You’d think that being a born-and-raised Vancouverite with many college friends hailing from the Prairies, that I’d have taken the short ~1.5 hour flight to Calgary at some point in my life. For whatever reason, the opportunity never came up – until now.
While I work out of the main Vancouver office where my company is located, recently my manager made the move to Calgary to open a new office. Now, I’m the sole remaining member of my department in Vancouver – making it pretty imperative that I visit my team every once in awhile. My most recent trip was for this very reason – and just so happened to be my first ever time in Calgary.
Although I only spent one night in the city, I tried (as always) to eat as much as I could. While I’m sure I’ll have many more Calgary food guides coming your way, if ever you’re in the area for business, a long layover, or a quick stopover while road tripping, here are my express picks for where to eat in Calgary.
Breakfast: Sunterra Market
My colleague and I were put up in a swanky Airbnb condo for the night, providing us with pretty incredible sunrise views from the surrounding floor-to-ceiling windows. I have to admit – I felt like a fake Canadian in the -28 C weather (I just couldn’t get used to frozen nose hairs) – but at least it was a nice change from the recent rainstorms back in Vancouver.
On our ill-advised walk to work (who knew 12 minutes could feel like life-or-death?), we decided to stop by the popular Sunterra Market, which was reminiscent of an Urban Fare back home. Because I’m still on the keto diet, my breakfast options were limited, but I happily settled on a package of beef jerky and pepperoni sticks to tide me over for the morning. I also indulged and picked up a hefty serving of delicious Niçoise salad for a mid-morning snack.
As a beef jerky and pepperoni stick connoisseur, I was very pleased with the selection of dried meats available for purchase. Not only was the meat itself high-quality (and I’m assuming locally-sourced), but it was reasonably cheap compared to the mass-processed, high-sugar stuff you find in regular supermarkets. In fact, I was disappointed that I forgot to stock up on jerky for the plane ride home… Oh well, there’s always next time.
Lunch: Cafe Koi
On recommendation by one of the newest members on my team, I placed a pickup order at Cafe Koi, located on 1st Street SW. This spot is definitely a must-visit, and I was sad that we weren’t able to experience the atmosphere during dinner time – complete with live jazz bands, and attracting local photographers and artists encouraged to showcase their work. The ambience in this place is cozy and modern, with a nice touch of Asian fusion decor to round it out.
The food menu was incredibly enticing, offering a great assortment of Asian-fusion dishes like kimchi salmon, ginger beef, soba noodle salads and customizable “Signature Bowls.” I went for the Dragon Bowl with extra vegetables instead of rice.
My partner-in-crime Alex opted for the Buddha Burger, filled with a vegetarian patty served on naan bread with onion marmalade, feta, beets and other veg. The price range varied – appetizers were more affordable than mains, but the serving sizes were well-stacked, and easily got us through the day.
Dinner: Palomino Smokehouse
For dinner, the whole office decided to go out for a celebratory meal. I was given my pick, and despite not knowing anything about Calgary, was obviously quick to choose the closest BBQ joint in the downtown area.
The Palomino was exactly what you imagine when the words “smokehouse” and “BBQ” are thrown around. Not only is this restaurant home to the largest smoker in Western Canada, but the portion sizes are huge, the staff incredibly welcoming and friendly, and the decor something out of a small-town cowboy movie.
Oh right, let’s not forget the food.
We started with the Deep Fried Pickles with chilli lime aioli and then sat scouring our options for a good 20 minutes before making up our minds. I went with the Two Meat Platter (Alberta Beef Brisket and Spolumbo’s Smoked Sausage) with Palomino Slaw and Simple Greens with buttermilk ranch dressing, while my colleagues ordered the Catfish Po Boy and Rustic Chef’s Salads.
It was my first time tasting authentic Alberta Brisket, and I was not disappointed. The meat was tender, juicy, and perfectly spiced. Even after dousing my plate with the accompanying hot sauces (I couldn’t resist), the meat flavour stood its ground. The next time I’m in town, I won’t hesitate to come back for more meat plates.
The Palomino isn’t just a restaurant. Go downstairs and you’ll find something similar to a modern day The Cavern Club – red lights, a stage for live music, a stocked bar, and walls covered with music posters and neon signs.
If that isn’t enough to spark your interest, then just take a peek at their brunch menu. I dare you to resist Bourbon Apple Pulled Pork French Toast with a double Caesar!