Coconut Garden……West End
Kyu Bistro……West End
La Rica Vicky……West End
Purple Hibiscus……St. Boniface
(Editor’s Note – Coconut Garden La Rica Vicky & Purple Hibiscus, is no longer open.)
Winnipeg’s restaurant scene is populated by diverse ethnic spots, no-frills family-run restaurants that inject the city with flavour. Take your tastebuds on a world tour at five Ciao! favourites and see why some newbies have already gained a faithful following.
Opened in 2012, Coconut Garden is a boon for the West End. This Ellice Avenue Vietnamese spot makes a big impression with its friendly, knowledgeable service and bold flavours. Flip directly to the page of specials for sweet and sour shrimp soup. One slurp and you will be a convert. The dish is not stingy on its titular protein, each spoonful bears a plump pink morsel. The interplay between acidic tomato slices and sweet-tart pineapple makes for a tantalizing combination. For a novel appetizer order a deep-fried quail or two. This tiny, fine-boned bird boasts tender, delicate flesh under its crispy, salty skin and, at $4, is a bargain.
Kyu Bistro, a sleek, minimalist little ramen house on Isabel Street, is Winnipeg’s first izakaya-only spot. Not a single sushi roll is included on the streamlined menu of Japanese small plates, replaced instead with scrumptious shareables like the crispy bites of chicken kara-age, which are dipped in a creamy, lip-tingling wasabi-spiked mayo. Thinly sliced Japanese-style barbeque pork in piquant mustard is another highlight. Silky agedashi tofu cakes, in their bed of savoury-sweet dashi sauce, are a must-try, as are the robust ramen renditions. Lychee, which continues to enjoy popularity as a cocktail ingredient, provides the base for a light, refreshing, non-alchoholic iced tea.
At La Rica Vicky, Winnipeg’s sole Peruvian place, you’ll find plenty of potato-based dishes on the menu, which comes as no surprise considering the prolific starch has its roots in Peru. One example is Papa a la huancaina, a homey deconstructed potato salad served cold, topped with hardboiled eggs and black olives. Smothered in a warm, velvety and subtly spiced cheese sauce, fluffy slices of cooked potato become downright indulgent. Some of the best dishes on the menu, however, aren’t spud-based, including the ceviche, which is among the best in the city. Juicy morsels of raw bassa fish burst with fresh, citrusy flavour courtesy of a marinade of lime juice and aji limo, a Peruvian pepper. Eschew water or pop for the housemade chicha morada, a traditional non-alcoholic cocktail made from vibrant purple corn juice and frozen pineapple cubes, seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s sweet, spicy and addictive.
While it would be easy to miss Noodle Express, tucked away in the Dynasty Building in Chinatown, to do so would mean missing some of the city’s finest dim sum. This bright, bare-bones space turns out cheap, fresh, made-to-order dishes. Numerous renditions of pork dumpling standout; sharkfin, shao mai, pan-fried and leek-laced in essence are all succinct toothsome parcels of well-spiced meat. Pro tip: ask for chilli oil, table top hot sauce lacks punch. Rich, flaky lobster rolls are another must-have; buttery lobster morsels are secured in a golden crisp spring roll wrapper. It’s a steal that tastes like a splurge.
For flavours of the Caribbean, look no further than Purple Hibiscus. This small, spartan St. Boniface eatery is run by the inimitable Ave Dinzey, a retired Air Canada flight attendant who dreamed of opening a restaurant that celebrated the spices and street food of her home country, Trinidad & Tobago. The fresh, tongue-teasing tropical salad with lush chunks of mango and avocado and a fiery jerk shrimp skewer is a must; unlike a lot of so-called ‘tropical’ salads, this one doesn’t contain any filler melon or grapes. The salad is served with a side of sweet housemade coconut bread, which serves as a nutty base for a boozy, biting rum and pepper jelly. For more island flava, tuck into a jerk pork sandwich. Wonderfully spicy, tender meat is layered with creamy guava mayo to achieve a tantalizing sweet-hot combo we’ve since found ourselves craving.