Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

AdChoices

BEST NEW RESTAURANTS 2015: ALBERTA EDITION

These 10 restaurants lead the pack in Calgary’s and Edmonton’s maturing dining scenes


Read on for capsule reviews, and a tool for sharing the list of featured restaurants you’ve tried

The restaurant scenes in Alberta’s two major cities have been blossoming in recent years, with a new crop of high-end eateries rounded out by the proliferation of ramen and Korean cuisine in Edmonton and something of a cocktail renaissance in Calgary. The Globe invited local food writers Dan Clapson in Calgary and Liv Vors in Edmonton to offer their picks for the best new restaurants they enjoyed in the past year.

Calgary

  • ANative Tongues 235 12th Ave. SW, Calgary
  • B Pigeonhole 306 17th Ave. SW, Calgary
  • CProof 1302 1st St. SW, Calgary
  • DThe Simmons Building collective 618 Confluence Way SE, Calgary
  • EWhitehall 24 4 St NE, Calgary


Calgary has spent the past few years striving to prove to other established Canadian food meccas that we can compete. I certainly think we can, and do these days, but it hasn’t happened without growing pains. After opening gastro pub-style places and contemporary pizza joints to the point of exhaustion, the food scene seemed to collectively decide to strive for more than a decent pint of craft beer or a thin crust topped with mushrooms and arugula. (And let’s not forget that truffle oil.)

Justin Leboe continues to show that he is a not just a local, but national culinary force to be reckoned with. His opening of cocktail bar Model Citizen, and newest restaurant concept Pigeonhole, upstairs and next-door respectively to acclaimed Model Milk demonstrate the point.

The explosion of the quality, fast-casual diner experience was one of the more notable trends of the past year with establishments like Watercress Express (Vietnamese), Butcher and the Baker (sandwiches) and Native Tongues (takeout burrito window.) Cheap is the new fancy in town, especially when you’ve only got an hour to spare for lunch. There’s been plenty of booms and busts in the Calgary food scene over the past 12 months. Here are five places, in alphabetical order, that put their very best foot forward, all things considered, in 2015.

Globe and Mail's Top 10 Restaurants 2015

Been there, dined that

Click restaurant name to jump to listing. After each listing, click checkbox to add restaurant to your list – then share it!


Native Tongues

235 12th Ave. SW, 403-263-9444, nativetongues.ca

Dan Clapson for The Globe and Mail

To say that Calgary was late to the chef-driven taqueria trend in is an understatement. That being said, with construction delays bordering on close to a year, owner Cody Willis had plenty of time to perfect his Mexican culinary skills, and perfect them he did. When Tongues opened in June, it came out guns a-blazing and to rave reviews. It’s hard to live up to your own hype, let alone surpass it and even more so when everything balances on, essentially, a freshly pressed corn tortilla (made in-house, of course) and its components. Tacos are the main name of the game here, served mostly platter-style with ingredients like grilled octopus or green chorizo (think salsa verde-flavoured sausage), but the gaucho burger, a polished spin on a classic Big Mac, vies for your attention. Then there’s those bold and bright cocktails stirred up by award-winning mixologists to refresh and an impressive interior by designer Amanda Hamilton that somehow finds a perfect balance between Latin hole-in-the-wall authenticity and hipster chic. If there’s a contemporary taqueria that does it better than Native Tongues in this country, I certainly haven’t experienced it. This just goes to show you that some things, however late they might be, can really be worth the wait.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


Pigeonhole

306 17th Ave. SW, 403-452-4694, pigeonholeyyc.ca

Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail

There are fantastic restaurant concepts that are easily replicated, and then there are ones that break the mould and challenge others around them to expand their own horizons. Pigeonhole is the latter and it has made its contemporaries think outside of the box this year. Stunningly designed room, top-notch service and unusual wine list aside, it’s the food that owner Justin Leboe and chef de cuisine Garrett Martin send out of the kitchen that’s made it a game changer in the city’s food scene. Admittedly, not everything you’ll eat here is perfection, but it’s the unabashed creativity on the plate that makes up for any minor missteps. The nori crumpets with shrimp butter may not be the kind you find at your grandma’s Sunday afternoon tea, but they do at your table at Pigeonhole, alongside other eclectic bites like the lamb tartare with goat butter and burnt onion. Move onto Leboe’s signature charred cabbage covered in shaved mimolette cheese and cream jalapeno dressing, sip on a glass of orange wine (a proclaimed budding drink trend for 2016, but we’ll see what shapes up) and you end up with a dinner that’s full of twists and turns for your palate, but most importantly, something incredibly memorable.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list

Proof

1302 1st St. SW, 403-246-2414, proofyyc.com

Courtesy Proof

Being in a province with the most lax liquor import laws in Canada, it was a bit perplexing to watch the local cocktail scene lag behind contemporaries like Vancouver or Toronto. Until now. 2015 above all else was truly the year of the cocktail for Calgary. These days, a smart restaurateur wouldn’t even dream of opening the doors to a new establishment without an expert mixologist behind the bar. Michael Noble’s The Nash even enlisted the help of Canada’s most well-known barkeep, Lauren Mote, in late 2014 to execute the bar program. Perhaps that’s what made others pull their socks up. Proof ticks all of the boxes of what a booze fanatic yearns for in an establishment. A substantial liquor collection, the city’s most well-respected bartender, Nathan Head, running the bar and a beautiful room by Sarah Ward that’s full of studded leather chairs and couches seemingly designed for cocktail sipping. Libations aside, the food coming out of Proof’s kitchen is anything but an afterthought. Chef Tino Longpre spent several years working under Justin Leboe and some of that nouveau, slightly rebellious creativity certainly rubbed off. Black pudding with apple salad or those gougères that taste like tender clouds of cheese quickly become the reason why you want to order another drink and stay a little longer.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


The Simmons Building collective

618 Confluence Way SE: Charbar ( charbar.ca); Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters (philsebastian.com); Sidewalk Citizen Bakery (sidewalkcitizenbakery.com)

Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail

What happens when you combine a trifecta of Calgary food and drink juggernauts – Charbar (Charcut’s sister restaurant), Phil & Sebastian, and Sidewalk Citizen Bakery – with a giant heritage building begging for a remodel? A one-of-a-kind concept and new dining destination in the city’s up-and-coming East Village. This multilevel setup fits the bill for anything from an early-morning coffee or a lunch meeting to a late-night bite and cocktail. If you wanted to, you could spend 18 hours of your day in here and not run out of things to eat and drink. Sample itinerary: Sip on a beautifully pulled espresso and take in the award-winning barista design at Phil & Sebastian. Follow the smell of freshly baked bread over to Sidewalk for a big plate of shakshuka, then end with an Argentinian-style clam pizza at Charbar (that may sound a bit strange, but just go with it) and some dulce de leche crepes for good measure. It might be fair to point out that both Phil & Sebastian and Sidewalk Citizen have other locations around Calgary, and the food you’ll find at Charbar is in the same realm as what many love about Charcut, but it’s the sum of these three parts that make the Simmons Building truly notable.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


Whitehall

24 4 St NE, 587-349-9008, whitehallrestaurant.com

Photo by Neil Zeller

Although it may be chef Neil McCue’s first time owning a restaurant in the city, the British-born chef is no stranger to Calgary, spending time here in the early 2000s opening the award-winning (and still highly regarded) Catch Restaurant and Oyster Bar. Since then, the chef has worked in Toronto for Oliver and Bonacini as well as in Britain, where he helped earn a Michelin star running the kitchen at Curlew in East Sussex. McCue brings his love of contemporary British cuisine to the Bridgeland neighbourhood, offering up plates that are equal parts stunningly beautiful, rich and comforting. This kind of food is a first for Calgary, and it stands out above the pack almost effortlessly. Watching the whipped ham drippings melt into a still-warm piece of homemade hazelnut bread while you wait for a plate of pork cheek and black pudding with a charred apple purée to arrive will let you know that you are in very good hands. Time to sit back, relax and discover how Michelin-starred technique and a chef’s love for the purity of ingredients can make real magic.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list

Edmonton

  • ABar Bricco 10347 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton
  • BNongbu Korean Eatery 8115 104 Street, Edmonton
  • CRostizado #102 – 10359 104 Street, Edmonton
  • DSolstice Seasonal Cuisine 10723 124 Street, Edmonton
  • EXIX (Nineteen) #104 – 150 Bellerose Drive, St. Albert


Edmonton reached a critical threshold about 10 years into the 21st century, finally bucking off its worn-out meat-and-potatoes mantle. One might even think that Alberta’s capital city is making up for lost time.

Indeed, Edmonton’s scene has diversified so much that scarcely a week passes before rumours fly of an incipient addition to our exponentially evolving edible landscape. This year, ramen finally gained traction, Korean cuisine was huge and izakayas – the raucously joyful Japanese answer to tapas bars – proliferated. French baking, especially croissants and macarons, were the fodder of sweet dreams, and a healthy handful of local coffee roasteries nudged their way into a market long dominated by franchised java joints.

Edmonton restaurants burst onto Canada-wide “must eat” lists. Local notables Corso 32, Rostizado by Tres Carnales, and Rge Rd all commanded national commendation. Corso set the bar for honest Italian cookery when it opened in 2010. Rostizado revealed that Mexicans have a soft spot for rotisserie meats. Rge Rd drew inspiration from surrounding farms demonstrating equal comfort with offal and edible flowers.

Rumour has it that pizza will usurp last year’s craft hamburgers; Jerusalem artichokes will unseat cauliflower as vegetable du jour, off-cuts of meat will get their long-deserved due, and more restaurants will choose to open outside the downtown-Whyte Avenue nexus.

So many visionary and innovative restaurants have opened recently; here, in alphabetical order, are five distinct eateries that are well on their way to defining Edmonton’s multifarious and compelling culinary identity.

Globe and Mail's Top 10 Restaurants 2015

Been there, dined that

Click restaurant name to jump to listing. After each listing, click checkbox to add restaurant to your list – then share it!


XIX (Nineteen)

#104 – 150 Bellerose Drive, St. Albert, 780-569-1819, stalbert.dinenineteen.com

Photo by Curtis Comeau

Numerals as restaurant names have fallen in and out of vogue as frequently as fusion cuisine. Luckily, that didn’t stop chef Andrew Fung. Riding a deserved wave of success from his flagship Edmonton restaurant of the same name, Fung opened a second Nineteen this fall in St. Albert. Nineteen is a long overdue infusion of fine dining into the historically barren culinary landscapes of Edmonton’s satellite communities. Tucked into an upscale strip mall, Nineteen revels in long leather banquettes, honeycomb light fixtures and white ceramic tiles. An enviable wine collection beckons like a silent siren from behind glass doors. The menu is an edible saga of Chef Fung’s European travels and Asiatic heritage. Pork Belly “Fung Buns” combine aspects of traditional baozi and banh mi (feather-light steamed dough and cilantro, respectively) to elevate already sublime pork belly to a sublime riot of contrasting textures and flavours. Duo of Brome Lake duck interprets the noble fowl two ways: old-school sous-vide and far-Eastern deep-fried. Lashings of sambal oelek build a crescendo of heat, tamed into submission by airy sautéed pears. Alberta beef tenderloin emerges lavish and lolling in its own juices after a leisurely bubble in the sous-vide. Vivid beet risotto holds its own against the protein-rich centerpiece, buttressed by a smattering of zucchini and goat cheese. Don’t skip dessert. Butter cake is as rich and satisfying as its name implies.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


Bar Bricco

10347 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, 780-424-5588, barbricco.com

Photo by Curtis Comeau

Edmonton’s downtown core has regained its mojo after decades of despondent desolation, thanks in no small part to risks shouldered by chefs like Daniel Costa. The wunderkind of minimalistic, yet exponentially creative Italian eatery Corso 32, Costa revealed Corso’s hotly anticipated sibling last spring. But Bricco trades Corso’s bare incandescent bulbs and pared-down simplicity for thundering blackness punctuated by a backlit bar and a dystopian, Goya-esque mural. A multitude of Italian small plates – spuntini – are meant for sharing. Culatello, accompanied by house-made spindly grissini, is more fragrant, flavourful and fragile than prosciutto, if that is indeed possible. Eggs Cacio e Pepe are unabashedly voluptuous scrambled eggs flavoured amply with black pepper and parmigiana. Agnolotti arrive with a ramekin of melted sage butter and a hillock of freshly grated cheese; one is meant to dunk the pasta bundles in butter, roll them in cheese and promptly devour the resulting morsels. An extensive wine list favours Old World vintages and includes such rare treats as Lambrusco, which is a sparkling red from Emilia-Romagna. Don’t expect oft-overplayed smooth jazz as background music; Bricco proudly boasts a record player on the bar that spins everything from Talking Heads to David Bowie.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


NongBu Korean Eatery

8115 104 Street, Edmonton, 780-989-0997, on Instagram

Amber Bracken for The Globe and Mail

The Hermit Kingdom’s traditional fare is no stranger to Alberta’s capital city, but Korean cuisine still runs a distant third to the instantly recognizable culinary traditions of both China and Edmonton. Barbecue beef and kimchi were its de rigueur interpretation until NongBu Korean Eatery burst onto the scene. Clad in minimalistic blond wood panelling and corrugated metal, NongBu emanates an easy serenity that belies its trendy Whyte Avenue location. Owner John Ahn explains that the menu is based on dishes that would be equally at home on a Korean grandmother’s table or in a hip eatery. Dishes like kimbap – the Korean answer to maki – that envelope sticky rice and tangy pickled veggies in a toothsome seaweed wrapper, or seafood pa-jeon, which is a thick and crispy pancake studded liberally with tender squid and shrimp, are approachable and popping with flavour. Bo ssam are user-assembled lettuce rolls that can be as full of sweet roast pork and brazen hot sauce as one likes. Don’t expect green tea as a go-to beverage. Instead, roasted corn tea (the hot beverage of choice in many Korean households) is piping hot and singing with toasty notes reminiscent of polenta or popcorn. Above the tables, an old black-and-white film flickers and, like the food, offers a window into another world.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


Rostizado by Tres Carnales

#102 – 10359 104 Street, Edmonton, 780-761-0911, rostizado.com

Photo by Dong Kim

Chris Sills, Daniel Braun and Edgar Gutierrez, the real-life namesakes of Edmonton’s first authentic taqueria Tres Carnales (which literally means “The Three Homeboys”) wondered how their city would receive a high-end Mexican eatery with nary a taco in sight. The answer: swiftly and enthusiastically. On any given night, one is hard-pressed to find a seat at Rostizado, which proudly holds quarters in one of Edmonton’s downtown warehouses. Latin funk grooves in the background, vintage red televisions are campy fun, and a gleaming rotisserie plucked right from Mexico oscillates in the open kitchen. Victuals are well-orchestrated, but never pedantic. Queso Fundido plunks together melted mozza and Monterey Jack with roasted spuds and chorizo in a miniature iron skillet. House-made tortillas are as flaky as pie pastry. Scallops Aguachile are far hotter than their cool green hue suggests. Remember that their name means “fire water” and that the orange bits on top are habaneros, not carrots. Rotisserie meats – one may choose any combination of beef, chicken or pork – are the star attraction. A judicious spin on the rotisserie renders each protein enviably juicy and aromatic. Cinnamon-scented churros are best accompanied by a bracing mug of orange- and chocolate-infused coffee.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list


Solstice Seasonal Cuisine

10723 124 Street, Edmonton, 780-488-4567, solsticefood.com

Courtesy Solstice

Edmonton’s nexus of dining hotspots has spidered out from the downtown core to include 124 Street. Once a rather run-of-the-mill thoroughfare, one can barely throw a stone without hitting a gastropub, bake shop or well-heeled eatery. Solstice Seasonal Cuisine falls squarely into the last category, boasting a succinct menu that favours locally-sourced meats and produce. Solstice’s long, grey, rectangular room is punctuated by strategically-placed coachman lanterns and a futuristic herbarium that is the glowing repository of all things green and edible. Herbs from this herbarium infuse both creative cocktails and all that is edible. Rabbit terrine finds the too often underused lagomorph paired with earthy miso glaze and crisp pickled vegetables (including carrot, like the rabbit would want). Braised venison falls apart at a fork’s touch; toothsome spaetzle, acidic red cabbage and meaty porcini mushrooms are earthy foils to the venison’s sweet and gently gamey overtones. Dessert offerings change frequently, but hopefully apple sorbet paired with dehydrated apple crisps will be making the rounds in the near future. This ethereal sorbet transmuted all the tang and snap of an autumn apple into an icy orb, without the fuss of a peel and core.

Been there, dined that Back to shareable list

More top 2015 restaurants:

Vancouver: Kitsilano restaurants shine in year marked by return of fine dining

Toronto: Alo sets all-new benchmark for Toronto dining to lead 2015 list



Report Typo/Error

Next story

loading