I will be traveling to the area in August to meet a few friends for a camping trip, and we also have a few extra days to spend in both Calgary and Banff (not sure where we will be staying, but in Calgary probably near the airport). I would appreciate any suggestions for great food, and recomendations on where to stay as well. Thanks, Lisa
Full disclosure: I write about food in Calgary for the local arts and entertainment weekly.
I'd agree that Teatro and the River Cafe are good restaurants by any standards. The arrival of Michael Allemeier at Teatro has stepped up the food to a very high level, and the River Cafe is producing great simple food in an idyllic location. Other decent downtown locations for dinner are the Belvedere and Blonde. A new highly touted restaurant, North, will be opening in the fall, as will the Salt Lik, a steakhouse also open in Banff.
Out on the 4th Street / 17th Avenue strip is Wildwood, where there's interesting game dishes and a pretty good wine list, and Cilantro, which is reliable and has good thin crust pizza and a good wine list as well.
On 1st Street there's Mescalero for okay faux-Mexican, and the Exchange across the street, with really cheap wine prices and pretty good food to boot.
There's heaps of good Chinese (the Harbour City in Chinatown is the best); Indian (try Maurya in Kensington or the Skylark way out in Forest Lawn); Vietnamese (the classic is the Vietnam on 12th Ave. S.E.); Japanese (the Sukiyaki House or Sushi Yoko ...) and the list goes on and on ... Filipino, Thai, South American, Ethiopian ......
There's really no restaurant in Banff which can touch the Post Hotel in Lake Louise, another 45 minutes along the highway, where the food is wonderful (Swiss / French / Canadian). I also understand though that the restaurant in the Rimrock Hotel in Banff is great although I haven't been.
So, there's an abundance of good choices. Enjoy your visit.
As an expat Calgarian living in NY, I feel the urge to scold Jim - think about how silly and provincial you would feel saying "I was in the Bronx ten years ago, and there was nothing to eat there"... In general, Calgary is a rich town that likes to spend money on going out to eat, and the 1990s have seen a real explosion of restaurants in the city. While lots of these are kind of derivative, there are plenty of gems for hounds to discover.
Actually, my favorite restaurant ANYWHERE is the River Cafe, on Prince's Isle. It is highly original Canadian cuisine, emphasizing french technique with local product (much of it artisanally-produced). I've eaten there a dozen times and frankly dream about it on a regular basis; IMHO, nothing west of Montreal comes close to tackling Canadian regional cuisine at the same level. The caribou is great, anything with Alberta beef worth trying, and they do well with char and trout. The physical setting, on an island in the Bow River, is spectacular, particularly in the summer and dead of winter. A new chef has taken over the healm since my last visit, but I understand he was one of the sous-chefs.
The same owners have since opened Teatro (downtown), and some former staff have opened the Ranche, in the Fish Creek provincial park in southeast Calgary (similar food, not quite on a par with the River Cafe, but also a beautiful location).
Also, try La Petit Table in Okotoks if you're willing to travel a little out of town (south of Calgary about 30 minutes). It is a charming little French bistro - delicious food, and gracious service from the husband and wife owners. With a only a handful of tables and a serious underground following among Calgary foodies, I would call ahead...
My wife & I were in Banff about a year & a half ago and had several very good meals. The restaurant in the Rundlestone Lodge was probably the best of the bunch in Banff. Not inexpensive but first rate. For a kind of fun lunch (or dinner but we had lunch on a nice sunny day sitting outside) go to the Grizzly House and get a fondue and a hot rocks. Great stuff. On the Icefield parkway go to the Sunwapta Lodge. We were up there & ended up eating lunch & dinner. Surprisingly good. I had something like almond encrusted fish (sorry I don't remember what kind of fish but it was flaky, white, & fresh) and the best salmon salad sandwich I've ever had, made with freshly poached salmon that they make there (it was so good we asked). Hope this helps a little.
Forget chowhounding. I couldn't find a decent bite in all of Calgary and Banff ten years ago, and doubt it's changed much.
If you can afford it, stay at the Banff Springs Hotel (now called the "Fairmont Banff Springs"). If you don't, you'll feel pangs of envy for those who do stay there as soon as you spot this incredible place. I know I did!
In Calgary, I agree with Kara. Stay in town. There's good nightlife (people are VERY friendly, it's a pleasure to hang out in Calgary) and you'll miss it if you stay by the airport.
I'm actually from Calgary, though I haven't lived there in more than a decade so I can't offer you much in the way of food suggestions, though I hear the restaurant at Prince's Island is excellent.
I just wanted to point out though, that staying at a hotel near the airport isn't the best idea. It's very isolated and very industrial. Without a car to get around in, depending on taxi service there would be really painful.
Even if you're only spending a night or two, I'd suggest any hotel in the Eau Claire district which is right downtown and is next door to Chinatown and the Eau Claire Market has some basic eats there as well.
Alternatively, I think there's a new hotel/B&B on Macleod Trail, called the River's Inn or Kensington Inn. This is the Kensington area part of town and is ideal for a quickie visit -- tons of cafes, shops and little restaurants.
Have a fabulous stay and head for the mountains as fast as you can!!
Okay, I know that this post is way too late to be of any help for you. The reason for the post- in hopes that later readers won't be put off by what these people that don't even live here are saying.
I moved here 6 years ago. Eat out at least one meal a day...and really enjoy all types of food.
Higher end dining can be found:
-River Cafe, on Prince's Isle (over rated)
-The Belvedere on Stephens Ave. Mall
-Teatro (2 blks from Belvedere)
-The Livingroom on 17th Ave (my fav.)
Various other places that I suggest or take all my friends or guests to are:
-The Arden on 17th
-Vietnam on 12th Ave (best food- worse ambiance)
-The King & I
-Savior Faire on 17th Ave
-Silver Dragon (chinatown)
-Maurya (east indian) on Kensington Road
Because Calgary is so overly friendly, just ask anyone where to eat. A perfect stranger will tell you their favourites.