24 hours in Ottawa: Where you have to eat in Canada’s capital

Restaurant kitchen
Restaurant kitchen

While Ottawa has no shortage of beautiful and historical places to visit – and may be better known for its bureaucratic hum than a night-time buzz – it has in fact a burgeoning food scene with a thriving nightlife to match.

Visitors coming to Ottawa overwhelmed by the number of chain restaurants congesting the city core can find solace in this list of where they need to eat in Canada’s capital.

Tucked away in a parking lot just over two kilometres from downtown Ottawa is an industrial-style building that houses a bakery and restaurant that’s bustling with activity and smells like an open-oven freeing the aroma of fresh-baked bread.

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Inspired by boulangeries of Paris and cafes of Brooklyn, Art-Is-In bakery is an eclectic mix of homemade pastries, perfectly poached eggs, soups, and loaded sandwiches.

Egg, fried potato and avocado may seem like an odd combination of ingredients to put on a pizza, but it’s a winning combination at this unique spot that features $1 coffee refills in generous cups.

A hostess greets you at the door and shuffles you into one of two lineups: for the restaurant, or the bakery. Both equally long, they move quickly. Seating is cafeteria-style so you may be cozied up next to strangers but the food is so exceptional you don’t notice your seat-mate.

Smaller in size, but carving its own culinary path just on the other side of the Alexandra Bridge in Gatineau, is Edgar. The space itself is small and if the tables are full, which they usually are, you will be waiting outside but the server brings you coffee so you can sip away until it’s time to eat. On weekdays, Edgar offers soups and sandwiches with an often changing menu but seasonally fresh ingredients and is known for its famous weekend brunch.

Peter Hum, an arts writer and restaurant critic at the Ottawa Citizen, said there has been a shift in Ottawa’s food scene spanning two decades, as chefs and restaurateurs keep up with food trends developing across other cities. Hum said if visitors don’t mind the queue, they may want to line up for Edgar chef Marysol Foucault’s exquisite desserts.

If you’re feeling lethargic after brunching your way through the better part of the day, head over to the National Arts Centre for a cup of Equator coffee, a rich and velvety Ottawa Valley roast, and take in the view of the city’s most picturesque intersection, boasting views of Parliament, the National War Memorial and city streetscape.

As the day shifts to night, Andaz in the Byward Market is the perfect place to watch the sun go down. The hotel’s rooftop lounge Copper Spirits and Sights, located on the 16th floor, possesses a coveted view of the entire city.

Amy Karlin, an Ottawa-based blogger, said she has also noticed a shift in the city’s food scene and “now it’s a whole different ball game.”

“Chefs are not afraid to experiment,” she said.

Karlin’s top recommendation is Riviera on Sparks Street.

“It’s almost in a class of its own. You walk in and there’s such an atmosphere to the place,” she said of the old bank that’s been converted to a stunning restaurant.

Karlin recommends sitting at the bar where you can chat with bartenders about their creations.

A short Uber from downtown will take you to Supply and Demand, which offers rustic pasta dishes, vegetable-based small plates, fresh oysters and an upbeat vibe with an open kitchen. It also hosts pasta-making classes over wine.

And in nearby Hintonburg, Hum recommends Carben Food and Drink, which he said pushes the envelope a little further to make food interesting.

“It’s a place where you go and if there’s a loss of conversation, you end up talking about the dishes,” he said. He also recommends Les Fougeres in Chelsea for a rustic experience.

If a busy day of exploring means a late-night dinner, Karlin said Two Six Ate in Little Italy is so creative and welcoming it feels like you’re hanging out with family without having to do the dishes.

And for dessert? Stella Luna Gelato Cafe or Foucault’s baked goods.

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