By Allan Pulga
As a local food columnist and someone who’s always taking pictures of their food, I often get asked what (and where) to eat in my hometown. I also take great pride in being from Regina and enjoy taking out-of-town visitors for a taste of the Queen City.
Now, this isn’t a list of the 12 best restaurants in Regina, although I’m sure several of these spots would make that list. This is a breakdown of delicious bites and unique dishes. An appreciation of the interplay between flavours, textures, ethnic influences, local ingredients and urban myth. Longtime favourites interspersed with recent upstarts; things your parents might crave if they grew up here or plates local millennials might post to the ’gram.
Hungry yet? Let’s get started.
1. All-dressed Houston Pizza: This has been my favourite thing to eat in Regina since I was a kid. There’s nothing quite like it. It’s stacked thick with meat, mushrooms, onions, green peppers and an obscene amount of cheese. And it’s cooked at high heat to achieve a crispy crème brûlée-like finish. The rising crust is golden on the outside and chewy on the inside, and a touch sweet like a bagel. There are plenty of great Regina pizza restaurants, but Hill Avenue Houston Pizza is the OG. They’ve been making pizza this way since 1970.
2. Fish and chips at Bushwakker: Speaking of OG’s, Bushwakker is Regina’s first brew pub, founded in 1991. Located in Regina’s Warehouse District, it pays homage to our city’s history. Black and white photos adorn the walls and local fare like the Saskatchewan Hot Plate jumps off the menu. I often suggest that dish to out-of-towners, but for me, I can’t resist their beer-battered fish and chips – it’s the best in the city. It’s a huge portion so bring an appetite.
3. Buffalo wings at Leopold’s Tavern: On the topic of proud local pubs, Leopold’s is a can’t-miss. Their original location is at the corner of Albert Street and College Avenue and it’s decorated from floor to ceiling with local memorabilia and miscellaneous knickknacks, almost as though you’re in your grandpa’s garage. There’s something for everyone on the menu, whether it’s nachos, wings, burgers, poutine or a bucket of bacon. My go-to is buffalo wings with blue cheese sauce – a perfect pairing for a beer.
4. Mediterranean bowl at Skye Café & Bistro: I tell people all the time we’re lucky to have Skye in Regina. Opened by a husband and wife who are both award-winning chefs and pastry makers, they’re also both artists. Their artwork is on the walls and also on your plate. They showcase local ingredients and even grow all their own herbs year-round. And their south facing patio is a joy in the summer. Open for brunch on the weekends and for lunch during the week, I recommend the Mediterranean Bowl for a first-timer.
5. Vietnamese pho at Quan Ngon: A good pho is a zen-like experience – the broth should hit you in the soul. Quan Ngon hits the perfect balance of savoury beef-bone broth, plenty of rice noodles, topped with fresh sliced beef, onion, herbs, and garnishes of lime, bean sprouts and chili oil. If you’ve ever travelled to Vietnam, this place will send you right back. Order the B3 (Phở Tái) and double the beef. It’s the ultimate hangover cure.
6. Green curry chicken at Siam: The thing that sets Thai food apart for me is its complexity, the delightful layering of flavour. This dish showcases the richness of coconut milk, bird’s eye chili heat, herbal notes from kaffir lime leaves and fresh basil, tender zucchini spears and chicken breast, and varied curry spices. Spooned onto a bed of white jasmine rice and you’re in business. Siam is also the only Thai Select-certified restaurant in Saskatchewan, a badge of authenticity bestowed by the Thai Ministry of Commerce.
7. Spicy chicken sandwich at Beaks Chicken: Have you ever eaten at a down-home fried chicken shack opened by a classically trained chef who’s worked at the Michelin-starred Noma restaurant in Copenhagen? If not, pop over to Beaks Chicken and try owner Paul Rogers’ Nashville hot chicken sandwich. The thing is a masterpiece. And his commitment to his craft is remarkable. He cooks his dark meat (i.e. thighs and drumsticks) sous vide before frying it, so the pieces come out perfectly, every time.
8. Spicy double-meat sandwich at Italian Star Deli: The Italian Star is a local institution. Whether you’re looking for authentic ingredients to make your own lasagna or imported European goods ranging from olives to soda pop, the place is a trip. And their sandwiches, featuring cold cuts, cheese, spicy peppers and a drizzle of olive oil are fantastic. They come in mild, medium and spicy options – I go for spicy and double the meat.
9. Scones at Tangerine: Tangerine feels like a café and bakeshop in a big city. Grab an espresso or a drip coffee, connect to the wi-fi if you need to do some work, but most importantly enjoy the fresh baked goods and creative lunch specials. Tangerine has the best scones in town. My favourites are the French Vanilla & Coconut and the Blueberry Peach scones, but there’s a different one daily.
10. Pork belly press at Avenue: Avenue is the most exciting entry to Regina’s fine dining scene in the past several years – a descendant of Dale Mackay’s fleet of successful restaurants in Saskatoon. The Korean pork belly press is a fantastic appetizer, served like a sushi rice roll, but with braised pork belly, spicy gochujang sauce and housemade cucumber kimchi. Order one with a signature cocktail and savour the moment.
Allan Pulga is Regina-based PR and communications consultant with a healthy appetite – for food and sneakers. He writes the monthly “Regina Bites” food column for CBC Saskatchewan. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @poonisms.