmonton over the last few years with more and more shops popping up. This location on 124 Street has made a fan of me and my co-workers. Personally, I find the doughnuts are large, fluffy, and flavourful without being overly sweet. I can usually eat a whole one and not fall into a sugar coma.

Review of Destination Doughnuts

8. Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

This was our first Brazilian Steakhouse experience. We opted to try out their weekend brunch as it offers seven cuts of meat (now including grilled pineapple), standard brunch items like French toast or pancakes, and a salad bar for $25.99. I can’t compare it to their competition; however, we were blown away by the signature beef rumpsteak, pork sausage, and the droolworthy crispy pork belly.

Review of Fumaca Brazilian Steakhouse

9. Let’s Grill Sushi & Izakaya

This is one of the latest Japanese restaurants to grace our city’s streets. Instead of being located in Old Strathcona, it can be found downtown on Jasper Ave. Their sushi rolls are well-presented and tasty and they have awesome Honey BBQ Pork skewers, which are on special every Monday to Friday during happy hour. For dessert, the Matcha Crème Brûlée may have too thick of a caramelized sugar top for my liking, but the custard is A-OK.

Review of Let’s Grill Sushi Izakaya

10. Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

First thing that we love about this place is that there’s actually a location in our neck of the woods (far southwest corner of the city). Second is that they make an enviable meat and cheese board at a super affordable price — $12 for 2 to 4 people and $20 for a group of 4 to 6 — during their social hour.

Review of Buco Pizzeria + Vino Bar

11. OEB Breakfast

Expanding into Edmonton at the end of October, this Calgary-based business has built up its popularity in record time. When we stopped in, we arrived early and managed to snag a table a few minutes after walking in the door. Within an hour, the entrance was jam packed with patrons waiting for seats, making for a very crowded space. The question of comfort aside, the food is tasty and fresh. It’ll be better when they get their liquor license, so the $5 mimosas can flow. In the meantime, their famous breakfast poutines (those crispy bacon lardons!) will have to do.

12. Rebel Food and Drink

There might be some people who disagree with this choice because I’ve heard and read some awful reviews of this spot in the Parkview neighbourhood. Nevertheless, the experiences I’ve had have been pleasant. Particularly, Kirk vouches for their Rebel Chz Brgr. It’s a dirty diner-style burger, but in the best way possible. I always enjoy the mini lobster rolls and the mussels, which are even better when discounted for happy hour.

Review of Rebel Food and Drink

13. Sushi Shop

Another debatable choice? Maybe, maybe not. For a quick, decent, and affordable sushi meal, this is where Kirk and I go to get takeout. Considering that it’s a fast food restaurant, they have an extensive selection of maki and sushi. Plus, the staff still take the time to make the items look aesthetically pleasing. We’ve never had a bad meal from here, and it’ll continue to be our spot when we need something less expensive to quell those sushi cravings.

Review of Sushi Shop

14. Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

This local success story has expanded across western Canada and into Ontario over the years, and it’s easy to see why it has done well. The quality of their pizzas is very consistent no matter the location. Only recently have Kirk and I opted to build our own pies there, and I’m not sure we’ll go back to the ones on their menu (not that there’s anything wrong with them). Our personal creation, The KC, with sun-dried tomatoes, Soppressata, chicken, fresh prosciutto, and fresh feta hits the spot every time. Their pastas are also delicious.

Review of Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria

15. New Dragon Palace

Over the years, the quality of the food here has fluctuated. Yet, it’s a family favourite, and it’s probably been around for almost as long as I’ve been alive. Of late, we’ve all noticed that the kitchen’s standards have gotten better again. The portions are very generous and the food is flavourful.

If you go, definitely pre-order the Peking duck. The skin is super crispy, and the meat is plump without a ton of fat. Placed in those steamed wraps with sauce, cucumber, green onion, and carrot, they’re pockets of delight. The broth made from the bones is addictive and the stir fry created from the rest of the meat is enough of a meal in and of itself.

Review of New Dragon Palace

16. The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

This shop in the Glenora neighbourhood makes a robust chai latte. What’s better than that though? Their Pain au Chocolat pastry is amazing! The treats are flash frozen and shipped from France to be baked right here in Edmonton. Soft, flaky, and the perfect amount of dark chocolate.

Review of The Colombian Coffee Bar & Roastery

17. Joey Restaurants

I’ve come to realize that of all things, they do sandwiches and burgers really well. The California Chicken is often Kirk’s top choice there. The Ahi Tuna Club is forever going to be my favourite. Nonetheless, when corporate made the mistake of taking away the Ahi Tuna Club (thank goodness other customers complained and got it added back onto the menu), I found a replacement in the Butcher’s Sandwich. Sure, it’s a glorified beef dip, but damn is it good.

My favourite from Joey: Ahi tuna sandwich!

Review of Joey Restaurants

18. BAR94 & LUX Steakhouse

Between the bar and the restaurant, I’ve sampled a number of the items on the menu. I tend to go back to the sides and appetizers, which are great for sharing or as a sizeable dinner for one. I’d suggest the ‘Bucket of Bones,’ Truffle Perogies, and Truffled Lobster Mac & Cheese. Oh, and $3 glasses of Prosecco or sparkling cocktails on Tuesdays in the lounge can’t be beat.

Review of BAR94 & LUX Steakhouse

19. The Art of Cake Café & Bakery

I’ve been a long time supporter of this bakery turned café. I used to walk over from work to their shop in City Centre Mall for a midday pick-me-up. I was so sad to see them move out of that space. However, I’ve since patronaged their new location in the Oliver area, and it’s wonderful to see how they’ve expanded to serve beverages (including wine, beer, and liquor), breakfast, and lunch alongside their usual baked goods. They still make some of the best scones, cakes, and cookies. It’s arguably a plus that they’re no longer so close by. Otherwise, I’d most likely be much heavier.

Review of The Art of Cake

20. Characters Fine Dining

My friend and I decided to treat ourselves to a multi-course tasting menu here at the beginning of 2018. The setting is beautiful, but not too stuffy despite the fine dining stigma. All of the dishes were impeccable, and they were able to cater to the dietary needs of my friend. The items change seasonally, but, if you ever have a chance to try the Cured Salmon, Beef Tartar, or Venison Wellington, do not pass it up.

Review of Characters Fine Dining

21. Dorinku

It’s a shame that I don’t make it here more often. Still, the Appetizer Platter and the Carbonara Udon continue to be some of my preferred items when they’re available. The pressed sushi is also tops.

Review of Dorinku

22. Villa Bistro

This business is never busy when I’m there, so I’m hoping it’s not a sign of things to come considering that the food is actually delicious when ordered properly. I mean, the pastas are decent, but the Braised Boneless Short Rib and/or the Loaded Villa Burger are where it’s at.

Review of Villa Bistro

23. Accent European Lounge

I’m not sure if you’ve figured this out yet, but I loooove beef tartare. For a really traditional take on the dish, this is the place to go. From the fried toast to the garlic cloves and the massive patty of raw meat, I’m in beef tartare heaven whenever I’m there.

The excellent and rich steak tartar with garlic and fried bread.

Review of Accent European Lounge

24. Biera

Full disclosure: I have not eaten at Biera yet. But, I did attend Avenue Magazine’s Best Restaurants 2018 event in March where Chef Christine Sandford was showcasing their Grass-Fed Beef Tartare. The sample was out of this world. I went back for seconds and thirds. It’s remains as one of the eateries on my list to visit, and I plan to be there sometime in 2019. It’ll give me something to look forward to.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill (Sherwood Park)

Our feast was enough to feed double the people!

I’d had my eyes on Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill for a while now. The online reviews have been stellar. So, when I noticed that Groupon was, again, offering discounts on a meal for two, I decided to snap up a voucher. Kirk and I redeemed our deal in Sherwood Park on a Sunday night.

It’s a well-designed venue with a spacious, open layout. When Kirk and I walked in, I will say that I received a lot of extended stares from other patrons. I got the sense that they don’t typically see a lot of Asians dining there regularly. It felt a little awkward at first, but the staff were friendly (it’s clearly a family run business). In the vein of knowing a Chinese or South Asian restaurant is authentic when you see others of that ethnicity happily spending their hard-earned cash there, it was the same at Mexico Lindo Tacos.

Complimentary chips with dips while we perused their menu.

Once we settled in, we perused the menu. Although the beverages we saw at other tables looked wonderful, we opted to stick with water for the evening. Instead, we split a few dishes between the two of us, including the Queso Fundido ($16.50), Quesadilla de Tres Quesos ($8.50) with Al Pastor Meat ($4), and Tacos Dorados ($12.99).

I love a stretchy cheese pull, and the Queso Fundido with Mushrooms did not disappoint. I swear the layer of Oaxaca cheese was about an inch thick. The cheese combined with the sautéed mushrooms and homemade Mexican chorizo was deliciously satisfying, and plenty, if you want to make it a meal in itself. I do recommend that you eat this first and quickly. Once the hot skillet cools down, it’s not as good because the cheese will no longer be stringy enough to scoop out easily. I’d also suggest ordering extra flour tortillas because the three that come with the dish aren’t quite enough to go with the abundance of stuffing in the pan.

Quesadillas stuffed with cheese and Al Pastor pork.

You definitely get a decent value for your money at Mexico Lindo as the Quesadilla de Tres Quesos with Al Pastor Meat was huge. I was expecting smaller flour tortilla shells as I’ve had at other eateries around Edmonton, but the plate we received held two large 8 to 10 inch wide tortillas filled with a three cheese mixture and a generous amount of shaved Al Pastor meat. The vertical spit-roasted pork was super juicy and a little bit crispy on the edges. Served with in-house guacamole and crema, this was fantastic and perfect for sharing. With the two items that we’d tried so far, there was already enough food to feed about three people.

Tacos Dorados

To finish off our meal, we had the Tacos Dorados. Unlike the other dishes we had sampled, this was prepared differently. The corn tortillas were stuffed with chicken and rolled into tubes before being fried until a crunchy shell was created. The four tortillas were then covered with shredded lettuce, crema, and queso fresco (soft, smooth, mild unaged white cheese). I have to say that the chicken tasted a tad bland inside the tortillas, but was much improved as long as it was eaten with all of the toppings.

Fresh tortilla chips with salsa

Additional to the plates we chose, Mexico Lindo Tacos also provided complimentary tortilla chips with salsa and dips to start. The salsa was refreshing on the palate and the dips featured varying degrees of heat. All of them were excellent accompaniments to the rest of our items.

 

We enjoyed ourselves and the atmosphere (FYI, they also have live music on Saturday nights). Perhaps another outing is required to take advantage of happy hour on weekdays between 2pm to 4pm, or their many daily deals, which are always so tempting when they come up on my social media news feeds. This is a restaurant that I’d certainly be inclined to revisit as the food and service exceeded our expectations.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Elbow Room Brittania

Happy Hour at Elbow Room Britannia

To celebrate my birthday this year, Kirk and I decided to take a page out of another local blogger’s book. Linda Hoang (a.k.a. Lindork) had gone on a road trip adventure to southern Alberta courtesy of Tourism Calgary. We followed suit, reserving a 2-night shopping package at Hotel Arts. For each evening we stayed, we received a voucher to be redeemed towards a $75 gift card at our choice of three malls — CrossIron Mills, CF Chinook Centre, or The CORE — meaning, for our mini holiday, we received $150 to spend (this deal is still on until February 28, 2019).

That turned out to be a really nice perk, and it was our major plan for our time in Calgary. We ended up going through the majority of our money within the first several hours of our extended weekend. Therefore, shopping was put on the back burner quite quickly . The rest of our time was broken out into memorable meals, including our initial stop at Elbow Room Brittania (802 49 Avenue SW).

There are so many fantastic restaurants in Calgary, but I really wanted to be able to keep within a decent budget. To help save or, at the very least, get the best bang for our buck, I made several reservations based on eateries that offered happy hour options. Elbow Room was one of those (2pm to 5pm, Tuesday to Friday; drinks and food starting at $5 each).

Elbow Room Britannia happy hour menu.

Located in Britannia Plaza, there are two stories available to patrons. The open kitchen seems to be situated on the lower-level, and the bar is upstairs. The mint green walls give the space a modern-vintage feel, and the big windows allow light to flow in. Kirk and I arrived mid-afternoon for a late lunch, and took full advantage of the discounted items by ordering Fries ($5), Brussels Sprouts ($6), Arancini ($8), Carpaccio ($8), Humboldt Squid ($8), Burrata Rossa Pizza ($12), and Tiger Prawns ($15). Had we been there outside of happy hour, we would have paid about $120 before tax and tip for the same items. The portion sizes seemed to be standard, not shrunken in order to alleviate the costs on their part, and, in total, it was about half the price for us.

Humboldt Squid

I’ll begin with the dish that was somewhat of a letdown. The Humboldt Squid was made from what came across as processed strips of the cephalopods. The lightly tempura battered pieces were pleasantly crisp, but the spongy texture of the squid wasn’t ideal. Although I do like other types of pickled vegetables, I have an aversion to typical cucumber-style pickles in the vein of dill or bread and butter flavours. The squid was covered in slices of pickle, which saturated the outer shell pretty quickly. Otherwise, the sweet and sour harissa (a Moroccan ketchup/chili paste) provided a different take on a cocktail sauce, and the lemon dill yogurt provided a cooling balance.

The perfectly prepared Fries were plentiful. Crunchy with a soft middle, these were elevated with three different dips: ketchup, gochujang mayo, and truffle mayo. I tried not to fill up too much on the cuts of potato, but it was hard not to snack on them when they were sitting in front of me the entire time.

Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts have fast become one of my top veggies. I love how the tightly packed heads can be flavoured with a variety of seasoning, cheeses, sauces, or oils. The outer leaves char up when fried, and they soften slightly while still retaining bite. The serrano pepper crema and sharp cheddar were excellent accompaniments, but what I think took these a notch further was the use of lemon, giving it a zest and acidity that I’d never seen utilized in Brussels sprouts in the past.

Burrata Rosa Pizza

As far as pizzas go, the Burrata Rossa was quite delicious. We were already nearing full by the time it was presented. Somehow, we still managed to eat half of it. The Neapolitan dough was thin and crisp, allowing for that helpful fold upon devouring. The San Marzano tomato sauce tasted light and fresh, and there was a decent amount of prosciutto. The only thing Kirk and I both thought was a little out of place were the ribbons of basil. In small quantities, the hints of mint and licorice can work. Here, there was just too much of the herb, which overpowered the rest of the ingredients. On the plus side, the huge dollop of burrata cheese in the middle added a sense of decadence with its warm and melty goodness.

The Arancini were orbs of delight. The rice had a wonderfully creamy consistency while still maintaining the grain’s texture. There was a bit of stringy cheese inside, too. The outside was crisp, and the red Thai coconut curry cream was divine. Just the right amount of heat on the palate.

Considering that the Carpaccio is made with Brant Lake Wagyu beef, I was surprised to learn that this plate only costs $13.50 regularly. To get it for $8 during happy hour is a complete steal. I lost count eventually, but I think there were probably about 15 or more slices of beef on the plate. Topped with shallot, arugula, Grana Padano, and mosto cotto (a sweet sauce that I thought was aged balsamic vinegar), I was in heaven. The side of truffled yuzu aioli solidified the umami flavours.

Tiger Prawns

Our top choice during our entire meal was clearly the Tiger Prawns. These were the bomb. The square of crisp sushi rice laid the foundation. Atop that was a beautifully butterflied prawn with a fried, but not greasy, coating. Sesame, scallions, anise soy reduction, and gochujang ebi mayo emphasized the Asian inspired plate. I could have eaten a dozen of those, if I hadn’t stuffed myself with everything else.

What a way to start our food adventures in Calgary. Elbow Room Britannia was definitely a choice that I did not regret. I’d go back in a heartbeat. Not only were the dishes superb, the service was great, too. Hopefully, it’ll be there for a long time to come, as it’ll be a regular haunt for me on future trips to Calgary.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Partake

Croque Mon’Soubise’ was the star of the menu.

This past spring, the owners of Manor Bistro and Urban Diner, chef Cyrille Koppert and his business partner, Lisa Dungale, announced that they would be opening a third location called Partake. Situated next door to the diner at 12431 102 Avenue, it’d be the sister restaurant to the long standing brunch spot. Partake would also help to ease them into life without The Manor when it closes upon the expiry of their lease at the end of this year.

I kept my ear to the ground through the summer, and, come early fall, my friend and Partake’s bar manager, Clayton Kozak, informed me that opening day was happening. Sadly, I did not have a chance to make it there right away. In fact, I only managed my first visit towards the end of November, but, boy, was the wait worth it.

Check out those rounded built-in shelves!

From my understanding, the eatery does not accept reservations as the 30 seats are for walk-ins only. The place is made to look like a charming French bistro. A few small round tables reminiscent of what you might find outdoors at a Parisian cafe line the windows. The rest of the space is filled by three large booths and about a handful of bar stools. It’s casual and simply decorated, but you can tell it was created with love. I especially appreciate the rounded element of the doorways, mirror and built-in shelves. There’s also a version of their logo done in mosaic tiling embedded into the wooden floor. The pressed tin ceiling is gorgeous, too.

If only I could have admired all of the details in the daylight. However, now that winter had greeted us, even an early dinner at 5:00pm meant we were dining in dimness. I suppose it added to the ambiance though. It was cute and romantic in the candlelight. Plus, not knowing how busy it’d get on a Saturday evening, we opted to take one of the smaller tables for two, leaving the more spacious ones for others, and making it cozy and intimate as we dined.

Our server was helpful throughout the night. Since the items on the menu were created for sharing, we followed his suggestion and opted to split a number of dishes for supper. We selected five in total from the succinct list, which was more than enough (for two people, you actually can stick to three or four).

To start, I also ordered the Empyreal cocktail ($13 for 2.25 oz.) made using the gorgeous blueish-purple Empress Gin, Maraschino liqueur, Giffard Crème de Violette, and citric acid. Presented in a small fluted glass with a twisted lemon peel, it certainly packed a punch. It was a boozy and smooth drink that was great for sipping, and it paired well with all of our food. As a snack, we were also offered a petite bowl of popcorn (daily from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, complimentary snacks are provided with purchase of a beverage) to whet our appetite.

Soon after, plates started arriving from the kitchen. I was very concerned about where everything was going to fit at first. As I mentioned previously, the surface area we were working with was tiny. But, being professionals, they carefully timed each dish, so that only one or two were brought out at once. Sure, that meant, I diligently polished off all of the plates before they would be taken away and I probably overate (in the future, I should ask that they bring me to go boxes), yet I commend their staff for allowing us to savour and enjoy our meal at a leisurely pace.

Dish number one was the Beef Tartare ($16). Bright red minced beef topped by an egg yolk and beet-barley relish was mixed table side with capers, mustard, and chives. A garlic puree was supplied as additional garnish for the perfectly toasted crostini. Although it was a different take on beef tartare, I thought it was wonderful. Full of flavour in every aspect, the tender beef was a real treat.

Mushrooms on toast

Following that was the Mushrooms ($9), a combination of at least three, maybe even four, wild Albertan mushrooms laid on thick toast. Drizzled with truffle oil and accompanied by large shavings of Grana Padano cheese, it was an uncomplicated, but decadent option. My recommendation? Make sure to get all of the components in each bite. Separately, the taste lacks a little. Together, it’s complete harmony.

Dipping the Croque Mon’Soubise’ in sauce.

Continuing with dinner, we then had the Croque Mon’Soubise’ ($18). This sandwich was layered with about an inch and a half of thinly sliced Meuwly’s ham, melted Gruyère cheese, and served with a creamy soubise sauce (butter and onion) for dipping. This was, far and away, the best of the night. Kirk and I agreed that Partake hit it out of the park with this item. That stringy, crisp cheese and soft toasted bread with incredibly well-seasoned ham and rich soubise sauce was so satisfying. Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it ever since that night.

Sausage with braised cabbage and mostarda.

The house-made Sausage ($9) was our fourth dish. A hearty meat, this was paired with braised cabbage flavoured with cinnamon spice and mostarda. Again, it was straightforward and tasty. It was also piping hot. When it came out we could see the steam rising from the plate.

To finish off our main meal, we had the Aligot ($12), also known as Potato Fondue. This had a down-home quality of mashed potatoes and garlic blended with a significant amount of Gruyère and Emmental. The cheese pull was beautiful and the side of bread created an excellent base of starch on starch (endless starch throughout the night, really).

Rounding out the evening was dessert. Despite being insanely full, it didn’t take a much for our server to twist my rubber arm. I caved and went for the Piss-a-la Dessert ($12). The origin of the Southern France-inspired dish (pissaladière), from what I could find online, is really more of a savoury-style pizza. But, here, the base was a deliciously flaky pastry crust covered in fig jam, melted cuts of brie, crunchy roasted nuts, and drizzles of caramel sauce. It had a salty-sweet balance that was at once warm, comforting, and divine.

Ultimately, Partake gave us one of the greatest and most memorable meals I’ve had in the city this year. Superb service was had throughout the night, the portions were large, and the prices were reasonable. More than anything, the chef has pared the menu down to about a dozen and a half items that truly showcase the simplicity and simultaneous complexity of French cuisine. That’s not exactly an easy thing to do. Nevertheless, Partake has succeeded. For Cyrille’s and Lisa’s latest endeavour, here’s to another 25 years in business.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Jack’s Drive-In (Spruce Grove)

Welcome to Jack’s Drive-In

For over 55 years, Jack’s Drive-In has been a staple along First Avenue in Spruce Grove. The v-shaped roof has become an iconic landmark that has stood the test of time. Since 1961, the restaurant has called that very same spot its home.

As far as I could remember though, I’d never been to Jack’s Drive-In. I’d always just heard people talk about it. In my opinion, it was too far out of the way to visit. That changed, however, when I spotted a deal on Groupon. I ended up purchasing a voucher redeemable towards a meal for two. Valued at up to $30 (we paid $17), the coupon included two burgers, two sides, and two drinks.

When we decided to use it, we drove there on a whim. An event we attended turned out to be less than exciting and there wasn’t as much food as we expected, so we hopped in the car, and headed towards Spruce Grove to quell our hunger. Arriving at the parking lot of Jack’s Drive-In, we could see that there was a drive-thru, which only a couple of cars were utilizing. Inside, it was fairly quiet, too; a single family was hunkered down for supper.

I soaked in the ambience as I walked in. It’s so quaint with its 50s mom and pop diner style. The right wall is painted with more than life size images of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. The booths and the stools are upholstered with bright, shimmering red vinyl, and the tables all have a vintage feel. An old juke box is even situated to one side and a wood framed TV anchored in a corner rotates through old photos of Jack’s Drive-In. The kitchen is cordoned off with an open window where customers can place their orders.

Their extensive menu is clearly laid out above the order window.

Service was really friendly. The young woman working at the front was extremely helpful in explaining their menu and suggesting the more popular items. It was also super clean. Ultimately, Kirk opted for the Jack’s Special burger with a half order of poutine and a bottle of water. I selected the Mushroom burger with a side of perogies and a cup of root beer.

The Jack’s Special burger comes with two thin patties of beef layered with pickle, cheese, ham, lettuce, and sauce. I can’t say that was my cup of tea. The ham was sort of an odd choice to me, especially after seeing that it was of the processed variety. The cheese was also American, giving it that plasticized texture. I’m not sure I fared much better with the Mushroom burger. It had the same type of cheese, the sauce was rather runny (making it incredibly messy), and the mushrooms didn’t taste fresh. In fact, the meat didn’t seem to be either. Clearly they were prefab patties that were probably previously frozen. They also lacked that charring from the grill. Considering that this is a diner that prides itself on this menu that has never changed, both of us agreed that the burgers needed some work.

On the other hand, the sides were more promising. Sadly, the poutine did not come with real cheese curds. However, the gravy was rich and not overly salted. It was hot enough to melt the cheese, and the fries were held up pretty well. The six perogies were plump, soft and a little bit crisp on the outside. I asked for bacon bits as my topping (perhaps I should have added sour cream for good measure), and, as a whole, these were delicious. I only managed to eat one as I was quite full from my burger and the poutine Kirk couldn’t finish, so the rest were taken home as leftovers.

My burger with our two sides and my root beer.

I will have to go back at some point to try their milkshakes and maybe to grab some of the other sides available on the menu, but the burgers are kind of mediocre. More than anything, it’s a cute place with a great Albertan story, and, personally, I think the place remains mostly due to the nostalgia factor. It seems that a lot of people have many wonderful memories associated with the eatery. As long as that continues to hold true, I’m guessing that there will always be someone willing to keep Jack’s Drive-In alive for many more years to come.