10 Manitoba restaurants that serve up history and charm

Posted November 08, 2019 | Author Breanne Sewards

Salisbury House

As I make my way through trying restaurants in the province, I've been thinking about food history, and namely, those Manitoba institutions that have withstood the test of time and have a storied past to prove it. Manitoba is home to many historical restaurants and dishes (just read about the fat boy or the mystery of the shmoo) but here are just 10 that you should check out this year.

1. Oscar’s Delicatessen

175 Hargrave Street, Winnipeg

If you live or work downtown, chances are you've ventured into Oscar's Delicatessen for a hearty lunch of a cold cut sandwich and pickle. In its 90-year (yes, 90) history, this downtown institution has seen a number of owners but only one move from its original location in Winnipeg's North End in 1929. Today, you can count on Oscar's for all your deli favourites at its 175 Hargrave Street location, owned and operated since 1979 by Larry Brown and more recently, by his daughter Rachel.

2. Mitzi's Chicken Finger Restaurant

250 St Mary Avenue, Winnipeg

We're not here to pick favourites, but Mitzi's Chicken Finger Restaurant has more than earned their reputation for serving up some of the best chicken fingers Winnipeg has to offer - with a lengthy history, to boot. The origins of this downtown staple start with Shirley Eng her late husband Peter, who purchased the restaurant in 1978. While the pair started with serving westernized Chinese dishes, they soon turned to the good ol' chicken finger. You won't find Shirley's famous recipe online - it remains a total secret and is prepared fresh daily. And while the chicken fingers tend to get all the buzz at Mitzi's, you ought to also know that the legendary honey dill sauce is likely to have originated here - a delightful concoction of dill, honey and mayonnaise that is a Manitoban's dipping sauce of choice.

3. Salisbury House

List of locations

How could we include a list of Manitoba institutions without including Salisbury House? The famous Winnipeg restaurant was founded in 1931 by Ralph Erwin, an American actor who was working with a traveling road company. Hamburgers were already hot on the culinary scene, but Erwin was the first to introduce the concept to Winnipeg, coining his smaller version the nip. Salisbury House was also the first to introduce Winnipeg to car-hop service, with the opening of its drive-in in 1954.

4. Prairie Firehouse

637 Princess Ave, Brandon

While Prairie Firehouse is a relative newcomer to Brandon's food scene, its historic location is worth a mention on this list. Designed by one of Brandon's most prominent early architects, W.A. Elliott, the Central Fire Station was constructed in 1911, combining Chateauesque style with an Italiante tower. Today, Manitoba Municipal Heritage Site No. 196 retains its charm with red brick and a a steeply pitched roof.

5. The Dutch Drive In

1445 Gordon Avenue, The Pas

Isn't summer so much sweeter when you can skip down the road for an ice cream cone? In the northern town of The Pas, The Dutch Drive In has been the go-to summer destination for over 60 years. Open seasonally, this old school eatery provides car-hop service for its delectable cheeseburgers, milkshakes and hand-cut 'dutch' fries. The drive in was opened by Joe and Juda Bochsler in 1957, and up until very recently, continued to be owned and operated by their daughter Josie Olson. Today, The Dutch Drive In is owned by the Atchison family who have added their own touch to the menu and decor while still retaining the drive in's original retro charm.

6. Bailey's Restaurant

185 Lombard Avenue, Winnipeg

Bailey's Restaurant oozes historical charms - all you need to do is walk through its large oak doors to see that. But beyond its vintage decor and vibe, the Bailey's Restaurant building has withstood the test of time, surviving both the 1919 General Strike and the 1950 River Flood. The building was constructed in 1900 by banker W.F. Alloway and has since hosted a number of businesses like Manitoba Health Services and Great West Life. It wasn't until 1971 that a restaurant first came to occupy the space - then known as Oliver's Restaurant and Old Bailey's Lounge. Rumour has it that the warm and regal environment attracted Manitoba’s early Progressive Conservative Party, who frequently used the space as its club.

7. Rae and Jerry’s Steakhouse

1405 Portage Ave, Winnipeg

Rae and Jerry's Steakhouse is an iconic Winnipeg institution, known equally as well for its retro decor (think shiny reds, dark woods and amber lights) as it is for its mouth-watering steaks. The restaurant was opened in 1957 by John Rae and Jerry Hemsworth, who tried three different locations before settling on 1405 Portage Avenue. Rae and Jerry's is now owned and operated by Steve Hrousalas, who credits his success to not changing a thing since acquiring the business 43 years ago.

8. Bistro Dansk

63 Sherbrook Street, Winnipeg

Since 1977, Bistro Dansk has been a family affair with one goal: serve the most authentic and tasty Danish dishes that Winnipeg has ever known. Flash forward to present day, Bistro Dansk has done just that, with a loyal fanbase to prove it. Now owned by Paul and Pamela Vocadlo, the restaurant was passed down by Paul's parents when the couple were young adults and has enjoyed steady success ever since - known for its charm, coziness and generous portions.

9. Bill's Sticky Fingers

210 E Saskatchewan Avenue, Portage la Prairie

After emigrating from Greece to Canada in 1966, Bill Protopapas settled in Portage la Prairie with the vision to own a restaurant - a dream that was quickly realized with the opening of his first business. But it wasn't until 1992 when Protopapas found true success in Bill's Sticky Fingers - a tried and true Portage establishment that would earn over 20 years of loyal customers and success. Aside from the restaurant's famous ribs, Protopapas says it's his devoted patrons and staff that have allowed Bill's to stick around year after year.

10. Nora's Diner

616 Seventh Street, Gretna

Nora's Diner is another restaurant with a unique building history. Located in the town of Gretna, Nora's was once A.C. Nickel's Tin Smith and Hardware Store. It wasn't until the building was purchased by a new owner that it became George's Coffee House: the first incarnation as a restaurant. Since the 1960's the restaurant has changed hands several times, becoming JT'S Coffee House, Annie's Cafe, Audrey's and Punky's Place and finally, Nora's Diner.

Flashback: Former Manitoba restaurants

Just for fun...do you remember any of these defunct Manitoba eateries? Tell us about the restaurants that you miss in the comments below!

  • Kelekis (Winnipeg)
  • Wagon Wheel (Winnipeg)
  • Trapper Johns (Winnipeg)
  • ChiChis (Winnipeg)
  • Mother Tucker's (Winnipeg)
  • Paladin Restaurant (Winnipeg)
  • The Pizza Place ( Brandon)
  • Venice House (Brandon)

About The Author

Hey! I'm Breanne, Editorial Content Specialist for Travel Manitoba. First to jump in the lake and last to make it down the River Trail. Lover of croissants, cats, and croissant-shaped cats. Got a story idea? Email me at bsewards@travelmanitoba.com.

Editorial Content Specialist