It was early spring 2022, and I was out on the front street talking to a neighbour, Charlene, about a recent trip to a local bar with neighbourhood friends. We formed a group to experience an establishment we all found intimidating but wanted to try. We didn’t have the courage to go individually but felt there would be strength in numbers.
Charlene was intrigued, stating she would like to get involved in something similar, but was certain she wasn’t adventurous enough to visit local bars. I replied there are many interesting, independent restaurants within a 15-minute walk. Restaurants that many of us would love to try. Sinclair Street Diners’ Club was born following the eureka smiles on both our faces.
We spread the word and collectively decided to start in September after all the wanderlusts of summer were satiated. Meeting on the third Thursday of every month, we kept the group relatively small – no more than 12 neighbours from 95A street – to avoid overwhelming the owner-operated businesses.
The first destination of our culinary journey was Mama Asha Cafe near the corner of 95 St and 118 Ave. The owner, chef, and host is a delightful person who takes pride in telling the story of her grandmother’s legacy left to her in the form of amazing food and a true passion for ensuring her guests have a memorable experience. The blend of spices and flavours in the dishes was mouth-wateringly precise. After this experience, we knew we were on the right path.
The beauty of mid-autumn brought us to Noi Thai on the corner of 95 St and 107 Ave. The owner has an ageless smile and eyes that speak kindness as he diligently works to keep everything moving smoothly, ensuring the food is brought out at the right moment. Noi Thai is known for its beautifully and masterfully balanced curries. The massamun brown curry was Katelyn’s favourite, while Brian raved about the Thai papaya salad.
We finished off the year before the holiday break by indulging in the warmth and comfort found in the menu at Swagat Indian Bar and Bistro, which is located on the traffic circle at 101 St and 118 Ave. Jonathan introduced us to the delicious Kathmandu chicken momos, which I have persisted in ordering since. Charlene claims that everything on Swagat’s menu is excellent. My personal favourite from Swagat is the mango chicken with garlic naan. I just can’t get enough of it.
In the depths of February’s clutches, we trekked into Chinatown to Asian Express Hot Pot, where no soul in our group left disappointed. The variety. The aromas. The flavours. The opportunity to experiment and explore with one’s taste buds. The communal experience of cooking together while laughing and conversing makes Asian Express a gem. Most of our gang asked for their excess broths to be packed up so they could enjoy them again the next day. Andrea says they have the best milk tea.
Throughout the spring, we visited three more local restaurants. The hidden treasure of these visits was Serengeti BBQ, situated on 118 Ave west of 88 St. The owners are dynamic, genuinely filled with joy, and undeniably proud of their offerings. The Zanzibar platter is a generous plate best shared with a partner. We ate the ribs, fish, and chicken dipped in their robust house-made hot sauce and washed it down with the perfectly paired Tusker lager from Kenya. Doug and Brian consider the thinly sliced beef ribs a delicacy in their own right.
We finished our first season at the venerable Edmonton institution, Padmanadi. Earlier in my life, I deliberately avoided vegan restaurants for various foolish reasons. I sincerely regret not going to Padmanadi years ago. Our diners’ club has a wildly inconsistent practice of sharing or not sharing food, which was best displayed at Padmanadi. We kept leaning over each other to try everyone’s dishes. Everything we tried was brilliant. The skewers were very popular, and the chocolate moose was a revelation.
And so, with Volume One of our saga under our belts, we look forward to continuing Volume Two in September. There are so many restaurants and cafes left for us to experience. Some are well known, and many undeservedly fly under the radar. In either case, we know we’re in for a treat.