Calgary and Edmonton’s food scenes are the true definition of innovative, diverse, and independent, with an emphasis on local businesses supporting each other. This collaborative approach to business seeps right down to the ingredients that are shared from restaurant to restaurant. Behind a classic, there’s always an unexpected twist. If it’s Japanese, make it American kitsch too; if it’s a punk brewery, why not whack in Vietnamese food for a playful spin? Collaboration also means that independent restaurants and other small businesses can thrive alongside each other. Plus, there’s an unusually strong sense of community amidst the restaurant owners and chefs that you might expect of a small village, not cosmopolitan cities like Calgary and Edmonton.
Where and what to eat:
Calgary’s first chef-driven taco-focused restaurant is a trendy hotspot located downtown. On entry, a large bar space looks out onto an intimate dining area of communal tables designed by Amanda Hamilton (Rodney’s, 80th and Ivy, Anejo) that screams industrial chic. Endless tequila and mezcal bottles are positioned in the backdrop, and fairy lights dangle down from the ceiling. Corn tortillas are made fresh daily, composed of all sorts of dynamic fillings ranging from beef brisket to house-made herb and grilled octopus. Sit by the bar for a hypnotic view of the talented mixologists prepping frozen ‘margs’ by the dozen.
Millennial pink tiles, pastel cornices and avo-salthered toasties make CHIX Eggshop a charming breakfast and brunch spot in East Village, a lively, re-generated neighbourhood that has become a prime location for brunch outings and mimosa pit-stops in between shopping and gallery visits. It’s the new kid on the block, launched by Alberta-born Connie Young who has a portfolio of renowned restaurants in and around Calgary. The coffee is bottomless and poached eggs are made with uncanny precision.
Small plates and large are part of the package at Foreign Concept, located right in the middle of the action in downtown Calgary. Crispy preserved lemon chicken garnished with sweet pepper chilli jam is an instant winner, and the charred Albertan rainbow carrots are a sensation both in flavour and presentation. For Chef Ly, who is classically trained in French cuisine, Foreign Concept is a way to bring his culture and heritage into his cooking through a modern Pan-Asian menu.
Kensington Food Tour
Kensington is a hub for independent businesses in fashion, beauty, and beyond. It’s also the spot for boutique wine bars and unique restaurant concepts, housing 270 local businesses in total. The brown stone buildings are similar to New York’s Greenwich Village. Pop on the Crave Kensington food tour for an intimate round of Calgary’s most liveable areas. Try your hand at decorating cupcakes with Crave Cookies and Cupcakes or taste goats’ cheese at Peasant cheese shop. Brasserie Kensington is also on the list, serving up what could possibly be the most delicious poutine in Alberta. You heard it here first.
Where to stay:
Hotel Arts has become a hotspot in downtown Calgary for its location and sleek ambiance. In the summer months, groups of friends’ flock to the trendy poolside to enjoy cocktails and tacos in a laid-back setting. Luxury Suites are spacious and offer spectacular city views from their balconies. The award-winning cuisine at Yellow Door Bistro makes an impromptu business lunch or dinner date all the more delightful.
A welcoming and cosy little cafe and breakfast hotspot within walking distance of Edmonton’s downtown area. The building dates back to 1903, when it was once an old brick house located in the heart of the river valley. The brickyard provided bricks for some of Edmonton’s most historic buildings and still looks like a house both inside and out today. Artisanal sandwiches and tasty baked goods can be taken out to the patio which is decked with picnic tables and custom-made fire pits.
A chic and sophisticated crowd can be found bopping along to old-school hip hop tracks here. They’re probably sipping tiki cocktails in pineapple-shaped glassware and eating late-night dumplings before disappearing behind a nondescript bookcase that happens to be a speakeasy. Standout dishes include the crispy mushroom bao that’s large enough to share, and the devilled tea eggs garnished with pickled chillies and crispy shallots also go down a treat.
Old Red Barn
The provincial capital of Edmonton is surrounded by miles of countryside, which is where you’ll find Old Red Barn, a former dairy farm turned restaurant. The drive from the city centre to Leduc takes around 30 minutes by car, though wine lovers may be tempted to book a cab to make the most of the experience. Local wine producers as well as native chefs are brought together at Old Red Barn to create a family-style meal with sweeping views of greenery and horses grazing just metres away. Expect Albertan root vegetables, artisan meats and a truly unique farm to fork experience.
Sea Change Brewery
A punk brewery with a Vietnamese twist is just another innovative combo to add to Edmonton’s list of alternative restaurant concepts. While the atmosphere screams punk, the food menu sits apart from what is conventionally associated with your typical brewery. Vietnamese bánh mì options are filled with pickled vegetables and slices of meat, a quirk that was added by founder Taylor Falk to set his brewery apart from the rest.
Where to stay:
Designed with the savvy traveller in mind, Metterra Hotel on Whyte is a contemporary, luxury hotel in the heart of the historic Old Strathcona District. The Library is a cosy spot away from the buzzy main road, and rooms are outfitted in splashes of Indonesian art. Enjoy cheese and wine nights alfresco or in the sophisticated dining area before exploring the multitude of restaurants and bars right on your doorstep.
Frontier Canada has seven nights in Alberta, Canada from £1,495 per person. Valid for travel in September 2022, the price includes return Air Canada flights from London Heathrow to Calgary, six nights’ accommodation including three nights at the Hotel Arts in Calgary and three nights B&B at the Metterra Hotel on Whyte in Edmonton, and car hire with extra driver, GPS and petrol. The price is based on two adults travelling and sharing accommodation.