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Little Italy sign at night. Photo: Charles Crosbie/Apt613 Flickr pool.

Urban Retail Walks: Little Italy and Chinatown

By Bruce Burwell on January 21, 2022

Hey — wanna go for a walk? Sure, why not.

In this recent piece I described a new activity that I’ve indulged in during the pandemic waves that we’ve been surfing — the Urban Retail Walk (URW). In each URW, I’ve walked along heavily salted sidewalks past interesting retail locations. And of course, I’ve walked past closed restaurants that I can’t eat in. Comedy clubs I can’t laugh in. Theatres I can’t sit in. Sigh.

This week I’ll take you on a walk that traverses some commercial areas a little west of the downtown core. I’m starting on Preston at Carling and heading north through Little Italy to Somerset. From there I go east through Chinatown past Bank all the way to Metcalfe. Turning south I head towards the “castle” a.k.a the Museum of Nature. Then I turn west on Gladstone and head all the way back to Preston and south again back to where I parked. For me that’s about 10,000 steps. Your mileage may vary, since I have a really short stride. Or so I’ve been told.

The first thing I noticed as I headed north on Preston was the amazing number of great restaurants in this area. I stopped and looked at a few menus and thought about coming back when they open up again. And before you even get to the 417 underpass and the iconic Little Italy sign, there are three very large bars: The Prescott, Pub Italia, and Heart and Crown. If this wasn’t already known as Little Italy, it could be the Entertainment Area — bars, restos, a comedy club, a theatre — it’s all here.

After you’ve passed Gladstone, the restaurants continue for a bit, then start to thin out as you reach Somerset. At the corner of Somerset and Preston is the historic Plant Bath. Many years ago my parents tried to get me to learn how to swim there. I think I can still smell the chlorine.

As you turn east along Somerset, you are now in Chinatown. There are tons of restaurants along Somerset all the way to Bay Street. Many are Chinese, but there are lots of Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants. One place I always enjoy going into is the Kowloon Market, just to browse through the incredible variety of Asian food products. And of course, during the current lockdown, it may be one of the few places along Somerset that you can duck into to escape the cold.

Somerset Street. Photo: Steve/Apt613 Flickr pool.

Just before you reach Bronson you’ll pass under the beautiful Chinatown arch.

Chinatown. Photo: Kyle Brown/Apt613 Flickr pool.

After you pass Bank Street, it’s a different vibe. More charming old houses and fewer shop fronts. Turning south on Metcalfe, you’re pointed towards the castle. On my most recent walk of this route, I saw a place I’d never really appreciated before and had to look up. Birkett Castle at 306 Metcalfe is a gorgeous old mansion built by a former Ottawa mayor. It has very interesting turrets that echo the look of the museum. Today it houses the Hungarian Embassy. Apparently it’s sometimes on the list of places available to tour during Doors Open Ottawa.

Heading back west along Gladstone towards Bank Street, it’s mostly residential. Just past Bank you’ll see Subito Sandwich on the north side. This route seems to have a lot of amazing Italian-style sandwich places along the way — Subito, Casa Nicastro on Preston, and Di Rienzo’s just west of Preston on Beech. On Somerset, there are some great looking bánh mì Vietnamese subs available at Pho Bo Ga King and Mỹ Hằng within a few stores of each other.

As you continue along Gladstone there are some intriguing foodie stops. Red Apron at 410 Gladstone does groceries and gourmet takeout. At 573 Gladstone there is a cool bakery — True Loaf Bakery. Sadly it’s never been open when I’ve walked by, but I’ve seen their loaves in other retail bakeries.

At Preston, head south again towards Carling and you’ve done your 10k. Of course you can mix it up and start anywhere. I’ve done this route a few times and notice somewhere new every time.

Got any favourite URW routes and stops along them? Let me know in the comments or via social media and I’ll try them out. The next URW I’m walking will be the south part of Bank from the Queensway to Billings Bridge — with a loop into the residential part of the Glebe to look at the impressive homes.