pop up

Mello’s makes the best hamburger I’ve ever eaten

Last year, the owner’s of Mello’s came up with a cool idea to breathe new life into the 70 year-old diner. A permanent “pop-up.” Why not open in the evenings, reinvent the menu and offer new takes on old classics? Steak, burgers, noodles, dumplings and sandwiches have been elevated to a supernatural level, all wonderfully executed and kindly priced. The basic yet envelop-pushing dishes are some of the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

The word “best” is bandied about so indiscriminately these days that its true meaning has been distorted. “Best” has become slang-fodder for anything that’s remotely good, pleasing or enjoyable. But it should be reserved for a supremely incomparable, truly award-winning and momentous thing or occasion. So allow me to restore “best” to its original luster and speak about something that is world-class, top-grade and truly “the best,” the Mello’s Burger.

Now I’ve seen a lot of things, been to a lot of places and eaten a lot of burgers in my lifetime. Shake Shack, In-N-Out, Craigie on Main…all glorious. But I’ve never ever, NEVER EVER been sent to hamburger heaven as I did that night I visited Mello’s.

A flat-top griddle is used to sear the patty, creating a crunchy caramelized crust and a juicy center. The beef was beefy and each bite oozed with luscious flavour. Served on toasted bread, the burger experience was made all the more memorable with a just-right melding of cheddar, onions, mustard and pickles. This burger, folks, is a thing of beauty.

There is plenty of other fare to be had that is equally as delicious. My pals devoured the scallops with chorizo and rosemary cauliflower puree. It was declared a winner! My side-salad was huge, big on flavour and included a creative combo of ingredient (celery root, eggplant and mint dressing.) There is an inventive but affordable take on a braised beef sandwich with fermented chili sauce, daikon sesame slaw and rings. I spied guests devouring the roast pork cubano sandwich, which is made up of ham, spiced mustard, Swiss cheese and pickles. That’s on my list for my next visit. But really, the ultimate champion of the evening, was without a doubt the Mello’s Burger. It was, truly the best!

Photo source: Ottawa Citizen

Salad: Celery root, eggplant and mint dressing.

Mellos Restaurant on Urbanspoon

El Camino. Go for the tacos but stay for the salad.

El Camino┬áis the most trendy, of-the-moment, “it” hot-spot in Ottawa right now. Imagine a taco stand that’s achingly cool and a haven for O-Town’s social butterflies. Taking no reservations and making eager diners line up forever-and-a-day to gain entry only serves to perpetuate its mystique. But make no mistake about it, the food is worth the wait.

This gourmand outpost built its fast-developing reputation on the strength of the tacos. The tacos are what has lured most. And the tacos are good. Delicious, in fact. We sampled four of the five on the menu: Beef, Cripsy Fish, Pork and Ox Tongue. Surprisingly, the latter was the favourite of the bunch. Tender charred meat was well married with the sloppy collection of sauces, spices and toppings. The fact that the “winning” taco was delectable helped with the reality that I was tasting something that could once taste me back.

But if you’ve come for the tacos, please stay for the salad. What was a throw-away suggestion (…wanna try a salad?”) turned into a gastronomical event of epic proportions. I’m talking about the
Green Papaya Salad. This noteworthy gem combines strips of green papaya, bean sprouts and tomatoes tossed with fish sauce, peanuts, garlic and lime juice. This salad cleverly achieves the artful balance between sweet, spicy, tangy and amazing.

Now, am I suggesting that you run to El Camino to set your place in line with the mob of foodies, stumble-upons and downtown hipsters? Uh, yes. But once you get in, just don’t forget to order the salad.

El Camino is located at 380 Elgin St. in Ottawa.

Starting from the left, pork, fish, tongue and beef tacos.

El Camino on Urbanspoon