Edmonton’s food and drink scene is one of the most eclectic you’ll encounter anywhere, because its story mirrors that of the city itself. Edmonton has always prided itself on diversity and multiculturalism, but until about a decade ago, the culinary potential of this community cornerstone remained largely untapped. As foodie culture took off around the world in the mid-2000s, Edmontonians rode the wave and saw a number of chefs and cooks heading abroad to study international cuisine with the intention of bringing their own city to life in the only way they knew how: collectively. The new enthusiasts used their knowledge of French, Ukrainian, and Japanese cuisines (to name a few) to revitalize Edmonton’s downtown area, which locals had come to think of as a pseudo ghost town.
In a few short years, downtown had gone through a complete makeover, growing alongside a bar and restaurant industry that was coming into its own. The owners of these establishments chalk up this remarkable progress to a sense of community in the industry: chefs and restaurateurs always had a collaborative relationship, never a competitive one. Whenever a new place would open up, they would all go to support their friends in business. This cooperative relationship extends to all areas of the industry, most notably in the local sourcing of products. Many restaurants work closely with local farmers, including Tam Andersen of the much-beloved Prairie Gardens. A second-generation farmer, she’s provided the spark to Edmonton’s culinary lift-off, and establishments are quick to show their gratitude.
After all, cocktail haven Woodwork has a new menu each week that continually features an appetiser named after her (Tam Andersen’s Tomatoes, these days). Woodwork’s name refers to their affinity for barrel-aged spirits, including everything from tequila to aquavit and back, with a couple of major stops for bourbon along the way. They have house specialties, classic cocktails like the Bramble and Espresso Martini, and an entire section dedicated to twists on “the original cocktail” — the Old Fashioned. All of these are served on a wooden bar made by local craftsman Oliver Apartment, and while their offerings are anything but plain, the decor suggests nostalgia from a simpler time: leather booths and vintage photographs on the walls create a cozy, warm experience — or maybe that’s just the bourbon starting to kick in.
Another downtown establishment where the food and booze go hand-in-hand is Bar Bricco, just one of owner Daniel Costa’s three Italian restaurants in the area (the other two are right next door). Their specialty is wine, which they source from exclusively Italian producers that you won’t find just anywhere. But while browsing the wine list, don’t overlook their craft cocktail menu — we recommend Rosemary’s Baby, a herbal and fruity twist on a classic gin and tonic. Pair these exotic flavors with dishes whose ingredients are proudly made in-house, including the ricotta and pappardelle (pork ragu and parmigiano reggiano). Of course, your culinary tour of Italy in Edmonton wouldn’t be complete without meat and cheese plates, so order one of their misto plates with selections like prosciutto, salami, gorgonzola, and taleggio.
Even though the city does the classics so well, Edmonton’s food scene shines when it shows off its versatility. That versatility is Chef and restaurateur Edgar Gutierrez’s bread and butter. He runs the 98th Street Filipino eatery Kanto, in addition to his two Mexican restaurants, Rostizado and Tres Carnales. Street food is the backbone of these largely unassuming establishments (even Rostizado, which can seat 70, has a familiar feel), and Edgar takes an active role in making his cuisine as accessible as possible. At Kanto, the menu is a carnivore’s delight, from sumptuous marinated BBQ skewers to playful takes on southeast Asian staples, like the bao bae — fried chicken served with garnish on a steamed bun. For Gutierrez, it’s all about pushing the boundaries while retaining authenticity, probably best summed up by the Vegan tacos “coliflor adobada” that shine alongside the classic tacos al pastor at Tres Carnales.
Of course, Edmonton’s culinary story would be incomplete without the contributions of its significant Ukrainian population. Fortunately, hole-in-the-wall and local favorite Uncle Ed’s has the eats to match the history. This proud restaurant is the result of more than 60 years of Stawnichy family experience, which all started with a diminutive sausage business in the equally small town of Mundare (population 852), about 50 miles east of Edmonton. Everyone involved with Uncle Ed’s has been in the business a long time and is fully committed to keeping tradition alive and well. The current restaurant location grew from a simple pick-up point for customers into an operation that includes the sit-down eatery, a deli, and a shop full of Ukrainian nick-nacks next door. This is the quintessential experience of Ukrainian heritage in Edmonton.
When on the topic of hearty European eats in the city, one must mention Biera, a restaurant and brewery graced by the prowess of the worldly Chef Christine Sanford. Sandford previously worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant in Belgium, and the food offerings she’s brought back to Edmonton are suggestive of an artisanal brasserie. However, the menu’s design (with beer pairing in mind) gives the overall experience a more casual feel. That said, the ownership’s approach to their craft is anything but casual. When Chef Christine couldn’t locally source the particular produce she’d worked with in Europe, she asked Tam Andersen (remember her?) to grow it; moreover, head brewer Rob Monk and owner Greg Zeschuk (formerly of major video game BioWare) had their brewing equipment custom-made in Germany and then shipped over. Staying true to these inspirations, they mainly create wheatier, European-style beers, free of the hops and bitterness of trendy west coast IPAs.
Coffee lovers visiting the Richie Market that houses Biera must visit Transcend Cafe and Roastery next door. This business has several locations across the city and is a local favorite — and with good reason. The owner was one of the very first Canadians to receive certification as a Q-grader — an internationally renowned accreditation for evaluating coffee. Together with their dedicated buyer, Josh Hockin, they often travel as a team to source coffee from around the globe. Their brews should give you just enough energy to make it to Clementine for the final indulgences of your trip. The acclaimed ninth best bar in Canada can certainly oblige, between cachaca and avocado cocktails and tobacco triple-smoked brie. Think over their rotating menu with the help of philosopher Alan Watts, whose lectures sound from the bathroom speaker.
Tastes and tales from all over the world converge in the unassuming capital of Alberta, where a passionate community of food and drink lovers push one another to create authentic experiences that honor the past while moving their craft— and their city— into the future. This is not an exhaustive list of establishments by any means, just a simple sampling to give you an idea of the depth and breadth of what’s available. We were impressed with all of these, and even pleasantly surprised with others; hopefully, you are too.