Crystal’s Double Dozen: A Born and Bred Edmontonian’s Top 24 Eateries for 2015

Last year I decided to begin working my way through The Tomato‘s 100 best eats in Edmonton for 2013 and 2014.  There are still places that I haven’t made it to, and the challenge has only become harder with the release of the 2015 list this past March. Not to mention, new restaurants continue to spring up and compete for my attention. Needless to say, I wasn’t as on top of trying different places this year, but my second annual breakdown of my personal favourites in Edmonton does have some variation from my choices in 2014.

I still stand by the belief that any eatery is capable of blowing me away. Whether it’s an independent restaurant or part of a chain, there’s a reason why these places have lasted and continue to bring customers through their doors.

All of my selections are based off of the dishes that I’ve tried, so I by no means can vouch for the entire menu at each restaurant. However, I do feel that whatever I’ve eaten at these establishments are good indications of their brilliance or potential.

If you’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a great meal at the following locations, you’ll understand why they’ve made the cut. Otherwise, this list is my way of nudging all of you to step outside of your comfort zone to try somewhere and something new.

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1. Cibo Bistro
Still my favourite place in 2015. Everything is made from scratch. Delicious arancini, amazing cured in-house salumi, and fresh pasta with the perfect bite.

Review of Cibo Bistro

2. Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen
The official grand opening took place in November and the food really impressed me and my friend. Absolutely fantastic bone marrow agnolotti and tender, smoked duck were the stars.

Review of Alberta Hotel Bar + Kitchen

3. Woodwork
I recently visited again and it reminded me of why I like this place so much. Talented bartenders mix perfect cocktails, which are usually imbibed with plates of food that often consist of flavourful house-smoked meat.

Review of Woodwork

4. Canteen
The menu changes seasonally, but I still think about the duck breast I had. Visually, it was gorgeous, but it was also incredibly succulent. The chickpea fries and corn fritters are also great for sharing.

Review of Canteen

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5. Rostizado
A great place for gatherings, the platter of 2 consisting of juicy and tasty roasted Four Whistle Farms pork and chicken creates a family-like atmosphere during your meal. Make sure to order the caramel flan for dessert, which is arguably even better than the churros.

Review of Rostizado

6. Duchess Bake Shop
My mom’s first visit to Duchess took place this year, and she loved the desserts. She’s pretty critical, so if she says something is good, it is. The key lime tart is still my top pick here. The banana cream pie has a wonderfully flaky crust, plenty of banana and lots of fresh whipped cream.

Review of Duchess Bake Shop

7. Corso 32
I was maybe a little harsh with Corso 32 last year. My expectations were very high after hearing all the rave reviews before trying it for myself. But, I concede that the fried short rib was a more than memorable dish.

Review of Corso 32

8. Tres Carnales
My quick and dirty review from last year still stands: “This is Mexican street food at its finest. Every time I have been to this establishment, the service has been quick and the food has been fantastic. The guacamole is a tasty starter for the table (I love it even though it contains cilantro). The various aguas – flavoured waters – are a must to quench your thirst on a hot day. If you ever have the chance to eat them, get the duck tacos! They are stellar, but a rarity nowadays. The al pastor quesadilla is a close second.”

Review of Tres Carnales

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9. El Cortez Mexican Kitchen + Tequila Bar
I was skeptical of El Cortez prior to visiting in August. When it first opened, I had heard the food wasn’t all that great, but chef Lindsay Porter who took over a few short months later created a top notch menu. The fried cauliflower and the bulgogi steak tacos are awesome.

Review of El Cortez

10. Rosso Pizzeria
The wood-fired pizza is a must.  I also highly recommend the ricotta with olive oil, which is indulgent, but light. Don’t leave without dessert. The homemade gelato is superb.

Review of Rosso Pizzeria

11. Nosh Cafe
This restaurant moved to 124 Street within the last year and business has been slow to build at their new location. However, I’ve been several times and the traditional Indian dishes – palak paneer and butter chicken – are consistently good.

Review of Nosh Cafe

12. Cactus Club Cafe
I know this is a chain. But, arguably, they know what they’re doing when it comes to food and drinks. I’ve never had a disappointing meal at either location. The dishes that keep me coming back include the beef carpaccio, the BBQ duck clubhouse and the calamari (the addition of the fried jalapeno slices is genius).

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13. Joey Restaurants
Don’t start rolling your eyes. This is the second chain on this list and there are reasons for it. I’ve been frequenting Joey for as long as I can remember. It was the place my friends and I would go for a night out. We’d feel like adults as we had long conversations over what we considered to be pretty fancy food at the time. Not much has changed. Joey has always been a mainstay for me. The menu has been revamped many times over the years, but I hope that they never remove that spectacular ahi tuna sandwich. I crave it.

14. Japonais Bistro
They have filling bento boxes that satisfy your belly and the matcha crème brûlée is addictive.

Review of Japonais Bistro

15. Izakaya Tomo
Must tries here include the crispy tako yaki (octopus balls), oyster ponzu and the prawn spring rolls. Gather a group of friends, order a bunch of plates and share everything!

Review of Izakaya Tomo

16. The Common
Go for the chicken and waffles – one of the best renditions available in Edmonton – or the unique tandoori calamari. They also have a great selection of craft beers and tasty cocktails.

Review of The Common

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17. Three Boars Eatery
This tapas style establishment has an ever-changing menu that is meant to be shared. If you can catch them, the lamb neck croquette, roasted beet and carrot salad, oka tart and the pork belly are highly recommended. The intimate space also makes it feel a little more special.

Review of Three Boars

18. Lazia
They’ve recently shifted the focus of their menu back to more Asian influenced dishes, and I think that was smart. The kitchen pleasantly surprised me with gorgeously plated and flavourful dishes that rivaled their sister restaurant, Wildflower Grill, but with price points that are slightly more accessible.

Review of Lazia

19. Sloppy Hoggs Roed Hus BBQ
I was greatly disappointed when I found out that Absolutely Edibles closed. However, their sister restaurant, Sloppy Hoggs, still exists just down the block on 118 Avenue and 95 Street. The barbecued and slow-cooked meat served here is great and the portion sizes are generous. To top it off, the Absolutely Edibles brunch menu transferred over to this location. The waffles with the works (breaded chicken) are my top choice.

Review of Sloppy Hoggs

20. Ampersand 27
A beautiful atmosphere with equally beautiful dishes made for sharing. Get the melt-in-your-mouth maple butter pork belly.

Review of Ampersand 27

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21. The Cavern
Giving the option to select wine in 3 oz. or 6 oz. glasses and the chance to build a cheese and charcuterie board that is healthy and filling, you’ll likely be surprised to find that you don’t actually require anything else. With cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, jellies and bread, this is a meal in itself.

Review of The Cavern

22. The Art of Cake
Cupcakes, slab cakes, cruellers, and shortbread cookies are just a few of the baked goods that they offer at their store. It’s impossible to go wrong.

Review of The Art of Cake

23. Tiramisu Bistro
With an extensive menu, there’s probably something to satisfy everyone. I particularly liked the salmone pizza. Even better, after 5pm on Tuesdays, pizzas are buy one, get one half off.

Review of Tiramisu Bistro

24. Belgravia Hub
Tucked away in the Belgravia neighbourhood, this is an easy restaurant to overlook. However, don’t miss out on their contemporary comfort food. The corn fritters, mac and cheese bites and the braised beef are worth a visit.

Review of Belgravia Hub

Happy New Year and Happy Eating! See you in 2016!

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Belgravia Hub

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

The food menu at Belgravia Hub.

Every single weekday for the last few years, I’ve ridden the LRT from the south side of the city to downtown in the morning and then back again after work. Ten stops along the way, most of which have some sort of association with them. The only one that held no significance to me was McKernan/Belgravia station. From what I could see through the windows as we rolled on by was a largely residential neighbourhood with a school across the street. I would never have suspected that a fantastic restaurant lay in the area’s midst.

I started hearing raves about a place called Belgravia Hub (@BelgraviaHub) from a few of my university classmates when we met for a catch up. Naturally, I Googled the restaurant to see where it was located and, despite seeing it on the map, I still couldn’t quite place where exactly it would be should I step off the train at that stop and proceed to make my way there. I’m terrible with directions though, so it didn’t necessarily surprise me. I continued to think that if I looked hard enough down the street as we continued down the track, I’d spot it, but I never could. It turns out it’s tucked in a little too far for that. Then, the second annual list of Edmonton’s best eats was published by The Tomato in March of 2014 and the eatery debuted at No. 45. I became more determined to try this place out. Of course, other plans and life got in the way last year and it never happened.

The bar of the restaurant.

The bar of the restaurant.

I did eventually make my way there with a friend (by car) this January. Starving as we circled the block, the lights from the unassuming building were like a beacon calling us in. Located in a tiny strip at 76 Avenue and 115 Street there are a decent amount of parking spots in their lot as well as on the street to match the number of diners that they can accommodate at any one time. With less than a dozen tables and about eight bar seats, it’s quite a small establishment. Yet, it has a sleek and simultaneously homey feel that really makes you feel welcome.

Since we had made a reservation ahead of time, we were directed to a table immediately. It was fairly early, so it was rather quiet, but business did pick up later in the evening. The server was very friendly and made a few recommendations for drinks. We opted for lemonade over beer or wine this time, and we also decided to start with an order of their corn fritters.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

Corn fritters to share and glasses of lemonade.

The fritters arrived at our table piled high in a silver bucket. Looking plump, they were accompanied by sides of smoked ketchup and strawberry jam. Dense enough, so the fritter stayed together when cut open, they were warm and soft with a nice crisp shell. Slathered with the smoked ketchup, they were a savoury treat that seemed to have a bit of a kick to it. On the other hand, when spread with strawberry jam, we ended up with that delectable combo of salty and sweet flavours. Honestly, I couldn’t decide which I preferred. Both combinations were excellent and, if there wasn’t more food on the way, I would have been happy to eat those corn fritters all night.

Nevertheless, we continued on with our meal. My friend selected the sweet pea gnocchi while I couldn’t say no to the braised beef shortrib. Generously portioned, the giant pieces of handmade gnocchi dumplings were swimming in a creamy dill sauce, which was topped with a beet salsa. The sauce was a good consistency with the scent of the herb coming through nicely. It tasted and felt rich without being overly heavy. The beet salsa provided a needed sweet and earthy flavour as well as additional texture. The shortrib was just spectacular. The meat from the two decent sized pieces of shortrib on the bone were really enough for two meals (I took half of my food home). Succulent from marinating in its juices, the meat just fell apart. Paired with the an apple cabbage slaw that provided crunch, bitterness and tang to the dish and a warm dill potato salad that came off like more of a Dijon with the use of mustard seeds, this was, to me, home-style cooking at its finest.

As full as we were, to finish off our dinner as we discussed our upcoming vacation, we had to sample a couple of their desserts. Because my friend polished off her plate of gnocchi, she went with that day’s choice of sorbet – green apple – and I chose the chocolate beet cake. The sorbet was smoother than I expected it would be and sweeter, too. Not too sugary though, so it was a great palate cleanser. While the initial bites of the chocolate beet cake were good, it was almost like the density of the cake made it seem drier than it should have been. Covered with a layer of ganache instead of the usual frosting and just a little bit of caramel on the plate, I liked the flavour, but the texture could have been improved upon.

All-in-all, I loved Belgravia Hub. The service slowed as the night progressed as there was only one server working and it got busier the later we were there. Thankfully, we weren’t in any sort of rush, so we didn’t necessarily mind that. Most importantly, the food surprised me. I’d heard it was good, but most everything I tried surpassed my expectations, so I’m excited to return and eat something different off the menu. The restaurant, open for about two years now, still comes across as a hidden treasure. In a way, I hope it stays like that, but I also wish the establishment the very best because this is a treasure that you want to keep for a long time to come.

For a more in-depth look at this establishment’s involvement in the local community and its efforts towards sustainability visit The Local Good to read my profile of Belgravia Hub.