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EATING, DRINKING & NIGHTLIFE IN CALGARY

 
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Calgary's cuisine can be heavily meat-oriented; Alberta claims, with some justification, to have some of the best steaks in the world. With its particular immigration history the city lacks the Ukrainian influences that grace cooking to the north, and often prefers instead to follow the fusion and Pacific Rim trends that have been adopted by most of western Canada's more ambitious restaurants. Most bars and cafés - even the live-music venues - double up as restaurants and invariably serve perfectly good food.

The Toronto Dominion Square and Stephen Avenue malls, on 8th Avenue SW between 1st and 3rd, are riddled with ethnic takeaways and café-style restaurants - hugely popular and perfect for lunch or snacks on the hoof. The nicest thing to do is buy food and eat it - with half of Calgary - either in the superb Eau Claire Market , which is packed with food stalls and restaurants, or amid the greenery of Devonian Gardens. Elsewhere, the city has an impressive range of middle- to upper-bracket restaurants, where prices are low by most standards.

Calgary is rarely a party town, except during Stampede and a brief fling in summer when the weather allows barbecues and night-time streetlife. Nonetheless, its bars, cafés and clubs are all you'd expect of a city of this size, the vast majority of them found in five distinct areas: Kensington , with its varied cafés; " Electric Avenue ", as 11th Avenue SW between 5th and 6th streets is called, which has lost most of its brash and mostly trashy bars, night-time action having moved more to 17th Avenue SW , a more varied collection of pubs, bars, high-quality restaurants, speciality shops and ethnic eating, and 4th Street SW , a similarly more refined restaurant area. Downtown cafés and pubs are fine during the day but fairly desolate in the evening.

In the specialist clubs the quality of live music is good - especially in jazz, blues and the genre closest to cowtown Calgary's heart, country. The Country Music Association has details of local gigs (tel 233-8809). Major festivals include an annual Jazz Festival (third week in June) and a folk festival at the end of July on Prince's Island.

Tickets for virtually all events are available on tel 270-6700, and through several Marlin Travel offices around the city. You'll find events listings in the ffwd or Calgary Straight listings tabloids (both free from stores, hotels, cafés, bars and so on) and Calgary's main dailies, the Herald and the Sun .

Cafés
Good Earth Café . The original wholefood store and café, known for great and inexpensive home-made food, at 1502-11th St (tel 228-9543) was so successful it has spawned five other outlets: the Eau Claire Market (tel 237-8684) - with good outside patio - the Central Library and elsewhere.

Nellie's Kitchen , 17th Ave and 7th St SW. Laid-back, popular and informal, and especially busy at breakfast - which they do superbly. Open for breakfast and lunch only.

The Roasterie , 314-10th St NW near Kensington Rd. Nice hangout and café - no meals, but newspapers, notice board and twenty kinds of coffee and snacks.



Restaurants
Bistro Jo Jo , 917-17th Ave SW (tel 245-2382). If you want to eat good French food, but balk at the typically high prices, try the exceptional cuisine in this marble-tiled and red-banquette-filled restaurant. Moderate-expensive.

Caesar's Steakhouse , 512 4th Ave SW and 10816 Macleod Trail S (tel 264-1222 or 278-3930). Best place for a huge, perfect steak in the sort of wonderfully cheesy steakhouse - think dimly lit "Roman" decor - that's been around for decades.

Chianti Café and Restaurant , 1438-17th Ave SW (tel 229-1600). A favourite local spot for years: dark, noisy, well priced and extremely popular (try to book), with no-nonsense pasta basics and the odd fancy dish. Patio for summer dining outdoors. Recommended.

Divino's , 1st St and 9th Ave SW. Café and wine bar opposite the Palliser hotel with rather faux mahogany-Tiffany chandelier interior, but good Italian food and particularly noteworthy desserts.

Earl's . This ever-reliable mid-range chain, serving North American food, has six outlets around Calgary, the most popular of which is probably that at 2401-4th St SW (tel 228-4141).

Galaxie Diner , 1413-11th St SW (tel 228-0001). Very popular place with authentic diner decor, great breakfasts and fine open grill served at moderate prices. Daily 8am-4pm.

Hy's , 316 4th Ave SW (tel 263-2222). This deep red-carpeted institution has been serving prime Albertan beef in vast quantities since 1955. Moderate-expensive.

Joey Tomato's , Eau Claire Market (tel 263-6336). This inexpensive Mediterranean-style grill is part of a small chain, but no worse for that, and is a lively, informal place for a good meal among the plethora of choices in and around the Eau Claire market.

River Café , Prince Island Park (tel 261-7670). With Teatro , this is the best of Calgary's restaurants for lunch or dinner: innnovative Canadian "Northwestern" cuisine and an informal atmosphere on Prince's Island Park, across the bridge from the Eau Claire Market. Be sure to book.

Silver Dragon , 106-3rd Ave SE (tel 264-5326). The first choice in town for an inexpensive Chinese meal: this place has been around for over 30 years and uses a team of 15 Hong Kong-trained chefs to conjure up a menu of some 200 dishes.

Teatro , 200-8th Ave SE (tel 290-1012). This is the place to come if you want to dress up a little and drop a little money: the fine Italian-influenced food is on a par with that of the less formal River Café . Booking is essential.


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