Winnipeg’s West End is alive with the rhythm of many nations and cultures. Many local families can still trace back their roots to this area, as waves of immigrants have been making their homes in the West End since its earliest days.
As a result, this ethnically rich neighbourhood contains a cornucopia of rave-worthy hole in the wall restaurants and specialty grocery stores from countries around the world – along with some colourful murals representing all the nations that now call the West End Home. With all this diversity, the West End has become a destination for gourmands looking for authentic eats and hard to find ingredients.
Live music is also big in the West End, with the West End Cultural Centre being the main hub. Located in an 80-year-old church it provides a great place to catch a live band and is one of the greenest live performance venues in Canada.
Where to Eat
Vietnamese is big in the West End, with a couple real standouts that must be mentioned:
Pho Hoang has become the critic’s choice for some of the best broth in the city. Located in a strip mall on Sargent, owner Tom Hoang spent 20 years cooking all over Canada before he opened up this charming little spot with his wife Heather just a couple years ago. The pho is great, as is everything else on the menu.
Arguably the most popular Vietnamese spot is Viva Restaurant – especially in the winter when crowds gather to chase away chills with a hot bowl of pho beef noodle soup and sink their teeth into a banh mi. Of particular note are their “wrap your own” rice paper salad rolls. Meal times are also busy at Pho #1 as devoted pho fans enjoy their take on this traditional noodle soup that is filled to the brim with broth, veggies and meats.
Regulars from their old location on Osborne have rejoiced now that Vi-Ann Restaurant has re-opened its doors at this new West End location. They are known for their vermicelli dishes and their bubble tea, while word to the wise is to order the 139 Deluxe Seafood Birds Nest – a feast that’s fun to look at and delicious to eat.
A pretty eclectic hole in the wall is Cookatoo’s Restaurant, a mom and pop shop that serves mainly Malaysian fare, while cash only Double Greeting Chinese Snack House is another one of those “don’t let looks deceive you,” kind of spots. Inside this tiny building with a yellow sign you’ll find some big flavours for cheap prices, including pork buns, a respectable wonton soup, and some nice gai lan dishes.
With Winnipeg’s ever-increasing Korean population, it only makes sense that we would have some good restaurants to represent that spicy, pungent cuisine. In the West End, Kimbaek Restaurant is the top choice for people in the know, especially for their gamjatang (spicy pork neck bone soup) and haimool pajun (seafood pancakes).
Aside from Asian restaurants, the West End also has a great mix of other ethnic restaurants:
Since 1977 Casa Grande has been the spot for patrons in the know to carb up on North American Italian. They even have checkered tablecloths and candles in Chianti bottles, along with a façade that is covered by a giant mural paying homage Italy – what more could you ask for with your veal or pizza? In this sense, its Greek counterpart would have to be Homer’s Restaurant where you can get your moussaka, saganaki and souvlaki in a setting that features faux Ionic columns.
From crispy samosas to delicately spiced chickpea curry to smooth butter chicken, India Palace’s buffet is fully stocked with well-executed Indian food while Brit ex-pats in the Peg swear by Ducky’s Fish & Chips, a kitschy spot where the batter is light and crisp and the fries are cut thick.
Specializing in Nuevo Latino cuisine, Cafe Dario fuses North American ingredients with feisty Latin American spices. Their dinner speciality is a prix fixe five-course meal for only $39 that always features unlikely flavour combinations that fuse chef Dario’s Columbian heritage with local ingredients.
Places to Shop
Since 1959, Mordens’ of Winnipeg Candy Manufacturing has been satisfying sweet cravings with iconic confections. Toasted coconut marshmallows, roasted peanuts, world-famous Russian mints and specialty shaped chocolates, including a bison or maple leaf, make excellent souvenirs.
A personal favourite spot is El Izalco, where the charming Salvadorian owner Sarah Esperanza carries some of the best products from Central America. She also has a quaint lunch counter where handmade pupusa (a traditional Salvadorian dish where pork, refried beans, and queso fresco are folded into thick tortilla that is then grilled) and a damn fine chiles rellenos. Mercadito Latino is another fav spot.
The other two noteworthy ethnic food emporiums are Dong Thai and Dino’s, which are located across the street from one another and are beloved by the locals that frequent them. At Dong Thai owner Ms. Wong supplies just about everything you could want in ingredients from South East Asia (she’ll even give you instructions on how to cook things) while Dino’s 10,000 sq. ft. store is known as the place to buy spices in the city (the smells in the place are incredible) – along with everything else his clients from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Latin America may ask for.
A long-time business of the West End, Independent Jewellers has been at this location since 1937. The shop sells quality jewellery, luxury and fashion timepieces, and unique giftware. It also offers services like repairs, engraving and appraisals.
Find the perfect statement piece to complete a room at The Old House Revival Company & Antique Mall. This three-level home is filled with salvaged, vintage, antique and heritage building and decorating materials from past eras. You can even do some bartering for antiques here – which is always fun.
Prairie Studio Glass creates and sells stunning stained glass art pieces. Here, window hangings, lampshades, sculptures, jewellery, kits, and supplies are offered alongside stained glass classes in an on-site studio setting.
Top Things to See and Do
One of Winnipeg’s newest – and arguably hippest – hang out spots is The Good Will Social Club. Owned and operating by a bunch of creative types including DJs and baristas, this cozy room on Portage Ave features live music, themed events or some kind of happening every night. They do a nice job with drinks and they also house a Little Pizza Heaven location, where you can get quality slices for a good price.
The West End Cultural Centre is a great place to catch concerts by folk, blues, jazz and indie artists. Past recording artists who have played here include Feist, Great Big Sea and Jann Arden.
Bring the family to Central Park, where splash pad, soccer pitch, playground, skating rink and toboggan runs provide hours of entertainment. An ethnic outdoor market with live entertainment and vendors runs Friday evenings and Saturdays in summer. Between Ellice Avenue and Cumberland Avenue, Edmonton Street and Carlton Street.
Named after local six-time Olympic medalist, the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex is a community hub of fitness. There is a swimming pool with diving board and tower, water slide, sauna, weight room, fitness equipment, aerobic studio, indoor running track, outdoor skateboard park, lawn bowling, sports fields and library. In winter, there is also a speed-skating oval.
Along with special street signage, the Valour Road Commemorative Plaza and Valour Road Commemorative Mural honour WWI heroes Corporal Leo Clarke, Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall and Lieutenant Robert Shankland. The three grew up on the same city block of Pine Street (later renamed Valour Road) and each received a Victoria Cross for bravery.
The murals decorating the West End are internationally recognized and award-winning. They share the stories and history of the west end; its famous people and many cultures. The West End BIZ offers several walking tours (runs June to August). Tour the amazing murals, the tantalizing restaurants, or get creative with the new Hobbies Tour. See westendbiz.ca for details.