Tag Archives: Alberta

Long Live Longview, Alberta

Mounir Berrah and his wife run the lovely Rustic Artisan coffeehouse in Longview, Alberta

Mounir Berrah and his wife, Yasmine, run the lovely Rustic Artisan coffeehouse in Longview, Alberta

Longview, a whistle-stop community along Highway 22 southwest of Calgary, used to be known as Little New York during an oil boom of the 1930s. These days, it might well be called Little Morocco, at least from a culinary perspective.

Longview is in the heart of southwest Alberta’s cattle country, so a steakhouse makes perfect sense. But one owned and lovingly operated by a Moroccan family? It doesn’t matter. Just go. As one online reviewer notes, if it’s a choice between a popular beef chain close to his Calgary house and a one-hour drive through the gorgeous foothills to the *Longview Steakhouse, it’s a no brainer. He’s getting in his car. Yes, it’s that good.

My $16 open-face steak sandwich might be the best lunch money I’ve spent this year. The locally sourced steak is a huge strip loin—with a red wine and pepper sauce—that flops over a hapless piece of bread, whose main function is to soak up all those juices. “My God, that’s huge,” I say. “You’re a hungry guy,” replies my friendly, lanky server, Samir Belmoufid.

Massive, tender steak sandwich and amazing apple-rutabaga soup at Longview Steakhouse

Massive, tender steak sandwich and amazing apple-rutabaga soup at Longview Steakhouse

Tender and flavourful as this slab of meat is, the real highlight might be the accompanying bowl of apple-rutabaga soup. There’s some magic going on in this unusual medley of flavours and underlying stock. Well-priced sirloin burgers, a Monte Christo sandwich and a Moroccan lamb sandwich round out the day’s lunch offerings, with tenderloin and New York steaks heading the pricier evening line-up (dinner reservations recommended, especially on weekends).

The Belmoufid family brought a long culinary history when they moved from Calgary to Longview in 1995. They’ve since run this high-end steakhouse in an unpretentious ranch house-style building, though they’ll soon be moving to a new, close-by building. A couple of brothers, their parents and a cousin are involved, and it shows in the close attention to quality, food preparation and personable service. You’re not likely to find a better steakhouse in the big  city.

Longview Steakhouse
102 Morrison Road (Highway 22) Longview, Alberta. 403-558-2000 for reservations
Lunch Tuesday to Friday 11:30 am-1:30 pm, dinner Tuesday to Thursday 5 pm-8 pm, Friday-Saturday 5 pm-9 pm, Sunday 5 pm-8 pm. Closed Monday
Longview Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

The family reach in Longview doesn’t stop at the steakhouse. A short walk down the road, sister Yasmine Belmoufid and husband Mounir Berrah have taken over the old Navajo Mug and turned it into *The Rustic Artisan, a great, cozy little coffeehouse. It features Phil and Sebastian beans that, strangely, seem to taste better here than at P & S outlets in Calgary—at least the double-shot Americano (hold most of the water) that Mounir expertly prepares for me. Maybe, it’s the mountain air. While there isn’t a proper kitchen, the owners scratch make the breakfast paninis, sandwiches, chile and chicken pot pies. “My wife is a trained pastry chef, so why wouldn’t we make our own pies?” Mounir says as he slides a big slab of apple-cranberry pie into a takeout container for me.

Could you resist a slice of this apple-cranberry pie at the Rustic Artisan?

Could you resist a slice of this apple-cranberry pie at the Rustic Artisan?

The Rustic Artisan
140 Morrison Road, Longview
Opens 8:30 am Tuesday to Sunday, closes 6 pm Tuesday, 7 pm Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 8 pm Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday. Note: Closed most of December 2013 and January 2014
The Rustic Artisan Longview Coffee Shop on Urbanspoon

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Healthy, scrumptious eating at Calgary’s Community Natural Foods

Lots of healthy, tasty choices at Community Cafe in Community Natural Foods

Lots of healthy, tasty choices at Community Cafe in Community Natural Foods

Hey, I’m hitting the road for a trip down the U.S. west coast (you know, Washington, Oregon, California), and the beast must be fed. If you have any good eatery/drinkery suggestions of places I “must” hit, please let me know. In the meantime, one last healthy Calgary meal.

I don’t know why, but I hadn’t eaten at Community Natural Foods in a number of years. Maybe it was the oh-so-serious vibe I was getting, at Calgary’s flagship health food outlet, about what people were putting in their bodies. But when I glanced into the store’s busy Community Café the other day, there were lots of relaxed-looking, regular folks (okay, there was one guy with dreadlocks) filling their lunch plates from the cafeteria-style stations. Better yet, there was a diverse selection of fresh, healthy food at reasonable prices. It all passed my eye test, to the point where I couldn’t decide between a $3 small slice of pizza, an $8 meat sandwich (yes, MEAT), wild rice cabbage rolls or one of the best salad bars you’ll find in the city. Both the hot dishes and salads are $2.49 per 100 grams, so there’s some incentive to not overeat, which is kind of the point, I guess, at a health food emporium.

I settled on a hearty chicken burrito ($8), which server Evan loaded with brown rice, mozza, spring mix lettuce, avocado, salsa, hot sauce and anything else my heart desired. It was a fine medley of flavourful food rolled tightly enough inside a large whole-wheat tortilla to permit only minor seepage down my wrists. My only criticism was the single cashier, causing a slight delay that could cool one’s food off during lunch rush hour. The only other problem was all the other dishes I could have eaten, like the pumpkin lasagna. Guess I’ll have to start making up for lost time.

It's by no means all vegetarian at Community Cafe, witness this hearty chicken burrito

It’s by no means all vegetarian at Community Cafe, witness this hearty chicken burrito. The fact it’s not swimming in cheese and sauce may make it less photogenic, but my heart appreciates the restraint

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

Lovely Lethbridge, Alberta and its Surprising Food Scene

The spectacular High Level Bridge spanning the Oldman River Valley in Lethbridge, Alberta

The spectacular High Level Bridge spanning the Oldman River Valley in Lethbridge, Alberta

Lethbridge is my favourite mid-sized Alberta city, with a burgeoning population that’s topped 90,000. Above all, it boasts the spectacular Oldman River Valley, incised by weather-shaped coulees and populated by giant cottonwood poplars on the river flats. If you’re travelling between northern Montana and Calgary/Banff, it’s well worth spending a couple of hours exploring the valley’s half dozen parks, linked by walking/cycling trails.

The valley is also home to two stunning landmarks: the Arthur Erickson-designed University of Lethbridge, built right into some coulees, and the old, long High Level railway bridge. Finally, there’s a considerable Mormon and Japanese influence, so you know things are generally tidy. Yeah, there’s the steady breeze, but not so bad as Crowsnest Pass to the west.

The Lethbridge restaurant scene is now catching up to all this natural splendour. Most mid-sized Alberta cities tend to be culinary wastelands, dominated by chain restaurants in new malls and tried-and-true steak and pizza joints. Not so LA north (Lethbridge, Alberta), where a growing number of independent places are devoted to excellence, local products and generally supporting their community.

These super-sweet tomatoes from Broxburn Vegetables are just the tip of the iceberg for locally produced foods around Lethbridge

These super-sweet tomatoes from Broxburn Vegetables are just the tip of the iceberg for locally produced foods finding their way onto Lethbridge menus

When I spend more than an hour in a coffee shop, it’s invariably because I’m glued to my iPad and its attendant email and Internet tentacles. But at *Cupper’s Coffee & Tea, I don’t even sit down and barely have time to sip one of the best coffees I’ve had in a long, long time—a formidably strong Costa Rican, carefully poured through a Chemex dripper by David. That’s because I’m locked in an intense conversation with owner Al Anctil about all things coffee. Suffice to say, he’s passionate about his craft.

David making a high-test Chemex pot of Costa Rican in Cupper's Coffee & Tea

David making a high-test Chemex pot of Costa Rican in Cupper’s Coffee & Tea

A former sculptor, Al—along with a thermodynamic PhD buddy and hot-rod building brother—built a complex roaster that allows the custom roasting of some 34 types of the world’s finest beans, none of which sit for more than three days. Cupper’s has only one, coffee-shaped table, with two chairs, so its espresso-based or drip coffees are mostly to go, though it does supply many local restaurants and cafes, including Anctil’s former business, Penny Coffee House. But it does have the most impressive collection of coffee- and tea-making machinery and paraphernalia I’ve ever seen. And it’s well worth picking up a pound or two of beans and getting on the mailing list. Cupper’s even ships beans to a financial company in Japan. It’s that good.

Cupper's owner Al Anctil and the sophisticated roaster he helped build

Cupper’s owner Al Anctil and the sophisticated roaster he helped build

Cupper’s Coffee & Tea
1502C 3 Avenue South, Lethbridge
Monday to Friday 9 am-5:30 pm, Satuday 9 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday
Cuppers Coffee and Tea on Urbanspoon

I’m not sure what’s better about *Round Street Café, the food or the story. First, the food. Let’s make it simple. Just order the grilled chicken, brie and avocado sandwich on multigrain ($8.50), the silky combination of flavours wonderfully complemented by the seedy bread. Add a soup or salad, if you wish, but make sure you leave room for a thick slice of fruit pie.

A marvellous grilled chicken, brie and avocado sandwich at Round Street Cafe

A marvellous grilled chicken, brie and avocado sandwich at Round Street Cafe

Now the story—this from Cupper’s owner Al Anctil’s perspective, since Round Street owner Bonny Greenshields is not around when I stop for lunch. A retired high school teacher, Bonny wanted to start a café and consulted Al, who spent the first two meetings fruitlessly trying to convince her not to. She ignored his advice and made the restaurant successful enough to be included in Where to Eat in Canada. But the real story is how she’s helped feed and otherwise help the city’s homeless and otherwise needy folks. So, the breakfast and lunch food is fabulous, but it’s Bonny’s contribution to community that’s the real winner.

Round Street Cafe
427 5 Street South, Lethbridge
Weekdays 7 am- 5 pm, Saturday 9 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday
Round Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Mocha Cabana is another Lethbridge restaurant devoted to fine food and community. It uses lots of locally sourced meat, dairy and vegetables and employs chefs in or graduated from the Lethbridge College Culinary Program. On weekends, they’re free to create three-course dinners, with local musicians playing in the background. But I’m here for breakfast and a delightful Mocha Scrambler. Despite the somewhat leisurely service, the dish arrives from the oven smoking hot, the cheese nicely melted with hollandaise sauce into fluffy eggs, riding atop a nice medley of pan fries, bacon chunks and red onions. It’s a filling, flavourful meal, washed down by a couple of good mugs of Cupper’s coffee.

A smoking hot, fluffy Mocha Scrambler at Mocha Cabana

A smoking hot, fluffy Mocha Scrambler at Mocha Cabana

Mocha Cabana
317 4 Street South, Lethbridge
Monday to Thursday 8 am-9 pm, Friday 8 am-10 pm, Saturday 9 am-10 pm, Sunday 9 am-4 pm
Mocha Cabana Cafe on Urbanspoon

Excellent Edmonton Eateries: Part 2

Dauphine Bakery & Bistro has a lovely downtown Edmonton space, despite the basement digs

Dauphine Bakery & Bistro has a lovely downtown Edmonton space, despite the basement digs

When I was a teenager in Edmonton, I used to walk through the Italian neighbourhood and its lovingly maintained residential gardens en route to Edmonton Eskimo football games. Many years later, that identity is, if anything, stronger, thanks in no small part to the Italian Centre Shop, in the heart of the community. Modernized and expanded to nearly a block by Teresa Spinelli after taking over from her late father, Frank, the store is a great place for weekend people watching. Customers can be seen hovering over peppers, fresh figs, pastas and tomatoes or lining up at the deli to order sliced mortadella, capicollo or Genova salami (ask for samples), along with a large selection of cheeses and olives. A good summertime strategy is to order a panini or pick up some deli cuts along with fresh ciabatta or pagnotta bread and have a picnic in the park across the street. You can also order thin-crust pizza (for a bargain $3 a slice or $11 whole) and an espresso, tossed back Italian style, in Spinelli’s Bar Italia at the store’s south end.

The Italian Centre Shop is as good for people watching as deli perusing

The Italian Centre Shop is as good for people watching as deli perusing

Italian Centre Shop
10878-95 Street (a second, smaller location at Edmonton’s southern outskirts: 5028-104A Street)
Daily 9 am-9 pm
Spinelli's Bar Italia on Urbanspoon

Another boyhood memory is having weekend dim sum at Moon’s Restaurant and shopping in the nearby market. Back then, Edmonton’s Chinatown, just east of downtown, was both an exotic attraction and a sketchy area peppered with unhygienic kitchens. The neighbourhood doesn’t look a whole lot different nearly four decades later, so it’s with mixed apprehension and interest that I enter the Veggie Garden Restaurant. The sparkling clean tables and washroom are reassuring, as is the kindly owner, who immediately informs me this Chinese/ Vietnamese restaurant is strictly vegetarian. Here, you could have fun fooling unsuspecting carnivore companions by ordering lemongrass “shrimp” or stir-fried “pork” and seeing if they could tell they were really eating tofu (actually, it’s never made sense to me why vegetarians would want to use terms like hot dogs or burgers to describe their food). In any event, the food is delicious, especially the shredded potato and jicama salad rolls and the sliced “chicken” in a slightly too sweet lemon sauce. Guess what? It tastes like chicken. My meal, including appetizer, is a ridiculously cheap $12; I have another meal from the leftovers.

The shredded potato and jicama salad rolls were a highlight at Veggie Garden Restaurant

The shredded potato and jicama salad rolls were a highlight at Veggie Garden Restaurant

Veggie Garden Restaurant
10582-100 Street, Edmonton
Monday to Thursday 11 am-8:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 11 am-9:30 pm, Sunday 3 pm-8 pm
Veggie Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

One part of downtown Edmonton that’s definitely been upgraded is the stretch of 104th Street between Jasper and 104th Avenues. The old brick warehouses and office buildings have been scrubbed and filled with trendy shops and cafes. Here you’ll find one of Edmonton’s coffee hotspots, Credo—with it’s Intelligentsia beans, thin, crisp cookies and homemade granola bars—and a newcomer, Roast Coffeehouse + Wine Bar, featuring a bizarre maple espresso with candied bacon; sorry, I couldn’t bring myself to try it.

Credo is a fine downtown spot for a java and thin, crisp cookie

Credo is a fine downtown spot for a java and thin, crisp cookie

But my favourite place along this downtown strip is Dauphine Bakery and Bistro. A lawsuit forced owner Linda Kearney to abandon her original name, Queen of Tarts. But she hasn’t lost the recipes for her fabulous lemon curd and white-chocolate pistachio tarts, carrot cake and smoked salmon and leek quiche. Plus, she’s somehow turned a downstairs location into a bright, airy space. What I really like is the attention to detail, whether it’s the antique silver sugar bowls or the dense, round sunflower or pumpkin seed breads that use natural leavening agents; they make great, sourdoughy toast. Yes, the cost of many things is a little steep, but you’re paying for quality and locally sourced ingredients. There are some lovely, reasonably priced lunch options such as a wild, smoked salmon plate with rye bread and organic greens or a Pan Bagnat sandwich, featuring marinated tuna, tapenade and arugula, served with a pea and fennel salad (both $13).

There are lovely antiques like this collection of silver teapots and sugar bowls at Dauphine Bakery & Bistro

There are lovely antiques like this collection of silver tea and coffee sets at Dauphine Bakery & Bistro

Dauphine Bakery and Bistro
10129-104 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday to Thursday 10 am-6 pm, Friday 10 am-7 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
Dauphine Bakery and Bistro on Urbanspoon

Amidst the leafy, upscale streets of Glenora sits the nicely appointed Vi’s for Pies. Here’ll you’ll find matrons gathering for tea and key lime pie, alongside businessmen and guys in pressed jeans meeting for lunch. As the name suggests, Vi’s is best known for decadent desserts like chocolate caramel cake and a strawberry shortcake gorgeously perched atop a three-berry scone. But it also has some tasty lunch items like the popular chicken pot or shepherd’s pie or the less filling roasted chicken bunwich. The best value, though, might be the half rack of pork ribs or the beef brisket, both $14.50 and slow roasted over pecan and apple/mesquite wood. Both come with two of the following four sides: little bowls of mac ‘n cheese, spicy potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw. Oh, and there’s a cheese biscuit thrown in for good measure. Suffice to say, after shovelling down this large meal, there’s no room for dessert, and I can only dream of raspberry lemon cream pie or apple pecan caramel cheesecake. Sigh.

There was so much food with my pork brisket lunch at Vi's for Pies, I had no room for the vaunted desserts

There was so much food with my pork brisket lunch at Vi’s for Pies, I had no room for the vaunted desserts

Vi’s for Pies
13408 Stony Plain Road, Edmonton
Tuesday to Thursday 9 am-10 pm, Friday 9 am-11 pm, Saturday 10 am-11 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Monday
Vi's For Pies on Urbanspoon

As the name suggests, The Next Act has long been associated with the rich arts scene in Edmonton’s historic Strathcona district, just off Whyte Avenue; the Fringe Theatre Festival’s headquarters are visible through the front windows. Before and after shows, patrons gather for a brew and a bite, sitting in booths or at high tables while perhaps eying an old black-and-white movie playing soundlessly on a corner TV screen. For the first act, I’d suggest ordering a local Alley Kat pint from the many beers on offer. For the second, go for one of the excellent, theatrically named burgers, such as my Director’s ($14), a succulent patty covered in avocado, jack cheese, stewed chilies and sufficient other fixings to stretch my jaw like a visit to the dentist. It comes with fries, but I advise paying a buck more for a good mixed-greens salad dotted with pea shoots, strawberries, halved grapes and slivered almonds.

Be sure to get a salad with a fine burger at The Next Act

Be sure to get a salad with a fine burger at The Next Act

The Next Act
8224 104 Street Northwest, Edmonton
Sunday to Thursday 11 am-1 am, Friday-Saturday 11 am-2 am
The Next Act on Urbanspoon

The folks at *Sherbrooke Liquor Store say they have the finest selection of beer in Canada, with more than 1,400 brands in stock. I believe them. Mind you, there’s no clue when I pull into a grimy strip mall off busy St. Albert Trail and push open the aluminum doors flanked by mirrored windows. But then I hang a sharp right into the walk-in cooler jammed with narrow aisles stacked to the ceiling with exotic beers from around the planet. Suddenly, I’m in beer candy land, and it’s all I can do to not empty my wallet on dozens of ales, stouts and hefeweizens I’ve never seen before. I restrict myself to three world-class choices—a Belgian Mikkeller Geek Breakfast beer (with a dense chocolaty, coffee taste for easing me into the morning), an outstanding Scottish Innis & Gunn winter treacle porter (like all their beers, aged in oak) and an Oregon Deschutes Brewery Red Chair, recently named the world’s top beer, though a little hoppy for me and much more expensive here than in the U.S. By now, you’ve probably figured this ain’t the place for your watery, bargain-basement 24-pack. And I’m sure Sherbrooke has a fine selection of wines and spirits, but I never give them a glance.

Just a small sample of the beers on offer at Sherbrooke Liquor Store

Just a small sample of the beers on offer at Sherbrooke Liquor Store

Sherbrooke Liquor Store
11819 St. Alberta Trail, Edmonton
Sunday to Tuesday 10 am-10 pm, Wednesday-Thursday 10 am-11 pm, Friday-Saturday 10 am-midnight

I venture into the basement of a downtown Edmonton office tower to visit a fast-food court. I’m at Chicken for Lunch for its signature hot and dry chicken, much loved by regulars. But really, I’m here just as much for its exuberant owner, Amy Quon. And she doesn’t disappoint. “Here, you need some skinny noodles with that. It will make you skinny,” Amy says as she ladles food into a Styrofoam container. When I tell her I’m from Calgary, working on a road food blog, she piles some ginger beef on for me to sample. At the rate she’s going, I’ll soon be fat.

Yes, it is food-court fare, sitting in steamer trays, though it’s constantly being replenished to keep pace with the daily lunch lineup. My nuggets of hot and dry chicken are crispy, a little greasy and mildly spicy, the chunks of broccoli and carrots crunchy and the skinny noodles providing a nice, moist base. But Amy, thinking I’m still too skinny, gives me the business card for her other family restaurant, The Lingnan.

Exuberant owner Amy Quon may be the main attraction at Chicken for Lunch

Exuberant owner Amy Quon may be the main attraction at Chicken for Lunch

Chicken for Lunch
10060 Jasper Avenue NW (lower level Scotia Place), Edmonton
Weekdays 7 am-2 pm
Chicken For Lunch on Urbanspoon

Excellent Edmonton, Alberta Eateries: Part 1

Delectable desserts at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

Delectable desserts at Duchess Bake Shop in Edmonton

I grew up in Edmonton in the 1960s and ‘70s, a pretty bleak era for eating out. Things have improved considerably (other than the potholes; my God, the roads are so bad, you don’t need to visit a chiropractor). The city, topping 800,000 in population, now offers a varied, multicultural food scene, though a notch below its bigger, richer Calgary rival. I’d give it a B rating overall, with still lots of room for improvement. For the value-seeking traveller, there are decent options but few standouts, with prices higher than you might expect. One exception, as you’ll see, is a surprising number of good dessert places.

Road trippers go to or through Edmonton for a variety of reasons including shopping at West Edmonton Mall, working up north in the oil sands or heading to the stunning, glaciated mountains of Jasper National Park, a four-hour drive to the west. The city also has a fabulous arts scene, especially its summer festivals, headlined by the Edmonton Folk Festival in early August.

I still spend enough time in Edmonton (family and work) to have tried out many of its eateries. Thus this rather lengthy post has been broken into two parts, with most of the best places (*) described in part one.

*Elm Cafe is about as modern minimalist as it gets, even for a predominantly takeout spot. The physical space—on the ground floor of a medical office building—is tiny, the four window stools nearly matched by the three people bustling behind the counter. The chalkboard menu is equally spartan: excellent, strong 49th Parallel coffee, a few fine, fruit muffins and the choice of two morning and two lunchtime “craft” sandwiches. The sandwiches change each day, and the best way to find out what’s on offer is to check the restaurant’s Twitter account. I go for a fried egg sandwich (the egg cooked alongside the rest of the sammy in the panini grill), with thick slices of bacon, black bean salsa and melted provolone. The available seating is pretty much taken up by a guy with two toddlers, so I have to dash back to my car on a chilly winter’s morning, unfold the butcher wrap and dig in. Fortunately, the sandwich is still warm, with the soft contents contained inside a first-rate ciabatta bun. All things considered, it’s one of the better breakfast sandwiches I’ve had. I return a few days later for an equally good muffaletta sandwich thick with Italian deli meats, artichokes, provolone and tapenade.

A fabulous fried egg sandwich from Elm Cafe

A fabulous fried egg sandwich from Elm Cafe

Elm Cafe
100, 10140-117 Street, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 7 am-5 pm, Saturday 8 am-4pm, Sunday 9 am-3 pm
Elm Café on Urbanspoon

You’ve gotta love a restaurant where the owner greets you at the door, takes your order and then heads to the kitchen to cook it… from scratch. Such is delightfully the case at the new *Nosh Cafe, where co-owners Jag and S. Vermaz both ask if it’s my first time in and patiently explain the South Indian menu. I’m particularly drawn to the novelty, for me, of a dosa—a plate-engulfing, slightly crispy crepe made from rice batter and lentils. My choice of a paneer masala dosa ($10) is loaded with spiced peas, potatoes, corn and cottage cheese cubes (the paneer). A knife and fork is provided, but S. encourages me to break off chunks of the dosa with my hands and dip it in what might be the best part of the meal: small dishes of slightly spicy chutneys, including a creamy coconut mix and a mint-cilantro blend, along with a tamarind sauce. It’s a three-napkin job, washed down with a fragrant mug of milky chai.

A large dose of delicious dosa at Nosh Cafe

A large dose of delicious dosa at Nosh Cafe

Nosh Cafe
10049 156 Street, Edmonton
Weekdays 8 am-10 pm, weekends 9 am-10 pm
Nosh Cafe on Urbanspoon

An authentic, first-class taco joint in downtown Edmonton? Hard to believe, but it’s true.  *Tres Carnales Taqueria is owned by three buddies—one Mexican, one Filipino and one Edmontonian. The other twist is that, other than the red snapper, all the meats, tortillas and breads are locally sourced, and the excellent guacamole and various salsas made from scratch. The result is fresh, first-class food, witness a healthy lunchtime lineup forming by 11:30. But things move quickly as people order at the counter then retreat to a handful of small tables or a long common table and wait to be served. The menu is simple: four tacos (three if it’s fish), three quesadillas or a large torta, ranging in price from $10 to $12, respectively. For the tortas and tacos, there’s a choice of eight, mostly meat, fillings; my only complaint is you can’t mix and match. My Al Pastor tacos are succulent, marinated and slow-roasted pork, topped with a lovely pineapple salsa. Add a shared order of thick guacamole and tortilla chips, the latter served in a cone of butcher paper, and you’ve got a fine, contemporary version of Mexican street food.

My hands are trembling too much to get a sharp photo of these wonderful al pastor tacos at Tres Carnales Taqueria

My hands are trembling too much to get a sharp photo of these wonderful al pastor tacos at Tres Carnales Taqueria

Tres Carnales Taqueria
10119 100A Street, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 11 am-10 pm, Saturday 4 pm-10 pm. Closed Sunday
Tres Carnales Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Ten minutes after opening for weekend brunch, the roomy *Highlevel Diner is pretty much packed. The university and middle-aged, upscale crowd at this Edmonton fixture, at the south end of the magnificent High Level Bridge, is here, in part, for the famous, oversized but not drippingly sweet cinnamon buns, a meal in itself at a bargain $4.  They’re also savouring staples like eggs Benedict or bacon, potato and cheddar omelets, alongside healthy options like multigrain organic Alberta cereal and fresh fruit and yogurt. Another reason the Highlevel is so popular is the service. A pot of hot coffee continually swings through the darkened room, and my stack of wild blueberry buttermilk pancakes arrives steaming hot, complete with a requested sugarless syrup, in under 10 minutes. The Highlevel Diner also has a full weekday breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, with features like Turkey Tuesdays, Ukrainian Thursdays and a celiac-friendly menu. It’s not cheap dining, but it’s good quality.

Mmm! Blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle at Highlevel Diner

Mmm! Blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle at Highlevel Diner

Highlevel Diner
10912-88 Avenue NW, Edmonton
Monday to Thursday 7:30 am-10 pm, Friday 7:30 am-11 pm, Saturday 8:30 am-11 pm, Sunday 8:30 am-9 pm
Highlevel Diner on Urbanspoon

Going to Upper Crust Cafe is like homecoming week for me. It’s across the street from my junior high school, Garneau, and it’s been the scene of many family dinners. Indeed, it’s the kind of relaxed, affordable place that makes it a go-to restaurant for women meeting for lunch or families gathering to unwind. It’s a most pleasant spot, with high ceilings, lemony walls, artist-painted tables and large paintings by the talented Lynn Malin, a family friend.

But enough about me. Most importantly, Upper Crust has some of the best lunch deals in town. My bountiful chicken salad sandwich, for example, is encased in thick slices of house-baked oat bread and comes with a creamy scoop of potato salad, all for only $7.25. Another bargain is the chili con carne ($7.95 for a small bowl, $9.95 for a large, both with a slice of cornbread). Even the lamb stew special doesn’t crack $12. Upper Crust is also known for its pies and cakes (many purchased to go), but I can never resist ordering a mammoth, slightly tangy lemon square.

The Upper Crust Cafe is a great space for good, affordable dining

The Upper Crust Cafe is a great space for good, affordable dining

Upper Crust Cafe
10909-86 Avenue, Edmonton
Monday to Friday 11 am-9 pm, Saturday 9:30 am-9 pm. Closed Sunday
Upper Crust Cafe & Caterers on Urbanspoon

Just outside downtown, on a traffic-choked stretch of 124 Street, is a hidden treasure: *Duchess Bake Shop. It’s the kind of place you’d take your mother or discerning friend for a mid-afternoon sweet and a pot of tea or pressed Intelligentsia coffee. The dining area is elegant but relaxed, featuring chandeliers and hanging lights, granite-topped tables and young, friendly servers with lipstick, fashionable eyewear and hair pulled back into buns. You can order scones and eau claires, but why not indulge in something more decadent and distinctive like a rhubarb galette, chocolate bread pudding, a lemon meringue cake or a raspberry-studded confection aptly called l’amour?

It doesn't get any better than Duchess Bake Shop for tea and a sweet

It doesn’t get any better than Duchess Bake Shop for tea and a sweet

Duchess Bake Shop
10718 124 Street, Edmonton
Tuesday to Friday 9 am-8 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm, Sunday 10 am-5 pm. Closed Monday
Duchess Bake Shop on Urbanspoon

Six menu items. That’s it. And all of them tucked inside crimped, oil-brushed calzones. At Battista’s Calzone, there’s no pizza, no salad, no appetizers and no dessert, other than a strawberry-nutella concoction stuffed inside a, you guessed it, calzone. This has made restaurant life relatively simple for hands-on co-owners Battista Vecchio and Liv Vors, who have converted an old auto garage into a tiny place with a recognizable niche market. It should also make things easy for customers, but there’s the enduring dilemma of whether to order the spicy Italian sausage calzone, the Mama Mia Meatball (based on a Battista family recipe) or the Chicken Pesto Presto. Unlike the heavy calzones I’ve eaten in the past, Battista’s dough is thin and crispy, forming the perfect pocket for the baked, gooey cheese and meat or veggie middle. Battista’s is located in Edmonton’s northeast, not far from the Edmonton Oilers’ current home or Highway 16 headed east. But if that’s out of your way, they now have a seasonal food truck, the Calzonemobile, roaming the city.

Simple, scrumptious calzones at Battista's Calzone

Simple, scrumptious calzones at Battista’s Calzone

Battista’s Calzone Co.
1745-84 Street NW, Edmonton
Tuesday to Saturday 11 am-3 pm
Battista's Calzone Company on Urbanspoon