I’ve eaten my way around our spectacular nation, and tasted the good, the bad, and the (very) ugly of Canadian cuisine. But these five meals stand out in my memories, both for stellar flavour and special setting. Some spots are well-known; others may surprise you. But it’s a starting point for fulfilling your foodie bucket list – and there are plenty more to add along the way. Make sure to feast at these five places in Canada before you die:
1. Lobster Poutine at McKelvie’s Restaurant and Bar & Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound (Nova Scotia)
Let’s face it: poutine is that’s oh my dayum delicious anywhere, anytime. But the dish reaches nirvana-level bliss in Nova Scotia, where it’s served on virtually every menu across the province. Start at McKelvie’s Restaurant and Bar in Halifax, where the chef adds meaty chunks of Nova Scotia lobster, mixed with Yukon gold fries and cheese curds slathered in gravy.
However, if you want to upgrade your lobster poutine experience, drive to Hall’s Harbour Lobster Pound and Restaurant to observe one of the highest tides in the world. In this tiny fishing village, you can gorge on heaping plates of golden fries soaked in lobster gravy, while watching the Bay of Fundy rise as much as an inch a minute to the 40 foot high tide mark on the wharf. If you’re eating outdoors, just make sure to watch your plate – the seagulls love lobster poutine as much as you do.
2. Mama’s Meatballs at Da Emma (Montreal, Quebec)
Once a 19th-century women’s prison, hungry locals and celebrities flock to this Old Montreal restaurant to sup on delectable Roman fare. And you should too – Da Emma is the sort of eatery where food memories are made.
Entering this historic stone building, photographs of familiar Hollywood faces decorate the walls, all former or current patrons of the restaurant. But it’s the sumptuous menu, not the celeb-spotting opportunities, that truly tantalizes: expect to dine on delicious dishes, such as burrata with tomatoes, sautéed shrimp, and scratch-made rotini bathed in a tangy tomato sauce. Our waiter informs us that owner and chef “Mama” Risa rarely emerges from the kitchen – except to greet Julia Roberts, of course.
But the real reason to dine here? To feast on Mama’s famous, mouth-watering homemade meatballs. Rumour has it that Johnny Depp sat in Mama’s kitchen, munching on meatballs and watching the World Cup.
3. Fish Tacos at Wildside Grill (Tofino, British Columbia)
Sometimes, the best meals come from a shack.
What is possibly Canada’s most delicious fish tacos are served at The Wildside Grill, a take-away eatery that’s been featured on The Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here. It’s a ramshackle wooden hut with a chalkboard menu and a few scattered picnic tables for outdoor seating. But reader, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Feast on panko-crusted wild salmon and fresh-cut chips, seafood chowder, oysters and chips, and the Shaq Daddy of dishes: a soft taco filled with ling cod, beer-battered and topped with cabbage, avotillo, fresh salsa, cilantro, green onion, and chipotle mayo. And the fish is quite literally fresh from the sea: the menu reflects whatever was caught and sold from the harbour that day.
4. Mango California Rolls at Shizen Ya (Vancouver, British Columbia)
What’s the deal with imitation crab meat? Many sushi eateries use this bogus ingredients, which is actually made with surimi, a cheaper fish that tastes like crab.
Luckily, you won’t find as much faux filling in Vancouver, where sushi shops can easily access soft shell crab, salmon, and other fresh fish. Which probably explains why the best sushi of my life has thus far been in this coastal capital.
Vancouver has over 600 sushi outlets, with some being extremely high end five-star dining. Surprisingly, my mouth-gasm occurred while eating cheap maki rolls at a humble storefront shop, Shizen Ya. This tiny eatery serves exquisite sushi with fresh fish, brown rice, as well as salads with organic vegetables. The Mango California rolls stuffed with meaty crab were the bomb diggity!
5. The entire freaking menu on the Rocky Mountaineer Train (Alberta/British Columbia)
If there’s one reason to board the Rocky Mountaineer, it’s for the food.
In case you haven’t heard, the Rocky Mountaineer is a luxury rail journey through Western Canada that National Geographic has declared one of the “World’s Greatest Trips.” And by gum, they know how to feed their guests.
Despite working on a “moving platform,” Executive Chef Jean Pierre Guerin somehow runs a five star kitchen. Each day brings two gourmet meals – along with wine, cheese, and tasty snacks in between – all made with fresh, local ingredients sourced from British Columbia and Alberta. It’s basically a Michelin-star restaurant on rail.
“Calorie counting? We don’t do much of that,” says Chef Jean Pierre. “It’s a feast.”
Damn right. Microwaved meals are outlawed on the Rocky Mountaineer. Instead, the kitchen prepares meals from scratch, starting at 5:00 in the morning with freshly baked croissants and pastries. At lunch, I study the menu, debating between the Alberta prime beef or stuffed organic chicken, or the short ribs braised in red wine or twelve hours. I’m still bloated from gorging on warm cinnamon scones.
My most memorable meal on the Rocky Mountaineer? The wild salmon marinated with maple sugar and served with a side of barley risotto. Bliss!