From dreamy diners and sparkling fruit drinks to Korean street food and Asian fusion, St. James is not short of unique, locally owned options.
Our regular guest columnist and all-round man about town Carter Chen takes you to two brand-new spots, along with one from last year you shouldn't miss in his first column for 2023
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Dreamland Diner | A retro 50s diner with ice cream, milkshakes and old school fries - 2615 Portage Avenue
I took a blast into the past and checked out Dreamland, Winnipeg's only 1950s-style retro diner. When you enter you're greeted with a sign that says "Ice Cream is Good For You" and a pink piano that lets you know "Dreams Do Come True."
The attention to decor and details are amazing; I felt like Marty McFly in Back To The Future taking the DeLorean to 1953, with "Mr Sandman," Elvis, and Buddy Holly music playing in the background. The Dreamland Diner menu is simple and has all the classics–hot dogs/smokies, chicken fingers, fries/poutine, ice cream, shakes, and sundaes, much of which is made using local products like Winnipeg Old Country Sausage and Gunn's Bakery. I sat in one of the fire engine red tables watching cartoons on a black and white TV while enjoying a s'mores poutine, Dream Shake, and smokie dog.
Kids will love this place. Dreamland Diner has a "kids only" dance floor that has activated–disco lights and all–at the press of a button! I had so much fun, and my heart was warmed as I saw a couple in their 80s slow dancing, re-living their youth (you could say, "kids only" and "kids at heart" when it comes to hitting that checkerboard floor). The whole place has the vibe down, and there's nothing like it in the area.
(2515 Portage Ave. Hours: Monday-Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.)
Tring5 | Sparkling carbonated fruit drinks and Korean street food - 3305 Portage Avenue
A bright and beautiful new dessert cafe, Tring5 offers uncommon food and drink menu items I've never seen before in Winnipeg! They make "sparkling ades," which are carbonated fruit drinks that they can seal in front of you that are so tasty and refreshing. They also have a huge fruit smoothie, ice cream and coffee menu. I highly recommend the affogato, which flips the original Italian version on its head by presenting it in the form of a sundae, with the shot of espresso poured over top of the vanilla ice cream.
What sets Tring5 apart from other cafés I've visited is its Korean street food options. They have numerous Tring Bowl combos, so you can choose from options like spicy gochujan pork and Korean BBQ. They come with a side of mashed potatoes, macaroni salad, and spring rolls. It's a loaded meal. I'm also a big fan of the Triangle Rice, which is rice wrapped in nori with a lot of meaty goodness in the middle making for an awesome snack to go (the packaging is pretty cool too).
Lastly, they make the best Japanese pon de ring donuts (they have a fluffy mochi base, and are something that has started popping up here in Winnipeg at a few other spots). Whenever you have a sweet or savoury craving, Tring5 will definitely satisfy.
(3305 Portage Ave. Hours: Monday - Tuesday closed; Wednesday - Sunday 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.)
Damecca Lounge | Cool spot right beside CF Polo Park with a menu that aims to offer something for everyone - 305 Madison Street
If you're looking for a fun and fresh spot to meet up with your friends for drinks, to connect with a business partner for lunch, or perhaps even an intimate dining experience, Damecca Lounge covers all bases. I love the vibe here; the menu has a great variety of dishes from mushroom truffle pappardelle and XO scallops spaghettini for pasta lovers, to torched salmon pressed sushi, poke bowls, tacos, Thicc Boy burgers and chicken katsu sandwiches on fluffy white bread. Normally such an expansive menu is tough to pull off, but the kitchen at Damecca really seems to do it all to a high standard. They also have starters that don't stop, like bang bang shrimp and, of course, chicken wings.
The local beer selection is great, as are the craft cocktails like the passionfruit margarita and gin sour. The room is spacious and the natural lighting is great for taking photos for a special event, as I can attest after attending a friend's recent engagement party here. Damecca Lounge also has a large, bumping patio come summertime. If you're in charge of picking the spot for your next group outing and need to ensure there's a number of cuisines covered, choose Damecca Lounge.
(305 Madison Street. Hours: Monday - closed; Tuesday - Thursday 4:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m.; Friday-Saturday 4:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.; Sunday 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.)