Avenue Best Restaurants 2018
February 28, 2018
photography by Curtis Trent
Four Whistle Farms goose, upside down apple cake and wood oven roasted sunchoke salad
There are many, many factors that go into an exemplary restaurant experience.
The food has to be phenomenal — flawlessly executed, innovative enough to capture your attention, and consistently amazing, dish after dish. The servers should be knowledgeable and attentive and the ambience should be welcoming. When it comes to the discussion about the Best Overall restaurant in the city, we have very, very high expectations — and Rge Rd consistently exceeds them.
Now, Rge Rd is no stranger to our Best Restaurants list — the newly opened spot swept the Best Overall and Best New category in 2014, and snagged two more Best Overall wins in 2016 and 2017. However, chef Blair Lebsack and co-owner Caitlin Fulton aren’t content to rest on their laurels, ever. “There’s never been a month that we haven’t done some sort of improvement to our restaurant in five years,” Lebsack says. “We continually try to think, how can we make the customer, our guest, more comfortable here? How can we be more hospitable?”
Rge Rd maintains the top spot again this year because it manages to balance consistency with constant innovation in a way that makes us want to go back over and over again. “We’ve realized that people’s favourite thing about Rge Rd is they get to try something new. People don’t say that they have to have one dish and we’re stuck making it forever — they say, I want the pork, but I want it the way you’re doing it this month,” says Lebsack. And indeed, menu staples such as the Kitchen Board and Questionable Bits change on a daily basis, ensuring your taste buds will be constantly surprised — and delighted.
10643 123 St., 780-447-4577, rgerd.ca
Food Bite: once a month, Rge Rd does off-sales in the Butchery — purchase freshly prepared terrines, rillettes, sausages and more.
General manager and co-owner Caitlin Fulton; chef and co-owner Blair Lebsack, Chef de cuisine Davina Moraiko
Chef Blair Lebsack
According to Lebsack, nearly every cook has a perfect, dream restaurant in his or her mind — he certainly did.
“I worked for some absolutely fantastic chefs, and there would still be times that I would leave work, go home and draw out my own restaurant,” he says. “This restaurant [Rge Rd] has been in the works for 20 years.”
After taking a step back from an executive chef role, Lebsack nurtured the next generation of chefs as an instructor in NAIT’s culinary arts program — and got to work focusing on his restaurant venture. After searching for the perfect location and testing out the concept with a series of farm dinners, his dream restaurant became a reality. Lebsack is passionate about food — period. He can wax poetic about farm life and the innovations in agricultural practices, he gets a glint in his eye when he talks about how the Rge Rd kitchen utilizes the whole animal in its menus, and even brings it back around to food when discussing his travels with partner (and Rge Rd co-owner) Caitlin Fulton. And that passion is exactly why Rge Rd continues to thrive, year after year. —A.M.
Speck, shaved pink lady apple and fresh horseradish
In Bon Appetit’s 2017 Best Restaurants issue, Adam Rapoport remarks in his editor’s note that he judges restaurants so critically because “so many of them get it right. They blaze a trail and we follow.” Well, once again, Corso 32 proves that it always gets it right, and holds strong against other restaurant comparisons. Our judges unanimously voted for it to get a top spot, and year after year we hear from readers who dine there and love it, or from whom it’s on their “need to try” lists. If you’re in the latter group, make 2018 the year you try it. It’s not the flashy new kid on the block, but it’s consistently excellent with attentive service, minimalist yet warm decor and simple yet flavourful Italian food. The menu rarely changes — though look for some new dishes this month — but in this case that’s a good thing; when you crave the chocolate torta or the goat ricotta, it’s going to taste just as good as you remember it. And don’t think of Corso 32 as just a special occasion spot or a place for a splurge: Is it great for a romantic anniversary? Yes. Is it a great place to celebrate a birthday with a small group of close friends? Yes. Is it a great spot for a delicious meal on a Monday night? You bet it is — been there, done that. And with prices comparable to what you’ll find on big-box chain menus, it’s not an unattainable splurge but rather excellent value for a quality dining experience in the city. —Breanna Mroczek
10345 Jasper Ave., 780-421-4622, corso32.com
executive chef and owner Daniel Costa
Chef Larry Stewart
When the judges got together to discuss their selections, there was a lot of talk about the restaurants that push the envelope and those that reliably make great meals, over and over. Hardware falls into the latter category; it’s amazing to think about just how much the city’s culinary scene is built on chef Larry Stewart’s work. The people he’s brought through his kitchen have gone on to star in other places.
The menu is loaded with classics; the beef tenderloin with bone marrow is a classic dish, and it’s executed well, right down to the Béarnaise sauce. And, in a world filled with new, white dining rooms with light-coloured minimalist furniture, it’s awfully nice to sit in a place that has, well, colour in the dining room. Modern it’s not. But, to really enjoy all of the new things the city has to offer, you have to go back to the classics now and then. And, maybe, in our food scene, we need to do more to celebrate those who haven’t had to reinvent the wheel. —Steven Sandor
9698 Jasper Ave., 780-423-0969, hardwaregrill.com
The newest restaurant in Daniel Costa’s Italian trifecta marries the unparalleled Italian food the kitchens at Corso 32 and Bar Bricco are known for, with a bright, airy space and a friendly vibe. The menu of shareable dishes is updated frequently, but some standby favourites are versions of simple dishes: The cacio e pepe, pasta with pepper and cheese, is creamy perfection. —B.M.
10349 Jasper Ave., 780-426-0346, uccellino.ca
Over the years, The Marc has received enough Best Restaurants plaques to build a dedicated wall to the plaudits the restaurant has received. The standards remain high at this down-town dining staple; French-influenced cuisine, stripped of all the stuffiness. Whether you choose to button down, or go formal, The Marc has made French cuisine accessible to Edmonton. —S.S.
9940 106 St., 780-429-2828, themarc.ca
Over the years, Japonais has appeared on our Best Restaurants list in a variety of categories, and there’s a reason for that — it’s consistently excellent. The food is fresh and prepared flawlessly with all the right techniques, the service is attentive, the ambience is pleasant — there’s not much to find fault with here. —A.M.
11806 Jasper Ave., 780-760-1616, japonaisbistro.ca
It dominated our [now retired] Best Indian category in years previous. Guru brings an elegance to Indian cuisine, from the addictive cauliflower draped in a rich red sauce, to the chicken shooters, wonderful bites inside round pastry shells. —S.S.
17021 100 Ave., 780-484-4300, gururestaurant.com
This Korean joint off Whyte Avenue snagged our Best New Restaurant title in 2016, and it continues to impress with its menu of Korean street eats. The fried ddukbokki is a revelation — crisp yet chewy, in a spicy and sweet sauce that’s perfectly balanced and perfectly delightful. —A.M.
8115 104 St., 780-989-0997, facebook.com/ NongBuKorean
This small Thai-Laotian spot has been a fixture on our Best Thai lists from previous editions. It’s a consistently great spot, nothing fancy, just fantastic noodle dishes topped with meats and spices — including the clear “glass” noodles. And the meal-sized soups, with just the right mix of lemongrass, spice and coconut, well they clear the sinuses right out. —S.S.
10569 97 St., 780-423-4207
For many judges, this spot went from “I’ve never heard of it” to an instant favourite. A vibrant spot on Whyte Avenue, it serves delicious Japanese street food like ramen and sashimi — but don’t overlook the seasoned Shaka Shaka fries. Part of the appeal is the themed décor and pleasantly loud atmosphere that makes it feel like you’ve stepped into a hotspot in Tokyo — it’s hard not to like a place that’s this much fun. —B.M.
10205 82 Ave., 780-988-9760, dorinku.ca
This article appears in the March 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.