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Calgary Restaurants: And the winners are…

We announce the winners of our first-ever Where to Dine Awards

One of the biggest impressions a city can make on a visitor is its restaurants. So this year, for our first Where to Dine Awards, we went to the experts to create a panel of judges made up of industry leaders around the city—people who know the city well and have lots of experience wining and dining in Calgary.

Over a night of great food and drink, they deliberated, debated and decided this year’s list of winners. Most important, was ensuring that each restaurant would create a memorable experience. We think you’ll be happy with the results.

The lodge-inspired dining room at River Cafe, located in Prince's Island Park.

BEST AMBIANCE & OVERALL: River Café
John: “River Café’s got the full package: the food, the service, the setting and the wine. Plus, it’s on Prince’s Island—the space is built to complement the setting. The food is as close to nature as possible, and it’s a very Canadian menu, with the strongest adherence to local ingredients. They have dishes like nettle soup—you just can’t find that on most menus. They also grow their own produce and herbs. It’s a great place for visitors because in summer you can sit on the patio and take in the greenery and the river, and in winter, you can watch the snow fall. It has that lodge feel.”
Honourable mentions (ambiance): Alloy, The Ranche

BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK: Avenue Diner
Christopher: “The menu is intriguing; it’s a home-cooked type of offering, very fresh and modern. They have their own version of eggs Benedict, and it’s special. There’s a lot of attention to small things.”
Honourable mention: Earl’s

BEST BISTRO: Belgo
Marla: “An outstanding venue; there’s lots of good energy. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with wonderful, inventive food. The Cobb salad is my favourite, I get it all the time. They are really creative and the service is great.”
Honourable mentions: Brava Bistro, FARM

BEST BRUNCH: Diner Deluxe
John: “Judging by the lineup onto the sidewalk most weekends, it’s the people’s choice for brunch. It’s a combination of the retro ‘50s diner atmosphere, and a creative menu that goes well beyond bacon and eggs. For visitors, it gives you a real taste of Calgary.”
Honourable mentions: AKA Wine Bar, Wainwright Hotel

Duet of Broek Acres pork tenderloin and braised shoulder, from Rouge.

BEST CANADIAN REGIONAL: Rouge
Alida: “The menu is eclectic, and changes frequently. They use a lot of local ingredients, and even grow herbs and produce in their garden. It’s new, upscale Calgary, and a good experience of the city we’ve become. I recently had the Arctic char cannelloni, and it tasted fabulous. It’s also located in one of the few vintage, historical homes in city, and it’s in Inglewood, a great place for out-of-towners—they can shop and then stop for lunch.”
Honourable mentions: Open Range, Selkirk Grill

BEST CHINESE: Silver Dragon
Christopher: “Silver Dragon is fresh. Every time I go, whether it’s lunch, dinner or late night, it’s always made to order. They do an excellent oyster dish, and a Peking duck that is done to perfection. Their seafood is good, the live lobster is like nothing you’ll get anywhere else—fresh and bountiful. The ginger beef—I haven’t had it the same anywhere else.”
Honourable mentions: Leo Fu’s, Dragon Pearl

BIRKS SILVER SPOON AWARD: Rush
The members of Les Clefs d’Or (“The Golden Keys”), a prestigious international organization of hotel concierges, honoured a restaurant they felt consistently provided great service to hotel guests. Jill Marven, chef concierge at the Hyatt Regency Calgary and Clefs d’Or member, says they chose this year’s recipient, Rush, because of their willingness to help out guests in a pinch. She also says the restaurant’s ambiance played a factor: “Rush is a beautiful restaurant with many levels of dining: there is the lounge area where guests can enjoy a glass of their favourite wine, booths where they can have a lively group meal, the main dining room for more formality, the chef’s table for more interaction with the kitchen, and of course their private dining room.”

The retro red velvet cake from Nectar Desserts.

BEST DESSERT: Nectar Desserts
George: “The desserts are fantastic! I love going upstairs at night and having a big piece of chocolate cake and a glass of wine. It shows Calgary as a sophisticated place, they only serve dessert, and they serve it in an upscale way. I like anything chocolate there—they do chocolate very well!”
Honourable mentions: Manuel Latruwe, A Ladybug Bakery & Cafe

BEST FINE DINING: Muse
John: ”Muse has brought in a new chef from France, and his attention to detail, commitment to freshness, and ability to pull out flavours, has elevated dining to a new level. The food showcases some of the best local ingredients as well as the best international ones. If people are looking for linens on the tabletop, that’s not Muse, but it exemplifies fine dining by the quality of the food and the level of service.”
Honourable mentions: Teatro, The Belvedere

BEST FRENCH: La Chaumière
Brigitte: “La Chaumière has been a favourite for decades in this city. It doesn’t matter what you eat, it’s just excellent food. Exquisite cuisine, outstanding service and elegant European ambiance. They just never fail to deliver.”
Honourable mentions: Fleur de Sel, Saint Germain

BEST GOURMET BURGER: Buchanan’s Chop House
George: “The food is always fantastic, but the burgers are made with top sirloin, and onions, and a fresh, beautiful bun. It’s delicious, there’s no burger anywhere better. Great value for your money, plus since it’s down by Prince’s Island, it’s walkable from the hotels. You can see high-rises and you’re treated well, it’s not your typical burger joint.”
Honourable mentions: Tommy Burger, 1600 World Bier Haus

Discover New England comfort dishes at ParkerHouse.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT: ParkerHouse
ParkerHouse is the kind of place where diners can experience high quality service, ambiance and food, for a reasonable price. Set inside the historic 1911 Lougheed Building, the space has been completely renovated with mahogany pillars, Brazilian cherry wood floors and comfy leather chairs. Chef Andrew Keen, known for his excellence in “forgotten fare,” has created a menu inspired by traditional New England comfort dishes with creative twists. On the menu are items like Monkfish “Chowda” wrapped in prosciutto with red peppers, potato, and herb cream, and pasta with sugar-baked ham and peas. For dinner, most entrees (with the exception of their steaks) sit in the mid-twenties range, while diners on a budget can try one of their thin-crust pizzas for as low as $12.88. Chosen by the Editor.

BEST GREEK/MEDITERRANEAN: Santorini
John: “The food is always consistent, everyone there is from Greece, and they understand the food well—especially the kleftiko (slow-roasted shoulder of lamb), and they make really good calamari. It’s the full, fun, Greek blue-and-white package. If you want music, dancing, and wine, this is the place to let your hair down.”
Honourable mentions: Sultan’s Tent, Broken Plate

BEST HOTEL DINING: Chef’s Table
John: “This is a small boutique hotel, so the restaurant is small too. They call it Chef’s Table because the chef can focus on each plate. They have dishes like lamb loin with purple artichokes—dishes that are simple, but when prepared by the chef individually, he can tune it and make the flavours sing. You can indulge in great Canadian wine, and then go upstairs to your room.”
Honourable mentions: The Rimrock, Raw Bar

BEST INDIAN: Mango Shiva
George: “I go for the atmosphere; it’s a very clean, modern restaurant serving very ancient food. You get to sit on nice leather chairs and look out onto passersby on Stephen Avenue. There’s a variety of dishes on the menu, and the quality is very good. The butter fire roasted chicken is delicious.”
Honourable mentions: Moti Mahal, Taj Mahal

Mercato's Italian market and deli, located next to the restaurant.

BEST ITALIAN: Mercato
Shannon: “I love the open kitchen experience. It has a genuine and authentic feel. I always get a variation of the same thing: pasta with sausage, aioli and broccolini. And the bruschetta, of course. I love it all! It’s more than food, it’s an experience.”
Honourable mentions: La Dolce Vita, Capo

BEST PUB: Bottlescrew Bill’s
Brigitte: “It’s just such a neat venue. It’s authentically local. The beers around the world are fabulous. It’s hard to find anything like it if you’re looking for a local atmosphere or for something casual. It’s been a Calgary favourite for decades. People eat there and they love it.”
Honourable mentions: The James Joyce, Barley Mill

QUINTESSENTIAL CALGARY: Sky 360
John: “First of all, they’re up top the Calgary Tower, so, you can’t get much more Calgary than the Calgary Tower. And the view, as it says in the name, is 360 degrees of the city. With chef Alain Chabot in the kitchen, the food quality has gone up too. You’ll get a bouillabaisse and different kinds of pastas—it’s a menu meant to appeal to visitors of all stripes.”
Honourable mentions: Smuggler’s Inn, Deane House

BEST SERVICE: Murrieta’s
Alida: “I bring family and friends here because the service is always excellent—it’s never slow or indifferent. It’s pleasant but not cloying. At Murrieta’s they check on you, but they’re not obtrusive, and the timing for courses is always appropriate; you don’t feel rushed, but you’re not waiting around either.”
Honourable mentions: The Living Room, Centini

The lounge at Vintage Chophouse, with live blues and jazz Friday to Saturday.

BEST STEAK: Vintage Chophouse
Marla: “It’s representative of the quality of beef from Alberta, it’s flavourful and tender. I like the lounge—the entertainment and atmosphere make you want to stay. It’s also close to the Stampede Grounds, downtown, and to some historical buildings. It’s a steakhouse that’s classically done but with a modern edge.”
Honourable mentions: The Trib, Caesar’s

BEST SUBURBAN DINING: LeVilla
Shannon: “With LeVilla, I appreciate the opportunity to have a fine dining experience in my own neighbourhood. They do a great steak. It’s the chance to experience a community restaurant with a great atmosphere and food. Beautiful wine list and fireplace.”
Honourable mentions: Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus, Bears Den

BEST SUSHI: Sakana Grill
Chris: “It’s by far one of the best sushi houses that I’ve been to, and that’s from San Francisco to Atlantic Canada. The sashimi is beyond comparison to anything that I’ve seen. The wasabi is quite tasty as well—but it’s got a punch to it. Sakana is professional, it’s clean, it’s all the things you would look for in a sashimi house.”
Honourable mentions: Globefish, Blowfish

Sample authentic Thai dishes at Thai Sai-On.

BEST THAI: Thai Sa-On
Alida: “For me, the benchmark of good Thai food is the whole fish dish with chilies and garlic. I always judge Thai restaurants on how well they prepare this. Some have it and it’s awful, but here it’s amazing. Crispy and spicy on the outside, and tender with just a bit of bite on the inside. They also have an incredible wine list, which is something you don’t expect.”
Honourable mentions: The King & I, Chili Club Thai House

BEST WINE: Vin Room
John: “Vin Room has 64 wines by the glass—that’s just an amazing number. And there’s a full range of prices, from very affordable to jaw-dropping. They have as talented a sommelier as you can get, and all sorts of wines and grapes you’ve never heard of. It also shows the variety of wine that’s available in Alberta, and the food is very good, they try to match the food with the wine.”
Honourable mentions: Wine Bar Kensington, Escoba

The Trough's culturally diverse dishes make it worth the drive to Canmore.

WORTH THE DRIVE: The Trough
Marla: “It’s always worth the drive to go to Canmore, and to visit The Trough is really enjoyable. It’s part of the whole experience of going into the mountains, and it will give you a memorable meal. I was most impressed by the people—the people serving and the people that were there. Sometimes it’s the people and the décor that you remember the most.”
Honourable mentions: Tapas, Crazyweed

SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD AWARD: River Café
Since 2005, a select group of restaurants across Canada have committed to making sure their seafood is Ocean Wise. This program, run by the Vancouver Aquarium, helps chefs avoid seafood life that is endangered or caught with techniques that destroy habitats and sweep up unintended marine life. Where Calgary has partnered with Ocean Wise to create a Sustainable Seafood Award, which we award to a restaurant that shows unwavering commitment to sustainable seafood. This year’s winner is River Café, a restaurant that goes out of its way to use ingredients from local, organic and sustainable sources.

THE PANELISTS
Shannon Bowen-Smed, President and Chief Executive Officer of BOWEN Workforce Solutions
George Brookman, Chairman of the Board of Tourism Calgary
Marla Cohen, Director of Development of Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta
Brigitte Fritz, General Manager of The Fairmont Palliser Hotel
Ken King, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Calgary Flames
Christopher T. Vachon, General Manager of the new Hôtel Le Germain Calgary
Alida Visbach, President and Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Park Historical Village

MODERATOR
John Gilchrist, our contributing editor and local food critic

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