Opu + Ottawa = LOVE

Here I thought I was a bonafide, patriotic, true-blue Canadian. I’ve scarfed plenty a poutine at two in the morning, I’ve accompanied guys who’ve paid for the tickets to hockey games, I can spell Saskatchewan and sing the National Anthem word for word, and I’ve even seen Celine Dion in concert.  Okay, those tickets were free too, but damnit if I haven’t been a loyal Canuck through and through.  Except for the fact that until recently I had never set foot in our country’s capital of Ottawa. To disclose information I probably shouldn’t, my girlfriend and I have half-drunk-debated which province it was actually in (“Ottawa, Ontario just doesn’t sound right, dude.”) And of course, as per usual, I’ve been missing out.

Even though it’s a rather lame excuse, I’m a west coast girl and always have been. And being a west coast girl, I’ve become pretty acquainted with the beautiful city of Victoria on Vancouver Island. There’s something very proper-like about strolling through its cobblestone streets, admiring the parliament buildings and statues of monarchy I couldn’t name if I tried and soaking in all that Canadiana. Plus, tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria’s harbour is something every lady’s gotta do at least once. (Especially when that is also free.)  So imagine my delight when arriving in Ottawa I realized it was just a giant, more official Victoria with parliament buildings and statues of strangers galore!  There’s even a Fairmont that probably serves tea but I wouldn’t know because there was also wine!

Much more importantly of course, I cannot begin to tell you (even though I just did) how incredible the food is in Ottawa; they’re smoking something out there that is producing some ridiculously talented chefs. Cindy “the Buzz” Busby and I rolled into town for Ottawa Comic Con and only had three  nights to eat, so we were barely able to scratch its little surface, but here are three special finds that are not to be missed:


Situated in frat boy-heaven, town is a cosy and elegant little place right in the middle of a cluster of sports bars that feels like it doesn’t belong there. Sorta like the girl dressed in Gucci drinking a cosmo at Hooters. But town is super special, showcasing a menu of modern-spun and locally-sourced comfort foods that are at once familiar and completely off-the-cuff. The menu is straight out of a JBS wet dream with offerings like a pretzel-crusted calamari BLT (pork belly stands in for the bacon), crostini spread with mortadella mousse and topped with a fried egg, burrata cheese with asparagus and poached leeks and lemon curd, and ricotta-stuffed meatballs that were so good I wanted to climb back into that kitchen and punch the chef in the mouth. Yes, the food is hearty and rich.  But I like ’em rich. If I lived in Ottawa, you would mostly definitely find my Gucci ass parked at the bar at town three nights a week.

pretty little olives in and oranges for snacking
pretty little olives and oranges for snacking
calamari BLT for the love of GOD
calamari BLT for the love of GOD
not sure
hi there, burrata cheese!
chef needs a smack


Side Door

This place is right around the corner from the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, so for us it was stumbling distance after all that (ahem) tea. Side Door is like taking a trip through South America and up and around through Asia, a night market version of a restaurant making their upper crust version of street food.  The servers, while hip and charming, were a little fickle with their attention, but the food more than made up for it. The regulars seem to agree that every meal should start with at least a couple of their tacos, and each one just gets better than the last, so please do pig out and order them all (what?  They’re small. Get over it.). Another not-to-miss are the strange but insanely addictive prawns wrapped in leaves and then deep fried to crispy salty goodness. And my very favorite, the “son in law egg”, a bowl of rice topped with sauce and the most delicious tempura battered and fried soft-poached egg you’ve ever had. Mix it up and stir it all together, and it’s like taking the stairway up to umami heaven. I would eat my whole bowl, and then start in on my friend’s. Which I may have done.

My version of a bread basket: fries and special sauce to start
chow chow chicken taco
crispy fried prawns wrapped in betal leaves
egg thing


Restaurant 18

And finally, the best for last.

Restaurant 18 is pretty chi-chi and pretty pretty, just glitzy enough for a special night out but unpretentious and most importantly focused on creating expertly-made classic bistro-style fare. First of all, they were more accommodating than necessary for a party of ten idiot actors who were fifteen minutes late and all determined to be the loudest one at the table.  Service is top notch and knowledgeable, and the menu is geared to please just about anybody. It’s hard to choose between a beautiful salt roasted beet salad with ricotta and a maple vinegar reduction, grilled octopus with caramelized pork belly, or beef carpaccio with “bread salad”, and those are just the appetizers. We had a fat and luscious crab cake, gorgeous duck breast with goat cheese gnocchi, a ridiculously perfect blue cheese crusted sirloin steak, but the best thing by far for me was a bowl of BC spot prawns atop squid ink pasta with sea urchin butter. Salty, rich, and just about the best damn thing I’ve tasted this year. I know I exaggerate a lot but I’m serious. And for dessert?  Chocolate Mille-Feuille with coffee marshmellows and milk n cookies ice cream. I was so wooed, it was like that food was trying to date me.

beef thing
beef carpaccio
prawn thing
prawns on squid ink pastaaaaaa omg
steak and veggies
I couldn’t paint this let alone cook this


If you’re like me and you’ve been holding out on making an appearance in Canada’s capital, stop committing treason and get thyself on a plane already. Preferably before it starts snowing, because I hear that happens a lot in Ottawa. But snow or no snow, it’s worth a venture just to roll yourself from restaurant to restaurant sampling pure Canadian love. We’re a loving bunch up here.

And before you start in on me, that Celine can SING, alright?  You try doing My Heart Will Go On acapella and then inserting a very enthusiastic roundhouse-style kick during the bridge just because you’re that passionate.

Must be all that poutine.








36 Comments Add yours

  1. Will says:

    It all looks so delicious!

  2. Becky M says:

    As a current expat of Ottawa I’ve got to say you’re really making feel homesick! My gosh. I know what restaurants I want to go to when I get home.

  3. Robin S says:

    When you come to Halifax in October for HalCon, you should check out the following awesome places:

    Chives Canadian Bistro
    Obladee Wine Bar (your sort of place!)
    The Press Gang
    Sushi Nami Royale
    The Foggy Goggle

    All of these are really near the convention centre where HalCon is taking place. Hali is also a really great food town, especially for its size. We Canadians know how to eat, right? Something about horrible winters make us appreciate our food and drink.

  4. Dave Catoe says:

    When I lived in Syracuse NY years ago I would go to Ottawa when I needed a dose of culture and Canadian beer. I never had a bad meal meal there and once I even saw Mother Teresa on the big lawn outside of Parliament. She looked a bit thin and so probably didn’t eat much there. BTW, thanks for signing all that CSTS stuff in Philly; I hope you got a cheesesteak while you were there. Dave, Global Guy

  5. Ryan Coveyduc says:

    Keep coming east! Halifax would love to host you. 🙂

  6. Johnny Red says:

    There’s 13.5 million people in Ontario, 3 x BC.

  7. Have you a family recipe for Pea Soup Habitant and Herbes Salées, that you are willing to share?

  8. Chris Noakes says:

    Two years ago the military posted me to Ottawa. Because of educational obligations I went alone, my family stayed back in North Bay. I won’t pretend it wasn’t lonely, two years away from my family and kids was rough.

    Not to make this into a sob story haha, in Ottawa I reached out to one of the few people I knew there. A girl I had met in Africa actually, I was there doing humanitarian work with the military and she accompanied my unit as a civilian nurse. She is now one of my best friends… I don’t think I’d have been able to make it through my time in Ottawa without her shoulder.

    One of the things we did… at least once a week we tried a new restaurant. There are so many amazing places to eat in Ottawa… from the fancy, to the downtrodden seeming diners that served the most unexpectedly amazing food. The sushi places especially… Ottawa, for a guy who loves food, was a treat. I’m back home with my family now, but that aspect of the city I definitely miss.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your time in the capital.

    BTW, though I was an unremarkable one of many… it was sincerely nice to have met you that weekend.

  9. Jon Swearingen says:

    always love your food blogs. I have been in food industry 20+ years and will eat just about anything, (except raisins, think im cannibal before raisins). keep me posted on every place you eat please, haven’t been to Vancouver in over a decade so im sure I have missed out. the northwest rocks all my best wishes Jon

  10. downwindtracker says:

    I’d eat everything except for that Squid Ink part…….oh and the carrots…hated carrots as a kid…still hate carrots.

  11. Mike says:

    Canada has a capitol? Wow, it is like it is almost a real country.

  12. Nannig says:

    Right, 2h till lunch and I’m hungry now, damn your yummy posts, the way you write about food really makes you wanna eat the photos right away!

  13. Troy Baer says:

    As long I don’t have to listen to Celine cover Queen’s “The Show Must Go On”. (Or, preferably, at all. 🙂

  14. Lindsay says:

    Oh good! I was hoping you would get some good food when you came to my city ^___^

  15. David G says:

    I heard Celine can roundhouse-style kick circles around Chuck Norris. The lady is fierce.

  16. Famin says:

    Crispy fried prawns in betel leaves?? In BETEL NUT LEAVES??? No, seriously, betel nut leaves??! OMG, who came up with this idea??

    And, more importantly, how did it taste?

  17. Steve says:

    “There are barely 1. 5 million people in the entire province…”

    Metro area, maybe? I don’t think you meant “…province…” 🙂

  18. Norma says:

    Well, if you ever come to Kingston, I can point you in the direction of a few excellent restaurants here! Chez Piggy for starters.

    Kingston was once the capital of Canada and it’s in Ontario too! LOL

  19. Paul Sadler says:

    Nice review, but where’s the sub-story @ 18 where WesleyCrusherDieDieDie upstages Captain Hot Pants in the photo-taking department? Both Nathan and Wil were spreading the story the next morning like wildfire. Oddly enough, food never came up. 🙂 And more importantly, how did Cindy like her first ComicCon experience?

    If you make it back to Ottawa, give some warning…there are some other hidden gems within spitting distance of where you were…


  20. Trish says:

    When you come back to Ottawa, you have to try Cafe Mio. Best gnocchi I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten it all over Italy. Or Absinthe on Wellington West. I could give you a nice long list, having lived in Ottawa my entire life.

  21. Jen B says:

    I live in Ontario and haven’t been to Ottawa yet! It is on my list of places to visit though. And now I know where to eat! Thanks for sharing your amazing food pics. 🙂

  22. You’ve only just scratched the surface of the cuisine we have to offer. We really must get you back to sample some of our other offerings. For example PLAY for their constantly-changing brunch with a wine suggestions from their knowledgable staff (http://www.playfood.ca/), indulge in some molecular gastronomy at Atelier (http://www.atelierrestaurant.ca/), sample a bit of Maylasian or Sri Lankian cuisine…. the list goes on.

    And, yes, Zoe’s (the restaurant in the Chateau Laurier) do serve a High Tea at noon (http://www.fairmont.com/laurier-ottawa/dining/zoes-lounge/).

  23. Mallory Pell says:

    Omg that Calamari Blt looks amazing and yummy!!

  24. Christa Froome says:

    Ottawa has long been touted as “the city that fun forgot” but to those people I say they’re not looking in the right places. Not only is there fun everywhere but there are flavours. Flavours, flavours, flavours!
    I have no singular favourite restaurant in Ottawa. I can’t possibly. I do however have a favourite burger place, a favourite pho place, a favourite breakfast place… I even have a favourite grilled cheese place! If you try and eat your way through Ottawa you will find that it is an amazing city with so much to offer, you are constantly trying something new for every taste and budget.

    Also: You should totally come back when there is snow. Strap on a pair of skates, rent a sleigh and try a Beavertail. It really is an experience every Canadian should have at least once.

  25. Kirk says:

    I think you missed a decimal place when saying the population of Ontario. It is closer to 15 million. The Greater Region of Ottawa, alone, is over a million.

  26. Sonia Festeryga says:

    Oh goodness now I am just really really hungry! Thanks for that 😉 So glad you loved our beautiful city and it’s fabulous food. Don’t was so long for the next visit k? S.

  27. Jason says:

    First of all, Happy Birthday!

    All that food looks awesome! Squid ink pasta….that’s….unique. It must be good if you say it’s the best thing you’ve tried this year!

    The fries and special sauce look good, too. Especially after all the (ahem) tea! 😉

  28. Maissa says:

    SideDoor is my favorite restaurant!! I used to go every week. Their donuts are amazing! The Chef was on Top Chef Canada last year.

  29. Rob H says:

    You mean you haven’t been to Ottawa for Canada Day yet? WOW! Really, you should try and clear your work schedule and make your way here at some point. The entire downtown core is blocked off to traffic and we party from sunrise until way past sunset.

  30. Mike Falcone says:

    Good looks and good food, come back to Ottawa soon JBS! ; )

  31. kerim says:

    I went to Ottowa and Montreal quite often when I was stationed in Upstate New York. I do love Canada and the food is amazing there. By your description it appears I need another fix. Thanks for this one JBS. We love you. Keep on peddling the food envy 🙂

  32. Salanth says:

    “Betel leaves” that are used in Vietnamese cooking are different from the ones they use for the drug. La lot and chaplu are common names for them.

  33. Sebastian says:

    Ah, this post and your whole blog make me want to fly over to Canada and enjoy all this amazing food. Too bad Europe is so far away…

    It looks really delicious!

  34. Jared says:

    I’ve never been to Canada, but this alone makes me want to visit!!!

  35. Tanya says:

    Next time you go come to ottawa you have to check out the wellington gastropub. The menu changes daily and the food is just fantastic. It’s located in Westboro a neighbourhood 5 mins outside of the market.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.