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Nov 7, 2009 07:05 PM

Edmonton's Best Hidden Gems

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 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 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:

              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.