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May 26, 2009 10:29 PM

A couple of broad Ottawa Q's

I haven't been to Ottawa since I went there in kneepants to see Princess [sic] Elizabeth's visit and will be returning for a two or three day visit in June as a sexagenarian tourist in kneepants. I'm primarily interested in low-end ("proletarian") eats whether indigenous or ethnic imports and have some very broad questions about what Ottawa has to offer.

1) What food (other than Beaver Tails) says Ottawa? If you were an Ottawan exiled to New York, for example, for several years, what food would you crave on a visit home and where would you get it?

2) What ethnic ciuisines is Ottawa particularly strong in? Searching the board suggests it might be Middle Eastern, maybe some Slavic? Where to go and what to look for?

I also need a Byward Market 101. What's best there to gawk at, sample, or buy to bring back to California?

Sorry to be so vague, but I really have no idea what Ottawa is about other than Parliament and Mounties.

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  1. Well... Ottawa food tends to make me think of traditional, local-ish ingredients (in whatever type of cuisine) cooked traditionally. The restaurants I've been to there have done wild game really well. There's actually a Native Canadian restaurant in the Byward Market called Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro that kind of envelops it all... at least in my opinion... but it isn't really low-end. More mid-range.

    Ottawa also has pretty good poutine trucks.

    As you note, Ottawa has very good middle eastern food. I think Fairouz is good Lebanese... Also, Ottawa's Vietnamese places have always been pretty decent as well. Vietnam Palace, Ben-Ben (both on Somerset Street)... both are pretty good options.

    The Byward Market has pretty good cheese shops, but since they're in the Market sometimes their prices can reflect having a captive audience. You could always make like President Obama did and grab a beaver tail and a couple of cookies... or you could get some real maple syrup from one of the stalls. If you want some terribly traditional Canadiana, head to the Bay (it's on the edge of the market) and get a Hudson's Bay Company point blanket (


    Wish I was more help! Really, once you get there you'll be able to see your range of options. A word to the wise, though - for the most part, try not to eat in the Market. Sweetgrass is good. Domus Cafe is good. But that's kind of it for good market food, and neither is inexpensive at all.

    Be sure to walk along the canal as it is a nice stroll during nice weather! Take a tour of parliament, head over to Gatineau for a drive, have a beer in one of the hundreds of pubs... you'll have fun.

    7 Replies
    1. re: elizabethmaitland

      Thanks for the excellent omnibus response. Mid-range, pricewise, is not problem if it's worthwhile (APDC is always on my Montreal list); it's just that I tend to graze and pack in as many diverse small pleasures as possible. Any dishes you recommend at Sweetgrass? Any pubs with decent eats (not self-conscious gastropub fare, something like F&C, pork pies, etc?)

      1. re: Xiao Yang

        There's always the Wellington Gastropub although I wouldn't classify it as self-conscious fare. Delicious food, mid range, unpretentious friendly service and a great beer selection. APDC is my favorite restaurant by the way. And don't eat in any restaurants in the market-most of them are pretty horrible tourist traps. You can also check out the Ottawa Foodie board for more info:


        1. re: Xiao Yang

          I really liked the buffalo at Sweetgrass! also the rabbit dumplings were quite tasty, but i see a glazed bison rib on the appetizer menu now that sounds really nice...

          and I'm with the Splendid Wine Snob - the Wellington gastropub is super good. i forgot about it in my first post! they do fresh, seasonal food... i had an amazing tuna tataki appetizer there once that i still dream of.

          the only issue i have with Ottawa pubs is that a number of them are part of a chain... that being said, there are a couple non-chain pubs that i've enjoyed: The Earl of Sussex (on Sussex Drive) and the Clocktower Brewpub on Bank Street.

          have fun, Xiao Yang!

          1. re: elizabethmaitland

            I am inclined to take a flyer on Sweetgrass, since game tends to be neglected in San Francisco and as a tourist will certainly be checking out Byward.

            1. re: Xiao Yang

              it's nice - very pleasant service, too, i found!

              here's their chowhound link:

              108 Murray St, Ottawa, ON K1N5M6, CA

        2. re: elizabethmaitland

          I'll second Domus. Definitely not one of the tourist traps on the market.

          Fairouz used to be one of my favourites, till they closed a few years ago.

          1. re: souschef

            Domus is really good!
            forgot about that, kinda expensive but if you are not too concerned with money as brunch can easily be $50 for 2 people...
            Urban pear is also good on second ave I think....

        3. Ottawa has shawarma (all over town) and Viet Namese (particularly in China Town along Somerset) aplenty. While I rate most of the Chinese restaurants below Toronto standards, you can easily get a cheap and satisfying meal in China Town.

          One of my favorite places in the Byward Market is La Bottega Nicastro, an Italian food retailer with an excellent selection of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, deli meat, cheese, etc.

          As mentioned by a previous poster, many of the restaurants in the Byward Market lean towards tourist trap. However, I too have really enjoyed Sweetgrass for some wonderful game dishes not readily found elsewhere. I also love the burger at Chez Lucien pub in the Market (Murray St), which is also an all-around great place. If you're looking for something sweet, Piccolo Grande (Murray St) has really nice house made gelato.

          For above-average pub fare, try the Manx at Elgin and Frank.

          For some fantastic artisanal bread, look out for Art-Is-In brand, which is sold in some local groceries and at the Sunday morning Lansdown Farmer's Market in the Glebe neighbourhood.

          1. Grew up in Ottawa. I miss shawarma and bagels the most. (Ottawa has great Montreal style bagels) Ottawa has surprisingly good Thai food. I think there's a place on Kent called Corriander Thai, but a bit of a walk from downtown and also not cheap. I also miss the malt shop in the basement of the Bay on Rideau, but that's more personally nostalgic and probably not all that great in reallity! Nicastro's in the market makes a mean sandwich for lunch (if it's still there). Hope you have a nice trip.

            5 Replies
            1. re: tochipotle

              Hey tochipotle, where do you get montreal style bagels in ottawa? would save me the trip to montreal...

              1. re: Pigurd

                you can get Montreal Bagels at 2 places I can think of, first choice would be the Ottawa Bagleshop (Wellington St near Island Park) or Farm Boy they have numerous stores in the region.

                1. re: kaymanti

                  hmm i am pretty close to that bagelshop and i go to farm boy semi often... i should keep my eyes open, never noticed them there...

                  are they from montreal? (has st viateur bag) or is it just made in the montreal style?

                  1. re: Pigurd

                    Montreal style. But IMHO just as good. Lived in Montreal for years and worked in a bagel shop (that is no longer) in Ottawa, so I've had my fair share of bagels.
                    My favorite bagels in Ottawa come from here:

                    Kettlemans also do pretty well.

                2. re: Pigurd

                  Kettlemans on Bank st near lansdowne park- open 24 hours a day.

                  Also that yummy malt shop in the Basement of the Bay closed 4+ years ago.
                  So disapointed, they put in a godiva chocolate counter (which no one seems to go to anyways........)
                  but hey, the Bay has a post office and a pharmacy and a grocery store in the basement now (and frozen foods)

              2. what says ottawa may be Yres on Charlotte for take out chicken, it's great chicken and sure looks like it's been there for years.

                1. Where are you coming from? It might help us to know so that we can make recommendations by comparison.

                  Right off, I agree with many of the recommendations below: shawarma is fantastic here, and Montreal style bagels are definitely worth getting. Besides that, Ottawa does Indian quite well, in my experience, and Taj Mahal on Bank Street in the south part of the Glebe is definitely worth a visit. Thai is also quite good (much better than Toronto), with Aiyara, Sweet Basil, and Nokham Thai being the winners.

                  I went to Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro two weeks ago for the first time, and it was one of the best meals I've had. Utterly fantastic: I can't praise them highly enough. Both the service and food were exquisite, especially the pork belly (divine - easily the best part), the Navajo frybread, the rabbit dumplings, and the duck entree. I can't wait to go back.

                  Hope you enjoy your visit!

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: vorpal

                    vorpal, which dishes would you recommend the most at Aiyara, Sweet Basil and Nokham Thai?
                    And which dishes does Taj Mahal do well?
                    Thanks for any of your comments!

                    1. re: phoenikia

                      Let's see...

                      Sweet Basil:
                      * Cold spring rolls with pork
                      * Panaeng beef curry (imperative that you try this)
                      * Pad kee mow (a little nontraditional, but utterly exquisite flavours)
                      * Bamee pad (delightful mild dish with a delicate taste through a nice selection of aromatics that balances out a meal against spicy dishes)
                      * Mango pistacho "ice cream" (not really ice cream and not really Thai, but a stellar way to end a meal)

                      * All of the appetizers are nothing short of spectacular, and this is where their strengths lie, in my opinion. Most notable are the chicken satays (so plump and juicy), the money purses, and the vegetable spring rolls.
                      * Their green curry is the best I have tasted. I can't imagine that they don't make their curry paste from scratch, or at least enhance it significantly. It goes delightfully with an order of sticky rice.
                      * The pork with lemongrass (#3 in the special section of the menu) is very good most of the time. On rare occasions, it has been dry, but it is usually excellently prepared.
                      * The beef with garlic pepper sauce is very nice, with extremely tender beef.
                      * One of the highlights here is the beautiful vegetable carvings that accompany each dish. Nice to see this element of Thai culture being celebrated here.

                      Taj Mahal
                      * Again, fantastic appetizers, and so reasonably priced (all under $5, I believe). The chicken pakoras and the onion bhajia in particular are great. We usually end up gorging ourselves on an order each because they're so cheap and we don't want to share.
                      * As for mains, I've seldom had anything I didn't like. I really enjoy the bhuna gosht in particular, and the murgh mahkani is very good here.
                      * They aren't shy about using oil, so it is probably best to get a vegetable dish - which will have less - to balance things out.
                      * Their naan is some of the best in town, in my opinion. If you are doing takeout, they prepare it when you get there to pick up your order so that it is as fresh as possible.

                      Hope this helps! Please do let me know if you have the chance to try any of these. I'd love to hear what you think.

                      1. re: vorpal

                        Thanks so much for your detailed response, vorpal ;-) Will definitely let you know if it works out that we get to try any of these restaurants on our visit.

                        1. re: phoenikia

                          Hi Vorpal- didn't work out to try the restaurants you suggested because my guests decided they weren't up for Indian or Thai, but I'm keeping your recs on my list for my next visit to Ottawa!

                          1. re: phoenikia

                            Hi Phoenikia,

                            Thanks for the heads up! Mind if I ask... where did you end up dining?

                            1. re: vorpal

                              We ended up dining at Domus for dinner- I had given my 2 guests the choices of Thai, Indian, Sweetgrass Bistro, the Wellington Gastropub or Domus. One of the guests was craving beef (in the form of steak rather than curry or satay), so that helped narrow our choices to the Wellington Gastropub or Domus. Domus won out because it was walkable from our hotel, and we'd already been driving for 4 hours that day. Once we got to Domus, it turned out to be a good option for us, since that weekend Kerr Farms flatiron steak, NY Strip and a third option for beef (can't remember- maybe filet?) were offered on the menu.

                              Great Boston Bibb lettuce with blue cheese salad to start, followed by the flatiron steak for me- my guests tried the NY Strip and the smoked chicken and lentil Dahl. Trio of truffles to end the meal. The current menu has several choices which are not mentioned on the online menu posted on the Domus website.

                              The following day, we started our day with coffee and scones at the Sconewitch. I tried the BLT with basil pesto sconewitch, and my guests had the eggs with smoked salmon, fruit and scones (they tried oatmeal and cranberry orange).

                              For lunch, we ordered the veggie plate, chicken shawarma plate and chicken shawarma sandwich at Shawarma Palace. I'll definitely make a point to return to Shawarma Palace on future trips to Ottawa, but will remember their plates are plenty for 2.

                              1. re: phoenikia

                                Awesome! Thanks for the info. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed Domus; I have yet to try it but will make a point of it sometime after I hit the Wellington Gastropub.

                                I'm headed to Sweetgrass this week and am very excited to be returning.

                    2. re: vorpal

                      I'm from San Francisco, but most immediately coming from NYC and Montreal which I visit annually. I'll hit Ottawa this Wed. for three days.