The city has seen a surge of exceptional watering holes and eateries led by world-class chefs and entrepreneurs with fresh ideas
Just a decade ago, Edmonton’s culinary scene could be described as so-so at best. But in recent years, the city has seen a surge of exceptional watering holes and eateries that are now ranked as some of the top places to eat and drink in Canada. From a pastel-pink-radiator-shop-turned-distillery to a Scandinavian-inspired French hotspot, here are five local restaurants that are reason enough to take a trip to the Big E.
1. Strathcona Spirits
Alicia-Rae OlafssonAt the corner of 81st Avenue and 101st Street, you’ll find a tiny, pastel pink warehouse with a rich history. Originally built in 1946, the space has gone from a radiator shop to a friendly jam space, to an illicit underground music venue called the Baby Seal Club to a place that’s now home to Edmonton’s first distillery, Strathcona Spirits. And by first, we mean “not just since prohibition,” but “since ever,” as Chelsey Belec, Strathcona’s marketing and event coordinator, puts it. In an effort to honour a bygone era, owner Adam Smith has retained the building's original lighting and the Styrofoam installations on the roof, the latter of which was from an old movie set. The high-end distilling system that sits in the back, however, is brand new.
When provincial legislation changed in 2013 to allow for small-batch distilling, Smith applied for a liquor licence and travelled the world to learn the art of distillation. When he returned to Edmonton, he ordered a custom-made still from a highly sought-after manufacturer in southeast Missouri. The still arrived to Strathcona in pieces, and Smith and his team were faced with the challenge of assembling it. "Even though it was made to our specs, we still had to cut a hole in the roof because it was 19 inches taller than it was supposed to be," explains Belec. "But it suits the space—like, of course, we have a hole in the roof.” They named the still Grace after Smith’s grandma, who was always the workhorse of his family.
Occupying just 740 square feet, Strathcona crafts vodka, gin and whiskey—all of which are made with a base of Alberta-grown hard red wheat that's sourced 20 kilometres from the distillery and milled on-site. “In Alberta, we have some of the best grain in the world and the by-product of it from our still has a sweet crème-brulee-marshmallow taste,” says Belec.
Strathcona's full-bodied, barrel-aged gin is infused with 11 different botanicals, including two that are locally-sourced: juniper berries from the Alberta Badlands (one of the largest dinosaur depositories in the world) and sea buckthorn berries picked rogue from random yards around Edmonton. The result is an extremely flavourful gin with notes of cinnamon, coconut and oak.
Strathcona's vodka has won best in class at the Canadian Artisan Spirit Competition. Its "whiskey," meanwhile, is aged for only a year in American oak cask barrels (in Canada, a whiskey must be aged a minimum of three years and a day to be classified as a true whiskey), and finished in eye barrels that lend it a spicy, slightly fruit flavour. Smith named it the Grain Wetzky, a nod to Wayne Gretzy, who played with the Edmonton Oilers for nearly a decade. “It's like a gin in a whiskey’s clothing,” laughs Belec.
2. Café Linnea
Alicia-Rae OlafssonOffering a respite from cold Alberta winters, Café Linnea is the Edmonton’s best spot to enjoy a locally sourced brunch all day, or—if you’re feeling fancy—high tea on Sunday afternoons. Situated in Queen Mary Park, the restaurant is operated by Kelsey Johnson and Garner Beggs, who are also the minds behind local fave Duchess Bake Shop.
At Café Linnea, you won’t find the standard eggs Benedict or hash browns. Instead, the fare is inspired by Johnson’s French and Swedish roots. Many of the dishes juxtapose Scandinavian staples like dill, cultured butter and cured fish with French classics like homemade sausages, buckwheat crepes, stuffed galettes and stews. The herbs that garnish the dishes are grown in a large planter that serves as a centrepiece in the restaurant.
Alongside every coffee order comes a tiny, delicious meringue. The seasonal beet tartar, served with crusty, freshly-baked sourdough, is an absolute must-try, and the oeufs en cocotte is a work of art. Think two eggs surrounded by a creamy sauce of garlic scapes, thyme and sherry, and accompanied by caramelized onions, mushrooms, potatos and kale.
Alicia-Rae OlafssonRun by the same team behind the nearby the Next Act Pub and Meat, this sweet, 28-seat brunch spot in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona is a photographer's dream. From the stunning tile-work to the cozy seating areas, every square inch of Pip is designed to be noticed, and the menu looks and tastes swell, too. The restaurant serves brunch seven days a week, and the hearty offerings include arugula-and-fried-cheese salad, and plenty of toasts and savoury sandwiches.
The mushroom toast—a daily special turned local favourite and menu staple—has a perfectly poached egg set atop hickory sticks, parmesan and locally picked and sautéed wild mushrooms. It's served on sourdough with potato hash on the side. The short rib braised beef Benedict comes topped with caramelized onions and a dill-infused hollandaise sauce, and is another must-taste. Wash it all down with one of Pip's orange, pineapple or grapefruit mimosas, or with the Hugo Spritz, which is crafted with elderflower and fresh mint instead of Aperol.
Alicia-Rae OlaffsonEdmonton-born and -raised chef Daniel Costa’s third restaurant, Uccellino (its name is Italian for "little bird") is inspired by his Italian roots. And though it only opened in 2016, it's played a large part in changing the city’s perception of what constitutes Italian dining.
The menu is filled with central and southern Italian dishes that incorporate either locally sourced ingredients or those that are imported directly from Italy. Start with a bottle of the Gabbas Arbore Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva—one of many sips on the exclusively Italian wine list—and pair it with Castelveltrano olives sprinkled with lemon zest and fennel. Then move to the chicken liver and balsamico crostini, which might be the smoothest, most flavourful pâté you’ll ever taste.
For the next course, the ricotta gnocchi served with a ragu alla Bolognese and seasonal handmade pumpkin ravioli will burst with flavour in your mouth. Follow up the pasta dishes with a plate of the pollo al mattone, which is chicken cooked Tuscan-style under a brick.
Alicia-Rae OlafssonEdmonton’s longest running vegan eatery, Noorish, re-opened after a renovation at the tail end of 2018, revealing a pastel-pink-and-green, Art Deco-inspired space. But it wasn't just the interiors that changed: though vegan dishes still make up a good part of the menu, the restaurant now incorporates eggs and cheese into some of its plates to appeal to both vegetarian diners and brunch enthusiasts.
Unsure what to pick from Noorish's healthy, flavourful options? Kick off your meal with the diablo fire starter shot—a powerful digestive stimulator made with fresh ginger, garlic, apple cider vinegar, cayenne, raw honey and antioxidant-rich chaga mushrooms. After that, opt for the vegan pad Thai, made with rice noodles, sautéed vegetables and a delicious almond satay sauce, and topped with lightly toasted almonds.
For dessert, Noorish's vegan, mousse-inspired cheesecake is delicious. Pair it all with one of the spot's organic wines, local beers or gut-friendly kombuchas. After your meal, you can head to Noorish's on-site apothecary-themed shop to stock up on health-boosting powders, tinctures, tonics and other goods.