Over the last decade or so, Calgary has really become a city that’s embraced its independent restaurants. There are a handful of places that really scream “Calgary” and naturally fall onto the “must taste” list for many visitors. When first visitors to Calgary ask me for restaurant recommendations, I weigh not only the deliciousness of my favourite spots, but also how unique they are, the level of innovation the chefs put into the dishes, and how representative they are of Calgary’s larger culinary culture. This list could easily be twice as long, but these 14 restaurants are all places to try if you’re looking to get a taste of quintessentially Calgarian cuisine.
Must-Try Dining Experiences in Calgary
Must-Try Dining Experiences in Calgary
If Calgary has a geographical heart, it is probably at the confluence of the Bow and Elbow rivers — which is exactly where Deane House sits. The house itself is a historic gem that was built in 1908 as the private residence of NWMP Superintendent Captain Richard Deane. The fully restored building has a relaxed modern feel, with a back patio that looks out on that crossing point of the two rivers. The food matches the location. Expect high-level Canadiana cuisine that celebrates the historic local with a modern fine-dining twist.
CHARCUT Roast House
When it comes to the growth of Calgary’s independent restaurant industry, the folks behind CHARCUT Roast House have been some of the city’s greatest ambassadors. Owned and operated by co-chefs John Jackson and Connie DeSousa, CHARCUT showed Calgarians that high quality restaurants don’t have to be stuffy or formal. Best known for its house-made charcuterie (hence the restaurant’s name) and the pig’s head mortadella in particular, the menu is actually fairly diverse, with pastas and fish dishes balancing out the cured meats and infamous duck fat poutine. And, if you’re downtown at lunchtime, the “Lunch All At Once” is highly recommended for a quick hit.
Another fine dining spot in a historic home in Inglewood, Rouge is the gold standard when it comes to fine dining in Calgary. This is the place to go for a special occasion, or just an opportunity to really treat yourself in an elegant setting with highly professional service. The menu is French-inspired, with a strong element of Canadiana, and fresh and local ingredients leading the way. The setting is Rouge’s other selling point. Located right on the river near the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, the restaurant also boasts a large yard with a private garden.
There are plenty of restaurants that build their menus with local ingredients, but nobody goes quite as far as Calgary’s iconic River Café. The only restaurant on Calgary’s picturesque Prince’s Island Park, a beautiful island park right downtown in the middle of the Bow River, River Café is dedicated to regional food, with the exception of a few things like coffee and chocolate, everything is sourced in Canada, that is always fresh, exquisitely plated and, above all, unbelievably delicious. With a patio overlooking the river and picnic baskets available in the summer, there’s good reason why this special fine dining restaurant has been a leader in Calgary for more than 20 years.
This is not Calgary’s newest but if you’re looking for a bit of old school style and a (literal) taste of Calgary’s history, this classic steak house is just the ticket. Established in 1972, Caesar’s Steakhouse downtown location is a beautiful time capsule, capturing the days when Calgary’s business was conducted around plates of cut-to-order steaks served with loaded baked potatoes and a couple rounds of martinis. Caesar’s even still offers “traditional service,” with Caesar salads mixed tableside. Contrary to popular belief, Caesar’s is not the birthplace of the Caesar cocktail, but they do make a good one!
Calgary is famous for its steakhouses and there are so many good ones but Modern Steak is on this list because of its dedication to serving local ranch specific beef. The restaurant serves cuts from a number of different Alberta ranches, but the biggest draw is its Modern Benchmark Black Angus, sourced from the offspring of a bull that is owned by the restaurant itself. Fitted with modern décor (hence the name), but fully immersed in Alberta cattle culture, Modern Steak represents both Calgary’s history and our future.
The chain of National is a huge Calgary success story. Locally owned, the four different locations all have their own flavour, catering specifically to their specific neighbourhood. What the all have in common is a relaxed atmosphere, communal tables, good food and a great selection of beer. Calgary has really become a beer town in recent years and in addition to some international favourites, National does a good job of representing many of Calgary’s best breweries.
OEB Breakfast Co. Downtown
We Calgarians love our brunch places and there are countless places in the city to get a good brunch. OEB Breakfast Co. is a favourite with both locals and visitors. With three locations in the city, this Calgary-based chain is all about ultra-rich chef-driven breakfast concoctions made with the very best farm fresh eggs and other local ingredients.
Chef Justin Leboe’s small plates restaurant Pigeonhole is the pinnacle of modern Calgary cuisine. Billed as a “wine and snack bar,” the menu changes regularly based on seasonality and the whims of the kitchen, but you can always count on creative flavour combinations, opulently dressed vegetables and some kind of tartar. For something a bit heartier, Leboe’s other restaurant, Model Milk, is located right next door, making this block of 17th Avenue SW a favourite for Calgary food enthusiasts.
Sidewalk Citizen Bakery
No trip to Calgary is complete without a stop at the Simmons Building, a hub in the East Village that is home to Phil & Sebastian, Charbar, and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery. Founded by Aviv Fried, an artisanal sourdough baker who started his business by delivering loaves of bread via bicycle. Sidewalk Citizen still sells those glorious loaves, but you can now also pop into the Simmons location for a full lunch, with flavours inspired by Fried’s native Israel. If you only get one thing, make it a sticky bun, those things are truly divine.
There is absolutely no better way to see Calgary than from on top the Calgary Tower. Even longtime residents tend to see new things from that bird’s eye view and the rotating Sky 360 restaurant gives you a chance to see it all from a plushy seat as you rotate around the circumference of the tower. While the view is obviously the main attraction, the food is also pretty great. Look for regional favourites made with bison, Canadian beef, local cheese and other Calgary-specific ingredients.
One of Calgary’s grand fine dining restaurants, Teatro’s location in an old bank building just off of Olympic Plaza is only part of what makes it so remarkable. The refined Italian-inspired fare is always delicious and comes with special touches like olive oil from the owner’s family grove in Italy. Teatro is a particular treat for wine lovers. The old bank vault serves as the wine cellar, full of wines amassed over the 25 years that the restaurant has been in business.
UNA Pizza + Wine
Another pioneer of Calgary’s modern restaurant scene, UNA Pizza + Wine was instrumental in starting Calgary’s thin-crust pizza craze and continues to make some of the best pizza in the city. With a no reservations policy, there is often a queue, but classics like the prosciutto pizza and the kale Caesar salad or bar snacks like the walnut-stuffed medjool dates are worth any wait. If you need your pizza pronto, there’s also a takeaway shop next door with a hidden wine bar in the back.
Village Ice Cream
As long as the sun is shining, it’s ice cream season in Calgary. Village Ice Cream is one of the city’s best local scoop shops. It’s community focused and the ice cream itself is hand crafted and incredibly creamy. There’s often a line-up on warm days, but that just gives you a chance to chat with other ice cream lovers and take time to decide what flavour you want in your cone.
These are just a few of the must-try spots in Calgary, but there are plenty of others that speak to the quality of food in the city. No matter what you end up trying, you’re bound to find some great meals in town, especially since the bar is continuously being raised.