Canada’s capital city has long been maligned as stodgy, no fun, and filled with dull bureaucrats. Thankfully, that reputation is changing. In recent years, the city’s creative industries have started to gain a small foothold, and the food scene in Ottawa and Gatineau, Ottawa’s twin city across the river, has grown rapidly — thanks in part to the money those same bureaucrats spend on meals. Although the city has boasted some big destination restaurants for nearly a decade, it’s the newer arrivals and some cheaper eats like shawarma, pho, and sandwiches, and pho that generally make for essential Ottawa dining.Read More
Where to Dine in and Around Ottawa
For must-try shawarma, seafood, and seasonal plates in the capital
Restaurant Les Fougeres
Head just a few minutes north of Ottawa-Gatineau to Chelsea for Les Fougères, where owners Charles Part and Jennifer Warren-Part have been serving fine fare to match the village’s foresty surrounds for nearly 30 years now. This Ottawa-area classic continues to impress with its delicate French-inspired meals like veal sweetbread, duck confit, and fresh seafood from nearby waterways. A distinctly Canadian experience.
Da Chicken Cribb
It doesn’t get more comforting than jerk chicken, fried plantains, and rice served out of a Nepean house. Da Chicken Cribb, which is run by a Jamaican and Bajan duo, also does fried chicken sold by the piece, rotis, and doubles.
On a quiet residential street in Gatineau, chef Marysol Foucault blesses Ottawans and Gatinois with a three-pronged combination of stellar baked goods, lunches, and brunches. Her food manages to be simultaneously homey and creative — crowds line up for dishes like her soufflé-on-the-outside-but-flan-on-the-inside Dutch baby with slow-cooked pork belly, aged cheddar, and apple. The space is small, reflecting Foucault’s view that great food can come in small packages, so be prepared to wait unless you’re on the early or late side.
Chesterfield's Gastro Diner
As comfortable as the couch it’s named after, this “not-so-greasy spoon” diner does brunch so well it’s worth lining up for. Classic bunch fare like eggs Benedict and waffles are served, but with some added flare. Take the air-fried chicken on challah or jerk chicken on cornbread bennys as examples.
Supply and Demand
Chef Steve Wall’s kitchen has a sharp eye for what’s flavourful, rather than what’s hip. His stylish restaurant in slightly bourgeois Westboro has an ever-changing menu that combines fresh-made pasta, raw bar dishes, and exceptionally well-treated meat — and it’s always busy, so definitely make a reservation if you can.
Opened days before the first pandemic lockdowns hit, this hip pizza and natural wine spot dishes out pies with quality local ingredients along with wings rubbed in honey, chili, mint, and basil. Pizza varieties will confuse any Italian grandfather — nooch, pineapples, and jalapeños are toppings — but what nonna doesn’t know won’t hurt her. And yes, they have garlic dipping sauce.
Owned by one of the top sommeliers on the planet, yet still strangely under the radar in the Ottawa area, Soif is somewhat of a hidden gem located in a former burger joint in Hull. It’s no surprise that Véronique Rivest’s natural-leaning wine list is a winner. Food offerings are French with plenty of nods to Canada — the bison tartare and four Quebec cheeses on the charcuterie board are a couple of examples. Soif also does private wine tastings.
Sherwood doesn’t look like much more than a corner store, but its no-fuss sandwiches have captivated the neighbourhood for three decades. The most popular is the pulled chicken sandwich with bacon and avocado on iconic Rideau Bakery challah (now baked at Farmboy since the bakery tragically went under in 2019), but it also does smoked meat, crab, egg turkey bacon sandwiches and more — all for a very reasonable $7 or less.
If only every grocery store had a sandwich counter like Di Rienzo’s. This neighbourhood institution is (self-) described as offering “the best sandwiches in Ottawa,” and probably deserves that title. The key is simplicity: No-nonsense Italian subs with mortadella, prosciutto, and more, are slightly Canadianized (see: havarti as one cheese of choice), and dished up at low, low prices, with a very limited number of hot and more extravagant options. Younger sandwich slingers nearby that stuff their bread with Doritos or pierogies might be more “creative,” but they can’t call themselves a classic like Di Rienzo’s.
The only Burmese restaurant in town, Rangoon dishes up spicy, coconut-laden food at reasonable prices from its Chinatown premises. The dishes here have some similar elements to Thai food more common in Ottawa. Expect lots of garlic and ginger, but wielded in fresh new ways, as well as a tea leaf salad, coconut shrimp, and a deeply flavourful fish noodle soup that set the restaurant apart. Rangoon is a unique experience for this town, and also a great option for takeout.
Pho might be ubiquitous in Ottawa, but this Toronto import dominates the noodle soup market, with locals gravitating to the shop in droves since it arrived in 2016. Sansotei’s two Ottawa locations make their pork bone broth in-house daily, and you can choose between thick or thin noodles in six varieties, from classic tonkotsu to a wilder new addition: tomato. Almost creamy in mouthfeel, but not at all heavy, it’s a damn fine bowl of ramen.
Award-winning local chef Joe Thottungal’s second venture, after Saint Laurent’s beloved Coconut Lagoon, specializes in – you guessed it – South Indian thalis. The contents of each copper platter vary daily depending on what’s in season, but it’s always delightful. A mouth-watering list of curries, vindaloos, biryanis and soups are also on offer.
Ottawa doesn’t have a particularly large Filipino community, but that hasn’t slowed Tamis, which grew so popular it recently decamped to a much larger space. Expect some Filipino staples such as sizzling sisig (grilled pork belly), tangy-spicy adobo, and crepe-adjacent lumpia. Tamis also isn’t afraid to throw a few curveballs, like pimento cheese dip. The family behind Tamis also runs a cake-baking operation out of the premises, so don’t skip dessert.
Union Local 613
Approximately nobody thinks of Ottawa as a destination for Southern food — and, yet, here we are. Union 613 is doing fancied-up versions of shrimp and grits, fried chicken and side ribs, but the quality is tip-top and the restaurant’s ethos is just as good (it offers staff health plans, for example). It’s also got a stellar cocktail, craft beer, and wine list.
Just like the pared-down symbols (cow, cheese, mushroom) that make up the logos adorning Fauna’s windows, the small plates from chef-owner Jon Svazas keep it simple and uncluttered — and have won bucketloads of praise in and outside of Ottawa. The classy small-plates restaurant feels fresh, rooted in local produce and flavour, yet creative and forward-thinking. The menu samples the farm, with dishes including venison tartare, lamb shoulder, and rabbit leg.
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By virtue of geography, Ottawa isn’t often thought of as a seafood kind of place, but Whalesbone makes it the envy of any other landlocked locale. The sustainably sourced seafood dishes offer cohesive textures and flavours, and the focal point of each plate is cooked with such finesse you’ll wonder why Whalesbone hasn’t figured out a way to market crispy salmon skin as a bagged snack. Compared to the tiny Bank Street flagship, the spacious Elgin Street location has the capacity to play around and even ventures into meatier territory, dry-aging steaks in-house.
Oh so Canadian in its vibe, this busy Glebe spot features small plate dishes like smoked bacon, mushrooms, and seasonal root vegetables. Its potatoes, which can be an Achilles’ heel at some higher-end establishments, are exquisite.
It’s common for Ottawa restaurants to take inspiration from a particular cuisine without wholly embodying that culinary style. Town does it neatly with Italian eats: Barbecue octopus and lamb bolognese look to the Mediterranean and central Italy, respectively, but chef-owner Marc Doiron makes these dishes new and creative instead of attempting to recreate classics thousands of miles away. Overall, Town’s food reads as fun — if you need proof, look no further than its ricotta-stuffed meatballs with polenta. Town’s narrow dining room also doubles as a bottle shop
One of Ottawa’s hippest establishments since Matthew Carmichael and Jordan Holley opened it on Elgin in 2013, El Camino does really good tacos. Flavours range from cochinita pig head to Japanese eggplant, with the two local favourites being crispy fish and beef tongue. El Camino is a full-on party, with a raw bar and Mexican-style cocktails. Another location opened in the Byward Market in 2017.
Gitanes is extravagant (foie gras ice cream, anyone?), but this French spot on Elgin is worth celebrating. Steak frites stand up beside lamb saddle and bucatini ragu pasta. Alternatively, you can order from the cold seafood bar. For something a little less lavish, Gitanes opened Gburger, a burger, sandwich, and chicken nuggets joint across the street on Elgin.
Formerly known as Table 85, Sodam evolved from an unassuming spot in the basement of an office building to more of a full restaurant set-up in the Glebe. The main draw is Korean fried chicken, twice fried with sweet-and-spicy or sweet-and-soy glazes, though it definitely can’t hurt to sample the standard bulgogi or bibimbap options.
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Shawarma Palace (multiple locations)
Ottawa has shawarma coming out its ears thanks to its large Lebanese population, but Shawarma Palace is the champ. Spits are piled high and wide with copious amounts of spiced chicken and beef, and plates, which come with meat, rice, salad, hummus, garlic sauce, potatoes and pita , are a feast. There are other branches around town, but the Rideau location tends to have the freshest ingredients.
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The menu, the name, and even the decor may seem relatively unassuming, but the Fraser brothers (Ross and Simon) are loved in Ottawa, and for good reason. The seasonal food at their restaurant, located on the cusp of fancy Rockcliffe, feels like a microcosm of multicultural Canada — grounded in Ottawa, but with eyes turned to the world.
Run by a Palestinian family, this low-key South Keys spot churns out some of the best Middle Eastern baked goods in town, from tangy za’atar-dusted breads to squeaky halloumi man’oushe flatbreads. For those with heftier appetites, there are bigger, spice-laden plates centred around chickpeas and fava beans. Takeout and delivery are available.