Despite downtown parking regulations more complex than a Rubik’s Cube, I still recommend lunch or dinner this week at just about all (decent) downtown restaurants through Sunday, March 18.
It’s the 15th annual Downtown Dining Week, produced by the Downtown Business Association.
Cheap eats! Champagne at beer prices!
At the very least, you’ll save 10% to 20% over regular a-la-carte prices, often more.
After 15 years, most of the bugs have been worked out on this special offer. It’s designed to entice you back to the downtown to experience Edmonton’s terrific restaurant renaissance, a renaissance that is being recognized across Canada. Too bad downtown parking is so expensive and so sparse – see below.
Each of the 37 participating restaurants can mix and match from three categories — $18 mostly two-course lunches, $30 for mostly-three course dinners, or $45 “executive dinners” on offer at the top-end eateries such as The Harvest Room, Hardware Grill, La Ronde, Ruth’s Chris, SABOR. Sorrentino’s Downtown and Zinc.
Fifteen to 30 minutes of research is essential.
At edmontondowntown.com, you navigate to a list of all participating restaurants, whether they are offering the $18 lunch, $30 or $45 dinner.
You can then click on each individual restaurant, click on the price icon at the top of the page (i.e. $18, $30, $45) to find out what’s on the menus within that lunch/dinner/executive dinner range.
There’s no direct online reservation system – but links are provided to each eatery website where reservations can be made. Or you can use that old-fashioned mechanism called the telephone.
Warning: By now, most of the well-known restaurants will likely be fully booked for their weekend 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. seating.
That said, here are some of the lesser-known but top-end restaurants this column has reviewed over the past few years. You might still get a prime-time reservation at Downtown Dining Week prices.
The Common on 109 St. ($18 and $30) has the best “bar” food in the city.
One of my favourite chefs, Nathin Bye, oversees the Crash Lobby Bar ($30) in the Crash Hotel (think Jasper’s Athabasca Hotel).
Madison’s Grill ($18, $45) in the boutique Union Bank Inn (Jasper Avenue between 100 and 101 Streets) is too often overlooked as one of the city’s top dining rooms. Pampa ($18, $45) all-you-can-eat for meat-lovers is one of the biggest downtown restaurants – lots of seats.
Select ($18, $30, $45) – south of Jasper on 106 Street – has a decent reputation but has never caught on with the trendy crowd. Likewise, The Westin Hotel’s Share ($18, $30, $45) is barely publicized, but is decent.
Wishbone ($30), on Jasper between 105th and 106th, remains a secret for informal but good dining. At LUX ($18, $45), it’s a chance to try a LUX steak at a good price-point.
The Wildflower Grill ($18, $45) is under new ownership. Chef J.P. Dublado, is bringing the Wildflower back as a must-eat place.
You never know – you might get a reservation, maybe for two at the bar counter, at trendy-but-excellent outfits like Black Pearl ($45), The Marc ($18, $45), Normand’s ($18, $45), SOFRA ($45) The Parlour ($18, $30, $45) or Rostizado ($18).
What I really like is the cooperation and coordination of just about every good restaurant in the downtown. Indeed, it’s easier to name those restaurants not participating – Characters, Corso 32, Bar Bricco, Uccellino, State & Main, Joeys Bell Tower, Tres Carnales, the newcomers Alta, Bundok and Baijiu – than those that are.
It’s also surprising that other restaurant precincts – Old Strathcona, The Bridge District (109 St. south of the High Level Bridge), 124thStreet, better restaurants in the Deep South and West End – have never got their acts together to engage in such mutually beneficial marketing.
Kudos to the enthusiastic foodies that organized the inaugural Edmonton Chinatown Dining Week back in January. It started with five restaurants offering $15 set menus, but is sure to grow.
Parking downtown is a catch-22.
City council loves to talk about bringing people back downtown, while the City of Edmonton aggressively pushes them out.
Street parking is now $2.50 an hour until 10 p.m., $3.50 an hour when there’s an event at Roger’s Place. The number of street parking spaces have been cut back by the new downtown bike lanes. The city’s Library Parkade has near-doubled its evening parking rate from $5 to $10.
If you are willing to put up with the inconvenience of once-an-hour buses, LRT every 15 minutes and waiting outside in freezing temperatures, public transit is an option costing $5.20 per return-fare.
Just open, and looking gorgeous, is Buco Epcor – the Sorrentino Hospitality Group’s informal but super-classy pizzeria/diner.
Buco warms up much of the ground floor of the still-new Epcor Tower on 101 Street east of Rogers Place, plus there’s underground parking. Rob Christie’s and my monthly Art of Conversation gathering (open to all who like to talk!) will be one of Buco Epcor’s inaugural events, March 28 from 4:30 to 7 p.m.