A struggling economy tends to make people more judicious about their spending, so it should come as no surprise that Edmonton’s 2019 restaurant openings trended toward the more casual end of the spectrum.
Though Edmonton saw more high-profile closings than openings this year, of course there have been plenty of more new places popping up around town including the multiple concepts inside of the swanky new J.W. Marriott in the downtown Ice District. Here’s a rundown on a few of my favourites from this calendar year.
What started out in 2008 as a small Southeast Asian inspired mobile kitchen and graduated to campus kiosk locations in two Edmonton universities, now has expanded to a full-service restaurant downtown.
Based heavily on the Filipino dishes of owners Ariel del Rosario and Roel Canafranca’s heritage, the evening menu also features Indonesian favourites contributed by their Indonesian chefs.
Highlights include “Stix” (Filipino skewers), chicken adobo, pork sisig, beef rendang and a delicious breakfast burrito stuffed with pork tocino, garlic fried rice, scrambled egg, pico de gallo, and soy mayo.
Food cooked over a campfire has a primal attraction, and Smokey Bear stokes those feelings with their focus on open flame cookery . Chef-owner Riley Aitkin honed his craft in Denmark and Australia before moving to Edmonton to open his first restaurant.
Choose from the nine counter seats with a view of the grill and settle in for dinner and a show. The ever-rotating menu features a la carte dining, or a chef’s choice menu for a set price.
A highlight on a recent visit was the locally-grown mushrooms, slightly charred and basted with butter, accompanied by a mushroom yeast sauce. Smokey Bear also does a big grilled pork chop, glazed and flipped numerous times to create a delicious crispy sweet char on the buttery pork fat. That’s a very good chop.
Edmonton had a surge of new burger joints over the past year, and one of the standouts is Fox Burger, housed in a renovated historic building in the residential neighbourhood of Highlands.
Chef and co-owner Sean O’Connor (formerly head chef at The Red Ox Inn) has created a menu of burgers that delivers on flavour, sear on the patties, and bun.
Fox Burger also has a lineup of accompaniments that are outside the usual, including fried pickled green tomatoes, smashed taters, garlic fries, and a Thai cabbage salad.
Also very promising on the burger scene is Royale, a sister restaurant of Baijiu.
Baijiu head chef Alexei Boldireff has always been infatuated with burgers, and his thoughtful design and attention to detail with the Royale menu pays off big-time.
Although still in soft-opening phase at the time of writing, the burgers coming out in these early stages have been a hit. Royale has the best burger bun in the city (their house-made brown butter bun), yet, the beef is still made to be the star, as it should be.
An inspiring decision to let the customer have their burger their way, by offering one larger pub-style patty or the option of splitting it in two, and having it smash style, make you wonder why nobody has done this before.
The Dorinku name is familiar to Edmonton diners already, with Dorinku Tokyo now a staple in the Old Strathcona area. This new location of Dorinku focuses on the street food of Osaka, though there are plenty of dishes standard to both restaurants.
Traditional skewers grilled over Japanese charcoal include pork belly, chicken heart, chicken gizzard, and much more.
Dorinku Osaka also specializes in okonomiyaki (a Japanese savoury pancake) with their take that includes ground beef, noodles, cheese omelette, mayo, and demi gravy.
If soup is more your thing, Dorinku has got you covered with their ramen bar in the back of the restaurant.
This 20-seat Japanese restaurant opened in mid-2019 and has been slowly building buzz among sushi fans. Located in Sherwood Park, which is not exactly a typical locale for hot new restaurants, Kobachi is focused on doing things the right way, even making their own soy sauce.
This Ocean Wise-certified restaurant is focused on simple and healthy Japanese food without the use of MSG.
A delivery and pickup only pizza joint operating out of the back door of popular Café Leva near the University of Alberta, Sepps has made a strong name for itself with standout New York style pizzas.
Offering big 14-inch and 18-inch pizzas, Sepps has walked the toppings line perfectly between too skimpy and too heavy, which results in a pizza that flops slightly and folds easily, just like a perfect New York style ought to be.
Edmonton has been in need of a quality small-batch ice cream parlour for years, and finally got it with Kind Ice Cream.
Kind has a permanent lineup of flavours like maple bourbon pecan, Real Deal Strawberry, and birthday cake. There’s also an array of rotating flavours such as eggnog and ginger cake with bourbon caramel.
Calgary's Made by Marcus also opened an Edmonton location earlier this fall, serving up all kinds of interesting flavours as well. Make a point of trying both and see which you like better (it's ok to have an extra scoop for a tie breaker) the next time it's not too chilly out.