There are more than 100 languages spoken in Winnipeg, and nowhere is that more true than in the incredibly diverse West End, where cuisine, culture and history are evident on a global scale.
Many local families can still trace back their roots to this area, as waves of immigrants have been making their homes in the West End since its earliest days.
As a result, this ethnically rich neighbourhood contains a cornucopia of rave-worthy, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and specialty grocery stores from countries around the world, along with some colourful murals representing all the nations that now call the West End Home.
With all this diversity, the West End has become a destination for gourmands looking for authentic eats and hard-to-find ingredients.
Take a step into Dino’s Grocery Mart (460 Notre Dame Ave) and you’ll feel like you’ve been whisked away to another continent, one where the smells of spices like cumin, cardamon, coriander, tumeric and mustard powder fill the air. You can seemingly buy everything here — including skin care and hair care products — while the primary focus is on and dry good goods from across the globe — particularly the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East. It’s all the result of owner Dino Tailor bringing in what customers in this diverse neighbourhood have asked for.
Across the street at Dong Thai, much can be said about Ms. Wong, who has curated the best South East Asian grocery store in the city. It’s the place to buy fresh mint, Thai basil, lemon grass, and bird eye chilis for your Thai curries, along with a vast array of products from The Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
There’s also Sarah Esperanza’s El Izalco Market (696 Sargent Avenue), a store where Central America awaits, where Esperanza will make you chiles rellenos while you buy spices and products from Latin America (get the Lizano sauce from Costa Rica — you’ll end up putting that stuff on everything), and Mercadito Latino (570-C Sargent Avenue), where you can find some of the city’s best chefs (and latin musicians) eating pupusas on their days off.
And don’t even get me started on Deluca’s (950 Portage Avenue) because I could write a whole novel on how great it is. At this Italian food and wine emporium the cheese and butcher counter are second to none, the imported Italian goods are all nona approved, and the service is always prompt and knowledgeable.
On the restaurant side of things, the motto of the West End is “taste the world,” which is an easy thing to do at its over 90 restaurants.
This neighbourhood is where you’ll find some of the city’s best South East Asian food, with notables including Pho Hoang (794 Sargent Avenue – in fact, Sargent is simply studded with great Vietnamese food), Winnipeg’s Filipino standout restaurant Jeepney (714 Sargent Avenue), and the legend that is Magic Thailand (842 Logan Avenue). There’s also no shortage of Ethiopian, East Indian, Cantonese and Caribbean spots.
And we haven’t even covered live music, of which the West End has two of Winnipeg’s very best venues.
There’s always a party happening at the Good Will Social Club (photo by Duncan McNairnay)
One of the city’s newest – and arguably hippest – hangout spots is The Good Will Social Club. Owned and operating by a bunch of creative types including DJs and baristas, this cozy room on Portage Ave features live music, events as diverse as painting parties and drag queen bingo, or some kind of other fun happening every single night. They do a nice job with drinks too, while they also house a Little Pizza Heaven location where you can get quality slices for a good price.
The West End Cultural Centre is a legendary live music venue, and continues to be a great place to catch concerts by folk, blues, jazz and indie artists. Past recording artists who have played here include Feist, Great Big Sea and Jann Arden, while it is always rocking with local bands and singer-songwriters who are looking to make a name for themselves.
And oh my friends, we haven’t even talked about the art in the West End! The 50 murals decorating the neighbourhood are internationally recognized and award-winning, sharing the stories and history of its famous people and many cultures (a personally favourite is the large mural of Gigi Buffon, the Italian goalkeeper who still had an amazing Euro cup last month despite being now 38 years old!).
Now the best way to really see this vibrant neighbourhood is with the experts from West End Biz, who organize weekly thematic walking and dining tours.
On the art side of things you can embark on a Mural Tour, which is available Monday through Saturday. These walking tours are two hours long for bigger groups (so bring comfy shoes) — although the fine folks from West End Biz can tailor a shorter tour to fit your needs.
During the Mural Tour you’ll hear all about the rich history of the area, get in-depth descriptions of the brilliant art, and even do a little bit of sampling from local restaurants, along with some fun trivia. And the kicker is the cost is only $5 for adults and $2 for kids!
For food, they have an “Around the World in a Few Blocks” tour that focuses on a mix of celebrated establishments – like Cafe Dario, Shawarma Time, Casa Grande and Morden’s Chocolates — while also introducing diners to spots that are only on certain locals’ radars.
A visit to Café Dario is part of West End Biz food tours (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)
Each week you have new restaurants on the tour — which only makes sense when you can find nearly 100 restaurants here spread over a couple city blocks — while your guide also provides insights and anecdotes on this unique area of the city.
The “Around the World in a Few Blocks” tour runs once a week from July through to September 7th. Tickets are $50 per person per tour, with the option for additional drink tickets ($4.50 for domestic beer, $6.50 for wine and import beer), and they run from 6 p.m. to approximately 8:30 p.m.
The next tour is on July 27, then August 3, 11, 17, 24 and 31.
Tours can be booked (two days in advance please) by calling the BIZ at 204.954.7900 or by emailing Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vegetarian meals are available.