I wrote a funny thing in my notebook when I was hanging out on the south end of Winnipeg’s Osborne Street. “The more I drink, the more I like it.” No, I didn’t go on some drunken bender when I was on my recent press trip! Those were my thoughts as I sipped a natural orange wine at a hip restaurant, watched people stroll by on a sweltering night, and wondered how I hadn’t noticed the neat bowling alley across the street earlier. The more I looked, the more I felt at home.
South Osborne sneaks up on you — and it grows on you, too. The next-door neighbor to Winnipeg’s artsy Osborne Village, this is an area on the upswing, with amazing restaurants putting incredible care into everything from their ingredient lists to their plating (and, yes, their wine lists too!) And delicious food is also just the beginning. It feels like every time I visit the area, I see something new. There’s always another cool business I hadn’t noticed the first time around, and there’s just an amazing vibe.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. I interviewed some remarked restauranteurs and chefs about their love of the neighborhood to get their local insights on what makes it the best spot to eat and hang out in the city. I think you’ll find them as inspiring as I do. Here’s what I love about Winnipeg’s South Osborne neighborhood.
1. The Rajas Tacos At BMC Market
At BMC Market, owners Rigoberto and Betty Calderon-Villasenor serve up a menu of tacos, quesadillas, Jarritos soda, and tasty sides. During my visit, I loaded up on three tacos (the pastor with pork and pineapple, the tinga with chicken, and the rajas with mushrooms, peppers, and cream). Thin guacamole, packed with flavor and a far cry from the usual chunky condiment you see, made for a tangy topping. The small, lightly cooked tortillas were so soft they almost fell apart in my hands. The dough is light, tender, and extremely fresh.
I chatted with Rigoberto about what it was like to work and own a business along south Osborne Street. “So many options; it’s a very nice neighborhood.” He and Betty like that the neighborhood really supports each other, and during the pandemic, people would regularly visit for pick-ups. They came to identify regulars who were devoted chorizo fans or were especially loyal to pastor tacos. Everyone had “their thing.”
In my conversation with Rigoberto, I learned that while everyone who works at BMC can make the tortillas, in reality, there are special staff members who take care of preparing them most of the time. It takes a lot of practice not just to make them, but to make them fast — and Betty is the best of the team.
I’m certainly not the only fan of BMC Market. The team at Oxbow (below) loves BMC’s tacos, and there were appreciative moans around the table when I described my rajas taco, in particular!
2. The Arancini At Oxbow Natural Wine Bar And Restaurant
South Osborne’s young vibe has found its home in a 110-year-old building. Oxbow Natural Wine Bar and Restaurant needed some serious TLC when owner Luke and his partner took over in 2017. Luke describes the situation as good fortune, as the chance to set up shop in the building basically fell in his lap. But there was a twist. It took a whole year to strip down the interior to its original brick and restore the structure to its original glory.
Now, under the helm of chef Jesse, the food tastes as good as the building looks. He serves up primarily small plates and, while both he and Luke say that Oxbow isn’t strictly thematic, there is a decidedly Alpine undertone to the menu. Food from Northern Italy, Southern Germany, and eastern France predominates. During my visit, I feasted first on a handmade pretzel topped with Parmigiano Reggiano and served with hot honey mustard. Next was a risotto and mozzarella-stuffed arancini served in San Marzano sauce (a sauce so good I hugged Jesse before I left). A plate of fried pickerel cheeks served with lemon and curried aioli rounded out the diverse and creative menu.
Oxbow was the first spot in Winnipeg to have an entirely natural wine list, something they feel is in keeping with the city’s spirit as a blue-collar town. As Luke says, “[We’re] not looking to be fancy, we’re looking to be honest,” and serving chemical-free, small-production wines is a part of that philosophy.
I was curious about what Luke and Jesse thought about South Osborne and what made their little pocket of the city so special. Luke points out that the culinary scene in the area is fast growing, saying, “A lot of places are less than 5 years old.” They both agree that the street has a younger vibe than the city in general and that it’s not that things are very different in Osborne’s culinary scene, per se, but rather that the people and places are young. As Jesse said, the area has “got a lot of new blood.”
3. The Chanterelles At Tabula Rasa
Opening a restaurant during the pandemic certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, but that’s exactly what the team at Tabula Rasa did. The process wasn’t without its moments of anxiety, but the buzz since it opened in August 2021 has made it worthwhile.
This small-plates joint features Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine and a superb wine list. Chef Matt Edmond told me he was heavily influenced by a food and wine–themed trip to Spain he took while still in culinary school, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t an ardent fan of Winnipeg’s local ingredients. When I asked about some of his favorite local items, he enthused, “The berries are phenomenal!” and added that local honey is another standout. And those old garden standbys, tomatoes and cucumbers, inspire him again and again, adding: “Those two ingredients can go so far and do so many things”.
During my early September visit, timing was on my side because it was chanterelle season. I savored squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese as well as a beet salad that was delicately flavored with orange zest, but it was the chanterelles in an herb emulsion that bowled me over. They were so silky, they tasted like butter!
4. Quick Eats
My experiences at BMC Market, Oxbow, and Tabula Rasa represent just a small portion of the terrific food you’ll find along South Osborn Street. Other neighborhood favorites include Little Sisters. This inclusive, socially minded coffee shop roasts its own beans and even makes its own vanilla syrup. I know for a fact that the team at Oxbow loves serving up Little Sisters’ beans, as Luke was heading there to pick some up just after my visit! The neighborhood spirit is strong here — Oxbow also sources the caramel for their seasonal salted caramel latte from nearby Vera Pizza. (Vera’s Neapolitan-style pizzas are the stuff of legend!)
Those looking for something a bit different will love Park Alleys. This five-pin bowling alley serves up nachos, wings, burgers, wraps, and pizza.
5. Osborne Street
As a bookworm, Osborne Street is a go-to destination for me in Winnipeg. Both Nerman’s Books & Collectibles and Burton Lysecki Used Books are always on my radar. They’re excellent places to search for rare early editions and more modern affordable reads. Another top spot to have on your radar is Game Knight, which sells board games, role-playing games, miniatures, and more
Foodies will appreciate Black Market Provisions, which is home to wonderful gourmet food products that would inspire any budding chef, and the Zen Chocolate Bakery is a cozy little spot to pick up a gift for someone special (and it smells amazing!)
In the middle of all the Osborne Street action is Park Theatre, a live music and event venue. The building once held an independent movie theater, established in 1914. It was in business for 73 years before shutting down, and the property became vacant for a spell. Now it’s home to concerts, dance parties, movie nights, drag shows, comedy events, and more.
Editor’s Note: As Vanessa has written before, Winnipeg at large is a go-to destination for book lovers.
How To Get There
Winnipeg is the capital city of Manitoba. There are easy air connections to most major Canadian cities as well as several in the United States (including Los Angeles, as Winnipeg has its own booming film industry).
For those keen on driving, Winnipeg is less than 4 hours north of Fargo, North Dakota. Train enthusiasts will be happy to know that Winnipeg is linked to major Canadian cities like Toronto and Vancouver by rail.
When To Visit
Winnipeg is a year-round destination. The city’s winters are notoriously tough, but locals make the most of the conditions, and culinary events take place in all weather.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because February is frigid, Winnipeg must be cold all the time. During my early September visit, the temperature was just shy of 100 degrees Fahrenheit!