Call your “from away” friends and relatives and tell them there’s proof of what you’ve been saying for years: Halifax’s bar and restaurant scene is pretty damn good—and it’s not just oysters and lobster.
Halifax’s food scene is earning rave reviews in this year’s Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list, an annual ranking of the top eateries and bars in the country, as voted by a panel of 130 food writers, critics, chefs and other industry professionals. Four restaurants in our region cracked the top 100: Bar Kismet (12th), Drift (57th), Bicycle Thief (64th) and Café Lunette (74th). Halifax also scored more Best New Restaurant entries than any other Canadian city, with three in the top 10: Café Lunette (5th), Fawn (7th) and Peacock (9th).
The double-honours came as a “surreal” surprise to Vanessa Bélanger, head chef at the Parisian-inspired Café Lunette, which opened in Halifax’s Queen’s Marque development in March 2022.
“I knew it was gonna be a really fun and cool adventure, but I didn’t realize how successful everything would be,” Bélanger says, speaking by phone with The Coast. Two-and-a-half years of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions had left her guarded about the industry’s future: “Opening this restaurant at a time when we weren’t sure what was gonna happen to restaurants, I think it was super hard to see how we were going to do.”
(As it turns out, they would do just fine: The Coast’s readers also selected Café Lunette as Halifax’s Best New Restaurant in 2022’s Best of Halifax Readers Choice Awards.)
The team behind Café Lunette, Halifax’s Freehand Hospitality, fared especially well in the annual Canada-wide awards: The group is also behind nominees Peacock and Drift, the latter of which chef Anthony Walsh describes as a “culinary love letter” to Nova Scotia and the East Coast.
“It’s a combination of using what’s local and showcasing what we have here, as well as incorporating some traditional dishes from the Maritimes without elevating it past the point of not being recognized,” Drift’s chef de cuisine Jamie MacAulay, who was behind past Halifax restaurants Water and Bone and Coda Ramen, told The Coast in 2021. “You should be able to sit down and be like, ‘It’s a hodge podge.’ Not, ‘It’s a “hodge podge”’ with air quotes.”
Dartmouth’s Dear Friend earns renown for cocktails
Halifax’s restaurants weren’t the only ones to score national recognition: Dear Friend, Stillwell and The Narrows ranked 16th, 38th and 49th, respectively, on Canada’s 100 Best Bars list.
To co-owner Matt Boyle, the secret to Dear Friend is its signature cocktails:
“The bar team who creates them puts a lot of time and effort into thinking about ingredients that inspire them,” he told The Coast after winning 2022’s Best of Halifax Reader’s Choice Award for best cocktails. Boyle credits “seasonally fresh and local terroir” with influencing Dear Friend’s drinks list, which the cocktail bar rotates up to five times a year—“so it’s always really fresh for the guests and something new that they can look forward to.”
If you go: Try head bartender Patrick Fulgencio’s Ube Fiasco: A Filipino-inspired cocktail with Bombay Sapphire gin, crushed ice, almond and lemon.
—With files from Kaija Jussinoja and Chris Stoodley