Calgary, just east of the Rocky Mountains, has been rapidly growing since the 90s thanks to Alberta's cyclical oil economy. But a recent dip in the price of oil means the average Calgarian is hurting. But this economic downtown is perhaps good news for foodies in Calgary. Lower rents downtown means new independently-owned restaurants, bars and cafes are popping up. Instead of the suburban chain restaurants that have plagued Calgary in the past, you can now find authentic dining and imbibing experiences in the city. Here are my favorite food and drinking experiences in Calgary (updated June 2017).
One of my first stops in Calgary was Ten Foot Henry, a new restaurant with an emphasis on vegetables. Paul and I were surprised to find see 3 times more vegetable dishes than meat ones. I am not normally one to eat greens, but I wanted to Ten Foot Henry a chance given the hype. In the end Ten Foot Henry was the highlight of my trip!
The fried potatoes with lime, herbs, jalapeno, green goddess paired were a great start to the meal, and paired nicely with our IPA. Next up was the best dish of the night, sautéed gai lan with tahini, miso, ginger, fried shiitake - although not a traditional presentation of the famous chinese vegetable, these were the best gai lan of my life! Although grow I always refused to eat my mother's green beans, at Ten Foot Henry, I would have eaten three plates. Featuring citrus, walnut and manchego cheese, these tasty bastards could convince any meat eater out there that vegetables are a valid option.
I was surprised to see cacio e pepe, my favorite pasta dish on the menu at Ten Foot Henry. The pecorino used was excellent and the notoriously difficult to prepare dish was well executed other than the bucatini, which were way overcooked. What a shame that the North American palate can't handle al dente pasta.
The cocktails are very good at Ten Foot Henry. I had a delicious Alberta Sour with Canadian rye, lemon, lime, egg white by our awesome bartender Dylan Cann. The Old Fashioned that Paul tried was very good.
A cozy wine bar without a wine list. Sit up at the bar and get the sommelier to choose something to fit your palate. The wines at Bar Von Der Fels all have one thing in common - they are all damn good. Impressively, they let you try the wine before you commit to a full glass. In terms of food, I focused on their appetizers: the Comté cheese, Jerez salami and Sidewalk Citizen sourdough bread with olive oil were a great complement to my Phinca Abejera 2012 Rioja. This space is very unusual for Calgary as it's something you'd expect to find in the East Village of NY.
Lam Pham left the popular Watercress restaurant to start this new project, a contemporary take on Vietnamese dishes. The food is unbelievably good at Pure. So good in fact that I returned the next day with a larger group to sample more of chef Lam Pham's amazing dishes. I would put Pure Vietnamese in the same category as the popular Slanted Door in SF, but at half the price. The best dish at Pure was the wok toss shaken beef with maggie soy butter, red wine, watercress salad and crispy taro chips on top. Other great dishes were the fresh tossed egg noodle, tamarind glazed cod with coconut milk sauce and chive oil, kimchi fried rice and char siu sesame donut with sous vide pork shoulder, pickled mix, cucumber, cilantro and sriracha aoili. At lunch, don't miss their amazing pho, the best I've ever had.
For some outstanding BBQ in lively, Kensington neighborhood check out Hayden Block Smoke and Whiskey. The meat was so good, I went back on consecutive nights. Props to the meat man Jason Rossington for the awesome brisket, pork spare ribs and beef short rib! I highly suggest the corn bread, which comes with a delicious jalapeno on top.
Hayden also scores a lot of points with me keeping their kitchen open til 1 AM, a rarity for a city that usually shuts down at 8 PM. Also, the meat is half price after 10 PM. Fucking A! Beware the long lineups at Hayden - it will take about 30 minutes to get a table during dinner time, but the good news is that while you wait, you can drink some great local craft beer like the Pesky Pig Pale Ale by Troubled Monk.
Not surprisingly, there is also an impressive selection of whisky (Canadian, Scottish, Irish, American, Japanese) at Hayden, with their american whiskies being the most interesting.
Althought it's far from the center of town, it's worth a visit to Marina Dosa for their great South indian fare. Not surprisingly, their best dish is their masala dosa. If you are hungry, their bhaturey cholle, a puffy fried bread with chana masala, is delicious!
For great aeropress coffee and espresso in a beautiful well lit space, check out Phil and Sebastian in the Mission. It's also a great place to get work done thanks to the large communal table at the back.
Deville on 1st St SW was my first stop every morning while in Calgary, thanks to the dope baristas and good espresso. They also have great cookies and breakfast wraps.
For serious espresso, check out Monogram in Fifth Avenue place. Although they don't have any pourover coffee, the single origin espresso was phenomenal. Don't miss their amazing toast featuring Alforno bakery sourdough, butter and Edgar farms Rhubarb jam. If you get the chance, check out the flagship location of Monogram on 16th St SW.
The most hipster experience in Calgary is Analog Coffee on 17th Ave, serving coffee roasted by Fratello roasters. Analog is possibly even better than Phil and Sebastian and Monogram. Although you can't buy any of the hundreds of records on display at Analog, you can savour their delicious V60 pourover, the best you will find in Calgary. One plus is they are open til midnight!
If you are craving good Mexican food, try Native Tongues on 12th Ave SW. I was impressed with the pollo verde, chorizo and carnitas tacos. The staff are awesome here - everyone is smiling and makes you feel great from the moment you walk in.
Phil & Sebastian coffee roasters/Sidewalk citizen bakery/CHARBAR (Simmons Building)
In the beautiful and historic Simmons building, you can find great baked goods from Sidewalk citizen and amazing specialty coffee from Alberta's best coffee roaster. Try the scones and sandwiches from the bakery. Their grilled cheese sandwich, lightly coated with sweet honey, was the best I've had in recent memory. Also in the building is Charcut spinoff Charbar which focuses on Argentine style pizza and Alberta beef.
Offering bread, scones, sandwiches, pizzas and pastries, you can also find Sidewalk Citizen in the Sunnyside Natural Food store in the hip Kensington neighborhood.
The best cocktail bar in Calgary. I loved the beautiful bar area with relaxing leather chairs in place of the standard bar stool. The staff were friendly and welcoming and the bartenders had great skills. I had the pleasure of being served by Brett, who immediately won me over by making me a Remember the Maine as a first drink.
For a more casual experience Proof, pop by on a Sunday when the theme is tiki-style drinks. I had two great rum-based drinks: a Ti' Punch by Ernie Slubik and the Port of St. James by Nathan Head (a recipe by Ian Storcer for Bacardi Legacy).
On my recent visit, I enjoyed three great drinks by talented bartender Makina. I recommend the Cinder and Smoke (Buffalo Trace bourbon, activated charcoal, cedar syrup, lemon, Black Cloud charred cedar bitters, egg white) and her very own Petticoat Army (Lot 40 Canadian whiskey, Monkey Shoulder Scotch whisky, Becherovka, orgeat, sumac, lemon and Angostura).
From the same group as Proof and Pigeonhole is the dive cocktail bar Milk Tiger. I had tried the bar on my previous trip but was really let down by the interaction with the bartender. My Calgarian friend Rod pushed me to give it another chance, and I'm glad I did. Not only were the drinks superb, I really enjoyed the vibe in this laidback cocktail bar. Thanks to Stephen Stewart for well-executed Old Fashioned (Bulleit Frontier whiskey, Sugar, Water, Angostura Bitters) and Monk's Revenge (Alberta Premium Dark Horse Whisky, Benedictine DOM, Fernet Branca, Campari).
With a change in Alberta's restrictions on beer output for breweries, many new craft brewers have opened up this year. According to those in the know, the best ones are Banded Peak and Annex Ale Project. I tried the tropical Plainsbreaker pale ale from Banded Peak at Ship and Anchor, a great pub on 17th ave. To sample the beers from Annex, we went direcly to the brewery in the Parkhill area of Calgary (SE). The hipster-friendly brewery is decorated in a minimalist style with a monolith-style backbar dominating the room. I tried 5 of the beers, with my favorites being their Metes and Bounds XPA, Bitter Division North American bitter and Sound and Fury IPA. If you have an evening to devote to craft beer, you can also stop by Banded Peak, only a couple minutes away by car.