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The colourful causa dish at the restaurant Fortuna’s Row in Calgary.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

After the exhaustive pivots restaurants had to make throughout 2020 and 2021, it’s heartening to see the restaurant industry on the Prairies return and expand with a vengeance this past year.

Highlights of 2022 include watching Ingenious food and drink ventures emerge, while tried-and-true favourites enjoyed continued success. From a spectacular Canadian-Chinese concept from a Top Chef Canada alumnus in Winnipeg to a drop-dead-gorgeous dining room in Calgary and a couple of the most forward-thinking breweries in Canada, here are the best new restaurants on the Prairies.

1. Nola, Winnipeg

Chef Emily Butcher at Nola in Winnipeg.Shannon VanRaes/Globe and Mail

Of all of the dishes I’ve eaten this year, chef Emily Butcher’s parsnip and black sesame cheesecake at Nola remains one of the most memorable. Beyond a perfectly umami-laced sweet finish to dinner at this Winnipeg hot spot, there’s much to love about the chef’s charming restaurant that draws its inspiration from her Canadian-Chinese heritage, such as Reuben-inspired pan-fried dumplings, smoked goldeye turnip cakes and so much more.

Nola’s small grey-blue dining room with its warm wood tabletops make for an inviting atmosphere and the open kitchen means that every diner is never too far from watching the action and hearing the subtle buzz of the culinary team searing, sautéing and plating during a busy dinner service (which is every night).

2. Mot To Bahn Mi & Pho Bar, Calgary

The little contemporary Vietnamese restaurant that could, Mot To, had a great start this summer thanks to the kitchen being governed by the folks behind long-standing and award-winning Pho Dau Bo.

Its foundation is built on much of what is celebrated about Pho Dau Bo, such as roasted bone marrow, eternally crispy (and gluten free) spring rolls and Vietnamese beef carpaccio, but then builds on creativity to offer some buzzworthy bites that live up to their hype every, single time. There’s the Pho Grilled Cheese (think beef dip with pho broth), the textural delight that is its Soupless Pho – a combination of rice noodles, quail eggs, bean sprouts, fried shallot and bacon, lettuce and chicken in perfectly sweet-sour-savoury sauce – and bun rieu.

The latter is a relatively uncommon Vietnamese soup in this part of Canada and Mot To does it justice in all of its crab, pork sausage, tomato and tofu glory along with a crab meatball attached to a claw.

3. Lonely Mouth Bar, Calgary

Executive Chef Tomohiro Mitsuno, left, and Sake Sommelier Amanda Jensen at Calgary's Lonely Mouth restaurant.Gavin John/The Globe and Mail

After opening its doors at the tail end of 2021, one could argue that Lonely Mouth Bar was somewhat overshadowed by its sister restaurant Major Tom, which had a long-delayed, and highly celebrated, opening. Still, the Concorde Group’s venture into contemporary Japanese cuisine holds its own on Calgary’s crowded 17th Avenue.

This is all thanks to a cool dining room with its focal-point bar, charming patio, a robust sake menu and, of course, plenty of crave-worthy menu items.

Its claim to fame remains its house-made udon noodles, brightened up by a generous amount of fresh yuzu zest, but there’s plenty of other home runs, such as the warm Japanese milk buns with koji butter and nori, chicken wings with yuzu ranch (very underrated), beautifully seared scallops and turnips with kombu buttermilk. Lonely Mouth’s especially vibrant sashimi platter is the cherry on top of it all.

4. Ryuko, Calgary

The Tobiko bibimbap with earl grey highball at Ryuko Japanese kitchen and bar.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Moving into a cursed location is always a worrisome move, but Ryuko has garnered more than its fair share of love from many folks flocking to south Calgary for a taste of what it’s got to offer.

With fresh seafood flown in every Wednesday from Japan, sushi lovers know to pop by before the weekend, but regardless of when you come by, signature dishes such as the Korean-inspired tobiko bibimbap (one of the most colourful dishes your eyes can enjoy in Calgary before your taste buds do. Four kinds of tobiko? I’m in!) and the Wagyu katsu ball platter. The platter is, essentially, the most delicious panko-crusted, mozzarella-stuffed meatballs you’ll find in Alberta, not that there are many comparables.

5. Fu’s Repair Shop, Edmonton

The thing that I love most about this funky, Chinese speakeasy-inspired spot by chef Winnie Chen is that it reminds you that dining can be fun, tasty and a little sexy, too.

Its moody red lighting comes courtesy of a ceiling scattered with hanging lanterns and always sets the tone for a night of uncomplicated, but well-made cocktails and small plates of food that don’t hold back when it comes to bold flavour profiles. The rice patty and Chinese sausage skewers come drizzled with hoisin glaze and finished with sweet soy, sesame peanut sauce coconut and sesame seeds. It’s a great bite that does an equally great job of encouraging you to have another sip.

I am still thinking about a summer menu item of dehydrated-then-rehydrated strips of watermelon that were meant to mimic tuna tataki and did so in such a clever, plant-based way.

6. Fortuna’s Row, Calgary

The scallop dish and the arroz con leche tart at the restaurant Fortuna’s Row in Calgary.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

The spectacular good looks of Fortuna’s Row have been cause for much buzz in the Alberta restaurant scene in recent months, though that level of attention can lead to inflated expectations. Luckily, I’ve yet to meet someone who has walked away from this modern Latin American eatery feeling underwhelmed thanks to a jaw-dropping interior and overall cool vibe.

While its food menu by chef Mikko Tamarra (Con Mi Taco) has its misses, there are enjoyable dishes such as the causa (purple potato purée, octopus tartare, chorizo crumble, nasturtium garnish), singular scallop (served atop cauliflower pudding with sunchoke chips, garlic, salsa verde and guajillo chili oil) and camaron encocado (coconut shrimp for lack of a better descriptor). It allows a diner to end up with a pro-leaning tally when a meal is done.

There are often discussions about whether food is truly the most important aspect of a restaurant experience or if it’s a balance of atmosphere, service, food and drink. With that in mind, Fortuna’s Row is a great example of a whole restaurant being greater than the sum of its parts.

7. Business & Pleasure, Calgary

If every neighbourhood in every Prairie city had a teeny, cool cocktail bar like Business & Pleasure, one may not want to leave their part of town.

Bar manager Kaitlyn Alonday has long been an active part of the city’s cocktail scene, but truly made her mark after launching a cocktail program at High Line Brewing before moving across the road (literally) to open this unpretentious bar in the heart of Inglewood. Ms. Alonday’s creations, such as Slow Burn (Lillet, Giffard crème de pêche, Courvoisier, Laphroaig Select, basil bitters) and the Twin Flame made with a shouldn’t-all-work-but-it-does combination of cantaloupe juice, lime juice, yellow chartreuse, Sombra and bay leaf bitters are perfectly balanced and all too sippable.

Concise food offerings happily play second fiddle to the cocktail menu here, but dishes such as the unorthodox beet Reuben with smoked mozza and “secret” sauce on toasted sourdough as well as the ahi tuna tartare with pickled shimeji mushrooms, crispy shallots and won ton chips are certainly nothing to scoff at.

8. Pop Wine Bar, Saskatoon

Saskatoon was relatively quiet in 2022 in terms of new openings, aside from the community-minded Bannock Express finding a new permanent location, a fast-casual (and quite tasty) Vietnamese restaurant FaiFo Concept opening on Broadway Avenue and, of course, Pop Wine Bar, the natural wine bar from Christie Peters and Kyle Michael (of Primal). In the style created by Ms. Peters and Mr. Michael, Pop Wine Bar makes the most of vintage decor and furniture (such as huge white booths they extracted from the now-closed iconic Saskatoon Station Place) while offering what is likely the most robust selection of natural wines in the province. If a cocktail is what you’re after, rest assured general manager Adrian Chappell and her bar team can sort that out for you, too.

House-made pastas, rabbit schnitzel and Ms. Peters’s grand aunt’s cheese ball (served cheeseboard style) and caviar with crème fraîche and fry bread are a few things to enjoy here. The house-made Pop Pizza Pop filled with house red sauce and mozzarella is also a must.

9. Hoagie Boyz, Winnipeg

Find me a Winnipegger who hasn’t fallen in love with Hoagie Boyz this year and I’ll call them a liar. The South Osborne quick-service business has fairly limited hours (11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays), so you’ll need to pop in for lunch or early dinner for its sizable hoagies. Its sandwiches are generously filled with things such as shaved mortadella, Calabrian chili spread, peperoncini, shredded iceberg, red onion, grated pecorino and sub sauce (The Evil Morty) and make for a hearty meal for one, especially with a side of cool, creamy pasta salad that is pleasantly spiked with pickled veggies.

Grab some extra napkins, because these sandwiches are (charmingly) messy. Tapping into some 1990s kid nostalgia, the restaurant also offers party subs on its catering menu.

10. The Monolith (Edmonton) and Low Life Barrell House (Winnipeg)

Three beers made by The Monolith in Edmonton: The Mimic, Ferry of the Damned and One Night in Dunham.Megan Albu/The Globe and Mail

With a small snack menu at Edmonton’s The Monolith, courtesy of award-winning chef Christine Sandford, and no food at all at Winnipeg’s Low Life Barrell House, neither really qualify as a restaurant, but I would be horribly remiss not to celebrate two new beverage makers doing incredible things in the Prairies.

Low Life Barrell House is unique, essentially one part cidery, one part brewery and one part winery. Its releases range from cider and winemaker Jesse Oberman’s releases via Next Friend Cider and Low Life while brewer Chris Young produces an eclectic mix of beers by way of spontaneous and mixed fermentation.

The Monolith is also leading the wave of what beer production can look like in Alberta with its use of the aforementioned fermentation methods as well as distinctive collaborations with Calgary’s Uncommon Cider Co.

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