While Canadians have long known of the charms of Calgary, the global appeal of Alberta’s largest city really kicked off in 1988 when it played host to the XV Winter Olympics.
With its 333 days of sunshine a year and the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and resort towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore all between one and two hours’ drive away, it’s no surprise that travellers are continuously arriving at Calgary’s international airport.
Now welcoming three million visitors annually, Calgary was ranked alongside Zürich, Switzerland, as the third most liveable city in the world in 2022.
The city also boasts the world-famous Calgary Stampede (this year from 7-16 July), where many downtown offices close so residents can immerse themselves in the two-week rodeo festival.
Alberta is Canada’s beef capital, so whether grilled or braised bourguignon-style, home-grown beef is central to Calgary’s culinary scene.
Traditional steak houses – including long-time institutions such as Hy’s – abound, but there’s so much more, from fine dining to gourmet grub. It’s not difficult to venture into a vegan joint, wander into a wine bar, or stroll to find the freshest sushi this side of the Rockies.
Calgary’s bar and restaurant scene is in constant evolution, highlighting creativity and indulging even the most global of taste buds. For food and wine lovers, the choice is as vast and enthralling as the surrounding pristine wilderness.
Calgary: 10 top restaurants and wine bars
This rustic-chic, chef-driven bar elevates comfort food, with equal emphasis on veggie offerings as meaty ones. Grilling, charring and roasting is the preferred cooking method, from carrots to cod and eggplant fries to endive salad. A thoughtful wine list includes by-the-glass pours from classic regions like Bordeaux, Priorat, New Zealand and Chablis, but also wines that scratch a different itch, such as a Xarel•lo from Catalonia. Go between 2pm and 5pm to enjoy snacks-only dining and drink deals, or stay longer to peruse the curated cellar list. No bottles are over £200 (CA$320).
Clincher Reserve the three seats at the chef’s bar for an up-close, open-flame kitchen experience.
Address 739 10 Avenue SW, Calgary
This cosy Italian restaurant is so tiny and unpresuming, you could easily walk right past it. But that would be a shame. Inside, guests bump elbows while the kitchen delivers old family recipes such as nonna’s meatballs with handmade pasta. Its name, standing for Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin), is a nod to Italy’s appellation laws for food and wine, where quality is all, fresh is best and products are shipped directly from Italy when necessary. The wine list is all-Italian too, from heavyweights like Barolo and Chianti Classico to lesser-known grapes like Vespolina.
Clincher It’s an all-woman front-of-house, led by general manager Kayla Blomquist and bar manager Priya Kaila.
Address 1005A 1 Street SW, Calgary
There’s a shroud of mystery surrounding this restaurant. Reservations only open a few times a year for just eight seats an evening, and the in-demand 15-course degustation is booked months in advance. Eight typically hosts three seatings a week on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Michelin-rated chefs from around the globe participating in the chef exchange. The diversity of Canada’s cuisine threads the seasonally changing menu from start to finish. From British Columbia to Nova Scotia, ingredients that form Canada’s cultural mosaic are flown in, spurring conversation across the intimate table overlooking the kitchen. The £185 (CA$285) fixed-price experience – not including wine pairings – isn’t cheap but explores what Canadian food really is.
Clincher Chef Darren MacLean was a finalist on the 2018 Netflix global cooking competition The Final Table.
Address 631 Confluence Way SE (inside Alt Hotel), Calgary
The vibe in this open-air dining room is best described as country-club casual, with the kitchen focusing on seasonally inspired, locally sourced ingredients. Located on the city’s northwest edge, it’s the perfect stop on the way to or from a day on the mountains or an upscale Sunday brunch option for suburbanites. The wine list highlights a variety of regions, with a handful of Canadian whites and reds in the mix. Rare, collectable, premium wines are offered by 30ml pours at a market price using a WineStation preservation system.
Clincher Bottles of wine are half-price on Wednesdays.
Address 254028 Bearspaw Road, Calgary
There’s nothing like the spine-tingle you get the instant you walk off the elevator and into the Major Tom dining room, on the 40th floor above Calgary’s iconic Stephen Avenue. Drink in the buzz and admire the glitz and glam as guests clink cocktails and enjoy classic dishes with a contemporary twist, like steak frites with an endive Waldorf salad followed by an ‘Old Fashioned’ baked Alaska. The wine selection, listed from lightest- to heaviest-bodied, includes a separate section for chilled reds as well as abundant organic and biodynamic options.
Clincher Go for Golden Hour, between 3pm and 5pm, for 25% off glass pours.
Address 700 2 Street SW, Calgary
From charred cabbage and jalapeño cream to ricotta dumplings in tomato-leaf pesto and even a caviar service, Pigeonhole’s food menu is eclectic. And the wine list is too, with by-the-glass offerings including an Austrian skin-contact Pinot Gris and an Olaszrizling-Sauvignon Blanc blend from Hungary. These multinational food and wine offerings are as welcoming as the setting – previously home to Calgary’s storied Victoria’s Restaurant.
Clincher Sherry fans rejoice: manzanilla (120ml), amontillado (60ml), oloroso (60ml) and cream (20ml) all grace the by-the-glass list.
Address 306 17th Avenue SW, Calgary
Housed in the historic Dominion Bank, built in 1911, every step of the dining experience here reflects the past but confidently embraces modern Italian fine dining. The award-winning wine cellar in the building’s former bank vault is home to more than 10,000 bottles, with a focus on Italy and Bordeaux. The impressive list of almost 100 sparkling wines includes a range of Champagne formats to suit most palates and budgets (£75-£920 / CA$125-$1,500).
Clincher Half-price sparkling wine (by the glass and bottle) from 2pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday. No corkage on Sundays.
Address 200 8th Avenue SE, Calgary
The menu at this modest, convivial restaurant is a vegetarian’s dream, with reliable favourites like whipped feta and tomatoes on sourdough toast, and roasted cauliflower with spicy gochujang. For carnivorous diners, it’s an eclectic mix, from pickerel (a freshwater fish) to sirloin steak. There’s zero pretension here, reflected in the wine list, which hits notes of surprise with a Pinot Noir rosé from Germany’s Rheinghau, a skin-contact Pinot Blanc-Viognier blend from Canada’s Okanagan Valley and a bargain-busting Portuguese red for under £6 (CA$11) by the glass.
Clincher Open for lunch and dinner daily, with an additional weekend brunch menu.
Address 1209 1st Street NW, Calgary
Inside the elegantly renovated historic National Hotel, you’ll find a celebration of upscale comfort food, from juicy burgers with tarragon-mustard aioli to a half rotisserie chicken with brown butter sauce. And not forgetting the one-of-a-kind brunch menu featuring breakfast pizza with sunny-side eggs. On the wine front, The Nash takes the guesswork out of ordering and categorises its list by style, from light, refreshing, crisp whites to rich, bold, full-bodied reds.
Clincher Visit on Thursdays from 7pm to 9pm for live music in the Off Cut Bar.
Address 925 11 Street SE, Calgary
Wine lovers will find comfort here, regardless of the season. In summer, grab a patio seat, order a chilled bottle and people-watch while snacking on New Brunswick oysters with fermented jalapeño hot sauce or a charcuterie board with house-made pickles and preserves. In the winter, descend into the cosy dining room (it’s located below Brasserie Kensington) and indulge in lentil bolognese or beer-braised lamb shank. The sparkling wine list deserves attention, including a Vancouver Island Pinot Gris, a Xinomavro-Malagousia-Assyrtiko blend from Greece and even a non-alcoholic Blanc de Blancs.
Clincher All bottles (excluding by-the-glass-pour bottles) are half price on Sundays.
Address 1131 Kensington Road NW, Calgary