John Gilchrist: Calgary's best new restaurants in 2016

Despite the economic downturn, John Gilchrist says it was a ‘surprisingly good year’ for restaurant openings in the city.

Veggie-centric restaurants dominated Gilchrist’s top 12 list

John Gilchrist offers his take on a dozen new restaurants that opened in the city in 2016. (CBC)

Despite the economic downturn, it was a surprisingly good year for restaurant openings in the city.

Vegetables were big this year, with four veg-centred places in my top twelve. Barbecue and fried chicken were big too and contemporary cuisines of all kinds — Asian, Canadian, Global — were hot around town.

First Street S.W. has emerged as a hot new restaurant strip. But a number of places such as Foreign Concept, Bridgette Bar, Provision, Plowshare opened late in the year, so we haven't had much time to see these restaurants develop.

Which means this year's list has the potential for greater volatility than most.

12. Veg-In YYC

A tiny, mostly take-out joint with a flavour-first, Indian-inspired approach to its all-vegetarian cuisine.

215 Sixth Avenue S.E., 587-351-5263

Our restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist checks out the city's newest vegetarian and vegan eatery.

11. Rau Bistro

Although it serves many great meat and seafood dishes, the word "rau" is Vietnamese for vegetable — which reflects this restaurant's commitment to vegetarian dishes.

4105 Fourth Street N.W., 403-984-9101

10. White Rose and The Coal Shed

Alberta and Dwayne Ennest bring variety to Bowness in a unique mashup of two of the year's hottest trends — vegetables and barbecue. Two restaurants in one, White Rose & Coal Shed can answer any appetite with class.

6512 Bowness Road N.W., 403-455-8055

Eyeopener restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist checks out Ten Foot Henry, a new restaurant on 1st Street S.W.

9. Hayloft

When James Hoan Nguyen wanted to open a restaurant, he convinced chef Jason Barton-Browne to leave Teatro and join him in launching Hayloft in Airdrie. The result is food creative, smart and tasty without having to go into the city.

403 Mackenzie Way S.W., Airdrie, Alta., 403-980-8123

8. Bridgette Bar

The latest offering from Concorde Group (National Beer Halls, Double Zero, Anju), Bridgette Bar turns a century-old brick flour warehouse into a destination for smart drinks and upscale bar food from chef JP Pedhirney (Rouge, Muse).

739 10th Avenue S.W., 403-700-0191

7. Shokunin

Darren MacLean brings to Calgary the kind of Japanese restaurant that you would find under the train tracks in downtown Tokyo. The food is beautifully handcrafted, the sake is top notch and the setting is infectiously boisterous.

2016 Fourth Street S.W., 403-229-3444

6. Ten Foot Henry

Vegetables are a winning concept for Ten Foot Henry owners Steve Smee and Aja Lapointe. Terrific flavours, smart recipes, plus a few meaty proteins have made this First Street restaurant one of the year's most popular.

1209 First Street S.W., 403-475-5537

Eyeopener restaurant reviewer John Gilchrist checks out a new Vietnamese restaurant located downtown on 8th Avenue near the Nexen building.

5. Camp Cookhouse

Open for a couple of years in Cypress Hills, Camp Cookhouse presents lively, rustic, fun, creative dishes from chefs Becky Ross and Alex Bruveris. This is just downright good cooking.

40 Lakeview Drive, Elkwater, Alta., 403-893-3930

4. Deane House

A beautiful re-do on the old Fort Calgary superintendent's house combined with the restaurant savvy of River Cafe's Sal Howell and the skills of executive chef Jamie Harling have brought Deane House to life. This is the place to take visitors or plan a special meal with friends.

806 Ninth Avenue S.E., 403-264-0595

3. Pure Contemporary Vietnamese

Few people work harder than Lam Pham and Ngoc Vo do at Pure Contemporary Vietnamese. And few are more talented. Pham's and Vo's take on contemporary Vietnamese street food is compelling, with flavours that jump and textures that soothe. This is some of the most creative food in Calgary right now.

815 Eighth Avenue S.W., 403-475-1899

2. The Guild

The biggest — and most expensive — opening of the year brings Toronto restaurant group Oliver & Bonacini to Calgary on the main floor of Hudson's Bay downtown. With chef Ryan O'Flynn (2015 Canadian Culinary Champion) presenting intriguing, meat-centric,rustic-modern Canadian cuisine, The Guild has become one the busiest places in the city's core. It's a remarkably well-oiled machine for such a huge operation.

200 Stephen Avenue S.W., 403-770-2313

1. Foreign Concept

Duncan and Wanda Ly are realizing their dream in their exquisite new alternate Asian restaurant. With executive chef Jinhee Lee and sous chef Michel Nop in the kitchen, Foreign Concept opened just two weeks ago with an incredibly high level of skill. The food is impeccable, the surroundings a melding of classic Asian and modern Calgary and the service is pleasant and professional.

1011 First Street S.W., 403-719-7288

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener