A short commute south of Calgary, Okotoks has a history stretching back to the last ice age, when the nearby Big Rock, North America’s largest glacial erratic, was deposited. Today, much of that history is overwhelmed by the development of an exploding Calgary bedroom community. Yet it’s possible to find fine eats here, both new and old, representing two international cuisines a continent removed.
I don’t expect to find authentic Mexican food in Okotoks. And yet here in a prototypical strip mall, *Las Maracas is serving up excellent, Mexico City-style fare. What this means, for example, is a number of inexpensive tacos that focus my taste buds squarely on the slow-cooked pork or beef ribs that co-owner Beatriz Ramirez is cooking for me and piling on small tortillas. None of this sliced cabbage topping or other distracting fillers. Just the meats, which I can bolster, if I choose, with spoonfuls of mild or kick-ass, house-made sauces.
My dining experience is enhanced by a scattering, around the restaurant, of fantastic alebrije, or papier-mâché figurines. That and the server setting down on my table a couple of maracas, or gourd-shaped rattles. “Shake them if you want something, and I will come,” she says. I’d love to shake them for some enchiladas with mole poblano, but it will just have to await another visit.
153, 71 Riverside Drive, Okotoks
Tuesday-Wednesday 11 am-9 pm, Thursday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday 11 am-8 pm
Bistro Provence has arguably the best historic location of any restaurant in Alberta. It’s housed inside a 1880s’ post office building, with pressed-tin siding designed to look like stone. It’s the perfect venue for one of the province’s top traditional French restaurants. Through one name change and three owners, it’s maintained a commitment to old-world excellence in food and service.
At lunch, for example, owner Ed Povhe is my waiter, delivering scalding hot pumpkin soup and a nice prosciutto and pesto panini prepared by his wife, Marcella (the executive chef is from France, of course). There are nice local touches such as the pungent goat cheese from Fort Macleod and the dense multigrain sourdough bread. It’s French, so it’s not cheap, but still good value for this level of dining.
52 North Railway Street, Okotoks
Tuesday to Saturday lunch 11 am-2 pm, dinner 5:30 pm-closing. Closed Sunday and Monday