A dessert on a light blue plate on a wooden table with a light blue wall visible behind it
Photography, Bob Deutscher
/

Where to eat in 2024, according to Canadian chefs

5 top Canadian culinary talents share the coolest places to dine right now.

Ask a chef or restauranteur to recommend their favourite restaurants across Canada, and many of them will echo the same issue: Being tied up in the kitchen leaves little time to venture out and explore the local food scene. But that means that when they do make the time to visit a new restaurant – and enjoy it enough to suggest it to others — you can count on it being special. Meet the most inventive, transformed and under-the-radar spots to check out when you want to eat well.

1. Celeste Mah, Portage, NL

“Here in Newfoundland, cod is everything – everybody loves cod,” says chef Celeste Mah, who opened Portage – one of St. John’s latest restaurant additions – with her Top Chef Canada-winning husband, Ross Larkin. “Usually, you find it pan-seared or deep-fried for fish and chips. But growing up Chinese, we’d get the whole steamed black cod and pour hot oil over it. People here aren’t used to eating it like that.” At Portage, this sizzling fish dish is served on a large platter meant to be shared by everyone at the table. Mah looks for dining experiences that stand out in similar ways when she’s travelling.

Mah’s pick: Sunny’s Chinese

A white bowl with mapo tofu on a light blue surface
Photography, Gabriel Li

Sunny’s Chinese, tucked away in Toronto’s Kensington Market neighbourhood, left a lasting impression on Mah thanks to its take on Chinese family-style dining. “We pulled up late at night and walked into this dark hallway, and there was a sign that said ‘Sunny’s this way,’” she says. “It was this really cool pastel diner-ish room. It was so much fun.” And the food? So good. “The black-sesame french toast was amazing. It wasn’t too sweet, [and the ingredients] were perfect together,” she says. “The mapo tofu was just spicy enough where it was like, ‘Oh, my god, is this too spicy?’ But, no, I just kept eating it.”

2. Kenta Takahashi, Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, BC

If you take a combination you know is delicious – think raspberry and chocolate or strawberry and vanilla – and give it to a pro, they’ll make magic happen. “I’m not trying to make [things] fancy,” says Kenta Takahashi, executive pastry chef of Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, who prefers classic dishes done well over unconventional flavours and techniques. “Good taste is the most important thing.” When Takahashi dines out, he takes the same approach. “I pick only the best,” he says.

Takahashi’s pick: Sushi Mahana

A view of a. man at a sushi counter
Photography, Courtesy of Sushi Mahana

North Vancouver’s Sushi Mahana, which opened its doors in early 2023, makes the top of his list. According to Takahashi, the intimate omakase-style restaurant goes beyond simply having the best sushi in Vancouver; it stands out as one of the finest dining experiences overall. There, you can find chef-selected sushi made with both Japanese and locally sourced seafood and produce, and each ingredient is prepared with intention. “It’s rice and fish with a few things on top, but every single bite is perfect.”

Takahashi’s pick: Linh Café

A spring roll being dipped in sauce
Courtesy of Linh Café

For a more casual experience, Takahashi frequents Linh Café, a Vietnamese kitchen with a French slant that relocated to Vancouver’s Beach District during the pandemic. The menu is extensive, but his typical order includes the cha giò spring rolls with pork and wood-ear mushrooms along with a plate of fried garlic-butter frog legs. “You can bring family and friends and have fun with the community.”

3. Danny Smiles, Auberge Willow Inn, Que.

Between catering for bands like Thom Yorke’s The Smile, managing the bustling Auberge Willow Inn during peak wedding season and overseeing the operations of Double’s, the dive bar he co-owns in Montreal’s Mile End, chef and general manager Danny Smiles keeps himself busy. Even so, he still manages to make time to scope out the culinary scene across his home province of Quebec.

Smiles’ pick: Salle Climatisée, Que.

A white dish with a rhubarb dessert on a white tablecloth
Photography, Harrison Shewchuk

Smiles counts three pandemic openings as new favourites, including Montreal’s Salle Climatisée, which serves seasonal side dishes like leeks with sunflower dressing alongside succulent mains. “I don’t think there’s anybody that could cook a chicken as well,” he says.

Smiles’ pick: Pichai

A white bowl with food on a wooden table
Photography, Courtesy of Pichai

For authentic Thai and a stellar wine list, head over to Pichai, also in Montreal, and let your server take the lead. “It’s definitely one of those restaurants that play in the big leagues,” says Smiles. “From beginning to end, they guide you through the experience.”

Smiles’ pick: Parcelles

A white bowl with good on a green tablecloth
Photography, Emile Desroches

Over in Austin, Parcelles is reviving the table champêtre (which translates to “country-style table”) movement, serving pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven and fresh vegetable plates all summer and rustic winter greens with preserves and home-grown grains during colder months. “Get out there, visit the farm, hang out and drink some nice wine.”

4. Connie DeSousa and John Jackson, Charbar, Alta.

Chefs Connie DeSousa and John Jackson first worked together in 1999 and have since collaborated on multiple successful projects, such as Charcut Roast House, which debuted in 2010 and continues to be a Calgary favourite, and Alley Burger, a food truck turned walk-through window located outside Charbar, another one of their restaurants, in the city’s East Village. Naturally, the pair have similar tastes in restaurants.

DeSousa’s and Jackson’s pick: Milpa

A dish with food on a dining table with a napkin and cutlery next to it
Photography, Courtesy of Milpa

Both favour contemporary Mexican spot Milpa in Calgary. Here, chef Elia Herrera turns out inventive small plates beneath stunning turquoise arches, a design inspired by her childhood home. Order the rajas poblanas (which is made using Herrera’s grandmother’s recipe), a combination of roasted poblano peppers and confit chicken with a creamy onion sauce, bubbling panela cheese and house-made tortillas.

DeSousa’s and Jackson’s pick: F&B Restaurant

A dessert on a light blue plate on a wooden table with a light blue wall visible behind it
Photography, Bob Deutscher

Another pick is Saskatoon’s “vibrant and fresh” F&B Restaurant, run by Dale Mackay and cocktail specialist Christopher Cho. “A must-try on their beverage menu is Andy’s Girl, named in honour of the creator’s girlfriend, whose favourite food in the world is cherry cheesecake,” says DeSousa. The dessert-inspired drink combines graham cracker-infused brandy with cherry cordial, Disaronno and lemon and is clarified with cream cheese and garnished with an espresso-dark-chocolate biscuit.

5. Tre Sanderson, Top Chef Canada, ON

With over a decade of culinary experience and a recent Top Chef victory to his name, 29-year-old Tre Sanderson has ambitions of bringing his Jamaican background to Toronto’s fine-dining scene with his own restaurant. So when he goes out to eat, he’s always on the lookout for places that spark inspiration. “It’s all about the setting,” he says. “You walk into the space, it smells good, the service is great. You want to feel like you’re away from home. All the small details matter.” For tried-and-true Caribbean eats, Sanderson has a running list of established favourites. “Rap’s on Eglinton West, Twice As Nice and Patty Time in Scarborough – those are my go- to places,” he says. “If you want a good playlist, decent food and a good drink selection, I would say Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen for sure. Call me crazy, but I like the vibe there.”

Sanderson’s pick: Paris Paris

A person's hand using tweezers to garnish a cocktail with a dried citrus wedge, with various other cocktails visible around in on a marble table with a green curtain visible behind it
Photography, Chuck Ortiz

The revamped Paris Paris, on Toronto’s Ossington strip, also delivers the ambience Sanderson’s after. Order the “super juicy” piri-piri roasted chicken and the charcoal-smoked baby back pork ribs. “They’re fire,” he says. “It’s a good menu, and there’s a really great wine list. You can’t go wrong.”

Share this article: