After decades of trying and failing to find a single, unifying national cuisine, the nation's chefs have begun instead to embrace the country's enormous size and diversity, and to use as their foundation the wildest and widest-ranging ingredients bounty on earth. From an Italian-Japanese jazz café to a Haitian-Canadian booze can, to a fine-dining mecca that serves wild moose with lichen, this is our list of Canada's most essential restaurants. Each of them is about as dyed-in-the-wool Canadian as Canadian restaurants get.
Restaurateur Tannis Ling and chef Joel Watanabe wanted to capture the mood of Tokyo's mid-century jazz cafés at their Vancouver Chinatown project-but they wanted a bit of Italy too. The result, set in a gloriously atmospheric second-storey room, fuses east, west and the Pacific Northwest into something of its own. Watanabe tosses eggy Piemontese tajarin noodles with shiitake mushrooms seared in butter and marsala, and tops that tangle with miso-cured egg yolk; Kissa Tanto's pork ragù is enriched with kasu sake lees.
263 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC, 778-379-8078; kissatanto.com
Dining room at Kissa
Chefs Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij are culinary royalty in Canada. Their flagship Vancouver restaurant pairs clean, punchy flavours from all around India with top-quality Pacific coast produce and cosmopolitan service. Be sure to try the signature lamb popsicles with fenugreek cream curry, a dish so beloved that Vij served it to another royal couple-commonly known as William and Kate-last time they swung through town.
3106 Cambie Street, Vancouver, BC, 604-736-6664; vijs.ca
This raucous and welcoming two-storey room, owned in part by the couple behind the band Arcade Fire, is a temple to cane juice -derivedrhum agrikol, pulsing kompamusic and classic Haitian dishes. Check out the voluptuously tasty deep-fried porkgriotas a starting point, served with fiery-sourpikliz.NB: while you can order theti' ponchcocktails here one at a time, the locals typically order by the half or quarter bottle of Barbancourt rum and mix their own. You'll be dancing well before dessert.
1844 Rue Amherst, Montreal, QC, 514-903-6575; agrikol.ca
This stylish natural wine and snack bar, set in a former British tea room, brings Western Canada's polyglot flavours a dose of delicious cool. There are nori-seasoned crumpets slathered with melting Pacific shrimp butter, prairie-style pierogies filled with salted British Columbia halibut, and pine mushrooms foraged from the Rocky Mountain foothills just to the west, served over jiggly-set scrambled eggs. As a nod to the space's history, everything arrives on old bone china. Remember to keep those pinkies down.
306 17th Avenue Southwest, Calgary, AB, 403-452-4694; pigeonholeyyc.ca
Beets and greens at Pigeonhole.
Chef Patrick Kriss' modern, seasonal, ingredient-focused French spot is Toronto's most talked-about fine dining spot, and with good reason. There's sublimely delicate Dungeness crab with fresh creamed corn and huitlacoche, humble (and profoundly delicious) country stews, marvelous miniaturist pre-dinner snacks, and even a bread and butter course for the ages (it gets its own sherry pairing). And if you can't get a reservation, the coolly elegant bar makes some of the smartest cocktails in town.
163 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON, 416-260-2222; alorestaurant.com
Dining room at Bar Raval.
The oiled mahogany walls and bar in this all-hours pintxos spot swoop and curve like a wood-borne Gaudí sculpture; nobody ever enters for the first time without standing and gawping. The menu, thankfully, is every bit as great as that setting: there's top-quality tinned fish from both Spain and Canada, cider-braised pig's cheek, sherry-based cocktails, and a Basque-style cheesecake that makes the place as inviting for breakfast as it is at 2 am last call.
505 College Street, Toronto, ON, 647-344-8001; thisisbarraval.com
Le Vin Papillon
A precocious little sister to Montreal's beloved Joe Beef restaurant, Le Vin Papillon is the single-greatest wine bar in Canada, if not all of North America. The cooking is simultaneously playful, original, light and exquisite (check out the Montreal smoked meat sandwich made from shaved carrots, and the chopped razor clams served with translucent sheets of lardo, rhubarb and fresh green chickpeas). The wine list, focused on grower Champagne and natural bottlings, including a few cold climate Canadian gems, is a grape-hound's fever dream.
2519 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Montreal, QC; vinpapillon.com
Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon
Cabane à sucreis is the seasonal, pork fat and booze -fueled bacchanal that celebrates the running of the maple sap each spring. This particular one, run by one of Canada's most iconic restaurants, is a bona fide can't miss. The cooking is heart-stoppingly rich and terrific (think enormous pork pies, foie gras -studded pea soup and buckwheat pancakes tsunami'd with maple syrup) and the setting, deep in the sugarbush outside Montreal, one of the most Canadian landscapes you'll ever see.
11382 Rang de la Fresnière, St Benoit de Mirabel, QC; cabane.aupieddecochon.ca
No part of Canada is more dense with delicious diversity than the suburb of Scarborough, at Toronto's eastern edge; you can easily find a few dozen international cuisines within a single three-block stretch. Crown Pastries, run by a pair of Aleppo-raised bakers, is an ideal starting point. The phyllo here, hand rolled on site daily, is wondrously buttery and flaky, and the flavours, from the melty-cheesy knafeh, to the life-altering baklava (they taste like nuts and butter instead of sugary glop) are rendered in rare and elegant balance.2086 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto, ON, 647-351-2015; crownpastriesbaklava.com
Chef Jeremy Charles brings a classicist's touch to Newfoundland and Labrador's most incredible ingredients: wild moose tenderloin in his hands becomes a carpaccio dressed with foraged mushrooms and woodsy-flavoured birch syrup, while cod sounds-those are the fish's air bladder, which help it float or sink-are puffed up in the deep fryer, then topped with roe and crème fraîche. You won't eat like this anywhere else on earth.
95 Water Street, St. John's, NL, 709-579-5800; raymondsrestaurant.com
This article is presented by Destination Canada.