As Ontario-based theatre critics, we spent a lot of time in Stratford. Over the past decade and a half, we’ve tried a lot of places and developed a few habits. Here’s the low-down on where to go, what to get, and the places to avoid.


Our go-to in Stratford has always been Fosters Inn. For years, they were our season hotel sponsor because they have the nicest rooms in the best location in town but the restaurant is really the reason to go. I find their dinner offerings a little pricey but all the best stuff is available at lunch anyway. The real winner is the perfectly cooked fries (unbattered but not too limp, they have a really identifiable relationship with actual potatoes which is my favourite thing a fry can have), served with the housemade aioli. They come on the side of the excellent grilled cheese or the pretty decent (for Canada) burgers (or, at dinner, the yummy but expensive steaks) but don’t be afraid to order them to go with your entrée salad. A friend and I once went to Fosters for breakfast then stayed long enough to order lunch; they don’t judge. Speaking of which, I assume their breakfast is as great as ever but I never make it in on time to catch it anymore. If you’re lucky enough to stay upstairs, don’t miss out on the eggs benny in the morning. If you’re just stopping by for a meal, though, be sure to make a reservation or you’ll have to try your luck with the first come first served patio.


Another excellent option in town at a similarly high price point is Mercer Hall. The food is great but it’s definitely an investment (we paid nearly $200 for two people). A mix of American and Asian flavours, Mercer has a great atmosphere and an inspiring menu where venison steamed bao, southern fried chicken, and carrot cake make perfect sense together.


The other place I like best in Stratford is a lot more low-key. Stratford Thai Cuisine. Unpretensious, unfussy, decently priced (especially at lunch), and quick with pre-theatre service, Stratford Thai is my go-to when I’m on my own.


I’m not in town during the week as often as I’d like but, when I am, I hit up Sirkel Foods for one of their great sandwiches. An excellent grab-and-go option, it’s a shame they’re not open on weekends but it does make the place feel a little bit like a locals-only secret, which can be fun.


Of course the places I actually spend most of my time are the coffee shops. Sitting with my laptop after a show, the only thing that makes writing in Stratford less than perfect is the fact that the actors you’re writing about may walk in at any moment. The classic is Balzacs and their vanilla lattes and magic bars are every bit the treat they were when they were the only player in town (and Stratford had the only Balzacs) but nowadays with Balzacs so ubiquitous around the province, it’s nice to stop into one of Stratford’s one-off places. Revel is the nicest space, with deep armchairs and walls adorned with festival posters and a massive Mark Uhre canvas that always fills me with glee. But their drinks are pricey and their service can be a bit gruff. Plus they got rid of that all-time-great coconut latte I could never say no to. These days my favourite place is The Livery Yard. Right across from Fosters so seconds away from the Avon Theatre, the Livery Yard has good pastries, great service, and a lots of room to sit and work without feeling like you’re in anybody’s way.


Which brings me to the one and only unmissable food place in Stratford- Rheo Thompson Candies. Every year, I spend way too much money in Rheo Thompson but not because it’s over-priced, because I’m a glutton and they make my very favourite chocolates in the whole world. I usually pick up a box of vanilla caramels wrapped in milk chocolate plus some fruit jellies and orange smoothies from the prepared displays in the charming store (it’s often a little crowded but with its cool temperature and pleasant uncool playlists of, like, Elaine Page or something else nice your mom likes, it’s such a lovely place to be) then I head to the counter and order a box of mixed favourites from the display case (chocolate covered orange slices and apricots are my favourite, and I always take a marshmallow and some of the bordeaux and maple creams as well). Don’t get sucked in by one of the other chocolate places in town (or literally anywhere), Rheo Thompson is the very best.


If you’re looking for more of an eat-now treat, Angela’s Gelato is also a really nice addition to the downtown core.


The only places I’d tell you to actively avoid are the fish and chips. Both Annie’s Seafood and Fish Time left me pretty underwhelmed but Fish Time is at least conveniently located, fast, and moderately priced. Annie’s is none of those things.