A Prairie feast
Digging into Winnipeg's dining revolution can offer travellers an inside look into a whole new world of local and seasonal flavours
As you pack for your trip to Winnipeg, make sure these two items are first in the suitcase: a comfortable pair of shoes, and pants with an elastic waist.
Over the past five years, Winnipeg has undergone a food revolution. Restaurants have popped up across the city that embrace local and seasonal ingredients and traditional cooking techniques. And over a long weekend, you can explore a world of food and flavours in Winnipeg.
Set yourself up in a downtown hotel, and lace up your sneakers. Winnipeg is a pedestrian-friendly city, but you won't have to walk far. Head into the Exchange District, a historic area with an incredible 50 restaurants in 30 square blocks.
Your first stop is Clementine. The breakfast/brunch place opened in 2016, and was nominated as one of Canada's best new restaurants last year. When you taste the farm-to-table offerings on the menu, you'll see why.
After breakfast, take a peek around the Exchange. It's a hip neighbourhood, a blend of tech startups and art galleries, all set in heritage buildings that date back to the early 1900s.
"You go to Parlour Coffee in the morning to grab your coffee, and you may meet one or two other people, and by the afternoon, you have a whole new project or event set-up that you're working on," said Karen Kornelsen, with the Exchange District Biz.
For lunch, it's time for some fusion. Head to Chosabi, on King Street, and get the famous sushi burrito. It's just what it sounds like, and it's a local favourite in the city. Chosabi has opened up two other locations in the city, but the spot in the Exchange is the original. Get your lunch to go, and sit in nearby Old Market Square for optimal people-watching.
As evening falls, you can stretch your legs and walk to VJ's Drive Inn. An institution in the city, this is the place to go for burgers, milkshakes and chili dogs. And if you're so inclined, you can end the night at Albert Street Cocktail Company for a specialty drink or two.
Did you stay at the cocktail bar a bit later than you wanted to last night? No problem there. You're starting your day at Falafel Place in River Heights. This Israeli eatery offers the perfect breakfast to soak up any lingering effects of the night before. Try the falafel breakfast platter, but don't be surprised if you can't finish it. These guys don't fool around with portions.
From River Heights, take a walk down to Osborne Village. Window shopping is at a premium here, with clothes, records and tchotchkes galore. For an afternoon snack, Kawaii Crepe has you covered. This Japanese creperie – it's a thing – has nearly 30 crepe variations on the menu, with both savoury and sweet options, and they're all handmade in front of your eyes. If you're in the mood for a more substantial meal, try the Pump Up the Yam, with roasted yams, chicken, maple syrup and peppercorn mayo.
Would you rather a sweet pick-me-up? Head down South Osborne to the Bridge Drive-In. This ice-cream shop has been in business for 55 years, and Winnipeggers line up every year for a taste of its signature sundae, the Goog – best enjoyed while strolling across the bridge.
After that long day, rest your weary feet at Segovia, a Spanish tapas bar with incredible attention to detail. Get a seat at the bar to watch all the action and chat with the knowledgeable chefs. And if you're hoping for another night on the town, The Handsome Daughter is the place to be. Along with great local brews, the bar hosts music and trivia nights and always has a crowd.
Start your last day in town off on the right foot. In the heart of Chinatown, you'll find the Kum Koon Garden, a dim-sum restaurant to beat all others. Grab a seat, and within minutes, carts of food will flock to you. From shrimp dumplings to duck feet to spicy bean curd, all you have to do is point, and a steaming bamboo basket will be placed in front of you. Make sure to get a pineapple bun for dessert.
From Chinatown, you could head back into the Exchange District and join up with one of its food tours. Going on its sixth year, the tours take patrons across the neighbourhood for a closer look at some of the most popular spots.
"The chefs and the owners of the restaurants, they take the time to come out to the table and greet the guests, and really give them a background on their establishments and the exchange in general," Kornelsen says. "It's really cool for people to get to have that personal experience and get to meet these local chefs."
Another option is to walk down to the Forks, and then across the bridge into St. Boniface. The French and Métis neighbourhood is the site of the annual Festival du Voyageur and is also home to some great lunch spots. There's the homey Marion Street Eatery, or the French restaurant and butcher shop Bouchée Boucher, which also offers up cooking classes, if you're so inclined.
As you walk back along the water, you can stop in at the Forks, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers meet, and learn about the original trade routes that helped form Winnipeg. And then, back to the food.
To end your trip, why not branch out into something totally new? Merkato offers authentic Ethiopian cuisine downtown with a homey atmosphere. Or sip a caipirinha at Carnaval, a Brazilian steakhouse on Waterfront Drive. Carvers, or gauchos, will come to your table with a dizzying array of meat options. Don't try to figure out which one is your favourite – just get one of everything.
After all of this, you can stagger back to the airport, deliriously full – and happy you wore those stretchy pants.