Toronto Hounds spending a week in Ottawa
I second Benny's Bistro being a must. Good at lunchtimes, too. Try their scallops - there is finesse in that kitchen.
Domus café, 85 Murray: I second that strongly - local/organic-focused, high end creative café food, superb tastes.
Ahora Mexican, 307 Dalhousie: great "cheap eats" authentic Mexican with nice cocktails.
Bottega Nicastro, 64 George: do as the smart Ottawans do, get an amazing fresh foccacia for lunch here.
Kettleman's Bakery, 912 Bank: great bagels and cheese spreads, ideal for a picnic. Grab the wife, a basket, a half dozen bagels and some of their spreads (I love the salmon and peppers spreads) and head to a nearby park or cab to Dow's Lake.
Shawarma Palace, 464 Rideau: accept no substitutes, this is fresh, succulent and well-priced shawarma. Try their plates for incredible value, large portions.
Elgin St Diner, 374 Elgin: 24hrs solid "greasy spoon" diner, with an interesting menu and well done old favourites. Try their poutine.
La Patate Doree, 153 Eddy (Gatineau, over the water): this is authentic poutine. Again, accept no substitutes. Chipwagons are great, but a September afternoon with a burger and cup will satisfy. Worth the cab fare.
The Sausage Kitchen, 5 Byward Market: this is a must for good European-style chicken schnitzel on a bun (and also for its great gourmet selection). Hidden in the market, try it for a memorable, unpretentious, great value lunch.
On Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro... I don't want to burst any bubbles, but what we had wasn't particularly aboriginal. As the waiter said when I went two weeks back, the kitchen prepares "French-style" fare. The only unique item I had was the "Mom's Style Spiced Cake" at the end, which was much like an Aussie fruitcake. Would not recommend there as a unique experience. See here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/535034 . It's not just me.
Last, but not least, Art-Is-In Bakery bread. In my opinion, the bread of Ottawa. Look for their stall at Lansdowne Park Ottawa Farmers' market on Sunday between 9-11am (because they sell out fast) or on Thursday after 2pm, again early because they sell out fast. Sourdoughs are exceptional.
Hope this helps. While it's not all sit down and it's not all full service, this bunch of restos will leave a true foodie smiling at the simple, tasty goodness they offer. Enjoy your time in the capital.
Sausage Kitchen was a huge disappointment for me. Their sausages were mediocre at best, and the much-hyped-about take-out counter... perogies are probably the only saviour here and I still can't get over their nastyass stale buns. And, please, whatever you do, avoid the middle-aged asian woman with bleached hair behind the meat/take-out counter! She's actually one good enough reason to ruin it for ya.
my mum and i spent a weekend in ottawa in june to attend a japanese cooking course at the cordon bleu (which was only ok, i prefer calphalon here.) we LOVED our experience at beckta. the service was excellent and the food was delicious. we did the tasting menu and i would definitely reco it. we also had dinner at domus based on reco's from this board and the chef winning various awards. it was very nice, but beckta was a hard act to follow. we had brunch at benny's bistro and it was really, really good. http://www.bennysbistro.ca/ (i had the Triple cream brie stuffed french toast with a roasted rhubarb, strawberry & vanilla bean compote $14...my mom had the Savoury marscapone and chèvre cheesecake with organic baby greens,
scallions, toasted almonds, strawberry and white balsamic vinaigrette $13)
is a good basis for your search for Ottawa chow. However, it doesn't encompass the entire range of places in Ottawa. In addition to those places I enjoy The French Baker on Murray Street (as well as a gelato place on the same street) for good pastries (and an excellent Chocolatine that I still remember fondly). There are also a number of interesting restaurants/food shops on the Richmond Rd. stretch centered around Churchill and further east.
Definitely second the French Baker. Fantastic croissants.
Lots of good Thai options in Ottawa, too... Royal Thai in the market (Dalhousie at Murray) is very hearty fare. It lacks the subtlety of many other Thai restaurants but I really enjoy it as this isn't something I've ever seen done at other restaurants, at least with amy kind of quality. Sweet Basil, down on Bank street at Huron, is out of this world.
Don't miss the things that Ottawa does very well as a whole, either, like shawarma, which you must try. I've also had great Indian in Ottawa at Taj of India or New Nupur, both on Bank street.
Check out http://www.ottawafoodies.com for more tips. The people there are great.