Describing an establishment as “upscale, fast and casual” doesn’t make the most sense. So, let’s think of this list as fast food joints that go the extra mile in terms of cooking from scratch and making a conscious effort to source quality ingredients. Yes, my friends, the fast casual movement is growing stronger in Canada with each passing week.
Here are 10 great places in Canada that can have you in and out in no time, while getting you still get your money’s worth with a delicious meal.
Ace Burger (Halifax, NS)
Ask anyone on the east coast and they’ll tell you that the fast food giants have certainly got nothing on Halifax’s leading quick service burger spot. Find beauty in their simplicity with Ace’s classic burger and the bacon cheeseburger, or kick convention to the curb and bite into a jerk chicken burger in a cornflake batter with coconut-chili mayo. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Banh Mi Boys
Banh Mi Boys (Toronto, ON)
Get your Asian food fix quick, fast and furious-style at this popular sandwich-focused shop with two locations in downtown Toronto. Naturally, there are the standard banh mi fillings like pork and chicken, but go out of the box and be pleasantly surprised with options like lemongrass tofu or an order of kimchi fries.
Go Fish Ocean Emporium (Vancouver, BC)
Head to this food stand to bite into some of the best crispy fish and chips this west coast city has to offer. With sustainability in mind, everything on the menu is fresh and caught with a conscious, which is something we should all appreciate.
Indochine (Halifax, NS)
In a similar vein as Banh Mi Boys and Watercress Express (see below), Indochine harnesses those robust Southeast Asian flavours in a variety of dishes, from noodle bowls and pho to fusion tacos, serving them all up in a quick-service environment. Once your meal is ready to go, head over to the Halifax Public Gardens to soak up the last few days of summer while you enjoy the tasty food.
Mandy’s via Instagram
Mandy’s (Montreal, QC)
Quebec’s food mecca is well known for its love affair with foie gras, maple syrup and really, anything rich in general, but I think we all know we shouldn’t be eating (generalizing here) poutine, foie gras and smoked meat every day of the week.
Mandy’s is the popular salad bar staple of Montreal, a complete juxtaposition to the formerly mentioned, with a long list of greens-packed, to-go dishes like the Waldorf or smoked meat salad with “slaw” dressing. All right, so maybe the smoked meat is harder to escape than I thought.
Tacofino via Instagram
Tacofino (Tofino, BC)
There are a few different Tacofino joints in Canada, which you can find in Tofino, Victoria and Vancouver, but nothing beats the one spot that started it all a few years back in one of the most western points of Canada. Technically a food truck, the business is more or less stationary and the menu is pleasantly simple. Freshly caught seafood, chicken or beef, served (mainly) in tacos or burritos.
Tractor Foods (Vancouver, BC)
Skip the subpar salad bar at your local grocer and pay Tractor a visit for all your fresh, vegetable-driven needs. With a long line-up of freshly made salads as colourful as the rainbow, you can have your pick between big bowls of quinoa and roasted mushrooms with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes, roasted cauliflower, chickpeas, orzo and feta, and a whole lot more. Fresh produce is arguably the main event here, but carnivores can still be appeased with chicken and steak salads, or sandwich options like roasted pork with apple and fennel slaw.
Tres Carnales (Edmonton, AB)
One of the original restaurants in Canada to embrace the contemporary taco trend — and also a You Gotta Eat Here! alumnus — Tres Carnales has won numerous accolades, both local and national, when it comes to their taco-making skills. Many people opt to sit down for a quick bite during lunch or dinner, but it’s just as easy to order a well-made Mexican meal to go.
Took Tuk Thai
Tuk Tuk Thai (Calgary, AB)
Ordering pad Thai at a Thai restaurant is like ordering chicken fried rice when you’re getting Chinese takeout; a staple, but hardly anything ground breaking. Even though this come-and-go eatery on Calgary’s bustling 17th Avenue offers the famous dish, there’s so much more to enjoy on the menu here like the Moo Moo Lemon (barbecued pork shoulder in a chili lime dressing) or fried basa with eggplant. It’s going to be getting cooler soon, so grab a bowl of their beautifully aromatic tom yum soup to go.
One of the many highlights of dining at Tuk Tuk is the actual containers that your food comes in. Remove the sticker on top of the circular take-out box and it unfolds like a flower. Very cool!
Watercress Express (Calgary, AB)
Watercressexpress We are blessed to have so many Vietnamese restaurants across our beautiful country. True pho fanatics are always on the lookout for a bowl of noodles and broth, and I’d urge them all to try the sate pho here at Watercress. With a young, formally trained chef running the kitchen, this restaurant serves up everything that is to be expected of a traditional Vietnamese establishment, but with extreme attention to detail. Try a bowl of soup and a side order of the crispy fried wontons and you’ll see what I mean.
Dan Clapson is a food writer and culinary instructor based out of Calgary. He is constantly creating new recipes and striving to expand his culinary horizons. He thinks yam fries are overrated.