Looking for a delicious meal in Ottawa? Finding the best restaurants in our nation's capital is now almost as simple as taking a stroll along Murray Street, but that was not always the case.
"Fifteen year ago when I started doing this, if you wanted to eat well in Ottawa, you either went to Montreal or went across the river to Gatineau," says food journalist Ron Eade, the former food editor of the Ottawa Citizen and a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to the city's food scene and chefs.
Eade explains that private clubs, like the Rideau Club or Chelsea Club, were where you went to eat anything other than chain food, but many have now closed "because the competition is so intense."
"The guy who really changed things was Steve Beckta," says Eade. "He opened Beckta in '03 and he really really set the bar." These days Beckta is the owner of Play Food & Wine and Gezellig, as well as Beckta's.
Chef John Taylor at Domus Cafe was another innovator, the first to forge alliances with growers, using local and organic wherever possible, notes Eade.
But more than anything, the restaurants that are doing it right are the ones that are focused and clear in their choices. "You know you’re in trouble if you go into a restaurant and see pages and pages of menu," says Eade with a laugh.
Here are 20 of Eade's (and others) approved choices for the top restaurants in Ottawa:
Best Ottawa Restaurants
Where: 428 Preston St.
Type of food: Modern French bistro
Words of praise: "The flavours and textures were already expertly layered, without my having to do the work of dabbing and assembling all sorts of dips, foams, and frills." - Ottawa magazine
Where: 93 Murray St.
Type of food: Spanish and Mexican
Words of praise: "[How] could your meal be as good as the extravaganza of dinner at Navarra? Indeed, you could pose the same question to all of Rodriguez’s competition." - Ottawa Citizen
Bonus reason: Rodriguez is competing on season four of Top Chef Canada.
Where: 296 Elgin St.
Type of food: Modern Italian
Words of praise: "Every so often a restaurant surfaces that, right from the get-go, seems exactly in the swing of its time and place. Such is Town." - Capital Dining
Where: 361 Elgin St.
Type of food: Asian shared plates with a twist of Mexican
Words of praise: "But the real magic of Oz is that its tiny closet of a kitchen has the best karma in town." - Ottawa magazine
Where: 7 Springfield Rd.
Type of food: Seasonal and local
Words of praise: "[We] want a restaurant with thoughtful, fresh, delicious food that doesn’t require an enormous splurge. Fraser Café is all that." - Ottawa Magazine
Where: 18 York St.
Type of food: 'Cutting edge' French-based cuisine
Words of praise: "When you are rating a restaurant you want to be sure that you do not become too generous in your praise lest no one believes you. But 18 is one of those that requires an alltogether [sic] different scale." - OpenTable
Where: 430 Bank St., and 1084 Wellington St. W.
Type of food: Seafood, of course, that is sustainably sourced
Words of praise: "I love a place with a raunchy vibe that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Is The Whalesbone Oyster House menu pricey? Yes it is, but my friends, that’s the price you pay for sustainable seafood, line-caught, farmed in sound conditions and approved by the watchers of the sea at Ocean Wise." - Food Gypsy
Where: 110 Murray St.
Type of food: A carnivore's dream
Words of praise: "They take ordinary things and they do an extraordinary way of preparing them." - Food Network Canada
Where: 18b York St.
Type of food: Thai-influenced tacos
Words of praise: "Refreshingly unlike anything else in Ottawa, Sidedoor is about small, Mexican and Asian-inspired, produce-driven sharing plates." - Capital Dining.
Bonus reason: He was the second runner-up for Top Chef Canada's season three.
Where: 380 Elgin St.
Type of food: "Tacos. Tequila. Raw bar."
Words of praise: "We didn’t recall a place having such high energy on a Wednesday night on Elgin street in quite a while.
There was a good reason. The place was fantastic and didn’t affect our pocket books too much." - Apartment 613
Where: 1335 Wellington St. W.
Type of food: Heavy on the seafood, with pasta thrown in
Words of praise: "All in all one of the best meals I've had in Ottawa, even though I'm not much of a shellfish person. My boyfriend and I have already made plans to go back." - Ottawa Foodies
Where: 6400 Hazeldean Rd.
Type of food: Asian-influenced cuisine
Words of praise: "[The] food presented an exceptional balance of textures crisp, crunch, soft and supple, embellishments salty and sweet, rich yet refreshing, often on the same plate." - Ron Eade
Where: 337 Richmond Rd.
Type of food: Global cuisine
Words of praise: "The Lake Erie Pickerel was seasoned to perfection, laid on a bed of salted fingerling potatoes and chard. If you are looking for light but filling, this dish was perfect." - Food Search Ottawa
Where: 87 Holland Ave.
Type of food: Fresh and local, with a constantly changing menu
Words of praise: "Allium is our favourite spot in Ottawa. Delicious food, complex enough to be special but still accessible." - TripAdvisor
Where: 540 Rochester St.
Type of food: (Stunning) molecular gastronomy
Words of praise: "[Chef Marc Lépine] masters the unique modernist techniques and weaves them into the local and seasonally inspired ingredients, while having fun with his menu descriptions." -Vacay.ca
Where: 315 Somerset St. W.
Type of food: "The Canadian take on Southern hospitality," so lots of comfort food
Words of praise: "With its communal seating, ear-busting playlist, and late-into-the-night hours, Union is ushering Ottawa into a new dining dimension, already adored by restaurant-industry insiders and those who think everything’s better when smothered in Thousand Island dressing." - Ottawa magazine
Where: 1208 Wellington St. W.
Type of food: Contemporary comfort food (and fondue Mondays!)
Words of praise: "This joint is one of the most reliable in the city, IMO. Relaxed but professional servers, good wine list and good variety of delicious dishes make this a solid stand by." - Ottawa Foodies
Where: 634 Somerset St. W.
Type of food: Vegan healthy, whole foods prepared in an environmentally friendly manner
Words of praise: "The food is so satisfying, so balanced, and so incredibly varied -- nothing like the old-fashioned stereotypic if not cafeteria-like vegetarian eateries where you pile greens and sprouts on a tray to weigh at the cash register." - Ron Eade
Note: Though Zen Kitchen was closed in May, due to the Canada Revenue Agency seizing its business accounts, it's now reopened, thanks to a crowdfunding campaign and an "angel investor."
Where: 87 Murray St.
Type of food: Canadian, with a focus on local ingredients
Words of praise: "Domus never fails to satisfy me. We go there at least once a year on special occasions. Last time was my 10 year anniversary." - Ottawa Foodies
Note: As of May 26, 2014, Domus Cafe has a message on its answering machine announcing its immediate closure.
Where: 366 Dalhousie St.
Type of food: Made with beer!
Words of praise: "There’s an excellent burger and fries, to be sure, but the menu otherwise travels as far as possible from traditional pub fare. Forget baskets of greasy nachos and wings — Flowers opts to make a delicate tuna crudo and plates it beautifully." - Ottawa magazine