Tacos

Eating and Stampeding: Our top Calgary picks

A week in July at one of the world’s biggest festivals in a city we’d never visited was bound to be exciting, but just how great a trip we would have was yet to be known.

The Calgary Stampede, which ran from July 8-17 this year, is an event on many peoples’ bucket lists – if not for the top-tier country music line-up, world-class rodeo acts or epic parade, then for the infamous deep-fried food concoctions and sky-high midway rides.

We went for all those things, and more, which we’ll later get into. But we also learned that Calgary is a city with an impressive food scene and home to innovative, widely recognized chefs creating masterful dishes with a diversity of flavours.

Peace Bridge at sunset
Peace Bridge at sunset

After an early-morning flight over Ontario and the Prairies followed by a disorienting afternoon nap, we set out for a nice walk to an even nicer destination: Calgary’s newest taqueria, Native Tongues.

Named one of the Top New Alberta Restaurants of 2015 by the Globe and Mail, this rustic-chic dine-in and take-out cantina was bustling when we arrived on a Thursday evening (with, of course, everyone clad in plaid and cowboy hats given the time of year – a trend we experienced with delight throughout the course of the week no matter which establishment we went to).

The guac was delicious and generously portioned, featuring chunks of avocado, lots of cilantro and a kick of spice. The tacos, filled with braised meats and vegetables, are made in the open-concept kitchen along with fresh corn tortillas that emerge piping hot from the coals seemingly every minute.

After six tacos, antojitos and stellar margaritas (I mean, when in Rome. Errr, Mexico City), we could handle no màs, as good as the rest of the menu items sounded (looking at you, pollo asado!)

To fuel our busy days at the Stampede, we headed for brunch to Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, followed by the Italian Centre Shop a few days later.

Sidewalk Citizen sits along the beautiful Bow River in the up-and-coming East Village neighbourhood in a refurbished old mattress factory along with two other restaurants. If you’re looking for local, the food doesn’t get much more farm-to-table than this: salads featuring root vegetables like colourful heirloom carrots, creamy organic hummus, savoury buttermilk scones, and Mediterranean-inspired pitas stuffed with grilled cauliflower, halloumi, cucumber, and za’atar. Oh, and everything’s made in-house. Including the bread, which Sidewalk is known chiefly for, and for good reason. (Try the sourdough!)

Across town, the Italian Centre Shop is more than just a shop with local meats, Italian cheeses, pasta, sauces, a deli and full grocery, but an in-store wood-burning pizza oven and café, as well. Cue the most beautiful charcuterie board and thin-crust pie made for us while perusing around the expansive shop.

Before a night out on the town in YYC – and by that, during this time of year, I mean the Chuckwagon races – we continued with the Italian fare for a bountiful dinner at Bonterra Trattoria.

An unseasonably cold July evening had us cozied inside the dining room, but its Tuscan-inspired terrace is where you want to be most summer nights. House-marinated mixed olives and bread whet our appetites for a meal that transports you to the coast of Italy, sipping on a bold red amidst the terra cotta stones and azure ocean.

Fresh salads like capreso and cato line the menu, which also showcases antipasti like melanzana – a delicious eggplant and goat cheese dip. The perfectly al dente pasta dishes – like linguine carbonara with boar bacon – are a feast for the eyes and the tastebuds. Lastly, seared halibut filet atop leek cream, velvety ricotta gnocchi and vibrant spring shoots will have you saying delizioso in no time.

Finally, a post about dining in Calgary would be remiss without digging into the substance of one of the province’s top commodities and brands.

Fittingly, the first thing we heard from the chef at Charcut Roast House upon sitting down was “I hope you like meat!”

Because we were in for lots of it. At lunch, no less! But we Ontarians were more than game, sensing the indulgences that were to come by peeking at the heaping plates of shaved prime rib, grilled steak and pulled chicken passing by and the parmesan being grated over French fries cooked in duck fat in the sous-kitchen right in front of us.

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Co-owner Connie DeSousa is a Top Chef Canada finalist who’s as passionate about the culinary culture and authentic, local ingredients as she is talented in working with them. Her first dish for us was protein and flavour-heavy and inspired by her Portuguese heritage along with the fine farm foods available in the region.

Following an appetizer of rich burrata with house-baked toasted bread and arugula, we dove into our sandwich mains featuring moist, tender rotisserie meat nestled between fresh focaccia slices.

 

Oh, and did we mention the fries?

Our friends weren’t joking when they said not to eat all day before noshing at Charcut! We certainly didn’t need to worry about our appetites for the rest of the day, and meandered around the Stampede grounds.

In between checking out the heavy horse barn and perusing the art on display in the BMO Centre, we took a ride on Westjet’s chairlift-style Sky Ride to get a great view of all the activities at the Greatest Outdoors Show on Earth.

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From agriculture education to Indian Village to the rodeo, evening show spectacle and more, the Stampede truly has something for everyone and all ages.

With all that said, we came home with full cameras and bellies!

Until next time, YYC!
Until next time, YYC!

 

Special thanks to the chefs and restaurants featured for hosting us

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