HIDDEN OTTAWA: Nine nooks that offer great grub and a cozy vibe
Eating & Drinking

HIDDEN OTTAWA: Nine nooks that offer great grub and a cozy vibe

Ottawa Magazine’s October issue uncovers “hidden Ottawa” with a hole-in-the-wall handbook that embraces the city’s undercover ambience, celebrating 39 overlooked nooks, hipster hideaways, secret foodie sources, and other mysterious locales. Get your copy at Britton’s magazine store and other newsstand locations around town.

Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere — and yummy comfort food — at Cozy's Restaurant in Hintonburg. Photo by Angela Gordon.

Cozy up
Hintonburg is hipster haven, and everybody knows hipsters don’t have ensuite laundry, so they haul their dirties over to Majestic Cleaners and wait at Cozy’s while they wash. But the huge restaurant is also a mainstay for old-time neighbourhood regulars, and the jolly servers know many customers by name. The food is mostly typical for a diner — eggs, bacon, pancakes, and pizza — plus, down-home specials like liver and onions. But cross your fingers for a double yolk in your breakfast: if you get one, the food’s free. 1012 Wellington St. W., 613-729-6692. — Riva Soucie

Corny delights
Shredded cabbage, fermented in vinegar and laced with peppers, is stored and served at room temperature. That’s the way with curtido, the stinky Salvadoran ’kraut on the tables at La Cabana. Gives a kick to El Salvador’s typically mild fare — think cheese pupusas, chicken tamales, and clear soups (even one with stomach and hoof). Service is notoriously slow; ponder La Cabana’s over-sized colon (the long-lived but now defunct national currency) while you wait. Or wander into the next room to La Tiendita, a tiny grocery selling Latin-American specialties such as bottled Jarritos, horchata mix, plantains, and Tweety Bird pinatas. 850 Merivale Rd., 613-724-7762. — Riva Soucie

Veg out
At Govinda’s in Sandy Hill, a Hare Krishna philosophy of generosity prompts a single devotee, known simply as Shankar, to provide low-cost vegetarian meals to the local community. Every weekday, Shankar prepares a handful of humble dishes for the buffet: rice and a basic dal, a fresh green salad, cold pasta, sometimes a curry (plus sweet spice cake that showcases the religion’s Hindu roots). Starting at five o’clock, the public is invited into the tiny dining room, asked to remove their shoes at the door, and allowed as many helpings as they can handle. But please don’t leave anything on your plate — the Hare Krishnas respect the earth and avoid wasting food. A cultural experience and a full tummy for only $7 ($5 for students). 212 Somerset St. E., 613-565-6544. — Riva Soucie

Sweet spot
Difficult to trace its history, but the Richmond Bakery was a going concern even in the ’30s. And for old-school baked goods, this is still the best around. Inside is plain, with one long counter filled — where to start? Perhaps with the old-fashioned white bread, sticky buns with pecans, and incredible doughnuts. Now, was it your grandmother or your great-grandmother who used to bake bran-and-molasses bread like this? Meringue-like marzipan is piped decoratively on top of the delicate Dutch apple slices. Cherry turnovers, custard slices, and date squares hit the spot too. Chewy sugar cookies are simply perfect. Baking for 33 years now, present owner Joe Runert says he still loves his job. 6127 Perth St., Richmond, 613-838-2234. — Cindy Deachman

Salt, sugar, and silver
Not just about sweets, the Super Sweet Mart. At two for a buck, the spicy potato samosas win over customers too — try them with the jam-like eggplant relish. The grocery section offers six kinds of basmati rice, pappadums, and black salt, as well as frozen chapatis and masala dosa. Super Sweet makes its own chevda too — deep-fried Bits & Bites, Indian style. The sweets, making your teeth sing, might be an acquired taste. Of the more than 20 produced here, I vote for the creamy, buttery (and nutty) kalakand, the syrupy coconut chum chum, and the sweet sandwich, decorated with silver leaf and filled with cream. Call ahead for takeout dishes. 237 Rochester St., 613-565-0203. — Cindy Deachman

Euro stash
Tucked away southwest of Bronson and Gladstone avenues is Wedel Touch of Europe. Make your way to the back counter of this deli to discover many Polish specialties: traditional ham (juicy), skinny kabanos sausage (smoky), and sometimes wonderful veal headcheese (allspice-flavoured). Mushroom and liver pâté has an earthiness. And reminiscent of emmenthal, but more distinctive, is the Polish cheese kurpowski. Find perogies, herring rollmops, and the most curious apple horseradish. Refreshing elderberry jam is delicious spread on Bulik Bakery rye or mixed with huslanka (Poland’s answer to yogourt). Drink a mulled plum wine tea with either coconut cookies or paczki — fruit-filled doughnuts from Montreal. Sundays, a crowd pours in from St. Hyacinth, the Polish church up the street. 221 Bell St. N., 613-237-0151. — Cindy Deachman

Pumpkin flowers and pinatas are among the offerings at Mercado Latino. Photo by Angela Gordon.

Latin lovers
Yes, many Latin Americans do shop here, but more surprising at Mercado Latino is the number of Canadians who crave southern fare after returning from vacations in Mexico, Colombia, or El Salvador. Naturally, they come to co-owner Fernanda Tagle for her mole and salsa recipes, her tinga poblano. Inside, cactuses crowd the window and pinatas hang from the ceilings. Find all manner of chilies as well as stacks of tostadas, pumpkin flowers (just add chicken stock for a soup), and 13 different kinds of yerba mate, the ubiquitous South American tea. For quesadillas, the mild oaxaca is an excellent melting cheese. Specialized equipment includes tortilla presses and heavy-duty stone mortars and pestles. 67 Montreal Rd., 613-747-3795. — Cindy Deachman

Northern reflections
It’s off the beaten path in Chinatown — closer to the Queensway, actually. Long popular for Canadian Chinese food, there’s another menu at Harmony Restaurant with traditional northern Chinese treats like Yshiang eggplant and beef with bitter melon (as well as some oddities, such as ears in hot oil and intestines with hot pepper). The decor is sparse but tasteful, and the bamboo blinds do a good job of blocking the Gladstone chaos. The accommodating server easily slips between languages and special requests (most items can be made vegetarian). Feeling adventurous? Judging by the number of Chinese people eating here on a Tuesday night, it’s a good place to try those hot ears for the first time. 769 Gladstone Ave., 613-234-9379, www.tdrharmony.com — Dayanti Karunaratne

The rice stuff
A doorway by the No. 2 bus stop on Somerset near Bank leads into Basmati, a busy little boîte that serves up cheap Desi fare. A bowl of stick-in-your-gut dal will set you back $3.50; the six-item lunch thali goes for $7.50. Desi poutine offers a twist on the late-night special: spicy fried potatoes are topped with paneer, gravy, and chef-owner Nazrul Rahman’s special sauce. Try coffee brewed with cardamom for a jolt, or suck back a Thums Up, the syrupy cola of the subcontinent that’s popular with nostalgic NRIs. There are only six deuces and three four-seaters in the space. Most of the traffic is from delivery guys: Basmati delivers to outer Centre-town, but they bristle if you’re any farther than the Carling exit. 373 Somerset St. W.,613-230-0303, www.basmatiindiancuisine.com — Fateema Sayani