These are the best 20 new restaurants in and around Calgary, says food critic John Gilchrist
Food critic serves up his recommendations for BBQ, Indian cuisine, charcuterie and more
This year was a roller-coaster ride for Calgary restaurants.
Calgarians saw the departure of fine old places such as The Belvedere, Catch, Divino, Bistro Rouge, Glory of India and more.
But while downtown establishments continue to suffer from the economy as well as increased taxes, salaries and food costs, more and more restaurants opened.
There was an increasingly casual approach to fine dining, more chain restaurants — especially those from Asia — and revived interest in Italian cuisine. Plus there was a greater focus on vegetable-forward menus.
While Calgary didn't see the major openings of years past, some very good restaurants arrived on the local scene this year.
Here are my picks for the top 20 new places to check out, as shared with the Calgary Eyeopener Friday morning.
Chef Giuseppe Di Gennaro (Capo, Borgo) returns to the culinary scene with another winner in Cotto. His classic Italian comfort food — spaghetti carbonara, pasta fagioli, roasted tomato bruschetta — is given a modern spin yet remains simple and sublime. Try the stewed eggplant funghetto and expect skilled service to match the food.
- 314 10th St. N.W., 587-356-4088
2. Pad Thai
In a city dotted with fine Thai restaurants, Pad Thai stands out for the complexity of its food and the clarity of its flavours. Plus some unique dishes — pinwheel dumplings, shrimp rolls with cucumber sauce — a pleasant setting and gracious service from sisters Patcharin Smith and Pornuma Worasuksri. Good wines, too.
- 3106 Fourth St. N.W., 403-800-0567
3. Elbow Room
Britannia has been brightened by the energy of partners Ryan Blackwell and Josh Brennand, the design of Sarah Ward and the bright, contemporary cuisine of Elbow Room. The stylish food and setting help change the perception of what a suburban restaurant can be.
- 802 49th Ave. S.W. (Britannia Plaza), 403-460-8128
4. Afghan Kabob
One of the most difficult-to-find restaurants in the city — even Google gets lost — Afghan Kabob is worth the search for richly flavoured Afghan cuisine. That includes a wealth of kabobs as well as "nakhot" chickpeas, mantu steamed dumplings and a lovely braised lamb leg.
- 5150 47th St. N.E., 403-455-0602
Tavernetta continues this year's Italian resurgence with kale, goat cheese, roasted grape and hazelnut salad; bucatini with guanciale, pecorino and black pepper; and straight-up meatballs — all in a refurbished historic house with a great backyard patio and bocce court.
- 1002 Edmonton Trail N.E., 403-250-8894
6. Two Penny
One of the hippest, hottest and best looking restaurants of the year, Two Penny is a large room — Sarah Ward channeling 1920s Shanghai-deco — with familiar and updated pan-Chinese dishes such as a beef-and-broccoli dish done with slow-roasted Wagyu brisket.
- 1213 First St. S.W., 403-474-7766
Located in Central Memorial Park, Provision was formerly known as Boxwood and has been taken over and refreshed by Jackie Cooke and Kirk Shaw of Avec Bistro. It's light and lodgey with Daniel Pizzaro's skilled menu of roasted Brussels sprouts, charred cabbage and lamb saddle with chickpea puree.
- 340 13th Ave. S.W., 403-263-0766
The talented Blake Flann has a big beast to wrestle in his new Blake restaurant in Canmore. This year's winner of the annual Gold Medal Plates competition is capable of great things on a menu that spans the globe.
- 810 Bow Valley Trail, Canmore, 403-675-3663
9. Calcutta Cricket Club
A beauty of a restaurant, designed by Maya Gohill, matching its sister spot Two Penny, Calcutta Cricket Club offers a take on Bengali cuisine including a fine pork butter masala and Tiger beer-marinated portobello mushrooms.
- 340 17th Ave. S.W., 403-719-1555
10. Masala Bhavan
South Indian dosas and Chettinadu fish curry come to Calgary's southwest in an unassuming spot near Mount Royal University. The staff at Masala Bhavan grind their own rice and lentils for their dosas and prepare all their spices and sauces on-site for a traditional experience.
- 4604 37th St. S.W. (Sarcee Plaza), 403-460-4535
11. Wednesday Room
The only downtown restaurant to appear on this year's list, the Wednesday Room brings the 1960s lounge esthetic to life in a stylish (and orange-brown) setting with food and smart drinks to match.
- 118 Stephen Ave. S.W., 403-452-5080
12. Empire Provisions
Charcuterie is taken to the next level by Dave Sturies and Karen Kho at Empire Provisions' new Haysboro location. More than just meat, they serve breakfast and lunch, too.
- 8409 Elbow Dr. S.W., 403-244-0570
13. Donna Mac
"New Neighbourhood Cuisine" rules at Donna Mac — roasted beets with grapefruit and fromage blanc, grilled endive with buttermilk soubise and a pork, cabbage and pear salad.
- 1002 Ninth St. S.W., 403-719-3622
14. The Eden
Inglewood's 1912-built Burn Building is the perfect setting for a little French-inspired, "blue collar" bistro called The Eden, run by Rob, Nadine and Rose Eden.
- 1219 Ninth Ave. S.E., 403-266-1005
15. Big Sky BBQ Pit
Roll down your car window while driving Highway 2A to Okotoks and you'll smell good barbecue smoke and maybe even hear the blues wailing. Pull in to Big Sky for some smoky treats.
- 306016 15th Street E., Okotoks, 403-938-0701
16. First & Vine
Michael Frayne, formerly of The Nash and Notable, brings tasty wine bar cuisine to Airdrie at First & Vine with Moroccan lamb ribs, pheasant confit ravioli and a seriously decadent burger.
- 136 First Ave. N.E., Airdrie, 403-980-9463
Liver and onions — one piece or two — and hot turkey sandwiches fill the plates at Pinky's in Canmore's Legion, one of the best (and best-priced) eateries in the mountains.
- 834 Seventh St., Canmore, 403-609-5051
18. Hot Million Indian Cuisine
Seriously good Northern Indian food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, is served at Hot Million in Calgary's northeast.
- 2125 36th Street N.E., 403-798-6619
19. Kurry Up!
Jassie Bakshi shifted from his downtown Glory of India to a huge food truck called Kurry Up! that roams the city with fine Indian food at great prices.
- Look for the truck at Edmonton Trail and 21st Avenue N.E. or in Westhills, 403-351-7900
20. Madison's 1212
They can nacho almost anything at Madison's 1212 — bulgogi beef, poke tuna, smoked ham and pineapple, even apple pie — with great success.
- 1212 Ninth Ave. S.E., 403-452-4970
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- Calgary Eyeopener restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist can be reached at email@example.com or at 403-235-7532 or followed on Twitter @GilchristJohn