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Where to Dine Awards 2019: Calgary’s Best Restaurants

By RACHAEL FREY, SILVIA PIKAL and SHAUNA MCGINN

PANEL OF JUDGES

Carmen Cheng
Food Blogger, @FoodKarmaBlog

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth
Food Writer, @elizaboothy

Linda Garson
Owner and host, Vine and Dine, @vineanddine

Patricia Koyich
Hospitality Instructor and Former Restauranteur, @foodieforsure

Ryan Massel
Blogger, @immrfabulous

Mike Morrison
Blogger, @mikesbloggity

Gwendolyn Richards
Food Writer, @gwendolynmr

Cindy Stewart
Chef Concierge, Westin Hotel, @stewart_cindy

Julie Van Rosendaal
Food Writer, @dinnerwithjulie

Calgarians take eating out seriously, and the city’s chefs and restaurateurs of all stripes continue to rise to the challenge with innovative dishes that keep us coming back for more. The Where To Dine Awards are our effort to guide you to some of the very best the city has to offer, and we’re certain an unforgettable dining experience is awaiting you within city limits.

But, don’t take our word for it. We assembled a panel that includes many of Calgary’s top food writers and influencers to give you the critics’ choice for each category, and they also chose the restaurants that received our top honours, Restaurant of the Year and Best New Restaurant.

In addition, we’ve come up with some editor’s picks and local favourites to make sure you’ll be united with your perfect meal — whether that’s pine mushroom and stinging nettle risotto with parsnip milk, or a big ol’ hunk of steak medium rare.

RESTAURANT OF THE YEAR: BRIDGETTE BAR
Our judging panel declared Bridgette Bar the overall winner as Restaurant of the Year thanks to their inventive menu, artful décor and exceptional service. Set in a historic brick warehouse with a mid-century modern theme, they make use of a large wood-burning grill and oven for their dishes. There’s something for every craving, from seasonal vegetables to pizza and pasta, and an array of creative small and large plates. “Even with an ever-changing menu, it never misses the mark,” says Mike Morrison. There’s also a diverse selection of cocktails, wines and beers on tap to pair with your plates. While the menu is frequently updated, some of the cherished and lasting items include the garlic bread (one of Where Calgary’s 25 Favourite Dishes last year), braised rabbit on toast and the epic banana pie. “Nowhere in the world will you find a more decadent and delicious dessert,” says Ryan Massel. “Served on a pretzel crust, this sky-high pie made with rum caramel and spiced custard gives your palate everything it’s ever wanted.”

Photo by Jason Dziver.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT: BREAD & CIRCUS
Tucked in behind Una Takeaway, Bread & Circus has been a sleeper hit for those in the know over the past year. “For a minute, it was a secret speakeasy of sorts for a plate of satisfying pasta and glass of wine,” says Carmen Cheng, “but the secret’s out now and Bread & Circus has been getting more and more recognition for its Roman-inspired menu.” Dining is family-style, with the menu divided into antipasti (appetizers), primi (first course), secondi (second course), contorni (side dishes) and, for your sweet tooth, dessert. The deceptively simple cacio e pepe is a standout — hot spaghetti noodles are swirled around inside a giant block of pecorino romano until they’re coated in melted cheese, then topped with a sprinkle of pepper and presented for your dining pleasure. The room is small and intimate, meaning reservations are definitely recommended, and don’t get lost — you actually need to pass through Una to get to this little hidden gem.

Photo courtesy Bread & Circus.

BEST BARBECUE
Critics’ Choice: Hayden Block A true Texas barbecue joint with house-smoked meats, Ryan Massel says Hayden Block competes with Nashville’s best eateries: “Hayden Block’s smoked meats, creative sides and corn bread hush puppies may be the best in North America.”
Editor’s Pick: Belle Southern Kitchen + Bar Juicy, flavourful Southern-style barbecue is wood-smoked in-house and accompanied by an array of side options at this stylish and welcoming joint.
Local Favourite: Booker’s BBQ Grill & Crab Shack Situated next to the city’s Riverwalk, Booker’s is an ideal surf and turf spot with a warm, friendly atmosphere and half price ribs and crab on Sundays after 4 pm.

Photo courtesy Belle Southern Kitchen + Bar.

BEST BREAKFAST
Critics’ Choice: The Beltliner A stylish and modern take on the classic diner, The Beltliner crafts high-quality comfort food. Carmen Cheng recommends the chicken and waffles made with crispy fried thighs.
Editor’s Pick: Thomsons Restaurant The à la carte breakfast menu at this elegant, comfortable restaurant includes mouth-watering dishes such as lamb hash and saskatoon berry pancakes, but if you can’t decide, the buffet ensures you don’t have to.
Local Favourite: Yellow Door Bistro Located in the hip Hotel Arts, Yellow Door serves up delicious breakfast favourites like eggs Benedict and house-made seasonal pancakes.

Photo courtesy Yellow Door Bistro.

BEST BUSINESS LUNCH
Critics’ Choice: Charcut Roast House A creative and rustic menu, along with a welcoming atmosphere, make Charcut a popular choice. Carmen Cheng recommends their “lunch-all-at-once” special, which lets you get in and out of the restaurant in less than an hour, and comes with a bag of warm cookies to go.
Editor’s Pick: Blink Restaurant & Bar Housed in a historic building on downtown’s Stephen Avenue, Blink delivers on the promise of a memorable meal that’s sure to impress with Italian-inspired dishes such as cioppino and agnolotti.
Local Favourite: Murrieta’s Bar & Grill A long-time establishment in the Calgary food scene, the team at Murrieta’s offer a relaxed, refined experience perfectly suited for meetings, parties, events and more.

Photo courtesy Murrieta’s.

BEST CASUAL
Critics’ Choice: Alumni Sandwich & Liquor Bar Newly opened in 2018, Alumni’s house-made, upscale sandwiches and impressive cocktail list are already a favourite with the judging panel — elevating the sandwich from humble lunch fare to a high-quality dinner option.
Editor’s Pick: Sidewalk Citizen Bakery Deli Sidewalk Citizen has pretty much achieved cult status in Calgary, thanks in no small part to the incredible, crusty, artisan sourdough bread that serves as the base for daily sandwich specials.
Local Favourite: Spolumbo’s Fine Foods and Deli Stop by for a hearty Italian lunch, or to pick up some fresh deli meats, sausages and more at this classic deli.

Photo courtesy Alumni Sandwiches.

BEST CHINESE FOOD
Critics’ Choice: Silver Dragon Restaurant With line-ups that can stretch around the block, the dim sum at Silver Dragon is a local legend. No matter when you dine, the food here is always generously portioned — the amount of meat, fish and vegetables they pack into each dumpling is impressive.
Editor’s Pick: Two Penny Chinese This beautifully designed restaurant offers creative takes on Chinese ingredients, like “typhoon shelter style” carrots with chilis, crispy garlic and yuzu kosho mayo.
Local Favourite: Great Taste Chinese Restaurant Offering a range of the country’s culinary styles, this traditional Chinese favourite serves up mouth-watering egg rolls, fried rice, dim sum and more.

Two Penny. Photo courtesy Thank You Hospitality Management.

BEST FINE DINING
Critics’ Choice: Rouge Restaurant French-style cuisine combined with local ingredients, including vegetables from its own garden, make Rouge a Calgary icon. It’s a top pick for Patricia Koyich thanks to its setting in a beautiful historic home, the quality of its food, the impressive wine list and exceptional service.
Editor’s Pick: Alloy Latin American, Mediterranean and Asian-influenced cuisine is on the menu at this elegant restaurant — the truffle gnocchi and beef short rib are not to be missed.
Local Favourite: Teatro Ristorante With a refined Italian menu and an excellent wine list, Teatro is a place that makes for a great date night.

Photo courtesy Rouge.

BEST FUSION
Critics’ Choice: Foreign Concept Thanks to a variety of small and large plates on the menu, you can taste your way through a delightful fusion of Vietnamese and Korean flavour profiles at Foreign Concept. “Every plate here is photograph-worthy, and an explosion for the senses, taste-wise,” says Linda Garson.
Editor’s Pick: Anju Restaurant Chef and owner Roy Oh’s clever and contemporary fusion of Korean cuisine with inspirations from around the globe has made Anju one of Calgary’s best loved hot spots.
Local Favourite: Vero Bistro Moderne A blend of Italian and French cuisines, Vero Bistro puts a contemporary twist on the classics, and offers great family-style options for larger crowds.

Photo courtesy Vero Bistro Moderne.

BEST HAPPY HOUR
Critics’ Choice: Native Tongues Taqueria Mexican street eats and market foods are the focus at Native Tongues with a legendary burger, the hamburguesa al carbon, that’s only $10 during their happy hour. “This restaurant has a great vibe, great service, a delicious food and drink menu — all the key components of a successful happy hour,” says Patricia Koyich.
Editor’s Pick: One18 Empire There’s great food and drink deals every weekday for One18 Empire’s happy hour, but make an effort to get there on Mondays for 50 per cent off their specialty, an Old Fashioned customized with bitters and smoke.
Local Favourite: Wurst There’s happy hour specials every day of the week at this cheerful beer hall, along with tasty German classics like a soft, chewy pretzel.

Native Tongues. Photo courtesy Thank You Hospitality Management.

BEST USE OF LOCAL INGREDIENTS
Critics’ Choice: River Café Since it first opened in 1991, River Café has continuously impressed Calgarians with its inventive and seasonal fare. Not to mention it is right on the grounds of Prince’s Island Park. Mike Morrison calls it “a true taste of Calgary, in one of the city’s prettiest locales.”
Editor’s Pick: Deane House Eating at Deane House is an experience unto itself. The historic house and grounds are beautifully preserved, and the menu changes constantly to feature what’s in season.
Local Favourite: Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant This upscale staple has its own garden from which head Chef Jenny Kang regularly pulls ingredients used in the inventive, timeless dishes.

Bow Valley Ranche Restaurant. Photo courtesy Great Events Group.

BEST PIZZA
Critics’ Choice: Posto Pizzeria & Bar Posto is an Italian-inspired wine bar that provides gourmet pizzas, small plates and cured meats and cheese. The potato, leek, crème fraîche and smoked pancetta pizza is a long-time favourite.
Editor’s Pick: Pulcinella Pulcinella serves up true Napoletana pizza, and has the certification from the exclusive Associazione Pizzaioli Napolitani to prove it.
Local Favourite: Una Pizza + Wine With eat-in and takeout options, Una makes gourmet pizza easy and delicious.

Photo courtesy Una Pizza.

BEST VEGETARIAN/VEGAN
Critics’ Choice: Ten Foot Henry While the menu isn’t 100 per cent veggie, Ten Foot Henry’s vegetable-focused dishes ensure every diner leaves happy, whether they are vegan, omnivore or somewhere in between. “Ten Foot Henry allows vegetables to truly shine,” says Carmen Cheng.
Editor’s Pick: The Coup A long-time staple for the city’s vegetarians and vegans, The Coup has been serving up modern, gourmet, ethical veggie dishes since before it was cool.
Local Favourite: The Dandelion Open this past September, this tiny restaurant serves up vegan versions of classic comfort food, along with plant-based dishes to satisfy even the most devoted meat lovers.

Ten Foot Henry. Photo by Veronica Cowan.

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