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Character Eateries in Calgary

I have a buddy coming to town (for Grey Cup) who works live sporting events all over North America. Over the years he's amassed a pretty impressive "been there" list of Diners, Dives & Drive Thru's, though he doesn''t limit himself to greasy spoons. He's also fond of grub that's decidedly non-North American. In short, his list is composed of casual eateries that make you sit up and take notice, either with their atmosphere or menu – preferably both.

A couple of places I've thought of are: Tazza, Blackfoot Truckstop, 1886 Cafe, Lina's Italian Market, The Greek Gas Station/Takeaway on 17th Ave. SW... I'd do a lot better in Edmonton, as I've just been in the Calgary area a couple of years.

He has wheels while in town, but I'm offering bonus points for any place walkable from the Marriott (1st St. and 9th Ave. SE).

Any suggestions?

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  1. Try Nellies for breakfast, lunch at Kanes (mostly for the classic diner theme) and for dinner, maybe one of our great Vietnamese restaurants like Huong Viet on 17 th. ave. If here on a weekend, go to Crossroads Market. Very eclectic and with a wide variety of different food stalls. I had the best pyrogies ever (cept for my Moms) .

    2 Replies
    1. re: beekeroc

      ugh, please do not bring your friend to Nellies. passable at best, especially if your friend is a diner connoisseur. you'd do better with Avenue diner (easily walkable from the marriott). IMHO, Kanes' food is ok, but nothing to write home about.

      But yes to tazza, the greek place, blackfoot truckstop, tubby dog, spolumbos, Thi thi, Mi tierra tu taqueria.

      1. re: marcopolo

        Agreed, 'thumbs down' on Nellie's. Galaxy, Avenue Diner and Dairylane are much better. I still like the Ship and Anchor for a divey place.

    2. A 15 minute walk east would get you to Spolumbo's. Fits the event.

      1. Rocky's Burger Bus comes to mind....you'd be driving there, but it would be a memorable destination.

          1. re: John Manzo

            Hot Damn! Tubby Dog! I'd forgotten all about it.

          2. Lots of great suggestions already. I'd add Boogies Burgers on Edmonton Tr.

            1. there are some great suggestions in this thread, but I would seriously recommend taking Blackfoot truck stop and 1886 off that list. if those are considered destinations, then the state of calgary dining is sad indeed :( (people recommend these places, but have any of you actually eaten at either? food is absolutely horrendous at blackfoot, and WAY overpriced at 1886... $17 for pale eggs and undercooked but dry potatoes? c'mon!)

              i would add to the other suggestoins: sandro's or Il Centro (if you can tolerate the service), Jimmy's A&A deli, chuckwagon cafe or route 40 in turner valley, eat eat in inglewood for breakfast, Pizza Bob's in Kinsington, ...

              2 Replies
              1. re: nonlinear

                re the truckstop.... yeah, i won't lie: my memories of the food are coloured by beer goggles and the fact that it's 3 am. not a culinary destination, for sure.

                I just remembered another character eatery, in every sense of the word: The Reef'n'Beef up in Marlborough. great cheap steaks and a dining atmosphere that's straight from the 80s.

                1. re: marcopolo

                  i've also heard excellent things about Reef n' Beef from the folks on beyond.ca, but have never been. might try and get over there right soon.

              2. Big Fish and Diner Deluxe, both on Edmonton Trail? Not cheap, and not hole-in-the-walls, but they do serve some inventive and tasty food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: 23skidoo

                  For breakkie - get up early and hit Dairy Lane.,,and I second A & A.

                2. If a full service restaurant isn't required, try Tiffin Curry and Roti Hut (188 28 Street SE).
                  Not really a "Character" place, but decent indian food at a fair price. Never been disappointed there.

                  1. What about Nicks...I mean it is Grey Cup and all. Hello atmosphere!
                    2nd the greek gas station tho.

                    1. Ultimate dive: The Unicorn on Stephen Ave.

                      Good place for pizza: Matador near Market Mall in Varsity.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: MeXx

                        Matador makes one of my favortie pies in the city. and i'm an absolute snob, especially when it comes to pizza :P

                        1. re: nonlinear

                          That's great to hear - since it's in my neck of the woods. What's your favourite?

                          1. re: beggsy

                            i usually ALWAYS go for pepperoni, mushroom and green peppers :P it's not my favorite style ever, but they use really high-quality ingredients, which makes the pie.

                            I find that regardless of what style of pie one makes, it all comes down to ingredients. crap ingredients = crap product.

                            1. re: nonlinear

                              Is it that thick greek style kind, with lots of cheese?

                              1. re: TSAW

                                I would consider it a cross between Greek-Calgarian bar pizza and a traditional American hand-tossed pie (e.g. pizza hut or papa john's). The crust is hand tossed and not the crispy pan-fried goodness that you find in good greek-calgarian pizza. Also, the toppings are not as 'thick' as you find in sask/alberta prairie pies. I group it in with the greek-calgarian genre cause it "feels" like the type of pie you can only get in 1970's-era steakhouses (but it varies from these as noted above).

                                The full name is Matador Pizza and Steakhouse, but it seems to be more of an italian restaurant, although i've only ever been in the lounge, and only ever had pizza. Everything about this place - the menu, the decor, the location - screams outdated mid-70s, but they are always packed and their pie is great, so i'm guessing that is what keeps them up and running.