Wishbone's nappa salad is finished with roasted peanuts. Graham Hicks/Edmonton SunEdmonton

Taste of Edmonton Festival
July 18 to 28, 2019

Capital Plaza (99 Avenue and 108 Street)

11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily (9 p.m. July 28)

By GRAHAM HICKS

After 35 years, the Taste of Edmonton, if you’ll pardon the pun, has become a well oiled machine.

The number of grease pits in the food booths and food trucks continues to decline. The food variety is such that not a French fry, burger or pizza slice is to be found on the grounds. Hooray.

The popular annual food festival, which started July 18 and runs through Sunday, July 28, is taking full advantage of its temporary Capital Plaza location at 99 Avenue and 108 Street.

Capital Plaza is more compact than Churchill Square — currently serving as a storage depot as the new surface LRT inches its way into the downtown.

But it is most pleasant, and its defined perimeters have enabled — gasp! — the free and open drinking of (on-site purchased) wine, beer and spirits.

A newly installed electronic app ticket-purchase system caused problems last Friday when it crashed once and allegedly sputtered a few more times. When it works, the Crowdblink system is very good. You buy food tickets online, and then food purchases are deducted from your account with the wave of your smart phone in front of a reader at each booth. (Tickets range from $1.70 to $1.80. Dishes are two to four tickets each.)

Festival director Paul Lucas credits Crowdblink with responding quickly to the Friday outage, and says the new system has worked tickety-boo ever since.

Every year, about five or six vendors drop out of Taste, and two or three of the least-popular vendors from the previous year are given the boot. The replacements, coming off a 20-restaurant waiting list, are pre-tested to ensure quality and must cook something new.

The classics continue, from restaurants who have been in the Taste of Edmonton lineup for decades — The Hotel Mac’s strawberry scone, Normand’s beef short rib and mash, The Lignan’s dry spicy chicken.

Far more salads are to be had, and they are tasty.  Zinc’s market salad is fast becoming a classic. Wishbone’s Nappa Cabbage Salad sounds grim, but it’s lovely and crisp. Kiwado Japanese has ramen — maybe not the best in town, but pretty good.

The ethnic choices become more and more interesting.  Among the food choices are dumplings Afghan-style from the pop-up Afghan Foods, Ethiopian spicy lentils from Langano Skies, Malaysian, Greek, Italian (of course), Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, Jamaican, Korean and Indian. Vegetarian is represented by Padmanadi and Loma House.

A mild but tasty ramen broth from Kiwado Japanese Cuisine.

From two visits, with four assistant tasters, some recommendations:

Best of Show to Pampa Brazilian Steakhouse for its slow-cooked beef brisket on coconut mashed potatoes, topped with chimichurri. Exquisite in every way.

Pampas’ generous brisket slices on coconut mashed potatoes with a dollop of chimichurri was our Best of Festival.

Runners-up: The afore-mentioned Nappa cabbage salad from Wishbone, and Afghan Food’s succulent, lightly-poached meat dumplings, topped with soft yoghurt and a subtle tomato sauce. The Churros King’s churros were delicious — as good as you’ll find anywhere in the world.

If you like spicy, Langano’s lentil dish is REALLY spicy, but tasty, and can be mopped up with that unique, rolled-up, Ethiopian spongy injera bread.

Spicy goodness: Langano Skies’ lentil stew with injera bread.

Normand’s short rib may be a classic, but its bison carpaccio, with a terrific Dijon dressing,  is also worthy of consideration.

As mentioned, if you like a mild ramen, Kiwado Japanese Cuisine has the broth for you.

Not bad: The Three Amigos’ (not the much superior Tres Carnales) tequila-lime chicken taco was OK, but was not half as tasty as it sounded. Select’s Peri Peri Chicken was far too timid, the peri peri spice hard to detect. Koutouki It’s All Greek chicken souvlaki was nothing special — we should have tried  Koutouki’s other offering, its spanakopita.

The only serious disappointment — out of 12 mini-plates — was a hard, stale coconut macaroon from Hoang Long.

Congrats to Lucas, retiring this year after eight years at the helm of Taste of Edmonton. He is leaving an extremely well-run festival for his successor, hospitality veteran Donovan Vienneau.