We’re all aware how lucky we are to have the mountains in our backyard, and spring is the perfect time to visit. Canmore and Banff are two towns with very different identities, and we could fill pages on each, so this is by no means a comprehensive guide to mountain dining, but we hope you’ll discover a few new spots to try on your next visit.
Canmore attracts talented people – more Olympians live here than anywhere else in the world – and it has an active and vibrant culinary community. Eighty restaurants feed the 14,000 residents who live there, which is almost certainly part of the attraction for the 5,000 or so second homeowners too. While there’s everything from fine dining to pub grub, it’s a laid back way of life – there’s no restaurant in Canmore that you can’t go to in yoga pants and hiking boots.
Start your day with a healthy breakfast at Communitea Café, awarded Business of The Year 2015 for creativity, community involvement, and excellence. Using mostly local and organic ingredients, with gluten free and veggie/vegan options, choose a bowl, wrap or panini like the popular Chinook with wild Pacific smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, avocado, and spinach. Tip: wash it down with a cuppa from the outstanding tea selection (90+ and counting!) or coffee from local specialty coffee roaster, Rave Coffee.
Stores on Main Street open at 10 a.m., but for a spot of specialty food shopping or to just pop in and grab a Phil & Sebastian coffee to go, Mountain Mercato is open at 9 a.m. This market, coffee shop and café is chock full of European delights, and it’s a popular lunch spot too. Tip: enjoy a glass of wine and excellent crostini from the aperitivo menu from 4 p.m. before moving on to dinner.
Book in advance to get a table at Tapas, voted Most Romantic Restaurant in the Rockies. It’s intimate and dimly lit, with superb sharing plates and a great wine list. Tip: don’t miss the mussels in blue cheese and sweet chili sauce, and tostadas (smoked chicken and kimchi, and crab and cured salmon are highly recommended).
You’ll also need to reserve for a casual, but fine dining dinner at The Trough; it’s a popular choice for a first date or anniversary. Tip – nab the two seats at the bar for your jerk-spiced Alberta baby back ribs!
Calgary favourites Gaucho Brazilian Barbecue and Murrietas, both seem different in Canmore – it must be the mountain air! Both lunch and dinner at Gaucho offer the same predictably good, great value rodizio dining (wear your stretchy pants!) with local Alberta produce. Tip: there’s free corkage on Monday nights.
Murrietas’ is fine dining, but unpretentious; the service is laid-back and friendly, and you have gorgeous mountain views on two sides. Keep your stretchy pants on, the portions are generous (try the Reserve Angus beef stroganoff with braised short rib). Tip: take advantage of the weekday $5 drinks and appies happy hour, or the three-course Sunday dinner for $35.
If you’re looking for music or a few drinks to end your evening, grab some friends and head to Tavern 1883. Although if you’re hungry, this cosy neighbourhood pub has snacks like duck nuts with house-made duck confit, burgers, and tacos too. Tip: there are nightly $18.83 specials!
If vinyl is more your style, play your own at Where The Buffalo Roam (or locally, ‘The Buff’), with a late night cocktail after your meal, though the food here is really good too. Locals Shelley Young and Oona Davis opened the place they wanted to go to. Tip: the six-hour braised chicken wings are exceptional.
Just a short ride away, with views on three sides, is Sage Bistro. Upstairs offers delicious tapas-inspired sharing plates, flights of wine, and a huge selection of cheese, with traditional Canadian fine dining downstairs. For train addicts, 20 to 30 trains a day pass by. Tip: don’t miss the smoked duck wellington with parsnip two-ways!
After a tour and tasting at the new Grizzly Paw Brewery, wander the few yards to Table, the completely renovated restaurant in the Coast Hotel. Warm and inviting, it’s ‘mountain modern,’ with a great inhouse charcuterie program. One of the ‘seafoodiest’ eateries in Canmore, oysters are big here too. Tip: sit at the charcuterie bar and watch chef prepare your board of Alberta meats and fish, and house-made preserves and pickles.
Fifty local restaurants are involved in the Canmore Uncorked food festival, which runs from April 6 to April17. Check out tourismcanmore.com for details.
Banff is a special place for biking, hiking and skiing, but the population of 8,500 swells to 15-17,000 in summer, so take advantage of the shoulder season for your relaxing foodie visit.
The Bison is fine dining, but not at all stuffy with very friendly servers, an approachable menu, and bare floors for ski boots. Everything is made in the tiny kitchen and it’s the place for brunch. Try one of the bennies – duck confit, AAA rib-eye steak, smoked salmon or a special like smoked octopus!
There are a lot of bison dishes to choose from on the dinner menu: carpaccio, ravioli, ribeye, burger and the most popular dish, braised bison short ribs. But there are plenty of non-bison choices too. Bonus: there are windows on three sides with great mountain views, and easy parking across the street!
Downstairs is Bear Street Tavern – another very busy place for families and people of all ages. Here you can eat very inexpensively; choose one of the ridiculously good pizzas, or classics such as mahi-mahi fish tacos, and pork belly mac ‘n cheese.
Next door, Alf at Nourish is creating new vegetarian/vegan dishes and flavours; this year, their greenhouses in Kimberley are providing all the vegetables too. Homey ‘soups, salads and love’ are on the menu here, and soul-satisfying dishes like bourbon-glazed stuffed buttons. Tip: order Num Num Nachos and try to name the 27 ingredients, amazing!
Just a few doors away, Wildflour Bakery is where the locals come for breakfast, coffee and tea – and you can buy your bread there too. Everything is locally made, and artisan. Tip: the gourmet grilled cheese sells like hot cakes!
Staple Grizzly House hasn’t changed since 1967 when it was the only disco in western Canada (the disco ball is still there), and there are working phones on the tables from the old swinger days! It’s still very popular for hot rock fondue; try the exotic Fondue Dinner with shark, alligator, rattlesnake, ostrich, frog’s legs, buffalo and venison – but it’s essential to book ahead. Tip: when you’re sated on fondue, pop next door to Banff Sweet Shoppe, where 2,000-2,500 varieties of candies in jars, a Pez wall, homemade fudge, and chocolates await.
Park Distillery are the new boys, with daily free tours, tasting boards, and the biggest bar of whiskies in town. The Woodstone rotisserie oven eats up Okanagan cherry and birch wood for your chicken, ribs and even broccoli – and a full pig roast on Sundays – and their special house-ground prime rib tower with a beef rib on top is notable.
It’s a gorgeous space with a wall of aspens, and a glass box distillery so you can see in from downstairs and upstairs. There are excellent cocktails, and a boutique beer list from western Canada. Tip: garage doors open onto an east-facing patio. When it’s warm, it’s the first spot to fill up!
You’ll need to book ahead for The Block, a cool, 30-seat restaurant and No. 2 in Banff on Trip Advisor. There’s nothing standard here. Chef Stephane Prevost makes Mediterranean-Asian food he loves in the tiny kitchen. It’s eclectic, fun and funky, with a deep fryer full of coconut oil. Tip: try the crispy chicken skewer (or in a sandwich at lunch), smoked bison flatbread and Asian beef brisket, with one of Jono’s cocktails.
Though not downtown, if you’re feeling peckish mid-afternoon, choose a friend, a cocktail and a hearty appy, and stare at the fabulous view from the Juniper Hotel and Bistro. Tip: come for breakfast too – the smoked wild sockeye salmon benny on house-made bagel is outstanding!
We’ve run out of room before we’ve had chance to tell you of the 10 different eating options at the Banff Springs Hotel, but we’re saving it for another article – so watch this space!