Canadian dishes have come a long way from smoked meat poutine and tire d'érable — though those are still welcome at the table. Even for Canadians, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between contemporary Canadian cuisine and the fads that have traveled over the border from Uncle Sam.
Despite its geographical proximity to the States, Canada has a unique culinary scene that mirrors its rich cultural diversity. Fresh and innovative, yet steeped in culture and tradition, the Great White North’s food culture celebrates the climate and geography of its locale, while obstinately refusing to be confined by them. The same could be said for Canadians themselves.
Canada’s culinary scene can be difficult to define without experiencing it, but these are the restaurants that are pushing Canadian dishes authentically, and creatively, forward.
Chew: Crispy Arctic Char
Canadians of all types are drawn to the bounty of the sea, even if they live in a landlocked city like Winnipeg. One of the city’s premier restaurants, Chew, focuses primarily on Canadian ingredients, though not exclusively, since they argue that "truffles and octopus are too good to pass up and don’t grow here." That creative mixing of local staples and decadent flavors flows throughout Chew’s menu. Their crispy Arctic char, an ingredient prized for its rich taste and high fat content, is served with Japanese soba noodles, toasted sesame seeds, grilled peppers, and pickled carrots, adding acidity and freshness to the savory fish.
Salmon n’ Bannock: First Nations Fare
Celebrating and embodying First Nations heritage is Salmon n’ Bannock, Vancouver’s only First Nations restaurant. The owners, who hail in part from the British Columbia of the Nuxalk Nation, stay true to traditional Aboriginal culinary practices, specializing in wild fish, free-range game meat, and fresh bannock, a flatbread that is baked daily. Using ancient rural preparation methods, the chefs prepare salmon and game meat in various ways for BC urbanites — we recommend trying the candied or cured salmon.
deer + almond: Innovative Staples
The Exchange District is at the heart of Winnipeg’s growing youthful cultural scene, and deer + almond is one of the area’s most famous restaurants. The surprisingly simple dishes layer unexpected flavors with Canadian staples. At deer + almond, chefs serve smoked wild sockeye salmon on toast with cherries and rooftop-grown herbs, plus fried Cornish hen in coconut and maple chutney. Shared and family-style dining is encouraged, so you’ll be able to sample all the intriguing dishes on offer. In the winter, deer + almond transforms into RAW:almond, a unique pop-up restaurant located literally on the frozen Red and Assiniboine Rivers. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than this.
Garde Manger: Fresh Seafood and Lobster Poutine
Nestled in the historically rich neighborhood of Old Montreal, Garde Manger is Food Network star Chuck Hughes’s little hole in the wall. You’ll often see Chuck himself behind the bar or in the kitchen, serving up seafood dishes such as house-smoked salmon atop thin cucumber rounds, oysters sourced from the country’s eastern waters, and seared scallops with a carrot emulsion and fried gnocchi. The restaurant’s signature dish is the lobster poutine, which helped Chuck edge out Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America.
The Maple Leaf: Rocky Mountain Meats and Artisan Cheese
Away from Canada’s urban centers is The Maple Leaf, situated in one of the most scenically beautiful areas of the country: Banff, Alberta. Located conveniently between Alberta’s plains and the waters of the West Coast, The Maple Leaf’s dedication to Canadian cuisine makes use of Alberta beef, game, fish, and seafood. Freshly shucked oysters, locally made goat cheese, BC salmon, and Quebec Brome Lake duck are highlights of the dinner menu. Share the regional game platter, which features Rocky Mountain meats and artisanal Canadian cheese, or take the coastal route with the seafood platter for two that features East Coast lobster tail, smoked Atlantic salmon, and North Pacific snow crab.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
D’Vine Morsels: Lobster Rolls and White Wine
Speaking of East Coast lobster, visiting the small, rustic maritime province of Nova Scotia is an opportunity to take your epicurean exploration to D’Vine Morsels Restaurant for an authentic lobster roll. D’Vine Morsels’ rendition uses a La Vendienne brioche roll stuffed with lobster plucked from the surrounding waters, which is mixed with haddock, celery, greens, and finished with a tangy remoulade. Pair with Nova Scotia’s Tidal Bay white wine for a decadent taste of the Eastern Coast.
CattleBaron Calgary: Alberta Beef
CattleBaron Calgary blends upscale steakhouse dining with the signature ingredients of the Canadian prairies. Alberta has been the heart of the Canadian beef industry for decades, and this restaurant is recognized by locals as Calgary's premier casual steakhouse. CattleBaron Calgary serves AAA hand-cut Alberta beef, aged for a minimum of 28 days, and topped with blue cheese butter or brandy peppercorn sauce. Opt for the 20-ounce "cowboy cut" if you’re looking for the True North experience.
Boralia: Settlement Cuisine
Toronto is Canada’s largest city, bustling with culture and industry and conveniently located just north of the US border. That doesn’t stop it from retaining its distinctly local, historical fare though. Boralia looks to traditional Aboriginal peoples and first settler dishes for inspiration. Their dishes, perfect for sharing, include offerings like cured trout grilled over cedar branches, pan-roasted elk, and sweetbreads and peas. Finish your meal with a glass of Ontario Icewine, a local treat made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine.
Score on Davie: Fully-loaded Caesars
The brunch menu at Score is filled with delicious home cooking, but the real stars are on the drinks menu. Located in the heart of Vancouver’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood, Score on Davie single-handedly raises the city’s Caesar intake every Sunday. For the uninitiated, the Caesar is the Bloody Mary’s more adventurous Canadian cousin. Add clam juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco to the usual tomato and vodka base, and you have a Caesar. The result is spicy, savory, and complex. Score’s loaded Caesar is a meal in its own right: It’s topped with roasted chicken, a pulled pork Sriracha-glazed slider, onion rings, chicken wings, a pulled pork mac and cheese hot dog, a Score burger, and a brownie for dessert.
La Banquise: Poutine
Canada is not going to give up on a classic. Since 1968, Montreal’s La Banquise has celebrated the poutine while imbuing it with elevation and multicultural flair. For the traditionalist, "La Classique" pays homage to the original dish with French fries, fresh cheese curds, and a smothering of gravy. Further down the dedicated poutine menu you’ll find variations like "La T-Rex," which is topped with ground beef, pepperoni, bacon, and hot-dog sausage, and "La Mexicaine," which is a mix of hot peppers, tomatoes, and black olives. With a growing list of innovative recipes, La Banquise pushes one of Canada’s favorite national dishes to new, delicious heights.