Guide to dining in Waterloo region

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Want to dine out in the Kitchener-Waterloo region of Ontario? Here are some suggestions.

Fine dining

With Verses and Marisol recently closed (and 20 King earlier closed), it’s getting hard to find options in this category. But we can cheat a bit and go further afield to Cambridge and stretch the definition of “fine dining”…

Langdon Hall

One of the best places to eat in Canada, let alone KW, with prices to match. It also has a dress code, which is becoming an exceedingly rare thing. It is a beautiful dining room in a gorgeous hotel, the service is excellent, and yes, the food is very good.


Langdon Hall at night

As somewhat cheaper options, they do have a summer barbecue series (all sold out for this year, though; sorry) and Wilk’s Bar. Wilk’s Bar is a more casual room with a restricted menu and more relaxed service. But the quality is just as good.


Oysters from Wilk’s Bar

Noise level: Quiet and pleasant

http://www.langdonhall.ca/

Bhima’s Warung

I don’t know that Bhima’s is truly fine dining, as it offers a fairly casual atmosphere and specializes in Southeast Asian food. The portions also tend to be large. But after some bumpy years, it is back on track in terms of food quality. The menu is somewhat large and features some less familiar ingredients. The service is professional, it’s original, it can be fun, and items are well-prepared.


Whatchamacalitt ice cream with something-or-other bits at Bhima’s Warung

Noise level: Can be noisy when crowded, which it often is. Tables close together.

http://www.bhimaswarung.com/updates

Addendum

Though I haven’t been in a while, also worth mentioning is Conestoga College’s Bloom restaurant, where future chefs, wait staff, and sommeliers practice their craft. Hours are necessarily spotty (following the school year), and service can be a little off, but I’ve always had delicious meals here, and you can’t beat the prices. In atmosphere, they do a reasonable job of approximating a fine dining establishment. Including not being too noisy!

Tapas

The “small plate” approach to dining seems to be growing in popularity. It works for me, since I generally find that the appetizers are more interesting than the mains at most restaurants.

Gilt

By the same owners as Cork in Elora (another fine little restaurant to go to, if you don’t mind the drive), Gilt is one of the few restaurants still open in downtown Kitchener, and it seems to be doing well. Their tapas menu, which they change up regularly, is divided into fish, meat, and vegetarian options. They recommend ordering about three items per person. We’ve been three times, tried a lot of different dishes, and have yet to be disappointed in any of them, I think.


Picture of Cork because we don’t have any of Gilt, it seems

The wait staff are friendly and good about explaining about how the menu works. Though we’ve never tried it, the restaurant also serves brunch, and they have this very interesting “molecular ice cream” experience on the dessert menu. They also have specials to boost the less popular dining nights: High heel and lipstick Monday (hmm), $2 oysters on Tuesday, half-price bottles of wine on Wednesday (quite a deal!), and happy hour on Thursday. The place has a modern, classy bar-like atmosphere.

Noise level: A bit noisy, but mostly acceptable, especially on week nights

http://www.giltrestaurant.ca/

Public

This is the highest rated in the region on Trip Advisor, so we thought it was time to try it. It’s small, and you’ll likely need reservations to get in.

A friend had some issues with the service here, but we found it to be fine. They were certainly attentive to our wine needs. :-) Their tapas are bigger than Gilt’s, so they recommend about two per person. We found their items quite good also, notably the cold foie gras and the oyster selection. They had many wines available beyond what was listed on the menu; these were on chalkboards.

I personally don’t know that it’s better than Gilt, but it’s not a bad place to try. Interesting decor in an unlikely part of town.

Noise level: Music was a bit too loud, unfortunately. We could converse, but had to speak up.

http://www.mpcpublic.com/

Addendum

This one requires a road trip, but Haisai in Singhampton, affiliated with master chef Michael Stadtlander, is a fantastic place to go for a tapas-style meal. Their menu also changes regularly and always features local foods. The room’s decor has to be seen to be believed. Prices are very reasonable, but note that they don’t take credit cards: Cash or debit only.


Haisai’s distinctive decor

Wine and dine

Those independently run, not-quite-fine-dining but better-than-average-restaurants…

Easy Pour Wine Bar

You can do the tapas thing here as well, but they also offer appetizer and entree options. With this somewhat eclectic menu, it’s important to have a server who can help you through it. The first time we did not; the second we did. Both times the food was tasty and creative. As befitting the name, they do have many wines by the glass, with the nice option of 3, 6, and 9 oz serving sizes. It’s in a heritage building, giving it an interesting atmosphere.


Deli platter at Easy Pour Wine Bar—which is actually in Blair, so I guess this is another bit of a geographic cheat

http://www.theeasypourwinebar.com/

Noise level: Open concept ceiling which makes it somewhat noisy, but tolerable—until the live music starts. Check the website for performance times if you’re want to listen to your dinner companions rather than a band.

Sole

Remains true that their food quality can be inconsistent, which is unfortunate as they aren’t that cheap. The place, in an old Seagram building, does have a nice atmosphere, though, and the service is always fine, the wine list always amazing. You’ll tend to do better food-wise with the specials and the waiter recommendations.


One of our better meals at Sole: A harvest dinner featuring duck and banana bread as the main course

http://www.sole.ca/

Noise level: Not quiet, but you can manage to hear your dining partners without too much trouble.

Addendum

Aqua, at the Crowne Plaza in Kitchener, is still kind of finding its feet, I think. It has a focus on seafood, and we’ve found the quality of the cooking good. The service is somewhat lacklustre, though, and the room has a bit of chlorine pool smell, though some seats are likely worse than others for that.

Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21, in uptown Waterloo, is probably as good as ever (and they also have an interesting take on tapas once a week), and can be a real bargain, but we’ve stopped going because we find it just too noisy. It’s small and has those open ceilings… As soon as there’s a crowd it’s hard to hear anything. (Dining early is one way to get in when it’s quieter.)

It’s a similar story with Bauer Kitchen. We’ve always found the food good (if less creative than some of the others listed here), and they have a neat system of wine matching each menu item, but it doesn’t even have to be that crowded to get uncomfortably noisy. Those high, open ceilings again…

Sushi, Chinese, and Thai

Any sushi place that isn’t “all you can eat” gets extra points, but our favourite is Watami, in uptown Waterloo. It often has interesting specials featuring fresh fish they were able to get that day.


A delicacy from Watami Sushi

Other possibilities are Niko Niko Sushi Roll, a small, casual place in downtown Kitchener (that doesn’t serve wine, by the way) and Sakura Island, on King and Hickory in Waterloo.

For Chinese and Thai, we probably should branch out, but we remain fond of our long-time favorites: Cameron Seafood and Northern Thai. Cameron Seafood has a very good dim sum, though you have to order by a menu, not off of carts, which can be a challenge. The do a good job with dinner mains, as well.


Dim sum at Cameron Seafood

Northern Thai is a terrific bargain. It’s also nice and quiet, and offers fresh ingredients, well prepared.

Cafes

Sometimes you just want a dessert and coffee. And one of the most interesting places to go for that is Death Valley’s Little Brother on King in Waterloo, in another interesting heritage building. They make a fantastic espresso. But if you’d rather, you can also get scotch. Or whiskey. Seriously.

It’s a cool room, very popular with university students (we like to comment how we ruin the atmosphere by being there). With your coffee (or whatever) you can get various pastries and desserts—not really meals or sandwiches, though.

For that, you can pop down the street to the Princess Cafe, which seriously has some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Their coffees are also nice (or you can get wine or beer; not so much whiskey), as are the desserts. And the “dinner and movie” offer is quite a deal.


An offering from Princess Cafe

And if you find yourself in downtown Kitchener (rather stunning how many listings are in that area), you have a lot of coffee options, but our favourite may be Cafe Pyrus, on Charles Street, which has a distinct “hippie” feel to it. I don’t think it’s licensed, but you can get a light meal here with your coffee, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options.

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