Ottawa’s culinary scene is about as diverse as the country itself. Canadian cuisine is cooked alongside ethnic foods, food trucks are about as popular as fine dining, historic markets and modern chefs work in tandem… it’s really something to behold.
If you want to leave Ottawa with a full stomach and a smile on your face, this foodie’s guide is for you.
If you like to live like the locals do, a trip to Ottawa will likely involve sourcing out local ingredients and foods at the ByWard Market. For nearly two centuries, farmers and craft merchants have taken to the market to share the fruits (literal and metaphorical) of their labor. Grab food from some of the over 260 stands, pack your picnic basket, and then head to Parliament Hill for a fully Canadian experience.
In addition to all the wonderful foods from local producers, the Ottawa region is home to several award-winning wineries. Domaine Perrault is a family-owned vineyard and winery only 20 minutes from downtown with 10 different kinds of wine that you can sample. If you like fruit wines, made from apples, blueberries or cranberries, Blue Gypsy Wines is a great local option. Or, head south to the Jabulani Vineyard & Winery for a selection of more than 15 wines in a picturesque setting.
Of course, you can also sample the best local wines within the city itself, at many restaurants or in the Vineyards Wine Bar Bistro, which offers a selection of more than 300 bottles of wine.
Ottawa also has a budding craft beer scene. New varieties of stouts, IPAs, pilsners and beyond are yours to try at one of the many local breweries, with more emerging with every changing of the season. Beyond the Pale, Broadhead Brewing Company, Lowertown Brewery, and Dominion City Brewing Co. are just a few of the great options you’ll find in the city.
You can’t leave Ottawa without spoiling yourself with a BeaverTail. These sweet snacks are a uniquely Canadian tradition: whole wheat pastry shaped like a beaver tail and served warm with the topping of your choice, from cinnamon to powdered sugar to Nutella and bananas. You can enjoy a Beavertail year-round at the ByWard Market.
If eating local is really important to you, even when it comes to restaurants, pay a visit to the Feast On website. This program recognizes restaurants committed to showcasing Ontario’s unique tastes, and you can use this certification to ensure what you’re eating is fresh and local.
While there are way more great restaurants than could possibly be explored in this guide, here are a few standouts that will satisfy any palate on a trip to Ottawa.
Let’s start with an icon: Le Cordon Bleu. The North American headquarters of this famous French culinary arts institute is based in Ottawa. While we may not all have nine months to pursue our dreams of becoming a classically-trained chef, we all have a few hours to dine in the school’s extravagant restaurant, Signatures.
From classical we move to modern. Marc Lepine is a two-time Canadian Culinary Champion — a feat no other chef can claim. His restaurant, Atelier, serves up an inventive 12-course tasting menu every night. A solar oven, liquid nitrogen, and other experimental techniques are used to serve up dishes with names like Yolko Uno and the Codfather.
Ottawa isn’t short on award-winning chefs. In 2014, Rene Rodriguez wowed the judges and won Top Chef Canada. You can enjoy the cooking that earned him that title at Navarra. The restaurant offers a new take on Spanish Tapas with dishes like sea scallop ceviche, confit octopus, and Mexican tacos in a jar.
Then there’s NeXT, the labor of love of award-winning chef Michael Blackie. His own food and travel memories have come together to form a unique menu of Canadian, Asian and European-influenced dishes. If you’re worried this sounds too fancy for your tastes, the menu headings are “nibbly bits,” “tasty stuff,” and “dirty stuff,” so you can rest easy.
While in Canada, why not eat like a Canadian? Le Café is the restaurant in Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, and serves up Canadian contemporary cuisine. The menu uses ingredients from across the country, like Ontario lamb and Fogo Island cod, all of it paired with wines chosen by Canada’s only Master Sommelier, John Szabo.
The logo of fine dining staple Restaurant e18hteen calls out three particular items: steak, seafood and wine. While the restaurant offers a great variety of dishes, this is the place if you’re a fan of those three. Savor a lobster bisque followed by a reserve Angus AAA ribeye paired with the perfect wine.
Beckta Dining and Wine is another fine dining option with a particularly historical feel. The restaurant is located at 150 Elgin Street, the grandiose (allegedly haunted) former home of a doctor. The heritage building, built in 1875, has many of its original features, and creates quite the ambiance in which to enjoy contrasting, modern cuisine.
The foodie tours
If you only have a short amount of time to spend in Ottawa and are having a tough time choosing which restaurants to visit, why not opt for a foodie tour instead?
Hop from one restaurant to another enjoying signature dishes on an Experience Food Tour. Learn about the evolution of Ottawa’s food scene as you indulge on fine dining and ethnic foods during a C’est Bon Cooking Tour. Or take the ByWard Market Food & Wine Tour and stop at four of the historic market’s top restaurants for tastes of award-winning cuisine.
With food come the drinks. Beer fan? Join the Brew Donkey Tour and experience a variety of Ottawa breweries, brew pubs and craft beer bars. Wine fan? RunawayGrape hosts guided gourmet wine & food tastings. You’ll learn basic wine tasting techniques and then sample a selection of world-class Ontario wines.
For more on dining in Ottawa, visit the Ottawa Tourism website.