Best Of Food 2013

Best of Food 2013

Restaurants | Menu | People | Booze & Pubs | Breakfast | Coffee & Tea | Shopping & Services

Congratulations to all our winners and thanks to everyone who voted! Prairie Dog’s Best Of Food 2013 was published by Terry Morash and co-edited by Gregory Beatty and Stephen Whitworth. It was written by Greg, Steve, James Brotheridge, John Cameron, Amber Goodwyn, Shane Hnetka, Lois-Anna Kaminski, Aidan Morgan, Ashley Rankin and Vanda Schmockel.

RESTAURANTS

Best Restaurant

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with the winner of this category. There are pricier, more upscale dining establishments in town, but La Bodega is probably the most consistently good restaurant. I’ve eaten there more times than I can remember and haven’t had a bad meal yet. Have you? No, you haven’t, because they know what they’re doing! In a city that has seen its share of “what were they thinking?” culinary moments, questionable service, and a small army of yokels who watch the food channel for a year and somehow come to the conclusion that they can do better, La Bodega stands apart. The food is always good, the menu seasonal, the service is friendly and professional, and the atmosphere convivial and unpretentious. You really can’t ask for much more than that. /VS

Best Restaurant For A Budget Date

Viet Thai
2080 Albert St.
306-569-3833

Not all dates have to break the bank, and Viet Thai is a great option for an affordable, low-key night with your special someone. You can pick a few items to share: nothing says loving like eating off each other’s plates. Faves to share are the Singapore noodles and a tofu or chicken hot plate loaded with veggies. Finish with some Vietnamese coffees, and since the prices are reasonable enough, you may even have some after-dinner dough left over: think flowers or tickets to a show.

Viet Thai’s centrally located, so you can walk or ride your bikes to save on cab fare or gas. Better yet: order to go and snuggle up on a picnic blanket or couch with a bottle of wine.  Ahhh… young love. /AR

Best Restaurant For A Luxury Date

The Willow on Wascana
3000 Wascana Dr.
306-585-3663
willowonwascana.ca

I like the Willow. The view is unparalleled no matter what the season, and Chef Tim and the team take care to reflect the changing seasons in their menu. Every ingredient that can be raised locally is sourced locally, from the meat and fish to the fruits, veggies and herbs.

The Spring 2013 supper menu includes dishes with seductive names like Dark Roots (root-beer-braised short ribs on a bed of smoked cheddar polenta with herb-roasted carrots and a dark chocolate demi-glace) and Pearls of Wisdom (coconut curried eggplant with cashews on cardamom crème fraiche pearl barley with sweet potato dumplings and a coconut caramel and citrus salad).

The desserts are slightly less seductively named; for example: Spongebomb Cheesepants (cheesecake and sponge cake with chocolate ice cream and cherry sorbet with chai cream) and the Simon and Grapefunkle (a grapefruit curd tart in a sugar cookie crust topped with brulée’d grapefruit and rosemary cream). /LAK

Best Restaurant For Vegetarians

13th Ave Coffee House
3136 13th Ave.
306-522-3111
13thavecoffee.com

So, clearly 13th Ave. Coffee House won for Best Vegetarian cuz when iron levels dip, there’s coffee to sip!

Joking aside, the diverse menu features local, healthy, fresh dishes perfect for nibbling or devouring, depending on your appetite. You’ve got your rice bowls, breakfast bowls, soups, stews, sandwiches, baked goods and drinks of all varieties to choose from, each perfect for curling yourself around on the charming patio or inside in the character-home dining area.

The dishes have wonderfully varied texture and are vitamin rich as all get out — please note the option to add extra bee pollen or hemp hearts to a breakfast bowl. Also, vegetarians and vegans, like the rest of us, enjoy a versatile vibe. I confess to regularly Worshiping at the Temple of Nosh there while variously churning out my Prairie Dog assignments, boozing on the terrace and lunching with my mother-in-law. Add to all that a great location and you’ve got yourself a restaurant that meets the requirements of the Holy Trinity of Guaranteed Restaurant Success (please see Best Décor below). /AG

Best Family Restaurant

Boston Pizza
2660 Quance St. 306-779-4500
4657 Rae St. 306-585-1722
545 Albert St. N. 306-949-5455
bostonpizza.com

A good family restaurant has to be a little bit like a good family: namely, stable and reliable. I love my family — nieces, nephew and other members included — but if I’m doing the wrangling, it can be stressful as hell to go out to supper with them. So we need a place with clockwork service and a variety of food options that appeal to everyone’s taste.

Their pastas and pizzas are always good options, and you’ll never go wrong with their appetizers either. They offer alcoholic drinks in regular and Herculean sizes, potentially important depending on what kind of kids you’ve got around. I’ve visited every Boston Pizza in Regina, and all chart a steady course, exactly what’s needed when entertaining family. /JB

Best New Restaurant

Browns Socialhouse
1065 Stockton St. 306-789-4505
3610 Eastgate Dr. 306-757-0777
brownsrestaurantgroup.com

Last year, I wrote a somewhat tart review of the Browns Socialhouse that had opened in Regina’s northwest. Since then, another Browns franchise has opened in the east end of the city, just off of Prince of Wales Drive. Now Best of Food has come around, and Regina Has Spoken. And what Regina says is, “whatever, dude. Don’t complain until you’ve taken down a pitcher of Browns’ sangria or a Weekend Caesar with horseradish-infused Clamato. Then we’ll talk.” Of course, there’s more to Browns than the atmosphere or the $4 glasses of house red. I’m a fan of their Tahitian Tuna Salad and any of their healthy bowls. /AM

Best Buffet

Spices of Punjab
320 Victoria Ave. E.
306-543-1000
spicesofpunjab.com

What’s the mark of a good buffet? Some may say variety, freshness of ingredients, flavour, or whatever else. The real test of a buffet is the degree to which it breaks your will and turns you into a helpless stomach with legs as you return again and again, plate in hand, to spoon more butter chicken or gulab jamun on your mountain of saffron rice. Judged by that standard, the Spices of Punjab buffet (lunch and evenings) should be elected mayor. How would a buffet with optional tandoori chicken and baskets of steaming naan bread run this city? Who the hell cares? It’s a kick-ass buffet, man! /AM

Best Fast Food

Burger Baron
681 Albert St. 306-522-0323
2830 Quance St. 306-522-0360
burgerbaron.com

This might be my skewed view of how this works, but having a local fast food chain makes Regina feel a little bit more like a real city —not only because someone actually started a local chain, but because they’ve hung tough against all the franchise competition. To do that, of course, they have to be good.

Burger Baron deals in fast food classics: burgers, fries, and shakes, with the odd wrinkle, like a grilled chipotle chicken burger that’s new to the menu. They also have kids covered with a li’l Baron Burger and a Dino Meal. With each order, they strive to do right at the grill, giving the food a homey touch satisfying in taste and spirit. Going someplace for a quick meal is rarely as worthwhile as when you’re heading out to Burger Baron. /JB

Best Chain Restaurant

Earls
2606 28th Ave. 306-584-7733
1875 Victoria Ave. E. 306-949-4955
earls.ca

Dynamite Roll. Pan Bread with Parm Dip. Margherita Pizza. Hunan Kung Pao. Sticky Toffee Pudding. When I head to Earls, it’s usually to satisfy a craving for one of these menu items. If adventure is what you’re after, the seasonal menu offers some great options. But be careful not to fall in love… these items will love you and leave you. The diversity of the menu offers something for everyone, making it perfect for an intimate dinner or party of 20. Hit the patio this summer for a signature Caesar or white peach Bellini, or stay indoors and catch a game in the lounge. Whatever you do, just don’t leave without your chocolate sticky toffee pudding. /AR

Best Chinese Restaurant

Peking House
1850 Rose St.
306-757-3038
pekinghouse.ca

For a large number of Reginans, Peking House has been a constant for the three decades it has been in operation in our downtown. At no point in that time, though, have they rested on their reputation. Their menu is phenomenal, full of delicious Chinese foods that taste fresh — a welcome change from other Asian restaurants that rely on goopy sauces.

Plus, I don’t know where I experience friendlier service in this town. I still remember once when I arrived home from picking up a Peking House order only to find something missing. I called them up and it was almost a struggle to tell them that I lived a few blocks away and no, they didn’t have to send someone out with it. Then, when I went back to pick up the missing item, they’d put spring rolls in the bag without even telling me. Straight bros, those ones. /JB

Best Greek Restaurant

Greko’s
4424 Albert St.
306-584-3646
grekosrestaurant.com

Greek food is so wonderfully suited to any occasion — everything from a casual souvlaki pita from a food cart to the Greek feast that Facebook investor Sean Parker will reportedly be serving at his elaborate, medieval-themed wedding later this year.

With dishes and methods of preparation dating back to when people realized you could press the lipids out of olives, Hellenic cuisine has long legs in Western culture. It’s no wonder that Greko’s, which turns 34 this year, is one of Regina’s longest-standing restaurants, and that Greek food as a whole is such a huge part of Regina’s culinary tradition.

Greko’s — with its Grecian-American menu of pork, lamb, and seafood and its emphasis on Greek standards like moussaka, stuffed grape leaves, and avgolemono (lemon-egg soup), not to mention its use of actual coals in cooking — has long kept one eye on Greek food’s present and the other on its past. And with substantial renovations in 2012, including the installation of a miniature version of the Acropolis in the main dining area, they’ve made sure that history is visible to diners, too. /JC

Best Indian Restaurant

Flavours of India
305 Victoria Ave. E.
306-757-5353
flavoursofindia.ca

A couple months ago I was chatting with an acquaintance and her friend when she mentioned that she’d eaten at Da India Curry House the previous Monday. Her friend jumped in to say she’d been eating at Spices of Punjab that night. I couldn’t help but grin, because in an amazing coincidence, I’d eaten at Flavours of India that same night.

We’re living in a pretty great time in Regina when we can have our choice of excellent Indian restaurants all sitting within a couple of blocks of each other. The dinner I had at Flavours of India is still fresh in my mind: beautifully coloured and vibrantly spiced curries and stews, tender meats and veggies, and uniquely wonderful dishes like their baingan bharta, a take on the traditional eggplant curry so flavourful and expertly made that I put myself to work trying to make it at home within a week.

Of course, I’m sure the fact it was all spread out on a table and shared among friends, scooping palak paneer and butter chicken onto our fresh naan and enjoying the food along with each other’s company, helped make my experience at Flavours of India even more memorable. But only a little. The food’s pretty darn good. /JC

Best Korean Restaurant

Korea House
1427 11th Ave.
306-757-1600

This is the first year for this category in Best of Food, as well as my first year writing for the feature! Coincidence? I think not. You see, I adore Korean cuisine, and taught myself how to make kimchi to help feed my addiction. I’ve also been known to borrow all the Korean cooking books from the library on a regular basis.

Simply put, Korean food is delicious, and Korea House doesn’t mess things up by getting all fusion-y or leaving kimchi off the menu (the nerve!!). Instead, they serve traditional Korean food with homemade touches, complete with appetizers and stone bowls.

Personally, I love the unassuming, tidy interior, unpretentious plating (to borrow a foodie term) and wonderful wait staff. The most perfect, cozy night I had this past winter was when I convinced my partner to sup at Korea House (bibimbap for him, kimchi stew for me) and then check out The Hobbit at the Southland theatre. Seriously, if you’re ever feeling run-down or chilled to the bone, get thee to some kimchi soup! If you wanna really take care of yourself, make sure it’s at Korea House. /AG

Best Thai Restaurant

Siam
1946 Hamilton St.
306-352-8424
siamrestaurant.ca

When Siam won this category last year, I wrote an epic column about the place. You can do that when you’re a regular customer who knows the menu inside and out. And I AM a regular customer who knows the menu inside and out. So there.

Anyway, let’s recap 10 things about Siam (actually, 10.5) that are great. Here we go!

1.) Siam’s food is real Thai cuisine, which I know because I once had a meal there with a friend (very occasional contributor Jake Fiddler) who taught English in Thailand and knows his Thai food. 1A.) You eat Thai food with a fork, not chopsticks. In case you were wondering. 2.) Best Pad Thai in the city! 3.) One of the best lunch buffets I’ve ever had, and still $9. I’d pay $15 without blinking. Don’t tell the owner. 4.) The menu has like 8,000 things on it, and none of them are redundant. 5.) Best Pad Thai in the city. Did I already say that? 6.) Siam has a dish called Khao Ob Sub-Pa-Rod (R10 on the menu). It’s a whole pineapple stuffed with fried rice, pork sausage, chicken, cashews and other excellent things. I don’t eat pork (or beef), but still. Wow. 7.) Siam has a very helpful website, with photos and descriptions of everything on the menu. I can’t think of a more useful restaurant website in Regina. Restaurant owners and managers, please take note. 8.) Great soups! 9.) Best Pad Thai in the city. Yes, I know I keep saying that. But it is! A meatless version is always on the lunch buffet and a shrimp-a-licious iteration is available on the menu. 10.) Siam really is the best Thai food in Regina, and it’s right downtown on the west side of Hamilton St. between Victoria and 12th. Ave. See you there! /SW

Best Vietnamese Restaurant

Viet Thai
2080 Albert St.
306-569-3833

Viet Thai tops the charts when it comes to Vietnamese fare in the Queen City. It’s centrally located and offers great delivery. The Singapore noodles are like none I’ve ever had, and theirs is the only wonton soup broth I’ve encountered that adds cilantro.

The spring rolls are literally in a category of their own (see Best Spring Roll) and the wings are perfectly breaded and fried so they stay crisp, making them the only wings in the city that I will have delivered. No soggy wings at my doorstep, thank you.

The Almond Soo Gai also deserves a nod, as it has saved me from countless hangovers. The room is big, and very casual. Kids have room to run, and the menu beats the standard fare of nuggets and fries offered at every other restaurant. There are great spots by the window to enjoy a late lunch while you read, write, or people-watch. Long live Viet Thai. /AR

Best World Cuisine (includes Ethiopian, Caribbean, etc)

Selam
2115 Broad St.
306-775-3131

It’s funny that the editorial staff of this esteemed rag appointed me to write about Greek food, Indian food, and now, World Cuisine, in this feature, given that I’m painfully white and mostly absorb nutrients by smearing Burger King chicken sandwiches all over my naked body (if I only eat the lettuce, I actually burn calories!).

But, hey, Selam is a singular enough thing in Regina that just about anyone who eats out on a regular basis probably has something to say about it. Me, I find it awesome that Selam commits to having you eat the food the way it was intended: on a traditional Ethiopian bread called injera, with your fingers, because forks are some imperialist bullshit.

It’s great to look at online reviews of the place and see how many squares are uncomfortable with the idea of putting food on bread. You eat pizza, you weenies. Selam’s food — particularly its vegetarian menu — is so good that it’s hard to resist stuffing it directly into your facehole. So why not go all-in and make your primary utensil out of flour and water so you can cram that down your gullet too? /JC

Best Lunch

Tangerine: The Food Bar
2234 14th Ave.
306-522-3500
tangerineregina.ca

Attention: Aimee Schulhauser is a mad scientist of lunch. The owner of Tangerine Food Bar (and Evolution Catering) has turned Regina’s lunch landscape from an endless round of wraps and paninis to a place where quiches, galettes and cassoulets are just as likely to be featured as ham sandwiches. One of the great pleasures of Tangerine lies in discovering what Schulhauser and her crew have created that day. It doesn’t hurt that the food comes quickly to your table. The only frustration comes from getting there too late on a Saturday morning and discovering that they’ve run out of lemon ricotta pancakes. Make more pancakes already. /AM

Best Business Lunch

*TIE*

Beer Bros. Gastropub & Deli
1801 Scarth St. 306-586-2337
beerbros.ca

Flip Eatery & Drink
1970 Hamilton St. 306-205-8345
fliprestaurant.ca

In the 14th century, French philosopher Jean Buridan proposed that human will and judgment can be suspended when the individual is faced by two equally good alternatives. Scoffing colleagues satirized his position with the hypothetical “Buridan’s Ass,” in which a donkey, offered two equally close and equally delicious piles of hay, would be unable to determine which pile is more attractive, and so would eventually starve to death.

Let’s all hope that Buridan was wrong, because what would happen to those Regina businesspeople who find themselves torn between two equally compelling options for a business lunch (as voted by Prairie Dog readers): Beer Brothers and Flip Eatery? After all, both restaurants offer excellent menus, fast lunchtime service and an attractive atmosphere.

I can’t recommend one restaurant over the other in this space. But I can tell you that after reading this there will be more than one businessperson in the downtown mulling over which to choose for their next business lunch. Hopefully not to the point that they pull a “Buridan’s Ass” and starve to death, but mulling nonetheless. /AM

Best Take-Out/Delivery

Copper Kettle
1953 Scarth St.
306-525-3545
ckpizza.ca

As a testament to the take-out side of Copper Kettle’s business, they’ve got a whole separate building on Hamilton St. dedicated to deliveries and take-out, a shrine to their pizza success. It wasn’t there, though, that I chatted with owner Robert Gardikiotis as I waited for a spinach and feta pizza a few months back. It was at the main restaurant on Scarth.

“People have called me and told me they loved it for breakfast,” he said.

As much as I enjoy the Copper Kettle’s pizza, I don’t think I’d ever phone them the next day to tell them that I was having leftover ‘za for breakfast. That’s strikes me as something only a maniac would do. Still, I could see how it could happen. Copper Kettle is a Regina institution whose pizza and other delights like wraps, nachos, wings, ribs and souvlaki engender passion in the people of our fair city, whether you’re eating in or taking it home. /JB

Best Meal Presentation

Flip Eatery & Drink
1970 Hamilton St.
306-205-8345
fliprestaurant.ca

Over the last few years, Regina has developed an increasingly sophisticated dining scene. More restaurants have accepted that the dining experience is a form of culinary theatre in which each element, from décor to dessert, is carefully worked out. Meal presentation, or plating, is an extraordinarily important part of the experience. A properly arranged plate of food gives structure to a dish, affects individual flavours and directs the diner’s experience. Flip’s plating is thoughtful, stylish and attractive. /AM

Best Decor

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

The Holy Trinity of Guaranteed Restaurant Success (in my hastily cobbled together opinion) is great food, great location and a great-looking place. In other words: ambience, people! Turns out that Prairie Dog readers reward décor that doesn’t rely on TV screens and sports memorabilia to sell its menu — and that is such a relief, non? For doubters out there, please note that dimmed lighting is so much more flattering for both food and faces than TV glare and high-watt light bulbs.

Flirting with your dinner partner or cocktail co-conspirator is much easier when candles are flickering close by. If you think about it, even La Bodega’s patio is conducive to some degree of fantasy, what with its gentle upward rise to the heavens, sort of like an adults-only tree house where one can sip wine and cast long glances up and down Albert St. The eclectic art on the walls makes for a good topic to revive a stalled conversation, should one’s date not be going so well. Anyhow, the point here is that atmosphere is important, and La Bodega has it! /AG

Best Patio

Cathedral Freehouse
2062 Albert St.
306-359-1661
thefreehouse.com

In Regina, the first pint on the Freehouse patio is the summer equivalent of the groundhog emerging from its burrow to forecast the arrival of spring. As soon as the tables are out and the umbrellas are up, it’s official: summer is here!

A hot spot for the young and not as young, the wooden walls of the west-facing patio shelter it from wind and street noise while the sun beats down all day. And at night, you can watch the sunset while you sip your favourite cocktail.

The Freehouse has a stack of drink and food specials all week long, such as half-price appies on Mondays, Friday’s five-dollar holler (pint of the day) and, of course, the reason we all hate Thursday mornings: Why Not Wednesdays!, with pitchers of beer for 16 bucks and a pizza for $12. So let me recap. Great food. Great friends. Hot sun. Cold drinks? See ya there! Don’t forget your sunglasses and SPF. /AR

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MENU

Best Appetizers

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

Finding an appetizer at La Bodega to suit one’s taste isn’t generally a problem. Settling on just one appetizer, on the other hand, just might be. As Regina restaurant-goers know, La Bodega offers an impressive array of small plates (AKA tapas) to whet the appetite — or order a few for the table and call it a meal. You can enjoy a duo of oysters or indulge in some seared foie gras. Maybe you’re in the mood for some crab cakes? Perhaps you’d like to share some prawn or lobster ceviche with a friend? What are we waiting for? Meet you there! /VS

Best BBQ

Jack Keaton’s BBQ & Grill
5650 Rochdale Blvd.
306-522-7227
jackkeatonsbbq.ca

The trappings of a BBQ restaurant alone are reason enough to drop by. The atmosphere is unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere, and dogged focus on the food is admirable. At Jack Keaton’s, that focus is clear. The restaurant is relatively new, but earned what felt like an immediate following that holds to this day. For obvious reasons, too; run through the list of barbecue classics that the north-end restaurant does well:pulled pork? Check. Steak? Check. BBQ chicken? Check.

I was especially impressed by their smoked beef brisket last time I was there. It’s a dish uncommon enough to catch my eye on its own and earn my admiration when done well — a task that Jack Keaton’s is definitely up to. Complement that with any of the usual suspects of BBQ sides like corn bread or smoked beans and you’ve got a tasty and filling meal. /JB

Best Burger

Five Guys Burgers & Fries
4666 Gordon Rd. 306-352-5545
2531 Quance St. 306-569-5555
fiveguys.com

If there was a Best Incidentals category for the small things that make a restaurant compelling, Five Guys would definitely be in the running — if only for the complimentary peanuts they provide and the freedom you have to toss the shells on the floor. The fact they keep it simple helps too. They don’t go too far beyond burgers and fries in paper bags, the fries overflowing their cups so that you’re digging around for more.

Really, though, the best thing about Five Guys is the burger. The chain, which started in the 1980s down in the States, opened its first Regina location in Harbour Landing a few years ago, and later expanded to the east end. Immediately, it drew out crowds eager for their burgers. Why? Well, in addition to offering a range of toppings, the patties are really meaty, not the typical slender slice of beef you get at other fast food joints. Five Guys takes burgers seriously and makes an honest burger that could fill your stomach all on its own. /JB

Best Veggie Burger

13th Ave. Coffee House
3136 13th Ave.
306-522-3111
13thavecoffee.com

For $7.95 you can have your choice of five types of veggie burger. There’s the original, the Americana, the Mexicana, the Blue and the Cathedral — each with a variety of toppings to suit your mood. The homemade bean and lentil patty is huge and flavourful, and it’s served on a great ciabatta bun. My personal favourite is the Cathedral burger, loaded with sprouts and beets. It’s super healthy and fills you up. For an extra $3.95 you can add soup or salad. Also, if you’re craving a veggie burger, you don’t even have to get off the couch. They deliver. God bless delivery. /AR

Best Calamari

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

I love good calamari, but I almost never order it anymore. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because it so often feels like ordering fast food (when it’s breaded and fried as opposed to grilled). But then, lots of things are like that. And food is associative. So maybe it’s because in my early 20s, my roommate and I regularly ordered it at our local watering hole and washed it down with copious amounts of cheap Portuguese wine. I guess calamari feels like a relic of my youth and I know I can never go back. Do you ever feel that way?

Anyway, I have had the calamari at La Bodega, and can attest that it’s pretty delicious: with chopped red onion, dill, gazpacho yogurt and a squeeze of lemon. Yes, it’s breaded (lightly) and fried, but it somehow tastes fresh — like maybe the rest of your life still is ahead of you. Go on, order it the next time you’re there, and see how it makes you feel. /VS

Best Chinese Buffet

Plum Garden
4355 Albert St.
306-337-2889

On my recent trip to Plum Garden to do important Best of Food “research”, owner Diane Chan sent me home with a belly full of food, some Chinese pastries for my mom, and a fortune cookie that said I would win a prestigious prize within the month. She needn’t have: Plum Garden is my very favourite buffet in Regina. It’s really good for those times when you want a variety of authentic Chinese food — and the usual guilty pleasures. Plum Garden is popular for its black chicken wings and steamed oysters on the half shell, but it also has delicious mushroom, vegetable, noodle and rice dishes, like sticky rice, shanghai noodles, and Szechuan dry beans. Against my nature, I actually did deliver the buns to my mother. I now await my prestigious prize. /CS

Best Dessert

Le Macaron
2705 Quance St.
306-779-2253
lemacaronregina.com

What is a macaron? Well, to begin with, it’s not a macaroon. A macaroon is a baked cookie made with egg whites, sugar and coconut. A macaron, on the other hand, is a baked cookie made with egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds. Not at all the same! Okay, well, similar –but what’s special about a macaron is that you always get two of them sandwiched together with a ganache or buttercream filling, and they come in a zillion colours and flavours like pistachio, mocha, hazelnut, raspberry, salted caramel, green tea, mango, honey lavender, lychee rose, foie gras…

Le Macaron makes a fine macaron. They can even make one with a Saskatchewan Roughrider logo on it if you’re so inclined. I don’t think they do the foie gras kind, but they do a mean salted caramel.

But it’s not just about macarons. This east-end bakery café is filled with jaw-dropping confections that will make you want to whip out your smartphone and take Instagram photos to share with your 734 Facebook friends. The kind of pastries that will impress your great-aunt who is visiting from New York and who’s seen an impressive pastry or two in her day. Cupcakes that will make you exclaim with delight. There may be a cream puff in the shape of a swan. You just never know. /LAK

Best Fish And Chips

Beer Bros. Gastropub & Deli
1821 Scarth St.
306-586-2337
beerbros.ca

This was a pricey blurb for me to write, because as soon as I found out I’d been assigned it, of course, I had to grab a friend and hightail it over to Beer Bros. and order not one but two platters of fish and chips, because they make it two ways (gluten-free and regular). And when I learned they had William’s Sir Perry pear cider on tap, I had to get a glass of that, and, well, you know how it goes.

The gluten-free version was not bad; the batter was a little darker and not very crispy, but if you really need to avoid wheat at all costs, it’s good to have the option. The regular version had a lighter, much crunchier and surprisingly spicy batter. It was so good I kept stealing bites from my friend’s plate and trying to surreptitiously replace them with chunks of my gluten-free fish (he noticed). The hand-cut fries were epic — I think I’d pay $18 just for the fries and the tartar sauce. And the coleslaw was like none I’ve had before: kind of a sweet-pickled-vinegary concoction, not creamy, and generously studded with mustard seeds. Nice. I’ll go do that again. /LAK

Best French Fries (Chain)

McDonalds
10 Locations
mcdonalds.ca

There are Prairie Dog writers who refuse to, I quote, “write anything nice about McDonald’s French fries”,this despite the fact that McD’s oil-boiled potatoes are our reader-picked winners for Best French Fries (Chain) 2013 — and, therefore, A MOST HONOURABLE FOOD ITEM.

So nuts to “those” writers (VANDA!). I’ll write this sucker. I can always find nice things to say about potatoes.

A few days ago I ordered McDonald’s French fries for the first time in a while. They’re still the thin, crisp, salty and tasty specimens I remember. The “thin” part was especially helpful, because I ate them on the way home from Bonzzini’s Tuesday wing night where me, Aidan and Shane (but mostly me) had just wrecked seven baskets of the city’s Best Wings. The fries’ slender construction helped me jam lots of ‘em into my very packed stomach, where they slipped neatly between the remains of a dozen or so delicious birds. McDonald’s fries are indeed a masterpiece of gastronomical engineering. Bravo! And please don’t tell my nutritionist.

Speaking of nutrition, McDonald’s has a neat website with a coolio nutrition calculator. The large fries I ordered had 560 calories, 27 grams of fat and 430 milligrams of sodium. I could’ve paired them with a large milkshake (1,160 calories, 29 grams of fat, 860 milligrams of sodium) for a delicious, budget-conscious snack with 1720 calories, 56 grams of fat and 1,200 milligrams of sodium — all for much less than $10! Now that, my friends, is value. /SW

Best Fries (Local)

Bushwakker
2206 Dewdney Ave.
306-359-7276
bushwakker.com

Ordering a plate of fries on their own feels a little weird to me these days, prompting memories of high school me counting out change for an annoyed server. Fact is, if you’re going for an appetizer or a snack at a restaurant while doing drinks, there are plenty of other more substantial options out there like wings or calamari.

But Bushwakker’s fries are so good, and more than deserving of being ordered on their own. They’re thin-cut, little more than shoelaces of potato that come to you in a delicious pile on your plate. They’re on the right side of every fry variant. They maintain some white potato goodness in the centre while still having some crunch. They’re salted and tasty without feeling awful for you. All the little details of these fries are right, in ways I could never hope to duplicate at home, whether they’re ordered as a side or on their own. /JB

Best Ice Cream

Milky Way
910 Victoria Ave.
306-352-7920
milkywayicecream.com

What can you say about Milky Way that hasn’t already been said? You already know about the soft serve Flavour of the Day. Pistachio is my favourite. No, wait — it’s buttermint. Also coconut. And, yes, maple. And butter pecan. And coffee! And I think once they had Nanaimo bar… or did I dream that one?

Anyway, did you know you can create some amazing sundaes utilizing the FOTD? When it’s lemon, try it in a blueberry sundae. Peach soft serve turns a simple raspberry sundae into an elegant Peach Melba. Coconut, maple and coffee FOTD all demand to be incorporated into a hot fudge sundae. Don’t fool around with the saskatoon berry sundae though — vanilla soft serve is the only answer. Well, all right; if you really need to get fancy with your saskatoon sundae, go ahead and get the strawberry-vanilla swirl. I promise I’ll look the other way.

Did you know too that you can get any of the milkshakes malted? Try a malted hot fudge milkshake and prepare to have your mind blown. The peanut butter milkshake is also crazy good, but if you are the lead singer of a band DO NOT drink one before a gig. Trust me. Unless you’re in a grungecore band and you want to sound phlegmy. Then you should have two. /LAK

Best Noodle Bowl

Viet Thai
2080 Albert St.
306-569-3833

Loaded with freshness, these are one-stop meals. For around $10 your bowl is piled high with a heaping helping of vermicelli noodles. Fresh lettuce, cucumber, sprouts and shredded carrot create a crisp texture with your choice of protein for a savoury bite (shredded pork and lemongrass chicken are two favourites of mine). Noodle bowls at Viet Thai are like a giant fresh salad with a cherry on top. The cherry? A spring roll with the perfect pastry-to-filling ratio. This completes the dish by giving it a “crunch” effect.  A couple of the bowls come sans spring roll. I’ve never gone down that road, though. Viet Thai’s noodle bowls are great for a quick lunch with all the trimmings in one affordable container. Top it all off with Sriracha sauce for maximum results. /AR

Best Pasta

Pasta Prima
4440 Albert St.
306-347-2782
pastaprima.ca

When considering who to vote for in the Best Pasta category, going with a place that has “pasta” right in the name might seem like a no-brainer. Luckily, in this instance, the obvious choice is also the right one. Since opening in 1997, this south-Albert pasta palace has built a reputation around fresh foods done well. Whether you’re ordering  penne or  fettuccine or  linguine, you can rest assured that they made it that day. You don’t have to worry, either, about the sauces coming from a can, because they make those too.

Attention to detail is important in pasta, something Pasta Prima clearly understands in the healthy number of pasta dishes it has available. The fact that they do good business selling pasta and sauces for home use shows just what they’ve got going on. At Pasta Prima there’s a love of their namesake that comes through in whatever you order, making it the essential Regina destination for anything you curl around a fork to eat. /JB

Best Pita/Panini/Wrap

Pita Pit
3B-1101 E Kramer Blvd. 306-584-7482
5510 Rochdale Blvd. 306-352-7482
pitapit.com

At Pita Pit you can walk in and have your pita made the way you like it. They have all the toppings and sauces to choose from, and a grill to warm up your meat and veggies. So if you want fresh crisp lettuce, but grilled peppers and onions, you can have just that. A personal favourite has always been the chicken caesar with added bacon and cheddar. Pita Pit is a healthy alternative to fast food for anyone on the go. Also, a little-known fact: Pita Pit delivers. I cannot stress enough the importance of delivery in this city. /AR

Best Pizza

Copper Kettle
1953 Scarth St.
306-566-4090
ckpizza.ca

The Copper Kettle serves the epitome of Regina-style pizza: that pizza with a thicker, breadier crust that falls neatly between the poles of ultra-thin elegance and thick Chicago decadence. The CK makes an excellent specimen of this pizza. The Copper Kettle’s menu lists 40 versions, including such exotic creatures as the Gyro (#36), with gyro meat, vegetables and tzatziki sauce; the Chicken Club (#17), which has chicken, bacon and tomatoes; the Garden Groovy (#39), with assorted vegetables (including grilled eggplant) and feta cheese on pesto sauce; and the O’Hanlon’s-inspired Irish pizza (#33), which has potatoes (and is a personal favourite).

The other day, publisher emeritus April Bourgeois and I ordered the #30, which has eggplant, olives, zucchini, green onions and garlic. It was pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Copper Kettle proprietor and proud Greek Robert Gardikiotis is always prepared to extol the virtues of his spinach and feta pizza. Which he should. Because it’s yummy. /SW

Best Ribs

Tony Roma’s
4450 Albert St.
306-586-7427
ribs.ca

Getting caught up in the meatiness of ribs is easy. It’s such a primal thing, like that scene in The Flintstones where Fred orders a side of Brontosaurus ribs so huge they tip over his car, stone wheels and all. Put some meaty ribs in front of me, and I almost feel like I could take down a cow or pig, get at those ribs and do ‘em up with BBQ sauce over a fire myself.

Operative word being “almost”. Because if the time actually came to kill a living, breathing cow or pig and butcher it for its ribs, I’m not sure I could; I mean, if I was starving to death, yeah, but to consume it as a delicacy in an otherwise plentiful food environment, probably not.

Fortunately, I’m not forced to confront that ethical dilemma — at least, not directly. And besides, there’s finesse to the practice of making good ribs. There’s a sweet spot you need to hit and on either side lies culinary ruin (or at least an unsatisfying meal).

Tony Roma’s lives in that sweet spot. Their ribs are never too saucy, but never too dried out either. It’s no surprise why the chain’s been earning fans in the States since starting in the 1970s, and in Regina since the south Albert location opened up. You figure out how to do ribs well, you’re going to be a hit. /JB & GB

Best Greek Salad

Houston Pizza
Five Locations
houstonpizza.ca

A food-minded sociologist could examine the connection between pizza and Greek salads. I don’t know, maybe someone already has. Regardless, they’re an enduring combination, and little out there feels as right as coming home with a large pizza and container of Greek salad. If you aren’t picturing one of Houston Pizza’s yellow plastic cups that they use to send you home with some Diet Coke, you’ve got some ordering to do around town.

Of course, their Greek salad doesn’t need a pizza crutch. The dish can stand on its own. A heap of feta cheese –– one of the tastiest cheeses on its own or mixed in with something else –– is dropped on all your fresh Greek salad ingredients, along with a bed of lettuce. Their special dressing makes it all the better. Salads can have a lame rep, not packing the satisfaction of zestier meals. But Houston Pizza is all about satisfaction in everything they do, and they wouldn’t do something if it didn’t hit the spot. Greek salad included. /JB

Best Sandwich

Italian Star Deli
1611 Victoria Ave.
306-757-6733
italianstardeli.com

The Italian Star’s sandwiches are something of an institution in Regina. Freshly made daily, these piquant and savoury selections of meats and cheese nestled between two pieces of bread are adored by neighbouring office workers, students, and Roughriders alike (I believe it’s the official sandwich of the franchise).

Have one on their focaccia bread or marble rye (my personal preference). And, if I may be so bold, might I suggest you wash it down with a San Pellegrino chinotto? You won’t regret it. And if the wonderful pre-made sandwiches on offer aren’t what you had in mind, don’t be shy: step up to the counter and ask one of the lovely staff to make you a sandwich to order. How about some capicola? Have you tried the porchetta? If not, why not? It’s delicious! Now that I think of it, it’s been way too long since I’ve had one. I’m going to head over there now. /VS

Best Spring Rolls

Viet Thai
2080 Albert St.
306-569-3833

I’m not sure if people were voting for the Vietnamese spring rolls, the spicy Thai spring rolls or the vegetable spring rolls. So if you haven’t tried all of them, here’s what you should do:grab some friends and some cold beer and get at least one order of each. Taste them all. Compare and contrast. Take notes. Wipe your chin. Order some more. Argue with your friends about which is best and why. Try different dipping sauces. Crack another beer. Vote on your favourite. Turn it into a weekly thing. Invite me. /LAK

Best Steak

The Keg
4265 Albert St. S.
306-585-1717
kegsteakhouse.com

I am a carnivore. There’s something ritualistic, primal and sexy about going to a dimly-lit restaurant to have a slab of cow, its rawness licked off by a light flame.

When you like your steak blue-rare as I do, you soon learn that you can’t order it from just anywhere. On an overnight layover in Toronto once, I had a blue-rare steak, the daily special, at a chain restaurant near Pearson International Airport. The chain was one of those where servers wear suspenders.

Overnight layovers are always taxing. This one, though, turned into an unrelenting nightmare, with me retching in the bathroom while my traveling companion pretended to sleep through my tyrannosaurus-like groaning and bellowing. The lesson: consistency and quality reign when it comes to steak.

The Keg does that in spades. Steak temperatures are always as ordered, the cuts  always well-marbled. Servers don’t look worried when you order a blue-rare baseball steak.

A Canadian company, the Keg is known in other cities for buying classic and heritage buildings and converting them into restaurants. But on South Albert, the building was purpose-built. It looks like a plush Whistler ski lodge got it on with a mid-century modern lounge and created a perfect atmosphere for a romantic interlude with a hot piece of meat. /McD

Best Sushi

Michi
1943 Scarth St.
306-565-0141
michi.ca

I covertly visited this perennial Best Sushi winner a couple of nights ago with two friends and we ordered a pile of food for fun and research. We started with edamame, the boiled, salted soybeans that go so well with beer. Next up was spinach goma-ae, an incredible sesame-seasoned bowl of shredded spinach that’s just fantastic. That was followed by assorted tempura (shrimp, mushrooms, yams and green pepper) and bowls of sunomono — a lightly pickled, sweetly delicious collection of cold noodles, seaweed and other ingredients (I had the salmon while my tentacle-loving friends went for the assorted sunomono).

And then! We had six or seven rolls including 1.) tenka (pollack, roe, avocado, tempura flakes and I forget what else), 2.) dynamite, 3.) yam tempura, 4.) cucumber avocado (new favourite!) 5.) asparagus goma-ae, the current incarnation of Michi’s ever-changing monthly special and 6-7 (I forget). We also had one of Michi’s mighty spicy tuna handrolls each, plus a plate of tuna and salmon sashimi.

And because I’m a powerful eater, nay, a samurai of sushi, I also had the salmon donburi, a rice bowl topped with a mound of salmon sashimi that comes with miso soup.

Not sampled on this trip but still beloved: agedashi tofu, momiji, spider, asumara and chef’s special rolls, plus udon noodles, and sesame ice cream. Oh, and sake. Next time.

To conclude, Michi is Michi, and it’s still the best in Regina. /SW

[hr]

PEOPLE

Best Bartender

Niall O’Hanlon (O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub)
1947 Scarth St.
306-566-4094

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ashley Rankin is a server at O’Hanlon’s and it’s completely inappropriate for her to write about her boss. The fact that we allowed this shameless, reckless and frankly brutal conflict of interest to appear in print is more proof that Prairie Dog has total contempt for journalistic standards and ethics. In our defense, we were drunk at O’Hanlon’s when we assigned this feature.

IT’S A REAL TREAT TO WRITE THIS. I’ve been working for Noodles O’Hoolihan for a few years, and I can tell you that he is without a doubt Regina’s Best Bartender. Even though I work for him, he still manages to up-sell me on shots of whiskey and Irish car bombs that I neither want nor need, inevitably turning a casual evening into a casual disturbance.

A real Renaissance man, Niall not only pours the pints, he also brews several of the beers on tap (with help from his trusty sidekick, Michael Williams). Niall has created a culture around the pub like I have never experienced in all of my years of industry servitude. In fact, you often hear people referring to St. Paddy’s Day as O’Hanlon’s Day because of all the interviews Niall does with local news media. He’s made the pages of the Globe and Mail too, and put Regina on the map for all the kegs of Guinness he sells on that day.

Truly, his popularity knows no bounds. The city has even sold him a stretch of Scarth Street outside the pub to accommodate a three-season deck. Nothing says Top of the World like that. Seriously.

A round of applause for the man who signs my cheques, please. Go Ni-all! Go Ni-all! Go! Go! Ni-all! /AR

Best Barista

Neil McDonald (Roca Jack’s)
2610 13th Ave.
306-347-3093

Somehow or other, I never met Neil McDonald until I sat down with him recently to talk about his city-best barista powers. This boggles my mind, because everyone in Regina seems to know Neil. You, your cat, your two-week-old nephew, the crazy lady down the block who thinks you’re the milkman — everyone.

According to Neil, the key to being a good barista — besides an extensive knowledge of coffee and a grudging willingness to make a Starbucks-style caramel macchiato — is building good relationships with regular customers. He makes a point of memorizing his customer’s preferred drinks and generally forging a meaningful connection with the streams of people who need some caffeine and a friendly face to get them through the day.

And then there’s his tip jar. Every day Neil creates a new decoration for it — sometimes, it’s a notification to customers about a special occasion like World Marsupial Day, other times it’s a page from a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Weird? Sure. Awesome? Yeah, that too. /AM

Best Chef

David Straub (Flip Eatery & Drink)
1970 Hamilton St.
306-205-8345
fliprestaurant.ca

Prairie Dog readers believe that David Straub is the best chef in Regina. If you don’t believe them, try a bite of the chef’s hanger steak with coffee spice rub and cilantro chimichurri. Are you a believer yet? Hey, did you just eat that whole steak? I only offered you a bite.

Straub entered his profession by way of a dishwashing job as a 19 year old, but he soon discovered an affinity for cooking. After taking culinary courses in Victoria, Straub became the executive chef at Pasta Prima in the city’s south end before opening up Mojo and then Bocados. Flip was a brave new venture and a chance to offer Regina diners something new.

“We wanted a comfortable atmosphere for people to come to,” says Straub. “We didn’t want to be too fine dining or anything like that. The kind of chef I am, I work like, ‘Let’s take this classical dish and mold it into something different.’ That’s kind of what we’re trying to do [at Flip].”

His advice for anyone who wants to be a chef? “Be humble. Make sure you love it. Be prepared to work hard. As a chef, you have to be ready to roll with the flow — but control the flow, if you know what I mean.”/AM

Best Server

Kate Walker (La Bodega)
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

Kate Walker has been working at La Bodega since the day it opened. She’s the real deal. Kate serves up sass with class while keeping her cool, no matter what’s going on. You would never guess she’s handling the biggest section, while pulling double duty as the night manager. With a mischievous smile, Kate works a dirty joke into almost every conversation, charming her tables into just one more glass of wine. Kate hasn’t made a career out of serving, she’s made a career out of charisma. /AR

[hr]

BOOZE & PUBS

Best After Work Drinking

O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub
1947 Scarth St.
306-566-4094

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ashley Rankin is a server at O’Hanlon’s and it’s totally inappropriate for her to write about the place that employs her. Nevertheless, we allowed this embarrassing and gruesome conflict of journalistic interest to happen. You must think we’re awful people. In our defense, we assigned this feature while sitting in O’Hanlon’s after a long day at the office, and Ashley kept bring us beer. Don’t judge us.

You wanna go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came? Then head to O’Han’s (where people are all the same). Honestly, it’s like an episode of Cheers there. Week after week I watch the masses gather for pints at the bar or the long stretches of communal seating. Open until 2 a.m. every night, there’s no shortage of folks or beer there.

Not only are there endless taps to choose from, there’s plenty of people (staff and patrons alike) to chat with about your day, or the weather, or your kids. People remember each other’s birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, and most importantly, what we all drink.

O’Hanlon’s is the type of bar you can go to when you’ve had a bad day and you need to see a friendly face. Often, you’ll see more than that, of course. Like the time Iron Maiden roadies engaged in a dance battle with Tom Jones roadies (Iron Maiden won). Or when people show up fresh off the plane with luggage in tow to meet friends when they’re home for the visit.

That describes O’Hanlon’s perfectly. Home. /AR

Best Beer Menu

Beer Bros. Gastropub & Deli
1801 Scarth St.
306-586-2237
beerbros.ca

I’m going to ask you plainly, Regina: when it comes to beer menus, does Beer Bros. really have any competition? I don’t think they do. When you consider the breadth of what they offer — stouts, lagers, pilsners, bitters, wheat beers, ales (and pale ales), lambics, fruit beers, ciders and more, who else comes close? You have to admit, it’s pretty impressive. You can try Trappist beer from Belgium, microbrews from across North America or, if you’re gluten intolerant, quench your hot summer thirst with a dubbel from Belgium that will treat you right. Beer Bros. offers a wonderful world of beer (with a sunny patio to enjoy your drink on), and the downtown is a better place for it. /VS

Best Cocktails

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

Bodega has some sexy sips: Sangria Sabotage on the rooftop deck; a go-to martini (La Pampa); a dangerous drink (Naughty By Nature); something sweet (Swedish Berry); a seasonal classic (Nut Cracker); or a traditional Old Fashioned. Whatever your preference or mood, the bartenders at this Cathedral hangout will wet your whistle with style and taste. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to sink into while you work your way through the martinis, or pull up to the bar and your glass will never run dry… unless it’s a dry martini. The deck is great in the summer with three levels of fun, and there’s an ice bar to cozy up to in the winter. Recent additions like half-price bottles of wine and a new tapas menu make Bodega a must. Catch a movie on the patio or hang out with a special someone. Whatever you do, don’t forget your cocktail. /AR

Best Liquor Store

Willow Park
3809 Albert St. S.
306-585-1661
willowparkwines.com

Willow Park is a go-to spot in the Queen City for discerning oenophiles and fanciers of fine spirits alike. Don’t know a Barolo from a Sangiovese? No problem; just ask the helpful staff and they’ll set you straight. Not only can you peruse the racks for harder-to-find offerings from Italy, Portugal, and Spain, they offer a nice selection of wines from the New World too. On the spirit side, you can choose from smooth tequilas, floral gins, silky vodkas, and fancy-schmancy liqueurs too. Well, la-di-da, Regina! /VS

Best Nachos

Bushwakker
2206 Dewdney Ave.
306-359-7276
bushwakker.com

A few places I’ve been to trade in what I call nacho lasagna. There’s no other word for it: these restaurants or bars are so enthusiastic in their love of cheese that they weigh down their nachos so that when you reach the bottom there’s a soggy mess of cheese and chips. That crosses the line from being decadently delicious to being bad for you and gross.

Bushwakker nachos are legendary. If you’re getting the full plate, they’ll warn you first just how much food you are ordering. And they don’t skimp on any of the toppings. That said, the mound –– mountain? –– of chips they present you with is formidable. Taking the traditional nacho formula of corn tortilla chips and all the regular toppings, they simply make a plate of fantastic finger food that you want to eat until they’re all gone — with no trace of sogginess at the bottom. /JB

Best Wings

Bonzzini’s Brew Pub 
4634 Albert St.
306-586-3553

As I write this I’m still stuffed with chicken meat — but in a good way. To learn why Bonzzini’s continually wins this category, me and two other Prairie Doggers (Aidan and Steve) went out one Tuesday and tested their legendary wings. We asked to have them grilled. Last year Steve was informed by management that grilled wings were better. They were right.

Tuesday is half-price wing night at Bonzzini’s. Wings are $6.50 a basket instead of $11.95. A wing platter is probably the better deal on other nights, but on Tuesday baskets rule.

We order four to start: Salt and Pepper, Teriyaki, Buffalo Ranch and Orange Ginger. All of them were pretty damn good. I was unaware, however, that Steve is a wing-eating machine, and that in previous outings he’d actually frightened servers with his insatiable appetite.

After we finished those four baskets, we ordered two more: Lemon Pepper and the delicious but under-ordered Gold Fever, which is a kind of honey-mustard sauce. Aidan fears for its future. Not content, Steve ordered one more basket with a jerky sauce.

At that point it became clear that as awesome as these wings are, any more would kill Aidan and I. I think Steve could’ve handled a couple more baskets. On our way home he insisted on stopping for some fries from a creepy darkened McDonald’s drive-thru, for “research purposes”, as he put it. The man’s stomach is a marvel. That’s all I can say. And so too are Bonzzini’s wings. /SH

Best Pub Food

Bushwakker
2206 Dewdney Ave.
306-359-7276
bushwakker.com

Requirement number one for winning Best Pub Food: the place has to be a pub. Duh. Well, Bushwakker has that locked down. Their house brews are one of the high points of Regina boozing generally, and the Dewdney strip in particular. They’ve developed quite the kitchen in the meantime, too. They’re perennial winners of Best Nachos and Best Fries –– no surprise on either front –– and have won in the past for Best Burger as well. All those constitute classic pub fare, and they augment that with good personal pizzas, fish and chips and the like.

The main triumph of their pub menu is that they don’t fall into the trap that says pub food has to be bad for you. I’m not saying their Saskatchewan Plate –– cabbage rolls, sausage, perogies and sauerkraut –– is great for you, but they don’t lean on deep frying everything or coating everything in a golden layer of cheddar. So you end up with a tasty array of snacks and meals that go great with a refreshing beer or other beverage. That’s how pub food should be done. /JB

Best Place For a Wicked Bender

O’Hanlon’s Irish Pub 
1947 Scarth St.
306-566-4094

You know who likes to get buzzed? Bender from Futurama. And if Bender could pull a Philip J. Fry in reverse and magically transport back in time to Regina c. 2013, he’d be wise to follow your advice if he was looking to tie one on and head to O’Hanlon’s.

Not that I can vouch for the place myself. See, my fellow Prairie Doggers have an evil sense of humour. Here I am, the only one who doesn’t drink, and I’m assigned the task of discussing the best place for a wicked bender.

Fortunately, I’ve witnessed many a co-worker on a wicked bender at O’Hanlon’s. These typically occur on a Friday night after work, with me sitting there drinking soda pop, watching my journalistic colleagues sampling a large assortment of what, judging from the enthusiasm with which they imbibe, are tasty beverages — or at least drinks that give them the best buzz.

It might not be my thing, but there are plenty of people (besides Prairie Dog staff and Bender, that is) who enjoy the occasional bender. And according to our readers, O’Hanlon’s is the best place to bend at. /SH

[hr]

BREAKFAST

Best Basic Breakfast

Mr. Breakfast
1247 Albert St.
306-522-6770

The restaurant scene in Regina has certainly improved over the past few years, but do you know what we absolutely don’t have enough of? Diners. I’m not talking about faux-diners with trendy retro décor and pricey burgers and fries. No, I mean an honest-to-goodness greasy spoon — the kind of place you can wander into for a plate of bacon and eggs, some salty toast and a cup of coffee, and walk out with change in your pocket. Enter Mr. Breakfast: the last bastion of the classic breakfast counter in Regina. Order your eggs how you like them. Pair them with a side of your choice: sausage, bacon, or tomatoes, and make sure to finish up those award-winning hash browns while you’re at it. Mr. Breakfast! It’s a winner! /VS

Best Fancy Breakfast

Hotel Saskatchewan
2125 Victoria Ave.
306-522-7691

Even the simplest breakfast can be the difference between a bad day and a good one, or between a good day and a great one. Better than simply having a decent breakfast, though, is eating a decent breakfast in swank surroundings that let you pretend you’re a king or at least a lesser member of the Royal Family — a duke, perhaps? Everything executive chef Milton Rebello’s kitchen puts out at the Hotel Sask. is familiar and comfortable, but that’s a far cry from being plain or boring. Instead, the focus on fresh, local ingredients makes a classic breakfast more vibrant. It’s definitely worth the effort, even if you don’t own an ermine-trimmed robe, hunt foxes on your estate with bloodhounds and use the royal pronoun “we” to refer to yourself. Even us commoners deserve to indulge ourselves once in awhile too, you know. /JC

Best Eggs (Omelet, Benedict, Etc.)

La Bodega
2228 Albert St.
306-546-3660
labodegaregina.com

When you’re frantically looking for eggs on a Sunday morning, you don’t want to mess around. Well, look no further than Regina’s old reliable: La Bodega. Yes, the very place that got you into this hung-over state the night before can cure what ails you with everyone’s favourite Sunday morning salve: eggs. And they offer them in a variety of forms. You can choose from Eggs Benedict (Salmon? Ham? Roast tomato, goat’s cheese and spinach?), Hueuvos Rancheros (picante!), the Spanish Scrambler (hello chorizo!), the Crab Cake Benedict (Ah? Ah?), or just plain old bacon and eggs. How about I go for the Crab Cake, and you order the Spanish Scrambler? That way we can share and get the best of both worlds. /VS

Best Hash Browns

Mr. Breakfast
1247 Albert St.
306-522-6770

The secret to great hash browns isn’t much of a secret — make them fresh every day and be sure to add onions, pepper and salt. And never make them from a package. Honestly, who would do that? Ick. Rest assured, the hash browns at Mr. Breakfast are the real deal. Perfectly crispy with soft potatoey insides, they help mop up the golden goo from your fried eggs, creating a symphony of flavour in the concert hall of your mouth. Thank you Mr. Breakfast. You are truly the elder statesman of the most important meal of the day. /VS

Best Breakfast Buffet

Hotel Saskatchewan
2125 Victoria Ave.
306-522-7691

Hunter S. Thompson’s ideal breakfast, as described by him in 1979, sounds amazing: “The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crêpes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned-beef hash with diced chilies, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of key lime pie, two margaritas and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… all of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked.”

The Hotel Saskatchewan obviously doesn’t serve cocaine at its breakfast buffet, and staff would probably frown on diners who showed up buck naked. But as far as everything else on the father of gonzo journalism’s breakfast wish list, their buffet pretty much has it cased. /JC

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COFFEE & TEA

I’m not sure I understand what I’m hearing, but it seems that you modern people enjoy drinks made out of beans and leaves. Am I getting this right? According to the Coffee Association of Canada, you drink nearly three cups of hot bean drink every day. Back in ancient Athens, we only had frappuccinos, see. /Solon, Father Of Democracy

Best Coffee Shop

Atlantis
1992 Hamilton St.
306-565-2213
atlantiscoffee.com

If you’re craving a caffeine fix, Atlantis seems to be the spot to hit. Not only is the coffee great, but the service is prompt. The central location at Hamilton and Victoria makes it easily accessible for commuters without the hassle of dealing with traffic congestion in the main part of the downtown. If you’ve got time to hang, there are plenty of outlets for laptops, and the floor-to-ceiling windows offer great natural light and are perfect for people watching. If privacy for a study group or meeting is what you seek, the vault is a great option. In the summer, you can sit outside on the large patio and soak up some rays while devouring something sweet. So all in all, a great spot for a cup of joe. /AR

Best Cup Of Plain Old Coffee

Tim Hortons
Multiple Locations
timhortons.com

What has Tim Hortons done with all the apostrophes that should be its name? Weird, yes? My guess is they’ve taken the punctuation marks and ground them up into Tim Hortons Signature Blend. It’s all those apostrophes that give Tim Hortons coffee its particular character, what coffee connoisseurs — well, me anyway—call “apostrophic mouthfeel.” It’s what you savour in that double-double you get on the way out of town or on your way to work. There’s nothing fancy about a good Tim Hortons cup of coffee. But there’s a heaping spoonful of excised apostrophes. The good news is that you can turn your grocery store beans into a home brew Hortons by just cutting out the apostrophes in this blurb and sprinkling them into your next cup: You’re welcome. /AM

Best Fancy-Schmancy Coffee

Atlantis
1992 Hamilton St.
306-565-2213
atlantiscoffee.com

Coffee is as prevalent as water these days, and flows from fonts as diverse as one’s stovetop Bodum, a breakfast diner drip (tasting ever-so-faintly of eggs) and a corporate chain brew (caffeine-overdose heart attack, anyone?). But when you want the really good stuff, you go to the local masters at Atlantis.

How Atlantis cornered the fancy-schmancy coffee market in Regina, we’ll never really know… though a legend does exist about the proprietors meeting a man at a crossroads and exchanging their souls in exchange for coffee virtuosity. Superstitious hogwash, to be sure.

To delve further into the mystery, I enlisted a willing test subject and went to Atlantis. Upon sipping the proffered latte (which is made with espresso and steamed milk) laced with a measure of raw brown sugar, a blissful expression appeared on his face. He described the drink as having a “strong bold taste [with] a good balance between coffee and milk and not too much foam.”

Before I could probe further, he scurried off with his cardboard-cozied beverage to wilds unknown, leaving me to retire to my study where I cued up the Robert Johnson classic “Cross Road Blues” and stared into the perfectly inscrutable design floating in the foam of my own latte before beginning work on this blurb. /AG

Best Tea

Davids Tea (Cornwall Centre)
2102 11th Ave.
306-522-2828
davidstea.com

Davids Tea is cool, partly because they only sell loose tea, and partly because they don’t use an apostrophe in their name (like Tim Hortons). Also, they give free samples and offer seasonal teas. And they sell everything you need to be a loose tea snob, like a lovely glass tea mug that comes with its own metal infuser basket and glass lid (which doubles as a holder for your wet basket after you’re finished infusing) and a metal spoon that measures one and a half teaspoons of loose tea, the perfect amount for a perfect cup. I actually own both items and use them every day.

Tea varieties range from the sublime (jasmine silver needles; ginseng oolong) to the ridiculous (“movie night”, featuring green tea, apple, maple and popped popcorn; “birthday cake”, a rooibos blend with freeze-dried ice cream bits and coloured sprinkles) and back to the sublime (chocolate orange pu’erh; organic Egyptian chamomile).

The sampler packs make a good gift for someone you don’t know very well, as long as you’re pretty sure they like tea. Try the Starter Kit, which includes that nifty measuring spoon, or the ever-popular Top 3. /LAK

Best Place To Buy Beans

Roca Jack’s
2610 13th Ave.
306-347-3093

Twice a week, Roca Jack’s roasts beans for a small Prairie city with a funny name that desperately needs caffeine. Thank goodness. As important as it is to have great coffee shops for take-out java or coffee-and-newspaper loitering, we also need quality beans in our homes and offices. Without them, we’d have to drink Maxwell House or Folgers (gross).

This venerable little shop on the eastern edge of the Cathedral neighbourhood sells good beans, freshly roasted. They’ll grind them for you if you need that, although if you want the best flavour you’ll grind the needed amount yourself immediately before brewing a pot (I usually go with a heaping tablespoon of un-ground beans per cup of coffee, adjusted up or down depending on the beans and my mood).

I’m writing this on a grey, mildly rainy, and absolutely beautiful Monday morning. Outside Prairie Dog’s office window overlooking the Scarth street pedestrian mall, the trees are in full bloom. It’s gorgeous. I lift my mug to my mouth and have a sip of coffee — a darkish roast of Ethiopian beans from Roca Jack’s that I just brewed in my French press. Perfect. /SW

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SHOPPING & SERVICES

When I was a teenager and not as wise as I am now, my cousins and I would run up and down the aisles between the kiosks of the agora, ringing our olive bells and screaming, “bring out your goods!” The merchants would come running up with baskets of merchandise and we’d say, “naw, we’re just yankin’ ya.” Then we’d have one of them killed, because the ancient world was a wacky Game of Thrones-style place and they owed us massive amounts of money anyway.

If I had any advice for the youth of today, I would counsel respect and temperance in dealing with your local merchants. They are pillars of the local economy, and even if they don’t accept Solon bucks, they’re still good people. /Solon, Father Of Democracy

Best Bakery

Orange Boot Bakery
3904 Gordon Rd.
306-584-2668
orangeboot.ca

Oh sure, assign “Best Bakery” to the gluten-free girl. It’s okay. I’m willing to suffer for my art. So even though I’ve been aware of the Boot since it opened, I hadn’t been there yet because, well, wheat doesn’t seem to like me very much. But I don’t have celiac disease or anything like that, so yesterday I decided to throw caution to the wind and packed up my kid and headed out to the bakery at 8:45 a.m., hoping they weren’t sold out of everything. And they were closed! Dang! Not open until 9:30. I thought, “what kind of bakery doesn’t open until 9:30?”

Well, I’ll tell you what kind:the very, very best kind. Because this morning I went back to the Orange Boot after 9:30 and loaded up on the most amazing breads, buns and cookies. They even gave my kid a fancy sugar cookie for free just because he’s a kid.

I had to sample everything, because I’m nothing if not a serious researcher. Also a glutton for punishment. Or possibly just a glutton. In any case, I can tell you that their baguette is the best I’ve ever had. The sprouted grain power bread made my mouth hurt because it has walnuts and I’m allergic to walnuts, BUT I DON’T CARE. It was worth it. And the roasted garlic sourdough is just perfection. I tried a slice with butter and then another drizzled with olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt, and couldn’t decide which was better. Further research is required.

If you haven’t been to the Orange Boot yet, please go. Just not before 9:30. /LAK

Best Butcher

Butcher Boy Meats
2136 Robinson St. 306-781-6913
1849 Park St. 306-525-9112

Like spring, Best of Food is late arriving this year. But with BBQ season now upon us, the timing in this category couldn’t be better. “When the weather warms up, we definitely have an influx of customers,” says Jeff Fritzsche of Park St. Butcher Boy, which shares the top Butcher honour with a second independently-owned and operated Butcher Boy in Cathedral.

The Park St. Butcher Boy has been around for over 30 years, says Fritzsche. In that time there’s been a lot of changes in the meat business. One biggie is the consolidation of the processing industry into a few giant slaughterhouses. “We try to source as local as possible. It’s not always easy, though. A lot of the best beef around these parts goes to Alberta for processing now.”

As for the old-school notion of a butcher carving a side of beef into roasts, steaks and whatnot, says Fritzsche, “that’s gone the way of the dinosaur. The better-quality meat now, most of it is broken down into its different grades like Canada Prime and Canada Triple A and Double A. If you buy a side of beef, you have one of everything. Then if you’re selling ten of this and one of that, you have a problem. The workload to break a carcass down is extensive too.”

Like a traditional butcher, though, Butcher Boy still makes its own hams, bacon, beef jerky and sausages.

Consumer preferences have changed over the last three decades too, says Fritzsche. “Specialty meats have become a big part of the business. Elk, bison, pheasant, guinea fowl, wild boar — those types of things aren’t as easy to find in a grocery store. We also have cuts that aren’t readily available, like flank steaks, briskets, and pork shoulders for pulled pork.

“I call it the Food Network influence,” he adds. “A lot of people are going back to experimental cooking, whether it’s backyard smokers or traditional grills, or using different cuts when they cook indoors.”

If you’re in the mood to experiment, don’t be shy about asking Butcher Boy staff for tips on preparation and cooking to maximize the taste experience. You don’t want to ruin a good piece of meat by handling it improperly, after all.

To help you reach carnivore nirvana, Butcher Boy has an extensive selection of sauces, marinades, rubs and related food items like stuffed potatoes. “I wouldn’t say it’s one-stop shopping, but we can make it pretty close to that sometimes,” says Fritzsche. /GB

Best Catering

Evolution/Tangerine
2234 14th Ave.
306-522-3500
tangerineregina.ca

In the seven-plus years that Regina’s top caterer (as voted by Prairie Dog readers) Aimee Schulhauser has been in business, she’s also noticed a change in consumer tastes.

“When we first started, it was pretty basic. Now, people are more willing to try different things. I also find that people are more familiar with the culinary terms we use, whereas before we’d have to explain them.”

With Regina’s economy steaming along, Schulhauser says business is good. At one point in our interview, she even joked about wishing she could clone herself to handle the demand. “We’re getting a lot of receptions and other events beyond [the usual] lunches and breakfasts where people maybe didn’t think about catering as an option before,” she says. “Now, they’re getting it looked after by someone else.”

The advantages of doing so are many-fold, she says. “I like to call it one-stop shopping. We’ll take care of the food, of course, and all the set-up, clean-up and servers — even the bar if you want to have one.”

Caterers are also helpful in planning events, Schulhauser says.

“When people call to order, I’ll get them to tell me a bit about who they are, what their event is, and who will be there — how many men vs. women, time of day, what the age range is. So it’s kind of a sociology experiment.

“If the event is between 5 and 7 p.m.,” she notes, “they should plan to have more food. If it’s later, you need less food.” Similarly, if the event is predominantly female, Schulhauser advises clients to steer clear of carb-heavy foods in favour of lighter fare like fresh veggies and fruit.

As far as notice goes, Schulhauser says, “if we’re not booked up, we can do last-minute orders. But for lunch we prefer 24 hours. Larger events are sometimes booked a month in advance, although we have done them in as little as a week.”

Cooking classes are another popular attraction. Some are done in-house at Tangerine restaurant, while others are held in client’s homes.

“We get so many people buying gift cards for cooking classes,” says Schulhauser. “I think that’s where things are going. People don’t want stuff, they want experiences.

“We did a stagette recently,” she recalls. “Another fun one was a BBQ class where they got some friends together and brought in an extra barbecue and we did an entire meal that way.”

Men are getting in on the action too, says Schulhauser.

“When I first started classes five years ago, it was 110 per cent women. Now, it’s probably a 70-30 split. I’ve even done a men-only class, and that was a blast. I thought, ‘I should’ve done this when I was single!’” /GB

Best Deli

Italian Star Deli
1611 Victoria Ave.
306-757-6733
italianstardeli.com

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I make a killer spaghetti sauce. I don’t mean to brag, but it’s pretty delicious. The main reason it’s good, though, is because I shop for ingredients at the Italian Star. As a base I use olive oil, onion, garlic, San Marzano tomatoes and… Gina Giambattista’s sausages. They’re easily the best in the city, and made from Gina’s personal recipe. I can’t put my finger on the exact ingredients (I know there’s fennel in there), but it’s a magical combination — a little bit of heat, with some fragrant herbs, and the perfect ratio of meat to fat.

I love the Italian Star’s other offerings too: from provolone to pecorino, dried olives, and an array of sliced, cured meats. It’s an oasis of meaty, cheesy goodness in a city that sometimes seems devoid of sensual pleasures. If you don’t already, you should really make it part of your regular shopping circuit. /VS

Best Specialty Grocery

Italian Star Deli
1611 Victoria Ave.
306-757-6733
italianstardeli.com

Everyone has their own reason for loving the Italian Star. Personally, I don’t think I could survive in Regina without the Giambattista family’s emporium of worldly good food: high-quality pastas, arborio rice, San Marzano tomatoes, sexy cooking oils, sea salts, biscuits, preserves, dried portobello mushrooms and whipped chestnut purée (oh, yes). Without Italian Star I think I would’ve turned tail and run back screaming to where I came from a long time ago. So, thanks, Carlo (I guess).

Really, though, it’s the greatest shop in Regina, and always a pleasure to stop by. Carlo and family are the very definition of graciousness and warmth — and they remember everyone by name! They could give seminars on customer service, and this city should really put up a plaque in front of the place, because God knows they deserve it. In the meantime, this award will have to do. Congratulations again, Italian Star! /VS