If you live in the north side of town, the “Worth the Drive” description is a bit of a misnomer. That’s because Ohana-Ya is located just a couple of blocks from the Edmonton-St. Albert border – and for most northsiders, it’s a shorter jaunt to this hidden Japanese gem than it would be to cross the river and dine in the south. If there is one major reason to travel to this St. Albert strip mall, it’s to sample Ohana-Ya’s stellar tuna tataki. It has a spicy citrus sauce with a heat that continues to build the more you eat. In the evenings, Ohana-Ya serves small plates of Japanese delights, tapas-style, great for sharing with a group of friends. For those who don’t want raw fish, there’s an inventive baked seafood dish, served with a cream that carries a strong miso flavour. With dumplings, barbecued squid and meat skewers, you can almost do a night out, izakaya style, with beer washing down some takes on Japanese bar food. And the sushi and sashimi? As good as you’ll find anywhere in the city. One of our judges said that Ohana-Ya is as close to a Tokyo sushi bar as you’ll find in the Edmonton area. -S.S #224, 2 Hebert Rd., St. Albert, 780-459-8355, ohana-ya.com
A giant VLT machine flashes and plays loud music, drawing a crowd. We pass by and enter Sage, which has a completely different feel. Located in the River Cree Resort and Casino, Sage has an elegant atmosphere with white linens and half-moon shaped booths. The menu features high-end options, including the lobster bisque, duck breast and Arctic char. But it’s the AAA Angus rib-eye that steals our attention – it doesn’t need anything extra to make it our favourite. Though, if you wanted, the menu gives the option of adding sides like the whipped potatoes – a huge pile of creamy goodness – or the hand-cut truffle French fries. –C.B. Whitemud Drive and Winterburn Road,780-930-2636, rivercreeresort.com
This adorable cafe is nestled next to a nail salon in a strip mall in Sherwood Park. There’s a seasonal patio in front of the building and the interior seems more spacious than it really is, with high ceilings and a laid-back vibe. The servers wear retro aprons and greet customers by name. The Haven spinach salad, with quinoa, red grapes, almonds and a pomegranate vanilla dressing, is filling but light-tasting, while the black bean hummus is thick and heavy on the tahini. Go on a weekend for brunch and sample Irvings Farm Fresh ham, eggs Benedict and vegetarian quiche. Wash it all down with a smooth vanilla latte made with Transcend coffee. -S.B. 9 Sioux Rd., Sherwood Park,780-417-5523, cafehaven.ca
OK, be honest, have you taken your Christmas decorations down, yet?