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The dining scene in Calgary is quite diverse; it's a far cry from the days when Calgary cuisine seemed to be dominated by steak houses, pancake chains, and the occasional pizza place or Chinese restaurant. Today, you can find food from all the major international cuisines (French, Chinese, Italian, Japanese) done very well indeed, and many other cuisines (Indian, Greek, Thai, Mideastern, Vietnamese, Korean, Ethiopian, German, Moroccan, Spanish) are also well represented.
Please note that there is no requirement for Calgary restaurants to post menus (and most do not), so you may want to ask to see a menu before you're seated, to be sure that the food selection and prices are in step with your expectations.
A note on smoking: Effective January 1, 2007, a city bylaw banned smoking in all restaurants and bars, and also on their outdoor patios.
"Look, all kitchens are filthy, Mr. Fawlty. In fact, the better the kitchen, the filthier it is." -- Fawlty Towers, "Basil the Rat".
Fawlty Towers notwithstanding, most people would like to dine in restaurants with clean kitchens and a good health record. However, as Basil Fawlty's cook points out, a clean and organized dining room doesn't necessarily tell you anything about what goes on in the kitchen. So it is a very good idea to check the online restaurant inspection records before dining out.
Restaurant inspections for Calgary and area are now available through online search; make sure to have the name and address of the restaurant handy. The five most recent reports for each restaurant can be viewed.
An all-day sit-down breakfast is available from several locally-based chains, such as Smitty's , Phil's , and Humpty's . Cora's and EggsOasis are open only for breakfast and lunch. All of them are family-oriented.
In Jan. 2010, locally popular breakfast restaurant chain Nellies was fined over $60,000 for repeated health violations at five of their locations. They also have a history of serious health code violations.
A good stop for lunch in the downtown core is Falafel King on 1st St. SW just a block south of the downtown Hudson's Bay store
Over 50 different food trucks, offering nearly as many different cuisine choices, can be found at various locations around Calgary in the warm months (May to October). Two websites list the various trucks available and may give you an idea of where to find them: www.yycfoodtrucks.com ("Official Site for Calgary's Food Truck Culture") and www.yycfoodtrucks.ca ("the home of the Original Calgary Food Trucks") . Two free apps available from iTunes may also help you locate and rate food trucks in Calgary. The Eat St app gives information on Calgary food trucks and food carts, as well as food trucks in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and many US cities. Street Food Calgary focuses on Calgary food trucks only.
The Bloody Caesar (called "Canada's national cocktail" by some) was invented by bartender Walter Chell for Marco's Restaurant, an Italian restaurant at the Calgary Inn (now the Calgary Westin). That restaurant is now the Liquid Lounge. It is often thought that the drink originated at another Calgary restaurant, Caesar's Steak House, but in a 2005 interview, Gus Giannoulis, co-owner and co-founder of Caesar's, stated that the Bloody Caesar wasn't invented there, "but we perfected and promoted it."
Ginger beef is an established specialty of Calgary Chinese restaurants. It was introduced by Calgary restauranteurs Louis and Alice Chan at the Silver Inn in 1974. Although the Chans no longer run the Silver Inn (having moved on to operating many other successful restaurants) the signature dish of lightly battered, deep-fried beef strips in a ginger and chili sauce has been adopted by every Calgary Chinese restaurant. A good ginger beef dish is never chewy, and the spiciness varies from pleasantly gingery (for the first bites, from the top of the dish) to hot'n'spicy by the time you reach the last delicious morsels that have been soaking up extra ginger-chili sauce .
Big Rock beer - Calgary's Big Rock Brewery makes a wide variety of award-winning beers. They make a lot of different ales, and a few lagers. These are available at local liquor stores in cans & bottles, and on tap in restaurants & pubs. You can also take a brewery tour, or enjoy lunch at their Big Rock Grill (weekdays only).
Bernard Callebaut chocolates are award-winning Belgian chocolates, made in Callebaut's Calgary plant and sold at Callebaut stores throughout the city and in Banff. How can you make Belgian chocolates in Canada? By importing high-quality chocolate from Belgium to start the whole process, and then making it into couverture for a wide variety of fillings for boxed chocolates. The chocolates are treated with the greatest care to keep them fresh before purchase (the entire store is kept cold) and you will be given advice on the best way to keep your chocolates fresh after purchase and until they're consumed. A special treat is available at the end of November or beginning of December: specially-selected BC cherries, hand-dipped in chocolate and allowed to marinate in Kirsch liqueur for five months. Get them when you can; when they're gone, you'll have to wait until next year. (But don't forget about the pits!)
Teppan-yaki at the mall? Outlets such as Koya Japan and Edo Japan offer a modest Japanese teppan-yaki menu in Calgary's food courts. No fancy knife-twirling, just quick, healthy Japanese food, prepared right before your eyes. Calgary seems to be the source of Canadian mall teppan-yaki, perhaps due to the influence of early Japanese cuisine pioneers in Calgary, such as Rev. S.J. Ikuta and Peter Kinjo.
Prairie oysters, a traditional cowboy specialty, are featured at the downtown Buzzards Restaurant on their evening menu. For the adventurous!
Spolumbo's Italian sausages are gourmet sausages made by a Calgary company. Spolumbo's was founded by three players from the Calgary Stampeders CFL football team who were childhood friends: Tom & Tony Spoletini and Mike Palumbo. There are over a dozen types of Spolumbo sausages, such as mild Italian, chorizo, bratwurst, chicken apple, and turkey cranberry. They can be found in grocery stores and on restaurant menus in Calgary and beyond. Or you can visit their deli in Calgary's downtown Inglewood district to have a sausage sandwich, a sub, or panzerotti.
If you want more information on where to dine in Calgary, read My Favorite Restaurants: Calgary, Canmore and Beyond, by longtime Calgary restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist. This book is now in its 8th edition.