While the downtown core might have the highest density of office workers in the city, it can sometimes feel like a food desert when you flee your cubicle in search of noon-hour nourishment.
To help you avoid casting about aimlessly for your next client lunch spot, I’m pleased to share this curated list of midday dining destinations.
All these restaurants are a stone’s throw from Parliament Hill and the surrounding office towers, located between Wellington and Somerset streets on the north-south axis, and Elgin and Lyon streets on the east-west axis.
Yves Tremblay and Sylvie Villeneuve have an extensive history of philanthropy and community involvement in Ottawa. It’s clear that being generous and making an impact have long been important to
153 Bank St.
If you’ve ever wondered why dozens of folks are queued up at the corner of Bank Street and Laurier Avenue in the depths of winter, Sansotei is the reason. Their generously portioned bowls of Tonkotsu ramen are worth the wait, even when it’s minus 30. Their delectable pork broth is a comforting combination of salty and umami flavours capable of warming your heart, hands and belly.
What I order: The Tonkotsu Black ramen: two thick slabs of juicy braised pork belly, a jammy egg, black mushrooms, green onions and garlic oil, served over thick noodles.
136 O’Connor St.
Chef Joe Thottungal brings his trademark culinary genius that diners first fell in love with at Coconut Lagoon to Thali, his second restaurant located mere steps from Parliament Hill. For the uninitiated, Indian Thali is a complete meal comprised of a variety of dishes served on a single platter. The Thali features an ever-changing selection of vegetables, curries, rice, pulses, bread and dessert. You might also chance upon chutneys or salads, depending on the day. Fair warning, a mid-afternoon nap may be warranted after enjoying a sit-down lunch at Thali.
What I order: The Thali, obviously, often with lamb as my preferred protein.
123 Metcalfe St.
For an elevated dine-in lunch, Cocotte in the Metcalfe Hotel has a certain je ne sais quoi. This stylish venue serves up modern takes on French classics like duck confit, escargots and moules frites. The dining room is spacious and well-suited to an intimate tête à tête, full executive team luncheon, or anything in between.
What I order: The salmon tartare: herbes de Provence and lavender-cured salmon finely diced with ratatouille vegetables, topped with heaps of chives and served with crostini. Each delicate flavour sings in this thoughtfully composed dish that will leave you sated but not stuffed.
154 O’Connor St.
This Korean corn dog spot has an offbeat array of menu items you may have stumbled across on social media. These ain’t your childhood corn dogs – most feature an equal-parts filling of meat and cheese and many incorporate both sweet and savoury elements, like the half cheese/half beef corn dog rolled in sugar, or an unexpected addition to the breading like ramen crisps. Be wary of a possible food coma striking you down after devouring one of these toothsome slabs of meat on stick.
What I order: The cheese and beef with garlic sugar. Half cheese, half beef hot dog, breaded, fried and rolled in garlic sugar. It’s weird, it’s wonderful and will give you a photo-worthy cheese pull.
139 Bank St.
If you’ve got a midday hankering for Mexican, Toro Taqueria has you covered. Choose from tacos, burritos, or bowls to satisfy your craving. All meats and sauces are made in-house with authentic flavours. Pair your meal with a Mexican soda, tres leches cake, or queso fundido and fresh corn tortilla chips.
What I order: A taco bowl. A split base of leaf lettuce and rice topped with beans, corn, Pico de Gallo and red onions. I regularly switch up my choice of protein but am partial to the chicken tinga — pulled chicken in chipotle and tomato sauce. If I’m feeling decadent, I’ll tack on an order of queso fundido and chips.
50 O’Connor St.
When you’re entertaining the C-suite, this white tablecloth establishment is the place to be. Aiana is the most upmarket restaurant on this list and boasts a wine program and price point well-suited to generous expense accounts. Chef Raghav Chaudhary delivers an ambitious vision for Ottawa in every luxurious bite, striving to surprise and delight diners with a seasonally inspired menu that features playful plating and unexpected touches.
What I order: The scallops. These fork-tender mollusks are seared to perfection and served in a romanesco sauce with asparagus, radishes and lavender. A small dollop of lemon gel punctuates the plate with its puckering zing; use it sparingly for a welcome blush of tartness.
Bread and Sons
195 Bank St.
I used to live dangerously close to this hole-in-the-wall bakery and would occasionally find myself there multiple times a day. Sure, you may have sampled their impeccable pastries (hazelnut espresso cream-filled croissant, anyone?), but don’t sleep on their sandwich and pizza offerings at lunch. Unsurprisingly, their focaccia and pizza crust are testament to their mastery of dough, further enhanced by heaps of delectable vegetarian toppings such as roasted red peppers, potatoes, olives and much more.
What I order: The Gouda Sandwich. Comprised of fresh focaccia slathered with homemade dill ranch dressing, homemade harissa, smashed roasted red potatoes, roasted olives and onions, Beemster Gouda, arugula and capers. Get it grilled on the panini press and order a chocolate hazelnut cookie for dessert.
Mulligans Golf Bar
201 Queen St.
If you’re seeking comfort food, tee up lunch at Mulligans Golf Bar. The menu features well-executed pub fare like burgers, nachos, fish and chips, and chicken and waffles. Take a pass on tacos and let your stomach guide you towards the Augusta grilled cheese made with pimento cheese and tomato jam or East coast garlic fingers made with Donair sauce.
What I order: The Kale Caesar with chicken. This meal-sized salad won’t leave you hungry with its generous portion of bacon and heaps of succulent roast chicken. A side order of the “Django Fries” (jalapeño fries) is non-negotiable.
134 Bank St.
This lunch-hour hotspot usually has a line, consider ordering ahead on the website if you’re in a rush. Choose from pre-set bowls or build your own made with brown or sushi rice, zucchini noodles or a combination thereof, topped with sushi-grade fish, chicken or beets, and a wide array of flavourful accoutrements like pickled ginger, edamame, mango, seaweed, etc. Paradise Poké is a great choice if you’re seeking something healthy-ish but don’t want to be famished when you’re sitting in traffic at rush hour.
What I order: The Heat Wave: raw Canadian salmon on sushi rice with their classic sauce, purple cabbage, pickled ginger, mango, daikon and crispy shallots.
119 Slater St.
While the nation’s capital boasts an elite selection of shawarma joints, few of them reside in the heart of the city. One worthwhile option is a shotgun-style restaurant at Slater and Metcalfe streets — Shawarma Express. I’m not sure I would qualify the speed of service as “express,” but the shawarma sandwiches and plates are lovingly prepared with tender, juicy proteins and a selection of homemade sauces. If you’re pressed for time, consider ordering for pick-up through your preferred third-party delivery app.
What I order: The chicken shawarma plate. Hot, fresh and juicy slices of chicken heaped on top of rice, roasted potatoes, pickled veg, hummus, tabbouleh, Fattoush salad and served with pita. The spicy garlic sauce is not to be missed.
Yvonne Langen is the food and drink content creator behind Taste & Tipple. She is also a regular fixture on TV and radio as a lifestyle expert. You may have previously read her work in Ottawa Magazine.