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Alberta’s Small Town Foodie Stops with Big Taste

Driving between the big city metropolises of Calgary and Edmonton, you’ll find a number of worthwhile spots to eat and drink that deserve a pitstop or a day-trip destination on your summer road trips. Half the fun this season is adventuring into our great little Alberta towns, hamlets, lake communities and municipalities. The other half is noshing and imbibing at new-to-you eateries, restaurants, and breweries - that locals may want to keep a secret - but are worth telling everyone about. Happy travels.

Tucked in a business park in the industrial area of Nisku, this authentic Ukrainian family restaurant is totally worth a detour. Don’t let the nondescript interior fool you as Saskitoba Diner serves up authentic Ukrainian food that’s heart-warming with its stomach-filling portions. Everything is made from scratch like the borscht and holubtsi (cabbage rolls). The hand-pinched pierogies are boiled, then tossed in sauteed butter and onions with dill sauce, and are the absolute not-to-be-missed item. Order a combo, which gives you six to nine potato cheddar pierogies, cabbage rolls and choice of grilled kubasa (pork sausage with garlic), Manitoba farmer’s sausage or meatballs and gravy, with slaw. The weekend buffet is usually very busy but gives you a chance to try a bit of everything. Prices are incredibly reasonable, and you can even load up on their frozen pierogies, rolls and more foods from the freezer to take home.

The next time you pass through Red Deer between Edmonton and Calgary, bypass Gasoline Alley’s usual suspects of chains and fast foods. Instead, stop at this off-the-beaten path Southeast Asian family restaurant in the city’s north. While Thai places are pretty common nowadays, it’s not often you’ll find Cambodian restaurants in Alberta which makes Blue Dragon quite special. Brothers Spon and Dany Sok whip up all sorts of coconut curries, noodles and stir-fries here. Don’t miss their Khmer beef skewers which are marinated in a traditional blend of herbs and spices, or the Cambodian stir-fry which has tender pieces of chicken, green beans and tomatoes all sauteed in a sauce with kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and coriander, topped with cilantro. The menu has plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes too. Their other family establishment is Bamboo Hut Southeast Asian Cuisine, in Sylvan Lake.

Rosebud is a tiny hamlet in the river valley of Wheatland County most known for the Rosebud Theatre, a dinner theatre in Alberta’s prairies. Just over an hour from Calgary, it’s an escape from the city to take in Rosebud’s art galleries, antique shops and natural attractions. Whether you’re coming for the day, for a show or staying the weekend, the town’s full of charming B&Bs and inns. The iconic yellow building of the Rosebud Country Inn houses a great little eatery great for a lunch break. Enjoy an assortment of sandwiches, homemade soups, and buns. While the inn’s ‘pastry charmer’ Darlene retired in December 2022 so they don’t do their famous pies anymore, you can still get cinnamon buns, chocolate tarts, and other sweet treats here. Keep in mind it’s only open Wednesday to Saturday from noon to 4 pm. Open to inn guests and public.

You can find Sylvan Star Cheese products at several Edmonton and Calgary farmers markets and many other Southern Alberta groceries, but the dairy farm and store between Sylvan Lake and Red Deer is a great road-trip destination. Sylvan Star Cheese is known for their award-winning Dutch-style Gouda cheeses made from heat treated milk that has no additives, no antibiotics, and is lactose free. It is now run by Jennifer and Art Snoek who took over from John Schalkwyk in February 2022 when he retired. Snoek is a sixth-generation cheese maker who is continuing the Schalkwyks legacy that saw its cheese win awards like the extra-aged gouda (Grizzly) which is ranked 4th in the world. At the farm storefront, you can find more than 25 different flavoured gouda cheese, meats from central Alberta butchers, jams, honeys, condiments and European housewares and crafts. Book a cheese tour to see how the cheese is made.

Valley Brewing (Drumheller) Since it opened August long weekend 2019, Valley Brewing has not only survived the pandemic but thrived, as it’s now a source of pride for Drumheller locals and a tourist draw in the summer months. The brewery and tasting room is right downtown and the large patio is adjacent to Drumheller’s Munchie Park. It’s a great place to enjoy their brews which range from smoked lagers to fruited kettle sours, to west coast and hazy IPAs to oak-aged apple cider and ginger perry. Try their award-winning beers like the ‘Miners - Schwarzbier’ or the Prairie Icon Farmhouse Ale. Brewmaster Nick Patterson says the Discovery - Mixed Berry Ale, a wheat ale with raspberry and strawberry puree, sells the most but that Valley Brewing is also known for its Devils Row - Coffee Lager which uses coffee beans from Friend Folk Coffee Roasters. “We steep a hefty amount of whole beans in the finished beer prior to packaging to give it a blast of coffee aroma and flavour while maintaining the straw colour of a light lager.”

Sea Change Brewing was started by a group of friends in 2017 who were a motley crew of musicians, artists, creatives and craft brewers in Edmonton, and quickly made a splash on the Alberta brewing scene. While both the taproom locations in Edmonton and Beaumont serve the same award-winning beers, the food menu and specials vary. Beers that have taken home gold provincially and nationally include its hazy pale ale “The Wolf”, light lager “Death Wave” and “Turbo Stout” with 10 different malts and real vanilla and notes of chocolate, toffee, caramel, biscuit and dark fruit.

Grab a pint, beer cocktail, a flight and pair with mouth-watering grub. At the Beaumont location, get the ceviche (diced mild whitefish and shrimp in lime juice with tomato, onion, and cilantro) or the delicious beef barbacoa tacos made with slow-cooked pulled beef in lime juice and Irish red ale, served with salsa roja and pickled carrots.

In February 2019, this family restaurant opened its doors in the town of Vegreville and has been steadily growing since. The bright colourful and clean interior is very welcoming, and portions are very generous. Everything is made in house with fresh, local ingredients and the flavours are inspired by Mexico. At Loco Burro, you choose your vessel (burritos, burrito bowls, tacos and quesadillas) and then pick your fillings (chicken, pork, beer-battered cod, chorizo, slow roasted beef) and salsa (fresh tomato, roasted corn, tomatillo green chili, or the extra spicy red chili). The family recipe BBQ pulled pork is a crowd favourite. Since the menu is customizable, there are lots of options that cater to vegans, vegetarians, celiacs and those with food allergies.

This family-owned bakery is run by father and daughter duo Sabrina and Dan Stanton. The family considers the summer village of Pigeon Lake its second home as they have a 50-year history of being a part of the local community, spending weekends and holidays there. With Holey Grail, they’ve brought a fun donut shop offering inventive flavours to locals and tourists alike. Their fried yeast donuts are made fresh daily and come in an assortment of flavours, like a signature black forest; champagne-flavoured glaze sprinkled with fizzy PopRocks; and the cheeky Saturday Morning Cartoons donut (a milk-flavoured glaze topped with Froot Loops). One of the most popular flavours is the Banana Split, a chocolate dipped yeast donut, cut in half and filled with sliced fresh strawberries and bananas in between layers of whipping cream. Keep in mind summer hours means they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. On Fridays, they host Games Night with board games and puzzles available.

Didsbury might not be the first place you think of for fine dining but at The 1906, you’ll feel transported to a chic Parisian restaurant that’ll surprise you with its European tastes and flair in small town Alberta. It opened in October 2021 in a historic brick building with a beautiful courtyard back patio. The menu changes frequently but you can expect perfectly plated dishes like a seafood ragout in a caper, lemon, white wine sauce on puff pastry and crisped saffron rice and asparagus. Whether you get the charcuterie boards, schnitzels, oysters, and tapas platters or steaks, the dining experience for sit-down dinner or a quick snack is memorable because you’ll feel the cozy ambiance immediately. They serve classic cocktails and yummy desserts like German apple cake and Sicilian cannoli and espresso mascarpone cream, and everyone raves about the gelato bar if you’re looking for a cold treat on a hot summer day.

If you love Caesars, hop in the car and make the drive to this Airdrie lounge as people rave about their classic house Caesars. In 2021, Sorso was crowned winner of Mott’s Clamato’s Best Caesar in Town, beating out more than 250 other restaurants across Canada. Their “Suffering Caesar” was made with pineapple rum, black fermented garlic, mango nectar, and bone marrow ice cubes. In Italian, Sorso means sip, and this neighbourhood spot has great patio vibes so you can enjoy their cocktails and libations with burgers, flatbreads, or mains. It’s a popular brunch spot where you can get a spiked honey latte and choose from an extensive menu of bennies, omelettes, and scramblers. Don’t miss the popular chicken peanut satay rice bowl served with fresh naan or better yet, order a bunch of shareables with friends, such as the pork belly skewers, bacon wrapped pickles, and tempura mushrooms. A favourite is the Korean Chicken BBQ Tacos that havde fried chicken in sweet-fire Gochujang and wasabi mayo.

For those familiar with the drive along the QE2 corridor between Calgary and Red Deer, the Starlite Diner is a visual landmark off Highway 2 in Bowden. It’s hard to miss the shiny red and chrome repurposed train car with the UFO perched on its roof but if you pull over for a meal here, you’ll be treated to a quirky, retro diner with red booths and the iconic long counter that’s all alien-themed inside. Think sci-fi posters and kitsch to menu names like a Crop Circle salad (their version of a cobb salad) or the Meteor burger (all beef patty) and Eclipse burger (a grilled Cajun chicken breast with all the fixin’s) and that’s Starlite. They also do great milkshakes and poutine, and it’s a perfect food stop if you’re coming for the Eagle Creek Farm, Sunflower Maze, or Gopher Museum nearby in Torrington.

Grouchy Daddy’s in the town of Olds serves up big city food in a small town. The trendy, but on-point, casual dining experience with dishes by head chef Ian Miller, is a bit of a revelation in this agricultural rural town. Even if you don’t live in town, it’s definitely worth the drive to check this place out. Try the Shipwreck pizza with candied salmon, spinach, onion, pico de gallo, feta, dill lime mayo, mozzarella, and pizza sauce, or the Dirty Caesar burger made with a butcher block patty, cheddar, bacon, pickles, onion, tangy clamato sauce, horseradish mayo and Montreal steak spice, topped with a breaded pickle spear. Interesting chicken wing flavours include honey habanero dust, Tahiti lime pepper, truffle parm, and sweet Kentucky bourbon. In May, Grouchy Daddy’s started featuring regional local breweries and offered a bucket of brews mixer so you could enjoy on ice, just in time for patio season. And definitely save room for their donuts or brownies for dessert.


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