This year’s dining guide has a different spin on “where to eat.” We are a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own character, each with its own restaurants. For me, this hit home most stunningly during the transit strike. It may be nice to know the best Thai restaurant in the city is in Barrhaven, but when it’s 28 below, the buses aren’t running, and the streets are in gridlock, what you really want to know is where can I get a good curry close to where I am?
So this year, I break Ottawa down into regions and explore our city’s restaurants within its neighbourhoods, beginning today with its oldest.
These are restaurants I recommend, some unequivocally, others with certain reservations, but each suits a mood, or a demographic, or a budget.
NOTE: This list is a guide only, not a guarantee of what you will find!
Loosely based on a three-course dinner for two, with taxes, but before drinks or gratuity.
$: Under $40
$$: $40 to $70
$$$: $70 to $100
$$$$: Over $100
Unless stated otherwise, all restaurants accept major credit cards and reservations, and many now have web sites on which you will find their menus and hours of operation. Call about wheelchair accessibility.
307 Dalhousie St., 613-562-2081 www.ahora.ca $
This colourful, cluttered basement room with seating for 40 is a cheery, no-frills, cafeteria-style eatery with fresh, fast, flavourful Mexican food.
119 Murray St., 613-789-6797 www.bennysbistro.ca $$
Tucked into the back of the French Baker and open for lunch only, you are advised to tuck into anything baked – the bread, the olive scones, the strawberry tarts. But excellent too are the soups, the risotto, the spiced scallops.
Blue Cactus Bar and Grill
2 Byward Market, 613-241-7061 www.bluecactusbarandgrill.com $$
Big, busy market eatery, with an updated look. Menu has southwest slant. Pasta, pizzas, fajitas, grilled chicken, ribs. Open late.
271 Dalhousie St., 613-241-4381 www.cafespiga.com $$$
Cuisine: Portuguese and Italian
Portuguese classics (caldo verde, bacalhau, sea bream with piri-piri) share space with Italian pasta and veal dishes. Seafood is a clear strength.
Casa do Churrasco
190 Dalhousie St., 613-241-2743 $$
A little of the ghost of KFC lingers in the look of this Casa, but not in the food. Chicken is grilled, Portuguese style, as are ribs and other meaty things, served up with lots of lemon potatoes and a suitably fiery sauce.
137 Murray St. 613-241-3533 $
Spaghetti and meatballs, liver and onions, grilled chicken sandwiches, a croque monsieur. But really you come to this very pleasant pub for the very good burgers.
Westin Hotel, 11 Colonel By Dr., 613-560-7333 $$$$
An updated look for the Westin dining room. Signature lamb dish stands out, plus the tuna rolls, scallops with lemongrass, roasted guinea hen.
87 Murray St., 613-241-6007 www.domuscafe.ca $$$$
“Canadian Regional Seasonal Cuisine” is etched in its picture windows and is the philosophy that marks its plates. For close to fifteen years, chef John Taylor and his team have delivered startling dishes fashioned from impeccably sourced ingredients.
47 Clarence St., 613-241-1343 www.empiregrill.com $$$
Trendy, handsome restaurant that attracts chic young diners in droves. Also a favourite for dinner meetings. Specializes in steaks, wines and martinis. Open late.
39 Clarence St., 613-241-1700 www.haveli.com $$
In Ottawa since 1984, the what-you-expect menu of mostly north Indian dishes is well represented. Superior fish and rice dishes.
103 Murray St., 613-241-7276 www.khaothai.ca $$
Fragrant noodle dishes, complex curries, along with the usual Thai starters, salads and soups, in a lush red and gold space. Try the makua yaow len goong, a beautifully balanced dish of shrimp and eggplant.
41 York St., 613-789-7559 www.kinki.ca $$$
Its sexy marketing and its unconventional menu should alert you to the fact this attractive “Asian-fusion-sushi” restaurant is as much about the scene as the food.
Lapointe Seafood Grill
55 York St., 613-241-6221 www.lapointefish.ca $$
The first of five Lapointe Grills, this one below ground, in a yellow room with a school of hand-painted swimmers. Beer-battered fish and chips, pan-fried pickerel, fresh mussels, good chowder.
53 Elgin St., 613-594-5127 www.nac-can.ca $$$$
Expect some interesting changes in the National Arts Centre kitchen this year, with the creative chef Michael Blackie (formerly of Brookstreet Hotel) newly running the show. Stay tuned for how he marks the menu of this flagship restaurant.
47 York St., 613-241-8805 www.luxebistro.com $$$$
Luxe remains – despite changes in the kitchen – a French-style steakhouse with durable mainstays – French onion soup, Bouillabaisse, steak-frites. You feel new chef Duane Keats stamp most strongly in the page of daily additions.
Mambo Restaurante Nuevo Latino
77 Clarence Street, 613-562-2500 www.mambonuevolatino.com $$$
Mambo has an exciting Latino feel and look, but my experience with the food is that you need to pick through it a bit to find the good stuff – shrimp kicked up with a spicy orange sauce, carrot and jalapeno soup.
Mamma Grazzi’s Kitchen
25 George St., 613-241-8656 R $$
Thin-crust pizzas rolled to order and a page of pasta dishes in a pretty courtyard restaurant. Nice patio.
700 Sussex Dr., 613-562-1160 www.metropolitainbrasserie.com $$$
Cuisine: French bistro, seafood
French-style, super-sized brasserie steps from Parliament Hill with a menu that covers bistro basics, from bouillabaisse to blanquette de veau. Raw seafood bar; champagne by the glass.
97 Clarence St., 613-860-6654 www.moji.ca $$$
Cuisine: mostly Italian
The word moji is Japanese, but the short menu in this slim space leans Italian. Good carpaccio, steak salad, seafood linguine, crème brulée.
110 Murray St., 613-562-7244 www.murraystreet.ca $$$
The logo of the new (and good) Murray Street is a stylized M in a boar’s body, and pork certainly figures large on Steve Mitton’s menu and in his charcuterie bar. Meat may be the soul of this place, but neither fish nor the vegetarian entry eat like an afterthought.
93 Murray St., 613-241-5500 www.navarrarestaurant.com $$$
Cuisine: Modern Basque
In the former home of the Black Cat Café, former Cat chef Rene Rodriguez has opened Navarra, named for this northern region of Spain. Food is very good- recent menu includes steak tartare laced with ezpeleta powder, lobster ‘pil pil’ and salt-cod rillettes with Bayonne ham and roasted piquillo peppers.
311-313 Dalhousie St., 613-789-6888 $$
Two expansive floors of dining with big windows for Byward Market-watching. Extensive menu of more than 200 items, mostly filled with Cantonese-Szechwan offerings.
1 York St., 613-667-9207 www.playfood.ca $$$
Cuisine: Small plates, Canadian
Just open, untried, untested, but given it is the new creation of Stephen Beckta and Chef Michael Moffatt, hopes are high. Menu focuses on small plates.
18 York St., 613-244-1188 www.restaurant18.com $$$$
Comfortable, chic and timelessly fashionable, Restaurant Eighteen – three years now under Chef Matthew Carmichael’s lead – offers a roundup of pleasures on each stylish plate. Strong wine list.
85 Clarence St., 613-789-7934 $
If you’re after a bowl of hot, restorative soup — and who isn’t? — Saigon delivers in spades. A family-run Byward Market Vietnamese restaurant.
Shafali Indian Restaurant
308 Dalhousie St., 613-789-9188 www.shafali.com $$
Shafali’s tandoor may be hidden away, but its good smells slap you happy as soon as you enter. Sauces shine with gently layered flavours, and sometimes a crescendo of spices.
537 Sussex Dr., 613-789-7355 www.social.ca $$$
A handsome, hot-spot restaurant/lounge with a solid kitchen. Chef Matthew Carmichael (of Restaurant 18) is now balancing both kitchens – fifty metres apart- and his stamp on Social is yet untried by this critic. Open late.
81-B Clarence Street, 613-241-2200 www.stellaosteria.com $$$
Stella is a hip, happening and handsome place, offering comfort Italian food with contemporary edges. Stick with pasta dishes if you don’t want to spike the bill. Linguine with Manilla clams, short ribs and shiitake on cavatelli. Open late.
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro
108 Murray St., 613-562-3683 www.sweetgrassbistro.ca $$$
Cuisine: Original Canadian
Co-owners and chefs Warren and Phoebe Sutherland apply modern takes to the traditional dishes of North America’s aboriginal peoples with delicious results. On the menu, smoked fish cakes, rabbit dumplings, wild boar back ribs, Canadian goose with risotto, ginger and apples.
366 Dalhousie St., 613-241-6582 www.takara-ottawa.com $$
Bright corner restaurant in the Byward Market where the sushi bar takes centre stage and a complete nigiri sushi dinner, with soup or salad to start, won’t eat up your pay cheque.
The Black Tomato
11 George St., 613-789-8123 www.theblacktomato.com $$$
Cuisine: Eclectic – Global
A tall, square space, with great music, great whiskey choices and food that has a global reach – Thai-style soups, spanokopita, quesadillas, curried chicken, crab cakes.
The Courtyard Restaurant
21 George St., 613-241-1516 www.courtyardrestaurant.com $$$$
Cuisine: Contemporary Canadian
A dining room with a long history, which may feel dated inside, but won’t taste it. Bison sashimi, pork belly with ginger and licorice, ginger fritters with liquid nitrogen star anise ice cream.
297 Dalhousie St., 613-241-2224 www.totoya.ca $$
From a largely predictable menu, you will find fresh fish, well-cooked, carefully made sushi, gossamer tempura and soothing service.
35 William St., 613-789-8959 www.vittoriatrattoria.com $$$
The original VT, in the heart of the Byward Market, boasts an exceptional wine list. Food focuses on pizza and pasta, with a few predictable main dishes.
41 Clarence St., 613-241-3636 www.wasabisushibar.ca $$
Reasonable prices for a wide selection of raw critters from the sushi bar, plus some consistently good items from the kitchen, notably the tempura, gyoza and tataki.
Chateau Laurier Hotel, 1 Rideau St., 613-562-7043 $$$$
In addition to its good looks, assets include a well-trained staff, a strong VQA wine list and a menu that makes good use of local, seasonal raw materials.
Lowertown and Sandy Hill
606 Rideau St., 613-562-2563 $$
A tiny storefront location caters mostly to those picking up sushi suppers, or quick sushi lunches, though there is scattered seating and scattered items other than sushi.
Bistro Cordon Bleu
453 Laurier Ave. E., 61-755-2350 www.lcbottawa.com $$
This is a student-run restaurant, and you are the guinea pig for LCB students of cuisine at the end of their nine-month curriculum. Lunch only, Thursday and Friday. Three-course, set menu $25
East African Restaurant
376 Rideau St., 613-789-7397 $
Grass roof huts and animal skins set the scene. On the menu: chicken, beef, lamb or vegetable stews of varying intensities, served in small mounds on large platters layered with injera.
Horn of Africa
364 Rideau St., 613-789-0025 $
A long-established African restaurant that offers affordable, tasty Ethiopian food in very simple surroundings.
167 Laurier Ave E., 613-234-7299 $
This used to be the Painted Potato, and it still is the PP, only renamed, and they still serve PPs (choice of baked, sweet, mashed, brown rice, stuffed or topped, but now you can indulge in the tasty vegetarian food in a room dedicated to Sri Chinmoy.
Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute, 453 Laurier Ave. E., 613-236-2499 www.lcbottawa.com $$$$
In a Sandy Hill mansion, the fine dining room of Le Cordon Bleu (Ottawa campus) offers a menu awash with luxury ingredients and cooking that is layered, technically sound and stunning on every monogrammed plate.