The best restaurant space in Calgary: The ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
I didn’t do many longer road trips this year. And when I did, they were firmly focused on hiking and backpacking, with road-food eats and drinks squeezed in where possible.
So instead of ending the year with my favourite new places of 2019, I’ve decided to highlight go-to spots in my hometown of Calgary. Places that I keep returning to because they are consistently good, comfortable, reasonably priced, independently owned and fairly close to where I live or frequently journey.
Breakfast Sandwich: Sunterra Market
The new Kensington Road location has a select supply of Sunterra’s usual, upscale groceries. But it’s the little, open kitchen that’s the highlight, with chefs quickly preparing grilled sandwiches and plates of pasta. The standout is the breakfast sandwich—eggs, glazed Modena ham and cheddar on a fresh-baked butter biscuit—for only $5.
At Sunterra Market Cafe, a chef offers a sample of the glazed Modena ham that goes into the fabulous breakfast sandwich
Sunterra Market & Cafe
2536 Kensington Road N.W.
Daily 6:30 am-9 pm
Coffee: Caffe Beano
Amidst all the third-wave coffee houses in Calgary, it’s an old standby I keep returning to, at least when I’m in the 17th Avenue SW neighbourhood. The Americano is full bodied (local Fratello Coffee Roasters beans) and the date bran muffin—black with molasses and impossibly moist—is the best in the city. And then there’s the colourful cast of characters who convene at the rabbit’s warren of tables every morning.
The date bran muffin at Caffe Beano is impossibly black with molasses
1613 9 Street SW
Weekdays 6 am-10 pm, weekends opens at 7 am
Brunch: River Café
I usually hate weekend brunch lines, menus and prices. But I make an exception for this elegant but relaxed space, a true oasis in the middle of a downtown park, where mercifully one can make reservations. The chefs have elevated standards like bacon and eggs and French toast to an art form. It’s the place to take a visitor or friend for a special breakfast or lunch; the dinner prices are out of my league. Honourable Mention: Deane House (also owned by Sal Howell) is equally enchanting and historic but was closed for much of 2019 because of flood damage. The good news is it’s reopening in late January.
Brunch at River Cafe is an enchanting experience
25 Prince’s Island Park SW
Weekend brunch 10 am-3 pm
Reservations online or at 403-261-7670
Sandwich: ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Café
The steak BLT might be the best deal in Calgary—$10 for a big sourdough baguette loaded, and I mean loaded, with tri-tip steak, provolone, bacon, lettuce, tomato and roasted garlic butter. It’s really two meals for the price of one. The real draw, though, is the most outstanding dining space in Calgary: 100 metres long, under a high wood ceiling. It’s almost a mini version of Calgary’s dazzling new downtown library.
The steak BLT at ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe is cheap and bountiful
ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
ATCO Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm. Closed weekends
Healthy Lunch: Community Natural Foods
This little lunchroom inside the health-food store has been around long enough that I take it for granted. But the buffet-style lunch features lots of healthy, affordable options from burrito bowls to burgers, both grass fed and plant based.
Greenery lines the dining space at Community Natural Foods
The Community Cafe at Community Natural Foods
1304 10 Avenue SW, Calgary
Weekdays 9 am-7 pm, Saturday 9 am-5 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm
Fast-Food Feast: Jerusalem Shawarma
After a long day of hiking or backcountry skiing, I often arrive back in the city in late afternoon or early evening, famished but with nothing in the fridge to assuage my hunger. The solution? A quick stop at my nearby Jerusalem Shawarma outlet, where a regular-size ($11), bountiful chicken shawarma wrap, loaded with veggies, garlic sauce and hummus, is ready in minutes. It may not be my top-ranked shawarma spot in the city, and it’s had some recent health issues, but it’s still quick, close and hits the spot.
Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma
480, 5255 Richmond Road SW, one of numerous Calgary locations
Daily 11 am-10 pm
Craft Brewery: Cold Garden Beverage Company
I made it a mission in 2019 to test many of the over 40 craft breweries that have sprung up in Calgary in the past couple of years. Cold Garden is definitely the coolest spot, with colourful walls, comfy couches and pooches aplenty. The beer is pretty damn fine as well, at some of the best prices in the city.
Cold Garden Beverage Company boasts the funkiest, dog-friendly craft-beer taproom in Calgary
Cold Garden Beverage Company
1100 11 Street SE
Tuesday to Thursday 11 am-midnight, Friday-Saturday 11 am-1 am, Sunday 11 am-midnight. Closed Monday
Honourable Mention: Annex Ale Projects has been around less than three years but is consistently experimenting with its brews; plus its taproom is a lovely spot for hanging out. Their new Howling Fantods (8.5% alcohol) is a double IPA favourite.
A flight of beers at Annex Ale Project
Happy Hour: National Westhills
What could be better: A great selection of local beers on tap (60 brews in all) and fine grazing, all at happy-hour prices every day of the week? National has me covered, and it’s only a five-minute drive away. My current go-to deals are a 16-ounce pint of Last Best’s Tokyo Drift IPA ($5), the two-patty Clive Burger and fries ($13) and the mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50).
The Happy Hour pizza and burger goes splendidly with a pint of local craft beer at National Westhills
180 Stewart Green, one of four Calgary locations
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
Cold Beer Store: Calgary Co-op
There’s a Co-op liquor store a few blocks from my house, and like most (all?) such Co-op outlets, it’s made a concerted effort to fill the cold-beer room with an impressive selection of local craft brews. In fact, I could probably try a different beer every week for a year without repeating my pick.
Co-op Wine Spirits Beer
4860 Richmond Road SW, one of two dozen Co-op outlets in Calgary
Daily 10 am-10 pm