Why Halifax is the Worst Food City

Halifax is a city that punches above its weight when it comes to its culinary scene. We have loads of talent, a farm-to-table ethos, some fantastic pubs, and affordable upscale options (compared to bigger cities). Moreover, we are a quickly growing city, with more and more multicultural options every day.

Sure, we have high taxes and low wages and a housing crises and people can’t afford groceries….

But hey, look: There’s the ocean!

We must have great seafood at least, right?…. Right?! … …

A theme that I’ve noticed over the years is that newcomers to Halifax are often less than impressed with our food. An unpopular (but pretty true, if I’m being honest) observation about Halifax is that we are a city that not only accepts, but embraces mediocrity. I have a few theories about this, but in the spirit of not taking this post too seriously…

Let’s admit it, guys. We’ve got some questionable local foods. Let’s examine this for a minute.

10 Reasons Why Halifax is the Worst Food City:

1. The Donair

The official food of Halifax is literally factory-made beef loaf in a soggy pita drenched with a sauce made by curdling sweetened milk with vinegar.

It was invented because the locals here thought yogurt and lamb were too “icky”. So the Greeks had to make a few tweaks to their beloved gyros to make it more approachable for these most refined of palates.

Donairs are also impossible to eat like a well proportioned pita wrap. There is so much meat that it will explode once you unravel the tinfoil. The best course of action is to lay it down open-faced on a table and pick at it with your hands until you can see the pita. But more likely you will be hunched over drunk on the curb with a slurry of grease and sticky sauce dripping down your arms and onto your pants.

Most visitors come to Halifax expecting something civilized like a shawarma wrap, but they quickly learn what a pinnacle of civilization we are.

Buy My Book: Book of Donair!

2. Meat Paste Egg Rolls

Haligonians love our Canadian Chinese food: sweet and sour chicken balls, sweet ginger beef, sweet and sour wontons, lemon chicken, pineapple chicken….. Do you see the theme here?

The only thing we love more than sweet shit is mystery meat.

So what could be better than a crispy egg roll with some sweet plum sauce?

A crispy egg roll filled with mysterious meat paste, of course!

And just to add insult to injury, newcomers will open their box of chow mein only to discover a bundle of bean sprouts and nary a noodle in sight.

If it sounds like chop suey, it is. Except we sprinkle crispy packaged noodles on top and call it a noodle dish.

Why are we this way? Nobody knows.

3. Peanut Butter Burgers

When you ask a local for the best burger in Halifax or must-eat delicacies, you’ll likely be told by a wide-eyed local to try the peanut butter burger at Darrell’s. For decades, Darrell’s has been the most celebrated burger restaurant in Halifax and the peanut butter burger has been the most celebrated burger.

But at the end of the day, it’s just a burger with peanut butter on it, folks. It’s not unique to Halifax, but we sure do like them!

Read more about peanut butter burgers.

4. Halifax-style Pepperoni

The most coveted pepperoni is the dry aged stuff that curls and makes crispy little cups of grease. Not so in Halifax!

Halifax-style pepperoni is actually a type of Polish sausage, smoked and spicy, with kind of a dense emulsified meatiness.

It’s often enjoyed cold (in party trays with cheese), or deep fried with honey mustard dipping sauce (because: sweet).

So, you’d think it would be common to find this style of pepperoni on pizza in Halifax. But, no. This is Halifax and that would make too much sense….

Read More about Halifax-style pepperoni.

5. Halifax Style Pizza

There are several cities known for their questionable style of pizza. Just look at St. Louis-style pizza. Hell, look at Altoona-style pizza or Ohio Valley-style pizza.

Our pizza may not be on that level of bad, but the weirdest thing about Halifax pizza is the disparity between local acclaim and how our pizza is received by people who move here from other places.

Locals: “This {insert local shop} is the best pizza in Canada, hands down!”

(Why is it always hands down?)

People from literally anywhere else (including Cape Breton):

How can there be such incongruence?

Newcomers to Halifax are horrified to learn that we typically put our pepperoni underneath the cheese. We do this because pizza shops use really cheap deli meat style pepperoni and salami. Meanwhile, they showcase the industrial (out-of-a-bag) balls of indistinguishable sausage and bacon right on top!

The old school places (like Pizza Time or Sasy’s) at least have traditional pizza ovens and produce a pretty nice crust with a puffy edge and hint of char. Unfortunately, the vast majority of pizza joints in Halifax use conveyor belt ovens and are limp and sad.

6. Our Seafood

This waterfront lobster roll features a cold bun filled with shredded lobster and (mostly) pollock filler, and for some reason, tomato.

Nova Scotia has a long history of seafood cookery, but if you consult an old cookbook or a local’s kitchen, you’ll quickly notice that we love to overcook our seafood and drench it with butter and cream. That’s pretty much our whole repertoire.

Here’s a little secret, though: Tourists come here thinking they are eating all of this seafood straight out of the ocean, and that just isn’t the case. Yes, even your favourite fish and chips place is probably not getting its fish fresh from the wharf, but rather fish caught in international waters and frozen-at-sea.

We export our catch to the highest bidder, and then import seafood from Scandinavia and Asia.

I’m sorry. I don’t make the rules.

This doesn’t apply to lobster, sea scallops, oysters and mussels which are always local or local(ish). And there are obviously restaurants selling local seafood… just don’t assume that all seafood in the city is local. Even (or especially) from seafood restaurants.

I know of at least two seafood specialty restaurants that use twice-frozen haddock from China. And I’ve had countless bowls of chowder full of farmed shrimp and scallops from Asia.

I’m not gonna name names and ignorance is bliss, right? But if you see small scallops and big shrimp – I’ve got bad news for you.

Oh, and all of our salmon is farmed. Look for sustainable inland farms like Sustainable Blue or Cape D’Or.

7. And if you think we have good sushi, we don’t.

Alas, being oceanside also doesn’t guarantee good sushi. A strong market does, so ironically, places like Calgary have better sushi than Halifax. ‘Cus it’s not like sushi is made with raw fish off the docks. It’s generally frozen to a certain temperature in order to kill parasites and shipped around the world. So the international market does its thing. (The one exception is tuna. A very small handful of local sushi restaurants will occasionally get a bluefin tuna that has a shark bite (or some other flaw rendering it not exportable) and you can find amazing otoro when in season).

But none of that matters. The majority of Haligonians opt for all-you-can-eat garbage or base their loyalty on free maki rolls handed out to diners. The more sweet sauces and mayonnaise draping the smorgasbord of fruit and cheese and 5 types of fish the better!

8. Our Terrible Chicken Wings

In Halifax chicken wings are almost always breaded, but dry rubs are not particularly popular because Haligonians would rather toss their breaded wings in sauce for optimal sogginess.

For this reason, it is also common to order sauce on the side. In addition to hot sauce (true Buffalo sauce is rare), we tend to like sweeter sauces (of course) like honey garlic, maple this or barbecue that.

And they are expensive! The going rate is $17+ for a basket.

9. Our Inappropriate Use of BBQ Sauce

A platter of nachos drizzled with BBQ sauce

**Rant warning**

If I haven’t been clear enough: Haligonians love sweet shit. Our official food, after all, is basically a gyros with frosting on it. We love honey mustard, honey garlic and teriyaki sauce and we put them in the most inappropriate places. Pub menus are a case study in sweet Thai chili sauce.

Maple curry pasta? Barbecue sauce on a Philly cheesesteak?

Why not?!

How many times have I had to say “hold the honey (or BBQ sauce or sweet Thai chili sauce)” on a plate of nachos? Once would be too many.

But don’t get me started on BBQ Chicken Pizza.

Too late: I’ve started.

First of all, chicken doesn’t belong on pizza. I’ll die on that hill. But combined with sickeningly sweet BBQ sauce, it is simply a travesty I cannot bear. And if you think pineapple on pizza is controversial, guess what? We like to put that on our BBQ chicken pizza too, because: “need more sweet!”

10. The Chickenburger

One of the most iconic restaurants in Halifax is the Chickenburger, dating back to the 1940s. I am actually one of those weird locals who loves the Chickenburger, mostly due to childhood nostalgia. It was the place my family would stop on our way back into the city, and I would put Monster Mash on the jukebox while waiting for my order: a chickenburger with onion rings and a chocolate milkshake.

But newcomers to the city do not understand the popularity of the chickenburger, because they are expecting a breaded chickenburger like you would find at Popeyes. Oh, no…ho ho no.

A chickenburger is plain chicken meat in a plain bun, with the only condiments being the grease and steam from the meat.

I find a simple perfection in this. But most people feel flabbergasted and duped and rightly so. Jokes are made about geriatric cuisine, and that’s fine. I’m in my 40s now – a geriatric millennial, and I don’t need truffle oil, chipotle mayo and gochujang on everything I eat.

Overpriced conventional frozen fries and onion rings round out the meal. The milkshakes, by the way, are like drinking melted ice cream. Thin and terrible. Yet they always win awards for best milkshake in the city. Go figure.

So, what do you think? Are you a newcomer to Halifax and feel validated by my post? Are you a triggered local? Are you ambivalent, as am I? Is this an April Fool’s joke? Either way, I hope you enjoyed the post and didn’t take it too seriously. If you are a regular reader you know I love and promote the Halifax food scene… but maybe we need just a teensy bit of reevaluation?


    • I definitely was a triggered local reading this post. When you grow up with it you like what you like! Chris Brothers was my first job, I’ll always love pepperoni. BBQ chicken is delicious, even better when dipped in donair sauce You know what else is great? Donair egg rolls


      • I also love Brothers pepperoni 🙂
        My first job was at Big Red’s Pizza in Chester and it holds a special place in my heart. We are emotionally connected to the foods we grew up with, which is why I think this post has rocked the boat! And maybe it’s good to shake things up once and a while to gain a different perspective. Maybe I’ll even try BBQ chicken pizza again, with pineapple and donair sauce! Nah.. just the thought of it, blech. To each their own! Cheers.


        • Agreed! I haven’t had a good donair since Bash Toulaney’s and Island Greek shut their doors. And the F&C I’ve had in Newfoundland, Scotland and Australia (where you often get to choose between multiple types of fish!) blow ours out of the water. And I’m with you on pizza too, rubbery Saputo mozza is the same everywhere you go.

          At least I can get decent shawarma, Indian, pho, bahn mi (on Quinpool), and Thai, and dim sum that’s not bad, if not up to Montreal Ruby Rouge or Kam Fung standards.


          • I’m not totally sold on the banh mi shop on Quinpool – but I lived in Calgary for a few years where banh mi is the #1 street food. So I’m not super satisfied by the Vietnamese food here. I REALLY don’t like the Thai food here – I find it too sweet. Kofuku is an exception (and I haven’t tried them all). Where do you recommend for shawarma and Indian?

        • I agree in large part with your assessment.

          I’ve lived in Ireland, Toronto, the Caribbean, New York and now Halifax and the food scene here puzzles me more than anywhere I’ve lived.

          Seafood is better in the Caribbean, Toronto and New York. The pizza is sad, and I don’t understand why donair is a thing.

          The better restaurants are really just overpriced mediocrity with a few exceptions.

          When Le Bistro by Liz told me that hollandaise is supposed to be served cold on eggs Benedict it just cemented my view.


    • You are correct, most places don’t put the effort into it, more concerned about quantity not quality, also not many wood fired ovens . The pizza/donair scene is about making it for the cheapest they can . First generation opened the pizza restaurant and made millions of $ and 2nd generation are now big apt./condo builders and wouldn’t be caught in the restaurants their fathers worked in.
      Seafood is a disgrace, you need to source it local and not buy it pre-battered and frozen, leave that for the chip trucks. Burger week was a good thing at one time but now you have everyone trying to make the most expensive burger and give feed.Nova Scotia a $1.00


    • Mmmm the donairs, the eggrolls, the donair eggrolls, the pepperoni, and the PICTOU COUNTY pizza that I’ve had shipped here to BC’s Sunshine Coast (specifically: Sam’s Trenton or Acropole Westville). These are all items I’ve struggled to find any comparable replacement for out west. I’ve been out here long enough that I simply make my own donairs, and I never go to Chinese restaurants. Unless one arrives by courier, my pizza consumption is limited to the occasional bribe pizzas supplied by my employer. I’ve been to Italy, I’ve been to Chicago, perhaps the PC pizza isn’t typical, but it’s a dense, cheesy reminder that Brother’s pepperoni is amazing, pizza ingredients (except bacon) belong under the cheese and brown sauce rocks! I think I’ll go look look for a seat sale and call my mother to warn her she will have to make lobster rolls, pan-fried haddock and chowder soon! I’ll be off the plane and straight to the Country Market in Thorburn to pick up dinner rolls and coconut cream pie!


  1. Eduardo Jaber Bravo

    You just spoke truth! You know many of us work hard to plate different dishes in the city but there is a strong local culture that holds dear many of the things you just talked about. It’s definitely moving and growing and I think it’s still changing and like you I have hope


  2. I don’t even consider local pizza as pizza. It’s warm, spicy goo on a large piece of tasteless flatbread. Supposedly we are tied to the hip with Boston. Can we get at least one pizzeria that serves authentic North End brick oven pie a la Regina’s? (PS, Boston Pizza is NOT Boston style pizza.) And I simply can’t get started on Chinese. Granted, most of what North Americans call Chinese were invented on this continent, but Chinese throughout Nova Scotia is a terrible excuse for something normally delicious. Again, go out for Chinese in Boston and see if you can ever eat Bluenose Chinese again. (PPS, Egg rolls are round rolls made with a crispy Philo-like dough filled with fresh bok choi, onion, shaved carrots, and mushu pork-like meat, not thick, tough pillows of fried wonton with indistinguishable paste on the inside.)


    • 100% facts. I feel so validated and seen. Thank you. My theory has always been that it’s a combination of just not knowing any better and damned stubbornness that fuels the acceptance of mediocrity in a vicious feedback loop. Why try something else when you can settle for what you’ve come to accept is just the way it is? Rampant casual alcoholism doesn’t help, I guess.


  3. Chickens good on pizza

    All of this information is so depressingly true.. why do we accept this?! Why do we KNOW that the food we are about to order to our homes is mediocre at best and overpriced? Is it laziness? Is it acceptance to this cruel blue world? Is this all we have to look forward to?
    My only argument here is that chicken IS good on pizza, but maybe it’s just because our pizza is already garbage.. C’est la vie.. 🙁


  4. As a native bluenoser, I have fond memories of sitting on a stone wall in front of a church, ruining yet another perfectly good pair of shoes while demolishing that god awful culinary abomination, the donair. It hits a nostalgia need from time to time, like a lover that kicks you to the curb before texting “You up?” a week later.

    The rest is true. The pizza is horrifying, like bad lunch meat pinned between the wrong cheese and hastily rolled biscuit dough. The only pizza worse than Nova Scotia’s finest is Pictou County’s misguided attempt at making Nova Scotia pizza palatable. The lack of marketing appeal of the aptly monikered “brown sauce” is not lost on me.

    Nova Scotia is the only place I’ve been where there is more cooked sushi than raw, but somehow the fish becomes indistinguishable under all that sweetened mayo and imitation molasses or whatever the hell it is they put on there.

    It burns my ass that I live on the ocean and if I want fresh seafood, I have to go catch it myself or risk the dreaded man-in-a-van.


  5. Any place that was founded by people from the present day UK, have tasteless bland food. Thank god for immigrants and their spicy food.


  6. The food in Halifax has definitely gone downhill in recent years, or maybe even decades. Locals remember it the way it used to be- awesome Chinese (Great Wall dim sum for example), Indian, and great pub food. It just hasn’t been the same for a long time


    • I think some things have gotten better and some things have gotten worse. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and I think a lot of the places we used to love back in the day (with a few exceptions) probably wouldn’t hold up to today’s standards. 20 years ago the “best” burgers in the city were frozen pucks from Sysco. We underwent a bit of a revolution 10 years ago where the food got better, but now… mostly due to food costs and labour issues, I fear it is on the decline.


  7. I’m glad you led with the donair. Nothing worse. They are disgusting messes. The other thing that is somewhat related but left unsaid in this piece is the insane obsession so many places have with serving raw (usually red) onions on everything. Most get left on the plate.


  8. I feel like this sentiment could be applied to every major city curious if you have lived in other province or territory? Cause I can apply the same logic/standards to at least 2 other provinces- won’t name names though cause ignorance is bliss right?Curious to know what do you like about the Halifax food scene?


    • Well, if you spend any time on my blog you’ll see that I’ve spent the last decade promoting the Halifax food scene and showcasing all of the best restaurants. (You could also look at the date this was posted and consider that maaaaybe it’s a little tongue-in-cheek and not to be taken so seriously).

      Please click on the “Canada” tab where you can see my Iconic Canadian Food Series, and my “Alberta” tab to see content from Alberta (where I used to live). You can see all of my travel posts here.


  9. I have helped spread this exact message all around different countries I’ve visited.
    They see how shocked I am at how good the food is and they ask me where I’m from I tell them Halifax. They reply with I’d love to visit some day my response is always don’t … It’s overpriced and offers no good food
    It’s not the ingredients as much as it is laziness and greediness
    They open restaurants with way more space than they need in locations they can’t afford and they refuse to work in their own restaurants but instead they hire too many people they can’t afford to pay living wages and have no stakes in the restaurant so they don’t care about standards
    And they list a huge menu that the kitchen can’t handle so now to balance that they have to buy shitty ingredients and pre made frozen disgusting ingredients
    And all of this while under the impression that the customers are idiots who can’t tell what’s fresh and what’s frozen lol


  10. I couldn’t agree more with your comments. I thought I was the only one who thought this way. I haven’t had a real good pizza in about 30 years or so.


  11. I agree with most of this except 1)all the negatives you pointed out about donairs are positives, 2)Only place for real Japanese sushi is Sushi Shige and Doraku, 3)There is no such thing as bad wings unless they’re cooked to death and 4)The Chickenburger is attrocious to say the least. An absolute joke that people spend money there. Great article….!!


  12. I want to disagree and defend the local food scene, but if I look at it through an objective lens, I can’t. I’d kill for an authentic NY style pizza in this city. Also, having lived on the west coast, the disparity with the Chinese food you get in Vancouver to what you get here would make your head explode.


  13. I moved to Halifax a few years ago and to be honest I find the food here atrocious. I used to love going out to eat but since moving here I refuse to waste my money on 3rd. rate food. The first time I had egg rolls here I could not believe what was inside. I called the waitress over and asked what the heck it was. She was surprised
    that I did enjoy them. Also they deep fry everything and all things. I would give anything just to have a slice of great pizza!


  14. I think everything you said is true. Originally coming from Montreal, the one thing I noticed here is the lack of authentic affordable food aka “ hole in the walls” and local eateries.
    Visitors always ask me about seafood, and I have no answer unless you want to dish out loads or money or want your fish deep fried. ( best seafood in Halifax: John’s Lunch?? , are you kidding me.) Sushi, Thai, Japanese , Vietnamese restaurants are run by Chinese. Italian and pizza shops run by middle easterners. Rule, is you are using thin cut large slice pepperoni, it is acceptable to put it under the cheese….though real Italians don’t use pepperoni on pizza…..Pepperoni on top should be small round slice that cup and crisp and fill up with grease well you cook it on top of the cheese.

    Lebanese make great swarma, Portuguese make great roasted chicken sandwiches, Italian subs, pastries, pizza and pasta etc.

    I find here when someone is doing it right, it is expensive. A chicken burger at chicken burger should not cost 10$.

    The true Halifax scene now is south asian. Indian and Chinese.
    They are opening places that feature there local cuisine. Something that many Halifax locals are not interested in.

    Which is why IHOP, Deneys and Popeyes is doing well here.


  15. Janice Murphyingram

    This article is bang on! But we love donairs and “meat” egg rolls. So much so that I make my own donair meat and donair egg rolls….dipped in donair sauce they are delicious. Crispy, greasy, spicy and sweet lol. Cheers!


  16. When it comes to food there are no cookie cutters. Food has some emotional connection to many people. I live in Halifax for more than 2 decades and I have never tried a peanut burger. It simply doesn’t appeal to me. It doesn’t mean that isn’t unique and tasteful for some. In regards ethnic foods they needed to be modified so the bigger population will indulge and pay the bills. Similar in Texas there are many Mexican restaurants but nothing is 100 % original so they decided to use different kind of marketing and promote as tex mex food. Perhaps we need to do the same use Hali in front. Hali chickeburger, trademarked and that is it. If we don’t like something we could find a solution.


  17. When you move away from Nova Scotia these are all foods you miss. It becomes your comfort food. Oh how I dream of donairs and soggy chicken wings every time I cross the Atlantic. Even if you now live in France, with its glorious non-pasteurized cheese, charcuterie and raw meat there’s still a hole in your heart for local Nova Scotia goodness.


  18. I can’t really speak to the rest of this, but since moving to Chester I’ve been trying to aquire a taste for the sweet stuff they pass off as tomato sauce around here. I desperately want to be able to just order a pizza, but the last one from Big Red’s was so sweet, my teeth hurt. I’m counting the days until Il Ferramenta reopens for the season.


    • haha! Big Red’s is an acquired taste. My first ever job was dishwasher and then pizza cook at Big Red’s so I love that pizza but I totally understand that others might not.


  19. Having lived all over Canada, I agree with this article. I could get better seafood in Winnipeg .
    Also the pizza is so bad. What’s with the cardboard crust …..


  20. I agrea patially with this artical. Been living in halifax for a 5 plus years now and often visited here. Its hit and miss with alot of foods here. Pizza its not to bad but its not the best by far. Donnars some people may like them but they seem to put to much on the smallest pita and just make a mess out of it, ay as well just put it all in a bowl. Fats food is hit and miss around here. There are some good resteraunts in halifax but most are pretty expensive.


  21. Chicken burger I always get fried onions on mine and a side of gravy to pour over the chicken inside the burger! It’s so good


Post a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.