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Jul 6, 2012 11:37 AM

5-7 days in Alberta

We're planning a driving trip from Colorado, through Montana to Alberta. Our plan is to make a circular route; Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Edmonton, Red Deer. Depending on our spirits we may return via Medicine Hat and the Dakotas.

We tend to favor small, unique restaurants. Our rule of thumb is any outfit with more than one location isn't generally worth our time. We do frequent Tim Hortons but no American chains.

With that in mind can we get some recommendations for chow. Also any places to stay, sites to see etc.

I've been to Lake Louise in the winter for skiing but this will be the first summer trip for both of us.

Thanks in advance for help from our fellow chowhounds.


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  1. Mentioning that you frequent Tim Hortons will likely get you a lot of recommendations for small, unique McDonalds locations. Did you know that their doughnuts are par baked and flash frozen at a central plant then shipped across the nation fo a final fry. Definitely not like the old days before dead Dave whats-his-name of Wendy's bought Timmy's.

    Anyway, I'll cover off coffee and doughnuts: For coffee, go to Phil and Sebastien in Calgary, they are a local chain that roasts it's own depending on what beans they can source. For doughnuts, Jelly Modern Doughnuts in Calgary. Get the Maple Bacon. Actually, get several. For each of you.

    It would be helpful if you narrowed things down, like $ or $$$$$, ethnicity. etc.

    Finally, go see Moraine Lake, near Lake Louise. Spectacular, except for the tourists. Also, have a drink on the terrace at the Banff Springs, and in the room ( name???) at the Chateau Lake Louise overlookiing the lake and what's left of the glacier.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Scary Bill

      Some of the Tim Horton's appeal is that we're stockholders. Let's face it no one goes to chains for high quality food or ambiance. But it's a known quantity, you know the level of mediocraty that you'll receive.
      Always nice to know the names of local coffee shops though. As for $ levels and ethnicity we're pretty open. Middle Eastern, Slavic, German and Italian are high on our list. While we do enjoy the higher end night out we are in our 60s so watching/maintaining our weight is always an issue.
      Thanks and keep posting, please.


      1. re: notfatfrank

        In Calgary, I really like Atlas Specialty for Persian food.

        My Italian recommendations include Bonterra Trattoria (great patio) or Borgo Trattoria.

        I'm also particular about what I eat and there are lighter options available at each one.

        Other recommendations: River Cafe (Canadian), Notable (Canadian), Catch (Seafood) and Avec Bistro (French)

        1. re: cellophane_star

          I second Atlas the fesenjoon and a barg wrap are the perfect lunch.

    2. Well, I like Tim Hortons too. Frozen or not, it is good coffee and now lattes too. I also like the donuts. But I highly can recommend Phil & Sebastian too. If you get to Calgary on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday check out their popup on Stephen Ave (in front of Scotia Centre). They have great scones and sandwiches from Aviv. Did I mention the scones & sandwiches are truly great?!
      I personally don't like Jelly Modern Donuts though. Can't really say why but they are not as good as Tim Hortons in my opinion. (I know I will get slammed for that one)

      Onto the restaurant recommendations. Regardless of what you like Notable is a must in my opinion. Not cheap but also not ridiculously expensive and definitely worth it. Another favourite is the District downtown. Or Palomino's. Skip the food trucks.

      In Banff I would suggest Bison Bistro.

      2 Replies
      1. re: josey124

        Thanks josey,

        Putting all of this in my databank. Bison Bistro was also recommended from one of my skiing buddies.

        Keep em coming.


        1. re: notfatfrank

          In Banff, I love The Bison, Wild Flour Cafe (next door to the Bison) and Maple Leaf Lounge. For higher end meals, I'd suggest Waldhaus (Swiss/German inspired cuisine) or Castellos (Italian), both at the Banff Springs Hotel.

          If you're feeling really fancy, I'd recommend the spa at the Banff Springs Hotel... it is decadent.

      2. Whist in the Lake Louise area give "Truffle Pigs" a try. It is a few miles down the road in small town called Field, BC.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Hart50

          Field is a 30km drive from Lake Louise on a busy highway, lots of great options that don't make you drive out of the way.

          1. re: cleopatra999

            I would drive, and have driven, 200kms just to go to Truffle Pigs and would do so again at the drop of a hat. It is worth the drive IMO, and the traffic.

          2. re: Hart50

            Second "Truffle Pigs" if you are near Field B.C.

          3. You could try Pfanntastic Pannenkoek Haus in Calgary for Dutch pancakes.. They are independently owned and unique... Avoid weekend brunch times if you are in a hurry as there is always a lineup. My favourite there is the rosti with bacon, cheese, and onion.


            On your way to Banff you could stop by Canmore (which is just 15 mins east of Banff before you enter the National Park gates) and try La Belle Patate for some French-Canadian fare. They are famous for their poutine (fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and gravy) and Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches (MSM is sort of like pastrami but different). Even though they have 3 locations (others are in Victoria and Vancouver), I think this is some of the best poutine you're going to get short of going to Montreal.


            For a unique lunch experience if the weather is nice, you could stop by Cowtown Beef Shack for a beef dip sandwich. This is a drive-thru place that is literally a shack off a busy street (MacLeod Trail). There are picnic tables next to the shack where you can sit to eat. To me, this is one of the best beef dips I've ever had. I could just drink the au jus straight out of the bowl.


            5 Replies
            1. re: miss.foodie

              Are you hikers? If so, you must hike up to Lake Agnes Tea house for lunch (from Lake Louise), the views are amazing and the sandwiches made on fresh baked bread (they are pricey and not a huge selection, you are paying for location).

              Another route option is to go over the 'Going to the Sun' road in Montana for one of the directions. I am not sure how much that would tack on, but worth the effort. That way you will pass through Whitefish and Fernie, both of which have nice restaurants. If this route interests you, I will post further on Fernie for you.

              In Calgary I love to visit the Calgary Farmers Market for coffee at Fratello and to wander the stalls. Also a favorite of mine in both Edmonton and Calgary is Famoso pizza. The most authentic Italian pizza I have had out of Italy, still shocked that they are a chain, and the quality has not suffered.

              1. re: cleopatra999

                Thanks cleopatra, we had already planned on "Going to the Sun" but were not sure if we'd stay over in Whitefish/Kalispell or just double back to Interstate 15. Mrs. frank was concerned the road north from there mightn't be as good but I told her since it's not winter that it would be fine and that the traffic through the park is probably brutal this time of year.

                Thinking we might spend a day or so in that area as a couple of the golf courses look nice then head north from there so let me know what's in Fernie as well.

                Thanks and keep 'em coming.


                1. re: cleopatra999

                  I also love Famoso but my favourite pizza of this type in Calgary is at Pulcinella. They have a nice Italian menu (mostly wood fired pizzas though).

                  1. re: cellophane_star

                    Having driven the route you mention, and the desire to keep the Calories in check (all too easy to get out of control when you're out of the home element IMO), my recommendations for the Calgary area are thus:

                    Notable: easy one. Michael Noble offers a gorgeous menu. Plus, you can ask for a bit of customization to allow for Calories. For example, the monthly burger inspiration can be had with a mixed greens salad (it comes with heavenly pickled veg) and get the dressing on the side. From there I personally ask them to hold the bun (freshly made but 200+ Cal) which they happily will do. The presentation is just as pleasing. The Tuna Nicoise is mouthwatering, the Breakfast Pizza is balanced and filling (I ask for poached egg over fried), and the simple poached egg w/Prairie Mill whole grain toast (no butter for me) and aforementioned salad is perfect for breakfast.

                    OverEasy Breakfast: Why has no one mentioned this? On Edmonton Trail, these guys have an extensive menu so you can order as light or heavy a meal as you wish. "Breakfast in Tuscany" is a fave of mine; I just abandon the extra starch.

                    Diner Deluxe: Great spot, smaller menu than OverEasy, heavier fare, but altogether enjoyable. The Fried Oatmeal w/lemon curd, Stuffed French Toast, and Pulled Pork Hash are standbys in our house. The buckwheat pancakes are not light, not at all (just so you know).

                    Sophies Pizza: Johnny has opened a second location in Airdrie, but the main store on Richmond Rd is perhaps more accessible. I haven't had a pizza from here that I haven't liked. Greek style; thick crust, lots of toppings; the opposite of Neopolitan style.

                    Pulcinella: For a thin crust/Neopolitan style pizza, absolutely. Pulcinella is more of a restaurant in my mind while Famoso has a chain-feeling about it. Something about ordering at the cashier and finding a plastic seat (@Famoso). Don't get me wrong, Famoso has tasty pizza, but not up to Pulcinella's offering IMO. Advertised lately is that pasta is coming to Pulcinella?

                    Sidewalk Citizen: This is the epitome of a single location store, and I acknowledge it may be a stretch for you as Aviv is open to the public only on Friday and Saturday mornings/early afternoon (10-2 or like). His sandwiches are amazing (handmade on the spot by Chef Colin) and there are usually three choices. The scones are rich and change constantly, and his bread can be purchased at the same time for picnics. Then there are the cheese sticks (mmm). Calories? Yes, there are lots of those. But they may just be worth it.

                    Peters Drive-In: Hounders are not a fan of this joint, but for an old fashioned burger dunked in bbq sauce, basic accompaniments, and wrapped in foil, I think of Peters as "summer". The fries are one of my favourites, but stick to a small size (they will feed 2 IMO with some left over). Shakes I can't comment on as they have 900+ Cal ea.

                    Phil & Sebastians: No question, great place. Either the Marda Loop location or the new spot in Chinook Centre.

                    Lic's Ice Cream: Down on Parkdale Blvd, Lic's is an institution that offers up somewhere around 40 flavours. You can then have the pleasure of licking your ice cream in front of traffic demonstrating that you have an ice cream and they don't.

                    Caffe Artigiano: This is the only chain I'll recommend in this post (Vancouver based). There are two locations in Calgary, both downtown. I thoroughly enjoy their espresso!

                    Java Jamboree: If you're in Cochrane (west of Calgary by 40 km or so, this independent offers up lovely espresso/lattes, and is now serving Manuel Latruwe pastries (local belgian patisserie)

                    McKay's Ice Cream: If you've ended up in Cochrane for whatever reason, McKay's is a long standing tradition for ice cream seekers. They offer somewhere around 50 flavours, and while it's not my personal favourite, people generally gravitate here either for the 'scream or the small-town-ice-cream-shop ambiance.

                    Sunterra: If you've had enough of restaurants, menus, and tipping, I recommend a grocer. Sunterra is among the more eclectic in the city and unlike Safeway in that it is much smaller, has fewer offerings, but they are higher end and more interesting. There is also a bakery, lunch spot, deli, and cafe. When on vacation, my SO and I will often purchase cooked prawns from the seafood dept, pair it with some mixed greens, add lemon, a baguette perhaps, and we're good-to-go. Sunterra's fruit salad is fresh and made right there; great paired with greek yogurt from the dairy case for breakfast and some freshly squeezed oj.

                    In advance, welcome to Canada!

                    1. re: nutellaluvr

                      Note on Phil and Sebastian: they sell Sidewalk Citizen scones. These are worth trying and worth the calories.

                      I love Sunterra's salad bar!

              2. Specific menu items.

                In Calgary:

                The Chili Goma Ramen at Shikiji, a japanese ramen and sushi house. Im addicted, I think.

                The spicy sweet fried chicken at Olive Chicken, with pickeld daikon. AKA Buldak. Fablous fried chicken. The place is small, just a few tables. Korean.

                In Edmonton:

                Bison short ribs at Highlands Kitchen. Also a good place for eastern european brunch.

                Portuguese Canadian Bakery for the custard tarts

                4 Replies
                1. re: Scary Bill

                  In Whitefish, my favorites are Pescado Blanco (Mexican), The Shak (BBQ), Wasabi (sushi, not the best I have had, but very cheap!), Whitefish Brewing (beer only)

                  In Fernie, where I recommend you overnight instead of Whitefish, but I am biased because I live here, my favorite is Yamagoya (best sushi off the coast IMO), Blue Touque (breakfast), Picnic (tapas and $$$), Island Lake Lodge (higher $$, amazing scenery and deck, a must), Cincott cafe (organic, local, homey, good for breakfast or lunch, best for steak dinner)

                  In Calgary I also love Muku for pretty darn authentic Ramen.

                  1. re: cleopatra999

                    Whoa, gotta try Muku.

                    The dearth of ramen places in Calgary has always been curious.

                    1. re: Shazam

                      Finally got here last week.

                      Finally, a place that has al dente ramen. The broth wasn't spectacular but still very solid. Very pleased.

                      1. re: Shazam

                        Menyatai has IMO better ramen than Muku.

                        Two more new ramen places opening soon, one in Scotia Centre and one in Bridgeland. Calgary has caught up. Also catching up in terms of Taiwanese places, which are popping up all over the place, and Korean fried chicken- Olive is opening a second location, replacing Giant Hamburgers, adding to its first, WOW Chicken in Kensington, and that place up north (that I know of, there might be more). Great city we have exploding with new ethnic options.