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: 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: Urban Diner

Weekly specials advertised in the restaurant.

Weekly specials advertised in the restaurant.

Urban Diner (@UrbanDinerYEG) has been a staple of Edmonton’s High Street area for as long as I can recall. But, it wasn’t until I was probably finishing high school or working on my undergrad that it became one of my hang outs. For several years now, it has been the brunch location of choice for my elementary school friend and I. The prices are decent, the food is simple, yet tasty, and it’s good for a casual gathering. There’s nothing pretentious about this place.

I have heard a few people gripe that the offerings have gone down hill recently, and that the consistency of the dishes between the original 124 Street location and the one on 109 Street just south of the High Level Bridge is questionable. However, the long line up of patrons waiting for tables – seen each Saturday and Sunday morning – tells me another story. It’s obvious that the diner is still a favourite when it comes to breakfast food and home style meals. Regardless of the weather or traffic caused by the closure and construction of the Groat Road Bridge, people will patiently bide their time until a spot frees up.

My last visit was no different. Months since I’d been there, I arrived a little late, but a bit earlier than my friend. Already, there were a few pairs and groups ahead of me. Everyone was trying to crowd inside the door way, some to no avail. All the tables and the counter seats were full, but I could see some people finishing up, so I knew it wouldn’t be too long. As I waved and smiled at a baby being cradled in his mom’s arms, I watched as the servers hustled around the eatery wiping down surfaces, clearing plates and dropping off food. Some of the servers I remember seeing on previous occasions. Many of them have likely worked there throughout my entire history as a customer. Personally, I think that speaks to the business itself. The fact that their staff has stuck with them for such an extended period of time, hints that they must be doing something right.

The Urban Diner brunch menu.

The Urban Diner brunch menu.

Shortly before my companion showed up, I was led to a table by the window. I still had a view of the door, and the line certainly wasn’t letting up soon. Our server grabbed me a water as a text came in; my friend was just about there. I perused the menu and glanced at the daily deals (FYI, mac and cheese Mondays are no more. That has moved to Thursday, while meatloaf now starts the week off.). Regardless of whether my heart is set on something or not, I make a point of studying the choices. Maybe they’ve swapped some items off the menu, or another selection will strike my fancy. You never know.

The frittata with multigrain toast.

The frittata with multigrain toast.

Not this time, though. Both of us stuck to the tried and true – frittatas! I used to go for the vegetarian frittata (sans the chicken apple sausage), but nowadays, I’ve been selecting the meat option. I suppose, it just feels heartier that way. A skillet of eggs, bacon (not in the veggie version), spinach, portabellinis, artichokes, tomatoes, peppers, leeks, hash browns, swiss and mozzarella, whatever option you choose, they’re both extremely satisfying and filling. It’s a dish with ample flavour and a good ratio of meat to veggies to cheese to starch. The plate also comes with your choice of toast and a pot of berry preserves, which is likely unnecessary, yet provides some sweetness to an otherwise savoury offering.

More weekly specials, including Throwback Thursday Mac & Cheese!

More weekly specials, including Throwback Thursday Mac & Cheese!

I will have to go back at some point for the Throwback Thursday all day mac and cheese special, which is only $7 (add $3 for a Nathan’s hot dog). I have a feeling they stopped serving the smoked salmon and curry versions of the mac and cheese that used to be part of their Monday menu after 5pm. Of course, I can’t say that for sure until I actually try it, but that’s my best guess based on the cost and their suggestion of topping it off, old school style, with hot dog pieces. Their retro dessert case always looks full of great after dinner treats, too. One day, maybe I’ll leave enough room to fit that in.

All I know for sure, is that if Urban Diner decides to stay, people will continue to flock to it. They have a great reputation that has been ingrained into the city’s dwellers and its surrounding neighbourhoods. And, as far as I can see, they’re still serving up the same food that my friend and I have come to love, if not for the food itself, for the memories that the dishes bring back. It’s our spot, and hopefully, it’ll always be there when we need to catch up.