Though I like to think of myself as spontaneous, one thing becomes blaringly obvious as I age. When it comes to food, I’m a creature of habit. The fact is, I’m that person who when they go to one of their favourite restaurants, almost always orders the same thing. Yes, there have been exceptions (especially when a new resto opens – hello Avenue!) but for the most part, I can’t bear to miss out on knowing I will love what I get.
So, this got me thinking. Are there certain dishes in the city that we as Regina citizens can agree draw people in – and back for more, time and time again? I can say that thanks to my handy dandy crowdsourcing ask, this seems to be the case. I put the question out there and was overwhelmed with consistent responses!
For the most part, many of the dishes or items that were brought forward as staples are quite well known to me. However, there were a few surprises.
Now, this list is far from definitive and sadly, I wasn’t able to connect with each and every restaurant that folks suggested, though really, I did try! I’ve included them within the list below as people genuinely felt passionately about their dishes. However, I was able to connect with more than 1/2 of the restaurants and all were generous and kind with their time, images, and insights on their dishes. A huge THANK YOU to all who took the time out to respond with information!
My goal with this post is to highlight the common denominators — so, without further adieu, I present to you, 20 of Regina’s signature dishes (in no particular order):
20 dishes you must try in Regina
1. Nachos from Bushwakker Brewpub
I have been a Bushwakker regular for over 20 years now and have eaten a shit ton of nachos. Some of the staff don’t even bother bringing me a menu anymore! As a snack, as dinner, as a hangover cure, you name it, there’s never been a wrong time for chowing down on what is an incredibly generous portion of delectable salty, cheesy nachos.
Anyhow, when I reached out to Bushwakker Bar and Marketing Manager, Grant Frew for more info on their infamous nachos, I learned a thing or two. For instance, did you know that they hand cut the chips from raw corn tortillas? I sure didn’t! I actually had no idea how much care and time when into their nacho production. I suppose it makes sense though because honestly, their nachos are THE BEST. This is also thanks in part to their house made salsa and guacamole. Meat lovers can add spicy beef or spicy chicken; however, I prefer the vegetarian option.
For the perfect pairing, Frew recommends lighter beers such as their Stubblejumper Pils, Northern Lights Lager or Cheryl’s Blonde Ale. Other suitable options include my personal favourite, Dungarvon Irish Red Ale, Regina Pale Ale or Chico IPA.
2. Beef Wellington from Avenue Restaurant and Bar
The new kid on the block has quickly grown and become the favourite kid on the block, and I couldn’t be happier for the success that Avenue Restaurant and Bar (I wrote about it here) has found in Regina. Hailing from Saskatoon, when the Grassroots Restaurant Group set up shop in Regina, it couldn’t have been more welcomed. This isn’t to say that good food didn’t exist in the city beforehand, it was about welcoming a known team of professionals who had already established three incredible restaurants: Ayden Kitchen and Wine Bar, Little Grouse on the Prairie and Sticks and Stones. We simply needed a piece of the Grassroots Group in Regina. Now, we have one, well, two actually (if you count the people transplants)!
Though Avenue’s menu is chock full of many locally-sourced and thoughtfully prepared dishes, one item rises so slightly above the others, the already legendary, Beef Wellington. Co-manager and executive chef, Nathan Guggenheimer shared with me that they first made this dish in Saskatoon at Ayden, where they’d sell out every time it was offered. When they came to Regina, they knew they wanted it on the menu even though its preparation is super labour intensive.
“There’s just so many layers of flavour and preparation, which means so many layers that can go wrong. After a lot of testing and tasting, we finally composed the perfect one. Crispy Puff, medium rare meat (Canadian angus grade tenderloin), nice and tight duxelle, slight saltiness from the prosciutto, all come together to be the Welly that you know today.”
~ Nathan Guggenheimer
Guggenheimer provided me with the deets on how he makes this dish and I have no idea how they get this done when their restaurant is so busy, but somehow they manage. And they think of everything. Take into consideration the perfect pairings recommended by mixologist (and co-manager), Christopher Cho:
Wine: Beronia Tempranillo from Rioja Spain. It’s a full-bodied wine with high tannins and medium acidity. You’ll get hints of dried fruits and peppery spices on the nose and the palate. It’s a great wine that pairs well with dark meats and sautéed vegetables.
Cocktail: A rum old fashioned using Bacardi 8yr old. A lot of buttery and peppery spices will pair well with the mushroom duxelles that’s wrapped around the beef tenderloin. Adding a touch of laphroaig float on top of the rum old fashioned will elevate the pairing as well. Want the recipe? Here you go:
Rum Old Fashioned
- 1.5oz Bacardi 8yr Old
- 3 Dashes of Traditional Aged Bitters
- 1 Raw Sugar Cube
- 1/4 oz Laphroaig
In a glass mixer add the raw sugar cube. Pour 3 dashes of traditional-aged bitters overtop of the sugar cube. Middle until the sugar cube has been broken down. Add the Rum then the ice. Stir until the cocktail is chilled and diluted. Strain into a rocks glass with ice. Pour 1/4 oz of laphroaig over top of the cocktail. Enjoy!
3. Cinnamon Buns from The Green Spot Cafe
Open 12 years and selling buns for 10, co-owner Sunshine Cheang, says they still sell out of the what-is-known-to-be-without-a-doubt-the-city’s-best-cinnamon-buns. This isn’t surprising to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of having one of their delectable buns. I don’t even like sweets for the most part but these buns are seriously addictive!
Cool fact: The buns have never been advertised and their notoriety grew slowly by word of mouth until, shared Cheang, when the Leader Post featured the restaurant (which serves the gluten-free crowd) wrote about them in 2011.
At $3.70 taxes in, you can nab a tasty bun on Wednesdays and Saturdays (other days by special order only) but be sure to go early as they still sell out!
4. Spinach and Feta Pizza from The Copper Kettle
The Spinach and Feta Pizza at The Copper Kettle was the first of its kind here – introduced in Regina in the late 80’s. Back then, veggie options were sparse and pizza menus were far more standardized with popular preference varieties such as ham and pineapple, pepperoni and mushroom, etc., reigning supreme.
By this time though, Copper Kettle was already known for great pizza with its home made from scratch approach, and quality ingredients. Did you know their dough is made fresh daily in house? In fact, it’s a 21-step process from start to finish. The pizza sauce is also house made.
The idea to change things up in Regina’s pizza scene came from founder, the late Robert Gardikiotis. Very much an entrepreneur, Gardikiotis was always innovating, and always willing to try new things. He never forgot his favourite spanakopita that he would get at his go-to-spot near his home in central Athens, or the line-up of people. This served as his inspiration to try it as a pizza topping even though back then the thought of putting spinach on pizza was considered outrageous - let alone feta (which was relatively unknown).
We must give thanks to his wife Anne, who experimented with recipes and ingredient blends, as the creator of the deliciousness served today. Copper Kettle’s pizza model spring boarded off the success of their creation opening the door for them to push the envelope even further, delivering many variations of pizzas far before others here in the city.
5. Corn cakes from Siam Authentic Thai Restaurant
Whether you stop in for buffet lunch or sit down to delectable dinner, you must not leave Siam Authentic Thai Restaurant without trying the corn cakes. Tee, Siam’s owner, shared that the corn cakes are made using a homemade family recipe. No, he didn’t share the recipe. However, what makes them different, he says, is that their distinct flavour comes from spice and green onion. More importantly, is figuring out the perfect temperature to make them crispy! Pssst, they deep-fry them at medium heat.
This certainly will not come as a shocker to anyone who has grown up in Regina. Italian Star Deli paninis are almost as legendary the deli’s charasmatic owner, Carlo Giambattista.
Pre-making as many as 150-200 a day (and up to 300+ custom orders, especially in the summer), the paninis come in mild, medium with banana peppers and spicy with banana peppers, and homemade La Bamba spread! All have mustard and Italian dressing, provolone cheese, 100 g of Italian cold cuts (mortadella, capocollo ham, Genoa salami, German salami & Gina’s pepperoni). Most also include tasty feta cheese and pesto! Take your pick of focaccia bun or a marble rye!
How did it start?
“There was a time where a customer came in and took the bread that we sold up front and asked my dad Carlo if he can make a sandwich! My dad said ‘Yeah no problem’, and that was roughly 25 years ago! Ever since then it’s really just been a consistent need and want, the only difference is that the demand! The last 10 years for sure have really boomed!”
~ Marina Giambattista
7. Scones from Tangerine
“Our scones are available every day and change just as often,” says Chef and owner, Aimee Schulhauser. Schulhauser says what makes them special is the texture. They’re crunchy on the outside and soft and cake-like on the inside, making them pair perfectly with coffee.
These tasty pastries have been on the menu since day one, over 8.5 years ago. Have you tried them?
Also, don’t miss the vegan donuts!
8. Tom Yum Noodle Soup from Milu Fresh Rolls and Subs
Milu is known for a few things (their fresh rolls and subs for instance) but the restaurant’s true standout item is the Tom Yum Noodle Soup. Inspired by Thai culinary culture, in addition to its chicken broth base and noodles (flat or round), other ingredients include: coconut milk, lemongrass, dried Thai chili, dried roasted shallots, lime leaves and dried ginger. Once grounded and mixed, they flavour the soup (not the meat). You will taste the richness of the savory of spices infused together, and a little kick of heat from the chili in this soup. Meat, seafood and veggies can be added, as well.
9. Fried chicken from Beaks Chicken
If you were a patron of the former Beaks Chicken food truck, wasn’t it just the best day when they opened their brick and mortar location on 11th Avenue?
What makes their chicken stick with the Regina crowd? Owner, Paul Rogers has a theory.
“We think the fried chicken is so great because it is brined for 14 hours before it is hand dredged and fried. Nothing is pre-made, we start from scratch or get from the best, like our buns come from saltine bakery.”
~ Paul Rogers
It may also have to do with their reasonable prices? “We work hard to keep the costs low which translates in lower prices that are accessible to a bigger market of people.” They knew they had a hit on their hands when the number of orders started to almost double weekly. Then came the people lining up for orders at 10 a.m. Is it a success still? I haven’t been one of the lucky ones who shows up to find it not sold out, so I’m just going to trust everyone on this one and perhaps, get in line earlier.
10. Butter Chicken from Caraway Grill
Let me just say I don’t have a favourite dish at Caraway Grill. This is simply because I love ALL of their dishes. Seriously, I have never tried something there I don’t like. I could eat the roasted cheese tikka, spectacular samosas and spicy tiger shrimp every day! However, what I heard from my clan of foodie friends, is that the butter chicken is without a doubt, the star dish. I get it. I do order it a ton and when I checked in with the folks at Caraway, they told me it’s the restaurant’s most popular dish. So you all have spoken, and been heard!
“Most people like our butter chicken because it is mild in spice level, and has a very good flavour of spice aroma.”
~ Caraway Grill
11. Pasta Salad from Abstractions Café
On the menu for over 15 years, the Pasta Salad may seem like a simple dish, however I’ve been told, it’s one you shouldn’t miss from the Abstractions Café menu. Made fresh daily – on request, it includes: pasta, peppers, corn, mayo, some (secret) spices, and the main ingredient — love.
12. Ramen from Wann Izakaya Japanese Gastropub
I’ve been visiting this resto since it’s days as Hanabi when sushi was the restaurant’s main feature, but in it’s reincarnation as Wann Izakaya Japanese Gastropub, it’s the ramen that has people flocking there these days.
This delish not to mention filling (servings are generous) dish’s base is Tonkotsu ramen, but it’s the black burnt garlic oil makes the soup so rich and addictive. I was told the ramen broth is made from scratch and that the soup, which takes about 10 hours to cook, features a slew of ingredients!
13. Pho Sliced Beef Noodle Soup from Quan Ngon Vietnamese Restaurant
Last but not least, is Pho Sliced Beef Noodle Soup (Pho Tai), from Quan Ngon Vietnamese Restaurant. Known simply by regulars as B3, the soup has been a popular item on the menu since the restaurant’s inception.
The aesthetically pleasing dish features classic pho rice noodles along with a signature savoury pho broth, topped with freshly sliced rare beef and herbs. What stands out with Pho Tai is the freshness of the ingredients, especially the sliced and very tender rare beef.
Other contenders to consider (that weren’t able to contribute at this time but I didn’t want to miss including):
14. The Usual breakfast from Hunter Gatherer Vegetarian Diner
15. Charcuterie from Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar
16. Coconut buns from China Pastry
17. Grilled cheese sandwiches from Victoria’s Tavern
18. Pretzels made with Rebellion beer yeast from Lancaster Taphouse
19. Chicken wings from Bonzinnis Brew Pub
20. Dol sot bibimbab with kimchi from Orange Izakaya Fusion Café & Bar
**Note to restaurants 14-20 — if you missed the chance to respond, feel free to reach out and I can update this post!
So, what do you think? Agree strongly with any of these? Disagree? Let me hear from you?