Once again we’ve found ourselves parting ways with the city we grew up in. Once more we’ve left the comforts and familiarities of the city we’ve called home on-and-off for the majority of our lives. I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time now, long before the time came to actually leave. Trying to imagine how I’d feel this time, leaving with an unknown date of return, what I’d miss seeing and doing… mostly eating. Always, without fail, one only ever really gets to explore a city as a visitor. You could live in the greatest city in the world, but over time, you stop exploring, because “there’s always another time”. I’m guilty of it just as much as the next person, but now that I’m away again, I’m immediately thinking about all of the fantastic things Edmonton has to offer.
So I figured I’d reminisce with a little hometown glory, a short post about some of mine and Kylee’s favourite things to do around town. This isn’t the sort of post you’ll get from the tourism board; it’s not going to tell you to go check out the mall, or the Muttart, or the AGA (although those last two are both really awesome), because everyone knows about those. At the same time, it’s not some article about a bunch of ‘hidden gems’ either, as I doubt any of these are a secret. It’s just a simple post showing our appreciation to the things we love, and the places that will be missed.
Something I wish I had taken advantage of more when we lived downtown, is the river valley. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours riding the seemingly endless trail system, and it never got old. Every time I thought I had ridden everything, I always seemed to stumble upon some new single-track hidden in the trees. And the colours of autumn! If you’ve driven over any river bridge in Edmonton in mid-September till late-October, you know that nothing I can say can describe that sight. I’ll leave it at that. Even the winter, though I’m definitely not a cold-weather person, many of the trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, so it’s a perfect for use all year round. I can’t think of another place in the world with such an amazing interconnected park system.
Edmonton: Festival City
Another use for the river valley in the summer? Skipping the traffic while getting easy access some really fantastic festivals! While there seems to be some type of festival every week of the summer, these are three of our favourites: the Fringe, Art Walk, and the Up + Downtown festival. The Fringe is probably the most well known, the whole of Old Strathcona just erupts in wonderful chaos. Dozens of shows for children, families, and often adults-only seem to be non-stop for the entire week. Throw in a bunch of food trucks, carts, and street performers, and you can fill up days without actually attending a play… but the plays are great, and the entire point of going! Next is Art Walk; same area, different week. Seemingly growing exponentially every year, local artists and artists from around Canada show up to display their pieces; everything from paintings to wood carvings, glass blowing and sculptures. Even if you’re not really an ‘art person’, I promise you’ll find something that catches your eye. And even if by chance that promise breaks, you’re already on Whyte Ave, which has some of our favourite places to eat… more on that in a bit. Finally, it’s the Up + Downtown Music Festival, held in October, this one features a plethora of musicians playing at venues all around the city; and with many up-and-coming artists featured, it’s a great place to get a peak at what’s to come!
Honourable mentions for festivals include the Folk Fest, Ice On Whyte, Taste of Edmonton, Shakespeare in the Park, and the Street Performers.
So now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get to the important part: Food. When I think “Canadian food cites”, I immediately go to Montreal. However Edmonton is another high-ranker on that list, because the Champ City has everything. Maybe not everything is as perfect as it could be; the Vietnamese isn’t quite the same as in Vietnam, but it’s pretty damn close. That being said, the Korean and Indian are as good as their respective countries; and believe me, that’s saying something!
So where to start… Breakfast seems the obvious choice. Of the many we enjoy, it’s down to either Barb and Ernie’s or Haps Hungry House (we only learned of the later recently!), both for their eggs Benedict. I’ve heard that better exist, but until we experience them first hand, these two are definitely our favourites. Be forewarned though, you will wait in line on the weekends at both, but trust me when I tell you it’s worth the wait. Onto lunch now – much later of course – as there’s no way you’re eating anything soon after either of those last places. First, the Next Act Pub. Anything on the menu would be a solid choice, but go for a burger, they’re the best in the city (dare I say the best I’ve ever had?). With a solid choice of a few staple burgers, along with a weekly rotating ‘cameo’, I’ve never, ever, been disappointed.
Soup next, specifically Phở and Ramen. We’ve yet to find a restaurant that takes either one of these to the level of perfection from their respective motherlands, but some come close. Two of our favourites come to mind: for Phở (and Vietnamese in general), it’s gotta be Phở Hoàn Pasteur. Try the chicken phở, one of my personal favourites of all time. As for Ramen, the closest I’ve found reminiscent of Tokyo’s is from Nomiya. They recently added a downtown location, which helps when you get that craving that only ramen can kick. While on the Asian side of things, in both our opinions, NongBu is – by a long shot – the best Korean in town.
I’m suddenly craving things I can’t have.
A few other mid-afternoon spots we love to hit up whenever the opportunity arises are as follows, beginning with an Edmonton institution: Da-De-O. I don’t know how long this legendary joint has been around, but it goes back as long as I can remember. The adults-only, 1950’s diner-style Cajun spot has a menu that seems to never change. Why is that? Because as the cliché goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Po’ boys, oysters, gumbo, sweet potato fries (the best on earth); really everything I’ve ever eaten there has left me elated. Wash it all down with an old-school cherry Coke, or a cold pint from the local Alley Kat brewery. Another Old Strathcona classic is Remedy Cafe; a few locations have popped up around town over the last few years, but I’m partial to the original in Garneau. Indian curry-filled wraps, grilled panini style and served with a side of whatever that spiced black liquid magic is. I should add: their chai is probably the best in town.
Everyone loves a good donair, but I’m shocked at how many people haven’t ever had a shawarma. It’s essentially a chicken donair with some added pickles rather than that mystery sweet sauce. As a bonus, unlike a donair, you can devour one of these on your lunch break and remain more functional than a hungover manatee afterwards. Our two favourites are La Shish Taouk which is downtown, and Al Salam Pita on the south side.
Writing this post was a bad idea. This pains me.
There is a bountiful selection of great high-end restaurants in Edmonton as well, whether for a special occasion, or a nice date night. Personally, we liked to go just for the hell of it; when funds allowed for it anyway. Corso 32 is just one of the absolutely stunning Italian joints under Daniel Costa, and definitely a favourite; be sure to reserve in advance, as it is regularly booked solid. The Red Ox Inn is a bit of an anomaly; hidden on a small strip up in Strathern, you either know it well or have no idea of its existence. I have a hard time picking favourites, but it’s a strong contender for best restaurant in the city. Finally another contender for first place, and one that has been winning awards across the country since it’s birth: Rge Rd. Whole animal usage and farm-to-table are all the rage these days (with good reason) and these guys do it proper. With a menu that changes with the availability of local product – including the ‘questionable bits’ – to their literal farm dinners, these guys nail it every time. If that isn’t enough, they occasionally open up the other side of their location known as ‘the Butchery’, where they sell house-made sausages, cured meats, pâté’s, and fresh baked breads among other things, to take home.
Please go there now, I’ll eat vicariously through you…
While on the topic of shopping for food, Edmonton has some really fantastic markets and shops as well. Whether we’re in the mood for a nice home-made charcuterie platter or throwing a little party, we’d definitely pick up a few things from the Butchery; and while in the neighbourhood make a little stop over at High Street. Within walking distance of each other, Paddy’s cheese market is the spot to pick up really unique cheeses and is without question the best proper cheese shop in town. Across the road from Paddy’s is the Wine Cellar, our personal choice for picking up something a little higher end. The main level has an amazing selection that is over and above what you might find at your local liquor store, but head downstairs and you’ll see some absolutely absurd bottles from around the world – some well over $1000 a (literal) pop. Another reason to check them out is their regular tasting events, though not always cheap, if you’re into wine they’re definitely worth it.
On those days where we were holding the wallet a little tighter, but still craved some meat and cheese, the Italian Centre was our go-to. Without a doubt the best deli in town, and their produce is often of better quality (and surprisingly cheaper) than most regular grocery stores. We shopped here even for regular grocery trips while living downtown. As for meat, I mean really good quality cuts of proper locally raised meat, the only option for me personally is Acme. Everyone I’ve ever introduced to this place has become a loyal follower; there’s a reason Cory and the gang win best butcher shop consistently. As a bonus they’ve recently moved into a shiny new building across the street from their original spot. If you need meat, go to Acme.
Edmonton might not be up on the same level as New York, or London, or Tokyo, but it’s definitely much more than it’s often given credit for. Our local music and theatre scene, the seemingly non-stop festivals, the endless places to eat, the farmer’s markets, the architecture, the Ice District… I could go on for days, but I think I’ve made my point.
Although Edmonton might not always be the city Kylee and I call home, it will always be our hometown, and she is glorious.
“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”William Faulkner