Toronto's Bar Isabel has been named Canada's best new restaurant for 2013 in an annual survey conducted by enRoute magazine.
Vij's Railway Express, a mobile restaurant inspired by an Indian rail carriage with a menu that explores regional flavours and dishes of India, won the people's choice award. The food truck, owned by cookbook author Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala, came out on top in an online poll decided by Canadians.
It's the 12th year for the Top 10 list and the first time EnRoute decided to publicize the short list of 35 restaurants opened between late spring 2012 and June 2013 that were nominated by a volunteer panel of food and hospitality industry leaders, and let Canadians vote for their favourite.
"I love that the people's choice award went to a food truck from one of this country's great chefs," Ilana Weitzman, editor-in-chief of Air Canada's in-flight magazine, said in a statement.
International food and wine writer Andrew Braithwaite, who chose the 10 finalists after eating out anonymously "night after night" for a month to make his decision, pointed to the geographic diversity, noting that last year's list was heavy on Toronto establishments.
"This year I was lucky that I had a lot of great meals in seven different cities," he said. "Five different provinces made up the Top 10, everywhere from Vancouver all the way out to Fogo Island, Nfld.
"I thought it was an interesting trend this year that people were taking cuisines from other lands and resetting them in a Canadian context."
Bar Isabel, for example, "looks, feels and tastes vaguely Castilian but does far more than ape a menu straight out of Madrid," he wrote in his comments.
The remaining nine restaurants, along with Braithwaite's comments, are:
2. Shoto, Toronto: "A storybook of a tasting menu, with all the typical annoying bits – the repetition of ingredients, the showy caprice, the monotonous pacing – smartly edited out."
3. Fogo Island Inn, Joe Batt's Arm, Nfld.: "There's a terrific survivalist spirit bursting out of chef McDonald's kitchen, where most everything is made from scratch."
4. Supply and Demand, Ottawa: "It's not supposed to be this easy for a first-timer ... you notice all the little things that rookies Steve and Jennifer Wall are getting so right."
5. Pidgin, Vancouver: "The cuisine of Winnipeg-born chef Ono, who ran restaurants in Beijing and Hong Kong, draws from multiple languages."
6. Carino Japanese Bistro, Calgary: "A Japanese-Italian wine bar that defies logic in the most wonderful ways."
7. Maison Publique, Montreal: "A mere 250 years after the Treaty of Paris, cooking Anglo food in Montreal is cool again."
8. Le Bouchon du Pied Bleu, Quebec City: "One of the most convivial, playful, unabashedly fun dining experiences I've had anywhere in North America."
9. The Acorn, Vancouver: "That the food is meatless is almost beside the point unless you're a foodie vegetarian who's long hankered for a compromise-free night on the town."
10. Electric Mud, Toronto: "Electric Mud is a twisted hymn to the American South."
Braithwaite said the list may inspire chefs to focus on innovation, being creative and advancing the Canadian culinary identity.
"But what I hope that this list will do in the future is sort of add to what we know already about what it means to eat out in Canada but also, maybe, to trigger some ideas about what we're not doing yet and what we could do in the future."
Winners will be profiled in the November issue of enRoute.
As of Nov. 1, readers will be able to download the updated enRoute Eats app, which includes details of this year's Top 10 restaurants and previous years' winners, along with enRoute-recommended restaurants across the country. Visit enroute.aircanada.com.