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Foodie Friday: Eat the world! O-town’s best global grub

By Pam Kapoor on May 16, 2014

Where do you go when you’re craving pho, shawarma, bibimbap, or korma? Where must you absolutely take out-of-town guests for the best sushi, bannock, pupusa, or schnitzel?

I decided to put my chopsticks where my mouth is and craft this list of the best global cuisine in Ottawa as a response to this recent Where to Eat in the Capital City feature – while I’m a big fan of every eatery mentioned, what frustrated me was the favouring of obvious, trendy spots and near-omission of global grub. O-town eaters know how much excellent world cuisine there is to be devoured here. Allow me to present just a few of my and my friends’ faves …

What would you add to this list?! Comment below.

Cuisine: Indian*

Name: Little India Café

Where: 66 Wylie Avenue

Why: I once heard it boasted that Ottawa has the most Indian restaurants per capita than any other Canadian city. If that’s true, why are so many of them ordinary. I would think you’d strive for exceptional in order to stand out in such a flush field. That’s why I’ve been so fiercely loyal to Little India Café – by far the best Indian fare in the area outside a few aunties’ kitchens. They’ve jacked up prices recently, but the food remains worthy. Loads of pals rave about Coconut Lagoon, but I find its lunch buffet better than the menu – pretty much the only time I’d ever say that!

Honourable mention: Mia’s Indian Cuisine at 917 Richmond Road

* A fellow foodie suggested there should be separate listings for various Indian regional cuisine, which I might tackle another time

Cuisine: Lebanese

Name: Shawarma Palace

Where: 464 Rideau Street & 2949 Carling Avenue

Why: Anyone who loves Lebanese food as much as I do goes only to this joint for a fix. Don’t let the speedy service line fool you – the Palace delivers reliably-intense flavours through authentic technique. What comes off those iconic spits is superbly-seasoned meat done low and slow to perfection (it shames the mealy chicken and beef-esque stuff of lesser purveyors). Herbivores get plenty of love here, too, with exceptional falafel and roasted veg.

Honourable mention: Palais Libanais in Les Galeries de Hull

Cuisine: Thai

Photo from khaothai.ca.

Photo from khaothai.ca.

Name: Khao Thai

Where: 103 Murray Street & 424 Preston Street

Why: The word authentic gets tossed around a lot in reference to ‘ethnic’ food, so I make sure to use it judiciously. And I’ll do so now: Khao Thai delivers an authentic culinary experience. With so many great Thai options in our city, which is the best is a hot debate. Aficionados tend to agree with me that the flavours and freshness on offer at Khao Thai are spot on. Sure, they do a mean pad thai. But explore the lesser-known creations that have treated me to some of the most tantalizing flavours I’ve ever encountered. (Ouf, that tom yum!)

Honourable mention: Siam Bistro at 1268 Wellington (points docked for using “exotic” in their tagline)

Cuisine: Salvadoran

Name: La Cabana

Where: 848 Merivale Road

Why: In addition to serving up what are widely considered the best pupusas in town, La Cabana does a wicked curtido (think Latino kimchi). Don’t miss the yuca con chicharron (cassava with fried pork rinds). Big family tables here are fun, but really, don’t expect much by way of ambience. Or intense seasoning or heat, for that matter. Just delicious, downhome fare.

Honourable mention: El Tucan at 85 Montreal Road for rivalling pupusas but avoid the unnecessary “tex mex” and “Canadian plates”, obv.

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Photo from the Pho’licious Facebook page.

Photo from the Pho’licious Facebook page.

Name: Pho’licious

Where: 300 Booth Street

Why: This relatively recent addition to Chinatown is creating seriously delicious food. Mama oversees (fusses over?) every last detail with love in the kitchen, which means we get food that warrants the indulgent savouring of each mouthful. Excellent Bánh Mì (Vietnamese sub) has been hard to come by in Ottawa until now, including for takeout – everything from the BBQ pork to the ham to the spread are homemade. Venture into the ‘special dish’ section of the menu for a real treat, but the Ph? here is transcendent thanks to perfect, intense broth. One fan described the Ph? th?p c?m as “Heaven in a bowl! I have tried other places and you all make the best pho I have ever tasted!”

Honourable mentions: Pho Bo Ga La (763 Somerset West) is a very close second for insanely delicious (and late-night) ph?. And I go to New Mee Fung (350 Booth) A LOT because, well, institution.

Cuisine: Ethiopian

Name: Habesha

Where: 574 Rideau Street

Why: Small setting. Small portions. Big flavour. Fans of Habesha rave over the love that is always infused into the cooking here. This is African soul food, replete with collard greens, but definitely not for the mild palate. Signature dishes sing with spices like berbere & mekelecha. Don’t miss the various wot (stew) dishes and kitfo. Injera lovers unite!

Cuisine: Chinese

Name: Hung Sum

Where: 870 Somerset Street West

Why: Let’s face it, the Chinese food category is tricky in the same way pizza is – questions of authenticity are almost moot due to such long-term westernization of the cuisine, plus our criteria is all over the map. Connoisseurs in the NCR regularly cite Hung Sum as the best since it joined the scene a few years ago. This is not stereotypical Chinese fast food. It’s all authentic, mouthwatering, quality cooking. But what makes the kitchen good also makes it slow – they are fierce about freshness and they don’t do mass advance prep. Since the (tiny) dining room is always packed, you can end up waiting awhile for your food, never mind a table. But with dishes pretty much made to order, damn, it’s worth it. Run, don’t walk, for the dim sum – it’ll blow the minds of anyone who finds yummy those tepid, prefab items served elsewhere.

Cuisine: Malaysian

Name: Chahaya Malaysia

Where: 1690 Montreal Road

Why: This place is on the list thanks to the legions of fans who love it (I’ve yet to eat there, for shame). One friend contends the food “has been consistently excellent” since she worked there … 30 years ago. How do you stay relevant after so long in the biz? I was taught that for any business to succeed, it has to kickass on two out of these three things at a given moment: quality, prices, service. From what I hear, Chahaya Malaysia delivers all three, all the time.