Tag Archives: Calgary

Calgary and Area Bargain Eats: Part 2

A ceremony of white hats at the SAIT Culinary Campus in downtown Calgary

A ceremony of white hats at the SAIT Culinary Campus in downtown Calgary

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.

An outstanding omelette at Creekers in Bragg Creek

An outstanding omelette at Creekers in Bragg Creek

20 White Avenue (second entrance to Bragg Creek if arriving from Highway 22 North)
Daily from 8 am
Creekers Deli & Bistro on Urbanspoon

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.

Great Italian grocery and meal deals at Scarpone's, Calgary

Great Italian grocery and meal deals at Scarpone’s, Calgary

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)
SAIT Culinary Campus on Urbanspoon

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.

I have to devour this delicious KOOB sandwich in my car

I have to devour this delicious KOOB sandwich in my car

5, 2015 4 Street SW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 11 am-11 pm, Sunday noon-8 pm
Koob The Kabob Factory on Urbanspoon

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.

Honest, there's a dog under all those Japanese toppings at Tubby's

Honest, there’s a dog under all those Japanese toppings at Tubby’s

Tubby Dog
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
Tubby Dog on Urbanspoon

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.

Tasty breakfast panini at Holy Grill, but what's with the insipid tomatoes?

Tasty breakfast panini at Holy Grill, but what’s with the insipid tomatoes?

Holy Grill
827 10 Avenue SW
Monday to Friday 7:30 am-4 pm, Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Closed Sunday
Holy Grill on Urbanspoon

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.

Good Bengali thali at Puspa Restaurant in Calgary

Good Bengali thali at Puspa Restaurant in Calgary

Puspa Restaurant
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
Puspa on Urbanspoon

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.

Haryana’s Restaurant
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 info@billcorbett.ca and I’ll try to post it.


Bargain-basement meals in Calgary, Alberta

Big Pan meals for under $7 at Sunterra Market

Big Pan meals for under $7 at Sunterra Market

We briefly interrupt the Colorado road trip to bring you this lengthy post from my hometown of Calgary, Alberta (that’s in Canada for you American readers).

Calgary has a boatload of “middle-class” millionaires, many who toil in the city’s behemoth oilpatch. When they’re not zooming off at 130 kph to their weekend condos in Canmore and Invermere, B.C. or the ski slopes of Lake Louise, they’re heading for brunch, a power lunch or a fashionably-late dinner at one of the trendy, chef-driven new restaurants that keep popping up in Calgary. Which is a long-winded way of saying restaurants are generally rather pricy, and a cheap-eats meal is considered anything less than $20.

Well, for the benefit of penny-pinching road warriors and residents alike, I’ve scoured the city for what I call bargain-basement eats—tasty, filling and generally quick meals for less than $10. Yes, these are mostly one-course offerings, often served on disposable plates and devoured on lonely stools, at wobbly tables or behind the wheel. But if you value quality and affordability over ambience, these spots might quickly become your go-to places. There actually is a certain charm to many of these unadorned places, where you’re often dealing directly at the counter with the owners, who might also double as the cooks. Indeed, a friend says he prefers places like these, where there are no “middleman” waiters to deal with.

Forget, for a moment, all your prejudices about fast-food courts: steamer pans, Styrofoam plates, plastic cafeteria trays, concrete floors, harsh lighting and noise ricocheting around a vast, soulless space. Yes, Jackie’s Thai can plead guilty to all these charges, certainly given its location in downtown Calgary’s long-embattled Eau Claire Market, with food-court chain neighbours like Subway, Taco Time and Jugo Juice. But let’s instead focus on the surprisingly outstanding cuisine, as good as you’ll find in many long-established Calgary Thai restaurants and at much cheaper prices. I’m indeed stunned by my first bite of tender chicken breast in a coconut green curry with lingering complexities of flavour and middling spiciness. The made-to-order papaya salad—featuring chiles, carrots, long beans, tamarind and fish sauce—is equally as good. (The excellent pad Thai is also made to order, other than during the lunch-hour rush.) A large, combination plate of the green chicken curry and papaya salad costs me all of $8.50.

Growing up in Thailand, Jackie was apparently the best cook around, preparing lunch for 200 classmates at her junior high school. Her expertise shows in about a half dozen authentic, fresh Thai dishes in this new “restaurant”. So if you’re looking for a quick, affordable and delicious fresh lunch or early dinner and don’t mind the sterile ambience, Jackie’s is about as good as food-court dining gets. Actually, from spring to fall, leafy ambience is only a short, take-out walk away at Prince’s Island Park, alongside the Bow River.

Sorry, my hands are shaking while I get ready to devour this divine meal at Jackie's Thai

Sorry, my hands are shaking while I get ready to devour this divine meal at Jackie’s Thai

Jackie’s Thai
181, 200 Barclay Parade SW (Eau Claire Market), Calgary
Weekdays 11 am-6 pm, weekends noon-6 pm
Jackie's Thai on Urbanspoon

Calgary boasts an astonishing 190-plus Vietnamese restaurants. While everyone has their favourite, I particularly like Pho Binh Minh. For one thing, it’s located not far from Deerfoot Trail/QE 2 on the ethnically rich 17th Avenue S.E. (aptly known as International Avenue), with an acre of parking in front of a nondescript strip mall. For another, the steel pot of unordered Jasmine tea is plunked down on the Formica table almost before my seat hits the chair. A couple of minutes later, my steaming bowl of medium-rare sate beef noodle soup arrives, distinguished from most pho (Vietnamese noodle soups, pronounced “fuh”) by the flavourful beef broth.

I make two mistakes, though. One is wearing a dress shirt, which forces me to ignore dining etiquette and stick my slurping mouth scant inches above the bowl to avoid being whipsawed by the dripping noodles. The other is ordering the large bowl, when a “small” would have been plenty. But it was only 80 cents more, for the princely sum of $6.75, one of the city’s best deals.

Pho Binh Minh
4710 17 Avenue SE, Calgary
Pho Binh Minh on Urbanspoon

Speaking of bargains, Lily Vietnamese Submarines (near the Trans-Canada Highway at the west end of town) offers arguably the best, freshest such food in Calgary. At least, so says my friend Doug, who’s been there maybe 50 times (What can I say? When he finds a quality, bargain place he likes, he goes back, and back and back.) His advice is to head straight for the Lily’s Beef & Chicken Satay Sub. At $7.45, this foot-long sandwich is a couple of dollars more than ones with only beef, chicken or meatballs. But it’s loaded with two kinds of meat marinated in a house-made satay sauce and accompanied by generous helpings of pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro, green onion, ground peanuts and homemade teriyaki sauce and butter; this isn’t the skimpy fare you’ll find hiding in many Vietnamese subs. Lily’s is a family-run, hole-in-the-wall joint, doling out mostly take-out Vietnamese subs, soups and excellent rice vermicelli dishes (try the grilled shrimp, beef and chicken). But Doug and I sit on two of the restaurant’s few stools, peel back the wax paper wrap and munch on our subs while watching mother Lily scurry around the back of the narrow kitchen.

Calgary Bargains 6858

There’s loads of satay beef and chicken beneath all the veggies at Lily Vietnamese Submarines

Lily Vietnamese Submarines
4629A Bowness Road NW, Calgary
Monday to Friday 10 am-8 pm. Closed Sunday
Lily Vietnamese Submarines on Urbanspoon

If you’re not into messy meals, don’t bother checking out Jimmy’s A&A Mediterranean Deli, a converted convenience store with a delightfully dingy ambience. If you don’t fancy juicy chicken juices or creamy garlic sauce dribbling down your jowls, head instead to some dainty dining joint where you can dab away with an oversized napkin. But if explosive overflows of flavour outweigh propriety, then indulge in Jimmy’s chicken or beef shawarmas—shaved off a darkened row of spits—or falafels, wrapped first in a pita and then in a waxed paper holder, which you peel back like a banana if you want to keep things fairly intact. A small order of the shawarma ($7.50) is plenty for most appetites, chased with a baklava dessert, all eaten on an outside table or in the front seat of your car, if you don’t value the seat covering. A bonus for those passing through Calgary is that Jimmy’s is just off 16th Avenue NW, which doubles in the city as the Trans-Canada Highway.

Jimmy’s A&A Mediterranean Cuisine
1401-20 Avenue NW, Calgary
Monday to Saturday 9 am-10 pm, Sunday 10 am-8pm
Jimmy's A&A Mediterranean Deli on Urbanspoon

If you’re in the city’s southwest, another good Middle Eastern option is Little Lebanon, where a mammoth, delicious baked chicken and vegetable pocket is only $8.75 and comes, as do all meals, with a complimentary piece of honey-dripping baklava.

It takes a healthy appetite to tackle this chicken pocket at Little Lebanon

It takes a healthy appetite to tackle this chicken pocket at Little Lebanon

Little Lebanon
3515 17 Avenue SW, Calgary
Monday to Friday 9 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm, Sunday 9:30 am-6 pm
Little Lebanon on Urbanspoon

Okay, starving students and dirtbag travellers. With the guidance of my bargain-hunting food friend Doug, I may have found the cheapest “meal” in all my road trip journeys. This tasty treat will set you back less than $2, unless you’re really hungry, in which case your bill might balloon to $2.50. And it’s available right in my high-priced hometown of Calgary, though not in a restaurant. It’s a Punjabi grocery store called Fruiticana, part of a B.C.-based family food empire that boasts its own Mexican mango farms and online radio station. Amongst store display cases teeming with clarified butter jars, Thai chiles and a strange, green-mouse-looking melon called karella, there’s a warming oven full of large, dome-shaped samosas. Sixty-nine cents apiece, and I’m guessing they tip the scales at over a third of a pound, obviously not the lightweight triangles you find in many Indian places. (At my Safeway deli, the samosas are $2.99 apiece, and they look smaller to me than Fruiticana’s).

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: deep fried, warming oven… give it a pass. But we’re delightfully surprised at this lovely package of potato, peas and a mildly spicy curry, all wrapped in a soft, flaky crust. I figure at this price and quality, they must fly out of the store pretty fast and are thus steadily replaced with fresh ones. Let’s put it this way: We each have no trouble devouring two of these hefty samosas in the five minutes it takes to drive from the far-flung northeast neighbourhood of Falconridge to Deerfoot Trail. Which is the reason I don’t have any pictures to show you. The only downside is it costs me $3 in gas to eat $1.38 worth of samosas.

5075 Falconridge Boulevard (two other Calgary locations)

Speaking of great baked treats, it’s worth hunting down a buttermilk biscuit or two (only $1.50 apiece) at Forage, a mostly prepared meals to go place in southwest Calgary’s Marda Loop district. They’re flaky, rich and utterly delicious, especially if you get them warm from the oven. The place, however, is only open weekday afternoons.

Forage — Farm to Fork Foods to Go
3508 19 Street SW, Calgary
Weekdays 2 pm-7 pm
Forage on Urbanspoon

Lest you think all bargain eats in Calgary are ethnic, here are a few gems that are not.

There’s a healthy lineup of working-class folks when I arrive at Coco Brooks, alongside busy Blackfoot Trail in the city’s southeast. But this line moves with industrial efficiency—from the three order takers to the staff filling stacks of small cardboard boxes with pizzas. “How long will it take?” I ask, eyeing the crowd. “Twelve minutes,” my order taker confidently says. It actually takes 14, but, hey, the place is packed. You can get pasta or salad and eat it out of a disposable container with plastic utensils at one of some 30 small tables. But nearly everyone comes for the thick-crust pizza: four slices, served piping hot and sufficient for a healthy appetite. There are many pizza choices, but I can never resist the Egg n Bacon ($6.29). Sound horrible? It’s actually fantastic, the soft, puffy filling offset by just a slight crunch of smoked bacon and melted mozza and aged cheddar. Really, you’d hardly know there was scrambled egg in it. You can get unbaked pizzas, fresh or frozen, to cook at home. But I can never wait that long to sink my teeth into this not-so-guilty pleasure.

Excellent Egg n Bacon pizza at Coco Brooks

Excellent Egg n Bacon pizza at Coco Brooks

Coco Brooks
640 42 Avenue SE, #80 (two other Calgary locations)
Monday to Thursday 8 am-8 pm, Friday 8 am-9 pm, Saturday 9 am-8 pm
Coco Brooks - Highfield Industrial Park on Urbanspoon

Mouth-watering baked treats at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Mouth-watering baked treats at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Not far away on another industrial street, there’s a shorter, definitely more hipster line awaiting the fabulous day’s creations at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. It’s a tiny takeout place where you can watch a team of bakers (surrounding a huge mound of rising dough, from a four-year-old sourdough culture) create, say, Challah bread, long cheese sticks, sour cherry scones, rectangles of roasted vegetable pizza and blueberry-topped, glazed Danishes. Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my chin. I restrict myself to ordering an open-faced meat sandwich, featuring a thick layer of delicious, crusted smoked ham hock with aged cheddar and zucchini atop toasted house bread. At $8.50, it’s a more expensive, smaller lunch than other places on this list, but it’s good value for the excellent quality and creativity of anything they make here. The food at Sidewalk Citizen is matched by the story of owner Aviv Fried, who in car-crazed, sprawling Calgary had the stroke of genius, or madness, to start a bakery featuring inner-city delivery by bicycle. He has since expanded to include a bakery deli in Sunnyside (338 10 Street NW).

Smoked ham hock sandwich at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Smoked ham hock sandwich at Sidewalk Citizen Bakery

Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
5524 1A Street SW, Calgary
Tuesday to Thursday 10:30 am-2 pm, Friday and Saturday 10 am-3 pm (Sunnyside deli 7 days a week from 9 am, except 9:30 am Sunday)
Sidewalk Citizen Bakery on Urbanspoon

It’s well enough to unearth cheap eateries in industrial areas, suburban neighbourhoods, food courts and strip malls. But certainly there’s no bargain-basement restaurant in the heart of high-rent downtown Calgary, right? In fact, there is. At Sunterra Market, you can get a filling, savoury Big Pan meal for $5.89. Sure, these stew-like meals are ladled out of enormous pans and the temperature isn’t always consistently hot. But my red Thai chicken curry contains tender chunks of chicken and strips of sautéed onions and red peppers in a creamy, slightly spicy sauce atop a bed of rice (Note: There are two big pan specials a day, with the offerings changing throughout the week). The newest and grandest, Keynote, of four downtown Sunterra locations is hopping at lunch, with office workers lining up for efficiently produced meals such as paninis ($5.60), four-slice pizzas ($6.99) and crepes ($6.50). A nice touch is the use of real plates, metal utensils and comfortable tables and booths. No, it’s not haute cuisine. But it is cheap, tasty and fast—you should have no trouble ordering and finishing lunch in half an hour. Downstairs, there’s a high-end grocery and deli for food to go or eat upstairs.

Don't get any of that red Thai chicken curry on that white shirt

Don’t get any of that red Thai chicken curry on that white shirt

Sunterra is a rare Alberta company that’s vertically integrated. The Price family owns advanced beef and pork farms northeast of Calgary, processes the meat in their own plants and ships much of it to Japan and the U.S. But you can also find it in their 10 grocery/restaurant outlets in Calgary and Edmonton. Look for their sausages, bacon and other cured meats produced by Valbella Gourmet Foods in Canmore.

March 2013 update: Had Sunday breakfast at Sunterra’s busy 17th Avenue SW location and must say the bargains continue. Excellent omelettes and burgers, with sides of fruit and roasted veggies and potatoes, with nearly everything just over $6.

Sunterra Market
200 12 Avenue SE (Keynote, three other downtown Calgary locations serving lunch)
Daily 6 am-10 pm
Sunterra Market - Keynote on Urbanspoon

If you’ve got some other bargain eats suggestions in Calgary, let me know. Just hit the “Reply” button.

2013 Canadian Weblog Awards nominee

My Best Road Trip Meals of 2012: Part Two

Marathon Mouth chomps down on salmon tacone at Go Fish, Vancouver B.C.

Marathon Mouth chomps down on salmon tacone at Go Fish, Vancouver B.C.

It’s a bit late, but I realize I overlooked a number of categories in my Best Road Trip Meals of 2012 awards and figured I didn’t want to wait perhaps months to post reviews of some stellar places. So here we go with Part Two.

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