Letter from Canada: Restaurants that are local institutions, according to readers

Things are tough right now for many restaurants. Global food inflation has, in some cases, increased the costs of ingredients used in restaurant kitchens beyond the ability of these businesses to raise the prices of their menus. In January, the government will begin charging interest on emergency loans that have kept many in business during the pandemic. And in many sectors it is still difficult to recruit staff. A July survey by Restaurants Canada, a lobby group, estimated that 33% of restaurants they were operating at a losscompared to 7% before the pandemic.

As we’ve written before, restaurants considered institutions may not offer impressive decor or the best cuisine (though some do), and many are located in less inviting locations. But they are often part of people’s routines, or are the places people return to when they visit their hometowns.

Below are some of the favorites you sent us.

Our best wishes to all of you for 2024.

The following comments have been edited for clarity and length.

Ferns in Chelsea, Quebec

“The food is delicious, well portioned, well presented and served by excellent staff, usually staffed with presence, personality and experience. As for being an institution, Les Fougères is the definition. They have never wavered in their support of their community and the community beyond. I can’t begin to list the good causes they supported. As for celebrities, too many to name have passed through their doors, and often late at night.

David Maitland, Chelsea, Quebec

John’s family dinner in Ottawa

“As it happens, my morning walk today took me to John’s Family Diner along Wellington Street for my usual: two medium-rare eggs, bacon, beans, toast and coffee. The place was beautiful at 10am. There are plenty of small tables, so you don’t feel uncomfortable sitting alone. You feel like you’re joining your extended family.

Brian Gold, Ottawa

Small Bavarian restaurant in Port Alberni, British Columbia

“It’s been several years since my last trip to Vancouver Island, but a friend from Comox has been there recently at least (having grown up in Port Alberni and knowing it was the place to go for a special meal to catch up with old friends) and extolled its many virtues: excellent cutlets, family atmosphere, attentive but not intrusive service. From the street, it’s not attractive at all and you’d never guess what delights lie just behind the door.”

Rita Legros, London, England

The Armview Restaurant and Lounge in Halifax

“I live in west Halifax and Armview Restaurant and Lounge has been a neighborhood mainstay for 70 years. The restaurant’s decor is mostly original with a few updates, along with the menu, which still features longtime favorites like liver and onions (though I suspect that’s not the most popular item on the menu). The steak and fries are a favorite among my crowd and the burgers are always a hit. The leaders are a diverse group of people from not only the neighborhood but from across the city.

Christa Hornberger, Halifax

Nick’s Steakhouse in Calgary

“The restaurant institution I immediately thought of in Calgary is Nick’s Steakhouse. It has been around since the 1970s (an era of dark brown wood interiors and yellow stained glass windows). Nick’s is conveniently located between the University of Calgary, McMahon Stadium, Motel Village and a public transportation stop. My parents went there when they were in college, and we go there too, mostly for deep dish pizza.

Caitlind Brown, Calgary

The Bruce in Kincardine, Ontario

“I’ve been eating here for the last eight years and have never had a bad meal! It’s typical pub fare: steak, hamburger, fish and chips, with some interesting starters. (Their Cajun-style blackened catfish is delicious!) The big draw, besides the great food, is the location, on a hill overlooking the city lighthouse and lake. Every summer, their famous outdoor patio is packed with people wanting to enjoy a drink while watching a beautiful sunset.

Lee Evans, Neustadt, Ontario


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Born in Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has written about Canada for the New York Times for more than two decades.

Vjosa Isai is a journalist and researcher for the New York Times in Toronto.


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