Calgarians still don their western duds for the annual Calgary Stampede, but the culture in the Prairies’ largest city matured from cowboy to cosmopolitan long ago. The food scene is experiencing a similar evolution; chefs are looking beyond Alberta beef and instead showcasing local game meats, grains and vegetables. A recent explosion of craft breweries has turned the city’s formerly flagging beer scene into one of Canada’s most exciting. New Asian-inspired eateries are offering creative takes on a variety of cuisines, while contemporary Canadian restaurants are turning root vegetables into menu headliners and busting the steakhouse stereotype.
OEB’s breakfast menu kicks it up a notch with dishes that combine ingredients such as roast pork and black truffles with poached eggs, but it’s the incredibly crispy potatoes, double fried in organic duck fat, that always steals the show.
If you’re craving some Alberta beef, few places make a better burger than Naina’s. The friendly eatery specializes in stuffed patties filled with everything from spinach to bacon and caramelized onions.
Try Anju (meaning food you eat with alcohol in Korean) for its spicy and salty bites. Chef/owner Roy Oh pays homage to Korean cuisine by adding modern twists to create dishes such as oxtail tortellini and prawn potstickers.
A Classic Experience
Break up your walk along the popular Bow River Pathway with a picnic lunch in Prince’s Island Park. The island’s elegant River Café Restaurant packs picnic baskets, from June to September, full of house-made goodies. Grab one and find a patch of grass or sun-warmed riverbank rock to enjoy a sandwich of cured meat and house-churned butter on freshly baked sourdough. Snack on cheese and crackers, vegetables and red lentil hummus and finish off with seasonal fruit. Come back in the evening to experience the restaurant’s constantly changing six-course tasting menu.
Three Must-Try Restaurants
Native Tongues’ interpretation of Mexican street tacos is impressively authentic. Staff at the downtown restaurant start the day by grinding imported Mexican corn to make fresh tortillas. These form the base for individual tacos of beef, pork or mushrooms topped with cilantro and served with salsa roja and verde. For the full experience, order one of the larger charcoal-grilled dishes—the slow-roasted lamb neck is a favourite— served family-style with a basket of tortillas and all the fixings needed to build your own tacos. Finish with The Giantess, a cocktail featuring tequila, amaretto, cardamom honey and lavender or a house-made doña (doughnut) for dessert.
Located in trendy Bridgeland, Shiki Menya will only serve about 150 bowls of the city’s best ramen every day before its homemade broth runs out. Go for an early lunch to guarantee a delicious new-school or classic bowl of steaming noodles, pork belly, egg and flavourful pork broth.
In two short years, Ten Foot Henry has become a towering fixture on Calgary’s restaurant scene. The vegetable-focused menu features chargrilled carrots with salsa verde, avocado, pistachio and crispy capers, and roasted beets with feta, hazelnut dukkah, lemon vinegar and dill.
“Having people from around the globe and locals who like to travel makes it easier to bring in new concepts, new ingredients and new ideas. Right now, I feel like anything is possible in [Calgary] and that’s a pretty great feeling.” —Chef Rodrigo Rodas, Native Tongues
Wine, Cocktails and Craft Beer
The rooftop bar atop the historic Simmons building is the spot to savour long summer evenings with downtown and river views. Order a glass of wine and dine on delicacies from the rooftop’s fire pit.
Proof’s long list of cocktails and massive wall of spirits behind the bar provide plenty of eye candy. Try the Fire in the Pharmacy—mezcal, ginger, honey and an Ardbeg scotch float.
Cold Garden’s communal tables, funky decor and dog-friendly tasting room creates a cheerful neighbourhood atmosphere. Beers range from experimental brews to a timeless Vienna-style lager.
Macarons, Ice Cream and Chocolate
Enter the canary-yellow, century-old home housing Yann Haute Patisserie and you’re likely to spend as much time picking out your treats as you will eating them. French-trained pastry chef Yann Blanchard’s wide selection of brightly coloured macarons range in flavour from salted caramel to matcha and black sesame.
On a hot day, stop by Village Ice Cream for locally made, small-batch scoops, including dairy-free options such as Oaxacan Chili Chocolate, made with coconut milk.
Looking for an edible souvenir? Chinatown’s The Chocolate Lab concocts bonbons and truffles that are as visually stunning as they are delicious.
[This story appears in the June 2018 edition of WestJet Magazine]