Last Updated on October 15, 2021 by Pamela
It turns out, I don’t actually hate Ottawa. On the contrary, I am quite fascinated by this gritty and cosmopolitan city. As the nation’s capital, Ottawa is home to Canada’s legislative branch, as well as embassies and consulates from around the world. The city is filled with international cultures and flavours, beguiling neighbourhoods, and handsome urban landscapes.
When I learned that I needed to make a last-minute trip to Ottawa last month to help a family member, I decided to give Ottawa another chance. Surely, the city is not as bad as I remember.
I booked a room at the Andaz Hotel in the ByWard Market, thinking I could do a deep dive into the neighbourhood. In reality, I needed to drive to appointments throughout the city, and I ended up exploring several neighbourhoods in my downtime. Falling in love with Ottawa in the process.
Most of our meals in Ottawa happened inside my rental car, often during quick stops between appointments, resulting in an eclectic, delicious mix, scattered throughout several neighbourhoods.
As I know I will be returning to Ottawa, this post will grow. Which excites this fat girl, and her tastebuds!
Here is my fat girl’s guide to eating in Ottawa!
I enjoy breakfast, but after years of rushing out the door early in the morning or trying to get a jump on writing deadlines, I rarely eat breakfast. It’s bad, I know. When I am travelling, however, I will seek out breakfast as a treat to myself.
In Ottawa, I decided to skip the hotel breakfast and start exploring the city early in the morning, hours before appointments. Driving is one of my favourite ways to relax and recharge, especially in places that are new or intriguing or both.
I enjoyed a couple of conventional breakfasts (eggs, bacon, tea…), but the unconventional ones were delectable, too.
La Bottega Nicastro
Opening in May 1995, La Bottega Nicastro brought the Nicastro name from Little Italy to the ByWard Market. The first shop was opened by brothers, Joe and Rocco Sr., in 1972 on Gladstone Avenue, followed by Nicastro Fine Foods on Merivale. It’s Pat, Joe’s son, who brought this Ottawa institution to the ByWard Market. Thank you, Pat!
While this is a boutique food shop selling Italian foods made locally, as well as in Italy, La Bottega Nicastro is also the best spot in the ByWard Market for scrumptious Italian sandwiches. Head to the back corner of the shop (look for the cheese) and there you’ll find a counter where you can have a sandwich made to order. Select your bread, cheese, meat, vegetables, and sauce; grab a drink on your way out, and enjoy!
My sandwich: soft panini, provolone, spicy Genoa salami, pastrami, spicy eggplant, and a touch of mustard (❤️).
Personal note: The sandwich was good, but spicy salami and spicy eggplant were not the best mixture for me at 9 am 😂.
Neighbourhood: ByWard Market • sandwiches under $10 • 64 George Street • 613-789-7575 • labottega.ca • Open: 9am–6pm Mon-Sat, 10am–5pm Sun – sandwich bar open 11am–3pm Mon-Sat
Le Moulin de Provence
This French and Italian bakery in the ByWard Market opened its doors on May 1, 1998, and while it has long been known for its pastries, it is now most famous for being the place that sells Obama cookies.
Former US President, Barack Obama, made a brief visit to the bakery in February 2009, buying a shortbread cookie in the shape of a maple leaf, topped with red icing and “Canada” scrawled across the middle. It was 15 minute kind of event that has turned into a long-term marketing campaign – the birth of the Obama cookie.
Aside from cookies, the bakery also sells croissants, pain au chocolat, and other pastries, as well as sandwiches, soups, and salads.
My order: croissants, and an Obama cookie (❤️).
Personal note: the croissant was good, but not buttery and airy like my favourite ones here in Québec. I’d definitely buy more cookies though!
Neighbourhood: ByWard Market • $2.50 to $10 • 55 Byward Market Sq • 613-241-9152 • lemoulindeprovence.com • Open: 7am–7pm daily
Elgin Street Diner
24-hour diners are a window into local culture and an ideal place for a hearty meal. Open since 1997, Elgin Street Diner is proud to state that they never close – major snowstorms, crazy construction, floods, holidays, the pandemic, this diner never closes!
The menu is filled with all-day breakfast options, sandwiches, burgers, poutines, and thick milkshakes served in tall metal cups. The food is comforting and unfussy and hits the spot. If you’re an early bird, go first thing in the morning for a quiet breakfast. Diner breakfasts hit differently before 6 am, whether you go for something conventional or opt for a 5 am cheeseburger.
My order: peameal bacon breakfast ( 2 eggs, peameal bacon, home fries, baked beans, and toast), and a cherry milkshake (❤️).
Personal note: Drinking a thick cherry 🍒 milkshake🥤 at 5:30 am is glorious. The breakfast was good too, like having your mom get up early to cook for you.
Neighbourhood: Centretown • under $20 • 374 Elgin St • 613-237-9700 • elginstreetdiner.com • Open 24 hours
This 60s style diner next to West Park Bowling opened its doors in 2000. The diner is small, with teal banquette seating, black and white checkered tile floors, and bright green walls. The window facing Welling Street West rolls up in summer, creating a small patio, of sorts. It’s the type of place locals go for a leisurely breakfast and a coffee.
Breakfast is served until 3 pm, plenty of time if you’re a late riser. The menu is an eclectic mix of foods; breakfast combos, sandwiches and wraps, quesadillas, burgers, pizza, hot chicken sandwiches, liver, and more. The milkshakes are made by hand with three scoops of ice cream and are delicious.
The bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches rival those served at McDonald’s and are perfect for breakfast on the go – a popular choice among local construction workers.
My order: bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin (❤️), and a strawberry milkshake (❤️).
Personal note: Milkshakes for breakfast are always a good idea, and I will definitely order the bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches (to-go) in the future.
Neighbourhood: Wellington West • $5 to $20 • 1209 Wellington St W • 613-728-9987 • filsdiner.ca • Open: 8am–8pm Mon-Sat, 8am–3pm Sun
Established in 1988, this Portuguese bakery is an exquisite stop in the neighbourhood of Wellington West. The white and blue decorative tiles, floor-to-ceiling front windows, and light grey laminate floors give this bakery a calming vibe. It also allows your eyes to focus on the delicious colourful foods on display.
On their shelves are freshly baked Portuguese buns, and imported sodas, sweets, and non-perishables. Display cases towards the back are stocked with cheeses, sauces and soups, and you can order Portuguese chicken combos, sandwiches, pão com chouriço (and more) from a counter at the back.
Of course, freshly baked pastries and sweet treats are a favourite. Bola de berlim (custard-filled donuts rolled in sugar), pastéis de nata (custard egg tart), malasada (fried dough coated in sugar), and palmiers (puff pastry cookies), to name a few.
My order: bola de berlim (❤️), pastéis de nata (❤️), cannoli, palmiers, pastéis de feijão, and bolo de arroz.
Personal note: I will dream of the bola de berlim and pastéis de nata for the rest of my life. OMG, they were so fresh and flavourful. A party in my mouth erupted from the very first bite.
Neighbourhood: Wellington St W • under $10 • 1111a Wellington St W • 613-728-5252 • lusabakery.ca • Open: 8:30am–7:30pm Tues-Fri, 9:30am–7:30pm Sat & Sun
The French Baker
A blue-coloured storefront with a bright red door on the corner of Murray and Dalhousie streets, The French Baker is everything the title implies. Inside a small wall of freshly baked baguettes and boules away, while a display case is filled with delicate pastries that remind one of the morning eating rituals in Paris. Well, mine at least.
Shelves near the door are filled with tins of cookies, chocolates, sweets, and non-perishable delights from France. Of course, there are pain au chocolat and croissants too, each one tasting of butter. Of the bakeries selling croissants in Ottawa, the ones at The French Baker are pretty good.
My order: croissants (❤️).
Personal note: the croissants are better here. I could taste the butter, and they are more bread-like than airy.
Neighbourhood: ByWard Market • under $10 • 119 Murray St • 613-789-7941 • frenchbaker.ca • Open: 8am–4pm daily
Finding this French pâtisserie from Montréal in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood is an absolute joy. Mamie Clafoutis was created in 2008 by a baker, Joseph, and pastry chef, Nicolas, who immigrated to Montréal from France. Their first shop was in Montréal’s Outremont neighbourhood, and today they have eight locations in Montréal, and one in Ottawa.
Mamie Clafoutis is a destination pâtisserie, with display cases and counters filled with freshly baked breads, croissants, chocolatines, raspberry shortbread cookies, madeleines, and other baked goods and sweet treats. Come first thing in the morning for still-warm baguettes and coffee.
My order: baguette (❤️), croissants (❤️), chouquettes, and raspberry shortbread cookies (❤️) as big as a large orange.
Personal notes: Fresh baguettes and croissants will always be my weakness. The croissants here are the best in Ottawa, thus far. The raspberry shortbread cookies were buttery and tart and sweet and I am still dreaming of them.
THE REST OF THE DAY
I received a lot of foodie suggestions from locals (Jantine from Ottawa Tourism, Guy from Parks Canada). So many that I now have a list on my phone of places to eat in Ottawa. Yum!
Most of my mealtimes were spent with someone who was not comfortable being around other people, so we ate in my rental car. Pre-COVID, eating in the car, aside from crushing a fast-food burger, would have been weird. Now, it’s normal, and entertaining at times as well. I mean, have you ever tried to eat dim sum in a car? We had containers on the dashboard, the gear shift panel, our laps… it was nutty.
Originally a fine dining concept on Somerset Street West, Fairouz Cafe opened in the ByWard Market in mid-October 2020 with a warm intimate vibe. At the front of the restaurant, you’ll find a teal-coloured bar with brushed gold accents and a white faux marble top. To the right, shelves are stocked with ingredients common in Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as a selection of wine to purchase and enjoy elsewhere.
While the little food shop is intriguing, the highlight is the restaurant’s dining room with its intimate seating. The best part, of course, is the menu, which features a wide array of tantalizing Middle Eastern dishes. Start with a mezze, or three, and move on to manakeesh, and then your main. Portions are large, so be sure to come hungry, and save some room for dessert, too!
My order: muhammara (❤️), baba ghanoush (❤️), fried cauliflower, and orange & cardamom sponge cake (❤️).
Personal note: the only reservation available was 9:30 pm, so I was not as hungry as I would have liked (ha!). The muhammara was a recommendation from my server, and wow, the tangy pop of the pomegranate with the cashews and red pepper was incredible. The baba ghanoush was light and too much for me to eat in one sitting. The orange & cardamom sponge cake came in four rectangular pieces. Moist, light, and a satisfying end to my meal. I will definitely return, hungry, to try more dishes in the future.
Neighbourhood: ByWard Market • $6 – $90 • 15 Clarence Street • 613-422-7700 • fairouz.ca • Open: 5pm–10pm Wed-Sun
Situated next to a Mr. Lube on the corner of Bank and Walkley, this bright orange food shack (with a flashy extension built around a food truck window) cooks Mexican and Tex-Mex food that makes the drive into the Ottawa suburbs worthwhile.
The menu is extensive. Tacos and burritos are joined by flautas, taquitos, enchilada, quesadilla, chimichanga, and wraps.
When ordering, choose a combo to get a generous portion of rice and refried beans, as well as a can of pop. The food cooked in this small food truck kitchen is something I would expect in a brick-and-mortar restaurant. It’s packed with flavour. You will want to wear stretchy pants!
My order: chimichanga combo (❤️), tortilla chips (made fresh, daily), and guacamole.
Personal note: I want to devour the chimichanga sauce every day for the rest of my life. It was earthy and tantalizing and tasted of sweaty Mexico evenings in Oaxaca.
Neighbourhood: Heron Gate • $6 – $20 • 1217 Walkley Rd • 613-552-6054 • mexigocabana.ca • Open: 11am–8pm Tues-Sat
The Great Canadian Poutinerie
This locally owned poutinerie has two yummy locations in Ottawa (Centretown and Vanier). They started out, however, as The Vanier Snack Shack. Then in 2013, they entered Poutine Fest (an annual event on Spark St in Centretown), and things took off. A year later, The Great Canadian Poutinerie was born and has become a destination of choice among poutine lovers.
Tucked away in a quiet residential area, this poutinerie is a local hot spot. The traditional poutine is always a good idea, but if you’re feeling adventurous, try one of the specialty poutines – Quebecor (sliced pogos, sweet mustard, cracked black pepper) and Canadian (ground beef, bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms, and a drizzle of maple syrup). At the Vanier location, you can also get a small fries and 2 steamer hot dogs special for $4.99. The Centretown location has Montreal smoked meat sandwiches as well as poutines.
*Gluten-free gravy is available.
My order: Bacon grilled cheese poutine with half fries and half onion rings (❤️).
Personal note: I went in with the intention of ordering classic poutine, but the specialty menu was too tempting. The portion ended up being quite large for me, and I could barely eat all of it.
Neighbourhood: Vanier • $5 to $20 • 200 Deschamps Ave • 613-255-6745 • tgcpoutinerie.com • Open: 11am–9pm daily
Life of Pie
Come for the baked goods, and stay for the build-your-own grilled cheese sandwiches! This family-run scratch bakery is known for their grilled cheese sandwiches, as well as their hand-made sweet and savoury pies, bread, and cakes – no preservatives added, and they utilize locally sourced ingredients! Their freshly baked pies sell out quickly, but you can also buy frozen, and ready-to-bake pies and quiche.
Grilled cheese sandwiches start at $5, with most toppings being an additional $0.50 each (premium toppings are $1 ea). Choose from three types of bread and four kinds of cheese, then go crazy with the toppings; ranging from pesto, caramelized onions, and garlic mayonnaise to dill pickles, hot pepper jelly, and bacon.
My grilled cheese sandwich: white bread, cheddar, provolone, bacon, caramelized onions, and garlic mayonnaise (❤️).
Personal note: this sandwich was so good. I’d love to try one with hot pepper jelly next time.
Neighbourhood: Old Ottawa South • $5 to $20 • 1134 Bank St • 613-693-1853 • lifeofpie.ca • Open: 10am-6pm Tues-Fri, 10am–5pm Sat & Sun
Safi Fine Foods
The seating area of this small food shop is made for the ‘gram, with its yellow button-back banquette, blonde wood square tables, tall windows, and chandelier. While the esthetic is visually delightful, that is not the reason why Safi Fine Foods is a favourite among the locals in Sandy Hill.
Mohammed Ali Abdo, the owner, is the true star. His bright smile and easy conversation make one feel at home instantly. Come for a coffee or tea, and be sure to grab lunch (or dinner) while you’re there as well. He serves North African and Middle Eastern foods. I visited too early in the day to try his food, but from what the locals tell me, the food is delicious – and made with love.
My order: Earl Grey latte.
Neighbourhood: Sandy Hill • under $15 • 296 Somerset St E • 613-422-7234 • Open: 7am–11pm Mon-Sat, 9am–9pm Sun
Ha’s Dim Sum Noodle House
Dim sum is a staple of Cantonese cooking. The earliest references of dim sum occur in music and poetry from over 2,500 years ago. Traders on the Silk Road would stop at teahouses to rest, sip fragrant teas, and nibble on small bites of food (referred to as dim sum). Today, dim sum is popular street food in China. In the Western world, restaurants served dim sum in bamboo steamer baskets or on small plates. Perfect for sharing, or sampling several varieties on your own.
Located on a busy stretch of Chinatown, Ha’s Dim Sum is a small restaurant in a red brick building with a blue metal railing. The menu has 32 dim sum dishes to choose from, as well as Cantonese and Szechuan dishes. Order online easily and pick up to enjoy elsewhere. When their dining room is open, however, make time to sample as much of the menu as possible.
My order: Shang Hai pork dumplings (❤️), Shrimp dumplings, egg roll (❤️), black pepper beef shiu mai, steamed barbecue pork buns (Char Siu Bao)(❤️), deep-fried shrimp wonton (❤️), and deep-fried pork dumplings (❤️).
Personal note: I’m already thinking of ordering dim sum to take back to my hotel next time, as a late-night snack. The Shang Hair pork dumplings had the juiciness I expected, and the deep-fried shrimp wonton and deep-fried pork dumplings were surprisingly tasty!
Neighbourhood: Chinatown • $4.50 to $20 (combos as high as $128 for 6 ppl) • 870 Somerset St W • 613-680-1688 • dimsumnoodlehouse.com • Open: 11am–10pm daily (closed Wed)
The Merry Dairy
Tucked away on a relatively quiet residential corner in Hintonburg, The Merry Dairy is an absolute treat. They started out with a vintage ice cream truck, and in 2017 set up a brick and mortar shop on the corner of Fairmont Ave and Gladstone Ave. They’ve been a neighbourhood favourite ever since.
Stroll up to the Tiffany blue order window on the side of the building (Gladstone Ave side) and order ice cream cones, pints, or ice cream sandwiches. Sorbets and frozen custards are available as well. The menu features seasonal flavours, as well as vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free options for those with dietary restrictions.
My order: ginger ice cream in a handmade waffle cone (❤️).
Personal note: I drove past here three times before I stopped, and it was always busy. The ginger ice cream was a recommendation by the owner, and honestly, it was amazing. I’m definitely going back.
Neighbourhood: Hintonburg • under $10 • 102 Fairmont Ave • 613-680-3144 • themerrydairy.com • Open: 12pm–9pm Tues-Sun
Opening its doors early 2021 on a residential street in Vanier, this restaurant serves up traditional South American cuisine. Currently housed in a building with the name “Goodies” on the marquee, this gem is locally owned and operated.
The menu is inspired by food made with corn, potatoes, cheese, and yucca, staple ingredients in many Latin American dishes. They are most famous for their empanadas, which are small but tasty, and sell out quickly. Choose from arepas, patacon or cachapa sandwiches, chicharron, pabellon bowl, paisa bowl, and more. Honestly, come hungry and ready to sample a few dishes.
My order: chorizo patacon sandwich (❤️), chicharron (❤️), cheese empanada, and pulled pork empanada.
Personal note: This place was a recommendation from Guy at Parks Canada. The moment he said empanadas, I knew I needed to go. They were good, the patacon sandwich was even better, and the chicharron.. oh, I want more.
Neighbourhood: Vanier • $5 to $25 • 51 Marier Ave • 613-299-2994 • toastyarepasottawa.ca • Open: 12pm–8pm Tues-Thurs & Sun, 12pm–9pm Fri & Sat
Maverick’s Donut Company
Since opening its first shop in 2016, Maverick’s Donuts continues to rise in popularity in the Ottawa area (There are currently four locations in the city, as well as a shop in Kanata and Stittsville). The shop in the ByWard Market is quite small, but the display case is filled with colourful, scrumptious cake-like donuts.
The menu includes classic donuts like chocolate glaze, sprinkles, and powdered sugar. The signature donuts, however, are truly a sight to behold and are sure to make your tummy rumble with hunger. s’mores, pumpkin spice, pecan pie, lemon ricotta, maple bacon… it’s hard to choose! Maverick’s also makes a couple of vegan donuts, as well as fritters.
My order: lemon ricotta (❤️), maple bacon, s’mores, pecan pie, pumpkin spice, apple caramel, and a vegan cinnamon sugar donut (❤️).
Personal note: a cop walks into a donut shop… and I followed him. I was given a free vegan cinnamon sugar donut after joking about them being the worst donuts in the food world. Apparently, I was wrong, because the one at Maverick’s was moist and delightful! Of the signature donuts I bought, the lemon ricotta was my favourite.
Neighbourhood: ByWard Market • under $10 • 46a Byward Market Sq • 613-680-6223 • mavericksdonuts.com • Open: 10am–4pm Wed-Sun
Strawberry Blonde Bakery
Located in Westboro, not far from Island Park Dr, this bakery is a haven for those with alternative diets and food allergies. The bakery has a light and airy vibe, with pastel yellow and blue accents and a high ceiling. Shelves are stocked with vegan and gluten-free items such as coffee, chocolates, and candies.
A tall freezer holds ready-to-bake items as well as bread that is near expiration. At the front, you will find cookies, brownies, donuts, and squares. As well as a menu of coffees and teas to take on the go.
My order: butterbeer latte, donut, brownie (❤️), nanaimo bar (❤️), and a shortbread cookie.
Personal note: full disclosure… I didn’t read the marquee before going inside, but when I found out everything was vegan it was too late to leave 😂. I couldn’t finish the donut, but the brownies and nanaimo bar were very good. I would definitely have those again. The butterbeer latte tasted like a normal latte. I’d skip that one.
Neighbourhood: Westboro • under $10 • 111 Richmond Rd • 613-725-2253 • strawberryblondebakery.com • Open: 9am–6pm Mon-Sat, 9am–5pm Sun