A Taste for Adventure:
Plan your summer staycations around the Alberta Restaurants
Planning on an Alberta COVID staycation this summer? As things slowly open up again, supporting local restaurants and bars that have been working tirelessly for more than a year to survive the challenges of pandemic restrictions will be even more significant.
From curbside pickup and picnic in a park to patio dining or safe indoor dining, here’s where to eat and drink, whatever your comfort level is at, and whichever direction you set out on.
If you’re looking to escape Edmonton for the day, Devon is less than an hour drive out of the city. Before strolling the University of Alberta Botanic Garden or the Clifford E. Lee Nature Sanctuary, stop and pick up coffee and treats at Frickin’ Delights Donuts. The vegan doughnuts here are made fresh and a take on the old-fashioned nutmeg cake version finished with coconut milk-based fudge glazes.
Just off the QEII, visit the charming historic city of Lacombe. Once you tire the family out at the corn maze at Kraay Family Farm or learn about biodiversity and birds at the Ellis Bird Farm, fuel up at Cilantro and Chive where local produce and seasonal ingredients feature on the changing menu. Standouts include their #caesarsthattastelikeameal options - the super-filling Bacon Double Cheese is two patties, strips of bacon, cheddar slices, lettuce, tomato, onion and basil aioli on a pretzel bun served perched atop their signature craft caesar.
And while Wetaskiwin is home to Canada’s Aviation Hall of Fame, based in the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, a hidden gem in town for eats is Huckleberry’s Cafe. This full-service steak and prime rib restaurant features homey fare but don’t miss their famous Dill Pickle Soup. Order in house or take it home in one-litre to-go containers and of course, try the namesake Huckleberry pies.
Southeastern Alberta is an underrated area but if you’re exploring the badlands, parkland and grasslands here, you’ll definitely find fewer crowds here. Once you’ve wandered the Tyrell Museum and explored the scenic gorges of Horseshoe and Horsethief Canyon, pop into the French cafe Au Croque Monsieur in downtown Drumheller. Delicious flatbreads with microgreens, sandwiches, soups and salads are great for lunch and sweets like croissants, cakes, custard brioches, eclairs, cannolis, pain au chocolat and more can be found in their display case.
Linden may not seem like a destination in and of itself, but make the drive out to Country Cousins Restaurant for a meal you won’t soon forget. Garret and Karen Rempel own the Mennonite family-run restaurant. They make all their buns in house and smoke their own brisket, pulled pork and chicken. You’ll find comfort foods like perogies and cabbage rolls but they’re most known for their pies - namely the Peanut Butter Cream Pie. Last year, they created their fruit and cream Pie in a Cup, which are great takeout desserts.
Four of the province’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites are in Southern Alberta but along with mountains, forest, prairies, canyons, foothills and badlands, you’ll find an array of local restaurants worth the drive.
If an urban adventure is more of your pace, check out trails around the High Level Bridge in Lethbridge, pop into the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and then refuel at Umami Shop. This deli, cafe and kitchen is also a boutique grocery store and has great eat-in or takeaway fusion options like banh mi subs, poke bowls, bibimbap, ramen, butter chicken pasta, bubble tea and more.
For a quick jaunt from Calgary, poke around the shops and streets of two sister towns along the Cowboy Trail. In Black Diamond, enjoy modern pub fare like smash burgers, fried avocado bites and halloumi fries on the sunny patio at Westwood. On Saturdays only, there’s usually a lineup for their freshly made donuts, which sell out right away. Then, stop into Fahr Brewery in Turney Valley where Jochen Fahr creates his award-winning traditional German beer brewed with equipment he’s engineered himself.
Crowsnest Pass, which is made up of the towns of Blairmore, Bellevue, Coleman, Hillcrest and Frank, is an area that’s an outdoor paradise with attractions and eateries to keep you busy all summer. The Pass Beer Co. in Blairmore just opened in 2020. Order their Crowsnest Coffee Wings which are seasoned with a spiced coffee mix from the local coffee roaster or the Quarantine Pizza with truffle oil, garlic, dates, mushrooms, blue cheese, mozza, finished with a balsamic drizzle. Just off Highway 3, Coleman’s Limber Pine Smokehouse’s huge menu boasts barbecued and smoked meat platters, sandwiches, tostadas and tacos, burgers and breakfast offerings too.
In the southwest hamlet of Waterton, where the prairies meet the mountains, indulge in some of the best hiking in North America, relax with breathtaking lake views and then satisfy your appetite at the many local tried-and-true establishments. Zum's is owned by the Cruickshank family, who have a rich six-generation history of operating in Waterton Lakes National Park; fried chicken is their specialty and made with a family recipe that’s been unchanged since the ‘80s.
Another Waterton local, Julie Millar, whose family has been in town since 1927, runs The Taco Bar. Enjoy her casual Mexican fare with slow-cooked meats and locally sourced ingredients on the huge outdoor patio. The burrito bowl is bursting with spinach, black beans, rice, fresh lime, cilantro, homemade salsa, sour cream and topped with crunchy tortilla chips with your choice of shredded chicken, garlic pork or beef or veggies.
Nothing beats the Canadian Rockies for natural wonders to immerse in with its mountain peaks, glaciers, lakes, trees, wildlife and waterfalls at every turn. And the world-class dining in its nearby mountain towns is also unparalleled.
Start your day in Jasper at the Sunhouse Cafe, a contemporary Australian cafe with great coffee options and breakfast sandwiches. Don’t miss the avocado sourdough with preserved lemon and pistachio black sesame dukkah. Then once you’ve visited Jasper’s deepest canyon, stop in to Maligne Canyon Wilderness Kitchen for the 16-hour slow cooked Alberta beef brisket.
Canmore’s culinary scene is chock full of great spots and two of them are in the same complex at the new 65,000 square-foot development The Shops of Canmore. Mad Dog Cafe & Market moved here from its Dead Man’s Flats location in 2019. Find Indian curries, naan-wiches, poutines, samosas and more at its counter-service diner. You can also get frozen, ready-made meals and daily creations from the freezers.
Ex-ski racer David Carruthers opened Rocket Pie in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and has thrived throughout the fluctuating restrictions - a testament to the loyal following obsessed with their pies. The Diavola is a must-order with its spicy sopressata, sweet pickled onions, mozza, ‘nduja and chili flakes on a perfectly crispy crust which is made from a dough recipe that’s been tweaked over the last 10 years.
In Banff, CRMR’s newest offering The Prow just opened this June at Buffalo Mountain Lodge. Chef de Cuisine Lance Montero of Calgary’s Cilantro and Bar C pedigree is at the helm and the menu features game meats, shareables and in-house pasta dishes. Last summer, Farm & Fire opened in the Elk + Avenue Hotel and got a lot of buzz for its comfort fare of wood-fired pizzas, rotisserie chicken and cocktail menu. But if noodles are more your thing, stop into Sundance Mall for ramen and Japanese appies at Ramen Arashi.
Along the David Thompson Highway, once you’ve visited Abraham Lake or Crescent Falls, refuel your car and your stomachs at the Nordegg Canteen with fresh doughnuts, baked goods, all-day breakfast and frozen treats. A good lunchtime option is the bacon chicken avocado sandwich paired with poutine, fries or salad.
After mountain biking in the small hamlet of Bragg Creek, visit the small-batch craft bakery Bragg Creek Cafe and Baking Co. They’re known for their Sunday sweet buns but also their cookies, cakes and scones. Don’t miss the Czechoslovakian apple walnut strudel; for a meal, you can’t go wrong with their Nashville Hot Chicken or Cubano sandwiches.