Chefs eat food, or at least taste it, all day. It’s their job (thanks for that Captain Obvious) — so they’re probably a good source to ask about restaurants.
Some of the best hidden gem rooms I’ve found in this city are due to interviews I’ve done with cooks, so it only makes sense to bring those sources straight to you with this new monthly series: Where Winnipeg chefs eat on their days off. (Days off might be a bit of a stretch, more like time away from the restaurant for late night meals and the occasional breakfast or lunch).
Here’s the gist: every month we’ll be asking three chefs to answer, in their own words, what are the dishes and lesser-known spots that civilians like us should be eating at?
So without further ado, let’s dig in so you can eat like the pros.
Terik Cabildo – chef/owner of Vera Pizzeria e Bevande (670 Osborne), the home of excellent neapolitan-style pizzas and outrageously good meatballs and salad, has a top 5 of can’t-miss spots:
1. BMC Market (722 Osborne) – She’s my neighbour and calls me vecino when I come in. Her prices are cheap and it’s fast; I order a horchata, potato salad and quesadillas on the weekdays. I get beef tongue tacos on the weekend. (Tacos pictured at top of article, photo by Peg City Grub.)
2. Ta.Ke Sushi (2-1235 Pembina Hwy) – It’s quiet, fast, and the price is fair enough, plus it’s on my route to work.
3. Noodle Express (180 King Street) – Not lesser-known, but super cheap and everything is good. I really like the scallop and coriander dumplings while the pork and coriander wonton soup is awesome as well.
Pupusas from El Mercadito Latino (El Mercadito Latino)
4. El Mercadito Latino (570-C Sargent Avenue): I get papusas (3 for $9.95) with all three fillings: bean, cheese and meat, along with fried cassava — which are like french fries, but better.
5. Phuong Nam (883 William Avenue): It used to be open until 3 a.m. on weekends, but no longer alas. Everything is good, from papaya salad and fried chicken, to sate beef soup (#31, Phỡ Saté Đặc Biệt) to curry coconut stews, as well as pho and vermicelli bun bowls. Also, get the young coconut drink (#181 Nước Dừa Tươi, $2.50), it’s like cereal milk, but not.
Dancing Noodle chef/owner Xiaofei Zuo hand-pulling la mian noodles (PCG)
Ben Kramer – the chef who took farm to table dining and sustainable sourcing to a whole new level in Winnipeg is a fan of toothy noodles and a well made cocktail in a carefully curated spot:
Dancing Noodle is my favourite spot to grab a bite to eat these days. How can you go wrong with fresh hand-pulled noodles, homemade hot sauce and an insane beef broth?
My new favourite drink spot is the bar at Forth. Josey [Krahn] (who is also the main barman at Deer + Almond) can obviously throw down with the best bartenders, but at Forth they’ve also managed to create an intimate, friendly, super accessible space. The hip hop/rap background music doesn’t hurt either.
Shawn Brandson – when Shawn and his wife Connie aren’t running their businesses Promenade Café and Wine, Fort Gibraltar Dining Corporation, Provisions Market and Cafe at Lower Fort Garry and WinnipegWedding.com (yup, they are busy), you can find them at these two spots:
Vanxai’s Restaurant (79 St. Anne’s Road) – Thai food is always delicious and a divergent from the local and French cuisine that we offer. This is a small family run restaurant at 79 Saint Anne’s Road that offers some authentic cuisine.
Favourite items are the stuffed chicken wings (#9, $7.99), which are stuffed with vegetables and pork, while we also enjoy the Mee Krob (#25, $11.50) with the vegetables and half-cooked noodles. The broth is complex and cooked with no short cuts and lots of love. All the curries are wonderful and can be set at different heat levels. The Pad Thai (#27, $11.50) is always a favourite and very satisfying.
Pineridge Hollow (67086 Heatherdale Road, Oakbank, MB) – Whether it is to just get out of the city or coming back from our venue at Provisions Lower Fort Garry, Pineridge Hollow is a great break from the hustle and bustle. Not only a serene setting but they also have a great store that includes gifts, home accents and furniture.
In the restaurant we enjoy items like the Campfire Skillet ($14) with farmer’s sausage, hash browns and cheese for breakfast. The baked-to-order cinnamon bun that comes to the table with smells of cinnamon and gooey caramel is a great treat. The wild mushroom perogies ($12) are always enjoyed with onion ragout and dill yogurt; they are especially delicious because my kitchen staff do not have to make them. I frequently remember when I sold a similar item for a catering gig we did for 1000 people. At 4,000 pieces it was too much of a good thing, but I still enjoy eating them!