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Where to eat during your next tour through Alberta's Rocky Mountain towns.
Full disclosure: I’m a bit biased. I grew up in Calgary, travelling to the mountains on the regular with my parents and sisters to hike, ski and swim, and it was always a special occasion to go out to dinner after working up an appetite. As kids, we visited the iconic spots—Magpie and Stump for enormous platters of Mexican food, Giorgio’s (now closed) for spaghetti and meatballs, and what we thought was the most exotic fettuccine Alfredo. Some places are still there (Magpie and Stump now has a hip rooftop patio) and others are long gone, but there are always new dining experiences popping up to take their place. If you find yourself traveling through the Rockies, here are a few tasty stops to keep you well fueled for adventure.
Where: Highway 93 S, Banff National Park (between Banff and Lake Louise)
What: Constructed by CP Rail in 1922 as one of eight camps to promote tourism in the Rockies, it’s worth the trek to stay in their historic cabins or to go for breakfast, lunch or dinner—guests will experience an all Canadian menu, wine list and music selection. With executive chef Corey Fraser and sous chef Mike Hesla at the helm, it’s a surprisingly inspired menu; you might find Buffalo Horn Ranch bison tenderloin or Carmen Creek bison short ribs, a thick pork chop from Broek Pork Farms, Haida Gwaii scallops or Nunavut arctic char caught in Lake Hazen. And there’s the tiniest, coziest bar beside the fireplace, with a tiny selection of local brews and spirits.
Where: 511 Bow Valley Trail, Canmore
What: Chef Tim Matsell came from Juniper, Rimrock and other well-known Banff restaurants to create a cozy, contemporary Canadian menu at Table, in the Coast hotel. It’s easily accessed on the way into (or out of) town, with plenty of parking and plenty of space inside, including a lounge area with a roaring fireplace. Their philosophy: quality ingredients, traditional methods and contemporary interpretation, which shines through in dishes like the 24-hour braised bison with wild mushrooms and house made pappardelle pasta, or the charcuterie and cheese board loaded with Canmore-made charcuterie, artisan cheeses, and house-made bread, pickles and preserves. There’s a fantastic kids’ menu, too.
Where: 160–105 Bow Meadows Crescent, Canmore
What: Wild Life Distillery just celebrated its four-year anniversary in a small space close to the poutine place. The tasting room is small and cozy, with a Rocky Mountain vibe. Have a taste of their smooth, clean vodka made with grains from the Alberta plains, or their citrusy gin, paired with their own house-made tonic or in a cocktail. They’ll tour you around the back and show you how it’s made—and you can pick up some bottles (or distillery swag) to take home.
Where: 219 Banff Ave., Banff
What: You’ll find campfire-inspired, cookout-style food at Park Distillery on Banff Ave. Not only do they have a hearty menu worthy of a Rocky Mountain appetite, the distillery specializes in glacier-to-glass spirits; their award-winning vodkas, Glacier Rye and Alpine Dry Gin are distilled using water sourced from six glaciers and grains from the Alberta foothills. What better spirit to have in your cocktail during your weekend in the mountains?
Where: 638 Main St. (in Stonewaters), Canmore
What: Chocolatier Jacqueline Jacek brought her much-loved chocolates from Edmonton to Canmore about a year ago, and is worth seeking out—her boutique chocolate shop can be found inside the popular gift store Stonewaters, on Main Street in Canmore. If you’re going away for the weekend, you might as well have some proper chocolates on your pillow.
Where: 110–211 Bear St., Banff
What: If you’re seeking out vegetarian or vegan fare in the Rockies, Nourish has been serving up creative plant-based meals along with inventive craft cocktails for over a decade. They’re particularly well known for their bean-based burger, which always comes with different toppings on a unique homemade bun.
Where: 405 Spray Ave., Banff
What: Sometimes we stayed at the Fairmont hotels—the Chateau Lake Louise or the Banff Springs, which I still can’t resist staying at if we can swing it. The Banff Springs has plenty of dining options, including the 1888 Chop House and the Waldhaus (fondue upstairs, a pub with great food and hockey on the TVs downstairs), but I particularly love going to the lesser-known Grapes—a cozy little room stocked with their own homemade charcuterie and pâtés, house-made breads, pickles and preserves and artisan cheeses, and a great wine menu. And I’m a sucker for the view from the Rundle Lounge—it’s a great place to go sit and have cocktails, and I still enjoy a tower of dainties and a cup of tea.
Where: 101–837 Main St., Canmore
What: Some of Alberta’s best Mexican food can be found in Canmore—it’s a great place to go for tacos and cocktails, ceviche or Alberta angus fajitas. Just about everything is made from scratch; they serve lunch and dinner, and have a great kids menu too. While you’re there, pick up some authentic Mexican ingredients you might not find anywhere else from their tiny import market.
Where: 1 Juniper Way, Banff
What: Located on Highway 1 just outside the Banff townsite, Juniper Bistro in the Juniper Hotel is an easy stop, and serves up one of the best breakfasts in the Bow Valley. The dining room, which overlooks a gorgeous mountain vista, also offers an après-ski lounge menu starting at 3 p.m. every day, with hearty comfort foods like Canmore-made charcuterie, pulled pork poutine on Kennebec fries and a fantastic vegetarian chili, served fireside.
Originally published February 13, 2018