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How the West Was Really Won

Copyright (c) 2007-2021 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved
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Once upon a time, there was a prosperous city called Calgary where all the local people and all of their visitors chose the same thing when they went out to eat. Beef. Alberta beef.

Set among the wheat fields in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the city was smack-dab in the middle of dude ranch country - a mecca of tender and abundant farm-raised meat. So renowned were its barley-fed porterhouse steaks and filet mignon and burgers and ribs that people travelled from afar just for a taste.

But then one day, along came a chef who decided that Calgary could be famous for more than its beef and nearby dude ranches. He served seafood, and his meat-loving subjects gobbled it with glee. Then along came another, and she served Alberta-grown heirloom vegetables - plump, fresh-from-the-field produce prepared with the same kind of devotion afforded to beef.

And that, my friends, was how the West was really won.

Sure, those who crave a juicy hunk of meat will still find their perfect soul steak in Calgary, home to the world-famous annual whoop-up known as the Calgary Stampede (July 8 to 17 this year). But these days, field mushrooms and risotto are as common on the side as the traditional baked potato and iceberg lettuce.

And even those who prefer pork or seafood, or no meat at all, won't have to go hungry or nibble on stale crusts - the third most ethnically diverse city in Canada has a cornucopia of choices from tasty take-out joints and rip-snortin' steakhouses to let-your-hair-down party palaces and stylish five-star restaurants.

So unfurl your city map and loosen your belt a notch as you take our tour of the city's most beloved restaurants.

Where's the Beef?

Buzzards Cookshack and Watering Hole (downtown, 403-264-6959) features cowboy specialties including beef in many forms along with game such as buffalo and those famous 'prairie oysters' - a.k.a. lovingly prepared beef testicles. Steak houses such as Caesar's (two locations), Hy's (central, 403-263-2222) and Smuggler's (south, 403-253-5355) have a devoted following, as do several downtown hotels including the Palliser's Rimrock Room. In love with the idea of a dude ranch vacation, more than the real thing? Well, eat like a well-fed cowboy at Vintage Chophouse (southwest, 403-262-7262) which gets raves for its ribs, while long-running Quincy's (downtown, 403-264-1000) is praised for its steaks. Buchanan's (downtown, 403-261-4646) is a quintessential chophouse/seafood eatery that also has a great pub, while Saltlik continues to endure on the Stephen Avenue Mall (403-537-1160) with prime Alberta beef plus seafood, drippy sandwiches and other noshes.

Stampede Watering Holes

Big blonde hair and urban cowboys are the specialty (yup, there's also food) at Cowboys Dance Hall (central, 403-265-0699), where the party continues until the cows come home (or go home with someone else). The Ranchman's (south Calgary, 403-253-1100) is always gripped with country fever, but never more than during Stampede. Ditto for Outlaws (south, 403-255-4646) along busy Macleod Trail a few miles south of downtown. Coyote's Bar and Dance Saloon (central, 403-770-2200), just a two-step waltz from Stampede Park on Olympic Way, provides pumping country music and party atmosphere that goes on to the wee hours. Stampede Week is party time for the corporate crowd, too, and you'll find them playing hooky at corporate shmoozes on every street corner along with all-inclusive, all-day parties at downtown hotels where the beer and music start flowing soon after sun-up. If cowboys and dude ranch atmosphere aren't your style, check out pubs like the James Joyce (two locations) and Bass Brothers (northwest, 403-283-7443).

Heritage Havens

It's Alberta's 100th anniversary this year, and the province's historic eateries aren't being left out of the party. The Ranche at Fish Creek Park (southwest, 403-225-3939) dishes out innovative fare in one of Calgary's prettiest settings. The historic Cross House in trendy Inglewood (southeast, 403-531-2767) has been around for years, but the menu has been transformed and given a new name (Rouge) thanks to new owners who serve up mouthwatering French fare with a contemporary twist. Funky Murietta's West Coast Bar and Grill (central, 403-269-7707) in the old Alberta Hotel building features a beautiful brick interior and wood floors along with stylish flatbread pizzas, creative pastas and innovative entrees. Thomsons (central, 403-537-4949) in the Hyatt Regency dishes out steak, seafood and stately décor. And don't forget about Catch, which has won many awards for its lusty seafood (oysters, fresh fish and martinis) on Stephen Avenue Walk downtown. (The $5.6-million restaurant, opened three years ago, continues to win accolades for its décor, food and service.)

Style and Substance

The rustic River Café at Prince's Island Park (central, 403-261-7670) always wins our hearts for its innovative Canadian cuisine and rustic decor. Cosmopolitan Belvedere (downtown, 403-265-9595) gives vegetables like asparagus the loving treatment they deserve, along with innovative high-end entrees and décor reminiscent of a New York bistro. Stylish Wildwood Grill and Brewing Company (southwest, 403-228-0100) tantalizes with gourmet appetizers, burgers and pastas (and great beer!), while Italian-infused Centini (downtown, 403-269-1900) has moved into the downtown spot formerly occupied by the ultra-chic Blonde. Get the signature pomme frites or tempura baby green beans (and a whole lot more) at classy Divino Wine and Cheese Bistro (downtown, 403-410-5555). One of the city's newest and trendiest seafood joints is Big Fish (northeast, 403-277-3403), owned by the same folks who run Diner Deluxe and Piato Greek House. If you love oysters, the opportunities are varied, tasty and worth the upscale prices. (Also try the cornmeal-crusted walleye or the smoky paella-styled seafood stew.)

Family Fare

Kids LOVE the shiny chrome, '50s-style décor, friendly service and comfort food at Kane's Harley Diner (southeast, 403-269-7311) and also the Diner Deluxe (northeast, 403-276-5499). Earl's, Joey Tomato's and the Olive Garden (multiple locations) - despite being operated by chains - treat kids like pint-sized equals with a special menu and good, consistent simple food. Likewise, Italian chain Chianti's (three locations) has a huge menu and food that is fast, tasty and inexpensive. And we haven't met a kid yet who didn't flip for the charbroiled burgers (and milkshakes) at Peter's Drive-Inn (northeast, 403-277-2747) just off the Trans-Canada Highway.

Good to Go

The lineups are out the door for takeout shwarma at Jimmy's, officially known as A&A Foods and Mediterranean deli (northwest, 403-289-1400). Get the garlickiest tzatziki to go - along with great hasty Greek fare like seasoned roast potatoes - at the gas station/café Crete Souvlaki in the southwest (403-246-4777). The best Vietnamese subs in town - we die for the Buddha veggie and lemongrass chicken - are all the rage at Thai Tai Toasted Asian Subs and Grill (southwest, 403-244-3060). Hearty sandwiches and wholesome thin-crust pizzas are dished out, along with amazing artisan bread, at the Urban Baker (northeast, 403-266-3763). Or, get great grilled sausage on a bun and other Italian specialties - along with excellent ready-to-grill sausages - at Spolumbo's (southeast, 403-264-6542). If it's noodle soup you crave, stop in at Café de Tokyo (northeast, 403-264-2027) for heaping tubs of Osaka soup or reasonably priced sushi (you can also eat in at one of a handful of tables.) It doesn't like much from the outside, but it's stellar and fast.

Made to Order

If you've got kitchen access, it'll be breeze to nab some good deli fare and pre-made entrees to keep your hungry travelling companions fed. Sunterra Markets (at least five locations and counting) boasts wonderful meats, pastas and sandwiches that is already made or ready-to-cook. So, too, does the cool Edelweiss (northwest, 403-282-6200), a European deli and café specializing in Dutch, Swiss and Austrian fare. Lina's Italian Market (north-central, 403-277-9166) is popular for its panini sandwiches, Italian entrees and pizzas, which can be eaten in or purchased on takeout along with groceries. So too does the pricier Mercato Italian grocery and deli (403-263-5535), which recently relocated from its longtime shop in the Bridgeland district to trendy Mission on Fourth Street S.W. If you're mixing groceries with supper, most grocery chains from Safeway to Sobey's to Calgary Co-op and Superstore (many locations for all) also have extensive takeout delis.

Patio Paradise

Top honours to the gorgeous flower-laden oasis tucked into the rear of Bonterra (central, 403-262-8480), which specializes in imaginative Italian-style dishes. For casual fare like crispy chicken wings, creamy spinach dip and baked brie in phyllo, we go to the Hose and Hound (southeast, 403-234-0508), where the large heated patio and outdoor pool table are popular a popular gathering place for sports teams. The after-work crowd crams into the sunny rooftop patio at Ceili's (central, 403-508-9999), or at the friendly and food-savvy Melrose Café and Bar (403-228-3566) on trendy 17th Avenue S.W., also known during last year's Stanley Cup finals as the Red Mile. The Mission District (4th Street S.W.) also has many good patio choices including upscale chain eatery Earl's (southwest, 403-228-4141).

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Copyright (c) 2006 Travel Alberta, All Rights Reserved

Travel Alberta is the destination marketing organization for the Province of Alberta. Guided by the Strategic Tourism Marketing Council, Travel Alberta is the steward for the effective delivery of tourism marketing programs. For information about our organization, please visit our Travel Alberta industry web site at

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