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Best of Canada

Vancouver’s Cool Commercial Drive

By KRISTEN MORAN

Nestled in the heart of East Vancouver, Commercial Drive boasts nearly 350 shops and restaurants along a 22-block strip, but we focussed on a few blocks in the centre of the action

Deliciously authentic pizza from Lombardo's Pizzeria & Ristorante. (Photo: Daniel Henshaw)

Deliciously authentic pizza from Lombardo’s Pizzeria & Ristorante. (Photo: Daniel Henshaw)

No place better captures the essence of the neighbourhood known as Little Italy than Lombardo’s Pizzeria & Ristorante. Stop in for mouthwatering thin-crust pizzas that are made with fresh, local ingredients and cooked in a wood oven. La Grotta Del Formaggio is a delightful little deli that serves more than just your average sandwich. Choose from an array of delicious toppings like roasted red peppers, tapenade and havarti cheese, and create an unforgettable custom-made sandwich. (more…)

There’s Still Time to Explore Ontario’s Parks and Outdoor Spaces This Summer

BY CRAIG MOY

Sandbanks Provincial Park (photo: Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)

Sandbanks Provincial Park (photo: Ontario Tourism Marketing Partnership Corporation)

According to the 2011 census, 81 per cent of Canadians now live in urban areas. In Ontario, that number is even higher—86 per cent. And yet a significant part of our national identity remains tied to the frontier, the wilderness. We may live in condos and work in cubicles, but our hearts still yearn for open spaces.

Fortunately, Ontario boasts bounteous natural expanses (national and provincial parks, as well as locally administered conservation areas) for exploration and recreation. Many of these sites are within reasonable distance from the Greater Toronto Area, but not so close as to be overrun with visitors.

(more…)

Best of Toronto: 30 Things We Love About Our City This June

Each and every month we scour the city to bring you all the very best that Toronto has to offer! Check out our latest favourites below.

Best of Toronto #1: Jose Bautista at the hot-hitting Blue Jays (photo: Toronto Blue Jays)

Best of Toronto #1: Jose Bautista at the hot-hitting Blue Jays (photo: Toronto Blue Jays)

1  Watching Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Melky Cabrera slug it out of the park as the (division leading!) Toronto Blue Jays take on all comers at Rogers Centre.

2  The opportunity to see fantastic new works by independent Canadian filmmakers—such as Ingrid Veninger’s quirky The Animal Project—at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

3  Sharing a huge “social” platter of pasta at homestyle Italian restaurant Scaddabush.

4  Examining all the cool cartography at Alexandre Antique Prints, Maps and Books.

5  A month of major music events, including free concerts during Luminato, hundreds of indie acts at NXNE, the best in jazz, funk and R&B courtesy of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, and a weekend of local bands who’ve made it big at Field Trip.

(more…)

Strike Out from Toronto for an Ontario Craft Beer Road Trip

BY DAVID ORT

Block Three Brewing Company is worth the drive to St. Jacobs (photo: Block Three Brewing Company)

Block Three Brewing Company is worth the drive to St. Jacobs

A distinctive feature of any craft beer is that the personal touch of its brewer tends to be quite obvious. In the past few years, more and more Ontarians have joined the club of brewers, adding their own signature to the local beer scene. In Toronto, beer drinkers have an exciting number of opportunities to taste the interesting new lagers, porters and ales being produced outside the city, but there’s not nearly enough retail space for those of us looking to purchase more than a pint or two at a restaurant. That’s a compelling reason, I think, to pack the car and spend a few days discovering some of the province’s best breweries for yourself.

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Freewheeling Fun: Roller Derby in Calgary

By RACHAEL FREY

The Chinook City Kill Jills (in yellow) take on Fernie's Avalanche City Roller Girls (Photo: Steve Recsky Photography)

The Chinook City Kill Jills (in yellow) take on Fernie’s Avalanche City Roller Girls (Photo: Steve Recsky Photography)

Sparkle Motion. Negative Nancy. Crimson Shivers. These rough and tumble nom de zooms are a tongue-in-cheek nod to the 1970s heyday of roller derby, a full-contact, roller-skate sport now experiencing a North American renaissance. Artfully rugged, fast-paced and surprisingly strategic, matchups see each team’s “jammer” score points by lapping the opposing team’s “blockers” on an oval flat track. In Calgary, these matches are held at indoor community halls surrounded by floor-level spectator seating. Sparkle Motion, aka Claire Lacey, is a member of Calgary’s co-ed Chinook City Roller Derby league. She skates on its women’s team, the Kill Jills, and coaches new recruits.

What position do you play?
I play all positions. I love the speed and single-mindedness of jamming, as well as the physicality and strategy of blocking.

(more…)

Best of Toronto: 30 Things We Love About Our City This May

Each and every month we scour the city to bring you all the very best that Toronto has to offer! Check out our latest favourites below.

Best of Toronto #1: New sunglasses from Spectacle

Best of Toronto #1: New sunglasses from Spectacle

1  Picking out chic new sunglasses from Spectacle, in preparation for a bright spring and a balmy summer.

2  Not only the 200-plus exhibitions, but also the numerous artist talks and related events of the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival.

3  Ordering Fonda Lola‘s “Mexican Fiesta” to indulge in everything on the restaurant’s menu.

4  Learning a few of the intriguing stories from Toronto’s past while on a local jaunt with Muddy York Walking Tours.

5  Discovering which contemporary artists Kim Dorland favours—the acclaimed painter has curated a group show that opens May 8 at Angell Gallery.

(more…)

2014 Where to Dine Awards: Vancouver

By TIM PAWSEY

Hawksworth Restaurant serves up delectable dishes such as roasted halibut with potatp gnocchi, eggplant and English peas. (Photo: KK Law)

Hawksworth Restaurant serves up delectable dishes such as roasted halibut with potatp gnocchi, eggplant and English peas. (Photo: KK Law)

They came. They dined. And they voted. Where’s well-travelled readership weighs in on Vancouver’s vibrant and ever-expanding dining scene. We join them in congratulating all of our winners and finalists, who celebrate daily the freshness, local flavours and genuine hospitality that define our truly welcoming community.

Critics’ Choice

WHERE SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD AWARD
Forage
The very day after Forage opened in 2012, chef Chris Whittaker’s seafood chowder swept the field at the Vancouver Aquarium’s hotly contested Ocean Wise Chowder Chowdown. The dish won again in 2013. And the creamy spot prawn chowder with crunchy, smoky pork rinds is still a firm favourite. The aquarium’s Ann-Marie Copping hails Whittaker as “truly, an active ambassador and great supporter of the Ocean Wise program, who was also instrumental in the organization of the immensely successful annual Spot Prawn Festival.” In sourcing, Whittaker leaves no stone unturned, buying line-caught wild salmon direct from fishers such as Pacific Provider, and using every part, from cheeks to fillets, bellies to bones. Whether octopus, oysters, scallops or halibut, all that enters the Forage chef’s kitchen is indisputably sustainable.

LES CLEFS D’OR CANADA SILVER SERVICE AWARD
Coast Restaurant
Few have their fingers as firmly on the pulse of city dining as do hotel concierges, who have bestowed the coveted Silver Service Award on this stylish, just-off-Robson, two-tiered seafood emporium. Go for the fish ’n’ chips, pan-roasted albacore tuna or surf ’n’ turf platter—and discover a room with true buzz upstairs and down. Hide away in a private corner or hang out at the downstairs circular bar or happenin’ O Lounge.

The stylish interior of Homer St. Cafe. (Photo: KK Law)

The stylish interior of Homer St. Cafe. (Photo: KK Law)

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Homer St. Cafe and Bar
In heritage surroundings, below pressed-metal ceilings, wrapped in brass and polished marble, this smart brasserie wears a blend of traditional and nouveau. A classically inspired menu focuses on responsible sourcing and quality local ingredients. Top tastes include spice-rubbed rotisserie chicken, cornmeal-crusted pork loin with sunchokes and carrots, crostini with chick peas, and terrines, plus a smart wine list and tempting cocktails.

OTHER NOTABLE NEWCOMERS
Bestie
Burdock & Co.
The Cannibal Café
Chicha
Farmer’s Apprentice
The Fish Counter
GoodWolfe kitchen & bar
Grain Tasting Bar
Longtail Kitchen
Miku Restaurant (new location)
PiDGiN
Seventeen89
Tap & Barrel (second location)

Students practise their skills in Bistro 101, the school's restaurant, creating dishes such as halibut. (Photo: KK Law)

Students practise their skills in Bistro 101, the school’s restaurant, creating dishes such as halibut. (Photo: KK Law)

EDITOR’S CHOICE
Bistro 101
Granville Island’s best-kept “off-island” secret is a bastion of affordable West Coast good taste for a worthy cause. Student chefs and servers from the mothership Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts (PICA) surprise and delight in a relaxing waterside setting, with False Creek on one side and the training kitchen in plain view through a glass wall.

GREEN TABLE AWARD
Tap & Barrel
This newly landed casual haunt beside the Vancouver Convention Centre joins its sibling in Olympic Village. Both are Platinum-certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the benchmark for sustainably designed buildings. Each is equipped with state-of-the-art energy-efficient lighting and kitchen appliances, rainwater-flushed toilets and more. A cutting-edge wine-on-tap keg system not only offers diners plentiful by-the-glass choices of many better BC labels but also eliminates the delivery and disposal of tens of thousands of glass bottles every year.

The Green Table Award is conferred on a restaurant that promotes sustainability in food service at all levels of its operation, as determined by the organization’s executive.

Readers’ Choice

SEAFOOD
Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar
This onetime-Yaletown-warehouse now dazzles with the freshest of marine cuisine—including, every February, less common “unsung” local tastes—in a bustling but cozy setting with polished service.
FINALISTS Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House; C Restaurant.

WEST COAST
Hawksworth Restaurant
Chef David Hawksworth’s namesake room is widely hailed as the downtown beacon of BC regional cuisine, yielding artfully executed plates and top-notch service with a sophisticated wine program to match.
FINALISTS LIFT Bar-Grill-View; Coast Restaurant.

STEAK
The Keg Steakhouse & Bar
This long-running West Coast restaurant group enjoys a reputation for consistency and value, with options ranging from New York to rib steak to filet mignon, as well as prime rib, plus a lively bar scene.
FINALISTS Gotham Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar; Black + Blue.

The Cactus Club Cafe in Coal Harbour boasts the most spectacular view in the city. (Photo: KK Law)

The Cactus Club Cafe in Coal Harbour boasts the most spectacular view in the city. (Photo: KK Law)

PATIO
Cactus Club Cafe
Right across from the Vancouver Convention Centre, this smartly modernist, always-happening emporium sports an all-glass ceiling-high wall that slides aside to bring the dramatic outside panorama indoors.
FINALISTS LIFT Bar-Grill-View; Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House.

ITALIAN
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca
“Nothing compares,” insist fans of Pino Posteraro’s destination Yaletown room, where the chef visits every table to oversee classics such as veal osso buco, brasato al barolo and scaloppine ai funghi.
FINALISTS CinCin Ristorante + Bar; Italian Kitchen.

FRENCH
Le Crocodile
Michel Jacob’s extraordinary, detail-driven Alsatian plates, from tarte à l’oignon to grilled veal medallions served with morel mushrooms and veal demi-glaze—not to mention flawless service—confirm Le Crocodile as the city’s French standard bearer.
FINALISTS Les Faux Bourgeois; Tableau Bar Bistro.

OTHER EUROPEAN
Chambar Restaurant
Steps from Queen Elizabeth Theatre and BC Place Stadium, this cozy red-brick room celebrates the best of Belgium, France and Morocco with tagine, moules frites, pan-seared sturgeon and spice-rubbed duck breast.
FINALISTS Takis’ Taverna; Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna.

The white Fazioli piano makes a striking centrepiece in Lobby Lounge and RawBar, in the Fairmont Pacific Rim. (Photo: KK Law)

The white Fazioli piano makes a striking centrepiece in Lobby Lounge and RawBar, in the Fairmont Pacific Rim. (Photo: KK Law)

HOTEL LOUNGE
Lobby Lounge and RawBar
The cocktails are superb and the stunning white Fazioli piano is rarely silent. But more than just a pretty place, this stylish lounge cossets with afternoon tea and the city’s first all-sustainable sushi bar.
FINALISTS Yew Seafood + Bar; Xi Shi Lounge.

HOTEL DINING
Yew Seafood + Bar
A communal table with a fireplace, sustainable seafood, dazzling raw bar, extensive cellar, cool cocktails and the city’s most public (i.e. glass-enclosed) private dining room combine to make this polished haunt a downtown destination.
FINALISTS Tableau Bar Bistro; Market by Jean-Georges.

CHINESE
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
Tannis Ling’s high-ceilinged room recalls the Chinatown of a century ago but her thoroughly modern small-plates menu revels in Humboldt squid, beef tartare, wok-charred octopus salad—and “kick-ass” house fried rice.
FINALISTS Kirin Restaurant; Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant.

JAPANESE
Tojo’s
Nobody has nurtured Vancouver’s love affair with sushi—and Japanese cuisine at large—more than master chef Hidekazu Tojo, whose Omakase belongs on every aficionado’s bucket list.
FINALISTS Guu; Sushi Station.

Vikram Vij serves his famous (and enduringly popular) lamb "popsicles" at Vij's Restaurant. (Photo: KK Law)

Vikram Vij serves his famous (and enduringly popular) lamb “popsicles” at Vij’s Restaurant. (Photo: KK Law)

INDIAN
Vij’s Restaurant
Always inventive, fanatical about technique and ingredients, Vikram Vij is hailed at home and abroad for reinventing Indian cuisine, with tastes like fenugreek lamb “popsicles” and grilled sablefish in tomato yogurt broth.
FINALISTS Maurya Indian Cuisine; Handi Cuisine of India.

OTHER ASIAN
Banana Leaf Malaysian Cuisine
Straits-cuisine specialists combine the best of Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Thailand, from laksa to chilli crab to Hainanese chicken, and serve it in a cheerful setting at five central locations.
FINALISTS Thai House Restaurant; Sura.

TAPAS
Bin 941
The city’s West Coast small-plates originator rules with inventive dishes, such as seared duck breast with goat cheese and pancetta, or “East West” crab cakes with burnt-orange chipotle sauce, sesame, bok choy and tobiko, served in sardine-esque surroundings.
FINALISTS La Bodega Restaurante & Tapa Bar; Espana.

BUDGET BITES
Eatery Sushi
Everyone from hungry UBC students to wallet-watching locals flocks to this lively Japanese-fusion haunt on the West Side for sushi creations of every kind, hot tunes from cool DJs and a generally fun time all round.
FINALISTS Meat & Bread; White Spot.

Pirate Pak with thin-crust pizza, veggies and fruit at White Spot. (Photo: KK Law)

Pirate Pak with thin-crust pizza, veggies and fruit at White Spot. (Photo: KK Law)

FAMILY FARE
White Spot
Founded in 1928, this former drive-in has evolved well beyond its famous burgers and Triple O sauce to all-day health-conscious plates for the entire family. Even BC Ferries serves the celebrated Pirate Pak—just for kids!
FINALISTS Milestones Grill + Bar; Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.

FOOD CART
Japadog
Novel food trucks draw daily line-ups for their Japanese-inspired hot dogs—from turkey with kimchee and black sesame to the signature Terimayo—with often-colourful service.
FINALISTS The Tacofino Commissary; Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck.

PUB FARE
Mahony & Sons
Wander down to the “point” below the Vancouver Convention Centre to discover multiple snugs and well-poured pints at this cheerful Irish salute, with Guinness and Harp on tap and a good pub menu to match.
FINALISTS Steamworks Brewing Company; The Irish Heather.

RICHMOND & AIRPORT DINING
Globe@YVR
From plane geeks to globetrotters between flights, everyone flocks to this smartly appointed lounge and restaurant right in the airport (near the US terminal) for stylish West Coast plates and a tableside view of taxiing jets.
FINALISTS Flying Beaver Bar & Grill; Milestones Grill + Bar.

Sweet Treats at Thierry. (Photo: KK Law)

Sweet Treats at Thierry. (Photo: KK Law)

LAST COURSE
Thierry
Thierry Busset’s elegant nod to a traditional French cafe-patisserie is a veritable pastry-and-chocolate-lover’s dream, with macarons, handcrafted chocolates, pastries, cakes and even savouries, along with superb coffee, teas and spirits.
FINALISTS True Confections; Notte’s Bon Ton Pastry & Confectionery.

To see our Whistler winners, click here.

To vote for your favourite Vancouver and Whistler restaurants in our 2015 Where to Dine Awards, click here. You could win a fabulous prize package from Rocky Mountaineer and Nita Lake Lodge!

2014 Where to Dine Awards: Whistler

By SHERI RADFORD

Polderside Farms duck at Araxi. (Photo: Steve Li/Araxi)

Polderside Farms duck at Araxi. (Photo: Steve Li/Araxi)

From casual pubs to hip après-ski spots to white-linen dining rooms, Whistler’s restaurant scene has everything taste buds could desire. Where’s well-travelled readers weigh in with their flavourful finds in our annual Where to Dine awards.

BEST NEW
Grill & Vine
The room is spacious and welcoming, but the real star is fresh regional fare. Rich natural flavours shine in mains such as wild boar lasagne or scallops with bone marrow risotto. And the chef’s grown-up take on the banana split pleases all palates.

APRÈS-SKI
Black’s Pub & Restaurant
Location location location: at the foot of both village gondolas sits this cheerful pub, ideally situated for après-ski treats such as veal and pork meatballs or warm Caesar salad with pancetta.
FINALISTS Garibaldi Lift Co. Bar & Grill; Longhorn Saloon & Grill.

FAMILY FARE
The Old Spaghetti Factory
Spaghetti and meatballs (what else?) are the star of the menu at this casual spot, but other tasty options abound, such as baked chicken or jumbo crab ravioli. Wallet-friendly bonus: entrées come with fresh bread, soup or salad, a drink and ice cream.
FINALISTS Earls Kitchen + Bar; Mile One Eating House.

INFORMAL
Earls Kitchen + Bar
What started as a simple burger-and-beer joint 30-odd years ago still serves burgers and beer but also dishes up an array of West Coast favourites, from chicken curry to fish and chips.
FINALISTS 21 Steps Kitchen & Bar; Splitz Grill.

FORMAL
Araxi Restaurant + Bar
For more than three decades, this popular dining room in the heart of the village has been winning accolades from diners and critics alike for its fresh regional cuisine and extensive wine list.
FINALISTS Bearfoot Bistro; Rimrock Cafe.

To see our Vancouver winners, please click here.

To vote for your favourite Vancouver and Whistler restaurants in our 2015 Where to Dine Awards, click here. You could win a fabulous prize package from Rocky Mountaineer and Nita Lake Lodge!

On A High Note: Calgary’s Intimate Live Music Venues

By RACHAEL FREY

Hired Guns play to an excited crowd at the Ironwood Stage & Grill (Photo: Jason Dziver)

Hired Guns play to an excited crowd at the Ironwood Stage & Grill (Photo: Jason Dziver)

When the sun sets, the sound of live music and laughter escapes the historic Garry Theatre just east of downtown Calgary. The comfortably worn-in brick heritage building that’s home to the Ironwood Stage & Grill, a music club featuring live performances every night of the week, with two shows daily on weekends. It seats 140 yet maintains a cozy, intimate vibe.

(more…)

5 French Finds

By TIM PAWSEY

Steak tartare topped with an egg yolk, at Bistro Wagon Rouge. (Photo: KK Law)

Steak tartare topped with an egg yolk, at Bistro Wagon Rouge. (Photo: KK Law)

Bistro Wagon Rouge Beef cheeks Bourguignon, cassoulet and steak frites are just some of the top draws at this East Side diner, reinvented and rediscovered by locals.

Les Faux Bourgeois This bustling room brings new life to the unlikely backwater of Kingsway and Fraser. Go for the tarte flambée, choucroute, duck confit and more.

Salade de Fruits Cafe South Granville’s worst-kept secret is a tiny space in Le Centre Culturel that packs ’em in for frogs’ legs and coquille St. Jacques.

Provence Mediterranean Grill Polished West Side retreat not far from UBC welcomes with a sunny disposition and classic variations such as West Coast bouillabaisse, prawns provençale and more.

The French Table Long-time downtown chef Hervé Martin pulled up stakes for South Main and never looked back. Go for the croque monsieur, Burgundy fondue and friendly but polished service.

Bean Around Town

By JILL VON SPRECKEN

Discover Vancouver’s neighbourhoods with a cup of the city’s most celebrated beverage in hand

A lineup of pour-overs at the ready, at Revolver. (Photo: KK Law)

A lineup of pour-overs at the ready, at Revolver. (Photo: KK Law)

Gastown The city’s oldest neighbourhood is a hotbed for fashionable boutiques and trendy watering holes—coffee houses included. Diminutive and wood-trimmed, Revolver is regularly crammed with connoisseurs. The menu rotates weekly, with beans chosen by blind taste test. At the forefront of the slow-coffee movement, the cafe’s brewed-to-order methods include pour-over, syphon, French press, AeroPress, Chemex and, of course, espresso

ALSO VISIT Luke’s General Store for the quaint shop and celebrated Stumptown roast. Or wait for a carefully crafted pour-over at Timbertrain, where it’s all aboard the slow-coffee movement. (more…)

You Gotta Eat Here! 12 Restaurants That are Worth the Drive from the Big City

You Gotta Eat Here host John Catucci (photo: Geoff George)

You Gotta Eat Here host John Catucci (photo: Geoff George)

Canada’s big cities are home to all manner of acclaimed restaurants. Each year local and visiting foodies flock to by the thousands to the likes of Vij’s and Hawksworth in Vancouver, Canoe and The Black Hoof in Toronto, and Chives in Halifax. But there’s also great food to be had off the beaten path. On his Food Network Canada show You Gotta Eat Here, John Catucci travels across the country in search of the most mouth-watering dishes at hometown-favourite eateries. In advance of You Gotta Eat Here‘s season-three premiere on April 4, Catucci tells Where about some excellent restaurants that are well worth a road trip.

Click onward to see the restaurants that are worth the drive from Canada’s big cities!