If you had to guess which are the hottest food towns in North America, which ones would you make on your list? Maybe New York, Los Angeles or Montreal? I guess not many people would say Kingston, Ontario, but it’s not just a big gourmet city. It’s practically the gourmet city!
This small city of approximately 130,000 people is located on the northeast corner of Lake Ontario, just minutes from the US border and destinations like Ogdensburg and Watertown, New York. Kingston is famous for having been a former capital of Canada, but it is now the capital of gastronomy par excellence.
The stats may have changed slightly in recent years, due to the changing restaurant landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Kingston has more restaurants per capita than any other city in North America, except exception of New Orleans. And it’s not just Kingston’s restaurant volume that’s impressive. The quality is second to none, a fact I know firsthand as I lived there once and it remains my favorite culinary destination all time.
So what exactly makes this small town such a dining powerhouse? I spoke with Heather Ford, owner of Kingston Food Tours, to get some insight. She points to the fact that 30,000 students call Kingston home each year. She says, “It’s a huge influx of energy and enthusiasm. It really helps make our city exactly what it is.
However, while Kingston’s huge student population helps energize Kingston’s food scene, that’s certainly not the only reason the city has such a spectacular reputation for good food. Ford also talks about Kingston’s ability to attract and retain talented young chefs. She points to the city’s low travel times and relatively affordable cost of living compared to other destinations and says, “I think it really lends itself to making it look like a great place to open a business. business. »
So, what is Kingston’s food scene like? In a word, diverse. There is no single dish or flavor that defines the city. Instead, it’s a mix of all its influences – students and teachers, talented chefs and everyone who loves the city. I spoke by e-mail with Josh Hayter, president of Spearhead of the brewery, for an overview of Kingston’s food scene. He said: “Like the brewery scene, I feel the strength of Kingston’s cuisine comes from the diversity of produce. You don’t see many copycat restaurants. Each goes with its own vibe. The common thread is quality food and beer. That said, it’s not all fancy. We have many small restaurants and sandwich shops.
I couldn’t agree more! Here are some notable delicious destinations that everyone should try in Kingston.
1. At Piggy’s
Do you believe in magic? In 1979, Rose Richardson and Zal Yanovsky did it (yeah, that’s the same Zal from rock and roll The Lovin’ Spoonful). They had a vision to transform an abandoned limestone stable that is characteristic of the city into an elegant restaurant. Kingston chefs and foodies all give credit to Richardson and Yanovsky’s At Piggy’s with the revitalization and elevation of the city’s culinary scene.
2. Pan Chanco
The laid back sister of Chez Piggy, Pan Chanco is a small, casual cafe in the back and a bustling takeaway shop in the front. They serve local gourmet produce, cheeses, sauces, baked goods (including my beloved lemon currant bread) and an assortment of cold salads and entrees. I always look for the Moroccan mint chickpeas and the dragon noodles. The dessert counter is a gorgeous display of gorgeous little gems that almost — almost! — too good to eat.
3. Dianne’s Fishhouse and Smokehouse
Imagine a Mexican beachside surf shack with a hint of New Brunswick friendliness. This unique combination is what makes by Diana so wonderful. They serve haddock and potato chowder seasoned with salt cod and bacon, beer battered Baja fish tacos, tuna poke, lobster rolls and killer guacamole.
Josh shares my love for Dianne. He says, “When I bring people from out of town, I always drop them off at Diane’s. They have a great mixed menu for everyone.
This modern, family-run Italian restaurant in downtown Kingston is right in the heart of the action near Market Square, but inside it’s a cozy space. Their beef cheek ragout gnocchi will knock your knees out and their antipasto menu could keep you busy for days. Olivea is an exceptional bargain at lunch, with most dishes priced under $20.
5. Days ahead
You have to be aware to have days ahead on your radar because it’s not downtown (I heard about this lovely place thanks to Heather!). This unassuming West End spot does dishes like Arctic Char with Beet Risotto, Spinach and Leek Mash, Citrus Beurre Blanc, Mango Pea Shoot Salad and Roast Chicken Thighs with Spinach Spätzle , pancetta cream sauce, pecorino, parmesan and paprika oil.
6. Black Dog Tavern
Black Dog offers high-end comfort food in a homey-chic atmosphere. Imagine squishy pretzels with beer mustard, onion soup, garlic shrimp, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Heather describes it as “unparalleled”. While dining there, it’s worth stopping across the street to visit their neighbor, the Kingston Olive Oil Co.which offers a tasty selection of flavored oils and balsamic vinegar.
7. Tango Nuevo
Effortlessly straddling the line between intimate and gregarious, new tango is the perfect place for a romantic date, but equally suitable for hosting a large group of friends or even a solo traveler. They specialize in globally inspired small plates, and their dish of roasted Brussels sprouts with feta yogurt, almonds, browned butter and pomegranate jelly is a thing of beauty. Every meal I’ve had here has been outstanding.
8. Concept Mayla
One of the newest restaurants in town, this intimate and romantic space offers upscale experimental cuisine. by Mayla the menu is organized not by dishes but by items. Imagine zucchini with lemon, tahini, and pumpkin seeds under “Ground” and tuna with miso, chili, cucumber, and avocado under “Water” to get an idea of what’s going on in their small plates.
9. NORTHSIDE Espresso + Kitchen
On my last trip to Kingston, every chef I spoke to asked me where I was eating and then ordered me to make room in my schedule for NORTHSIDE espresso + kitchen. This little spot serves a menu reminiscent of Melbourne’s brunch scene, and standout items include a French toast, Nashville-style squash, and avocado toast.
10. Kingston Coffee House and Kingston Public Market
the kingston cafe is my go-to place for huge lattes offering ultra-fresh espresso and killer latte art. It is located opposite the Kingston Public Market, making it the perfect place to grab a hot drink (and some cookies, of course) before browsing the stalls. Established in 1801, the Kingston Public Market is the oldest of its kind in Ontario. In addition to the usual fruit and vegetable vendors, you can expect to find herbs, maple syrup, baked goods, crafts, art, soap and more.
This unpretentious small pub in the heart of the student village serves up what might just be the best club sandwich in town — and arguably the best fries in town. Some say they are sprinkled with chicken salt. I personally think it must be magical.
12. Charcuterie Saveurs Harmonie
This is exactly the kind of place I wish I could find in every city I visit. Charcuterie Flavors Harmony offers huge appetizing platters of meat, cheese and snacks from local producers and they offer individually sized packages for just one or two people. It’s perfect for travelers who want something in between a meal. Harmony Flavors also offers Cuban and Montreal smoked meat sandwiches.
13. Cafe SENS
Owned and operated by French expatriates, SENSES serves the kind of pastries you’d find in Paris (if Paris had it so good…) This little cafe offers eclairs with dark chocolate icing and vanilla bean custard, ciabatta butter sandwiches, sausage dry (thick, dry-dry sausage), pickles and fingerling potato salad with lemon Dijon vinaigrette, radish, tarragon and dill.
I have to admit that by Bubba doesn’t exactly make its way into many lists of Kingston’s best restaurants — and that’s because those other writers don’t have my husband looking over their shoulder. Before my beloved met me, he was head over heels in love with Bubba. Bubba’s is famous citywide for its poutine, perfect after a night out exploring Kingston’s pubs, including Shooting Nan Og, the toucan, and the iron duke.
15. Cooke’s Fine Dining and Cafe
Can this list make room for a place that isn’t technically a restaurant? He can for Cooke’s! A local institution, this elegant old shop is the place to go for imported delicacies, regional cheese and excellent coffee.