Best St. John’s Restaurants 2018
Best lists are subjective and frankly inaccurate a lot of the time. I’m a bigger fan of essential lists and Eater (the international food news site) does a great job by selecting restaurants one should enjoy to get a taste of a particular city showcasing the holes-in-the-walls, the trendy, the old faithfuls and the Michelin stars that encapsulate the city’s culinary spirit. This is how I approach my list for the best St. John’s restaurants in 2018. These restaurants have been my go-to’s for the year — the ones I crave regularly and go back to over and over again. Akin to the incessantly popular “My Favourite St. John’s Restaurants” from 2014, this list contains my edible jewels. Some can definitely be found on “best of” lists, some never will be, and some really should be.
The best St. John’s restaurants 2018 according to The Food Girl in Town
The crown jewel: Raymond’s
We all knew Raymond’s would be on the list. When the late Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode featuring Newfoundland aired in May 2018, he and dining companions — truffle-toting Frédéric Morin and David McMillan of Montreal’s Joe Beef — called it the best restaurant in Canada. While Raymond’s is certainly not a spot anyone can call a local watering hole, it’s perfect for celebrating or to make a random Tuesday night a special occasion with dreamy-looking food, impeccable wine service and freaking delicious pasta. Adam and I dined at Raymond’s for our second wedding anniversary in September and we went all out — seven course tasting with wine pairings and all!
The worth-the-drive: The Grounds Cafe
My adoration for this little cafe-inside-a-garden centre is no secret; I wrote a blog post about finding the garden of eating in Portugal Cove The Grounds Cafe at Murray’s last year and it continues to be one of my favourite little spots. It’s great for weekend brunch or an afternoon coffee and cake with friends. The Grounds Cafe just started dinner service too, with herbaceous-ly appropriate cocktails and dishes like scallop crudo with salted gooseberries or squash risotto with fried sage.
The standalone-little-sister: The Merchant Tavern
As the little sister of Raymond’s this restaurant needs no introduction. The Merchant Tavern stands on its own two feet on the St. John’s dining scene as a must-eat. Years ago I raved about brunch at The Merchant Tavern, which in its own right is one of the best in the city with perfect hollandaise sauce, fluffy pancakes and melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts. But in 2018 I spent more time there dining on the best handmade pasta in the city (seriously, pick any plate of pasta from their menu and you’ll die happy), great cocktails and their beef tartare continues to be one of my favourite dishes… well, anywhere. Nestled under a blanket of snow-like parmesan, I can’t help ordering it.
The bonafide delicioso: Soul Azteka
Soul Azteka is at the bottom of my street and is the place for tacos in St. John’s. I’ve never felt better than when I’m letting the juice of an al pastor taco dribble down my face, sampling from the compendium of classic Mexican tacos found on the menu like Barbacoa and carnitas. Enchiladas, mole and piles of rice and beans are devoured on the regular at Soul Azteka. The soul of this place drifted across the street earlier this year, moving across the street from their Freshwater Road location. Soul Azteca was only offering take-out or delivery services and catering for bigger fiestas but quietly opened up their new dining room at the end of December!
The diamond in the rough: Seto
Seto is the most underrated restaurant in the city. Period. When people ask me what my favourite restaurant in the city is, I send them to Seto. The intersection of Chinese dishes with Newfoundland ingredients finds balance and vim at Seto. They were my favourite burger during for The Overcast’s 2018 Burger Battle, which I judged last February and in April we attended their beer pairing tasting menu at Seto with Maggie and Sean which perfectly described what this restaurant is all about: Bao stuffed with foraged Newfoundland mushrooms, spicy chilli-braised Cod and chocolate with Pineapple Weed ice cream and miso caramel. Their late-night menu is legendary amongst industry types who devour kimchi fries, chicken wings and spicy tuna tartare after they’ve counted their tips. The by’s also have a wicked new food truck — Big Boy Bao — serving up those pillowy pods of pork belly and fried chicken crusted with Hawkins Cheezies.
The new(ish) kid on the block: Bad Bones Ramen
Bad Bones Ramen restaurant opened up in June 2017 (I wrote all about slurping soup there last fall) but it still feels like the newbie on the restaurant scene. After a scary December announcement in The Overcast that this quaint little noodle shop was closing at the end of the year, soup slurpers rejoice! The folks at Bad Bones pulled a fast one… right down the street! They just opened in the old Tavola location at 178 Water Street.
The old faithful: Get Stuffed
Some things never change. Well, actually two things: that the menu at Get Stuffed will never change, and that I will always put this spot on my best St. John’s restaurants’ list. It’s actually one of the key places I recommend to out-of-towners because they do local seafood excellently. Their calamari isn’t battered and deep-fried beyond recognition — it’s seared and tossed in a complimentary chilli oil, and their fresh mussels are tossed in a spicy bourbon cream sauce so good I often finish it with a spoon. And don’t even get me started on the sides: hashbrown casserole, bacon wrapped green beans and cheese-and-doo (their iteration of mac and cheese made with cheddar and gruyere), have kept me coming back regularly for almost a decade.
The out-of-towner: Fork.
While Fork isn’t technically a St. John’s restaurant, it’s easily accessible from the city and one of the best places I ate in 2018. I wrote a blog post praising the pop-up restaurant’s first season in 2017, and their second year was even better. Fresh scallops mingling with strawberries, mint and a smack of jalapeno were served up as starters followed by one of the best duck dishes I have ever eaten with savoury crispy granola, citrus, goat cheese and honey from around the corner.
The under-the-radar-superstar: Sundance Kitchen + Deck
Local may roll their eyes at this one…but seriously the scumdance (erm, I mean Sundance) has a menu reinvigorated by Chef Mark McCrowe. Aside from the fact that most dishes don’t cost more than a $10 bill, the flattop cheeseburgers, crispy gochujang chicken bites and Hawkins mac and cheese had me coming back for more, and more, and more. The best part about the cheap food is that it’s really good cheap food: Vietnamese noodle salads are just as common on this menu as the sour cream and bacon waffle fries. It’s the best drink-pints-and-gorge-greasy-food kind of place; somewhere to relax and eat your favourite foods. Plus the Sundance has one of the biggest patios in St. John’s — hello, sunshine and falafel tacos.
The hole-in-the-wall wonderland: Kimchi & Sushi
I’ll best honest with you: I had never heard of Kimchi & Sushi until March 2018. I filmed a short video about their best dishes for the Help Me Order App and snapped some great shots for a review while I was at it and fell in love with the place. It’s a small little hole-in-the-wall Korean spot on Water Street with usually only two people working the kitchen (one is always the owner) and serving tables at the same time. Steaming bibimbap, heartwarming bulgogi and a plethora of special rolls making this place a go-to spot.
The Always Impressive: Piatto Pizzeria
Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca is a mainstay in the city. When I wrote an online piece for Atlantic Business Magazine about the best restaurants in St. John’s to have a business lunch, the response from local business people was overwhelming — they love Piatto!! Piatto’s VPN-certified pizzas like the Salvatore, Dolce e Fumoso and classic Margherita fly out of their 900-degree wood-fired oven. Their Stephanie pizza with goat cheese, prosciutto, caramelized pears and a drizzle of balsamic reduction is probably one of the most-loved dishes in St. John’s. For the mainlanders who come here and love Piatto — they just opened up a location in Cambridge, Ontario!
The one-where-it-feels-like-you-are-in-Toronto: The Adelaide Oyster House
My first experience at The Adelaide Oyster House is still one of the most popular posts on this blog and for good reason. The music is always bumping, pints of local craft beers constantly flow from the taps and oysters shuckers work on overdrive at this busy eatery. Their Kobe beef lettuce wrap with Japanese big mac sauce, kimchi and rice puffs knocked my socks off from day one and is a mainstay — a brief interlude with brunch that fizzled out quicker than a hot frying pan in the sink and a shift in leadership, this spot still serves up the best tuna taco in the city.
The cake table champion: Mallard Cottage
Mallard Cottage wins major points for their awesome vibes and cosy feeling. Brunch is my favourite at this Quidi Vidi eatery. They’ve got great coffee, their breakfast sandwiches are served on homemade biscuits, their taters are the perfect crispy, and of course, those famous two words that dominate the Mallard Cottage hashtag on Instagram: Cake Table.
The meat magnate: Chinched
For some unknown reason, Chinched is probably one of the restaurants I frequent the least on this list (hence the shitty photos), but it has been on my list of best St. John’s restaurants for years. Forever famous for their Charcuterie boards, Chinched expanded their business to include a great deli and sandwich shop for lunches in addition to their gorgeous restaurant on Bates Hill. Their happy hour eats can’t be beat — as long as you love meat — with items like crispy pig ears, house-made hot dogs and Nashville hot chicken dominate the menu.