It’s always fun, always evolving. We’re talking about the cheap-eats scene. One day you might opt for an exquisite banh mi sandwich, the next you’re craving a meatball sub. In this, Ottawa Magazine’s gourmet guide to all that is tasty and economical, we eat our way around town, noshing on all manner of well-priced sandwiches, stews, and sweets to bring you our 43 finds. To round out the top 50, we called on seven discerning chefs to reveal their cheap eats of choice. At these prices, you can’t afford not to eat out.
By Cindy Deachman (CD) and Anne DesBrisay (AD), bolstered by staff picks (SP) and chef suggestions
1. Cheesus Crust Almighty
If you don’t get struck down for blasphemy first, you may still keel over eating the Cheesus Crust Almighty, The Joint’s unique and “mysterious” take on a grilled cheese sandwich. They take mac ’n’ cheese, roll it in a “secret ingredient” (Cinnamon Toast Crunch?), plunge it into the fryer, then “slam” it into a grilled cheese sandwich. This heavenly combo gobsmacks the palate with a jumble of salty, sweet, tangy sensations — the latter if you choose to dunk the sandwich into the accompanying house-made Bollywood sauce (think butter chicken gravy sans chicken). It would be “criminal” not to include a side of deep-fried Britney pickle spears. $7–$10.The Joint, 352 Preston St., 613-656-5849. ~SP
2. Hot chicken sandwich
A long-running tradition on the corner, Ada’s Diner morphed into Wilf& Ada’s last year and serves diner classics with a twist — they’re made from scratch. We’re big fans of the hot chicken sandwich, a pile of moist pulled chicken on a root-vegetable mash, piled on house-made bread and smothered with full-flavoured onion gravy, well peppered and well made. Served with good fries and arugula salad.The taste of the 2015 diner? Bring it on! $14.50. Wilf& Ada’s, 510 Bank St., 613-231-7959. ~AD
3. Square Pizza Slices
Centretowners know that the best slice isn’t sitting under a heat lamp at a chain pizza joint. It’s made to order in a humble pizzeria that has anchored the Somerset strip from Bank to Bronson for 15 years. Pavarazzi offers white or herbed-flecked dough, and one order gives you two four-inch squares of satisfying ’za, which is usually plenty. But if you’re soaking up a night of beer swilling, go for two. Leftovers make perfect hangover food. From $3.Pavarazzi, 491 Somerset St. W., 613-233-2320. ~SP
4. Deep-fried shrimp dumplings
Hanbiao Lin learned the high cuisine of dim sum as an apprentice in his native Canton. So if you want the genuine article, visit Hung Sum, which Lin owns with his wife, May Lee. His shrimp dumplings are beauts. The crisp exterior of the deep-fried wonton yields to a sweet filling of shrimp and pork. And as for the feathery-light frilled edge — oh! $4.25 for three dumplings. Hung Sum, 870 Somerset St. W.,
5. The brown bag lunch
Always — or almost always — topped with potato chips of some pedigree, the sandwiches in the brown bag lunches at this contemporary bakery (chef Michael Holland is best known for his jewel-like mini layer cakes and soft-serve ice cream) come with a cookie or a mini brownie and a drink. Or you can pay a little more and upgrade to a cake. Which is the clear way to go. $8.50. Holland’s Cake & Shake, 229 Armstrong St., 613-695-3311. ~AD
6. Cold green bean noodles
Anyone who has visited Beijing in summertime appreciates any relief afforded from such scorching heat. Eating liang fen is one way. By green beans, Frank Pay means the mung beans used to make these slippery, translucent noodles. At his Harmony Restaurant, Pay himself makes them. The sauce? Simply soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, and chilies. Bring on the heat! $2.95. Harmony Restaurant, 769 Gladstone Ave., 613-234-9379. ~CD
When Byward Market News moved out, beefy-rich pho moved in — the sort of noodle soup that starts with beefy bones, adds a light bouquet of star anise and cinnamon, and doesn’t need a few squeezes of sriracha or lime to taste like something. Served in a long, thin alley of a place with a penny floor that looks like a million bucks. Large soup $11–$13. Asian Alley, 8 ByWard Market Sq., 613-860-9889. ~AD
8. Jicama rolls
Sure, you can go straight for the usual soft roll — shrimp or chicken or tofu bundled with noodles and greens and herbs and rolled up in rice paper — but the jicama rolls are so much more interesting. Jicama rolls feature warm softened jicama, ribbons of omelette and diced Chinese sausage, dried shrimp, lettuce, basil, and mint. They need no sauce. They are perfect as is. $5 for two.Huong’s Bistro, 359 Booth St., 613-237-8755. ~AD
9. Chef: Jamie Stunt, Soif
“La Cabana is an El Salvadorian restaurant on Merivale. I get the pupusas [Salvadorian patties, typically filled with pork, refried beans, and cheese]. They come with an awesome spicy fermented cabbage condiment, kind of like a South American kimchi. I like to sit awhile with a beer and watch El Salvadorian divorce court.” La Cabana, 848 Merivale Rd.,613-724-7762.
The brilliant brains behind Bridgehead now bring us flatbread for lunch, available only at their Preston Street roastery. The potato, broccoli rabe, and fontina cheese version is particularly good. $6.25 for a generous slice. Bridgehead, 130 Anderson St.,613-233-1221. ~AD
“After work, the family always gathers together to talk about their day,” says Samuel Demissie, owner of confectionery Royal Variety. “During that time, especially, we [nibble on] kolo.” The English have their crisps, the Indians their spicy-sweet chevda. Meanwhile, in any Ethiopian merkato, find paper cones of this roasted barley and peanut mix. Nutty and crunchy, with just a touch of salt.
$2.50. Royal Variety, 260 Bank St., 613-235-7797. ~CD
12. Olive fougasse
Where else in the Ottawa-Outaouais region do you find such fat fougasse? Only at Gatineau bakery La balade des douceurs. Michel Pépin, baker and co-owner, keeps memories of his native France alive with these stuffed breads. One is made with humungous green and black olives. No better lunch than this, to boot! $4.95. La balade des douceurs, 1540, boul. Gréber, Gatineau (Gatineau sector), 819-205-1288; 166, rue Montcalm, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-205-7088. ~CD
HIGH END DEALS
13. Thursday Nights at Village House
It’s a pretty rare deal — three courses for 30 bucks — and though these are listed as small plates, we find they add up to a deliciously filling dinner. From the very effective team of chef Michael Houle and front-of-house charmer Sarah Swan, Thursday nights in Wakefield’s Village House are affordable pleasures. $60 for two.759, ch. Riverside, Wakefield, 819-459-1445. ~AD
14. Wednesday-night meal deals at Signatures Restaurant
15. Table d’hôte de midi at Le Tartuffe
Le Tartuffe may be the last of a dying breed of formal French restaurants in the region. There’s something to be said for tradition, though. One is the table d’hôte, even at noontime. Why not? Order three courses (always varying) that balance together well. “We try to be as simple as possible,” owner/chef Gérard Fischer says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re not innovative.” For instance, instead of the usual bone-in fish soup, his superb Provençal-inspired bouillabaisse is based on good fish broth in which fillets, scallops, and shrimp are poached. Meanwhile, Fischer’s crème brûlée is brightened with red raspberries. Why not, indeed? $15–$25. Le Tartuffe, 133, rue, Notre-Dame-de-l’Île, Gatineau
(Hull sector),819-776-6424. ~AD
There’s ratatouille and there’s ratatouille. And then there’s Marius Bistro’s ratatouille. Owner Raphaël Chauvin comes from Nice, where everyone has a favourite recipe. His variation, made with herbes de Provence, is rich with the history of southern France. Rich with flavour too. $8.50. Marius, 175, prom.du Portage, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-205-7123. ~CD
17.Stephen La Salle, The Albion Rooms
“Totally prepared junk food, the Frito pie at Union 613 is literally a bag of Fritos with chili, sour cream, and cheese. Maybe it’s the Fritos, or maybe it’s the way it pairs with an IBU bumping craft beer, but the first time I had one at Union, I had this stupid grin on my face from ear to ear. I loved it.” Union 613, 315 Somerset St. W., 613-231-1010.
18. Baby octopus
What’s Japanese-style octopus doing in a Vietnamese restaurant? Being offered along with the rest of QuánViêt’s fusion dishes, that’s what. Here’s a beautiful little appetizer of glistening baby octopus, ruddy-coloured with the tips blackened through grilling. The meat is tender, sweet. “We make food for people who appreciate food,” says co-owner Andy Vu. And we certainly appreciate that. $6. QuánViêtFusion,424 Preston St., 613-680-6638. ~CD
19. Chef: Mike Houle
The Village House“I’m a sucker for a good ’za. When I hit the market, Fiazza Fresh is where I get my fix. Luigi [the man behind the pizza] used to be in Wakefield, and we miss having that great ’za delivered weekly to our home in the Hills. It’s a little bit longer trek now to get my pizza slice but still definitely worth it!” Fiazza Fresh Fired, 86 Murray St.,613-562-2000.
20. The Green Door’s Buffet
21. Potato quarma
Quarma, ghormeh, qorma, korma — all names for braised dishes, whether Iranian lamb, Tajikistani chicken, or Sri Lankan aubergine. At Afghani Kabob Express, manager SharifaAsiel makes hers simply with potatoes. But potatoes like you’ve never had before. The creamy sauce is rich with caramelized onions and, as Asiel says, spices that “warm the tongue.” $4.99. Afghani Kabob Express, 240 Bank St., 613-593-8880. ~CD
Looking for party food? Make a platter of sambussas, Ethiopia’s refined answer to samosas.
Too much like work? Then order ahead at the Blue Nile. Co-owner TsedayKassa makes her vegetable sambussas with thinly rolled yeast dough, filling them with curried sweet onions, lentils, and green beans. Deep-fried, these deeply golden turnovers are soft and delicate. Once tried, you’ll never forget them. $1.50. Blue Nile, 577 Gladstone Ave., 613-321-0774. ~CD
23. Vegetarian leftovers
Stroll through the doors of the jam-packed Vaishali’s Super Store, then immediately turn left and head for the pop fridge with the faded 7-Up sign. That’s where they stash the 500-mL containers of leftover curries from busy Little India Café next door. At $5.99, veggie curries such as baiganbharta (spicy eggplant) and alooghobi masala (potatoes, cauliflower, and tomatoes) are a steal. Prepare your own rice, and you have dinner for two for $13, tax included. Heck, with the money you’ve saved, you might consider splurging on an Indian sweet or a $1.99 kulfipopsicle for dessert. Vaishali’s Super Store, 62 Wylie Ave., 613-721-0318. ~SP
24. Za’atar pie
Breakfast? Lunch? “Sit here anytime, and you’ll see how many people come in for manakishbi’lza’atar,” says MohamadFarhat, manager of Aladdin Bakery’s Carling Avenue location. From breakfast to suppertime, za’atar pita is the ultimate quick fix. Za’atar, an earthy Middle Eastern spice mixture, includes thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac. Add olives, tomatoes, and onions to your pie. Eat like a queen for a shade under $3. Aladdin Bakery, 1801 Carling Ave., 613-728-5331; 1020 St. Laurent Blvd., 613-742-4244. ~CD
26. Fried sugar buns
The fried sugar bun, an Asian-North American hybrid, is one beautiful doughnut. The sugar-dredged babies baked at Kowloon Market differ from any others, though. Is it their glorious fatness? Their perfect chewiness? At any rate, highly addictive. Buy two — at least. $1.29. Kowloon Market, 712 Somerset St. W., 613-233-1108. ~CD
27. Chocolate chip cookies
One day, former office worker Mel Hein baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies for her ex-pat friends in Islamabad, Pakistan. Who knew that these crisp-edged, chewy cookies would spur Hein to open her own café? Head on down to Good Eats on Albert. Man, you’ve gotta love these big chunks of chocolate!
$1.50. Good Eats, 388 Albert St., 613-914-7453. ~CD
28. Petite chocolate cheesecake
Low fat? You kiddin’? Baker Raelene Bergen Harder (owner of Eden Cheesecake Co.) eschews anything that might detract from the luxuriousness of her petite chocolate cheesecakes. The little devils start with a brownie base; the creamy, decadent chocolate filling is heavenly. $2. Eden Cheesecake Co., firstname.lastname@example.org. ~CD
While in Manila, look for the street food turón. Like a sweet, crispy-crunchy spring roll, really. Filled
with pineapple-tasting jackfruit and the Filipino cooking banana, it’s sprinkled with brown sugar before deep-frying, so all is lovely and sticky. Yummy! In Ottawa, find turón at Divisoria, where co-owner Judy Dela Cruz makes hers by hand, the traditional way. $1. Divisoria, 80 Beechwood Ave., 613-680-7113; 1743 Carling Ave., 613-722-8461. ~AD
30. Rice Krispie chocolates
Chocolatier Nathalie Bourne, owner of Miss Chocolat, says she has been making her Rice Krispie chocolates for so long now, she doesn’t recall what first prompted the idea. However, she does remember growing up eating those ubiquitous marshmallowy Rice Krispie squares. Her version, of course, uses dark chocolate. And lots of butter. $2.17. Miss Chocolat, 173, prom.du Portage, 819-775-3499. ~CD
31. Prince Edward Island oysters from Malpeque Bay
32. Lunch buffet
It’s not the cheapest lunch buffet in town, but it is the finest. For 10 years, Coconut Lagoon has been dishing up the fragrant cuisine of Kerala with style and grace — and don’t the neighbours know it! The noon fill-up gives you a taste for what a more leisurely dinner here might be. Booking essential. Lunch buffet $14.50. Coconut Lagoon, 853 St. Laurent Blvd., 613-742-4444. ~AD
33. The family meal
After a dozen years perfuming Holland Avenue, the Lebanese resto Les Grillades has gone south. Stick your head out the window as you approach their new corner, Prince of Wales and Colonnade: you’ll smell ’em. A much bigger operation, but still those marvelous mezze, still those bronzed juicy chickens spit-roasted over a charcoal fire, still that succulent leg of lamb, and now grilled fish on a menu that’s upsized too. Feed a family of four for $33 — whole chicken, rice, salad, hummus, pita, garlic sauce, pickled turnips. Les Grillades, 111 Colonnade Rd., 613-723-3224. ~AD
34. Chef: West de Castro, Clover
“The Burgers n’ Fries Forever’s burger combo. Egg bun. Beef patty. Cheddar. Lettuce. Tomato. Pickles. Mayo. Mustard. Poutine — with ketchup. Always. They know their burgers and fries — plus it’s down the street from us.” Burgers n’ Fries Forever, 329 Bank St., 613-230-3456.
35. Kothu Roti
It makes little sense not to order kothurotti at KothuRotti, and though the dish looks like a jumbled heap of chopped-up leftovers, it’s a stunner in the mouth. While you wait for your order to be cooked on the open grill, order a mutton roll. They are just as marvellous. Most dishes $2.50 to $9. KothuRotti, 408 Dalhousie St., 613-680-7812. ~AD
36. Krakowska sandwich
37. Bifana sandwich
“Why call it a bifano when it’s not beef?” asks a GaloPiriPiri customer. “Why call a hamburger a hamburger?” answers owner Marco Almeida. This sammie is filled with thickly cut pork slathered with a spicy sauce, Almeida’s secret recipe of 20 ingredients. But it starts with piripiri, a fiery condiment the Portuguese discovered through Africans. You’ll be blown away! $5.95. GaloPiriPiri, 40, prom.du Portage, Gatineau (Hull sector), 819-771-7474. ~CD
38. Art-Is-In bread sandwiches
Happy, cheery places, these Morning Owls, with well-crafted sandwiches served on Art-Is-In buns, priced cleverly for those in a rush to get back to the desk: all $7.50 after tax. Plop down the spare change, and off you go. Good thing, because these guys do a brisk business. Now at two places.Morning Owl Coffeehouse, 538 Rochester St., 613-402-6951; 139 Bank St., 613-240-9883. ~AD
39. Banh mi sandwich
There are loads of places out there that ladle up a decent pho, and
Co Cham may well be one of them. But we use the place for the banh mi sandwiches, as do a mess of
Carleton U. students, who always seem to show up ahead of me in the daily queue. $3. Co Cham, 780 Somerset St. W., 613-567-6050 ~AD
40. Smoked meat
A lunch of smoked meat on rye with ballpark mustard? Come now — try to branch out. How about slow-roasted smoked pork with gremolata and a wheat-berry salad? Or a turkey sandwich with cranberry that tastes like Boxing Day? Okay. Okay. Meat in the Middle also plates an amazing house-smoked beef brisket on rye, served with the best spud salad in the city. $7.95–$9.50.
Meat in the Middle, 311 Bank St., 613-422-6328. ~AD
41. Meatball sub
Yes, it’s cramped, and yes, it’s cluttered, and there’s not much more than a college fridge, a hot plate, and a monstrous rosemary tree. But can GenioIenzi ever make a sandwich! Daily special announced on Twitter. Like this one: chicken butter brandy and rapini with goat cheese. But we usually go straight for the meatball sub on Lenzi’s own rosemary-flecked ciabatta buns. $9.95. Sanguiccio Cafe,
183 Preston St., 613-569-0456 ~AD
42. Breakfast Panwich
The scenario: McDonald’s breakfast ends at 11 a.m., but you crave a McMuffin for lunch. Flapjack’s Pancake Shack has you covered with a breakfast panwich, whereby the egg, bacon, and cheese combo is held in place by two buttermilk pancakes. Best yet, you get a cup of maple syrup for dipping. Find it at the Glebe takeout truck or the new Little Italy diner. $5. Upgrade to a triple-layer Big Joe for $8. 809 Bank St. and 345a Preston St. ~SP
43. Chef: Mandi Loo, Auntie Loo’s Treats
“Freshly prepared each day and served warm, the spinach pies from Aladdin Bakery are the size of your head, only a few bucks, and they’ll fill your tummy. This shop fills with high school students at lunch but functions like a well-oiled machine — you’ll never wait more than three or four minutes.” Aladdin Bakery, 1801 Carling Ave., 613-728-5331.
44. Cocoa hemp bites
Zhara Ali says it all started the day she forgot her lunch. Scanning the cafeteria’s offerings, she told the cashier, “I love this place, but you don’t have what I want.” Next day, Ali, owner of Healthy Superfoods, took a package of her sweet little cocoa hemp bites to the cafeteria as an example of the food she had been looking for. The clerk “didn’t even try one” but did start selling them. Next day? Sold out. These darlings look for all the world like truffles. After all, there is that delicious chocolateycoconutiness. And what’s not to like about crunchy peanut butter? (Oh Henry! anyone?) The mysterious perfumed sweetness? Dates! Now you can congratulate yourself on eating healthy hemp seeds. All’s cool. $4.49 for four. Herb & Spice Shop, 375 Bank St., 613-232-4087. ~CD
45. Malaysian Wings
Finding the perfect hot wings is not an easy task, nor is it for the faint-hearted (or weak of stomach). Demand for wings, once considered the throwaway parts of the chicken, has skyrocketed — as have prices. And knowing wings will be consumed with vast quantities of beer means most offerings are mediocre at best. Not so at Clocktower Brew Pub, where their fiery Malaysian wings are back by popular demand. Not too small, but not GMO frighteningly large either, these breaded, deep-fried babies strike that perfect balance of saucy, crispy, and meaty. And hot. Hellishly so, thank heavens, with a pox of pepper flakes taunting one’s timidity. Relief comes — as it should — through a side of blue cheese dip. $13 for one pound.The Clocktower, 575 Bank St., 613-233-7849. ~SP
46. Chef: Michael Bednarz, Oz Kafe
“I never leave the kitchen, but the one thing I will stop for is simple french fries. S & G Fries, a food truck on Carling Avenue, makes the best in Ottawa.” S & G Fries and Burgers, 1845 Carling Ave., between Broadview and Maitland, 613-729-2129.
47. The Skinny Kitty
Vegetarians can finally get their (faux) meat-on-a-stick fix. The familiar, is-it-really-meat-free Yves tofu hotdog is dipped in house-made corn-dog batter, which is flecked with herbs to offer that perfect, sinful mix of deep-fried salty goodness. $5.50. Hintonburger, 1096 Wellington St. W., 613-724-4676.~SP
48. Smac N Cheese
Launched in 2012 by Paul Bergeron, a former line cook at the illustrious Fraser Café, Relish food truck is a beacon for cash-strapped (but discerning) U of O students, who flock to the distinctive orange-and-blue vehicle parked on campus during the school year. Check his Facebook or Twitter feed this summer to see where the truck is going to be and what is on the daily menu. We can’t get enough of his classic “Smac n cheese,” with its base of old cheddar enriched with jalapenos, tomatoes, crispy onions, and Bergeron’s “red sauce.” $10. @relishtruck. ~SP
49. Chef: Michael Farber, Black Cat Bistro
“Richard [Urquhart] and I have a weekly breakfast meeting at Meadow’s Lunch on Preston. The boss and I each get two eggs, sausage, hash browns, and rye toast.” Meadow’s Lunch, 455 Preston St., 613-567-5214.
50. Occo Burger
Craft burger tastes on a beer budget? Look no further than Occo Kitchen in Orleans, where Mark Steele, former executive chef at the Ottawa Marriott, flips a sublime artisanal burger as part of an eminently affordable takeout menu that highlights deluxe comfort food. Messy and magnificent, Steele’s burger sees a juicy homemade patty slapped onto the chef’s fresh-baked herb bun, then jazzed up with his homemade condiments — black pepper mayo, ketchup, and pickles. $9. 3018 St. Joseph Blvd., 613-424-7700. ~SP
This article first appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of OTTAWA Magazine.