Tag Archives: Calgary restaurants

My Go-To Eats and Drinks in Calgary

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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.

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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
403-685-1535

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.

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The date bran muffin at Caffe Beano is impossibly black with molasses

Caffe Beano
1613 9 Street SW
Weekdays 6 am-10 pm, weekends opens at 7 am
403-229-1232

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.

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Brunch at River Cafe is an enchanting experience

River Cafe
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.

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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.

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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.

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Assembling a massive beef shawarma wrap at Calgary’s Jerusalem Shawarma

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.

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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
403-764-2653

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.

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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).

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The Happy Hour pizza and burger goes splendidly with a pint of local craft beer at National Westhills

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green, one of four Calgary locations
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

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

The Queen of Empanadas

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Hot from the oven goodness at Calgary’s Empanada Queen

How do you find overlooked, out-of-the-way dining gems? Sometimes just by paying attention and asking questions.

For instance, I was recently checking out newly opened Outcast Brewing, itself in an incongruous industrial location in southeast Calgary. I noticed, at an adjacent table, a pizza box containing a mess of gorgeously browned baked goods.

“Where did you get those?” I asked, knowing Outcast doesn’t have a kitchen. “At Empanada Queen,” the guy replied. “It’s only about a block away.”

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Empanada Queen is a hole-in-the-wall operation in southeast Calgary

So with a fine pint of Best-ish 2.0 IPA sloshing around my empty stomach, I headed over to the Queen, in a little, equally out-of-the-way industrial location.

I ordered a couple of empanadas—a ground beef/sliced egg and a chicken chimichurri, each a nice-sized snack at only $4.25. It took seven minutes in the oven to reheat one, giving me time to sit at a table and watch a small crew of women filling, folding and crimping these Chilean beauties.

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Making the empanadas from scratch

They came out hot, flaky and tasty. I was happy once again to trust in serendipity.

Tip: At home, reheat in the oven, not the microwave;the latter toughens the pastry.

Note: You can also find the Queen’s empanadas at nearby Born Colorado Brewing‘s taproom

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A case full of empanadas to take home

Empanada Queen
4412 Manilla Road SE, Calgary
Monday and Wednesday to Friday 9:30 am-6:30 pm, Tuesday 10 am-6:30 pm, Saturday 10 am-6 pm. Closed Sunday
403-235-0686

Happy Hour Every Day in Calgary

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Happy Hour at the National at Calgary Westhills

When it comes to cheap eats, it’s hard to beat happy hour.

It’s a win-win situation. The customer gets food and drinks at discount prices, and the restaurant gets customers during an otherwise slow part of the day, usually late afternoon and sometimes late at night.

In Calgary’s beleaguered economy, consumers are increasingly looking for bargains and restaurants for customers. So it’s great to discover, just five minutes from my house, two quality establishments offering lots of happy-hour specials every day of the week.

National and Earls are practically next door to each other in WestHills Town Centre, a typical sprawling suburban mall. And in late afternoon, both are hopping busy, thanks to their happy hours.

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Earls has the most happy hour offerings I’ve seen

National is a thriving Calgary operation, with four locations, specializing in lots of craft beers and good bar food—think burgers, chicken wings, fish and chips and smoked brisket sandwiches. The majority of seating is at long, communal tables, so you’re cheek to jowl with your neighbours, many of them families. It’s a festive, noisy atmosphere, especially at happy hour, so don’t expect an intimate dinner.

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West Hills is one of several National locations in Calgary

On to the happy-hour deals, available 3-6 pm daily. There’s a smattering of cocktails and house wines but, really, you’re here for the craft beer. National lists some 60 brews, mostly local and from B.C. And they’re mostly available at happy-hour prices of $5 for 16 ounces (normally $8.50). Just make sure you’ve ordered your second pint before six, assuming you’re not driving.

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The National’s happy-hour menu

My go-to happy hour foods are the substantial Clive burger ($13 instead of $17.50), featuring two Alberta grass-fed patties and a heaping cone of fries; seniors or kids could easily split this. Another shareable is a lovely mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza ($9.50 instead of $18), an eight-slice steal of a deal. A friend recommends the crispy chicken sliders (local Sunrise Farms)—three for $11 instead of $14.50.

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The substantial mesquite bacon and mushroom pizza is only $9.50 during happy hour

Earls is a much bigger operation, with nearly 70 locations in Canada (eight in Calgary alone) and the U.S. It started in 1982 as a spinoff of the Edmonton-based Fullers. In my experience, it has always produced good, innovative meals at reasonable prices, straddling the boundary between fine dining and a relaxed, family atmosphere.

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These chicken tacos are $6 during Earls happy hour

Unlike the paltry happy-hour offerings at many restaurants, Earls has gone all out on such specials, available, with some variations, at all its outlets. At my Westhills location, happy hour goes from 3 to 5 pm and 9 pm to close, with a list of 18 discounted food items, ranging from $4 garlic fries to $19 Cajun chicken. The dozen drinks includes their proprietary Rhino draught ($5.50 instead of $8.25 for 18 ounces).

Some of the standout deals are the street chicken tacos (reduced from $13.25 to $6), the eight-inch margherita pizza (down from $6.50 to $4) and the crispy ribs ($8 instead of $13).

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And the margherita pizza is only $4

I’ve never had a local dine-and-drink hangout, preferring to experience the vast diversity of choices available in western North American. But with deals like these, you might spot me tipping a pint at these two joints.

National Westhills
180 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3 pm-6 pm
403-685-6801

Earls Westhills
140 Stewart Green SW, Calgary
Daily happy hour 3-5 pm and 9 pm to close
403-246-7171

New Sunterra Market Cafe a Fast-Food Winner

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A crew of cooks making quick, delicious meals at Sunterra Market & Cafe

Sunterra Market is a Calgary institution, a truly farm-to-fork operation with six locations selling upscale groceries and surprisingly inexpensive meals.

With the recent opening of Sunterra Market & Café on Kensington Road NW, it has taken the next leap in its evolution as a full-service restaurant. Indeed, it may well have moved into the forefront of quick, high-quality, affordable meals in the city.

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The latest Sunterra is a combination of an upscale market and fresh, fast, affordable food

Yes, like other Sunterra Markets, this outlet sells a selection of quality groceries—including Valbella bacon and fresh, imported pasta—and meals to go ranging from ribs to salads and desserts.

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Chef Ben offers a sampling of a glazed Modena ham

But where the café stands out is in its short list of made-to-order items (prepared by a bevy of open-kitchen cooks), which you can eat at one of a dozen wooden tables or order to go. Take, for example a breakfast sandwich—eggs, Modena ham and cheddar—on one of the better butter biscuits I’ve encountered, for only $4.99. Or an unusual, stuffed flatbread—egg, prosciutto and fior di latte—almost enough for two at $6.49. And compare that to the $18 one often pays for breakfast in Calgary.

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A substantial Piadina flatbread breakfast sandwich

One standout “Piadina” flatbread sandwich ($7.99) contains rotisserie chicken (from a tile oven full of them rotating away), provolone and pesto. And there’s a list of fresh pastas, including a prosciutto carbonara with a wine-reduction sauce ($9.49).

We spent a good half hour one evening talking with Chris Alladin, Sunterra’s senior vice president of operations, who designed much of the café’s concept. He excitedly showed us the entire operation, offering samples of warm-from-the-oven biscuits and slices of pan-crisped ham.

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Chris Alladin was a driving force behind the market cafe

With some 125,000 vehicles a day passing by on nearby Crowchild Trail and Kensington Road, Alladin figures lots of folks will pull in for a quick bite to eat or a meal to take home—from early-morning breakfasts to nighttime dinners.

Given the high quality of the food and the decidedly inexpensive prices, I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve already visited three times in a week, and it’s a seven-kilometre drive.

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A short menu of lunch and dinner items

My only quibble is an odd ordering system, whereby you fill out your order on a sheet and hand it to a roving assistant, who then places the order with a cook, while you go elsewhere to pay. Why not just verbally place your order where you’re paying?

Sunterra Market & Cafe
2536 Kensington Road N.W., Calgary, Alberta
Daily 6:30 am-9 pm
403-685-1535

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Now Has a Gorgeous Cafe

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Calgary’s ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen has a gorgeous setting

For more than 80 years, the heralded ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen has provided culinary advice, mostly over the phone, to generations of Alberta cooks. “How do I cook a turkey?” “Do you have a good recipe for beef stew?” “How do I salvage a burned pot roast?”

Now, it’s putting its money where its mouth is by opening a gorgeous café in south Calgary. There aren’t many restaurants anywhere that can match the architectural splendour of the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Café.

The curving, 100-metre-long space has a vaulted wood ceiling, with tables scattered throughout and light streaming in the side windows. It’s a place you want to just sit and savour a cappuccino for an hour. Plenty of neighbourhood residents seem to be doing just that, mixing in with workers in ATCO Commons, the headquarters office of this global infrastructure company.

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It’s counter service and a concise menu

On the first of what will no doubt be many visits, I just order a reasonable Americano and an excellent bowl of mulligatawny soup ($5), packed with chunks of chicken. Other enticing items on the concise, affordable menu include an omelette-style breakfast sandwich ($5.50), a steak BLT on a sourdough baguette ($10) and a curried cauliflower bowl ($9).

Only two minor quibbles. Everything is served on disposable ware, though much of it is recyclable or compostable. I suppose this works well for those taking food up to their ATCO office; there’s also a grab-and-go section of the café.

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A fabulous $5 bowl of mulligatawny soup. Pity it’s not in a real bowl

Parking is also a bit of an issue. There are visitor spaces around the building (all full when I visited late morning), and you’re supposed to register with the building front desk if you’re using them. Otherwise, it’s street parking about a block away.

It might also help to use Google Maps if you’re not familiar with the area. ATCO Commons overlooks the south end of Crowchild Trail a few blocks north of Glenmore Trail.

It took me a few minutes of driving around to find it. But I’m glad I did. It might well become a favourite local haunt.

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The spacious cafe is inside ATCO’s global headquarters in southwest Calgary

ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Cafe
ATCO Commons Building, 5302 Forand Street SW, Calgary, Alberta
Weekdays 7 am-3 pm, Saturday 9 am-2 pm. Closed Sunday