Calgary·Food and the City

Burger 320 owner Chef Mario on his transition from pizza

Calgary Eyeopener food guide Julie Van Rosendaal goes into the kitchen of Burger 320 to find out Chef Mario's inspiration.

Calgary-born chef turns out some of the best from-scratch burgers in the city

Burger 320 owner Chef Mario grills up some patties at his tiny eatery in Bridgeland. (@chefmariomobile/Twitter)

It was -30 C outside on the day Mario Spina opened the doors to his latest tiny eatery called Burger 320 — and there was already a lineup.

  • Food and the City is a new weekly column from Calgary Eyeopener food guide Julie Van Rosendaal. Join in the conversation about good food in the city with the hashtag #eatyyc.

It was late last winter, and the opening of a handful of new pizza places around the city prompted Chef Mario to transform the small white stucco building across the street from Blue Star Diner in Bridgeland into a burger joint. He named it after its tiny square footage.

"I dug down deep to my roots," he said on his inspiration. "My partner, she comes from farmers from way back. Gladys Ridge, the Thompson Farms, that's where we come from. Me being Italian, my parents' parents' parents farmed way back to the 17th century. I thought  we're going to stand behind this."

Born and raised in Calgary, Chef Mario has contributed to our culinary community for his whole life. He's been feeding Calgarians for over 30 years: at the Burger Inn on Fourth Street in the '80s, at Virginia's fine dining and Market Café in the '90s, and in the new millennium he had one of the first food trucks to hit Calgary streets.

It was even equipped with an actual wood-burning pizza oven in the back.

At the time you could find Chef Mario driving door-to-door making custom pizzas from his pizzamobile on weekends when he wasn't flipping pies at Pimento's  his bricks and mortar pizza place in Bridgeland (which is now Burger 320).

  • Julie Van Rosendaal went down to check out the kitchen. Click here to view the video on YouTube.

Lineup continues

The lineup hasn't stopped since. Calgarians know a good burger, and so does Mario. 

Inspired by his Prairie roots and Italian heritage, Chef Mario turns out some of the best from-scratch burgers in the city. He uses locally raised brisket that his small crew grinds every day, homemade toppings and freshly baked, branded (Alberta beef-style) buns.

"You need brisket," he said. "The piece of brisket is the best piece of meat on the earth. It has that secret marbling of fat inside, so when we grind it, we mix that clean fat inside with the meat…. When we sear it, the flavours just come out and circle the burger." 

They also make their own gelato and hand-cut fries.

"There's always talk about russets, Kennebecs… everyone has their preference," Chef Mario said. "I say whatever the farmer brought me that day is the one I'm gonna cook."

It's been a good year so far for Chef Mario  not only because Calgarians catch on quickly to well-made food, but because he recently appeared in the first episode of Season 5 of Chopped Canada, the popular culinary competition show.

Although the ingredients included ground beef, he swayed from what he's best known for. The audience watched him burn his meatballs on TV, but are coming in droves to eat his burgers.

As the weather warms, you'll find him flipping burgers or cooking waffles in one of his new food trucks: Burger 320 or Rule the Roost.

And if you catch a peek over the counter at the grill (or just ask), you may pick up a few burger-making tips you can use at home. At the very least, he always serves his burgers with a few good laughs.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.