The bargain eats in Calgary keep coming. Here’s a second list of good city places to eat at for less than $10. Enjoy the delicious savings. I’m actually starting with an outstanding spot just outside the city, in Bragg Creek. And at the bottom of this post, reader Lynn Martel shares a favourite road dining experience in Terrace, way up in northwest British Columbia.
If you’re heading southwest of Calgary for a hike or bike near Bragg Creek, be sure to stop at *Creekers. My new go-to spot in the hamlet, it’s a deli/market/bistro where the food is both delicious and, for now, inexpensive. At breakfast, owner John Czarnojan whips me up an outstanding, steaming omelette stuffed with Valbella ham and portabella mushrooms and accompanied by crispy hash browns and nice toast ($10). Lunch features include an Italian flat bread Reuben ($7) and my choice of a fire-roasted turkey meatball and provolone cheese sandwich ($8) on a perfectly toasted ciabatta bun; both come with a scoop of potato salad. But the best deals are at supper. Where else can you get a half, oven-roasted chicken dinner—with yam mash, veggies and corn bread—for $12, sesame-crusted salmon for $13 or a Friday night prime rib dinner with Yorkshire pudding for $16? Not surprisingly, you have to arrive early for the latter, which quickly runs out.
20 White Avenue (second entrance to Bragg Creek if arriving from Highway 22 North)
Daily from 8 am
It’s 11:30 am midweek, and I’m driving in circles trying to find an obscure spot in an office park near Deerfoot Trail in northeast Calgary. So imagine my surprise when I enter Scarpone’s Italian Store Café and find a lineup of people waiting to order. The reason is simple. Most Italian fare, I find, is fairly pricy, but this place is cheap. Dirt cheap. How about $4 for a large, thick rectangle of pizza, $7 for a slab of lasagna or $4 for a big bowl of soup laden with chicken? At $8, my calzone-like panzarotti is a substantial meal, with slices of Italian meat and cheese in a tomato sauce, all tucked inside a slightly too-doughy pastry. While not gourmet Italian food—it’s cafeteria style, with many items kept warm in fast-emptying steamer trays—it’s good quality, it’s efficient and (did I mention?), it’s cheap. The bargain prices are a reflection of the family Scarpone business, which produces a wide variety of Italian foodstuffs next door. The Salumeria Groceria, attached to the café, is a great place to stock up on cans of tomatoes, olive oils, cheeses and the like, at much lower prices than most Italian groceries in the city.
Scarpone’s Italian Store Café
5130 Skyline Way NE, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 9 am-5 pm
It’s not often I want an apprentice preparing my lunch. But at The Market at the Culinary Campus in a downtown Calgary office tower, it’s students in SAIT Polytechnic’s highly regarded professional cooking program producing the meals. Albeit, it’s under the watchful eye of flinty instructors; in my case, said supervisor even shows the callow cook how to load and slice the sandwich. Opened last September, the cafeteria is a gleaming, open space, with hanging cookware worthy of a big-hotel kitchen. You line up at different stations and order one of the day’s two featured items—such as tempura fish or Thai curry chicken (Braise station) Thai pork curry (Saute) or a prime rib sandwich (Rotisserie); the average price for any main is $8.50. My sandwich is a soft, fresh roll filled with a succulent orange-sesame pork belly, though the crackling is a little hard on my teeth. The market is a grab-and-go place, with most customers carrying plastic boxes to a scattering of mezzanine tables or upstairs offices. The servings aren’t as big as at the Sunterra Markets. But it’s good, quick food at reasonable prices for the heart of downtown Calgary.
The Market at the Culinary Campus
226, 230 8 Avenue SW (Stephen Avenue Mall), Calgary
Monday to Friday 8 am-4 pm (hot lunch 11 am-1 pm)
Walk into KOOB, and it’s tempting to think you’re in one of those generic, assembly-line sandwich places; the sub-title “The Kabob Factory” probably doesn’t help. That’s because there’s a couple of guys behind a glassed counter asking a moving line of customers what toppings, from a dozen containers, they want added to their “koobwiches” ($7 to $8.50 for a substantial single). The difference here is the quality of those toppings, mostly house made and piled aboard a large pita. They include hummus, basil tomatoes, a fine corn and bean salsa, onions sprinkled with sumac and a nice red-and-green cabbage slaw. The showstopper is the kebabs—individual skewers of tender beef, chicken, lamb (my choice) or veggies—drippingly grilled over a flame and placed atop all the “toppings”. The last choice is picking a squeezed, hand-crafted sauce or two (say, a smoked chipotle or lemon dill garlic) and then watching the wrapped beast seared in a panini press. Because there’s only one table in this tiny, unadorned place, the final task is dashing to your car and scarfing down this juicy, tasty meal while it’s still warm.
5, 2015 4 Street SW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday noon-8 pm
How’s this for devotion? An Edmonton restaurant worker tells me he hopped on his motorcycle one day, rode 300 kilometres to Calgary for a Tubby Dog and then promptly headed home. My odyssey is only a few clicks to traffic-choked 17th Avenue SW, where I join a short line of aficionados in the delightfully shabby, retro joint, decked out in bold red and yellow colours, with Tubby posters on one wall and video games and a pinball machine along another. So why the cult following, especially for those seeking a post-midnight tube steak fix? It starts with good dogs, steamed and then grilled and plopped into fresh buns. But what puts Tubby’s over the top is the generous, creative toppings—ranging from mounds of cheese, bacon and potato chips in the signature A-Bomb to peanut butter, jelly and Cap’n Crunch cereal (yikes!) in the Cap’ns Dog. My Sumo features a refreshing mix of crunchy seaweed, pickled ginger and mild wasabi; the heat could be kicked up a notch. Nearly all the dogs are $7, so throw in a half order of yam fries and you’ve got a satisfying, distinctive meal for just over nine bucks. On Tuesdays after 8 pm, Tubby turns to exclusively tacos and tostados, at bargain prices.
1022 17 Avenue SW
Sunday to Thursday 11:30 am till late, Friday-Saturday 11:30 am-1 am, with window service till 4 am. Cash only
A lot of active outdoor folks who pass through Calgary make a pilgrimage to the city’s Mountain Equipment Co-op outlet, near downtown, to pick up affordable outdoor clothing and gear. To fuel up for the day’s hike or mountain bike ride, head straight across the street to the bustling Holy Grill for breakfast—try the bacon avocado crisp, featuring a fried egg—or a lunch panini (the bountiful Mr. Chicken also includes bacon) or double burger. Just about everything on the lunch menu is around $8, though a near-mandatory $4 side order of beet chips will put you over $10.
827 10 Avenue SW
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-4 pm, Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Don’t go to Puspa if you’re seeking ambience or trendy dining. Located in a nondescript brick strip mall in northwest Calgary, the Indian restaurant is dim and rosy-hued inside and appears untouched since the two Datta brothers opened it 20 years ago. But that means the focus is squarely on the food. As a result, you’re getting some delicious Bengal-style meal deals, especially from the short lunch menu (a nearby couple say they’ve been regulars for 15 years, and it’s always good). My chicken curry thali has big chunks of tender chicken breast in a nicely spiced sauce. Served on a compartmentalized steel plate (hence the term thali), it comes with hot, soft slices of naan bread, saffron rice, and an undistinguished salad—all for $9, including a rice pudding. I think I can forego ambience for that kind of value.
1051 40 Avenue NW, Calgary
Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am-2 pm, dinner Monday to Saturday 5 pm-9:30 pm. Closed Sunday
Now for a recommendation from Lynn Martel of Golden, British Columbia:
Haryana’s Indian (of the eastern variety) restaurant in Terrace, B.C. is in a roadside motel on the edge of town and the service is unforgettably slow, but TOTALLY worth the wait because every delectable morsel is made from scratch. The guys who work for highway avalanche control reportedly call in their order from the helipad, go home, shower, have a beer, then go to the restaurant and order another beer before their food comes. Legend is that the genius in the kitchen is someone’s grandmother, she speaks no English, but she is a virtuoso of Indian food. All dining should be this relaxed, and this good. Exquisite, nondescript hole in the wall.
5522 Highway 16 West, Terrace, B.C.
Got a Calgary bargain gem I’ve missesd? Want to share a great road-trip dining experience, even if it’s not in western U.S./Canada? Send it to me at email@example.com and I’ll try to post it.