After spending 10 days in my birth city of Edmonton, I’m ready for a third instalment of good, affordable eateries, in this case lunch spots. While Edmonton’s roads aren’t getting any better, the food scene continues to improve, though it’s surprising how many downtown spots are only open Tuesday to Friday for lunch.
The chefs at *Cibo Bistro are noted for serving high-end dishes like seared duck breast, stuffed rabbit leg and house-made pasta with stinging nettles to a discerning dinner crowd. But four days a week, they turn their considerable talents to more affordable lunches at this lofty-ceiling, rustic Italian restaurant along central Edmonton’s busy 104 Avenue.
Consider my $13 combo, delivered by a most engaging server, Chance. It starts with a luscious bowl of golden beet soup, the small chunks of grapes adding a touch of sweetness to a thick kale base. Then it’s on to Cibo’s first-rate signature meatball sandwich—hefty pork and veal meatballs atop a thin layer of prosciutto and smoked caciocavallo, and tomato basil jam smeared on a toasted baguette. It’s a fabulous, creative lunch and a bargain for the quality, size and execution.
11244 104 Avenue, Edmonton
Lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday and Monday
Another good lunch bet is downtown’s popular MRKT, where a sandwich/salad and soup combo also goes for $13, washed down with a good pot of French press coffee. My braised, shredded beef sandwich is nicely complemented by caramelized onions, smoked gouda and a Spanish tomato sauce, served on a ciabatta bun. I choose the fish soup, featuring small pieces of scallop, shrimp and basa.
It’s all good stuff though not quite as flavourful as the ingredients might suggest. The space is certainly interesting—a subway-like tube wrapped in wood paneling, with mostly long and tall shared tables, which are increasingly de rigeur in fashionable, casual eateries.
10542 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton
Lunch Tuesday to Friday 11 am-2 pm, wine bar Tuesday to Saturday 5 pm-late
The corner of Stony Plain Road and 142 Street, in Edmonton’s west end, has been a graveyard for restaurants. Indeed, the most recent resident, Blue Chicago Speakeasy, still maintains its peeling presence a good decade after closing. If and when a nearby apartment tower and western extension of the city’s light-rail transit get built, perhaps the upsurge in area traffic will increase the demand for good eateries.
In the meantime, here’s hoping Cafe Rista, a little place that’s somewhat hidden on a side street a block to the north, has better success than its neighbours. The family-run business has a lot going for it—good Italian espressos, breakfast bagels/sandwiches and a list of fresh paninis, wraps and salads at lunch. My flavourful Italian panini ($8.50) has a generous layering of spicy meats and melted mozza, and the large bowl of the day’s chicken noodle soup is almost big enough to swim in.
14213 103 Avenue, Edmonton
Weekdays 7 am-5 pm, Saturday 9 am-2 pm. Closed Sunday
Had a stressful morning? Just head over to Padmanadi Vegetarian Restaurant, an oasis of calm on the northern edge of downtown Edmonton. It’s a lovely space, with light yellow walls, arrangements of long bamboo stalks, unique triangular chairs and, presiding over all, a beatific jade Buddha.
Padmanadi carries on the curious custom of vegetarian restaurants naming dishes after the various meats they’re trying to replicate. In my case, it’s the savoury chicken curry, the tofu resembling and tasting very much like, you guessed it, chicken. It comes in a nice, mild sauce with chunks of potato, broccoli spears, a mound of jasmine rice and a couple of crispy spring rolls filling the plate. This $12 meal includes a little bowl of hot and sour soup and chrysanthemum tea, both beautifully presented.
In sum, forget the arguments about faux meat. This is good food, with friendly, relaxed service in a place that allows you unwind for an hour.
Padmanadi Vegetarian Restaurant
10740 101 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday-Friday 11 am-2 pm
In the bedroom city of St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, is The Enjoy Centre. How can’t you love a name like that, especially when it’s dedicated to plants and a food emporium under several acres of glorious glass? The centre is a legacy of the Hole family, whose famed St. Albert greenhouse business lives on here and is hopefully beyond the financial troubles that plagued the centre’s early years.
Upon entering the building, you walk through a ground floor devoted to the Amaranth Whole Foods Market, a bakery and a deli. Take the long, slow escalator to the light-filled second floor to shop for perennials and enjoy a fine coffee, panini or fabulous, arranged salad at the aptly-named Glasshouse Bistro & Cafe, with views over Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. It’s one of those places you just want to linger and, well, enjoy.
Glasshouse Bistro & Cafe (in The Enjoy Centre)
101 Riel Drive, St. Albert
Daily, coffee bar opens at 10 am, the dining room and counter-service lunch bar at 11 am