If you’re still laboring under the idea that Ottawa is about as much as a nut allergy in a peanut factory, it’s time to bring your opinions up to date. Canada’s capital city has shaken off its stodgy reputation and grown into a dynamic, vibrant city oozing with culture and creativity. The food scene, meanwhile, is emerging as one of the most interesting in the country. With new arrivals pitching their talents against established institutions, Ottawa is rapidly turning into a gourmet’s dream destination. If you’re in need of some dining tips for your next visit to the capital, check out our pick of the 10 best places to eat in Ottawa today.
1. Whalesbone Oyster House
***Temorarily Closed as of December 2020
It’s a little bit small and a little bit noisy. But hey, who cares when the seafood is this good? For oysters, there’s no better place in the city than Whalesbone Oyster House. Ottawa’s original oyster house is a tiny 30-seater with a lively atmosphere, rustic decor, and a funky appeal. Draw up a chair, turn your ear to the vinyl music playing in the background, and prepare for some of the very finest oysters, lobsters, shrimp, and crab cakes around.
2. Play Food & Wine
US News recommends Play Food & Wine to anyone in the mood for a fun, approachable dining experience that’s a world away from fussy fine dining. With a focus on small plates, sharing, and superb wine pairings, this contemporary venue is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxed evening with good food and good company. The menu has a firm focus on sustainable, seasonal ingredients. Service is excellent and the price list is exceptionally customer-friendly.
Over the course of 15 years and 2 locations, Beckta has established itself as one of the very finest restaurants in Ottawa. Whether you enjoy the small bites menu at the bar or the full prix-fixe in the restaurant, you’re not going to be disappointed with either the food, the drink, the service, or the ambiance. Try the aged beef carpaccio with traditional trimmings for a big, meaty, flavor hit or the bone marrow spiked risotto for a truly luxurious eating experience. The extensive wine list is just as impressive as the food.
Recommended by ottawamagazine.com as one of Ottawa’s best dining experiences, Absinthe has been wowing the crowds for almost 20 years. With a commitment to the finest foods, the freshest ingredients, and the most innovative combinations, the short but dazzling menu is packed with hits. The house burger with smoked bacon, caramelized onion, and “secret sauce” is a must-try, while the lemon tart with brûléed top is revolutionary. Service is personal, efficient, and never short of outstanding. It’s not necessarily the cheapest place to eat in the city, but judging by the legions of repeat customers that pass through its doors, it’s unquestionably one of the best.
There’s fine dining and then there’s Atelier. Formal but never stuffy, masterful but never show-offy, this is a restaurant that is designed to wow. The 12-course fixed tasting menu is obligatory, so don’t expect to be given a free hand to mix and match dishes as you see fit. Not that that’s anything to be sour about – each of the 12 courses has been creatively and thoughtfully designed to showcase the very, very fine skills of chef and sommelier Marc Lepin. The accompanying wines are every bit as good as the food.
6. Fraser Cafe
Walking through the doors at Fraser Cafe isn’t the most impressive experience. The place is nice, sure, but as its choice of name suggests, it’s more understated than it is dazzling. The menu, at first glance, seems similar. Nice enough, but lacking in pizzazz. But when the food actually arrives, prepare to be wowed. The dishes are perfectly balanced, delightfully fresh, and with just the right combination of creativity and tradition. Ingredients are as fresh as a daisy and soured seasonally.
7. Benny’s Bistro
Serving up superb breakfasts, outstanding brunches, and equally noteworthy lunches, Benny’s Bistro at the ByWard Market has become something of a local institution. It specializes in the kind of no-fuss, good, hearty food that we always expect at a bistro, but so rarely get. The flavors are huge, the French inspiration is everywhere, and the prices are affordable – what more could you want? As you leave, don’t miss stopping off at the restaurant’s bakery next door – the croissants are said to be worth the trip alone.
***Permanently Closed as of December 2020
Theculturetrip.com recommends Allium as one of the finest restaurants in Ottawa. Whether that’s down to the charming setting, the seasonal Bistro menu, the relaxed atmosphere, or the pleasant service, who knows? What we do know for sure is that very few people would disagree with the opinion.
Gezellig is a light, bright restaurant offering comfortable, relaxed dining in a converted 1950’s bank building in the heart of Westboro Village. The impressive menu flits around the world like a butterfly. At the heart of each of its dishes is an exceptional commitment to freshness and quality. Whether you’re eating Québec chicken with a beet purée, Italian pork gnocchi, or a French rillette of pickled mushrooms with peppercorn bread, you’ll enjoy the finest ingredients cooked to the very highest standard.
If you want something a little bit refined, something a little bit European, and something altogether fabulous, there’s a very good chance you want Riviera. Run by chef-restaurateurs Matthew Carmichael and Jordan Holley, Riviera is set in a stunningly converted bank that’s just as impressive as its French-inspired menu. Chosen by eater.com as one of the best places to eat in Ottawa, the restaurant has proved widely popular for its menu of familiar classics (the steak frites is almost legendary at this point) and off the wall novelties like pig head macaroni. While you’re there, don’t miss trying one of bartender Stephen Flood’s stunning craft custom cocktails.