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Edmonton's Best Hidden Gems

  • Navan Nov 7, 2009 07:05 PM
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Okay- I grew up in Ottawa and went to University in Toronto, and in both cities I knew people who knew where to find the best hidden food in the city. You know- places locals know about and adore, but that most people wouldn't be paid to walk into.

I just moved to Edmonton, and no, I don't know anyone. So I'm wondering...where are they? I went to a fabulous Greek place with my friend called Koutouki and I was blown away- exactly what I was looking for. Greek category ticked off. Here are the ones that remain:

Chinese Takeout. We're talking typical Canadianzed Chinese takeout here. Must have good egg roles...cause let's face it, if you can't do an egg role you probably can't do the rest.

Italian. I litterally was known by name at my favourite Italian place in Toronto- I practically lived there. Infact, I was on such good terms with them I often ate in the kitchen and when I moved they gave me the recipes for my favourite dishes. So I CAN make my own Italian food, but you know there are just days you want to go out.

Shawarma. Anyone from Ottawa knows how much Shawarma is a staple there, and I just CRAVE it sometimes.

English fish and chips. Good old beer batter, homemade chips and tartar sauce.

Breakfast. I generally go with my friends once a week for Breakfast at Dennys and quite frankly the undercooked eggs and over salted toast. I just want good eggs and hasbrowns!

Poutine. I'm not entirely sure why in Edmonton, with all it's ex-Quebecers, of all places, I cannot find a decent poutine. Cheese curds, good home made fries, and beef or pork gravy. How hard is that?!

Those are basically the staples I'm missing. Any recommendations? I hate re-establishing myself in a new city but hopefully this is the last time!

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  1. I'll bite.
    Chinese takeout - "Chicken For Lunch"
    This place makes serves very satisfying fried chicken in lunch-for-two sizes for $7. Lines at lunch can be 15-20 minutes long! I guess this makes it pretty conspicuous, but because it's underground in a food court at Scotia Place you might not know it was there unless you got a tip from somewhere.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Fun Tzu

      havent been to this place lately but on the whole I concur. Crack chicken is what a lot of downtowners call it

    2. Hmm, I've never thought of Koutouki as hidden - been around forever, well known and even had a television show about it. Definitely the best Greek in town.

      Chinese takeout - if you scan the last few years of postings, you'll see much discussion that basically amounts to lots of OK places, nothing spectacular. Lingnan seems to be a favourite, but I wasn't impressed (I'm another ontarian...chinese canadian seems to be superior there). Only one I liked was North China, but it closed a few years ago.

      Shawarma - if you can get past the health code violations, La Shish is the place to go.

      Italian...not a lot of really great authentic mom and pop places like you find in Toronto. Sorrentinos seems to have the market wrapped up with its extremely mediocre fare.

      Fish and chips, there is a place on stony plain just east of 124 that is OK, but really, Vancouver is only an hour flight and worth the visit...save up some aeroplan points.

      Poutine - you've got to be kidding. Don't you know that Albertan's hate Quebec (Trudeau and the NEP...if you haven't heard about it yet, you will...)

      Sorry if I'm being a bit cynical, but sometimes this city gets to me...time for a vacation.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Dan G

        Dan, you are scaring off all the newbies....it is NOT THAT bad here! :)
        perhaps I don't travel as often and have my taste bud blinders on, I think that there are still some decent places to go. I grew up and still go to Calgary a lot, that is my main comparison, except for vacation time.

        so I will take a stab at this....
        Greek: I actually like Yianni's on Whyte ave better than Katouki

        Italian: there are numerous places I enjoy: Pazzo Pazzo for family style, Picolino for loud italian homestyle, Tasty Tomatoes is good all around. Allegro for more gourmet (I have heard Violino is worth a try to). We also recently went to Il Pasticcio and really enjoyed it there. I also recommend trying Vito Bella, I believe they have potential, they are quite new. Stay clear of Sorrentinos, it is the Earls of Italian here.

        Shwarma: La Shish is well worth heading to. Ignore the health violations as it has more to do with traditions than anything, it has to do with the traditional way they are cooking the meat on rotisserie. Sunbake Pita is another to check out.

        We like Cha 4 Tea for takeout, but chinese take out is not really my thing

        Can't help with Poutine, after the foie gras poutine in Montreal at Au Pied du Cochon, I am ruined for that ;)

        Breakfast: Culina by far the best any day of the week. High Level Diner, Sugarbowl, Urban Diner, Cafe de Ville, Manor Cafe

        -----
        Urban Diner
        12427 102 Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T5N, CA

        1. re: cleopatra999

          I'll add my support of La Shish. I always leave happy and full to the brim.

          I think, whether Cora's is liked or not, it's a much needed addition to our lacking breakfast scene. Cleo nailed most of the choices.

          Our family always did Sir Winston's for fish n' chips, as we found Brits to be greasy more times than not. Winston's has changed owners a few times over the years, but it still offers a decent version.

          1. re: raidar

            Oh and for Poutine, try the Cheese Factory on 82nd Ave. That's where I pick my curds up from.

            1. re: raidar

              I also think I should clarify the detail around the "health code violations" at La Shish. Basically the government requires that the meat be sliced off the skewer and then re-cooked.

              It was more of a procedure violation/technicality - I don't believe there was every any indication of actual undercooked meat or any real problem.

              Common sense tells you that it's possible to slice properly cooked meat off the skewer and serve it directly. Basically it is a part of the skill of being a cook to be able to tell when meat is properly cooked. In my opinion, whether it's boiled, fried, grilled, or sliced off a rotisserie skewer shouldn't make a difference.

          2. re: Dan G

            I never found any great fish & chips places in Vancouver in eight years of living in BC. I'm from the Maritimes, so I'm picky on that score. First few times we went to Brit's I was very impressed (best I'd had out west), but I agree it can be greasy and has gotten worse lately.

            We like Simon King at 51st Ave and 91 St for Donair. Hubby has tried their chicken shawarma and enjoyed it.

            Italian, have not found a pasta or full italian dishes that we love, but Famosa Pizza has lovely thin crust pizzas and best salads I've had in Edmonton. The downtown location was insane and don't know if it has eased any since they've opened up locations at South Common and Terwillegar/McGrath.

            Cora's has good food (Calgary Trail and 23rd) but they need to work out a few kinks and get an expediter. The kitchen is slooooow but they are still new.

            Other breakfast spot I like is Fresh Start Bakery next to the TD on Rabbit Hill Road. Love their breakfast burrito.

            Finally got to try Chicken for Lunch today: just barely made it in under the wire. The noodles were a little bottom of the barrel but the rest was excellent! I will have to try to get away for lunch earlier. Amy is a little tazmanian devil- she never stops moving! Love her!

            Other places we like- love New Asian Village on 34 Ave- no messing around with endless waits, reliable food, excellent service.

            We like Mary Brown's chicken when we're in a total junk food mood, although unlike KFC, it is recognizably used to be a chicken. Crispier and doesn't totally become stomach turning smelling if you don't eat it within five minutes- it's ok on the ride home. Newfoundland favorite are available at the little store next door on 50th street- Purity Cookies!

            We like Chicago Deep Deep Dish Pizza on Whyte, but they are super slow on delivery, but if we call just before leaving downtown, it's usually ready to pick up by the time we get there.

            Sunterra has great dips and bakery and terrific meat counter (pork from Canmore).

            Italian Centre is a great resource for all kinds of European foods. Excellent deli.

            I agree with another commenter- no good bagels here though. If someone has a recommendation for something like Solly's in |Vancouver, I'm all ears.

          3. I'll agree with "Chicken for Lunch." I was told Amy'll remember my name like she does my coworkers, but she forgot after the first time and just calls me "tall boy." Guess I'm the only 6'4" Asian guy that frequents. For lunch, get there before 11:30am. They cater primarily to the downtown office crowd, and she shuts down mid-afternoon.

            Italian - I like Picolinno's but my coworker swears by Allegro (I haven't been).

            Fish'n'chips - Brits on 104'th across from Oliver Square. There's one off Argyll Road as well, but the atmosphere at the former is a little better.

            Breakfast - Cora's just opene up here but we haven't tried it. For breakfast/brunch we like Culina.

            Poutine - have yet to find one. Mostly we just go to Alberta Kinga of Subs in Calgary for that.

            None of these are much "hidden" as many already know about them..

            1. I find Cora's too overrated - all around Canada and always long lineups... I do echo Culina's for breakfast and enjoyed the experience at Blue Plate Diner for brunch.

              I think the best hidden gem in the city is the menu at Red Star Pub... especially if you like Italian cuisine. I know it sounds silly to recommend a pub but the chef Daniel Costa spent a lot of his years in Italy while training in cuisine. He was also a partner at Da Capo. His menu is very heavily influenced by Italian flavours. My favourite there is the Chicken Wild Mushroom Polpettes with truffled creme fraiche and the Caprese Crostini's. His applewood smoked cheddar mini burgers are outstanding too!

              You can find some of the recipes on his site: http://danielcosta.ca/

              -----
              Blue Plate Diner
              10145 - 104 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 0Z9, CA

              6 Replies
              1. re: foodkarma

                Thanks foodkarma,

                I am really interested in trying out the Red Star. I enjoy the food at Da Capo. I always thought it would be nice if it was more of a restaurant than cafe.

                1. re: cleopatra999

                  Please try it out and let me know what you think. My boyfriend is obsessed with Costa's food. It really is amazing. Daniel Costa is set to open his own restaurant next fall. Can't wait.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    I don't know if i would call Da Capo a hidden gem, or even a gem for that matter. The pizza was average, their soup bland. One of their paninis advertised prosciutto, yet it turned out to be cooked ham. Now, i know prosciutto just means ham, but it's not unreasonable to expect the dry-cured, thinly sliced variety.

                    1. re: caffeinated

                      I was told that Daniel Costa left Da Capo a while ago, so it would be a different cook/chef at Da Capo.

                      1. re: Libertycafe

                        yes - he WAS a partner at Da Capo and left awhile ago. Now at Red Star while planning the opening of his own restaurant.

                  2. re: foodkarma

                    I just tried the food at Red Star over the weekend on the recommendation of a friend and it was really good! What a surprise, I have walked past Red Star many times and always assumed the menu would be typical, greasy, boring pub food.

                    The Italian menu is a really nice change.

                  3. Having lived in Ottawa prior to Edmonton, I must tell you that there is no shawarma here that would make the cut in Bytown. In general, Lebanonese and related cuisine is sadly under represented here. Some will say Park Allen but you will be disappointed. But the good news is that donairs here are much better than Ottawa.

                    As for poutine, the only place that I know of that does poutine that you would consider vaguely Quebecois is the Cheese Factory on Whyte. Also does decent fondue.

                    Greek: you have already found my favourite. But Yianni's is good too.

                    Italian: sadly my favourites have mostly gone down hill. Il Pastiche is good but small. I avoid the Sorrentino's chain.

                    Another sad reality is that Edmonton does not have a decent deli. So you will soon crave a trip to Nate's and begin dreaming of Montreal-style bagels.

                    1. I finally managed to get to Dahlia's Mediterranean Bistro on 102 ave. & 124 street and try one of their shawarmas. I tried the chicken shawarma and found it very tasty, with the inclusion of pickled turnips and garlic sauce. Plus they grill the pita sandwich so it has a very nice crispy texture to it. Only $6.95. Unfortunately, it left me wanting to eat another one the next day.....and I don't get to that area very often anymore.

                      For Italian, we like to go to Tesoro's on 112 ave & 104 st. in the Oliver area. The menu is basic and prices are reasonable. They also serve gelato from Da Capo. But just around the corner behind Tesoro is Exquisite Chocolate where the owner/operator told me he makes his own gelato from scratch with natural flavours. So it's a good area to go to if you also like to try out gelato.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Libertycafe

                        I really like Tesoro pastas, pizza and gelato. I have yet to try the Exquisite gelato, it is always closed when I get there. I will have to make the effort, hmmmm, maybe today :)

                        1. re: Libertycafe

                          It's Chocolate Exquisite, not Exquisite Chocolate :) but yes, Dennis does make his own gelato from scratch and loves to talk food with foodies besides.

                          1. re: Libertycafe

                            I second the motion. Dahlia's is amazing.

                          2. For Breakfast/Brunch my suggestion would be the New York Bagel Cafe (8430 103 St). The do some very, very tasty Eggs Benedicts and their home fries are delicious.

                            For Italian my wife and I love Piccolinos, but I would suggest calling ahead and making a booking as they are usually booked pretty solid. Tasty Tomato is also pretty good too.

                            1. For Breakfast try Hap's Hungry House on Stony Plain Rd. It's my favorite old school breakfast joint and they always do eggs right, no matter how you order them.

                              Piccolino, as mentioned by others, is a good bet for Italian.

                              One of my favorite hidden gems is Baurenschmaus on 99st. Their Austrian cuisine is awesome and so is their desserts.

                              1. There is a place called La sheesh its on Jasper Ave and 117 Street if im not mistaken.. I moved to Edmonton from Ottawa for 5 months back in 2006 and that was the only place in Edmonton that made a worthy Shawarma like back home in OTTAWA..

                                1. Chinese Takeout.
                                  Double Greeting Wonton House

                                  Italian.
                                  Tony's Pizza Palace - excellent pasta, hand tossed pizza

                                  Breakfast.
                                  Friends and Neighbors Cafe on Whyte - all day breakfast, so many varieties of delicious eggs benny.
                                  Also, Highlevel Diner - their lunch/dinner menu is fantastic as well.

                                  Poutine.
                                  I've never been, but I've heard La Poutine on 109th street, near Whyte, is amazing.

                                  1. it has been much time since living and eating with regularity in edmonton, but things i miss (which may help), have lived in ottawa-but toronto is home....

                                    charles smart and queen donairs (rather than shwarma)
                                    rose bowl pizza
                                    farmer's omelet from high level diner
                                    blair lebsack at the madison grill in the union bank inn
                                    than than's spring rolls
                                    italian sandwiches from spinelli's
                                    zenari's
                                    bibimbap from the bottleneck in hub mall
                                    dewey's, ratt, the power plant at the u of a
                                    guinness pints at sherlock holmes
                                    chicken alcron and schnitzel from bistro praha
                                    frank olsen (and before that-bernie peck) and the red ox inn
                                    incredible edibles (carlos and helen days not the walter mclean days)
                                    normands
                                    beans and barley

                                    i realize that some of these have been gone for a long time....but i still remember them fondly.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: ingloriouseater

                                      Just wanted to chime in on some Edmonton hidden gems. Glad to see this thread became active again after a long hiatus!

                                      Chinese: I second Double Greeting House - they make stuff with the real authentic HK-style "Wok Qi". Buddy Wonton & Seafood is a close second, although they can be hit and miss depending on which chef is working.

                                      Pizza: While Famoso has gotten big and now has multiple locations, I think Ragazzi on 82nd Avenue makes the best thin-crust pizza in Edmonton. Leva Cappucino Bar also has surprisingly good pizza!

                                      Shanghai: Possibly the greatest hidden gem in Edmonton is Shanghai Restaurant (9028 51 Avenue). Having enjoyed both street fare and high end food in Shanghai, this place gets it the closest. Their "jia jang mian" (cucumbers and minced pork on noodles with shallot sauce) is incredible, and their "dong po rou" (slow braised pork belly) is perfectly made topping a noodle soup. Nothing comes close to the "xiao long bao" that I had in Shanghai, but this place is probably the best that Edmonton can offer.

                                      Breakfast: Rick & Alice's Grill on 109 street serves benedict only on weekends, but it's the best and most consistent I've had. Their pancakes are also fresh and very fluffy.

                                      Others: Madison's Grill, Unheardof, Red Ox Inn, Tau Bay, Sai Woo (known for their fried squid), La Shish, Upper Crust Cafe (great sandwiches and potato salad).

                                      Enjoy!

                                      1. re: ingloriouseater

                                        Charles Smart closed its doors a few years back. But it was a good spot!

                                        1. re: ingloriouseater

                                          Charles Smart closed its doors a few years back. But it was a good spot!

                                          1. re: misterpeer

                                            Battista's Calzones on 118th Ave
                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/848641.

                                        2. The Chicken Shish Taouk at Amean's Pizza and Donair on 99 Street and 34th Avenue, just North of the Mac Donald's in the corner.

                                          Don't let appearances make you desist from trying this place. It is on the menu as "Chicken Donair" but it is not the usual compressed cone of meat but a well spiced grill of chicken and mushrooms wrapped in a heated pita with fresh lettuce, tomato and a mild garlic sauce

                                          Amean ( Amin?) is friendly and chatty, and it is obvious that he cares about the food he serves. If you try the pizzas ( the vegetarian looked really good) let us know what you think.
                                          (Halal)

                                          1. Italian - Cafe Amore
                                            Just discovered this place has great atmosphere, small place run by a father and two sons. Has decent pasta, great tirimasu and heard the soup is amazing.